If you read Simply Put every month, you know I don't see evidence for the negativism and woeful despair many promote. I know Satan is a deceiver, and the old sin nature wants to do horrible things in all of us. But I also know God is sovereign, and He will fulfill His divine plan through His people.
I see the signs of the times, but they are not bad--they are good. So good, in fact, I'm wondering if we're not in the middle of a very special divine moment. I think we are the first generation in the history of the world that has the potential to fulfill the Great Commission. I think this could be the second greatest generation in history.
Luke 12:54-56 says: "Then He [Jesus] also said to the multitudes, 'Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, "A shower is coming"; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, "There will be hot weather"; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?'" (NKJV).
These verses mean a great deal to me because I consider myself a member of what I call "The Late Great Plant Earth Generation." I refer to my generation as the group that was weaned on a strong emphasis of Israel's role in end-time events and remember the film A Thief in the Night and the song, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready."
My generation has been endlessly warned about economic collapse, the rapture, the rise of the Antichrist, the great falling away and the building of a temple in Jerusalem--none of which have happened. We've been inundated with secret codes, societies, predictions, prophecies and projections--all of which have proved to be wanting. Which begs the question: Have we been influenced by people who can't interpret the times?
Apocalyptic literature repeatedly warns us about deceivers, false prophets and false teachers. Obviously none of us wants to ever be the one who would point a finger at another fine believer and identify him or her as misleading an entire generation of Christians. But the problem with being a deceiver is that very often the deceiver is a sincere person who wants to help but is deceived themselves. How does a person know if he or she is deceived and deceiving others?
I think the answer is a plumb line of truth and fact. Just as we have instruments in an airplane to provide evidence of its condition, we need to look at evidence to accurately know where we are in time. Otherwise, well-meaning but confused Christian speakers and writers might mislead us. Let's look at some evidence together.
Right now, the gospel is spreading more rapidly than ever before. Did you know sociologists are predicting that by 2050 Christianity will be the largest faith in the world by an unprecedented margin? (Currently, Christianity has about 800 million more adherents than the next closest religion, Islam.) In fact, the latest edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, a 20-year research project conducted by evangelical scholars, reports that 122,000 people become baptized Christians each day.
More than 70 percent of the progress in world evangelization from the time of Christ until today has occurred since 1900, and 70 percent of that progress has happened since World War II. Of that progress, 70 percent has happened in the last 36 months.
Even though we hear lackluster reports about the effectiveness of Westerners in reaching Muslims for Christ, those are not the reports from Africans and Chinese. African and Chinese missionaries are very successful at winning Muslims and creating life-giving, local churches from converts to Christianity from Islamic communities.
The global church is not sick. The church is not in retreat. Just because we haven't been as effective in the United States as we would have liked to be in the last 40 years doesn't mean global Christianity is sick. We at home might be sick for a variety of reasons, but the global church is booming. God is doing something in the earth, and we are part of it. How should we live our lives in response?
As Christians, it is crucial for us to know where we are in history, or we might invest in the wrong things, find ourselves praying about the wrong things and spending our time on irrelevant projects. This is not the time to be fearful--this is the time to advance in power and confidence. When we discern the times accurately, we can clearly see what God is doing and what our role is in His plan.
You and I have too many opportunities to let the gloom-and-doomers distract us. In order to live our lives well, we need to wisely answer the following three questions. Should we answer any of these questions wrongly, we might waste our lives:
Where are we in time? There is a timeline from the beginning of the world through all of human history until now. Each moment on that timeline required different types of people doing different kinds of jobs. We have to know what point we are at on the timeline so that we understand what we need to do.
What is God doing in our generation? We need to be able to understand how the Spirit of God is working. Where is He moving? What is He saying? What scriptures is He illuminating?
What is our role in what God is doing? We should learn to articulate how we fit into God's plan for this generation. It will look different for different people, so we need to find our role and help others find theirs.
I can't answer the last question for you, but I can give you my thoughts on the first two. We are living in a time that is just as sovereignly designed by God as the time of Jesus' birth. We are alive in a generation that is monumentally crucial to God's plan for salvation for humankind.
This is not the time for us to cower. This is the time to memorize scripture, to build churches, to pray and to finance and support missionaries like never before. This is the time to press forward and advance the kingdom of God. Why? I'll give you seven reasons:
1. Massive church growth. As I mentioned earlier, the body of Christ worldwide is growing rapidly--at 9.2 percent a year by some estimates (Islam, in contrast, is growing at 2.7 percent). Most of this growth is in the Asian Pacific Rim, Central and South America, and Africa. Campus Crusade for Christ projects 1 billion new converts in the next 10 years worldwide, creating the need for 5 million new Christian leaders.
This is not the case in the United States, where we have not seen any substantial net growth in 40 years, but there are a few positive signs of hope on our soil, too. In 1960, the dominant churches in most American cities were liberal churches that did not have a high view of Scripture or an evangelical message. But today, the dominant church in virtually every American city is a Bible-believing, evangelical or charismatic church.
2. Great Christian unity. The body of Christ now uses our distinctives for the advance of the gospel more than ever before. Churches of different denominations are learning to work together to minister to their cities.
3. More resources. We have more Christian TV stations, radio stations, churches, missionaries, pastors, Bibles, seminaries, Bible schools and money than ever before. Right now, there are more born-again Christians in our government than ever before in our history. In the United States, we have more church buildings than fast-food restaurants, post offices or schools. We have the infrastructure to make a significant impact on our culture.
4. Greater freedom of religion worldwide. Democracy and globalization are impacting every country in the world. More people live within nations that protect their freedom to worship according to their conscience than ever before in world history. As nations open their borders to free trade, they also open to new ideas, and people all over the globe are beginning to learn that they have the freedom to believe the Christian message.
5. Ease of travel. We can take groups of high schoolers anywhere from Denver to Egypt, and it's cheaper than it's ever been before. We can fly all over the globe, which means we can take the gospel anywhere we want to go.
6. Advances in communication technology. I can send an e-mail while on a plane heading to Washington, D.C., while I'm instant messaging my associate in Colorado. We can communicate across oceans and borders with phenomenal ease, which means we can network separate Christian efforts like never before.
7. Global prayer movements. We are all living on the heels of the most massive global prayer effort the world has ever seen. During the 1990s and through 2000 we coordinated 40 million intercessors to pray for the 10/40 countries of the world. Now we have prayer ministries such as www.worldprayerteam.org and other ministries connecting intercessors like never before.
Are you convinced yet? The time is ripe. Jesus said in Matthew 24:14: "'And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.'" This is where we are in the times. Right now, the political, military, social and economic pressures throughout the world are opening the door for the completion of the Great Commission.
God has sovereignly designed this hour. It's been given to us. Simply put, this is the first generation that has the resources to communicate the gospel to every person on the earth. God has arranged this generation for this miracle. Let's do it!
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