Opening illustration: watch an illustrative audio-video clip
Introduction: On the surface we would believe that the early church in Acts was blessed with outstanding growth due to the anointed preaching of the apostles; their balanced practices that would evolve into much of our church programming today; and a talented and committed membership base. Only when we gaze beneath the surface do we discover that the church was framed in the midst of adversity.
The early church had to deal with persecution enacted by religious leaders and later, the Roman government itself. The church had to confront hypocrisy within its own ranks as certain members chose to seek reputation enhancement over character development. But in Acts 6 we find the greatest challenge of all … the question concerning what kind of church they were going to be.
When looking at our church and its function which do you more closely associate with? A battleship or a cruise ship? Why?
Differences between a Cruise ship and a Battleship
Cruise-ship / Battleship
1 It is all about the passengers (hassle-free) / All about the mission of the nation (victory)
2 Pay for a temporary ride (people on vacation) / Don’t pay for the ride (all people serve)
3 Brings temporary happiness to the flesh / Brings joy after accomplishing the mission
4 Music and dance for the passengers / Horn for battle (worship is warfare)
5 Captain and crew liked/disliked by passengers / Captain submits to a higher authority
6 Service may be good or bad / Sacrifices are made to support the mission
7 Is there to meet the needs of the passengers / The ship & crew are equipped for warfare
8 Ride has to be pleasant for the travelers / Life is on the line … (dangerous situations)
9 It is all about getting comfortable and complacent / Uncomfortable bunks with regular battles
10 Just there for the ride and the crew to serve them / Able to equip, serve and deploy their talents
* Do I want to sail with them again? / Do I want to sail with them again?
* How DO I choose? / How SHOULD I choose?
Our natural inclination is to choose the cruise ship over the battleship any day. Even when we pay lip service to the battleship mentality, our actions and our words pressure church leadership into creating a cruise ship. The operative words become “I, me, my.” What I like, what I don’t like, what I want… comfort me, make me feel good, make me happy. MY PREFERENCES.
What kind of ship did God intend the church to be?
1. Church with a Vision to fulfill the Mission (Proverbs 29: 18)
When prophetic vision fails, obedience to the Law is the best or only substitute for it, both being forms through which divine wisdom is revealed. Very striking in the midst of ethical precepts is this recognition of the need of a yet higher teaching, without which morality passes into worldly prudence or degenerates into casuistry. The “wise man,” the son of David, has seen in the prophets and in their work the condition of true national blessedness. The darkest time in the history of Israel had been when there “was no open vision 1 Samuel 3: 1; at such a time the people “perish,” are let loose, “are left to run wild.”
Vision: Giving the Water of Life. (John 4: 14) ~ giving and bringing Christ into everyone’s life.
Mission: Pursue and bring about Worship, Prayer, Healing, Evangelism, Missions, Spiritual Awakening, Renewal and Revival in our local community, our state and country.
2. Joy of the Lord is the strength of the church (Nehemiah 8: 10; Philippians]
This is no gluttonous and drunken festival that enervates the body, and enfeebles the mind: from your religious feast your bodies will acquire strength and your minds power and fervor, so that you shall be able to do His will, and to do it cheerfully. Religious joy, properly tempered with continual dependence on the help of God, meekness of mind, and self-diffidence, is a powerful means of strengthening the soul. In such a state every duty is practicable, and every duty delightful. In such a frame of mind no man can ever fell, and in such a state of mind the general health of the body is much improved; a cheerful heart is not only a continual feast, but also a continual medicine. To rejoice, as the Lord commanded them on such days as these, was a means both of increasing their bodily strength and their inward strength, and of fitting them the more to perform their duty to God and men with cheerfulness, which sorrow and heaviness made unfit for; and the joy which has the Lord for its object, and comes from him, is the cause of renewing spiritual strength, so as to run and not be weary, walk and not faint, in the ways of God.
3. Worship is our response to God and Warfare for the church (Joshua 6: 15 & 16; John 4: 24)
Most Christians think of worship as something we do as we come together on Sunday morning. We’ve learned that worship helps us endure trials and empowers us for witnessing. However did you know that worship aids us in spiritual warfare as well? The worship and praise of Almighty God gives us victory over the enemy.
In the OT, the people of God learned that worship and warfare went hand in hand. Over and over we read of situations in which the people failed to worship God with their whole hearts. As a result their enemies defeated them. However, when they repented and truly worshiped God, He always gave them victory. They could not win a war without sincere worship.
Paul and Silas won the victory by singing in the depth of the Philippian prison and were freed by an earthquake. Jonah worshiped God in the belly of the great fish and was spewed up onto the shore. Worship brings victory! Truly, worship and spiritual warfare go hand in hand.
Over the past few years we’ve been exploring the importance of worship, and how it is the means by which we are changed into Christ’s image. Why do we bring up the subject of spiritual warfare? We do so because if we are going to be true worshipers of God, more than ever before we need to be knowledgeable in the art of spiritual warfare. We need to know the enemy - his tactics and his ways - because; we are going to need this wisdom! If we want to survive these "end times," we really have no other option than to learn how to fight the enemy and how to do warfare for ourselves, as well as all those for whom we pray.
4. Church has daily Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 6: 11-13)
David Wilkerson wrote in his newsletter April 1991, “The entire church structure of America could not stop the showing of (The blasphemous film) “The last Temptation of Christ”… in twenty five years, have we stopped abortion? No, it’s worse than ever…there are Christians right now who claim they are taking the world for Jesus. But I don’t know of one country they have taken.”
A California-based organization has released its annual list of anti-Christian acts in America for 2010 - a list determined through an online poll. The list included stories like the DHS report on "Rightwing Extremism," which labeled conservative Christians as potential terrorists - or when police officers were called to a middle school in Kentucky to stop eighth-graders from praying during lunch for a student whose mother was tragically killed.
The number-one anti-Christian event in 2010, according to the poll’s final tally, was the continued push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) - a bill that, if made law, would force ministries to hire individuals who oppose their beliefs or who live in open defiance of their values.
"Attacks are real; the discrimination is growing; the threats are not just rhetorical now - some of them have even resulted in physical violence," "But it’s important not simply to know what’s going on," he explains. "... Christians need to work together to support each other and to support our mutual beliefs and values. Otherwise our children and our grandchildren are going to suffer, if we’re not good stewards of the liberty and freedoms we have today."
We find many spiritual warfare seminars and prayer meetings going on to train the church in its position to take back what is rightfully ours. The church has become serious and militant in taking back the ground for Christ. With good intentions, people are trained to rid the devil and sin from society and our cities by exercising our authority in warfare praying and declarations. They take their Biblical authority over them by binding them, verbally abusing the fallen angels, even sending them back to the pit from where they came (which is not really where they come from or go to. This will be addressed later). Scripture used to validate this are Mt.12:29, 16:19, 18:18 and Mk.3:27.
Matthew 28: 18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” All authority has not been passed on to us. We need to be under his authority to have any.
There is a text of binding and loosing found in Matthew 18: 15-20. What is the church doing with it?
When Jesus was challenged on doctrine such as the resurrection by the Sadducees. He responded by stating Scripture with authority saying “You are mistaken not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God.” (Mt. 22: 29). This is what is meant by Paul “to put on the armor.” We need to be consistent in our walk by practicing obedience otherwise when that evil day comes we will not be able to stand. No one learns to fight a battle in one day so their needs to be a consistent resistance against the enemy otherwise we will fold during the main battle. It states in the Old Testament in Jeremiah, “if you can’t walk well with the foot soldiers how will you run with the horsemen”.
5. Church bears fruit (Galatians 5: 22 & 23)
These fruit lists describe what a Christian’s character grows into, over time. There was no word in there about being given the Midas touch for resolving all financial woes. There’s not even the slightest signal in there about tongues being the evidence of the Spirit’s presence. There’s nothing about crusading for a just society, though there is something about being just. These lists are completely silent about miraculous deeds or the gifts of wisdom or knowledge or discernment as signs of the Spirit’s rule within a person. The lists give no special credit to official power or office or responsibility.
First, the source of the fruit is the vine, for each branch bears no fruit in and of itself (v. 4). Jesus then said, "apart from me, ye can do nothing" (v. 5). In this relationship, the branches might become weak and diseased, but not the vine! God said to Israel, "from me is thy fruit found" (Hos. 14: 8).
Then Jesus declared that the fruitless branches would be "taken away" (vv. 2, 6). Religious people are not neces¬sarily spiritual people. Some may have a form of godliness, but have never really tasted the sweetness of fellowship with God. Outward sem¬blances are there, but no production is in evidence. And so such will be cast forth, and can do nothing but wither. A religious, and yet Christ-less life will never be of much use to God or men.
In such matters, pruning is necessary. Such as are "pruned" by God are cleansed that they "bear more fruit" (vv. 2, 3). Jesus tells in (Matthew 7: 16, 20) that one knows God’s followers ’by their fruits’.
6. Church serves by deploying their Gifts (1 Cor. 12: 4-7; Romans 12: 6; Hebrews 2: 4)
Since the beginning of time the Holy Spirit has given gifts to men and women in order to accomplish the plans and purposes of God. The Bible teaches that the gifts of the Spirit are available to all believers. Christians may have one or more of the gifts. The main purpose of the gifts is to build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:7-13). Spiritual gifts are also given by the Holy Spirit to individual believers to empower and enable them to serve others (1 Cor. 12:4-21; Eph. 4-7-13; Romans 12:6-8).
John 14: 12 - Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
We cannot do the "greater works" without the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives. We must press on to know Him more and hunger for all that He has for us. We cannot afford to pick and choose which gifts we want operating in our lives. We must allow the Holy Spirit to distribute His gifts according to His will.
7. Church undergoes fiery trials and suffering; even persecution and for many their life is on the line (Mark 13: 13; John 15: 18, 20; 1 Thess. 3: 4; 1 Peter 4: 12)
Persecution in the early church occurred sporadically almost since the beginning, but it was first sanctioned by the government under Nero. In 64 AD, a great fire ravaged Rome. Christians were blamed for it. Apparently many were torched so that their burning bodies could light up the way for the travelers and visitors.
As the followers of Christ were to be exposed to the hatred of the world, it was no small consolation to them to know that that hatred would be only in proportion to their faith and holiness; and that, consequently, instead of being troubled at the prospect of persecution, they should rejoice, because that should always be a proof to them that they were in the very path in which Jesus himself had trod.
But they must take heed that they are not drawn away from Christ and their duty to him, by the sufferings they will meet with for his sake. They shall be hated of all men: trouble enough! Yet the work they were called to should be carried on and prosper. Though they may be crushed and borne down, the gospel cannot be. The salvation promised is more than deliverance from evil, it is everlasting blessedness.
The greater the persecution of the church, the more it will grow.
"Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven." (Luke 6: 22)
Application: Imagine if every church was able to disciple its congregation in a way that each member knew without hesitation what their mission was and especially what their individual purpose was to make the mission a success. In truth this is exactly what some churches are doing and they are growing and impacting the community in the process.
The Battleship vs. Cruise Ship analogy is very poignant and relevant for today. There is plenty more to come … Can’t say happy sailing but sure a joyful one when our God-given mission on earth is accomplished! Reach out to the lost souls …
Here is the mathematics of the Body of Christ:
Relationships – mission = cruise-ship / country club / hedonism / narcissism / Jesus is my chaplain = BORING
Relationships + mission = battleship / on mission / sacrificial / oriented for others / self-giving / Jesus is my Commander = ADVENTURE