The United Church of God has now completed eight America: The Time Is Now! live Beyond Today events in major U.S. cities. These campaigns are an additional tool and a great opportunity designed to motivate our magazine subscribers and television viewers to make an effort to visit us face to face. By shaking hands with a pastor in their city, and by personally meeting the Beyond Today presenters, we hope to add personal contact and engagement with our most regular followers.
Some have asked whether these live presentations fit within the Church’s historic mission of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Others asked if we are trying to get the entire nation to repent and turn to God. Why and how does this theme fit into the mission of the United Church of God?
Continuing a Tradition
In July 1970, 46 years ago, the Worldwide Church of God began a series of personal appearance campaigns in the United States that would span several years. The title of those appearances was America Listen! Garner Ted Armstrong, the presenter on The World Tomorrow radio and television programs, appeared before live audiences with a strong message of repentance and a call to respond to the message of the Kingdom of God. I attended the meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, that summer and witnessed the campaign firsthand.
Today, we are in the midst of a multi-city tour of Beyond Today live appearances. We have chosen the theme, America: The Time Is Now! for good reason. It is no coincidence that our current theme works off the 1970 theme. We still have a strong message about the Kingdom of God and a call to repentance to deliver to our audience in America, Canada and other countries. God expects His Church today to deliver a compelling message of repentance and hope to all who will hear and respond.
The message that my fellow Beyond Today presenters and I give in these appearances highlights the critically important historic moment that America and the world are in. America’s role in the world is rapidly changing. While its power relative to the other nations is still very strong, the cultural and moral underpinnings of the nation are eroding the remaining foundations on which the nation has been based.
In our appearance we highlight the prophetic importance of these epochal changes. We cite three historic United States Supreme Court decisions (School Prayer in 1962, Roe v. Wade in 1973, and Same-Sex Marriage in 2015) as the moral toboggan-slide away from the knowledge of God. We show the relevance of the message of Habakkuk to our modern conditions and God’s pending judgment for sin.
In the second presentation we clearly explain to our audience the answer to one of life’s critical questions: “Who and what is man?” We explain to them why they were born.
The third presentation is a strong call to repentance, an answer to the obvious question: “What must we do now?”
In the one-hour-and-15-minute multimedia presentation, we take the essence of God’s message to our audience in a personal manner that allows people to become better acquainted with the United Church of God and the local pastor and members of the congregation. This personal engagement moves the audience another step along the path of discipleship (Matthew 28:19 Matthew 28:19Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
American King James Version×). God does the calling, and He adds to the Church as He sees fit. We sow the seed. God provides the increase.
Do We Really Expect America, or Any Nation, to Repent?
The answer is no, not the entire nation or all the people. But some who hear the message and respond will turn and embrace the words of life. It remains our duty to take a strong message to the world. In Ezekiel 33 God places the prophet as a watchman over the land of Israel. The watchman was told:
“When he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:3-6 Ezekiel 33:3-6  If when he sees the sword come on the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;
 Then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet, and takes not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be on his own head.
 He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be on him. But he that takes warning shall deliver his soul.
 But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
American King James Version×).
Ezekiel was set as a watchman to Israel who was to warn the wicked to turn from unrighteousness and live. Throughout this passage God stresses the duty of the watchman to warn the unrighteous to repent. God lays personal accountability on both. The prophet stands in the long line of God’s servants, past and present, who deliver a message from God to not only Israel of the past but the world of today. And here in North America, it’s a message to the modern-day descendants of Jacob (Israel).
Not all who heard a message from God in the past responded. Not all who hear it today will respond. We also understand the need for God’s calling. But just as Ezekiel was told to go and preach, so must we. We have no choice but to obey God’s instructions to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15 Mark 16:15And he said to them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
American King James Version×).
The apostle Paul said he held “great sorrow and continual grief” in his heart. “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3 Romans 9:2-3  That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
American King James Version×). We are like Paul in our desire for any to awake, repent and obey God. We should pray in this spirit.
What Do We Mean “The Time Is Now”?
We have been asked, does the phrase “America: The Time Is Now!” mean this is the only day of salvation? Absolutely not. We understand this is not the time God is working to save all mankind. God’s Holy Days reveal how God is working within a specific timetable to reconcile humanity to Himself and to offer salvation to all. The prophetic message of the Eighth Day tells us of the time when God will give opportunity for salvation to those not called in our age. The time of God’s calling for the majority of mankind is yet in the future.
But today is a “time,” and the Church must work to make known the message of salvation to those whom God chooses to call now—in this age. Hebrews 4:7 Hebrews 4:7Again, he limits a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
American King James Version×says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” The message the Church preaches is falling on good ground and making disciples. We are doing what Jesus commanded His followers to do (Matthew 28:19-20 Matthew 28:19-20  Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
American King James Version×).
The phrase “America: The Time Is Now!” comes right out of the teaching of the biblical prophets and Jesus Christ Himself. Mark 1:15 Mark 1:15And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
American King James Version×records Jesus Christ’s message: “At last the time has come! The Kingdom of God is near! Turn from your sins and believe this Good News!” (New Living Translation).
John, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, bore a similar urgent message: “Flee from the wrath to come . . . bear fruits worthy of repentance . . . even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10 Matthew 3:7-10  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said to them, O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say to you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
 And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
American King James Version×).
As it was the mission of Ezekiel to warn people and urge them to repent and turn to God, so it was the message of Isaiah: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7 Isaiah 55:6-7  Seek you the LORD while he may be found, call you on him while he is near:
 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
American King James Version×).
A Coming Time of Trial
“God will hold us accountable if we do not give a strong message of warning, repentance and hope.”
Bible prophecy shows a coming time of trial on the world unlike any ever seen previously (Daniel 12:1 Daniel 12:1And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
American King James Version×). There is a coming time called “Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7 Jeremiah 30:7Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.
American King James Version×) that will strip the physical blessings the English-speaking nations have enjoyed for more than 250 years. What Scripture calls the “great tribulation” will be an unprecedented period of trouble that will cause many—who heard God’s truth taught by His servants in this age—to finally repent and acknowledge God. The seeds of this repentance are being sown today by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
America, Canada and the other major English-speaking nations enjoy the Abrahamic promises of national greatness and material wealth. As a result, of all today’s nations, there is a greater judgment on them. We are seeing these nations abandon God and the knowledge of God. We are watching them turn away from the last vestiges of biblical morality and ethic in its culture. God will bring judgment on them and the world, a judgment that will bring this age of man to a close.
Every indicator in today’s world heralds a growing lawlessness that edges closer to the conditions Christ spoke of in His Olivet prophecy. How can we as a Church stand by and not preach a strong message of warning and repentance to show where sin is taking our nations? How can we stand by and not provide a strong compelling message of hope that people can take hold of today? How can we stand by and not show our peoples that there is a God who is guiding this chaotic world and that they can know that God and enter a spiritual relationship with Him and His Son Jesus Christ today?
What We Learn From Jeremiah’s Example?
We can’t stand by and not preach the message of salvation, joy and hope. Yes, we have to be like Jeremiah who, when he grew weary of his role as a prophet and sought to retire, did not. He grew discouraged when no one listened to his message, but kept his hand to the plow anyway. It was Jeremiah, who was held in derision by his own people, who did not stop preaching God’s message to a sin-sick people.
We must be like this Jeremiah who, when he nearly stopped preaching to Judah, turned around and ran back toward the fire by saying, “His word was in my heart like a burning fire and shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jeremiah 20:7-9 Jeremiah 20:7-9  O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and have prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocks me.
 For since I spoke, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach to me, and a derision, daily.
 Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.
American King James Version×).
What is impressive about Jeremiah is he stayed in Jerusalem through the siege by Nebuchadnezzar. He did not leave. Even after the city fell, when he could have gone to Babylon with other captives, he chose to stay behind (40:4-6). Jeremiah even purchased a piece of property after the fall of the city to show his faith in God’s promise to restore the hope of Israel (32:8-25).
Jeremiah’s patriotism was of a higher and purer form than what we might understand today. His ultimate patriotism was to the Kingdom of God. Judah had lost sight of its unique role to be the emissary of the Kingdom on the earth. She had broken the covenant. So, God had abandoned the nation after repeated attempts through many prophets to persuade her to return to Him. All Jeremiah could do was sound God’s message while working in the streets and among his people to alleviate suffering and do what he could do to help his neighbors through the worst period of its national existence. Jeremiah sounded a warning, yes, but he also stayed at his post to lend a helping hand of comfort and a word of encouragement.
Do We Have the Heart of Jeremiah?
Jeremiah’s example is where we are today. We must show compassion for a nation and people whose sins we must identify with all clarity. The “balm in Gilead” for which Jeremiah looked could only come from God.
The Church’s message must go to the heart of the matter. Israel and Judah were punished because they broke faith with terms of their relationship with God. They trampled the commandments and laws of God. Our focus must have this as a foundation as we explain the other prophecies of Daniel and Revelation dealing with specific end-time events.
Our peoples, the descendants of those whom Jeremiah served, have done the same. And today they desperately need a vision of hope that gives meaning to their existence in today’s world.
The United Church of God cannot stop going forward with a message of hope and understanding for America and a world “slouching toward Gomorrah.” God will hold us accountable if we do not give a strong message of warning, repentance and hope.
A Generational Issue, or Something Else?
Let me conclude with an anecdotal story I think illustrates where we are today in the Church and a reason for questions like these we have addressed. Last year as we were planning for the first America: The Time Is Now! appearance in Texas, a young staff member came to my office with a letter written by Garner Ted Armstrong in that summer of 1970. Mr. Armstrong had written to the ministry then to explain why he was doing the America Listen! campaigns. The staff member asked me: “These events are talking about the same issues the Church was addressing 45 years ago, yet in most respects the world is in better shape than it was then. Are we sure our message is relevant?”I explained much of what I have written here. Since that day I have thought a lot about his question and our work. America in 1970 was coming out of the period of the 1960s, a time of social turmoil. Vietnam had sucked the morale of the nation. Many at that time wondered what lay ahead for the nation. For the Church to address the nation with that message was timely and appropriate. Fruit was born from those campaigns, and today we have members in United who were there for their first contact with God’s Church! We pray that our modern version of these campaigns will bear similar fruit down the road.
America and the world have gone on. And today the world stands at an even more critical juncture in history. How much longer before we see key prophecies fulfilled? We do not know. But we do know what Jesus Christ tells His Church to do. We continue to preach the gospel and do the work!
Many, like this staff member, were not born in 1970. Many members and a fair number of our elders were not of age to fully comprehend the nature of the work in the 1960s and earlier. Without this understanding of our historic traditions, coupled with a balanced and thorough biblical understanding, we can miss a critical understanding of who we are and what we are to be doing.
The year 2016 is more than a generation removed from 1970. The world has dramatically changed. The Church has been through a great deal of stress. But God’s Word still tells us to “be found so doing” when He comes.
The work of United is a continuation of God’s long use of His servants who have stood in the gap and preached truth to a world held spiritually captive by Satan. Our mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world, make disciples of all nations and care for those disciples. The Beyond Today public appearances work with the other tools of video, print and Internet to accomplish this mission.
We thank our ministry who are wholeheartedly supporting the home office to reach the public in their area. And we thank our congregations, which have always been wholehearted, enthusiastic, supportive and hopeful of positive outcomes in the work that God gives us to do.
That is why we are going city to city now—because the time is now!