Archive for November, 2015

“And Forget Not All His Benefits!”

Sermon Notes (Sunday November 22nd, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

And Forget Not All His Benefits!

Psalm 103:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

Psalm 103 is a great Psalm! Artur Weiser, a German scholar, calls it “one of the finest blooms on the tree of Biblical faith.” Charles Spurgeon wrote in his Treasury of David, “There is too much in this Psalm for a thousand pens to write, it is one of those all-comprehending Scriptures which is a Bible in itself, and it might almost suffice for the hymnbook of the church.”

 

The Psalm begins with David exhorting himself to praise God. He addresses the Psalm to “my soul, all my inmost being.” King David knew he is a sinner saved by grace, touched by God, and rejoicing in the personal nature of God’s dealings with him. He wants to thank God for what he has done in his own life. But by the end of the Psalm, he is inviting the entire universe to join him – “his angels, you mighty ones … all his heavenly hosts … you his servants …all his works.” The praise of one person is nowhere near sufficient to worship God as He deserves.

 

The reason for this call to praise God is that we so easily “forget all His benefits.” The longer we have been Christians, the easier it is to take God’s love and God’s grace for granted. We get on with our lives day by day, aware deep down that we are safe in His hands, that our eternal future is secure, but less and less eager to express our deep, soul-felt gratitude for that. Sometimes we live our lives as if nothing particular has happened, as if the amazing work of Jesus Christ has not really changed us in any way. So Psalm 103 is a great corrective to that. It reminds us yet again of how great God is, how great is His love in our lives, how great is the grace He has shown us, and how thankful we should be. As we look together this morning at Psalm 103:1-5, we see five things we are not to forget:

 

First: God Forgives our Sins

In Psalm 103:2-3 the Psalmist says, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits — who forgives all your sins.” God forgives our sins – no, He forgives all our sins. There is nothing that is beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, no sin that is too great for Him to deal with, no deed, word or attitude that has not been dealt with by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. No one is too bad for God. No one is outside the orbit of God’s love. Friends, how often do we thank God for His forgiveness? David looked at his life and couldn’t help by thank God for His forgiveness.

 

Second: God Heals our Diseases

Again, Psalm 103:3 says, “Who heals all your diseases.” What is the meaning of this benefit? Tony Campolo, an American sociologist and pastor, tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. Campolo prayed boldly for the man’s healing. That next week he got a call from the man’s wife. She said, “You prayed for my husband. He had cancer . . . He died.” Compolo felt terrible. But she continued, “Don’t feel bad. When he came into that church that Sunday he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time, and he hated God. He was 58 years old, and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn’t take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew towards God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him.” But the lady told Campolo, “After you prayed for him, a peace had come over him and a joy had come into him. Tony, the last three days have been the best days of his life.’”

 

I think that more than physical healing is the healing of the sin-sick soul, the healing of a spiritual brokenness, the healing of unhappy marriages, and the healing of broken relationships. God heals all our diseases. It’s up to His good and perfect will in our lives to choose what kind of healing He graciously offers us.

 

Third: God Redeems our Life

In Psalm 103:4, David says that God “redeems your life from the pit”, the “pit” being a metaphor for the grave. In Hebrew thought this was the place of despair, darkness and destruction, away from the warmth of God’s smile, away from the place of His favor. But, by the grace of God, we can know release from that. David was no stranger to despair and to what we might even call depression – just read through some of the other psalms which are really cries from the depths of his heart for release from his anxieties and his many troubles – but here he recognizes that the follower of God can know freedom from such anxiety and a glorious hope for the future.

 

How many times has the Lord saved you from the pit? How many times has the Lord saved you from a place of despair, darkness, and destruction? Sometimes we think of the things that happened to us, but think of what did not happen to you this week. Think of all the bad things that could have happened to you this week that didn’t; because the Lord preserves you from the pit.

 

Fourth: God Crowns us with Love and Compassion

In verse 4 we read, “who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.” The verb “crown” actually means “to surround.” We are surrounded by two things: God’s love and God’s compassion. As believers, we are totally secure in God’s love in Christ Jesus. Because of God’s compassion, He has not dealt with us as we deserve. David marveled at this thought in verses 10-12, “He has not dealt with us after our sins…” If God dealt with us as we deserved, we would be without hope! But He hasn’t. Because God crowns us with His love and compassion, He continues to show faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness. Because God crowns us with His love and compassion, He continues to be so compassionate about each one of us. Compassion here is the Hebrew word “racham” means merciful, always tender, gentle, and loving.

 

Fifth: God Satisfies our Desires with God Things

In verse 5 we read, “Who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” The truth of the matter is that we will never find true satisfaction in life as long as we fail to give God His rightful place in our lives. If you are not satisfied, ask yourself this question, “What place am I giving God in my life? Am I putting Jesus Christ first place in my life?” We will never be satisfied until we do. God promises to give us what we need: strength, comfort, courage, guidance, whatever. He knows our needs. He delights in satisfying us. David says that God fills us to satisfaction “with good things.” These are the things of God so graciously given to us. It is the gift of God Himself. And when you are satisfied with God himself, then you will live a strong, vibrant, and youthful life, like the eagle.

 

Friends, we need to learn to bless God for our blessings. We need to learn to forget not all His benefits. God forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, and satisfies. Some Christians need to repent and ask God to forgive us for our ingratitude, for taking His blessings for granted. We are a blessed people! The benefits of God are so many. We have tasted five this morning. How should we respond? We respond by blessing God with our lips, but most importantly, by blessing Him with our lives. We respond by not forgetting all His benefits. Happy and blessed Thanksgiving Church of Jesus Christ!

“Living Stones!”

Sermon Notes (Sunday November 15th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Living Stones!

Ruth 1:15-22; 1 Peter 2:4-8

 

The New Testament uses a number of different descriptive images to show us what the church is like. For example, the church is described as a family into which we are born again with God as our Father and many brothers and sisters in the faith. The church is also described as a kingdom wherein we are citizens, with Jesus Christ ruling as our king, to whom we have an obligation to be completely loyal, submissive, and obedient. Other scriptures talk about the church as a body emphasizing both unity and diversity, each of us performing different roles with Jesus Christ as our head.

 

Today is a very special day in the history of Elmer Presbyterian. Not only we celebrate today EPC 136th Anniversary, but also we rejoice in receiving new members. This morning, I want us to explore the imagery of the church as a buildinga spiritual building – with every Christian a stone built into that building. This image is found in 1 Peter 2.

 

There’s a story about a king of Sparta in ancient Greece who boasted to a visiting monarch about the mighty walls of Sparta. But the guest looked around and didn’t see any walls, and finally he said to his host, “I’d like to see those walls. Show them to me!” The Spartan ruler pointed with great satisfaction to some disciplined and well-trained troops, part of Sparta’s mighty army, and exclaimed, “There they are! Those are the walls of Sparta!”

 

Just as each Spartan soldier was viewed by the king as a brick in his mighty wall, so we are viewed by God as “living stones… built up a spiritual house.” Christ is the cornerstone. “Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Peter here quotes Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 and points out that Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, while chosen by God, was rejected by people. Two observations as we about the church as a spiritual building:

 

First: Jesus Christ Draws us Together

Jesus Christ draws us together and bonds us together in a way that nothing else can. Look at this physical building around you. Many years ago, it was nothing but a bunch of scattered pieces. There was a stack of two-by-fours in a lumberyard. There was a pile of nails in a hardware store. There was a roll of carpet in somebody’s warehouse. There was concrete that hadn’t even been created yet. But now, due to great planning and a lot of hard work and expertise, a lot of love and commitment to the Lord, all those pieces and hundreds more have all come together and been joined into one unit.

 

The same thing is true of God’s building, the church. Many of us who are now Christians were separated in the past into different pieces; pieces that had little in common; different economic situations; different ethnic backgrounds; different interests. But Jesus Christ, the master architect and master builder, has taken us and put us together, joined us together in His building. He grafts us into the family as Ruth the Moabitess ~ the stranger ~ was grafted into the family of Naomi.

 

Jesus Christ takes every part, every stone, and knocks off the rough edges, chiseling a piece here, sanding a piece there, smoothing it out, getting it ready, building it in, fitting it into place in His building as He cuts it precisely to fit snugly and beautifully with every other part. And when He’s done, there’s nothing out of place. There are no defective or inappropriate pieces. And together we form a building. Not just any building, but a temple ~ the dwelling place of God. So we’re not just any building. We’re a building with the highest purpose that any building could possibly have — the temple, the dwelling place of God.

 

Second: God’s Building is Never Completed

God has been building His temple for over 2,000 years. Every time someone is added to the body of Christ, another stone is set into place. God’s building is always growing because Christians are continually being added. We build on the work that others have done. Paul speaks in Ephesians 2:20 about being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”. They were the first ones to preach the gospel and convert people through their evangelistic efforts. Others picked up where they left off and added more stones to the building.

 

Paul echoes the same idea in 1 Corinthians 3:6,9-10, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase…For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it.” Do you see the joint effort here? Paul built up the Corinthians church for a while, and when he left, Apollos and others came along and picked up where he left off. It’s the same way here in our congregation. Some faithful followers of Christ have started certain ministries and we continue to build on what has already done. Today we add new ones and the next generation will continue them.

 

Why Have We Been Built?

You may ask yourself: why have we been built together? In 1 Peter 2:9-10, the Bible says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Friends, it’s important that we don’t forget the purpose for which we’ve been built. The Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in all the world. What you may not know is how the building of that structure came about. It was begun after the death of the wife of emperor Shah Jahan. He was devastated at her death and resolved to honor her by constructing a temple that would serve as her tomb. Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land, and construction of the temple began around it. No expense would be spared to make her final resting place magnificent.

 

But as the weeks turned into months, the Shah’s grief over his wife’s death turned into a passion for the building project. He no longer mourned her absence. The construction consumed him. One day, while walking from one side of the construction site to the other, his leg bumped against a wooden box. The prince brushed the dust off his leg and ordered the worker to throw the box out. What Shah Jahan didn’t know is that he had ordered the disposal of the coffin of his late wife. And so the one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten, but the temple was erected anyway.

 

I think the church today faces the same danger. If we’re not careful, we can forget the purpose for which we were constructed. We can become so consumed with the building process, that we forget the one in whose honor the building is intended. Peter calls us back to our purpose, to proclaim the praises of Him who called us. The verb translated “proclaim” means “to tell, to show forth, to advertise.” Done, Jennie, James, and Pauline, welcome to Elmer Presbyterian. May your presence here as living stones of this spiritual body add to the beauty, the usefulness, the impact, and the witness of Elmer Presbyterian Church. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

“Where Are the Nine?”

Sermon Notes Sunday November 8th, 2015

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Where Are the Nine?

Psalm 138; Luke 17:11-19

 

A story is told of a man who was lost in the woods. Later, in describing the experience, he told how frightened he was and how he had even finally knelt and prayed. Someone asked, “Did God answer your prayer?” “Oh, no,” the man replied. “Before God had a chance, a guide came along and showed me the way out.” Like that man, many people are blind to the many blessings that God daily showers upon them.

 

The truth of the matter is that God has blessed us far more than we realize and far more than we deserve. As children of God, it is so important to understand how to respond properly to God’s abundant blessings. In Luke 17 Jesus tells of two responses. These two responses, the proper and improper, are illustrated for us in this story of Jesus cleansing the ten lepers. Only one of the ten responded properly. For our surprise, the one who responded was not a Jew but a Samaritan. The only proper response to God’s abundant blessings is to glorify Him from a thankful heart. The point Luke was trying to make is clear: Thanksgiving is a part of our relationship with God.

 

What Is Leprosy?

To appreciate what Jesus did, we need to briefly understand that terrible disease called leprosy. “Leprosy” was a generic term for skin diseases in Jesus’ time. It included everything from fungus infections, to psoriasis, to the germ-caused Hanson’s disease that we know today as leprosy. Lepers lived in isolated communities. If they had to be in town, they would announce their presence. If they were coming down the street, they would yell out: “Leper coming! Leper coming!” and everyone would scatter. One authority ruled that lepers had to stay 50 yards (150 foot) upwind of any other person. At that distance, it is difficult to have a meaningful relationship with people because religiously they were considered unclean. You do not talk, touch, or love lepers. What Jesus did here was break the isolation. By healing them, these ten men were freed to return to society, to their families and friends. Jesus, in essence, gave them a new life. One could say that they were resurrected.

 

Ten men were given a gift, only one man stopped to express his gratitude. Like the ten lepers, we have received the healing of the Lord. We have been forgiven. We have been made whole. What is our reaction? What is our response to God’s abundant blessings? Where do you stand today? Which camp do you belong to? Do you stand with the nine who never showed up after they got healed or with the Samaritan? Two thoughts I would like to underscore this morning:

 

First: One Grateful Samaritan

The Samaritan recognized his blessings. Luke 17:15 says, “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.” He knew a great blessing had come his way. The first step in giving thanks is recognizing our blessings. Sometime we sing the old hymn, “Count Your Blessings”, but too many focus their attention on their burdens, rather than their blessings. Some of us can see no blue in our sky if one small cloud is there. Every day we wake up, we should be thankful for life. Every meal is a blessing that many do not enjoy. So one step in giving thanks is recognizing God as the ultimate source of all our blessings. Then, recognize each and every blessing that comes our way. Yet too often we take for granted so many blessings, and fail to be thankful.

 

After the Samaritan recognized the blessing of his healing he returned. It would have been logical for him to have followed the other men and gone to the temple, but he first returned to the Lord Jesus “praising God in a loud voice.” He wanted to give glory to God. A cleansed leper was to offer a sacrifice with the help of the priest, but this man realized that a more important sacrifice had to be offered first, the sacrifice of praise. Luke also says in Luke 17:16, “He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him.” He recognized that Jesus was involved in his healing, and he wanted to give Him thanks. Clearly this man loved Jesus!

 

There is one greater thing about the Samaritan man. By coming back to Jesus, the man received something greater than physical healing: he was also saved from his sins. In Luke 17:19 Jesus said, “Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” “Your faith has saved (sozo) you.” The Samaritan’s nine friends were declared clean by the priest, but the Samaritan man was declared saved by the Son of God! While it is wonderful to experience the miracle of physical healing, it is even more wonderful to experience the miracle of eternal salvation.

 

Second: Nine Ungrateful Men

As illustrated in Luke 17, the numbers of the thankless far surpass those of the thankful. It is only one-tenth. In 2 Timothy 3:2 the Bible says that in the last days, it will be characteristic of people to be “unthankful.” In Luke 17:17 Jesus asked one of the saddest questions ever uttered, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? All ten were healed, but “Where are the nine?” They had got all they wanted from the Lord, and had no more thought about Him. They turned their backs on Him.

 

Have you wondered whatever happened to those nine lepers who were healed by Jesus? They never came back to thank Him and to follow Him? “Where are the nine.?” Probably one was glad to be back home with his family; another at a “Welcome Home Party” surrounded by his friends; another over at the lake feverishly working around a boat, mending his nets; another over at the local diner; another busy giving interviews about his book entitled, “How to Overcome Leprosy”; another at the Samaritan Spa; another is silent & reclusive, not wanting anyone to find out that he was healed, etc. Friends, I believe Jesus is still asking, “Where are the nine?” Would you be the one who returned to give thanks, or among the nine that did not return to give thanks? Far more people have been blessed by the Lord in some way than have returned to His house to give Him thanks.

 

Count your blessings. Be that Samaritan who returned to praise God and thank Him as his response of getting healed, forgiven, and loved. As you all know, this is our stewardship season. Today the 2016 pledge cards have been collected as a sign of our commitment to Jesus and our proof that we love God’s kingdom more than this world. I hope you took God at His word and trusted Him to supply all your needs as you presented your pledge card this morning. If you haven’t, I encourage you to do so. I am sure, our financial secretary, Leigh Bostwick, will be glad to get yours even if it is a few days late. Look how blessed you are and give from the overflowing blessings of Jesus in your life. Look at what you’ve been given not what you lack. Winston Churchill (1874-1965) loved to tell the story of the little boy who fell off a pier into deep ocean water. An older sailor, heedless of the great danger to himself, dove into the stormy water, struggled with the boy, and finally, exhausted, brought him to safety. Two days later, the boy’s mother came with the boy to the same pier seeking the sailor who rescued her son. Finding him, she asked, “You dove into the ocean to bring my boy out?” “I did,” he replied. The mother quickly demanded, “Then where’s his hat?” “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Where Is Your Heart?

Sermon Notes (Sunday November 1st, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Where Is Your Heart?

1 Chronicles 29:14-18; 1 Luke 12:32-40

 

A couple of months ago, I shared a good story with the church Elders during our monthly Session meeting. I want to use that story as an introduction to my sermon this morning. The story is told about a pastor who was trying to grow the vision of his congregation. He told them, “With God’s help we can see the day when this church will go from crawling to walking.” And the people responded, “Let the church walk pastor, let the church walk.” The pastor continued, “And when the church begins to walk, next the church can begin to run.” And the people shouted, “Let the church run, pastor, let the church run!” The people were starting to see the vision and so the pastor took it one step more, “And finally, the church can move from running to flying. Oh, this church can fly for God!” The people were getting emotionally involved and excited and then the preacher went on, “And in order for this church to fly it is going to have to have lots of courage and lots of money. We’re going to do things we’ve never done before and dig deeply and give greatly.” The congregation grew quiet and then from the very back somebody mumbled loud enough for everyone to hear, “Let the church crawl, Pastor, let the church crawl.” My question for the congregation today: Are we crawling, walking, running, or flying for God? Are you yourself crawling, walking, running, or flying for God?

 

Frequently the Scriptures warn us against a cheap and easy religion, a religion that does not cost us much. So many people today do not mind to follow and to worship Jesus “where the shade is pleasant” to use the words of the Prophet Hosea 4:13. Often times we become like the church people in our story. We want to walk, run, and fly. Yet, we are not willing to pay the price. The topic I’ve chosen for the month of November is thanksgiving and gratitude. Gratitude and thanksgiving begins with putting our hearts in the right place. This is our “stewardship season” and I want the church this morning to examine a great passage from the gospel of Luke chapter 12:32-40 especially verse 34, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” A couple important observations as we look together this morning at 1 Chronicles 29 and Luke 12:

 

First: Our Generosity Reflects our Heart

Our generosity reflects the state of our heart. In other words, what we treasure the most reveals our heart. Where is your heart? Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If your heart is set on the things of this earth, then you will be busy about the business of laying up treasures here. If we value fortune, fame, power, then we will direct our energy to do whatever it takes to be so instead of being witnesses to God’s faithfulness and servants in His Kingdom.

 

Someone once said that a simple way to know what your heart values is to examine your financial receipts, bank and credit cards statements, and your calendar. What do you spend your money on? Where do you spend your time? If you examine your checkbook, credit card statements and bills along with your schedule of activities, you will easily be able to tell what your heart values. The location of your treasure reveals your heart. Where are you laying up for yourselves treasure? Is it on earth where it will be destroyed by decay or be stolen? Or is your treasure in heaven where it will pay eternal dividends? Our generosity reflects the state of our heart. There is a connection between our hearts and how we handle our money. We can’t divorce our faith from our finances.

 

I love the way Randy Alcorn, a Christian author and Director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, puts it: “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but my standard of giving.” Why does God give us more money than we need? It’s not so we can find more ways to spoil ourselves and our children. It’s so we can give – generously. Friends, I honestly believe that God gives us money not to build our own kingdom on earth, but to build His kingdom in heaven. Giving dethrones us and enthrones Him and the opposite is also true. Our generosity reflects our heart!

 

Second: The Fear and Anxiety of Living that Kind of Generosity

Before putting that kind of generosity before His audience, Jesus said in Luke 12:32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” We may have such fear and anxiety when we live out that kind of life. I believe that many people in this congregation are generous and want to be more generous, but the fears in our lives are real, and it seems our faith in God and anxieties about material things are intertwined all together. Who isn’t worried about savings for retirement and college tuition, health care costs, declining real estate values and stock portfolios, getting or keeping a good job?

 

Jesus does not deny what life can do to us. He just wants us to lean upon Him more than anything else. He just wants to give us the kingdom of heaven and all the love, joy, peace, and hope that accompany it ~ the kind of treasures where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. Friends, our true security lies in the fundamental truth of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty, and that makes all the difference. There is no ultimate security in our accumulation of earthly treasure. American Missionary Jim Elliot (1927-1956) once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Gain is what Jim Elliot was thinking about! He just wanted the kind of gain that he couldn’t lose. He wanted his treasures in heaven.

 

On the days when you need to be reminded of this great truth, just go outside and watch the birds in the sky. They neither sow nor reap; yet God cares for them, the seemingly most carefree of all God’s creatures. Of how much more value are you than the birds! Remember that life is a gift from God, both to be treasured and to be shared. God will provide for us, and through us, God will provide for others. May we know the joy of giving our life, our resources, and our energy and the freedom that God grants those who trust in Him alone.

 

There is a bumper sticker that reads: “Tithe if you love Jesus. Any idiot can honk.” What a wonderful sentiment! I think Jesus said the same thing here in Luke 12. “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Those are the key words, “…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. I hope you and I today, as we think about our pledge cards for 2016, examine our hearts, trust God’s faithfulness and sovereignty, and feel the same way as King David felt in 1 Chronicles 29:14, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” To God all praise, honor, and glory, and to this all God’s people said, “Amen.”