Archive for May, 2016

Standing Firm in Shaky Times!

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday May 8th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Standing Firm in Shaky Times!

2 Chronicles 20:13-17; 1 Corinthians 15:58

 

I have been thinking what to say in my last two sermons to the congregation we love and to a family we will always appreciate and hold deep in our hearts.  My last two sermons from this pulpit as your pastor, therefore, will take the form of a charge to us as a congregation.  Let me introduce my sermon this morning with a story that would help us grasp what I will be saying.

 

The story is told of a father and his son who were working on a double-sided puzzle.  On one side was a map of the world.  On the other side was a picture of a man.  The young boy had put the puzzle together many times before.  As his father struggled to find the right place for all the pieces to complete the picture of the world, his son told him to turn the pieces over, because he had found it was much easier to put the puzzle together by concentrating on the picture of the man.  Finishing the puzzle quickly, the boy told his father, “See, DadWhen you get the man right, the world is right.”

 

The apostle Paul wanted to make sure that the Church in Corinth gets the MAN right, so that they also get the world right.  In 1 Corinthians 15:58 Paul charges the Church in Corinth to stand firm in shaky times.  He says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firmLet nothing move youAlways give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  The charge here is two-fold: (1) to stand firm and at the same time (2) to keep moving and working.  It is kind of interesting to think about paradoxical statements ~ stand firm and keep moving.  When is the last time you had “jumbo shrimp” or used the word “bittersweet”?  Think about this statement: “Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore because it’s always too crowded.”  Or my favorite, “Down deep he or she is a shallow person.”  Today’s sermon passage is a bit paradoxical.  At the end of one of the greatest chapters in God’s Word, Paul tells us to stand firm and keep moving!  Let me briefly share a couple short observations based on the Scripture passages from 2 Chronicles and 1 Corinthians:

 

First: Stand Firm

The first action we are told to take based on the fact that through Christ we can have victory even over death is to stand firm.  Paul wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firmLet nothing move you.”  Paul began this verse with the word “therefore.”  That word is extremely important because it includes everything Paul has written in this great resurrection chapter ~ 1 Corinthians 15.  Jesus lives!  This is the truth we encounter in 1 Corinthians 15.

 

Because He lives, we can stand firm.  Because He lives, you and I can remain firm and unchanging in an ever-changing world.  Paul has just talked about the great victory we have in Jesus.  “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.”  We have to know that the church in the city of Corinth was one that had many struggles.  It was located in Greece so the majority of the people were gentiles.  They did not really care about the Christian faith.  Corinth was a very rich ciy, extremely wicked, and a major center of idol worship with a host of temple male and female prostitutes.  They were a sports center and hosted games to rival the Olympics.  Paul looks at the power that dwells and works in the believer lives, and charges the Corinthians to stand firm and let nothing move them.  In 1 John 4:4, the apostle John says, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the ONE who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

 

Second: Abounding in God’s Work

Paul is not finished with the first charge to the Church in Corinth to “stand firm.”  He continues, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  Paul doesn’t just tell us to hunker down with God’s Word.  He tells us to move, to be active in our faith.  “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.”  Literally he tells us to abound in the work of the Lord.  He is talking about being busy and tireless in the work we do for the Lord, to do more than would be expected.  It’s like we wake up in the morning and say, “Here I am, Lord, reporting for duty.  What do you want me to do today?  I am ready to give You my all.”

 

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine sent me a great prayer that I still keep in my Bible.  It says, “Savior, I commit my head, my heart, my tongue, my hands, my feet, my strength, my love, my all to You this day.  Make me Your instrument of grace.  Empty me of self-esteem and fill me with Your Spirit.  May all who meet me this day meet You, not me.  Amen.”  God wants us to live our life with one aim: to do the will of our loving Heavenly Father.  We do that with all the strength God gives us.

 

The most encouraging thing here is that as we give ourselves to the work of the Lord, we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.  In other words, it’s not empty or useless.  There are so many times when our service to the Lord seems like it’s worthless.  Maybe a friend dismisses what we say or a neighbor doesn’t notice the kindness we show to them.  Perhaps it’s even worse than that; perhaps we get ridiculed for doing what’s right.  God promises to use our work for His good purposes.  Our labor for the Lord is never in vain.

 

Preacher and Evangelist F.B. Meyer (1847-1929) wrote about two Germans who wanted to climb the Matterhorn.  They hired three guides and began their ascent at the steepest and most slippery part.  The men roped themselves together in this order: guide, traveler, guide, traveler, guide.  They had gone only a little way up the side when the last man lost his footing.  He was held up temporarily by the other four, because each had a toehold in the niches they had cut in the ice.  But then the next man slipped, and he pulled down the two above him.  The only one to stand firm was the first guide, who had driven a spike deep into the ice.  Because he held his ground, all the men beneath him regained their footing.  F.B. Meyer concluded his story by drawing a spiritual application.  He said, “I am like one of those men who slipped, but thank God, I am bound in a living partnership to Christ.  And because He stands, I will never perish.”

 

Friends, as we stand firm, and as we always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, we have the privilege of both bringing glory and honor to Christ and the joy of helping other people to also stand firm.  “So stand firm,” says the apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth and to us.  “Stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you,” said King Jehoshaphat to the Israelites as in 2 Chronicles 20:17 as they faced dangers and threats from the Moabites and Ammonites.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.  Because you know that your labor is not in vain.  Never in vain.  Why?  Because He lives!  Amen.

Yahweh Shammah: The Lord is There!

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday May 1st, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Yahweh Shammah: The Lord is There!

Ezekiel 48:35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

 

A couple had two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were always getting into trouble.  If anything was disturbed or missing in the neighborhood, their sons were probably involved.  One day their Mom asked their pastor if she could drop her boys off at church, so that the pastor could put the fear of God in them.  The pastor agreed, but asked to see them individually.  The 8-year-old would go into the pastor’s study first, then the older boy would be counseled.  The pastor who was a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger boy down and asked him sternly, “Son, … where is God?”  The boy’s mouth dropped open, but he made no response.  The pastor repeated the question in a little firmer and louder, “Son, … where is God?”  Again the boy just sat there bug eyed and made no attempt to answer.  A bit exasperated, the pastor raised his voice even more, shook his finger in the boy’s face and bellowed, “Son!  I asked you a question. Where is God?”  The boy screamed and bolted from the pastor’s study.  As he passed his brother he said, “We are in big trouble this time, dude.  God is missing, and they think we did it.”

 

Sometimes you and I feel and live as if God is missing!  Twenty-three years ago I graduated from the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt.  A wonderful pastor gave the commencement speech.  I remember him sharing with us the promise of Jesus to the disciples in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  I believe this pastor wanted to send us to the ministry field with a verse that would be of a great help and encouragement as we prepare ourselves for the future.  He couldn’t find a better one than Matthew 28:20.  The Lord is there.  He’ll be always there.  Matthew uses a Greek phrase: πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας, literally “every single day.”

 

The promise in Matthew 28:20 parallels the name of God that we’re going to look at this morning.  It’s a name that reminds us of Jesus’ promise to be with us always.  We find that name for God at the end of Ezekiel’s prophecy.  In the last chapter, Ezekiel describes the new city that God will make for His people.  Then he tells us the name of that place: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there ~ Yahweh Shammah” (Ezekiel 48:35).  This is the only time God uses this special name for Himself in the Scriptures.

 

Israel needed this name.  They were far from home, exiled in the land of Babylon.  They were waiting for the day they could come home.  Some of them even wondered if the Lord had left them all alone.  He told them about the new name He will give to Jerusalem once they repent and humble themselves before the Lord.  It was Yahweh Shammah ~ a reminder that God is there!

 

Back in the late 1970’s, the Jackson 5, led by a young singer named Michael, took the song I’ll Be There to the top of the charts.  He promised that no matter where he is, no matter what he is doing, he will drop everything to be by the side of the woman he loves.  The song ends with this message: “I’ll be there…whenever you need me, I’ll be there…just call my name, I’ll be there…”  Michael Jackson can’t fulfill that promise.  None of us can.  Yahweh Shammah made that promise a long time ago.  Can He keep it?  Will He keep it?  Absolutely He can and definitely He will.  A quick thought for today:

 

Places Change, but God’s Faithfulness Endures Forever

“And the name of the city from that day shall be, the Lord is there” says Ezekiel 48:35.  So, where is “there”?  Although Ezekiel refers to a certain city, i.e., the city of Jerusalem, I believe, for us today, “thereis those places and times where and when we encounter the Lord.  This can happen as God ministers to us.  Whether we are on the top of the mountain or the bottom of the valley, the Lord is there.  Whether you’re in Israel, or Babylon, the land of captivity, Yahweh Shammah ~ the Lord is there.  Wherever we are and whatever our struggles, we can know the Lord is present!  Friends, our places, roles, and positions in life may change, but the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

 

Let me remind you of two great examples of God’s faithfulness toward His children.  The first is the example of Joseph and the second is Elijah’s.  We see Yahweh Shammah in the life of Joseph.  Joseph’s brothers were jealous because their father Jacob loved Joseph more than the rest.  They sold him as a slave to a caravan of traders.  As the 17 year old trudged along behind the camels, he must have wondered, “Where is GodHow can this be happening to me?”  When Joseph arrived in Egypt, a man named Potiphar bought him and put him to work in his household.  “While Joseph was in his master’s house: “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.  When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant.  Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (Genesis 39:2-4).

 

The Master’s wife notices Joseph and tried to entice him to sleep with her.  Joseph refused.  Potiphar’s wife lied to her husband because she was so angry with Joseph.  Joseph ended up in jail.  Where is the Lord?  He promised to be with him!  Had he deserted Joseph?  Listen to the next few verses from Genesis 39:20-23: “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.  The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”  Places change, but God’s faithfulness endures forever.

 

Elijah’s example is another great one!  In 1 Kings 17:3-4 we read, “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there (shammah).”  Again, in 1 Kings 17:8-9 we read, “Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there.  I have directed a widow there (shammah) to supply you with food.”  “There” – is where we want to be.  This is the place of joy, blessing, and life!    “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17.

 

Friends, I know that some of us today struggle with huge amounts of stress, fear, and worry.  Remember Yahweh Shammah ~ THE LORD IS THERE!!  As we celebrate Communion this morning, we also celebrate the very presence of Christ with us.  He is Emmanuel.  He is Yahweh Shammah.  The words of God through the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:1-5 are very encouraging: “But now, this is what the Lord says— He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.  Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.