Going on the Offensive
Tony Cooke

I am no sports analyst, but I’ve seen several games, especially in basketball, where a team gets overly cautious, and instead of playing to win, they simply begin playing not to lose. Usually this happens late in the game and often coincides with a surge of momentum and increased effort from the opposing team.

2020 left many reeling, and perhaps with a “let’s circle the wagons” type of mentality. There are legitimate defensive strategies that we adopt and utilize in life, but we are not here “just to run out the clock” and hope that Jesus returns before it gets too bad. When Jesus said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18), it seems to have been his presumption that his church would be on the offensive. Our mentality should not be to “hold the fort” but to “storm the gates.”

There are various interpretations to what Jesus meant when he referred to “the gates of Hades,” one of which is the image of a castle with gates. If this is the correct understanding, gates are designed for defensive purposes, and this puts us on the offensive. William Barclay writes, “However we take it, this phrase triumphantly expresses the indestructibility of Christ and his Church.”

The story of Gideon powerfully reveals one of God’s children transitioning from the defensive to the offensive. All of Israel was cowering because of the bullying and intimidation of the Midianites. The Israelites had been impoverished because of their oppression. Judges 6:6 tells us that “Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites” (NLT).

As the story unfolds, Gideon himself is cowering in a winepress while threshing out some wheat (Judges 6:11). The NLT brings out that he was in the bottom of a winepress. Normally, Gideon would have been threshing wheat on a threshing floor, not in a winepress. This simply illustrates the level of intimidation Gideon himself was experiencing. You can get minimal results threshing wheat in the bottom of winepress, so Gideon’s fear kept him from significant productivity.

Before Gideon could get on the offensive, he had to overcome his own self-defeating excuses. Consider his mentality as he conversed with the angel:

Judges 6:13, 15 (NLT)
Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The LORD brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.” “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

Consider the strongholds of fear, unbelief, and inferiority that gripped and paralyzed Gideon. We can’t afford to have thinking like that.

The good news is that Gideon eventually yielded to God’s directives, and it got him listed in the great “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11:32-34 (NLT)
How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.

Faith will put us on the offensive!

I realize that there are many different ways a church can go on the offensive. We are not all called to do the same thing, but we are all called to make a difference. My heart rejoiced when I read the following by Darren Tyler who pastors Conduit Church in Nashville, TN. Darren writes:

Since Conduit Church began meeting in public gatherings in June:

  • 60 families have been set free from slavery.
  • Thousands of families suffering from the consequences of the economic crisis have been fed and clothed… from the Himalayan Mountains to the Bush of East Africa to the mountains of Haiti.
  • A new school in South East Asia was fully funded for construction to begin in January.
  • Funding for a school for the children of former slaves in Asia was fully met.
  • School budgets for over a thousand kids in East Africa, Asia and Haiti have been fully funded
  • Funding for an expansion for a Crisis Pregnancy Center was donated.
  • Construction budget for a new church/ school in East Africa was fully met.
  • Funding to assist in the work of fighting addiction at Place of Hope in Columbia, TN.

In total, over $400,000 has been raised to provide for these and many other projects since we started gathering again in June. Behind every project is a person—a person whose life is being saved quite literally.

The VAST majority of this money was raised during and because of a live gathering. When someone calls for churches to shut down, this is what they are shutting down. I understand that it’s not black and white, but I so wish those who blithely call for churches to shut down recognized that it’s not so simple.

Shutting down a church during Covid has been framed as saving lives. But it’s not so simple. If Conduit had not met the past six months, there are real-life consequences to the people behind the projects. The virus is real. But so is starvation. So is the risk to young girls in Asia have who aren’t in school. So is mental health, addiction, suicide. It’s all real. Shutting down a church shuts many outreaches down.

Conduit is not alone in this. Our friends up the street at Gateway raised $40,000 in just the last 30 days from one initiative that will be invested in saving lives in Middle Tennessee and around the world. Our friends at Southview Church have joined us in providing freedom for slave families, as has Branchville United Methodist in Indiana. A small church in Northern California defied orders to not gather and as a result two more families will be set free in Asia.

We don’t gather without risk. We aren’t being cavalier about this. We aren’t fighting against the government. We are fighting for the most vulnerable among us. This is why we will continue to gather.

I am not sharing this information to condemn any church that has deemed it best to suspend in-person services at certain times. I respect each pastor’s right to make decisions based on their own unique circumstances and dynamics. What I am encouraging, though, is that no matter how we are doing church at this time, that we stay on the offensive.

The mission of God has not been put on hold because of coronavirus. We can make whatever logistical adjustments we feel are necessary to lead properly, but we cannot abdicate the Great Commission or the Great Commandment. Our calling and assignment have not changed!

You may have felt increased pressure these past nine months—many have. But I think there is someone who is feeling more pressure than pastors, churches, and believers, and that is Satan.

This may not be exactly right in terms of “the” eschatological timeline, but perhaps a reason for the increase in agitation in the world is because Satan “knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12).

Martin Luther is often quoted as having said, “If I believed the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.” Whether Luther said that or not, it’s quite a statement. My prayer is that the Body of Christ will be steadfastly committed to proclaiming the glorious gospel, as well as to demonstrating kindness, love, and mercy in the earth.

In my early years of walking with the Lord, I heard a statement by Arthur Wallis that challenged me. It challenges me still. Wallis said, “If you would do the best with your life, find out what God is doing in your generation and throw yourself wholly into it.” May we be found throwing ourselves wholly into the plan and purpose of God throughout this New Year!

Bible teacher and author Tony Cooke graduated from RHEMA Bible Training Center in 1980 and received degrees from North Central University (Bachelor’s in Church Ministries) and Liberty University (Master’s in Theological Studies/Church History).

His ministerial background includes pastoral ministry, teaching in Bible schools, and directing a ministerial association. Tony’s passion for teaching the Bible has taken him to more than thirty nations and nearly all fifty states. He is the author of a dozen books, of which, various titles have been translated and published in eight other languages. Tony and his wife, Lisa, reside in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and are the parents of two adult children.