The passionate desire of the King of Heaven is for His Bride as she sits in this present darkness longing for her Beloved. What shall be the response from her noble and pure heart as she awaits the anticipated arrival of her Champion?
She inhales deeply of His memory, vanquishing the fear that held her captive. She slowly pushes the hair away from her face as she reaches for her sword. The Bride emerges from her hiding place with a brazen determination to rescue the Kingdom from the evil that had laid siege to the land like the black plague…
Unless you’ve been resting in a deep sleep, I’m sure you’ve noticed the world is quaking with seismic political tremors. We are living in times of epic global shifts and the fault lines run along cultural and ethnic boundaries. Worlds, ideas, cultures, and kingdoms are on a collision course.
For many in the church, survival— holding on until Jesus returns—has become the primary aim. Once survival has become our supreme goal, we have lost our way. The purpose of the church is to do more than survive. It is to serve and to advance the kingdom of heaven against the powers of darkness enslaving humanity.
We cannot cower in our spiritual bomb shelters while the battle rages. We are not called to survive history, but to serve humanity. We need to take the lead and begin to shape the culture with the values of the Kingdom rather than be shaped and conformed to the values of this world.
The life of the church is the heart of God. The heart of God has always been to serve a broken world. When Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist, He reminded us that only He could wash away the stain of sin.
The church exists to serve as the body of Christ, and it is through this commitment to serve that we are forced to engage our culture.
The serving that we are called to requires direct contact. You cannot wash the feet of a dirty world if you refuse to touch it. There is a sense of mystery to this, but it is in serving that the church finds her strength. When she ceases to serve the world around her, she begins to atrophy. In pathology, atrophy is the wasting or decreasing in size of any part of a body. When the church refuses to serve the world, she begins to wither away.
If only we could summarize the problem of the American church by simply saying that most churches are not growing. But it’s worse than that. Even to say that churches are declining and closing their doors is not to speak of the real tragedy. This may seem strange, but the real tragedy is not that churches are dying but rather churches have lost their reason to live. The church has become a fortress from the world rather than the hope of the world.
The diminishing influence of the American church on American society is not simply because fewer people are going to church, but fewer people are going to church because of the diminishing influence of Christ on the church itself. The church, at best, has fallen asleep.
It might be fair to say that we’ve lost the power to transform culture. We accommodated to a culture that was, has been for us, user-friendly. We have equated being a good citizen with being a good Christian. We have enjoyed living without persecution and soon found ourselves without conviction. We didn’t lose America; we gave her away.
In our panic and powerlessness, we have turned to political means hoping to regain what we once had through spiritual awakening. Yet as a moral majority, we have been unable to accomplish what God could through Gideon’s few. We have settled for revival fires that have burned at the grassroots but whose flames have never reached high enough to set aflame the gate-keepers of culture.
The focus hasn’t been on serving the world; the church itself became the focal point. Our motto degenerated from, “We are the church, here to serve a lost and broken world,” to “What does the church have to offer me?” This move has made the pastor the only minister while making the members recipients of ministry–consumers of services.
What is lost in this process is an army of healers touching the planet. Churches have placed more emphasis on customer service rather than raising up cultural warriors who serve at the pleasure of the King.
Once we were called Christians by an unbelieving world, and now we call ourselves Christians and the world calls us hypocrites. Is it possible that it hasn’t been the nation that has become dangerously secular but the church? Is it possible that it hasn’t been progressive Liberals that are the founders of the secular nation but the passive church?
Somewhere, perhaps as the slumbering Bride slipped into the dark ages, she lost her momentum to shape culture. Instead of being an influence as the “salt of the earth,” she refused to leave the salt shaker. The church became an institution preserving the past rather than an instrument of God, shaping the future. The distinction lies in the fact that institutions preserve culture, while movements create culture.
In Deuteronomy 2, there’s a peculiar story of God shaping his people and transforming them from slaves to conquerors. It is one thing to be set free, it is another thing to actually live free.
The Lord said to Moses and his people, “Now get moving! Cross the Arnon Gorge. Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land. Attack him and begin to occupy the land. Beginning today I will make people throughout the earth terrified because of you. When they hear reports about you, they will tremble with dread and fear.”
This was Israel’s defining moment. This was the battle in which God was going to establish them as His people. Through this victory, God was going to place the fear of God in all the nations who worshipped false gods. His instructions were absolutely clear, “Go pick a fight, engage them in battle, and today I will give you victory.”
Surprisingly enough, the very next verse tells us that Moses sent messengers to the king of Heshbon, with this message: “Let us travel through your land. We will stay on the main road and won’t turn off into the fields on either side. Sell us food to eat and water to drink, and we will pay for it. All we want is permission to pass through your land.”
Israel’s response to God’s command that they engage and conquer was soon twisted into a compromised offer of peace. While God was committed to establishing them as a people of His presence and power, they were more than willing to settle for much less than that. They simply wanted to survive.
The story continues and of course, the king, because of his stubborn heart, refuses them passage. Interestingly, it was “because the Lord your God made Sihon stubborn and defiant so He could help you defeat him, as He has now done.”
This passage teaches us a very peculiar thing about God. His approach is often an invitation to believe in Him and move in His power. God’s first choice is to search for a heart that is wholly His and then strongly support it. But many times that is not the condition of our hearts.
Often it is God who forces circumstances upon us that require us to rely on His goodness. Since Israel did not have a heart to trust God, God hardened the heart of Sihon—made his spirit stubborn and provoked him to go to war against Israel. God did all of this so that Israel would begin to conquer and possess the land. In short, what God did was bless Israel by forcing them to engage in a battle that they were afraid to fight. In the same way, the church is God’s agent for redeeming the earth to Himself. We are called to engage in the battle for which Jesus Christ died. Matthew tells us that the Kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it. Jesus reminds us that the church will crash against the very gates of hell. Paul describes us through the imagery of soldiers of light, dispelling the kingdom of darkness.
For two thousand years, the church has been called by God to encounter culture through His transforming power. Could it be that many of the global trends that have brought fear and concern to the contemporary church are the very acts of God, in a sense, hardening the heart of Sihon king of Heshbon? He will force us to engage the battles at hand. He will do whatever is necessary to reorganize this planet until we have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The Bride has encountered the friction of a changing world which has slowed her down but she is arising again, engaging the battle and launching a movement that will ultimately bring a revolution of love.