Monday, March 28, 2016

Is your church a Cruise Ship or Battleship?

Dr. Bret McCall came up with the analogy of churches being like Cruise ships or Battleships. I learned a lot when I started looking at the comparison and thinking about why churches either grow or don't. I hope this makes you think as it did me. I preached a 16 week series on Battleship Discipleship to mobilize our church to be engaged in the mission of Christ to the world. So what is the comparison and how does it apply to your church?

Cruise Ship Churches

Think about what happens on a Cruise Ship.  You purchased a package deal to take your family on the ideal vacation.  You're met by people who check you in, greet you as you walk across and board the amazing ship designed to take you on a memorable cruise.  Your surroundings are comfortable, the buffet has every selection to meet every appetite. Accommodations are immaculate, air conditioned, clean sheets, clean towels and all you have to do is pick up the phone for room service.

The crew are trained professionals, groomed to not offend anyone, and to be at your beckoning call. They organize events to entertain and allow you to enjoy a wonderful experience. You can sit by the pool and your waiter will bring you whatever you need or desire to make your experience a memorable one, after all, you paid for a cruise ship experience!

Battleship Churches

Battleships are not designed for pleasure, but for war.  There are no passengers aboard a battleship, only highly trained crew-members.

Every crewmember knows his job and understands that their job insures the safety of the ship and the accomplishment of the mission. The galley isn't fancy, but designed to provide good food for nourishment to keep the crew healthy and fit to accomplish the mission commissioned by the Commander in Chief.

The crew isn't a democracy and doesn't hold meetings to vote on what they think should be happening.  They don't get to complain if the seas are rough or if the conditions are uncomfortable.  They wouldn't even consider such mutiny! They are enlisted in the service of their country and have pledged an oath to defend and serve the mission!

Which is Your Church?

Cruise ship churches have a paid staff whose job it is to make sure that the passengers enjoy the experience of coming aboard.  The only mission is to make sure the passengers are well taken care of. Classes are well organized, greeters strategically positioned at the doors as the passengers board, coffee and drinks readily available to make the experience a memorable one.  You don't want unhappy passengers!

The crew members understand their job is to serve the passengers who sit in nicely padded seats and listen to the entertainment - great worship team, dynamic preacher, great sound system, and the timing must be perfect.  You can't go too long or you'll interrupt the passenger's experience of going out for lunch and gathering for the ball game in the afternoon!

Battleship churches understand that there are no passengers aboard. At enlistment, every warrior swears and oath to defend the Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic. Everyone is trained and equipped for battle against a real enemy whose mission is to steal, kill and destroy.  They fully understand that this isn't a vacation but a life and death mission for the salvation of the human race! The crew isn't trained to entertain, but to fight the battle and to watch their brother's back. Semper Fi - Always Prepared  Semper Paratus - Always Ready! No man gets left behind.  And for every victim the enemy has wounded, the battleship is on a deliberate search and rescue mission. The crew are fully armed, and fully equipped with all their weapons poised and prepared for battle with a real enemy who prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour.

Assemblies aren't for entertainment, but muster for warriors.  Attention to detail. All are accounted for. Roll taken. Daily the flag is raised at sunrise, and all hands on deck stand at attention and a sharp salute of honor pledging allegiance to the banner of freedom, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!"  Every sunset, taps are blown, the crew once again snap sharply to attention and salute as the flag is secured and folded carefully with deep respect because the crew knows whom they serve and their lives are proudly offered in service without question!

A Call to Arms

In the Western World our churches resemble cruise ships more than battleships.  Someone said that Christianity was born in a cave and died in a cathedral. If you examine the early church, they met publicly and from house to house.  They sold their possessions to make sure every crew member was taken care of.  They sacrificed their lives and many died in defence of the faith they proclaimed. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!"  There were no fancy church buildings, or professional staff hired for the purpose of entertaining the passengers.  "If anyone comes after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23).  "Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." 

Jesus didn't come to establish what I see in our padded pew, educational model of church. "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations!" (Matthew 28:18).  The cry of our Commander in Chief is a call to arms for the crew of a battleship, "Battle Stations!" "Put On the Full Armor." "Join me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer." (2 Timothy 2:4-5).

When you compare Christianity in the Western world, we'd have to admit that it's not anything like the early church or even like the church we see in other parts of the world like China where it's illegal to be a Christian or even assemble. Preachers are still imprisoned and Christianity is still the most persecuted group in the entire world - but not in the West! The West has built cruise ships to entertain passengers, not to mobilize warriors to turn the world upside down!

Here is a video of Chinese Christians getting a copy of the Bible for the first time. When's the last time you held a Bible in your hands and felt like this?

It's time to kick the cage around the zoo and reexamine our faith.  Do we even understand the severity of the battle we've been called to or the value of the search and rescue mission for which we've been commissioned? Cruise ship or battleship?  Passenger or crew member?  Isn't it time to really examine what we are doing?

They met publicly and from house to house Acts 20:20 - Our House Church

Friday, March 25, 2016

Pocket Knives and a Winchester™ Hatchet

We sat alone at the antique table sometime after midnight just outside the city limits of Spokane. My friend John, a cowboy horse breeder and skilled plastic surgeon and I shared a cup of his specialty brewed coffee cooked over a coleman stove. As I carefully listened to the painful words of my cowboy friend, from the corner of my eye I watched the skilled hands of a surgeon fondling  a small pile of pocket-knives lying on the linen table cloth. "These were  my dad's knives ."  John had just returned from his father's funeral in Wichita, Kansas and these few momento's  were the silent reminders of the past - the haunting characters that brought a cold reality that his father's life was now over. The enemy had claimed another victim, and whittled another notch on his belt of grief. The touch of my friend's hands on the  broken steel blade of a pearl handled pocket-knife revealed the dull ache of regret in his chest over losing a father that he had loved and yet had not really known as his friend.

In an oak framed glass cabinet were several western hats that my good friend wore, some daily, some saved just for special occasions like when we went to church together. Among his prized head-wear, rested a small hatchet that also belonged to his dad. The brand mark on the head said Winchester™ . "I've never seen another one like it," John said, as he  briefly held the darkened handle and laid it carefully back in its place.

John talked of a tool box from which his father had worked. He mentioned that on the next trip back home he was going to restore the tool box the way it was when his father used it in his work. A handyman of sorts, Jabez, John's dad, had raised his boys in a Christian home the best he could. He fed them, clothed them, and tried to teach them about what really mattered in life. Nothing elaborate or fancy.  He would come home sometimes angry and overbearingly stern , "Why isn't this chore done!?" "Why haven't you done this!?"  Perhaps frustrated expressions of a life that might have been.  Perhaps loving demands that his boys do better than he. Perhaps a bit of both.

Pocket  knives, a hatchet, and a tool box. Prized possessions. Often touched.  Often admired. And used to carve out a living by a simple man from Kansas. Watching my friend hold those simple objects in his hand it was as though his hands became the hands of his father caressing the pear-handled pocket knife. They now had a special symbolism that would remind my companion for the rest of his life.  Each time he looked at them, each time the cold steel head of the Winchester™  hatchet was sharpened,  a man's life would be remembered. He would never look at these simple objects through his own eyes again, but through the eyes of his father.

I wonder how many times Jesus went to the dusty carpenter shop after Joseph's death?  How many times had he rearranged his dad's tool box  and smirked a bit thinking of the expression on Joseph's face as he slammed his thumb with a hammer, maybe wanting to yell in anger, ... all the time knowing that God was holding up the other end of the board?  Did Jesus ever regret not raising Joseph from the dead?  Did a silent tear drip from his cheek when he held his dad's bridle? Simple possessions of a man take on a new meaning when he dies.

"Do this in remembrance of me." Simple objects - a piece of unleavened bread and a bit of juice from a grape.   They too are simple reminders of the past.  But more than that, they are declarations of the future.  Testimonies, not that the enemy had claimed another victim or whittled another notch on his belt of grief, but that the enemy had now become the victim!

"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes!" To the casual observer, a piece of cracker and a sip of juice are pretty insignificant. Kind of like an old pocket knife, or box of old tools, or a Winchester™ hatchet. Insignificant, that is, until you can visualize a man's life through them, and touch them with his hands and see their meaning through his eyes.