As a young boy my family would often walk the fifteen minutes to church on Sunday mornings, crossing a bridge that passed over the Potomac river from Maryland into West Virginia. From the sidewalk we could look through the metal grating and see a river the color of gray paint with thick islands of toxic industrial foam inching by under our feet. The thought of getting anywhere near that river was a horror to my young mind. It was an unbelievably polluted and dangerous eyesore. And yet today that same river hosts fishing rodeos and kayakers enjoying its clear water and gentle currents. The Potomac has become for me an example of how the world is becoming a more glorious place. It is a symbol of the progress of the Kingdom.
Concerning Jesus, Isaiah prophesied “… of the increase of His government, and of peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7) But we Believers often get stuck in a negative faith not focused on God’s growing government and peace, but expecting multiplied wars, increased suffering, and a freshly empowered Antichrist in the days ahead.
Is it possible we’ve gotten it wrong? Did Jesus actually mean for His Kingdom to grow like a mustard seed until it fills the earth, or are we to expect darkness and unleashed chaos in the days ahead? Consider these four concrete examples of a hope and optimism that just might reveal a growing Kingdom. There are many others which could be included, (like the condition of our rivers, air quality, violent crimes, child welfare, and racial equality to name only a few).
Poverty: Although we still have much work to do, world poverty levels have been falling steadily since 1820 when nearly 90% of the world was living in extreme poverty, (less than $1.90 per day adjusted). Today, as seen in the chart below, that number has fallen to less than 10%! This is AMAZING progress!
Life Expectancy: In 1900 the worldwide average life expectancy was a mere thirty-one years. By 1950 it had risen to forty-eight years. And by 2010 it had reached sixty-seven years. And of course this is another wildly wonderful thing to celebrate!
War: In spite of the endless media attention given to war and violence, we have actually seen a sharp decline in the casualties of war over the past seventy years. Consider this chart from http://www.ourworldindata.org.
The Spread of Christianity: We Westerners tend to judge the health of the church by looking at the condition of our local congregations. But too often we overlook the rest of the world where the church is growing at astonishing rates. The church in China, Asia, Africa, South America, and even in some Muslim countries is seeing phenomenal growth.
For a little perspective, consider that on the day of Pentecost about three thousand people came to faith in Jesus. That was an unbelievable number of converts! But today, according to James Rutz, author of Mega Shift: Igniting Spiritual Power, we are seeing – on a world scale – about 3,000 people coming to Christ every fifty-four minutes! That’s about 80,000 new Believers every day!
As we face into 2017 lets take heart and believe God not for increasing darkness, wars, and multiplied human suffering. Instead, may we hitch our confidence to the one who promised, “As surely as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14:21). Imagine what could happen if we really began to live and labor as if the mustard-seed kingdom was already well on it’s way.