Archive for October, 2015

“The Sower Went Out to Sow!” #4

Sermon Notes (Sunday October 18th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

The Sower Went Out to Sow!” #4

Psalm 126; Matthew 13:1-9

 

This morning we conclude our 4-week series on one of the greatest parables of Jesus, the parable of the sower based on the gospel of Matthew chapter 13. As we examine the last piece today, I believe Jesus saves the best for last. In Matthew 13:8 we read, “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a cropa hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” This is the soil of fruitful faith. Those people work the soil of their hearts, plow it, weed it, fertilize it and are therefore productive. Down in Matthew 13:23 Jesus explained what He means by the seed that fell on good soil. Jesus explained, “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

 

The fourth type of soil, the “good soil” brings so much hope to us as individuals and as a congregation. As I reflect upon that last part of the parable, I am reminded of a few lessons this morning:

 

First: Be Assured of the Harvest

When we scatter seeds, when we share the gospel with others, when we lay our prayers and supplications before the Lord, let’s be assured of the harvest. Yes, some of the seeds will land along the path. Some will fall on rocky soil or among the thorns. But we are assured that some will also fall on good soil, therefore we should expect a harvest. Jesus doesn’t call our attention to the seed that is lost. “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown”, says Matthew 13:8. Jesus entrusted twelve people with the future of the church, twelve people who launched a campaign that changed the whole world.

 

The mainline church in the United States today is so consumed by worries about the future of the church. The image of the sower is not an image of worry. Friends, sometimes we are reluctant to reach out to people, to cast seeds of hope, grace, and reconciliation because we are afraid of rejection and failure. In the parable of the sower. However, Jesus teaches us there is no room for discouragement. The sower has no option but to keep sowing!

 

Rather than cast concerned eyes on our world wondering where all the good Christians moved off to, the parable of the sower calls us to trust that we are NOT the Lord of the harvest–that the state of our communities, like the state of the sower’s soil, is not ours to worry over. The parable of the sower calls us to sow seeds of grace and mercy over new ground–worried not over where it will land–concerned only with casting as much seed as possible–leaving all the rest up to God. Leave the rest up to God? Maybe it doesn’t sound so American, but it sure does sound so Christian. 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

Second: An Abundant Harvest

Jesus says that the seeds which fell on the good soil grew like mad, producing a harvest beyond the farmer’s wildest dreams. Notice the amount of fruit the good soil produces. Some produce a harvest which is 30 times what was sown, others 60 times, and still others 100 times the amount of seed they received. Yes it varies, but even the least of these is a good crop. Back then, if a farmer had a yield that was seven times what was sown it would be considered a good crop. To have yields of a hundred, sixty or thirty fold would be unheard of, unnatural, even astonishing. Genesis 26:12 notes a crop of Isaac that yielded 100 fold, a mark of God’s blessing. God can do a lot with a little. That’s the encouraging news from this parable. A few seeds sown in good soil can ultimately revolutionize a church, a town, a school, a family, a neighborhood, or when God wills it so, an entire region. Fruit-bearing is the mark of a disciple as John 15:8 says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

 

Third: Keep Sowing No Matter What

The sower in Matthew chapter 13 kept sowing no matter what. When we share the gospel with others, yes, some of the seed will land along the path. Some will fall on rocky soil or among the thorns. But some will also fall on good soil. Three of the four soils failed to produce any fruit. Is Jesus suggesting that 75% of our efforts will go for naught? I do not know. But sometimes it can seem that way. Some churches are hard to pastor, others are easier. Some soils takes longer to produce fruit, others are not that hard. Some missionaries see amazing results. Others struggle for years with little to show for their efforts.

 

In all cases we need to keep sowing seeds in our community. We need to keep receiving the seeds of God’s Word in our lives. Have you ever noticed a plant growing where it’s not supposed to? Like a seedling in the gutter of a house, or a tree in the side of a cliff, or a tulip that comes up every year in the middle of a bunch of weeds? You never know where faith will take root.  You never know who is listening to what you say, watching what you do.  God can plant that seed anywhere God wants to.  God will take care of it. Our job is to keep scattering seeds.

 

Friends, we should keep sowing faith, though some may refuse to believe. We should continue sowing hope, though cynicism is so very strong. We should continue sowing love, though some are content with less. In spite of the birds, in spite of the rocks, in spite of the thorns, let’s keep on sowing. The Kingdom of God is like that … the sower went out to sow. The seed may seem small and unimpressive, by it has the power of life.

 

You may heard the story of the Minister who came to his new church and on the first Sunday he preached a very good sermon. The second Sunday came and the Minister preached the same exact sermon again. On the third Sunday everyone was amazed to hear the identical sermon yet again. An Elder spoke to the Minister. “Reverend, do you realize,” he said, “you’ve preached the same sermon three times?” The Minister replied, “Yes, and I’ll go on preaching it until someone does something about what I am saying!” We should never give up hope. Keep on casting the seeds. We cast seeds as we encourage and challenge each other this morning to be good stewards of God’s various gifts to us. We cast seeds as we commit ourselves to God’s work in 2016 through our tithes, offerings, and pledges. If you ever get worry about how and when those seeds will grow, listen to the assurance of God’s Word in Psalm 126. In Psalm 126:5-6 the Psalmist says, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. May the God of hope grant us hope enough to go on casting seed and grant us the faith to leave the rest up to Him. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

“A Sower Went Out to Sow!” #3

Sermon Notes (Sunday October 11th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

A Sower Went Out to Sow!” #3

Jeremiah 4:1-4; Matthew 13:1-9

One of the best-known parables that Jesus spoke was the parable of the sower. This parable has been the topic of my teaching on Sunday mornings over the last few weeks. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, in Matthew chapter 13 Jesus describes a scene that is very familiar to His audience: A sower went out to sow grain in his field. The seed falls on four different types of ground: (1) the wayside (2) stony ground (3) among thorns and (4) on good ground. As Jesus privately interpreted later to His disciples, each type of ground represents a different category of person who hears the Word of God at some point in his or her life. Each responds differently.

 

The last two Sundays we covered the first two types of soil ~ the hard soil and the stony soil. This morning I would like to explore the third category, the seed that fell among thorns, and look at what we can learn from it. In Matthew 13:7 we read: “And some fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it and it yielded no fruit.”

 

Other Seed Fell among Thorns

What did Jesus mean by the “seed that fell among thorns”? Fortunately, Jesus gives us the meaning of this part of the parable down in Matthew 13:22 where He says: “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” In Mark’s account Jesus highlights three things as thorns that might choke the word: 1) the cares of this world 2) the deceitfulness of riches and 3) the desires for other things.

 

The seeds fell among thorns represent the people who are attracted to the gospel message but they never get around to getting serious. They are so distracted by other things that they never fully and wholeheartedly respond to the truth of the gospel. It’s like the girl to which a young man once proposed. He said, “Darling, I want you to know that I love you more than anything else in the world. I want you to marry me. I’m not rich. I don’t have a yacht or a Rolls Royce like Johnny Brown, but I do love you with all my heart.” She thought for a minute and then replied, “I love you with all my heart, too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown.” These people have a divided heart. They love their boyfriend but still want to know about Johnny Brown. These people know they need spiritual life, but unwilling to commit to Christ. Jesus tells us that these people eventually drift away. They want to walk on both the broad road and the narrow road. They want to pursue the things of the world and the things of God. But we cannot do both.

 

The Gospel is Choked

As Jesus privately explained the meaning of the parable to His disciples, He highlights three reasons the gospel is choked: the worries and cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things.

 

  1. The Worries and Cares of this Life ~ Materialism

The worries and cares of this life suffocate the seed of God’s Word. These are literally the worries, anxieties and distractions of this present life that hold captive our hearts and minds to the extent that there is no room for God in our lives; no room to consider, ponder, receive and give priority to things eternal. These things dominate our attention and time. They become the focus of our lives and eventually choke the word of God and keep it from producing the desired results in our lives. These present-day cares seem so innocently legitimate; yet, the preoccupation with them obstructs the entrance of the gospel into these care-filled hearts. In Luke 12:31 Jesus gave the antidote to overcome this world’s cares when He advised, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

  1. The Deceitfulness of Riches

That’s a very powerful statement. Riches are deceiving. They promise satisfaction which they can not and do not bring. Wealth says to us, “I’ll give you happiness. The more you have, the happier you will be.” Many people are so persuaded by that. But it is a big lie. Some of the richest people in the world are the most miserable. Jesus described riches as deceitful because they fail to give true and lasting happiness, comfort and security to their pursuers. They promise much but satisfy little. They are deceptive. They do not satisfy the true need of the soul. Riches can become the focus of our lives and attention and will in so doing choke the word of God and keep it from accomplishing what God wants it to do in our lives. Yes, it is true that riches are not evil in themselves, but they certainly have the power to deceive. They occupy the heart to the extent that there is no room for the Word of Christ. The preaching goes over our heads. We don’t see our need for the Savior. And the Word bears no fruit in our hearts and lives.

 

  1. The Desires for other things

The gospel of Mark adds another reason. In Mark 4:19 we read, “But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Jesus is talking about lustful desire. Some of these desires are sinful. Yield to sinful desires will certainly rob us of our spiritual vitality. But I would add that even God-given desires and pleasures can choke out our spiritual lives if not kept in moderation. A hobby or interest in sports can be good and acceptable, but if you are spending more time with those things than with the Lord, and serving Him, then you will be unfruitful as a Christian. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” The love the of this world, and the things of this world, caused Demas to become unfruitful.

 

Friends, the seeds of the gospel can be easily choked in our lives and God’s voice can be easily muted. I am grateful this morning for the gift of the Scriptures. I am grateful for God’s reminders. Jesus warns us against the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things. Friends, I invite us this morning to examine our lives least the seeds of God’s Word fall among the thorns. The Prophet Jeremiah exhorts us in Jeremiah 4:3 saying, “This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.” May be it is time to put more attention to your spiritual life and your walk with the Lord. May be it is time to clear the thorns in your life so that you leave a room for God’s seed to grow up and produce fruit. As we do so, may the good result described in Colossians 1:10 be manifest in God’s people: “…that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

“A Sower Went Out to Sow!” #2

Sermon Notes (Sunday October 4th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

A Sower Went Out to Sow!” #2  

Isaiah 27:6; Matthew 13:1-9

 

An old farmer who was about to die called his two sons to his bedside and said, “My sons, my farm and the fields are yours in equal shares. I leave you a little ready money but the bulk of my wealth is hidden somewhere in the ground, not more than eighteen inches from the surface. I regret that I’ve forgotten precisely where it lies.” When the old man was dead and buried his two sons set to work to dig up every inch of ground in order to find the buried treasure. They failed to find it but as they’d gone to all the trouble of turning over the soil they thought they might as well sow a crop, which they did, reaping a good harvest. In autumn as soon as they had an opportunity they dug for the treasure again but with no better results. As their fields were turned over more thoroughly than any others in the neighborhood they reaped better harvests than anyone else. Year after year their search continued. Only when they had grown much older and wiser did they realize what their father had meant. Real treasure comes as a result of hard work and digging deeper.

 

The Rocky Soil

Today we continue our study on the parable of the sower from Matthew chapter 13. Last week we studied the first kind of soil, the hard soil. The second type of soil is mentioned in Mathew 13:5-6, “Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”

 

The second type of soil Jesus speaks about is the “rocky places.” These rocky places are very common in Palestine and were so familiar to Jesus’ listeners. Often there will be an outcropping of limestone rock covered by a thin layer of topsoil. Shallow soil is common there. There’s an old Arabic story that says that when God was creating the world, He entrusted all the stones to two angels, each with one full bag. As they flew over Palestine one of the bags broke spilling half the stones intended for the whole world. There must be some truth to this story because I remember looking out the window of the plane as we circled for a landing at Tel Aviv when I went to the Holy Land a few years ago I saw rocks poking out everywhere. Much of Israel is indeed very rocky and because of this it can be a tough place to farm. So, what is the problem with the rocky soil? What did Jesus mean by the stony soil? As we think about the rocky soil, please allow me to highlight a couple important observations:

First: False Profession of Faith

The rocky soil looks like it is ready to be sown. This ground looks good and productive and seed cast there will germinate and quickly spring up into a promising plant. But, because there is no depth of soil, as soon as the sun beats down on the tender plant, it withers and dies without producing any fruit. In Matthew 13:18, 20-21 Jesus said, “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

 

This kind of soil speaks of that heart that makes an emotional response to the presentation of the gospel. They receive the gospel gladly. They are excited about being a Christian. They start coming to church or Bible study. Perhaps this person heard the gospel and said, “That’s what I need!” They make a profession, but it is a shallow one at best. They may even show signs of life in the Lord, but when Christianity doesn’t turn out like they thought it would, they quickly fade away and disappear! They shrink away from the radical claims of Christ and the cross. They like the idea of forgiveness and heaven and receiving “God’s favor,” but don’t want any difficulties. Notice that it doesn’t say “if” trouble or persecution comes, but “when” it comes. Trouble and persecution will strengthen true believers and it also reveals those who have only had an emotional experience. It was a false profession. They only had faith on the surface. It was not truly in their heart. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” A surface faith is not a saving faith.

 

So how do we prevent a false profession of faith in Christ? I don’t believe we can eliminate false professions completely, but there are things we can do to make them less common. First of all, we can help people count the cost of following Jesus. We don’t just present the gospel as a “get out of hell free” card, but we help people understand repentance from sin and the cost of discipleship. Secondly, we present not just a message but a person. The basic Christian confession is not “I believe the Bible,” though we do, but “Jesus is Lord.”

 

Second: It Takes Time to Develop Roots

Colossians 2:6-7 says that we need to be rooted in Christ, and so a person with no root is a person without Christ. Effort needs to be put into getting rooted and grounded in Christ. Don’t dwell on the visible results. Take the example of an oak tree, for every foot above the ground there is three to four feet of roots below the ground. By the time the seedling sprouts it is already well established. Then throughout its lifecycle, it withstands the storms because the strong roots make it stable. Put your effort into your root system. Get established in Scripture and God will take care of the plume. Meditate, study, strive to understand and get some depth of soil. In the Christian life, visible results in life and ministry is a direct result of how deep your root system is.

 

Friends, would we examine our lives today least our hearts have become rocky ground? What kind of faith do you have? Do you have a deep root system? The only way to prove that our faith is genuine is to bear fruits. The only way to prove that we are rooted in Christ is to bear fruit. In the last chapter of the book of Hosea, in Hosea 14:6-8, the prophet repeats the image of Israel as a fruitful plant or tree watered and sustained by his relationship with the Lord: “I will be like the dew of Israel: he shall blossom like the lily; he shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain. They shall blossom like the vine, and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon… Because of me you bear fruit!” And in Isaiah 27:6 we read, “In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit.” Nothing serious and major will take place in our lives until we strike root. No real growth will ever happen until we base our lives on God’s teaching and Living Word, the Scripture. The health, strength, and fruitiness of the plant totally depend on how good their root system is. Friends, let’s examine the soil of our heart. Let’s see if our faith is shallow. Let’s see if our faith needs to be deepened. Remember … it takes time and effort to develop roots and maintain them. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!