Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Christian's Fleet of Faith

The Colonel had the opportunity to lead a devotional for Wednesday Evening Prayer Service. Text follows:

As a Marine, I spent a lot of time on Navy ships. My sailor friends reminded me often, that despite the fact that we Marines spent a lot of time wallowing in the mud ashore, I was first and foremost a Naval Officer. They impressed upon me from my earliest training just down the road here in the building on campus that formerly was known as McCain Hall, that I needed to understand the fundamentals of naval warfare just as much as the fundamentals of warfare ashore. So, I learned how to talk sailor--they have a different word for everything: a wall was not a wall--it was a bulkhead, a door was called a hatch, the floor was referred to as the deck, left was port, right was starboard. They didn’t even use the simple "yes, sir"—it was aye, aye sir.

Later on in my naval career, I learned about the capabilities and tactics of navigating and fighting a single ship. I learned that rarely did a single ship sail and operate alone. No matter how powerful and capable a single ship was, it was not near as strong and capable as it was when combined into a balanced fleet of ships each possessing unique characteristics and functions. This fleet team was able to operate farther and influence a much greater patch of territory on the globe than a single ship. At the heart of each fleet is one or more capital ships—a battleship, for example. The other ships in a fleet support, defend, and add their capabilities to that most powerful ship. All of the ships in a fleet, large and small, have critical roles. Lose a particular type of ship and the fleet operates at much less than optimal strength and effectiveness—sometimes loss of a key small ship leaves the fleet vulnerable to crippling attack, or leaves the fleet unable to accomplish an important mission.

There is a Christian Fleet of Faith. It is composed of several separate and distinct “ships,” each of which possess unique characteristics and functions. By themselves, each of these “ships” has some ability to operate and have positive effect on their own. But, each of these “ships” also has functions and characteristics that lend themselves to increasing the effectiveness of the rest of a Christian’s fleet. Let’s look at each one of these ships separately for a minute and see how each one complements the other and makes the whole fleet stronger.

The first “ship”, Worship, is the “battleship” at the heart of your fleet of faith. We find the first instance of man’s worship of God in the book of Genesis—12:7 As the relationship between man and God grew, so did our understanding of worship as our primary function with regard to God. Worship of God is the first thing we do when we accept Jesus as our Savior. In the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel, the disciple tells of Jesus giving sight to a blind man. In verse 35 John tells us that Jesus asked the man “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Let’s look at the response—verses 36—38. What did the healed man (Can’t call him the blind man anymore!) do immediately upon believing in Jesus? He Worshiped Jesus! Worship is the first and most important thing in our relationship with God. Just as a fleet would be weak and ineffective without its battleship heart, so the Christian’s fleet of Faith is powerless without worship. I won’t belabor this point—it is obvious to you. Instead I want to focus on the other supporting ships in our fleet.

If Worship is the battleship in our fleet of faith, then the twin ships Membership and Fellowship are the heavy cruisers. A heavy cruiser is powerful, but not as powerful as the battleship. A heavy cruiser can operate alone, but not for very long. Its real mission is to defend the battleship so that the battleship can focus on striking the enemy and not waste effort defending itself. Likewise, membership in a church family and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ strengthens our worship. From membership, and participation, in a Sunday School class we study scripture and learn God’s will in our lives. In the fellowship of that Sunday School class we share our spiritual and physical needs. In that group of Christian brothers and sisters we share in worship and minister to others. There is no other group in any church family that is as powerful as a Sunday School class. Period. Let me say that again—there is no other group in any church family that is as powerful as a Sunday school class. I won’t argue that point—I’m right. If you are not in a Sunday School class, your fleet of faith is suffering from a weak fellowship. If you are not in a Sunday school class, there is one that, among the many that meets every Sunday at 9 am, is just for you. And since you already know how to find your way to this room, there is a class that meets right here every Sunday morning. Stand up, Miss Brenda. This, for those of you who have never met her, is the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda. Now you know where a class meets and you know someone in that class. Join us in fellowship. This is too easy. So, let’s move on and look at another ship in our fleet-- Discipleship

If Worship is the battleship heart of our fleet of Faith and Membership and Fellowship are the heavy cruisers that support and defend the heart of our fleet, then Discipleship is the Marine landing force of the fleet. Jesus gave several missions to our Christian Family Fleet of faith. In the 22nd chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the disciple quotes Jesus telling the Pharisees the greatest commandment in the Law was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” –that’s worship. Jesus went on to say that “the second is…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told us to love and support each other in the Church Family—that’s fellowship. He told us to love others outside of the Church Family—putting that love into action is discipleship. Jesus gave us a mission we call the Great Commission. In the final verses of his Gospel, Matthew quotes Jesus giving this mission to his disciples and by extension to all believers: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” Jesus was very specific about what His mission for us was. Just as it makes no sense for a fleet to exist without a mission, it makes no sense for us to exist as a church family without one. But, the mission of discipleship cannot be accomplished at long distance. A fleet given the mission of capturing a piece of enemy territory cannot accomplish that mission by standing offshore and lobbing shells onto the land. The Marines have to go ashore and get up close and personal with the enemy. Supporting fire from ships and aircraft is important—but boots on the ground win battles. So it is with discipleship. Jesus commanded us to go ashore—not sit safely on the ship.

So, our Fleet of Faith has at its heart the battleship of Worship, it has the supporting and defending heavy cruisers of Membership and Fellowship, and the Marine landing force of Discipleship… there ares two more ships in our fleet of faith we need to talk about.

The least considered but clearly most important ship in any fleet is the supply ship. The other fighting ships of the fleet can only carry so much fuel, food and ammunition. They have to be resupplied often. Without its supply ships, a fleet quickly becomes ineffective. In a Christian’s Fleet of Faith, the supply ship is Stewardship. Without stewardship, the battleship of Worship, the supporting and defending heavy cruisers of Membership and Fellowship, and the Marine landing force of Discipleship are far less effective—often completely ineffective. But, not because God needs a paltry tenth of our money to accomplish his designs. He doesn’t need “our” money. God took two tiny fishes and five small loaves and fed thousands! Do you believe God is Great? Amen? He’s the Mighty Yahweh, the Great I Am. He’s the Divider of the Red Sea, the Deliverer of Israel. He dropped the mighty walls of Jericho; He crushed the camp of a hundred thousand Midianites, both with just the toot of a horn! He’s the God of Abraham to whom he gave a son by Sarah when he was a hundred years old and she was 91! Do you believe God is Great? Amen? Listen to this: My God is so great that He looked two thousand years into the future and saw me, one of billions on this earth, dead in my sin and rebellion against Him, and He sent Jesus, His only son, to give His life as a blood sacrifice to cover my sin from God’s eyes. Do you believe God is Great? Amen? Believe this: Every bit of “our” money, every penny, is God’s to begin with. Can I get an Amen? Do you believe that everything we have comes from God, because God created and owns everything to begin with? Amen? So, God doesn’t need for us to give Him one red cent. It is his already, and believe me, he will take it back if he wants it. God doesn’t need us to give him an offering. But, We Need to give God an offering. Our tithes and offerings are not for God’s needs! Our tithes and offerings are for OUR Needs! And for OUR blessings. Malachi spoke for God when he told the people of Israel “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” I don’t believe there is anything else about which God has given us permission to test him.

Here is my testimony. A Sunday School teacher led me to salvation when I was nine years old. A missionary taught me to eat the meat of the word when I was a teenager. A church family, right here at Abbeville Baptist Church, ministered to me and my new bride for two years starting thirty-three years ago. They loved us, taught us, fed us, and stayed in our hearts as we wandered the globe for the next three decades. Brenda and I believe without a shadow of a doubt that God brought us back here two years ago as part of a blessing to us for exercising the faith we learned here. This church taught us to tithe and to give. We didn’t give much—we didn’t have much. God didn’t need our tithe and our offerings for this church. But, we needed to give it. Folks, we had nothing but each other in those days—and there wasn’t much of that to go around, either! And yet, we never lacked for anything we needed. There was no way our budget supported tithing on paper —there was not enough income to cover our needs let alone to give a tenth off the top to God. We finally stopped trying to budget a tithe and just trusted God. We tithed and then budgeted the rest. Let me say that again, we tithed, and then budgeted the rest. God blessed us with more than we needed, and we lived our lives that way from that time on. Okay, I’ll admit to you that there were a couple of times where we were tempted to skip a tithe in order to get ahead of the budget curve. But, you know what happened? The car broke down. The refrigerator quit working. God disciplined us for our lack of faith and we got right back on the tithe wagon before He started taking anything else back. I am convinced that if we had not continued to tithe first and budget the rest, we would be in debt up to our eyeballs and living somewhere else. From the time Brenda and I began to share our dreams 38 years ago, we wanted to be right where we are now. I am certain that we are blessed with the fulfillment of that dream because of our faithfulness to give back to God. There is no other explanation. That’s my testimony.

Someone taught me a long time ago that the true measure of our faith is not what we say, but what we do? Do you believe this? Amen? If so, what does our giving say about our faith?

The Christian Fleet of Faith has the battleship of Worship, the supporting and defending heavy cruisers of Membership and Fellowship, the Marine landing force of Discipleship, and the supply vessel Stewardship. There’s one last ship in the Christian Fleet of Faith—Leadership.

As Christians we are to discern and subject ourselves to God’s will by the leadership of the Holy Spirit. That’s something we’ve all been taught from day one in our church experience. Further, we are commanded to subject ourselves to the leadership of the man God appoints to pastor his church. We know this. But, did you know that as a Christian you are called to be a leader, too?

Napoleon often remarked that every private in his army carried a marshal’s baton in his knapsack. What he tried to instill in his army was the belief that every man in the army was a leader who could step up and take charge in a given situation that called for that man’s appreciation of an opportunity on the battlefield. We Marines have a similar belief that every Marine is a Leader. All American armed forces believe the same thing. I believe that Jesus considered us all leaders. The Great Commission calls for us to share the Gospel and LEAD others to Christ. Each one of us in this room, beyond the age of accountability, is a leader. Someone in our lives looks to us for our wisdom and example—a child, a sibling, even a parent; could be a co-worker, a neighbor, someone we may not even know by name. Like it or not, you are a leader. And, our Fleet of Faith will not be near as effective as it could be if we do not accept the responsibility as Christian leaders. I’m not talking necessarily about a formal leadership position in the church—I’m talking about the leadership we provide to our children by teaching them about their Fleets of Faith—Worship, Membership, Fellowship, Discipleship, Stewardship, and Leadership. I’m talking about the Christian example of Faith we provide to the new brothers and sisters in Christ who look to us for leadership. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul said “for if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle.” The context for this was his instructions regarding prophecy and speaking in tongues, but the message is clearly one regarding standard setting and setting the example by leaders. Paul was using the Roman army as an example for his point. The Romans had a series of distinctly different bugle calls by which roman leaders ordered their soldiers’ daily lives. One call woke them in the morning, another told them to stop to eat, another to get back to work, another to put on armor and assemble for battle. If a leader, through his bugler, produced a call that was misunderstood, a soldier might start cooking lunch when his leader needed him to get ready to fight. The lesson for us is that as leaders we must clearly pass on the teachings of Christ and lead by example. If we send mixed messages—saying one thing, but doing something different—then those we should be leading will not be prepared to battle against sin or to grow in their faith to the point that they are receiving the blessings God is prepared to give them. If a fellow Christian is not being blessed, we might do well to look at our leadership example to them. We may be the ones leading them astray. And, I believe that one of our greatest leadership failings is in the matter of stewardship. The example of our giving, and how we manage our finances, is perhaps the single greatest impression we leave on our children and others regarding the strength of our faith in God.

Do you believe God wants you to be a leader? Say Amen, shake your head yes. Do you believe God wants your Fleet of Faith to be effective in accomplishing His work here on Earth? Say Amen, shake your head yes. Is there some “ship” – either Worship, Membership, Fellowship, Discipleship, Stewardship, or Leadership -- that is weak or missing from your Fleet of Faith? Say amen, shake your head yes. My prayer is that God will convict us of the weaknesses in our faith and make us miserable until we bend to his will.
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