If you are paying attention, you know that the intensity and speed of the global news cycle in 2023 is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime. It feels like big waves of change are breaking. It is as if the build-up of momentum that was once few miles out from the shore is now breaking upon us, like a tsunami, wreaking destruction and chaos on the one hand and breaking up fallow ground on the other.
What does this all mean for the American church? Is she ready to go underground, or rise up even stronger to mak a difference in society? Certainly we stand at the precipice of a “dangerous opportunity,” a season when obstacles are everywhere but windows of light are appearing.
I remember what it was like in the early 70’s when the Jesus Movement was in the headlines. It was a fresh breeze of revival, breaking down church barriers and sweeping a hungry generation of counter-culture youth into the kingdom of God in ways no one would ever have thought possible. This revival broke out at time of great social upheaval, as the crazy and tumultuous decade of the ‘60’s came to a close. Many say that a key moment that turned the tide was Woodstock in 1969, that historical gathering of half a million misfits and rock icons who gathered in Bethel, New York in what was hailed—and fully expected to be—a monumental time of peace, love and joy that this generation had been longing for. This utopian dream was shattered, however, when so many disappointments arose: violence broke out, people died, drug overdoses, rapes, and a myriad of other logistical disasters reminded these kids that “earth, we have a problem.”
At age 16, in 1972, I was one of those kids who encountered Jesus in such a powerful way that I have never looked back. I did not attend Woodstock, never took drugs, and gave a pass on the free love culture. (Full disclosure: I was pastor’s kid. Rebellious, and searching for my own identity, but not so rebellious that I would throw my family foundations overboard.) I am thankful that on a July day in 1972, a triad of Christian associates who had been praying for me finally decided to pick me up forcibly, stuff me into a van, and haul me off to a Saturday night concert at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. That night, I committed my life to Christ. I am still “pressing toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” 51 years later.
Today, many are praying for, and some are predicting, a new Jesus Movement. Some are expecting it to be like the one that happened 50 years ago. But if we learn anything from observing history it is that while history may rhyme, it doesn’t repeat in exactly the same way we expect. This is especially ever true of revivals. So many variables go into the equation. So with all due respect to George Barna, our God is not predictable or bound by trends and like any battle ever waged in military, contingencies drive that action. And YES, we are in a battle. We always have been.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:12-13
Many may ask, as they read the above passage, what the “evil day” is that the Apostle Paul is referring to. Answer: You’re living in it. God’s directive to us: Stand and Keep Standing.
The word “stand” produces different pictures in the mind. For some, the picture is holding on for dear life while the people all around you are collapsing. For others, the picture is a handful of marines planting a flag on a hill in Iwo Jima. Many will see a debater on the stage, declaring irrefutable truth before an onlooking audience and a scowling opponent.
All of these images are true to the meaning of stand. Our struggle is not just to survive, though it is that. It is to advance in word and deed. Speaking out is essential to standing. It’s called “making a stand.” With this in mind, it is no coincidence that our freedom of speech is under assault in this “evil day.” Under the guise of “wokism” the Wicked One is making a power play to silence the truth by branding it as hurtful, insensitive or politically incorrect.
We all admiringly quote Acts 5:29:
“But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
But what does that mean for us today? Does it mean we have freedom of speech to quote John 3:16, but no freedom to speak what we know to be the truth even though it runs counter culture to the corrupt world system?
I was, frankly, appalled when I heard Franklin Graham, the son of the late great Billy Graham, tell an interviewer that Jesus would support and advocate that everyone take the Covid vaccine protocol. This, he said, was the loving thing Jesus would do. Honestly, I could not see Jesus advocating an untested needle, presented by godless globalists, as a cure people’s ills either in His day or in our. To me, this is a preposterous proposition, driven by the “feeling” culture we have become accustomed to. “If others feel better when I compromise, then so be it. I will lay down and compromise.” This is not standing for truth. This is folding to the culture.
Was our brother Franklin “standing” at that moment or was he folding to a godless culture that we now clearly know has evil motivations? I m not bringing this up to condemn, but to carry the right lesson forward. We all make mistakes. To me, this was a grand misstatement. I have no doubt that the Director of Samaritan’s Purse wanted to represent his organization’s efforts in a loving, sensitive light. But the context, in this case, called truth, not sentiment.
In teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus laid out a template for prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) which is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer.” After the initial salutation, the words that open the petition are:
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Ponder these words. What do they mean? We pray them verbatim, but do we believe this prayer will be fulfilled in our day and age, or only in an age to come? What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come? The answer is found in the next phrase “Your will be done.” Is this happening today? Sure, it must begin in our hearts, which is where most pulpits in America focus. But does it stop there? Is salvation and transformation limited to the private lives of those who confess Jesus as Lord of their lives or does God call us to pray for change the culture and world around us? The answer, if you study the teachings of Jesus on the kingdom of God, is clear: He was speaking about the here and now and the age to come. His is an “all of the above” kingdom didactic. What may start off as a mustard seed will germinate and grow exponentially. The small smidgen of leaven will spread throughout the whole loaf. Everything the Master taught echoed the initial mandate in Genesis 1:28 ““Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” In other words, contend and work for the kingdom to be established and operative in your generation.
The fall of man was an epoch event. Adam was in a much stronger position to fulfill that mandate when it was initially given to him by God. Given the fall, even with the death and resurrection of Christ, we still feel as if the possibility of fulfilling that mandate is beyond our grasp. But that does not change the mandate. It never has been about our ability to grasp. It has always been about praying “Your kingdom come” and through our actions moving forward believing God will bring that prayer to pass.
History is replete with examples of Christians who stood up, spoke out, prayed their hearts empty and studied their minds full—then went out and changed the world around them. We need Christians like that now. God is calling the church to rise up and make a difference. If history is any guide, there will be but a remnant who will heed that call. But as always, God’s empowering grace will make up the difference.
TO BE CONTINUED…