Beyond Today Recorded This Week
Yesterday, Wednesday, March 3, we recorded three new excellent Beyond Today programs with ABC students as the studio audience. The programs were “Why is God so Unfair?” by Gary Petty, “Counterfeit Christianity” by Steve Myers and “Sabbath Rest: Beating the Tyranny of Tech” by Darris McNeely.
Disappearance of Brenda (Johnson Ross) Howard
Chris Rowland and I spoke with pastor Jay Ledbetter today, and Brenda Howard of the Kingsport, Tennessee, congregation still has not been found. There has been no contact with her since Saturday morning, Feb. 27, 2021, before she left home for Sabbath services. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is searching, and local media outlets have publicized her disappearance. While we are becoming more and more fearful with each day that passes, we know that God is sovereign over all things and that He deeply loves Brenda. Thank you so much for your continued prayers.
Discerning the Times We Live In
As the world seems to go mad afresh nearly every day, where do we stand? “The night will close around you, cutting off all your visions. Darkness will cover you” (Micah 3:6-7, New Living Translation). This disturbing prophecy describes a time where a nation blessed by God willfully turns away from the Almighty, where political and religious leaders twist justice and understanding to the point where God Himself declares that they “are leading my people astray!” (verse 5, NLT). Indeed, at this point in prophecy, “they have made their deeds evil” (verse 4, English Standard Version).
Recent and alarming trends are emerging in the United States and abroad. In this column, I would like to make you aware of them and solicit your direct prayers.
However, as we review these, I want to emphasize that despite these distressing trends, we are not without hope. In fact, quite the opposite! Our true Savior, Jesus Christ, instructs us to carefully comprehend the times while remaining trusting in God as innocents (Matthew 10:16).
Here’s what we need to understand. A most disturbing trend has arisen: indiscriminate censorship of online information is underway, including censorship both by national governments and by the Internet companies themselves!
While we in the Church of God fellowship still print and distribute thousands of physical Bible study guides, magazines, booklets and letters, we today conduct much of the Work in this online environment that is now being subjected to capricious censorship.
One of these alarming acts of digital censorship is called “de-platforming.” U.S. and European governments have severely criticized and investigated the tech giants of the Internet, including Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook and others for both allowing false, misleading, even harmful information to spread like wildfire and to indiscriminately collect and use data.
These companies responded by independently censoring online information. Major figures have since been “de-platformed,” drawing criticism from world leaders in Europe and elsewhere. All companies, to one degree or another—and including the United Church of God—conduct major parts of their work online.
Further, as has been established, these companies have also unilaterally censored or removed information that does not square with their political and social thought.
This censorship has spread to disabling entire websites and social media platforms like Parler and individuals and organizations on Facebook and Twitter. Now, more and more people and organizations are silenced without warning. This includes churches who openly preach what the Bible says about certain sins.
We have seen other evangelical organizations recently have messages “shadow-banned,” particularly on YouTube. The URL of the message remains online, but it is delisted so it cannot be found on search engines. Both being “de-platformed” and “shadow-banned” could happen to us. There are many who would want to silence our voice of “showing my people their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).
Here in America, we have been blessed with the highest degree of protection for religious freedom in history, but it appears to be eroding rapidly. When I looked up a certain biblical phrase online in preparation for this column, I was advised by my browser that this was "content not suited for everyone”!
In addition to Internet censorship, we are seeing new laws being considered in the United States and abroad that could have dramatic and far-reaching negative impacts on the Church of God fellowship.
Current federal legislation called the Equality Act is anything but that. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, it could deliver a stunning blow to religious freedom.
Among other things, the Equality Act offers federal protection to those who would discard the biblical standards of man and woman, male and female. Under this potential law, so-called “gender identity” would be arbitrarily determined by individuals, not by physical genetics. It could throw all current standards into calumnious disarray. For example, boys who “identify” as girls could compete in women’s sports, despite physical differences. More ominously, men who “identify” as women would be legally free to use women's restrooms and other protected areas. This has already resulted in grievous harm.
Further, some legislatures in Australia, Canada and elsewhere have adopted or are considering laws that legally prohibit any attempt to “deprogram” those who have artificially identified as a member of the opposite sex. Incredibly, in some instances, that ostensibly includes even praying for those individuals to recover!
When people—even major figures—object, they are instantly subjected to vile derision and ad hominem attacks, which often follow a destructive pattern of “name, shame, cancel, repeat.”
I ask for your prayers that we as a spiritual fellowship be protected from this kind of legislation and societal trend that we may continue to do the work of the living God, and especially that our children be protected.
The good news is that we know from history that the Church has experienced ups and downs, sometimes even being forced to go underground to meet together. Our all-powerful God remains on His throne and in control. Satan, who was personally defeated by Jesus, can do nothing except what God allows.
In my 50 years of serving as a minister, I have had the privilege of serving brethren in many economically distressed areas and places where religious freedom is almost non-existent. It is truly inspiring to see how God cares for each person in these areas. My wife Bev and I know that the age of miracles is still alive!
There are places that have great restrictions. In many areas, government permission is required to meet. As we are seeing now in Myanmar, governments can collapse and other forces can step in any time to impose whatever it wants on our churches, often without warning.
A recent example has been how our affiliate congregations in Angola have been treated. The government came close to shutting down our Church presence in this African nation. The government went as far as to take the keys from buildings owned by the Church and froze Church bank accounts. Thankfully, that has been reversed and resolved, at least for the moment.
Here is a vital point. Consider this important fact: when we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” (Matthew 6:10), we are literally praying for world regime change. The beginning of the model prayer essentially asks for relief from this world’s rulers, dictators and, yes, presidents and prime ministers. When we pray this prayer, we literally beseech God to bring Jesus Christ to this earth as King.
The Kingdom of God that is coming to this earth will not be working with any current administration of men or women.
Although we live in serious times, they have a tremendous upside of hope. As Jesus Himself tells you and me: “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:26).
What are we to do as individuals and as the called-out spiritual assembly of God? As we did at the beginning of this column, let us consider the words of the prophet Micah: “As for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8, ESV).
Despite what may happen, we will put our trust in God and His Son, Jesus the Messiah. As the prophet Zephaniah declares for us: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV).
Let us properly discern the times and let us fearlessly do the Work!