Archive for July, 2015

For the Love of Christ Controls Us!

Sermon Notes (Sunday July 19th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

For the Love of Christ Controls Us!

Exodus 19:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:11-15

 

Everyone is controlled, driven, or compelled by something. Admitting this truth is an important act of self-awareness. There is something or someone that motivates us to do what we do and live how we live. For example, some are driven by money. Meaning, money drives how they spend their time and structure their lives. Others are driven by success. They are so motivated to be successful that they will sacrifice family, church, and anything else in order to achieve. There are lots of things around us that seek to control us. To name a few, worry, fear of failure, the longing to be accepted, the desire to be the best parent. So, my question to us this morning is, what is controlling you?

 

Our New Testament Scripture this morning help show us that there is a force so powerful that it can overcome all these other motivators. That force is the transforming love of Christ. Paul wants us to be convinced that the love that Christ has demonstrated for us—His sacrificial, unconditional, and life-altering love—has the power to capture our hearts so deeply that it can be the ultimate controller in our lives. It is when we find our identity and satisfaction in the love of Christ that we will be driven and controlled by that love. The love of Christ is so amazing and compelling. You see, the things that tempt to drive us (money, sex, power, etc.) are actually inferior motivators. They never satisfy. They leave us wanting more and yet end up leaving us empty.

 

That’s why the love of Christ must put to death our old self so that we might be raised to new life and experience new affections, new desires, and new priorities. The good news is that if you are a Christian, you have already death and resurrection. When Christ died, your old self died and since Christ was raised to new life, you have also been raised to new life. Now that you are living resurrected life, you have the ability to say with Paul, “The love of Christ controls us.”

 

When the love of Christ controls us, we will begin to focus more on gospel witness than comfortable living. You will prioritize love of neighbor over selfish living. When the love of Christ controls us as a corporate body, as a congregation, our community will see a group of people living so radically God-centered lives that it will become contagious. Can you truthfully say today, “The love of Christ controls me”? What does it mean to say, “The love of Christ controls us”? Please allow me to highlight a single thought this morning:

 

The Love of Christ is our Motivation to Live Sacrificially

“The love of Christ controls us,” says the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14. The love of Christ had become Paul’s guiding and motivating principle; he had started to see everything in his life through it. What does it mean to be “controlled” by the love of Christ? Christ has captured the FIRST place in Paul’s heart. The more I read Paul, the more I realize how Paul never seemed to get over his salvation experience. The encounter with Jesus of Nazareth on the way to Damascus was a life-changing experience for Paul. He beautifully puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

 

To bring it close to home, especially in the light of our “Stewardship Moment” this morning given by Elders Puff and Nowak, the love of Christ that controls us will be our motivation for giving. Let me be clear. We don’t give because God has needs. Our God multiplies loaves and fishes and pulls tax payment out of fish’s mouths. He never comes to us hat in hand saying, “Please, sir, can you spare some cash? Please, sir, just a little bit?” Friends, we don’t give because God has needs; we give because in giving we declare His value to us and our love for Him. Have you ever thought about it this way? What does our generosity say about the value of Jesus to us? Someone said, “If you want to know what you really love, follow the trail of your money.” What does your giving say about His value to you? To be controlled by the love of Christ means that Jesus has captured the first place in your heart.

 

Remember the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

The grace of Jesus is a central theme in Paul’s writings. “Remember the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul would say… and then you will be that way. A measure of our sacrifice is Christ’s sacrifice for us. He died for us. Our response ought to be in some 
measure the same. Jesus did not tithe His blood… He gave it all! Therefore our response should be not just a portion of our lives, like 10%, 
but everything! The world, of course, says that kind of mentality is crazy and insane. Leverage what you have for someone else? Well, in fact, the context of this passage is Paul defending himself against the charge that he is crazy. Did you see 2 Corinthians 5:13? The Scripture says, “If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” When is the last time your generosity made someone question your sanity? C.S. Lewis once was asked: How do you know you’re giving enough? He answered: (1) It scares you and, (2) People question your sanity.

 

Friends, the sacrificial giver is less concerned about the 10% or 15% and is now asking questions about the 85% or 90%. Rev. Rick Warren, Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, said he made enough money from Purpose Driven Life to buy a small island but he still wears a $14 watch and drives a 15-year old pickup truck. He and his wife increased their level of giving incrementally each year and are now giving away 90% of their income. This is called “reverse tithing”: where he gives away 90% and lives on 10! That’s a sacrificial giver. Has your giving become routine? Comfortable? A sacrificial giver makes changes to their lifestyle to direct more toward God’s kingdom. Or maybe there is some resource God has blessed you with (savings, stock, retirement, etc.) he’s calling you to put on the altar to Him? Where are you on this ladder? Where do you want to grow to? I am convinced that if Christ died for me, then those of us who live should no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us. Where do you need to grow in response to the generosity of Christ, in the investment of your life in His mission?

 

There is a great quote that has been attributed to the late fourth-century early firth-century theologian, Augustine of Hippo (354-430). It says, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” If a person loves God and seeks Him, the things that please the person are the very things that please God.

 

“Christ’s love compels us, “ Paul says. It compels us when we fill our envelope with the church contributions. It compels us to remember each other in prayer. Christ’s love for us compels us in the way we now live. It compels us in the attitudes we have toward others, and our concerns for them. It compels us to take an active part in the work of the Lord’s kingdom. Christ’s love compels us to read our Bible and meditate in His Word. His love compels us to gather for worship and sing His praise; to gather for worship and listen to the good news of His saving gospel; to gather for worship and thereby encourage one another. May God’s love compel us and become the motivating force in all of our living. May God’s love motivate us to live sacrificially. May God’s love compel us to live generously. To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!

Wise or Otherwise?

Sunday July 5th, 2015

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Wise or Otherwise?

Proverbs 14:12; James 1:5-8

A writer arrived at an ancient village to write a book about the wise man in that village. “People say you are a genius. Are you?” he asked. “You might say so,” said the wise man with a smile. “And what makes one a genius?” asked the intrepid reporter. “The ability to see,” said the wise man. The writer was betwixt and between. Scratching his hair with one hand and rubbing his tummy with the other, he muttered, “To see what?” The wise man quietly replied, “To see the butterfly in a caterpillar, the eagle in an egg, the saint in a selfish person, life in death, unity in separation, the divine in the human and the human in the divine.” What a great statement! Being wise is having the ability to see. This morning we wrap up our series: Making Choices that Matter! Over the last few weeks, we have had the chance to look at some key Scripture passages and some great Biblical characters who made choices that honored the Lord in their generations. They lived in a hostile spiritual culture as much as ours today, and yet, they conquered any and every aspect of compromise. As we conclude this series this morning, please allow me to share with you a few important advice from the book of James chapter 1:5-8. We won’t be able to make God-honoring choices unless we have God’s wisdom in our lives. We won’t be make choices that matter in God’s sight unless we have the ability to see things differently. Let me ask you today: are you wise or otherwise? A couple quick observations:

First: Wisdom Wanted

Writing to the persecuted and discriminated against first century Christian community mainly from a Jewish background, James says in chapter 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” In Greek grammar, this phrase “If any of you lacks wisdom” is a first class condition in Greek, which means the “If” can be translated “since”! In other words, what it is saying is, “SINCE you DO lack wisdom.”   This is not just some abstract theoretical problem.  This describes where so many of us actually are, right? We do lack wisdom! We don’t have the answers to our questions. The word “lack” here in James 1:5 is a banking word, meaning a “deficit” or “shortfall.” We talk about the national “budget deficit”, but the Bible says that each of us has a personal “wisdom deficit”! We do not have, on our own, the wisdom that we need.

But what is “wisdom”? The Greek word for wisdom is “sophia.” To James wisdom was more than knowledge and more than intelligence. The fact is, you can have both intelligence and knowledge, and yet lack wisdom. Wisdom is the practical use and exercise of knowledge. It is knowledge that is applied in practical and godly ways. Biblical wisdom is the ability to see things from God’s perspective. This is the kind of wisdom what we need to live a God-honoring and God-fearing life.

Too many people have “knowledge” – but they don’t apply it to their lives.  In fact, this is what James criticizes later in this chapter: “be DOERS of the word, and not hearers only, who delude themselves.” I feel that James is speaking to the churches in the 21st century! There is way too much “knowledge” in the church today, and way too little “wisdom”! Someone once said we have a “toxic buildup” of knowledge in the American church today that we have never applied. We go to Bible study after Bible study after Bible study, and “learn” all these truths that we never apply to our lives.  We don’t need more “knowledge” in the church; we NEED wisdom.  We need to be able to see things from God’s perspective, and apply His truths to our real-life situations.

Second: Wisdom Asked

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” “You should ask God”, James says. The One we need to ask for wisdom is God. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Do not lean on your own understanding” – instead, ask God!

Job 28 is a very insightful Scripture passage as we think about the source of true wisdom. In Job 28:12-24, Job asks, “But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? No mortal comprehends its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living. The deep says, “It is not in me”; the sea says, “It is not with me.” It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed out in silver … Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds in the sky. Destruction and Death say, “Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.” God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for He views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” Job says wisdom is not to be found with anyone or anything here on earth; real wisdom comes from GOD.

The Greek here where James says, “you should ask God” is “para tou theou” – literally, “from the side of God.”  This is a great picture!  It pictures wisdom as being right there at God’s side, which just what Proverbs 8:30 says that when God made the heavens and the earth in the beginning, that wisdom “was constantly at His side.” God’s wisdom is right at His side, at His very heart – we can ask it from Him. Wisdom comes from God: “Ask of God”!

“You should ask God”, James says. James doesn’t mean to just ask God once and walk away!  In Greek this is a present active imperative; it means: “Keep on asking!”  This means that your prayer to God for wisdom is be constant and continual thing. Proverbs 2:2-4 describe how diligently and persistently we are to seek the Lord’s wisdom: “Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures, THEN you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.  For the Lord gives wisdom …” That passage makes it clear that God “gives” His wisdom to those who “SEEK” it like for hidden treasures – not to those who “sit around waiting for it”! So we are to SEEK God’s wisdom continually in prayer, in studying the Scriptures, and in fellowshipping with the body of Christ, the church.

Friends, when you need wisdom, and ask for it from God, James says God will give it to us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James says that God gives to all generously and without reproach, so ask. James had most likely heard Jesus speak those famous words in Matthew 7:7-11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will opened unto you … If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father give what is good to those who ask?”   More than anything else we need the wisdom that comes from above as we train ourselves to make good choices. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” Wisdom helps us understand how our troubles fit in with God’s plan. It assures us that God has not forsaken us. God’s gift of wisdom allows us to understand how God is involved in life’s daily events. So, let’s wise up church of Christ! Are you wise or otherwise? To God all praise, honor, and glory, and to this all God’s people said, “Amen.”

Making Choices that Matter! #3

Sunday June 28th, 2015

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Making Choices that Matter! #3

Daniel 6; Matthew 7:13-14

The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is one of the best-known and best-loved stories in all the Scriptures. It has encouraged the people of God for thousands of years. The story is filled with unexpected twists and turns, yet along the way we learn the secrets of Daniel’s success and perseverance. Somehow Daniel managed to survive and thrive in a spiritually hostile environment. As we continue our series, Making Choices that Matter, please allow me this morning to look at Daniel chapter 6.

In Daniel chapter 6, Daniel is now an old man. He came to Babylon as a teenager, and now he is about 85 years old. He has been in Babylon for about 70 years. As Daniel chapter 6 opens, Daniel is once again about to be promoted to a very high office in the palace. Evidently the new king, King Darius, recognized him as a man of integrity and wanted to make him second in command over the entire kingdom. That’s when the intrigue begins. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally in Daniel 6:4-5, these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” Friends, the time is coming, and is already here when loyalty to your God will be the grounds for charges against you.

Daniel’s enemies succeeded in their mission. Once more, Daniel is facing death because of his faith and loyalty to the One true God. Yet, Daniel has not veered from the course he started on as a young man. He is still faithfully following and serving the God of his fathers. He is now serving under a new king named Darius who rules over a new kingdom, the Medo-Persian Empire. The names have changed as I pointed out but the spiritual challenge is the same. Will Daniel remain faithful when the pressure is on? Daniel’s story tells us how to live for God in a hostile environment. His example shows us that it can be done but not without discomfort. If we don’t compromise, we are sure to come into trouble sooner or later. How did Daniel manage to survive and thrive in a spiritually hostile environment? Two important factors we can see in Daniel chapter 6:

First: A Million Prayers

What do you do when you discover that your enemies have passed a law aimed at one person, and you are that person? How you respond at that point tells a great deal about your character. Daniel 6:10 reveals the secret of his greatness: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

Note the last phrase – “just as he had done before.” For perhaps 85 years, Daniel had prayed three times a day. Perhaps it was 7:00 a.m., 12 noon, and 5:00 p.m. Each day was always the same. Wherever he was, he stopped to pray. Like clockwork, his daily routine revolved around three times of prayer. If he had a business trip to some remote province, he never varied. If he had a few days of vacation, it was the same. You could set your watch by his prayer times.

I did the math and asked myself, “How many times would Daniel have prayed if he prayed three times a day for 85 years?” The answer comes out to over 93,000 prayers. A million prayers! No wonder he simply went back to his room and started praying. An 85-year habit is hard to break. For him, prayer was like breathing. He wasn’t about to stop praying just because some snot-nosed satraps threatened his life. So when they tricked King Darius into signing the 30-day law, Daniel just went ahead with his daily routine. No big deal. He went home, knelt down, faced toward Jerusalem, and offered his prayers to his God. He did it knowing that his adversaries would catch him.

Lest it be thought a small thing to pray three times a day, consider this. At Elmer Presbyterian we have 60-70 people who attend each Sunday. Suppose each of us decided to pray three times a day. That would total about 1 million prayers offered to God by our congregation in a little bit over 15 years. Remember who Daniel is. He’s one of the top three men in the Medo-Persian Empire. No doubt he had a plate full of heavy responsibilities. Yet he still had time to pray three times a day. If you stop praying, the world will stop bothering you. The lions won’t come near you. Your family will finally think you are normal again. The lions win when we are silent. The great mark of true faith is that we keep praying.

Second: The Steadfastness of Daniel’s Faith

Daniel reminds us that it is possible to live a pure life in the midst of a thoroughly pagan world. Daniel’s story demonstrates that if you make up your mind (or “purpose in your heart”) to serve God, you can do it even in the very center of pagan government. Daniel was determined to stand for that which was right simply because it was right. He was determined to stand for the Lord regardless of the consequences. Daniel was determined to remain faithful whatever the cost, and for Daniel, the cost would be very high. Friends, the church would be a vastly different place today if church members had the same kind of commitment to the things of God that Daniel had. We allow everything in the world to come between us and our faithfulness to the Lord. Look at Sunday morning worship and how it has become an optional activity for the modern church member. Many are willing to sacrifice their commitment to the Lord on the altar of convenience, pleasure and worldly ambition. Pray that God may raise up some Daniels in our day. Pray that God may gives us some men and women who would settle for nothing less than absolute obedience to the will of God for their lives. “Be faithful unto death,” the Scriptures teach us. There is always a way to compromise for those who want to compromise. And there is always a way to obey God for those who want to obey God.

Let me conclude this sermon on a high note; a great truth that we also encounter in Daniel chapter 6. God can and God will use us to touch unlikely people when we are faithful to Him. Daniel chapter 6 emphasizes the powerful effect that Daniel’s personal integrity had on King Darius. While it is true that many of his colleagues envied Daniel and plotted to kill him, it’s also true that he made a huge impact for good on the mightiest man in the world. Daniel 6:26-27 states, “Then Darius offers public praise to the God of Daniel who is the living God who endures forever. He rescues and he saves, and he is the One who delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” What amazing words coming from the lips of a pagan king. Or perhaps he is a pagan no more. Perhaps like Nebuchadnezzar he became a believer in the one true God. We won’t know for sure until we get to heaven, but I would not be surprised to see Darius there. We never know who is watching us or what they are looking for, but this story teaches us that a small minority of God’s faithful people can make a huge difference in the largest empire. For every satrap out there planning our downfall, there is a Darius keeping an eye on us, hoping that our faith may prove to be genuine. May be some Darius has his eyes on you right now. Be careful about what you do and say. Your example may be leading someone to heaven, or through carelessness you may be leading them in an entirely different direction. Daniel never made a big splash in Babylon, he just lived out the genuineness of his faith. May we all become modern-day Daniels. To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!