Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Praying Always = NEVER Losing Heart!

We live in the "best of times and the worst of times."  Many fail to "count their blessings" and to be thankful to God for such blessings as abundant food, multiple daily choices of clothing and shelter.  And, not only shelter, but shelter that includes tight roofs, heating, air conditioning, carpeted floors, hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing, refrigerators (fully stocked!), washers, dryers, microwaves, radios, TV's and internet access.  America has the "richest" poor folks in the world!

 Having said that, we live during the first generation since the Great Depression that will leave to our children an America that is poorer, weaker and less united than the America we received from our parents.  Studies show that, adjusted for inflation, real wages in the United States have remained flat for the last 30 years.  In contrast with that, extreme wealth and extreme poverty (by American standards) have greatly accelerated, for people at both extremes of the equation pay little or no tax.  Inflation is once again at the point it was during the 1970's and early 80's, though the government conceals the real numbers having removed from its computations the two greatest culprits of inflation, food and fuel.  High housing costs are being artificially propped up by government fiat.  Real unemployment is likely around 20% for government computations do not include those who have expired un-employment benefits and / or have quit looking for work.  When one includes the under-employed (those who work longer and harder for far less money than they did in pre economic crisis years), upwards to 40% of all Americans are either un-employed or under employed.  Not only that, blue collar unemployment is rampantly high.  The latest un-employment estimate for men not holding a college degree is running at approximately 40% as well.

 Other factors are contributing to our national malaise.  Divorce, abortion, out of wedlock births, declining birth rates among married and stable families, child abandonment, drug and alcohol addiction, promiscuity and isolation are all assaulting the family, God's essential cornerstone of society.  As a result of all these factors, plus the aging of the largest generational group in American history, the "Baby Boomers," America is depressed, disenchanted and without clear purpose.  These factors have not only affected families and individuals, they are affecting the church.  Attendance is in free fall decline, especially on Sunday nights and Wednesdays among churches of Christ.  Many congregations have abandoned meeting on Sunday night completely.  People are leaving older, smaller, poorer and urban congregations for newer, larger, richer and suburban congregations.  Churches of Christ are, as Jesus alludes to in Luke 18:1, beginning to "lose heart."

 So... how do we NOT lose heart?!  The answer is one that is both easy and difficult.  It is an answer that is easy to identify intellectually but difficult to put into practice for the implementation requires both individual Christians and entire congregations of God's people to reflect, repent and to pray....ALWAYS.  The answer requires an admission failure to achieve God's Will by our own individual and corporate effort.  The answer requires that we be open and transparent with both God and with each other.  The answer requires that we all admit, before God, that we are both inadequate and unworthy before the task.  The answer, in fact, requires a total surrender on our part to the sovereignty, purpose and Will of God.  The answer requires that we "let go and let God!'

 In Luke 18:1 - 8, Jesus makes a number of observations as how "not to lose heart."  Among others there are these:

 1. NOT losing heart is tied 100% to "prayer without ceasing."

2. God WANTS to be annoyed with our prayers!

3. NOTHING is off the table with God.  When we have needs, God wants to hear about them!

4. We are not just anybody, we are God's ELECT!

5. God does not mind that we "cry to Him day and night."

6. God will not long delay in answering our "ceaseless prayers."

7. God will soon deliver justice to us.

 This is a great promise and one that is more than obvious, we must grasp it in our day and time!  "IF" we fail to grasp it, the Son of Man will return to find no faith on the earth.  We are God's men and women at a critical time in history!  "Let us ALWAYS pray and NOT lose heart!" 

                                                                      -  Russ McCullough  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Best Dad EVER!

"The best dad ever!" is a sentiment often ascribed to many a father.  Who, then, was the best father of all time?  What characteristics describe him?  The "best dad ever" turns out to be the God whom we worship, God the Father!

We all recall the account of the so-called "Prodigal Son" in Luke 15:11-32.  There are three characters in this account and each delivers a different lesson.  Obviously, the Prodigal tells of waywardness and redemption.  The "ever faithful" elder brother tells of jealousy and pride.  But the Father is the perfect picture of grace, mercy and restoration.  It is upon Him that we should focus this Father's Day. 

Just what characteristics of God the Father do we need to glean from this metaphor?  There are many but here are the highlights, dads:

1. Though the "best dad ever" could have very easily "had his way," the Father allows his son to make his own matter what the consequence.  (15:12)

2. It is plain to see that the "best dad ever" was a good provider for his family, there was substantial savings at His disposal for him to use for those whom He loved.  (15:12)

3. The "best dad ever" was continually looking for his son to return to what was good, right and just.  (15:20)

4. Even before the "best dad ever" had heard any kind of confession, apology or explanation, He felt compassion for him without reservation.  (15:20)

5. Ignoring whatever "baggage" His son was carrying, the "best dad ever" ran to embrace and kiss him.  (15:20)

6. The "best dad ever" listened to his son's confession without interruption, complaint or demand.  (15:20)

7. Ignoring the obvious sin, guilt and shame the "best dad ever" restored the prodigal to his former status without retribution, payment or punishment.  (15:22 - 23)

8. The "best dad ever" threw the "best party ever" to celebrate the restoration of his lost son, a party held without pretext, apology or explanation because the "dead had returned to life!"  (15:24)

Who's the prodigal?  Me and you.  We are the rebellious son that has "demanded our rights" and have abandoned all that is dear to go to the "far country" to waste our lives in foolish endeavors.

Who's the "best dad ever?"  God the Father, though we deserve nothing, lavishes the riches of heaven upon us, now and for all eternity!

"Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see!"

Those of us who are fathers can learn some great lessons of our own from the "best dad ever" so our children will one day remember us with that very same endearment!

  • Good dads work hard and long to provide for the physical needs of their children. 
  • Good dads, within the guidelines of Scripture, allow their children to make their own decisions AND to live with the consequences of those decisions.
  • Good dads are always on the lookout for the "returning child" from the "far country."
  • Good dads are eager to hear the confession of wrong from erring children without any sentiment other than thanksgiving.
  • Good dads are eager to offer restoration with out preconditions or pretext.
  • Good dads don't demand continual explanations, apologies or rehash after restoration.  The good dad leaves the past in the past.
  • Good dads don't continue to punish their erring children once they have been restored.
  • Good dads "rejoice with those who rejoice," especially children returning from the "far country!"
Want to be remembered as the "best dad ever?"  Take your cues from "the best dad ever," God the Father!  HAPPY FATHERS DAY, DAD!  
             -  Russ McCullough - Distributed through JTC Media

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The REAL Christian in a VIRTUAL World!

Interaction and communication have changed more radically in the last decade than in any other previous 10 year period  in history since the invention of the printing press about 500 years ago.  As Christians we must be keenly aware of the world around us in order to be effective evangelists, our “prime directive” as it were.  Jesus uses the nuclear phrase “all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me” to emphasize the eternal urgency of our evangelistic ambassadorship.  “All things internet” has given us tools unimaginable  just 10 years ago, while at the same time, tempting us in ways ALSO unimaginable just 10 years ago!

No change has been more profound than the embrace of nearly everyone (to at least some extent) of what is now called the “social media.”  Today, it is no longer necessary to actually MEET someone in order to become their “FRIEND!”  Four general observations regarding “social media” before we continue:

·         Not all aspects of computer technology are beneficial for Christians.

·         Not every medium meshes with God’s Will.

·         For the Christian, virtual interaction must supplement family, fellowship and community, NOT replace them!

·         It is not necessary for the Christian to know everything about everybody else on every occasion.

For our purposes, we will define “social media” as:

Any medium that relies on some kind of electronic devise allowing 2 or more people to simultaneously interact with each other on a truth neutral platform.

Regardless if we are speaking of the increasingly popular “interactive video game,” Google, ® Facebook, ® LinkedIn, ® Twitter ® or any kind of texting, we are speaking of media that allows the individual  to “create” an on-line persona that may or may not reflect reality.  In other words, the difficulty  of ascertaining whether ay written, spoken or visual communication  is truthful – or not – is greatly enhanced.  Chaos thrives on such doubt.  We must all, therefore, ask the question; “Does media shape me or do I shape my media?”  A better question is; “Does GOD shape the media I use?”

The Scripture says in Proverbs 23:7; “…as a man thinks in his own heart, so is he.”  The challenge for the Christian is to not allow his virtual personality (persona) replace his real personality.  This “substitute” personality that people “create” for their on-line presence is often times called an “avatar.”  Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary defines “avatar” thusly: “…an electronic image [electronic incarnation (RM)] that represents and is manipulated by a computer user (as in computer game).”[1]  THIS is precisely how, for example, men get entangled with on-line pornography.  While living “morally” in their “real life,” their “avatar” is engaging in the unspeakable in their “virtual world.”  This creates the ultimate spiritual showdown for, as Jesus said, “…no man can serve two masters.”  (Matthew 6:24)

The “avatar,” simply put, is electronic hypocrisy!   Knowing all this, what guidance does God’s Word have regarding these matters?  Paul gives us (by inspiration) heavenly wisdom regarding Christian conduct in two passages:

Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil.  – I Thessalonians 5:19 – 22 (ESV)

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25 – 32 (ESV)

There are applications from these two passages to our “virtual concerns:”

·         Examine everything on-line carefully for real and virtual “realities” “appear” to be the same!

·         Do not deny who you are on-line.  One cannot take on a non-Christian persona / avatar and be a Christian in the real world.

·         Embrace only the good on-line

·         Flee from everything that even has a hint of evil on-line

·         Be extremely cautious on-line because  the lines between good and evil are blurred to the extreme

·         Exercise wisdom on what you see, experience, express and participate in on-line.

·         Use your time wisely on-line, remembering your media should serve you, not the other way around

·         Make all your on-line decisions based upon God’s precepts

·         Flee any addictive behavior on-line

·         Be full of the Spirit instead of being full of obsession & imagination especially your “avatar!”

·         Pray often on-line often, expressing thanksgiving to God

·         Always follow the Golden rule on-line

·         Finally, “virtual” Christianity cannot replace REAL Christianity!

In conclusion; throw away all your “avatars” and put only the “real you” on-line as we are “no longer our own but bought with a price!”

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