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Since Life is Short

Cry or Cry out to God

December 16, 2018 • Monty Mullenix

Life is Short Cry or Cry out to God Psalm 39:12-13 12 "Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. 13 Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more." David has moved a great spiritual distance from the point at which he began. His prayer is clearly one of repentance. He has come to the realization that life’s meaning cannot be related only to life here on earth and all that goes with it. He is a transient stranger whose home is God. There is now a final plea to God to listen to his cry and weeping: hear, listen, do not be deaf, look away. To have a God while in crisis is for God to enter into the crisis with you. The ultimate result is that I rejoice again before I depart and am no more. The psalm ends where it began, in a silence that waits for an answering word from God. David identifies with the humble role of a resident "alien" and "stranger". Both terms indicate a class of non-Israelites permitted to reside rather tenuously in the land. Having no solidarity group, the psalmist claims a place in God’s family. He sees this role as a family tradition. He embraces that he is a clanless visitor, like all who follow God. Ripped from a native homeland, oppressed, having families torn apart, the voices of Africans brought to America as slaves cried out in songs like this: Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. O my Lord, sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Then I get down on my knees and pray. David has come to understand the tenuous hold on life a sinner experiences, and longs for restoration of the secure relationship God promises the faithful. Unless God relents and ends the punishment, he has no hope but to depart and be no more. Sin separates us from God. Having acknowledged his sin, he admits how great a distance this transgression has created between himself and the holy God. This sense of distance is the cause of weeping and a desire for change. Sin creates this kind of distance from God. God is the one who scourges the psalmist with blows from his hand-who rebukes, disciplines, and consumes the wealth of humans. Yet God is also the one to whom he cries for deliverance. This humble recognition that God is at once judge and deliverer is what the Old Testament means by “the fear of the LORD." We have no hope in self or others, but only the hope God offers. This kind of awareness and vulnerability places you and me in a position of acceptance in which God can act as salvation and deliverance. We need an appropriate perspective to live out our short human life. The daily pressures and concerns become subtly magnified into the meaning of life itself. Possessions, income, desires, enemies, friends—these are things that may become the stuff of life, as if they are going to continue forever. Life is limited in its span; if its meaning is to be found, it must be found in the purpose of God, the giver of all life. Life is extremely short, and what matters above all else is the relationship with God. Perceiving this should cause us to confess our sin. We are only a sojourner here. Our deeper life is rooted in God; the world is the stage in which it is lived out. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in developing the great catalogue of men of faith says: “they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Heb 11:13). Our permanence is not to be found in the world as such, but in God who granted us life in the world. We’ve all been given this gift of life by our Creator. Sin has marred and shortened this life. You can go through life upset and crying about its futility and shortness as you try to deal with sin and its consequences on your own, or you can cry out to God and live an abundant life. Cry and weep over your sin and the fact that you just did it again, not in despair, but to a God who offers salvation and deliverance through Jesus Christ.

The Gospel

Grows the Church • March 24, 2019 • Monty Mullenix

The Gospel: Grows the Church Acts 8:1-8 I. Persecution scatters the seeds of the gospel; 8:1-3. 1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Saul expressed his agreement with Stephen’s death sentence as publicly as possible by guarding the executioners’ clothes. The opposition did not end with Stephen’s death. If anything, his bold witness in both his Sanhedrin testimony and his death only served to fuel the flames. A violent persecution erupted and the Christians, except the apostles, were forced to flee Jerusalem. The resistance began in the Greek-speaking synagogue. They unleashed their fury on these Greek-speaking Christian radicals in their midst. The apostles and their fellow Aramaic-speaking Christians were likely able to remain in Jerusalem unbothered. Their Greek-speaking brothers/sisters were persecuted and forced to flee the city. The persecution and scattering of the Christians only led to their further increase. With the dispersal of the Greek-speaking Christians, the fulfillment of the second phase of Jesus’ commission began; the witness to all Judea and Samaria. Stephen was given a proper burial by “godly men”. They were probably some of his fellow Jewish-Christians. It was an act of real courage on their part. Saul, with the necessary authority from the chief-priestly leaders of the Sanhedrin, agitated the church, arresting its members in their own homes, and sending them off to prison. This century has seen a lot of persecution and martyrdom of Christians. Associated with the persecution is great effectiveness in the gospel message. Evangelism provokes persecution while persecution energizes evangelism. If we are obedient to Christ, we will face suffering of some sort. It may be suffering of tiredness or pressure of a concern for people. It may be the hurt that comes from people who disappoint us. It may mean being betrayed by people we trusted. It can take the form of persecution and being labeled intolerant for sharing Christ with non-Christians who do not want to hear the gospel, or for telling Christians things that they do not like to hear. A biblical understanding of suffering will take the sting out of it. It will help us maintain joy during it and turn the suffering into something constructive for the kingdom of God and the church. II. Persecution grows the church; 8:4-8. 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city. The persecution did not hamper those Greek-speaking Christians from sharing the gospel. If anything, it increased it. They communicated the gospel wherever they went. The dispersed believers did the utmost good to the people among whom they went by telling them the good news of the deliverance accomplished by Christ. Philip, another Greek-speaking Jewish leader who, like Stephen, was one of the seven appointed to manage the daily administration of the communal fund. Driven from Jerusalem, Philip went north to Samaria and shared the gospel there. To the Jews the Samaritans were half-breeds and heretics. It was thus a bold move on Philip’s part to preach the gospel to the Samaritans. In preaching to them, Philip was taking a major new step in the fulfillment of Christ’s commission. Great numbers believed his message and were filled with rejoicing. It is in sharing the gospel message that the power of suffering is best illustrated. The North African Christian writer Tertullian, addressing the rulers of the Roman empire, said, "Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to the dust. . .. The more you mow us down the more we grow, the seed is the blood of Christians." Persecution intensifies the purity of the church and prioritizes the gospel message over every other activity. Nothing can hinder the growth of the church when the gospel is faithfully shared.

The Gospel

Reactions • March 17, 2019 • Monty Mullenix

The Gospel: Reactions Acts 7:54-60 According to Open Doors research, every month: • 255 Christians are killed • 104 are abducted • 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed, or forced into marriage • 66 churches are attacked • 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned In 2018: • 3,066 Christians were killed; 1,252 were abducted; 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed; and 793 churches were attacked. 54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. When he threw the charge of blasphemy, persistent opposition to God and His ways back on them, their rage could no longer be restrained. Stephen had been filled with the Holy Spirit throughout his Christian life, and this fullness did not leave him at his time of crisis. Stephen remained calm, fully controlled by the Spirit of God. Suddenly, as he kept his gaze fixed upward, he saw a vision of the glory of God. The presence of Jesus at God’s right hand was much more real to him in that moment than the angry gestures and cries of those around him. He sees Jesus standing as a witness or advocate for his defense. Jesus had said, "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God." Rejection by his own people, the Jews, would have been hard to bear, but acceptance by the greatest of Jews more than compensates for the pain. The presence of Jesus at God’s right hand meant a way of access to God had been opened more immediate than the temple could provide. Stephen is dragged out of the city for stoning. Stephen's last words just before he died are close to two of the last words of Jesus. Where Jesus committed His spirit to God, Stephen committed his to Jesus. On his knees among the flying stones, he made his last appeal to his Lord, not for his own vindication, but for mercy toward his executioners not to hold this sin against them. Having prayed, Stephen “fell asleep.” This is a peaceful description for so brutal a death, but one which fits the spirit in which Stephen accepted his martyrdom. God, knowing how much we can endure, gives us His strength in our times of need. This boosts our spirits and spurs us on to obedience, even to obedience leading to death. There is a depth of union with Christ that comes to us only through suffering. Not only do we share in His sufferings, He shares in our sufferings. God is powerfully at work both when life is going well and when dark clouds loom. The Bible tells us to anticipate suffering rather than avoid it. The Spirit's fullness in the darkness is so important for our spiritual health that God permits us to go through dark times in order that He can fill us afresh. During our pain we will wonder whether it is worth suffering for the gospel. At such times we ought to fix our eyes on Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. With such a vision we can run with perseverance the race that is set before us, refusing to give up when the going gets tough, and divesting ourselves of unnecessary earthly weights that so easily entangle us. Paul said, "I want to know Christ . . . and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3: 10). The gospel that brings the crisis and persecution is also what gives us the ability to connect with Jesus in a deeper way during it. God’s plan for the empowerment of His people to share the gospel takes in account the pervasiveness of evil in our world.

The Gospel

God's Plan • March 10, 2019 • Monty Mullenix

The Gospel: God’s Plan Acts 7:1-53 He began his speech reminding them that they were his fellow Jewish “brothers” and showing respect to the elders on the Sanhedrin by referring to them as “fathers.” The real goal of God’s promise to Abraham was not the land. It was instead the freedom to give true worship and devotion to God. A sharp contrast existed between Joseph and his brothers. God was with Joseph. God had delivered Israel from famine and had brought them in peace to Egypt through the hand of Joseph. God had remained true to His promises. Israel was oppressed, but God was true to His promises. He raised up a deliverer and had him trained for his future role. God was with Moses. God remained true to His promises. He had looked upon their oppression and would deliver them. Moses was the one whom God had chosen as leader for Israel’s deliverance. But the Israelites had already rejected him; they would continue to reject him. Moses was the God-sent redeemer for Israel, the worker of signs and wonders, and the one who transmitted the living words of God. As such, he was a type of Christ. Also, like Christ, he was rejected by his people. Stephen was already moving in the direction of his temple critique. Already in the wilderness the people along with Aaron, the Priest, were moving in the direction of the distortion of the pure worship of God, which marked the temple of Stephen’s day. They made sacrifices all right, to golden calves and heavenly bodies and the like, but not to God. The result of the original apostasy of Israel was ultimately exile. God sent them “beyond Babylon.” Stephen saw that the temple of his day had become something other than a house of prayer. It had become a symbol of Jewish exclusivism and a rallying place for Jewish nationalism. As a Christian he was convinced that Israel would never find its true relationship to God and its true worship, apart from the Messiah. His historical survey had illustrated Israel’s constant rejection of God’s chosen leaders. Moses, Joseph, and the prophets are all types of and pointers to Christ. Stephen pointed out to his hearers that they had already rejected and killed Him. There is an implicit second chance offered to his hearers. Stephen was making an appeal for them to take the needed steps and repent. They were the guilty parties in turning the temple into an object for human manipulation and distorting its true purpose of prayer and worship. It was not he but his Jewish accusers who were the real lawbreakers. Stephen realized he would never secure his acquittal without compromising his convictions. He determined to use the situation as one last opportunity to share those convictions, one last chance to appeal to his Jewish contemporaries to abandon their pattern of rejection and accept the Messiah God had sent them. Ultimately his speech was not a defense at all but a witness. Stephen had Scripture as his source and authority. In the same way we too, because of the nature of God's truth, will become radicals if we take the Scriptures seriously today. We can rediscover truths that have been hidden from us because of theological, cultural, historical, or other blinds. True Christian love drives us to do things with which we are uncomfortable so that we can reach our contemporaries. Others who see these new ways of communication may become upset and oppose them. If Scripture drives us to radicalism, we must not be surprised if our best efforts at obedience to God go unappreciated. We are to use language and practices that our audience understands, if they agree with biblical truth. We must not tone down our message and leave out things that are unpleasant. Neither may we add things that are not in or contradict the Scriptures, or else people may become Christians but retain some of their practices that are contrary to Christianity. We must study people and their culture as well as biblical teachings that relate to their ideas and practices. We follow Stephen’s pattern and have gospel conversations and not templated presentations. We must then come up with a message and a lifestyle that is relevant, understandable, and inviting to their situation. This message will challenge their culture through God’s principles. When that happens, some who do not want to change will be provoked and oppose the Word. Others will accept what we say and be transformed by Christ.