Archive for May, 2015

This Weeks News!

ELMER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – news wk 05/25/15:

 

Rev. Mouris Yousef began his Pentecost Sunday sermon “Too Deep for Words!” by reading Scriptures Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:1-13 in both English and Egyptian as a reminder of the importance of the day. Pentecost commemorates a watershed event in Christian history. This day became significant for Christians because, fifty days or seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Christ’s first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church. In Acts chapter 2 we read “And when the day of Pentecost had come, the first followers of Jesus were all together in one place . . . and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.” The languages given to the followers of Christ that day were the languages spoken by thousands of Jewish pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. “Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” Peter preached his first sermon, interpreting the events of that morning in light of a prophecy of the Hebrew prophet Joel, in which God promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh, empowering diverse people to exercise divine power. This would be a sign of the coming “day of the Lord”. What is the message of Pentecost to our lives as followers of Christ today? To the Elmer Presbyterian Church as it carries on its ministry and mission in this community?

Pentecost is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Before He was taken up into heaven, Jesus promised the disciples in Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s dwelling in their lives, was the gift that made the whole difference. From the day of Pentecost to this day, authentic Christian communities have become witnessing communities. That is the challenge I’ve put before you over the last few weeks as we launched together the “Come and See” initiative.

On the day of Pentecost, there were people from the four ends of the earth. Those people took the Christian message to their homeland. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enabled the followers of Christ to speak the languages of the people around them. We are called to speak a language that those around us can understand. Napoleon Bonaparte once pointed to a map of China and said, “There lies a sleeping giant. If it ever wakes up, it will be unstoppable.” Today the American church is a sleeping giant. Each Sunday, church pews are filled with members who are doing nothing with their faith except “keeping” it, rather than sharing it with others.

Next Sunday, May 31st, is Youth Sunday, with the children and youth of the church leading the service. Members of the Sr. Youth Group will offer mediations based on Matthew 5 and the Beatitudes.

 

The Community Bible study, led by Rev. Yousef, meets on Tuesdays at 10:00 am. If you’d like to learn more about the Word of God this is a great opportunity to join others in lively and informed discussions of the Bible.

The Women’s Association meets Tuesday, June 2nd at 6:00 pm.

The Men’s Bible study meets on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm.

 The Way youth group meets weekly on Wednesday in the Church, with Bible themed study, activities and games. Junior youth in 4th through 7th grades meet from 6:30-8:00 pm, while senior youth 8th grade and up meet from 6:30-8:30 pm. All youth in the area are invited to participate in the activities.

Our Clothes Closet will next be open Tuesday, June 16th, from 6-7 pm, offering serviceable used clothing for children and adults to those in need at no cost. However, if you need assistance before then, please call the church.

The Elmer Presbyterian Church is located at 107 Chestnut Street (Rt. 40) in Elmer, at the intersection of Rt. 40 and Front Street. The church is handicap accessible, with parking available behind the church. If you would like information about any of our worship services or programs, or need transportation, please call 856-358-8888.

Too Deep For Words!

Pentecost Sunday May 24th, 2015

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

Too Deep For Words!

Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:1-13

 

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost is not as well-known or as popular as Christmas and Easter, though it commemorates a watershed event in Christian history. In many ways, Pentecost is the birthday of the church. The English word “Pentecost” is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty.” This day became especially significant for Christians because, fifty days or seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of the Feast of Weeks,[1] the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Christ’s first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.

 

What Actually Happened on That Day of Pentecost?

So, what actually happened on the day of Pentecost and why it is so important for us today? This event is recorded in the book of Acts chapter 2. Acts 2:1 begins, “And when the day of Pentecost had come, the first followers of Jesus were all together in one place.” All of a sudden, a sound came from heaven, like a strong wind, filling the house where the people had gathered. Something like tongues of fire rested on their heads. Acts 2:4 explains, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.”

 

The languages given to the followers of Christ that day were the languages spoken by thousands of Jewish pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. In Acts 2:7-8 we read, “Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” The content of the miraculous messages had to do with God’s mighty works, the wonders of God (2:11).

 

At some point, Peter, one of the leading followers of Jesus, stood up and preached his first sermon. He interpreted the events of that morning in light of a prophecy of the Hebrew prophet Joel. In that text, God promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh, empowering diverse people to exercise divine power. This would be a sign of the coming “day of the Lord” (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32). Peter went on to explain that Jesus had been raised and had poured out the Spirit in fulfillment of God’s promise through Joel (2:32-33). When the crowd asked what they should do, Peter urged them to turn their lives around and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Then they would be forgiven and would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:37-39). Acts reports that about 3,000 people were added to the church that day (2:41). Not a bad response to Peter’s first sermon!

 

What is the message of Pentecost to our lives as followers of Christ today? What is the message of Pentecost to the Elmer Presbyterian Church as it carries on its ministry and mission in this community? In Acts 2:12, the Bible says, Amazed and perplexed, they (the people present at Pentecost) asked one another, “What does this mean?” Three important things happened on Pentecost Sunday and they place before us as individuals and as a congregation three major challenges:

 

First: Relaying on the Power of The Holy Spirit

Pentecost is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples of Christ felt very discouraged as they saw Jesus taken up into heaven before their very eyes on the Mount of Olives. Before He was taken up into heaven, Jesus promised them in Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” On Pentecost morning, the promise was fulfilled and the followers of Christ received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

The gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s dwelling in their lives, that treasure in jars of clay (2 Corn. 4:7), was the gift that made the whole difference. Who could’ve believed that a small group of Christ’s followers could make that huge difference in their communities? Who could’ve imagined that the message of Christ could reach the four ends of the earth in a few decades? How could this happen? It is the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christ’s followers. Zechariah 4:6, the reminds us that, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Friends, as I pointed out the last two Sundays, what you and I can do is just extend an invitation “come and see” and leave the rest to God. On the day of Pentecost, Peter offered that invitation to the worshipping crowds in Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of 3,000 people.

 

Second: A Witnessing Community

From the day of Pentecost to this day, authentic Christian communities have become witnessing communities. That is the challenge I’ve put before you over the last few weeks as we launched together the “Come and See” initiative. My hope is to revitalize our calling, our vocation, as Christians set apart by the Most High for a specific purpose, “You are my witnesses.” Some of you are on board on this one and some are not. This is the very best outreach a church can have, is one that is lived by its people as they go on their way.

 

Robert G. Lee, (1927-1960) once said, “God never intended for the church to be a refrigerator in which to preserve perishable piety…He intended it to be an incubator in which to hatch our converts.” That’s how Christianity spread all over the world. On the day of Pentecost, there were people from the four ends of the earth as we see in Acts 2:9-11. Those very people took the Christian message to their homeland. Who took the Christian message to Asia, to Europe, to Africa, to Rome, to the Arabs and the Greeks? It was the native people of those nations who were present in Jerusalem in the day of Pentecost. They returned to their home countries with a new message; a message that was too deep for words.

 

Third: A Miracle of Understanding

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enabled the followers of Christ to speak the languages of the people around them. In Acts 2:11 we read the comment of the people we heard Peter, the Galilean fisherman, preaching that day, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” It is indeed a miracle of understanding! We are called to speak a language that those around us can understand. Have you ever had one of those…ah-hah… experiences when all of a sudden–something you had not understood–some great truth—suddenly, miraculously makes sense? One of my favorite Scripture verses is Isaiah 11:2, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.”

 

Friends, let me conclude my sermon this Pentecost Sunday with a story about the great French Emperor, leader Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). Napoleon once pointed to a map of China and said, “There lies a sleeping giant. If it ever wakes up, it will be unstoppable.” Today the American church is a sleeping giant. Each Sunday, church pews are filled with members who are doing nothing with their faith except “keeping” it. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

[1] Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, was the second great feast in Israel’s yearly cycle of holy days. It was originally a harvest festival (Exodus 23:16), but, in time, turned into a day to commemorate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. This name comes from an expression in Leviticus 23:16.

Summer Music Program

The Chancel Choir will soon be going on their summer break. Our Summer Music Program will begin, so please let Music Director, Becky Puff, know if you would like to provide special music this summer.

Did You Know About Our Youth Service on May 31st?

 

ELMER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – news wk 05/18/15:

Rev. Yousef’s sermon for Pentecost Sunday, May 24th is “Too Deep for Words!” based on Scripture readings Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:1-8. All are invited to attend our service at 10:00 am.

Sunday, May 31st is Youth Sunday. The children and youth of the church will conduct the entire service, from Scripture readings and prayers to offering the message. Please plan on joining us for this wonderful recognition and celebration of our young people!!

Sunday school follows worship from 11:30 am–12 noon for children ages 4th through 8th grades.

The Community Bible study, led by Rev. Yousef, meets on Tuesdays at 10:00 am. If you’d like to learn more about the Word of God this is a great opportunity to join others in lively and informed discussions of the Bible.

The Men’s Bible study meets on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm.

The Way youth group meets weekly on Wednesday in the Church, with Bible themed study, activities and games. Junior youth in 4th through 7th grades meet from 6:30-8:00 pm, while senior youth 8th grade and up meet from 6:30-8:30 pm. All youth in the area are invited to participate in the activities.

Our Clothes Closet will next be open Tuesday, June 16th, from 6-7 pm, offering serviceable used clothing for children and adults to those in need at no cost. However, if you need assistance before then, please call the church.

 

Rev. Mouris Yousef’s sermon last Sunday was the second part of “Come and See…Go and Tell!” based on Scripture readings Psalm 34:8 and John 1:43-51. Last week we saw people coming to see the Lord, and as they discover the greatness of Jesus, they go and tell others. This summarizes the Christian message in its simplicity and depth. We come into the presence of God and get to see what God has done. And then go into the world and tell others. “Come and see” said Philip to Nathanael. But Nathanael doubted. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. The Bible makes it clear that those who have met Jesus are expected to go out and find other people who don’t yet know Him. Why on earth do we find this such a difficult task to do? Why aren’t we continually seeking out other people who don’t know Jesus, telling them about who He is, and then inviting them to a place where they can meet Him? According to surveys, “82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited”. The message is clear that the unchurched are open to conversations about church” writes Philip Nation, LifeWay Research. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” asked Nathanael. It’s the same question we may have to face today: Can anything good come out of Elmer? Or, more specifically: Can anything good come out of the Elmer Presbyterian Church? Those may be the kind of questions in the minds of the people we meet and talk to.

Now let’s see how Philip handled it. He pleasantly persists. He doesn’t get into an argument with Nathanael over the merits of Nazareth. Philip simply invites Nathanael and says, “Come and see. Come and check Jesus out.” Philip doesn’t get sidetracked into another discussion. Instead, he focuses on getting his friend to come with him and meet the Lord. “Come and see,” he says. What we do have-and this is something no one can take away from us, by God’s grace, is Jesus. We have the gospel. This is where Jesus is forgiving sinners, giving life, giving direction and power for Christian living, calling disciples to follow Him, granting eternal life to all those who believe in Him. All this Jesus is doing here in this little town and this little church. “Can anything good come out of Elmer?” your neighbors are wondering. And, like Philip, you can tell them, “Come and see.” I want to remind you again of The Come and See Initiative. Maybe this is scary territory, or maybe you just don’t know what to do and say. There are two steps we can take today to overcome the things that hold us back from introducing people to Jesus: Ask God for an open door to share the gospel with people, and invite them to church. What’s the worst that could happen? They might say no. But in God’s sight, we did our part. Let’s see what happens when we put our faith into action!

The Elmer Presbyterian Church is located at 107 Chestnut Street (Rt. 40) in Elmer, at the intersection of Rt. 40 and Front Street. The church is handicap accessible, with parking available behind the church. If you would like information about any of our worship services or programs, or need transportation, please call 856-358-8888.

“Come and See…Go and Tell” #2

(Sunday May 17th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

Come and See … Go and Tell!” #2

Psalm 34:8; John 1:43-51

 

Last Sunday we started a new series of messages that we called, “Come and See … Go and Tell.” The series is based on John chapter 1. As I pointed out last Sunday, in John 1, we see a simple yet a very profound pattern. Through this pattern we see people coming to see the Lord, and as they discover the greatness of Jesus, they go and tell others. This pattern very much summarizes the Christian message in its simplicity and depth. We come into the presence of God and get to see what God has done.  And then go into the world and tell others.  It is a peculiar movement of coming and going, always coming and going.  The temptation has always been for God’s people to come, but then just to sit at the feet of Jesus.

 

“Come and see” ~ said Philip to his friend Nathanael in John 1:46. Philip’s invitation is a great challenge to the complacency and timidity of the Christian church today. How often we offer the invitation, “come and see?” In John chapter 1 we see three examples of such a great truth. First, Andrew meets Jesus and sees in Him the long-expected Messiah ~ the Hope of Israel. After getting a glimpse of the wonder of Jesus of Nazareth, Andrew said to himself, the teaching of Jesus is so good. I can’t keep it for myself. I will be selfish if I do not share this good news with others. I have to share Jesus with family and friends. So, Andrew goes and looks for his brother Simon. He brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus meets Simon and gives him a new name, Peter, a rock for he will stand boldly for the gospel.

 

The next day, Andrew goes back to his hometown, Bethsaida in Galilee. He found Philip and told him the good news and asked him to come and see and he will not be the same again. Philip came to check out Jesus and the Word took a hold of Philip so that when Jesus commanded him saying “follow me,” he immediately did so. Once again, we see that all you have to do is ask your family and friends to come and check out Jesus. Ask them to come and see and they will not be the same again. What we see here is evangelism, reaching out to people, by asking them to just come and see.

 

The pattern continues in John 1 with a third example. Now the found people find people. They have been found and now they are in the business of finding others! Philip, who has been introduced to Jesus by his friend Andrew, is now tries to introduce his friend, Nathanael, to Jesus. In John 1:45 we are told that Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” But Nathanael doubted. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked in John 1:46. “Come and see,” said Philip. As we continue looking at John chapter 1, please allow me to underscore two important thoughts:

 

First: The Disturbing Truth

The Bible makes it very clear that those who have met Jesus are expected to go out and find other people who don’t yet know Him. Why on earth do we find this such a difficult task to do? Why aren’t we continually seeking out other people who don’t know Jesus, telling them about who He is, and then inviting them to a place where they can meet Him? I want to share with you some statistics that were recently compiled and published about “unchurched” people in America. According to surveys, “Eighty-two percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited” ~ Dr. Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door. “A study including more than 15,000 adults revealed that about two-thirds are willing to receive information about a local church from a family member and 56 percent from a friend or neighbor.” The message is clear that the unchurched are open to conversations about church” ~ Philip Nation, LifeWay Research. Yet here is a sad truth about the church’s response to such a potential harvest of souls. The same research found: “7 out of 10 unchurched people have never been invited to church in their whole lives. Only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church. Ninety-eighty percent of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year” ~ Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door.

 

Second: Nathanael States His Objection to the Gospel

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” said Nathanael in John 1:46. What good would come out of that little town of 200-300 people called Nazareth? It is the same question we may have to face today: Can anything good come out of Elmer? Or let’s be more specific: Can anything good come out of the Elmer Presbyterian Church? Those may be the kind of questions in the minds of the people we meet and talk to. Believe it or not, some people may not think very much of those little towns, or of those little churches. I do not know if people have even heard of them in the first place. And this, in turn, can create doubts and even embarrassment in our own minds. We might become reluctant or even ashamed to speak up for, and invite people to, our church.

 

Now let’s see how Philip handled it. This may give us some guidance and encouragement for our own life of witness. Remember this was early on in Jesus’ public ministry. He was just starting out, and not many had heard of Him yet. Thank God, Philip did not give up on his witness to Nathanael. He persists. He pleasantly persists. He doesn’t get into a long, heated argument with Nathanael over the relative merits of Nazareth, its good points and its weaknesses. Instead, Philip simply invites Nathanael and says, “Come and see.” “Come and check Jesus out,” said Philip to his friend, Nathanael.

 

Philip’s response is very instructive for us. Philip doesn’t get sidetracked into a discussion over how great or not-so-great Nazareth is. Instead, he’s going to focus on getting his friend to come with him and meet the Lord. “Come and see,” he says. The focus is not on our congregation, how great it is, because, frankly, there are a lot of congregations with a lot more to boast about in that regard.

 

But what we do have–and this something no one can take away from us–what we do have, by God’s grace, is Jesus. We have the gospel. Jesus dwells among us. This is where Jesus is doing His thing – forgiving sinners, giving life, giving direction and power for Christian living, calling disciples to follow Him, granting eternal life to all those who believe in Him. All this Jesus is doing here, yes, here in this little town and this little church. Friends, never be ashamed or embarrassed about bringing people to where Jesus is, no matter how lowly that place may seem. “Can anything good come out of Elmer?” your neighbors are wondering. And, like Philip, you can tell them, “Come and see.”

 

Friends, this morning I want to remind you again with the initiative we launched last week ~ The Come and See Initiative. Maybe this is scary territory, or maybe you just don’t know what to do and say. There are two practical steps we can all take today to overcome the things that hold us back from introducing people to Jesus. (1) Like Paul did in Colossians 4:3, ask God for an open door to share the gospel with people. (2) Invite them to church. And if you aren’t sure how to do that, here are a few tips for making an invitation that gets a positive response. (a) Make the invitation specific – Don’t just invite guests to come “sometime”; say “join me this Sunday” (b) Make the invitation personal – offer to pick them up. If they don’t like that, then offer to meet them at the door, so they don’t have to enter or sit alone. (c) Make the invitation generous – offer to take them out or have them over for lunch after the service. (d) Make the invitation clear – let them know expectations for dress, music, childcare, etc. so that they will feel prepared for this new step. Above all, just ask. What’s the worst that could happen? They might say no. But in this case, in God’s sight, we did our part. Let’s see what happens when we put our faith into action. Amen!

Look What We’re Doing!

ELMER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – news wk 05/11/15:

Rev. Mouris Yousef’s sermon last Sunday was the first part of “Come and See…Go and Tell!” based on Scripture readings Psalm 34:1-8 and John 1:43-51. Jesus was so passionate about inviting people. “Come, follow me,” Jesus says to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew “and I will make you fishers of men.” That doesn’t mean it’s an easy decision. Christianity is more than a system of beliefs; a faith that will be responsive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and will to walk wherever He wants us to walk. The Christian message is this: Come into the presence of God. See what God has done. And then go into the world and tell others. You come and see. Then you go and tell.

You and I need to come closer to Christ and the real challenge is to keep coming. Come with your imperfections, your sins, your questions, your doubts, but come, so that you can experience it for yourself. Come as you are. But come also for what you can-and by God’s grace actually will-become through the very act of following Him. There is a pattern in the gospel narratives that goes like this: “Come and see. Go and tell.” Andrew meets Jesus and sees in Him the long-expected Messiah. After spending time with Jesus, Andrew said to himself, I have to share Jesus with family and friends. So Andrew looked for his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. When Simon got there, Jesus told him “You are Simon. You name will now be Cephas-a rock for you will stand boldly for the gospel.” What we see here is evangelizing, reaching out to people, by asking them to just come and see. The next day, Andrew was thinking of going back home to Bethsaida, then decided to share the good news with someone from his hometown. He found Philip and told him the good news and asked him to come and see and he will not be the same again. Philip came to check out Jesus and the Word took a hold of Philip so that when Jesus commanded him saying “follow me,” he immediately did so. The found people find people. Philip, who has been introduced to Jesus by his friend Andrew, now tries to introduce his friend, Nathanael, to Jesus. But Nathanael doubted. Some of the people you invite will doubt but don’t give up. Philip didn’t give up. He insisted, “Nathanael, just come and see for yourself, check him out and you will not be the same again.”

According to the gospel narratives, this is how the first disciples were made. They were invited to come and see, either by Jesus Himself or by one of their friends, and they did and their lives were forever changed. This week we begin a new way to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ to our community, neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers, called the “Come and See Initiative” based on John 1:46, where Philip extends an invitation to his friend Nathanael to “Come and See the Messiah.” Over the next couple Sundays we’ll collect the names of beloved ones who are away from the Lord or have become lukewarm, and place them at the foot of the chancel cross. No one but you and the Lord will know these names. We will pray for those people over the next few weeks and your responsibility is to go and extend the invitation – “come and see.” Let’s see what happens when the church does it part. Let’s see what happens when we take our faith seriously!

 

Rev. Yousef’s sermon for next Sunday, May 17th is part two of “Come and See…Go and Tell!” based on Scripture readings Psalm 34:1-8 and John 1:43-51. All are invited to attend our service at 10:00 am. Sunday school follows worship from 11:30 am–12 noon for children ages 4th through 8th grades.

 

The Community Bible study, led by Rev. Yousef, meets on Tuesdays at 10:00 am. If you’d like to learn more about the Word of God this is a great opportunity to join others in lively and informed discussions of the Bible.

 

Our Clothes Closet will be open Tuesday, May 19th, from 6-7 pm, offering serviceable used clothing for children and adults to those in need at no cost. However, if you need assistance before then, please call the church.

 

The Men’s Bible study meets on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm.

 

The Way youth group meets weekly on Wednesday in the Church, with Bible themed study, activities and games.

Junior youth in 4th through 7th grades meet from 6:30-8:00 pm, while senior youth 8th grade and up meet from 6:30-8:30 pm. All youth in the area are invited to participate in the activities.

 

The Elmer Presbyterian Church is located at 107 Chestnut Street (Rt. 40) in Elmer, at the intersection of Rt. 40 and Front Street. The church is handicap accessible, with parking available behind the church. If you would like information about any of our worship services or programs, or need transportation, please call 856-358-8888.

“Come and See…Go and Tell!” #1

Sunday May 10th, 2015

Come and See … Go and Tell!” #1

Psalm 34:1-8; John 1:43-51

 

There are so many fascinating things about the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. One great thing that I personally admire as I think about the life of Jesus of Nazareth is His compassion for those whom He lived with and for us. Jesus was so passionate about inviting people.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus says to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew in Matthew 4:19, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Shortly after that in Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Throughout the gospel narratives Jesus continues to say, come.  That doesn’t always mean that it’s an easy decision.  In fact, it will cost you something. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Christianity is more than a system of beliefs; it is an active faith, a faith that will be willing to get up out of its chair and on its feet, a faith that will be responsive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and will to walk wherever He wants us to walk.

 

The Simplicity of the Christian Message

The Christian message is this: Come into the presence of God. See what God has done.  And then go into the world and tell others.  It is a peculiar movement of coming and going, always coming and going.  The temptation has always been for God’s people to come, but then just to sit at the feet of Jesus.  You remember in Matthew chapter 17 Peter wanted to build three tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration. It was such a great experience.  He said, “I never want to leave here.  Let’s just stay up here.” But Jesus said, “I don’t want you to stay up here on the mountaintop.  I want you to go down in the valley. That’s where the people live.”  That’s the place where the Christian life is to be lived…out in the world, in the work place, in the classroom, in the home…but not in the church. You come and see.  Then you go and tell. That’s what we are called to do. As I reflect upon a great story that comes from the gospel of John 1:43-51, please allow me to share a couple observations with you this morning:

 

First: Come and Keep Coming

You and I need to come closer to Christ and the real challenge is to keep coming. Philip’s invitation in John 1:47 is a reminder to all of us, sinners and lukewarm Christians alike, to come as we are. Come with your imperfections, come with your sins, come with your questions, come with your doubts, but come, as Philip said to Nathanael, come and keep coming so that you can see, perceive, experience it for yourself. You don’t have to hold back because you haven’t got all your theological “i’s” dotted or your ethical “t’s” crossed. Come exactly as you are. But come also for what you can – and by God’s grace actually will – become through the very act of following Him.

 

As a father, I know the joy I felt when our children took those first baby steps. We clapped and cheered and smiled broadly, even shed a tear, at those first daring but wobbly steps. Of course, that baby walking wasn’t really very good walking, not as grown-up walking goes. The joy parents feel in those awkward early steps is rooted in the knowledge that as a child grows, the steps will become longer, well- balanced, and much more graceful. So also God, our Heavenly Father, rejoices in the early, awkward steps you and I take toward Him. God rejoices in our first faltering steps toward Him because those baby steps are a harbinger of the bolder and more graceful strides we will one day make as we grow in Him.

Second: Found People Find People

There is a second wonderful truth I see in John chapter 1. As mentioned, in the gospel narratives, there is a simple yet a profound pattern. It goes like this: “come and see. Go and tell.” Andrew meets Jesus and sees in Him the long-expected Messiah ~ the Hope of Israel. One day after spending some time with Jesus, Andrew said to himself, the teaching of Jesus is so good. Andrew said to himself, this is the ONE we have been waiting for. Andrew said to himself, I can’t keep it for myself. I will be selfish if I do not share these good news with others. I have to share Jesus with family and friends.

 

So, Andrew told Jesus, “Hold on, I’ll be right back. I’ve got someone who’s got to hear this message, someone who’s got to check this out, someone who’s got to come and see.” Andrew dashed and looked for his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. When Simon got there, he was in for a shock. Jesus told him “You are Simon. You name will now be Cephas – a rock for you will stand boldly for the gospel.” Simon was probably bewildered by what had just happened. He came to see and he was transformed and he was no longer the same person he was just a moment ago. What we see here is evangelizing, reaching out to people, by asking them to just come and see.

 

The next day, Andrew thought about going back home to Bethsaida in Galilee. Then he thought again about this good news he has been exposed to and decided to share it with someone from his hometown. He found Philip and told him the good news and asked him to come and see and he will not be the same again. Philip came to check out Jesus and the Word took a hold of Philip so that when Jesus commanded him saying “follow me,” he immediately did so. Once again, we see that all you have to do is ask your family and friends to come and check out Jesus. Ask them to come and see and they will not be the same again.

 

There is another great story that we also see in John chapter 1. The found people find people. They have been found and now they are in the business of finding others! Philip, who has been introduced to Jesus by his friend Andrew, is now tries to introduce his friend, Nathanael, to Jesus. Philip tries unsuccessfully to evangelize Nathanael. Philip was so full with the Word that it was burning like a fire in his heart, like a fire shut up in his bones. He could not hold it, he could not keep it to himself so he went looking for his friend Nathanael and in John 1:45 told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote– Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip continued, “come and check him out, come and see and you will not be the same again.” But Nathanael doubted. Some of the people you invite will doubt but don’t give up. Philip didn’t give up. He insisted, “Nathanael, just come and see for yourself, check him out and you will not be the same again.” I will say more about Nathanael’s statement next Sunday.

 

Friends, as I conclude today, let me remind you one more time with our challenge. According to the gospel narratives, especially the gospel of John, this is how the first disciples were made. They were invited to come and see, either by Jesus Himself or by one of their friends, and they did and their lives were forever changed. Today we launch a new idea as one way to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ to our community, neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers, etc.  I called this initiative “Come and See Initiative.”  This initiative is based on John 1:46, where we see Philip extending an invitation to his friend Nathanael to “Come and See the Messiah.”  You will find in your pew racks index cards.  Please tear them in half.  Write a name of a person that you would like to pray for.  Keep half for yourself and the ushers will collect the second half.  Today and over the next couple Sundays we will collect the names of beloved ones who are away from the Lord or have become lukewarm.  Ushers will collect these names and we will place them at the foot of the chancel cross.  No one but you and the Lord will get to know these names.  We will pray for those people today and over the next few weeks and your responsibility is to go and extend the invitation ~ “come and see.”  Let’s see what happens when the church does it part.  Let’s see what happens when we take our faith seriously! Amen.

Here Am I, and the Children God Has Given Me!

 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Here Am I, and the Children God Has Given Me!
Isaiah 8:17-18; Hebrews 2:9-13

I do not get to change my mind very often when it comes to following my preaching schedule. I usually have a three-month plan with a general theme and the supporting Scriptures. Yet, this Sunday is an exception. I had prepared a different message for this morning, and on Thursday the Lord put something different on my heart. I think we should be obedient to the whispers and prompts of the Spirit. Therefore, the short message I am sharing with you this morning comes from the bottom of my heart. Not that I do not do this every time I teach and preach, but today’s message comes with a great sense of urgency and seriousness. Today’s message will definitely challenge us as individuals, as followers of Christ, and collectively as a congregation. It will make most of us uncomfortable. But in all cases, I hope it will cause us to wake up. My hope today for all of us as followers of Christ is to walk the real Christian walk and not be satisfied by just talking the talk.

As a way of introduction, let me ask you a simple and yet a tough question. When was the last time you shared the love of Jesus with someone the Lord had sent your way? When was the last time you prayed for someone so that they may see the love of God in Christ? When was the last time you invited someone to church? Well, are we suppose to do this stuff, you may ask? Don’t we hire ministers and church staff to carry out this job. The true of the matter is that we collectively, the body of Christ, are called together to witness to our family members, friends, and neighbors. Everyone of you will meet people in your circle of relationships your minister will never get the chance to talk to them. It is my responsibility, however, as your minister, to equip YOU to do the work of ministry so that the body of Christ may be built up as Ephesians 4:12 says. Do we do that? Do you have children in the faith? As we think about this matter today, may we honestly face it and seek strength and guidance from the Lord.

Take Away the Stone
Most of us, if not all, are here today, are in the faith, in Christ Jesus, because somehow, someone, someday, has extended an invitation to us to “come and taste the goodness of the Lord.” It might be a friend, a parent, a neighbor, a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a youth leader, a sibling, or a spouse. It does not really matter who issued the invitation, but what really matters is that you’re here because God’s grace used a human tool, a human agent, to draw you closer to Christ. We are the body of Christ in the world. We are Christ’s foot and hands here on earth. The Lord can and will raise Lazarus from the dead. That’s His business not ours, but He requires us to “take away the stone” as we read in John 11:38. We are to make every possible way to bring people to Christ and leave the rest on him. This morning I would like to make a couple observations based on Isaiah 8:17-18 and Hebrews 2:9-13.

First: We Do Exist as Signs and Symbols of Hope and Wonder
Please listen one more time to the words of the Scripture in Isaiah 8:17-18, “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding His face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in Him. Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.”

“We are signs and symbols in Israel,” says Isaiah. Like the Prophet Isaiah, we are signs and symbols in this world. Signs and symbols point beyond themselves. They give warnings, directions, instructions, and guidance. I think this is what Jesus meant in Mathew 5:14-16 when He says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The prophet’s own name, Isaiah, and the names of his two sons, Shear-jashub (Isaiah 7:3) and Maher-shalalhash-baz (Isaiah 8:3) were signs from the “Lord of hosts” that He would do what those names signified. Judah’s enemies would descend on her soon (Maher-shalalhash-baz means “speed to the spoil”), a remnant would return (Shear-jashub means the remnant shall return”), and Yahweh would save (Isaiah means “Yahweh will save”). Even though God was presently silent, He was still on His throne. The Prophet Isaiah, his two sons, and possibly some other followers who had been converted by his ministry, were all signs and symbols of God’s wonders.

Second: Christ is Our Great Example
Hebrews chapter two brings another great insight to us. The picture is for Christ having accomplished the mission of redemption and the Father is so pleased with His work, Jesus goes back to His eternal glory in heaven, the glory He had with the Father before the world began, and Hebrews chapter two makes it very clear that He returns to the Father with a gift in His hands. Twice in Hebrews chapter two, verses 10 and 13, we are told, “For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” And again in verse 13 we read, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

The Author of the letter to the Hebrews cites Isaiah 8:18 when he shows Jesus proclaiming, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” In Christ’s prayer to the Father before the crucifixion in John 17, He makes reference several times to those the Father had given Him. Christ, like the prophet Isaiah, did not stand ALONE, but claimed a gift that the Father had given Him (John 17:6; John 17:12), the gift of the believers ~ “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

Friends, I am afraid many believers will stand before the Lord on the Last Day empty handed. As you look at your life today, can you say these word, “Here, am I and the children God has given me?” What kind of legacy are we leaving behind us? Here is what the Scripture says about a life of a faithful man in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” Here I am with the children the Lord has given me. Could this be a description of your life? Have you begotten any children, spiritually speaking? Paul describes Onesimus in Philemon 10 as his “Son whom he had gotten in his impressment.” Do you have spiritual sons and daughters?

Friends, I know today’s message is a hard one. It is not surprising that some of you feel uncomfortable right now. But I tell you the truth, it is a matter of life and death. Who will be sitting in these pews in 20 or 30 years if we do not do our job today? John MacArthur tells a story of an old church in England. A sign on the front of the building read “We preach Christ crucified.” After a time, ivy grew up the walls, obscuring the last word. The motto now read, “We preach Christ.” The ivy grew some more, and the motto read, “We preach.” Finally, ivy covered the entire sign, and the church died. Such is the fate of any church that fails to carry out its mission in the world. Let us determine that we shall fulfill our mission in the world. To God all praise, honor, and glory, and to this all God’s people said, “Amen.”