Red Skies: Understanding Our Times

“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” – Matthew 16:2,3 NIV. “Love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” – Romans 13:10,11 NIV.

We know when to take an umbrella to work, when to buy and sell, when to trade cars, how to choose a career with a future. But do we know what is happening spiritually and what we should be doing about it? We enjoy our warm, comforting church fellowship, are preoccupied with issues less than fundamental, and may not even know that we are in a real spiritual war between good and evil.

Jesus said the people of this world are more shrewd than the people of the light. Worldlings watch the times and know how to prepare, even to use what is coming. What signs of our times should we be responding to?

Growth of Moral Evil

Evil keeps accelerating and we haven’t seen anything yet. Where will this take our nation? (Freedom is based on moral self-control.) How will it affect the church and Christians? Already many resent the church for its message. Temptation increases. How do we protect our children, our families, our churches? Our kids must know more than right forms and rules if they are going to make it. They must know and love God. Above all we parents must be real. Our children know our priorities, what we will give up everything else for.

Pluralism and a Post-Christian Society

Our country is no longer united around Judeo-Christian values. We must coexist with strong elements that are non-Christian and even anti-Christian. How do we adjust to this? Do we home school or put our kids and teachers in Christian schools, taking even more Christian influence from public education? Do we leave our children in public schools at great moral, spiritual and even physical risk? Do we move someplace where Christian influence is still strong? Where can you hide?

Do we become activists, lobbying, picketing, boycotting, using politics and worldly means to turn back the clock? Can it be turned back that way? In a free society we do need to be heard, to influence the direction of our country. But efforts on a worldly level, as valuable as they are, only go so far. They may even create backlash and hinder communication. We do need righteous laws and righteous people in leadership. We need enforcement. But adding laws and policemen or winning elections is only a band-aid over a raging infection.

There is no lasting cure until enough hearts are changed through the gospel. We were once a Christian nation because enough people feared God and revered Christ. We Christians dropped the ball. How different America would be today if the gospel had not been undermined and Christianity uglified by our unjustified divisions, hypocrisy and dead formalism. Today our priorities must be prayer and spreading the salt of the gospel, backed by sincere lives which the enemy cannot accuse (1 Peter 2:12-15).

A Rapidly Changing World

We assume that life will always be as safe and secure as it is now. Actually our present advantages are abnormal for most of history and much of the world. There has been dizzying political, social, economic and technological change–more in the last ten years than in decades or even centuries before. We have moved from the industrial age to the information age, from rationalism and modernism to post-modern thinking.

Many conflicts have flared up which were once contained by Soviet power. We don’t know how to stop some of them. Nuclear, chemical and biological know-how is spreading to small nations who could hold us hostage by sneaking one nuclear device or one virus into a major city. Foreign terrorists have targeted our facilities. The FBI cannot catch them all in time. Our own extremist groups are an equal or greater threat.

Our economic system could easily self-destruct under pressure from the national debt or some other country’s collapse. The population explosion is a ticking bomb, not to mention threats from global pollution and the depletion of resources. There is a rise of neo-paganism. Future persecution of Christians is possible.

Obviously God must become our security. Our faith in him has to become real enough to give us peace and strength. The good news is that when times are less secure, more people see their need for God and respond to the gospel.

Crime, Drugs, Teen Pregnancy

Such problems are more likely to bury America than Russia ever was. It is amusing and yet tragic to hear experts debate the solutions. We thank God for better enforcement and social programs, as far as they go. We should support wise efforts. But family breakdown, oppression, racism, substance abuse, dishonesty and corruption are spiritual problems at their root. More and more thinking people, even officials, are realizing this.

There is good side to the growth of evil: evil is seen more clearly for what it is. Sin fools us by looking good and desirable. The more openly sin operates, the less it can hide its end results. A new convert recently said, “I have lived in sin and I know it was going to destroy me. I can never go back to that life!” Seeing sin’s real nature, people realize how much they need the help of God and his Spirit. They become open to the gospel. The growth of evil and opposition also forces Christians to unite for strength. Should outright persecution begin, we will be very thankful for everyone who honors the lordship of Christ. We will be less prone to divide over non-essentials.

Denominationalism is Dying

More congregations are dropping their denominational brand names. When younger people move to a new place, they look more for a church that meets their spiritual needs than for the brand their parents attended. There is new interest in the model of the early church. More churches are choosing to be led by elders. There is renewed appreciation for the importance of baptism. Even among Catholics there is a movement toward baptism by immersion; churches are being built with full-sized baptistries. Many people are showing a hunger for solid Biblical teaching about church, family and Christian living.

For those of us springing from the Restoration Movement there could hardly be a more exciting or opportune time. Our early founders believed Christian unity could really happen if believers would renounce the authority of differing, divisive human creeds, look together to scriptural authority, and unite on Biblical fundamentals while allowing freedom to differ on matters of opinion and human interpretation. Our movement lost hold of those ideals, forming our own authoritative unwritten creeds and dividing over many secondary issues of human opinion. Were we to return to our early ideals, how timely our message would be!

A Generation that Critically Questions

An older teacher recently said, “My generation was the last generation that could simply be indoctrinated.” The present generation is better educated and is trained to challenge authority, to question before accepting. This also has a good side. A faith based on evidence will last better. Also people who question and abandon false systems may be more reachable with saving truth.

Starting a New Millennium

The year 2000 is just around the corner. At such times people become much more thoughtful of who we are and where we are going. We evaluate the past and are concerned about the future. People feel more need of spiritual guidance.

Summing up, the growth of evil, increasing insecurity, the collapse of denominationalism, increased interest in the Bible, inquiring minds, the beginning of a new millennium–all these make people receptive. Under conditions much like ours today, the early church turned the world upside down. This is an exciting time to be alive, serving Jesus. We have the greatest opportunity in 200 years. But to seize the opportunity we must…

Avoid legalism and really accept Bible teaching on grace.
Be careful of all of God’s word, not just selected pieces; and of inward, not just outward rightness.
Leave to God the judgments that belong to him alone.
Center on Christ, the cross and true Biblical fundamentals named in scripture.
Realize that while we disagree on many secondary matters, scripture allows us (and requires us) to work together. We will answer if we don’t.
Recognize that division itself is a sin which undermines the gospel (John 17).
Bear the burden of the weak by putting communication with the lost ahead of our traditional comfort, “becoming all things to all people” rather than pleasing ourselves (this is the spirit of the cross).
Study the post-modern mind and learn to communicate with it.
Hate sin but love the sinner and be sure that he or she feels our love.
Live careful, holy lives that back up what we teach.
I hope you are awake, understand the times, and are concerned about the things God is concerned about. I hope you do everything in your power to count for Jesus. I hope you are not compromising but living a holy life that radiates Christ and draws the hungry. I hope you are growing so you can meet what is coming and lead your family and loved ones safely through. — B. Shelburne

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. – Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV