Welcome to 2023, already twelve days old.
In the words of our cofounder Jim Denison, the goal at Denison Forum is to “explain the culture to the church so the church can change the culture in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (See 1 Chronicles 12:32.)
Offense vs. defense
Many of you know the name Kirk Cameron, the child actor from Growing Pains in the ’80s. More recently he’s become known as an evangelist, writer, and Christian apologist. In just the last month, he’s made headlines over battles with several public libraries about his new book.
I caught an interview with him recently in which he said, “The church needs to stop playing defense and start playing offense.”
In some ways I agree with him.
It can often feel like the church is perpetually on our heels against a relentless battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil in which we appear about to collapse in failure at any moment.
Are Christ followers and local churches the perennial underdogs in every contest?
I don’t think so.
Pastors and believers should never be arrogant and presumptuous. Neither should we be panicked, cowering, or discouraged. We serve the Lord God Almighty who has defeated sin, death, and hell in the ministry of Jesus. He has, is, and will defeat all darkness, and we are Jesus’ fellow heirs in victory.
The gates of hell shall not prevail
I’ve been blessed to visit Israel several times. One of the sites is Caesarea Philippi, twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee in the tribal area of Dan, close to today’s border with Lebanon.
In Jesus’ time, this area was a large pagan worship area. A natural spring there is part of the headwaters for the Jordan River. Here, a large, flooded cave was so deep that it could not be measured two thousand years ago. The people thought this was the passage to the underworld. As recorded in Matthew 16, the people thought this was literally “the gate to hell.”
Jesus brought his disciples to this location to declare that nothing on earth or in hell would stand against the church, the assembly of his followers. We are victors.
Significant language in the Bible describes Christians as warriors. Matthew 16, Ephesians 6, and Romans 8 are just a few. Revelation tells us that Christ will return not as a child in a cradle but as the rightful conquering king.
We are inspired by courage and valor. We are motivated by power. We like to win, especially over evil. Because of that, it’s easy to embrace a warrior perspective as our modus operandi.
The problem is, people are not the enemy, the devil is (Ephesians 6:12). We need to see the battle with him.
When it comes to the devil and his attacks on us, we need the attitude of holy warriors ( Ephesians 6:10–20).
What does it mean to be an “ambassador of Christ”?
In contrast to warriors, how many missionaries inspire you? Compared to the warriors you can name, how many great missionaries do you remember?
I confess: I’d rather be a victorious warrior instead of a humble missionary. I think God has called us to be both, but with a greater focus on the missionary side.
We “war” against the devil who seeks to devour us and all the things of God (John 10:10; 1 Peter 5:8). When it comes to people, we are missionaries and witnesses (John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:11–21).
I think many Christians have these callings flipped. The result is that the gospel is not shared well, Christ and his people are mocked, often justifiably as hypocrites, and Christ is not honored.
So, what is the mindset of Christ’s kingdom missionary?
If you prefer a different term, use ambassador.
Ambassadors are sent
Ambassadors/missionaries know they are sent by their king. This is the reason believers are left on earth after conversion. God has words and works he wants done so that others can be adopted into his family (Romans 8:15) and naturalized into his kingdom (Philippians 3:20).
The early believers were infused with the Holy Spirit and turned the world upside down because they were convinced they were sent by Jesus to do his work. Are you so persuaded? Do you have the heart-deep conviction and clarity that you have been commissioned by him for your current work?
Missionary ambassadors have a message to deliver. In a sense, all believers are to be holy journalists who learn the stories God has and is writing and report them to others.
News broadcasters are not held in high regard these days. Neither are pastors in the minds of many. But our calling as pastors and people is to let the message of God’s love and truth in Christ “ring out” across the nations (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
One pastor said, “Our calling is to preach the whole gospel, to the whole world, by the whole church.”
Remember that when you preach and teach this weekend.
As kingdom representatives, we don’t just speak. We also serve as Jesus did.
Our good works don’t earn us the love of God, but they do earn us the respect of those who don’t yet believe. Like Jesus, when we see the overlooked, welcome the outcast, feed the hungry, house and clothe the exposed, heal the sick and injured, and free the oppressed, we enable blind, unbelieving people to see the reality of our God and his goodness (Matthew 5:16). When we work, God works, and disbelief is repelled by the light of love.
Have you rejected the false dichotomy of the spoken gospel versus the social gospel?
The gospel is both/and, not either/or.
Missionaries joyfully sacrifice in obedience to their king and for the needs of others. Every missionary, pastor, and healthy Christian I know of is a person who chooses to live differently.
Sacrifice means we give up something we like or love for something we love more. This was the intuitive lifestyle of Jesus and the Macedonians Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 8–9.
Christ followers could do different things with their time, skills, and money. They make different choices because of their love for their king and the work he entrusts to them (Matthew 6:33). Usually, these sacrifices aren’t viewed as sacrifices by those who make them. They are seen as investments in the kingdom.
Last, Christ’s missionary ambassadors are willing to suffer when necessary. No healthy person or Christian seeks suffering. (Those who do need intervention, clarity, and improved theology.)
But the Bible is full of warnings and instructions that tell us that some suffering will come to us because of our loyalty to Christ (John 16:33; 1 Peter 3:14). Paul wanted to know both the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering (Philippians 3:10).
Are we too often interested only in the first part and not both?
The teachings of Scripture about suffering are intended to prepare us so we don’t lose our confidence in Christ and his kingdom when things do get hard.
We are cultural missionaries
When believers and churches understand the culture, they can change the culture by praying passionately, living biblically, and acting redemptively as salt and light.
As cultural missionaries who have understanding, believers are sent into the darkness to speak the gospel in truth and love, serve joyfully, sacrifice willingly, and suffer necessarily for the glory of God and the good of others.
Let’s recommit today to walking with Jesus through the daily filling of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of his word, and the fellowship of his people this year and every day until we see him face-to-face.