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“Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #4

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 13th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #4

119:89-96; 2 Timothy 2:1-7

 

Today we wrap up a four-week series of messages based on 2 Timothy 2:1-7. My goal is to help us understand the nature of the Christian life. I’ve found the passage from 2 Timothy 2 a very helpful one. The apostle Paul uses three analogies, in describing the Christian way of living: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. The last two Sundays we covered the first two analogies, Christians are likened to good soldiers and committed athletes.

 

In the image of soldiers, we are encouraged to endure hardships and avoid all kinds of entanglement. In 2 Timothy 2:3-4 we read, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”

 

In the image of the athlete, we are encouraged to consider the nature of the Spiritual race. In 2 Timothy 2:5 Paul uses a key word to describe the nature of the race. He uses the word “compete.” “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” The word compete comes from a Greek root word which is agon. We get an English word directly from this Greek word – the word is Agony. The Greek word speaks of the striving, anguish, agony and pain of those who run a race. Christian life, therefore, is not a playground; it’s a battlefield. Christian life is not a picnic; it is a life of agony. In Luke 22:44 we read about the Author and Finisher of our faith who ran the race till the very end. Luke says, “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

 

Paul’s third picture, the picture of a hard working farmer, is found in 2 Timothy 2:6. We read, “The hard-working farmer will receive the first share of the crops.” As we look together at this last analogy, pleas allow me to underscore two important observations:

 

First: Persevere Like a Farmer

What is the picture here? What the Scripture is emphasizing? What does it mean to be a hard-working farmer in the Christian life? I believe the emphasis is on hard work. We are to work even when there is NO evidence of any harvest. I assure you it is so hard to do so. Farmers only harvest for about 2 weeks a year. But do they laze around for the rest of the year? No – farmers always doing something. They are hoeing, or fertilizing, or sowing, or weeding, or fencing. Even when they cannot see any action, they keep working hard.

 

The story of this old farmer captures the idea of what Paul is saying here. The story is told about an old farmer who was very ill. He called his two sons to his bedside and said, “My boys, 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 had 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.

 

It should come as no surprise that the things in life that are the most important take honest effort and hard work. In Galatians 6:9 we read, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” And that’s what we are to do, too. We need to keep following and trusting Jesus even when it seems like the foolish thing to do. We need to keep working for Jesus, even when it seems like there is nothing happening. The reward that God promises to His children who keep working hard is that they will receive the first share of the crops.

 

Second: The Christian As a Reflective Learner

After his three illustrations, the apostle Paul adds a request and a promise in 2 Timothy 2:7. “Consider what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.” If Timothy thinks over these analogies God will give him insight into the nature of Christian living. We notice that revelation and human thinking are brought together in Paul’s instruction. Paul does not promise that God will give any revelation without Timothy’s doing any thinking. Nor is it that Timothy’s thoughtfulness alone will give him understanding. Rather there is a combination. Timothy must do the thinking and God will do the revealing! Responsible human activity with God’s blessing upon it will bring spiritual understanding. He will understand “everything”. That is, Timothy will grasp the many-sided implications of the analogies Paul has used.

 

On one hand, Paul’s words here are a call to us to engage in serious study of the Scriptures. He wants Timothy to give the Word of God a very serious attention. It will not be enough to expect heavenly illumination if Timothy will not spend time meditating on the meaning and significance of God’s words through Paul. On the other hand, heavy study alone will not be enough either. With all the thinking that Timothy does, something additional is needed. The Lord Jesus Christ must give understanding. Christian study the Scripture on their knees, perhaps not literally but in their attitudes. We need God’s help. With all our thinking, all our study-aids, there is need of something over-and-above human thoughtfulness. Psalm 119:96 says, “To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.” That’s why we need the Lord to give us understanding in all things.

 

Friends, from these three pictures of faithful Christian living, we glean that Christians should be: dedicated like soldiers, disciplined like athletes, and diligent like farmers. My friends, this is normal Christianity. Nothing less than this will stand the test. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” 1 Corinthians 15:58. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen!

 

Who Is Jesus? #1: The Bread of Life!

Sermon Notes (Sunday August 9th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Who Is Jesus? #1: The Bread of Life!

Exodus 3: 13-14; John 6: 35-40

 

The gospel of John is very different from any of the other three gospels. In John you never really know what’s what. Water is not really water. Wind is more than wind. A door is more than wood and hinges. Bread is not only bread; it is life. Blindness is more than losing one’s sight. Jesus loves to use double-speak in the gospel of John. His words always meant deeper than what they seemed. Today’s reading from John chapter 6 is a great example of what I mean by Jesus’ double-speak.

 

John contains seven great statements of Jesus that begin with the statement “I am the . . .”. Each of these images gives us a different and important understanding of who Jesus is. In these statements Jesus uses various metaphors to describe His person, His character, and His mission. Seven times in the gospel of John, Jesus declares: I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48); I am the Light of the World (8:12, 9:5); I am the Gate for the Sheep (10:7); I am the Good Shepherd (10:11); I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25); I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6); and I am the True Vine (15:1). These statements will be the focus of our study over the next few Sundays.

 

Why are we spending a few weeks studying the seven “I am” statements of Jesus? I think it is important to do so because in the world today, you will hear a number of ideas about Jesus.  There will be those who teach that Jesus was God in human form (like we do) and there will be others who teach that Jesus was simply a good man who parlayed His popularity into a new religion. Some teach that Jesus never claimed to be God but was elevated to that state by His followers. There are some who have pushed Jesus to the side. They have marginalized Jesus. There are others who live their lives today as if the Son of God never came to our world. Who is Jesus? This is the most important question in life.

 

Since we believe the Bible is the Word of God and is an accurate and trustworthy record of the life and teaching of Jesus, we are going to look into the gospel of John to see what Jesus said about Himself. This morning we are going to look at the first of these claims.  In John 6:35 Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Life. Before I underscore a couple challenges based on John chapter 6, let me say something very briefly about the language of these seven statements.

 

I am Who I am

In these seven sayings of John’s gospel, Jesus uses a special form of the words that doesn’t particularly come out in our English translations. They are the Greek words “Ἐγώ εἰμι” (Ego eimi) and they are used particularly in the Greek Old Testament when God is speaking about Himself. For example, when the Lord appears to Abraham in Genesis 17:1, He says “I am God Almighty.” Again, in Exodus 3 when the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asks what His name is, He says “I am who I am” – which is the origin of the name Yahweh or Jehovah. The point I simply want to show is that in these seven statements, Jesus isn’t claiming just to be a wise teacher or good man. He is claiming to be God Himself. Jesus is the bread of life. What was He trying to get us to think?

 

First: Bread Nourishes

I think the first thing that comes to mind when we think about bread is that bread nourishes. This is a simple yet the most profound truth we encounter here in John chapter 6. Bread nourishes. It works. It satisfies. It eases the pangs of hunger. It gives us nourishment that we need day in and day out. Back then, in the days of Jesus, as it is the same today in the Middle East, bread was the stuff of life; it formed the basis of every meal. You can hardly eat a meal without bread.

 

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” There is no substitute for Jesus. If He is in our lives, He is feeding our lives with joy, peace, and love. But if He’s not in our lives, an unceasing hunger pervades. There’s an emptiness that can’t be satisfied. There’s a steady sense of anxiety and unease and confusion. The problem is that we seek to satisfy our hunger in the wrong way. We search for things to satisfy the yearning of our souls. And that is something, only the Bread of Life, Jesus of Nazareth, can do.

 

There is a very inspiring note on our church’s sign that Cindy Strang posted this week; one side is a quote from the Christian theologian and apologist C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity and it reads, “A man (a person) can eat his/her dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him/her.” The other side is the refrain of the old hymn, “Trust and Obey.” It reads, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” C. S. Lewis continues to say, “A man (a person) can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he/she certainly would not know how it works until he/she has accepted it. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.” When I ask people why they come to church Sunday after Sunday, a good number of them say, “I’m here to get nourished to make it through the week.” We believe that Jesus is alive and continues to nourish our souls, like ordinary bread nourishes the body. Jesus is the bread of life that satisfies like nothing else.

 

Second: Food that Spoils versus Food that Endures Forever

In John 6:2 &14, we are told that the feeding of the five thousand was a “sign.” And, as a sign, it pointed beyond itself. Listen to what Jesus says to the crowds that came searching for Him in John 6:27, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Jesus points the crowd in a different direction. Instead of food for hungry stomachs, Jesus points to food for hungry hearts. Instead of food that spoils, Jesus points to food that endures. Instead of food that satisfies for a couple of hours, Jesus points to food that satisfies eternally. There is a lesson here about materialism, about focusing all our efforts and energies on physical things. Jesus reminds us that the things of this earth and this life ultimately cannot satisfy or quench or fill – because this is “food that spoils”, that only fills the stomach, that satisfies for only a time. Jesus is more enduring than the Manna. He is more enduring than anything that gets our attention today. It was the North Africa theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430) who wrote these words after his conversion, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in You.”

 

Friends, Jesus is the “Bread of Life.” He feeds us. He fills us. He satisfies us. But this does not happen automatically. You know the saying: “You can bring a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.” All the water in the world does no good if the horse refuses to guzzle what is in front of it. When it comes to feeding on Christ, what we need is faith. It is faith that joins us to Christ and His suffering and death. Faith is the spoon and fork of the Christian religion. Faith is the mouth of the soul. I would like to encourage you today to come closer and find full nourishment on Christ, the Great I am, the Bread of Life, not for a day or an hour but for eternity. My hope in the next few Sundays is to help us as individuals and as a congregation to discover or rediscover Jesus in a fresh way. He is the Bread to feed upon, the Light to follow, the Door to enter, the Shepherd to guide, the Resurrection upon which to wait, the Way of salvation to trust, and the Vine in which to abide. In 1745 William Williams, the Welsh composer and Calvinist theologian, wrote, “Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, Feed me till I want no more; Feed me till I want no more.” May this line become your cry and mine today. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

The Grace of God in Baptism!

Sermon Notes (Sunday August 2nd, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

The Grace of God in Baptism!

Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 3:13-17

 

The story is told about a father who went to church one Sunday morning with three of his young children, including his five-year-old daughter. As was his customary, he sat in the very front row so that the children could properly witness the service. During this particular service, the minister was performing the baptism of a tiny infant. The little five-year-old girl was taken by this, observing that the minister was saying something and pouring water over the infant’s head. With a quizzical look on her face, the little girl turned to her father and asked: “Daddy, why is the preacher brainwashing that baby?”

 

Today we celebrate the two Sacraments, the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Liam Miller is getting baptized this morning and I want to spend sometime thinking about this Sacrament. As you can tell, the word “baptism” has become a foreign word in this time and age. The Greek word baptizo was a term that was used in the first century for dipping a light-colored garment into a dye. Once the fabric was dipped into the dye, it would be changed in its identity from its original color to a new color. It is from this Greek term that we derive our English word “Baptism.” So it is that the word baptism has come to identify us as one with a new identity, as one of God’s people. Truth be told, it is suppose to be a “brainwashing” as the young five-year-old put it so well. The question I would like to ask this morning is: What is this Sacrament all about? Two important observations:

 

First: In Baptism, the Love of God Comes to Us Before We Are Even Aware of It

As you may know, some Christian traditions have raised many objections about infant baptism. In the Presbyterian Church we believe baptism can happen at any age. But the question is: Can an infant understand the meaning and depth of this Sacrament? To be honest, they may not. Then, why we get them baptized? The answer is: because in baptism the love of God comes to us before we are even aware of it. The baptism of a child reminds us that God’s love does not depend on our understanding. This is why Jesus welcomed children into the kingdom of God. This is why the Scripture says in Acts 2:39 that the promise is for the believers and their children. Infant baptism, therefore, is a pure act of God’s grace.

 

Baptism as an act of grace is the opposite of the way we usually do things in life. Our New Testament reading this morning was the story of the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ as it is recorded in Matthew chapter 3. It is very important to note the timing of Jesus’ baptism. It comes before Jesus has done the first great act of God. And, by all means, this is not the way we usually do things. We usually congratulate people when they have done something well. God gives this moment before Jesus has done the first great thing. In our normal, human way of doing things, God might have waited until after Jesus had turned the water into wine and then opened the heavens and said, “That’s my Son!” Or God might have waited until Jesus healed the blind man and then said, “That’s my Son, I am so pleased with Him.” Or God might have waited until after the feeding of the multitude or walking on water or after the Sermon on the Mount and then said, “Good job! That’s my Son!” But that is not the sequence. God says, “I love you” before Jesus chooses His disciples, before He does the first miracle. And, in a human way, as earthly parents, we understand this. We don’t start to love our children when they make decisions to do the right things. We love our babies before they are born. We hope that our love helps them make the right decisions as they grow – but our love is not contingent on their good decisions. We love our children because they are ours. While we live in a world that applauds our achievements and accomplishments, the glory of this day is the reminder that God loves us from the beginning—not because of what we have done, but because of who we are. And when that unconditional love and grace sinks in on our souls, something very important happens that equips us for everything that comes next. Our accomplishments can’t win God’s love for us and our failures and sin can’t keep God’s love from us.

 

Second: The Sacrament of Infant Baptism and the Huge Task Before Us

Infant baptism puts before us as parents and as a congregation a huge responsibility. For parents, baptism is an act of commitment. Not only do the parents commit their child to the Lord, but they also commit themselves to the Lord. Parents take vows in which they pledge before God and the congregation to raise their child “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” as Paul says in Ephesians 6:4. Louise and Jonathan: my prayers are with you today as you commit Liam to the Lord and at the same time you also commit yourselves. I tell you the truth, I have officiated baptisms that I have never seen the parents in church since. It breaks my heart to say that. This is why I told you Tuesday night that being baptized does not mean we have nothing further to do. Rather, baptism is a one time event that takes a lifetime to finish. Every day is a day of baptismal conversion, of dying and rising again with Christ, of taking new steps towards becoming more fully, what, by the grace of God, we most truly are. God challenged his people in the past in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 saying, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

 

Baptism also touches the life of the local congregation at basically two levels. We share the parents the same responsibility. As you may know, the practice of naming particular godparents for a child is not common in the Presbyterian tradition. The reason is because all adult church members act as godparents for the children in the covenant community. All adults are spiritual guardians of all the children and share—to some degree—with the physical parents the awesome responsibility of raising the children in the training and instruction of the Lord. That is why all communicant members take a vow to assist the parents in the Christian nurture of their child. And as this responsibility is faithfully carried out, there is a great blessing for the congregation.

 

There is another level that touches the life of the local congregation and that is the level of remembrance. As the congregation witnesses the baptism of Liam today, we are reminded of the vows we have previously made. Therefore we need to ask ourselves, “Have I been faithful as a steward for the gift of life that God has entrusted to me? Have I fulfilled my duties and obligations as a parent and as a spiritual guardian?” If the answer is no, confession of sin and prayer for grace to improve is in order. But if the answer is yes, gratitude for God’s enabling grace is appropriate. In this sense, it is a blessing to be reminded again of our duty as Christian parents.

 

Friends, let me conclude by saying that the grace of God and the love of Christ are the two central themes of Christian baptism. The great Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968) was asked late in his life if he could summarize the entirety of his theological work in one sentence. You have to know that Barth is regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. His Church Dogmatics runs to over six million words and 8,000 pages ~ one of the longest works of systematic theology ever written. So, the question he was asked if he could summarize the entirety of his theological work in one sentence. Barth thought, smiled, and replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Whether we are children or adults, what matters the most are these two important foundations: the grace of God and the love of Christ. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

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!

The Three Great Ends of the Church #3

Glorification of God, Edification of the Saints, and Evangelization of the World!

Isaiah 43:10; Acts 1:6-11

 

I am sure most of us have heard a version or another of this amazing story. The story is told about Jesus after He accomplished the mission the Father had sent Him for, He returned back to His glory in heaven. Jesus was received by His Father, by the angels in the heavenly realms, and by the Old Testaments Saints. Michael, the Archangel, bowed down before the Lord and approached Him and asked, “Lord, welcome back! Having accomplished your mission on earth, I assume that everyone on earth is saved now, right?” Jesus said, “No! Not really.” The Archangel asked, “How come?” Jesus answered, “I have left my Church to continue the mission.” Jesus’ statement very much summarizes the third great end of the Christian Church, namely, the evangelization of the world. Friends, Jesus left nothing tangible to mark His life on earth – no book, not even a letter, no monumental work of art or great composition. He just left a handful of men and women. He says to them, “You are my witnesses.” They, and all subsequent disciples, were to bear witness to Jesus.

 

Today we will wrap up a three-week series of messages we called, The Three Great Ends of the Church. My hope for each one of us is to be able to see their lives from God’s perspective. Believers are human beings with a purpose. As I mentioned before, Ecclesiology, the theological study of the Christian Church, tells us that the Church exists for three major purposes: glorification of God, edification of the saints, and evangelization of the world.   The last two Sundays we covered the first two purposes. This morning, I would like to cover the third and last one: the evangelization of the world. Let me highlight two important Scriptures as the Biblical foundation for thismissional bodywe call Church. Isaiah 43:10, the Scriptures says, “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.” And in Acts 1:8 Jesus says the same exact truth, “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.” Two important observations for today:

 

First: Something Happens When Christians Take This Commandment Seriously

Please listen to the words of the Scripture in Acts 17:6, “And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (ESV). That was the exclamation of a concerned citizen of the ancient city of Thessalonica. He said this in reference to the Apostle Paul and his ministry partner Silas. “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” Yet, these two men did not exercise coercion, violence, or manipulation as they “turned the world upside down.” They simply came with a message – “Jesus is King” (Acts 17:3,9). It wasn’t a message that was formulated in a vacuum either. Something happens when followers of Christ take the command to witness seriously.

 

The front lines of Jesus’ army today are you – faithful men and women who live ordinary lives in the world, attending school, making a living, raising families, participating in the daily life of our society. You are the ones who will reach the people whom we as clergy may never see – relatives, friends, coworkers, and in athletics, clubs and organizations. You will be placed in situations where you will be a witness to your faith – not by standing up and preaching – but by the way you conduct yourself as a Christian. In whatever you do, you are a Christian first – a Christian athlete, a Christian doctor, a Christian in business, a Christian parent, Christian teacher, a Christian friend. In whatever we do, we are Christians first.

 

In his book, Bread for Life, New Testament Professor Dr. Theodore Stylianopoulos writes, “God will provide many opportunities to the growing Christian for sharing with others his or her experience with the Bible. What better witness for the truth of the Christian faith than a solid Christian life nourished by Holy Scripture and radiating true Christian love at home, at Church and at work?” Friends, God will place you in situations to share your faith. There will be certain days when things fall into place and you feel that God is using the gifts that He has given you for His purposes. You will sense that He has placed you in a certain situation for which you are uniquely prepared. You will succeed and hopefully you will honor Him with your success, knowing that all that you accomplish has come from Him. As He called upon His disciples on the day of His Ascension, He has also called upon us today to be His witnesses “…in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

 

Second: What Does It Mean to Witness?

What does it mean to be witnesses to God’s love? David Lose, President of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, once said, “We bear witness to things that are important to us all the time. We bear witness to the great movies or television programs we’ve seen and want others to enjoy. We bear witness to the accomplishments (or failures) of our sports teams. We bear witness to the important events in our family or work lives. We bear witnessthat is, tell someone aboutthe things that matter the most to us. Why it is different when we think about our faith, what happens in worship, in classes, in fellowship? Why it is different when we encounter the Lord?

 

Some of you may say, I just do not know enough to talk to others about Jesus. I don’t understand how resurrection is possible. I don’t understand how He walked through closed doors or ate fish after He had been crucified. There’s so much that even your minister doesn’t understand; however, the good news is we don’t have to understand. Jesus understands us. We do not have to understand Easter to experience Easter.

 

So when we are called to be witnesses it does not mean shoving our faith down someone’s throat or threatening them with eternal hellfire if they don’t believe like we do. It’s simply telling others where we sensed God or the Holy Spirit at work in our lifeat home or work, at church or school, through a stranger or a friend, a doctor or teacher or neighbor, even through ourselves. As David Lose says, “Bearing witness is nothing more than saying where you think God is at work in your life and the world.” For some of you it may still feel a bit scary to witness. It doesn’t happen overnight. One of my goals as your minister and teacher is to keep trying to be a good role model and show with words and actions how to answer the call Christ is still making for all of us to be witnesses. It is possible? Remember that Jesus promised His disciples and us that He would be with us always until the end of time.

 

Friends, we are simply called to be witnesses. That is our mission. Word it any way you want, but the mission is the same: we are to be witnesses, in word and deed, to what we have experienced of the risen Christ in our lives. It is a clear and present mission. And we begin right here, in our own Jerusalem. Let me add one last word of advice. You don’t have to convince your friends that they need Christ—only the Holy Spirit can do that. Just be a Christian! There’s a big difference between telling and selling. If you do the telling, the Holy Spirit can do the selling. You can’t do His work and He won’t do yours. My hope for the Elmer Presbyterian Church is to be a movement, not just another organization in the community. As a member of this body, pray that God would give you a chance to witness for Christ this week. Commit to speaking up when God gives you the opportunity you prayed for. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 22nd, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

The Three Great Ends of the Church #2

Glorification of God, Edification of the Saints, and Evangelization of the World!

Psalm 66:8-15; Ephesians 4:11-13

 

There was a church in a small town in Tennessee that had the most interesting name. The sign in front of it said, “Left Foot Baptist Church.” There was a young man who passed by the building several times, and he always got a good chuckle from the name. Finally, one day he stopped by and asked someone about the church with the unusual name. I don’t believe that he was counting on the answer that he got. He found out that several years before, a great conflict arose in the church. You see, it was a Foot-Washing Baptist Church–they washed one another’s feet as an act of worship. But the conflict broke out over which foot should be washed first. Half of the congregation thought they should start with the right foot. The other half thought that they should always start with the left foot. The conflict simmered and brewed until finally the left-foot proponents split off and organized their own church. Of course, they called it “Left Foot Baptist Church.”

 

While that story is unusual by itself, we know that it is not unusual for churches to allow small and insignificant matters to tear them apart. And when these small things become the focus of the church, then they keep the church from fulfilling God’s purpose. I am very thankful for the positive spirit of unity that exists in the church family here. It is something that we need to continually work at as we strive to live out God’s purpose for our lives and for this church.

 

Last Sunday we began a three-week series of messages that I titled, “The Three Great Ends of the Church.” We said that the more we read the Scriptures, the more we see three major ends of the church. Ecclesiology, the theological study of the Christian Church, tells us that the Church exists for three major purposes: glorification of God, edification of the saints, and evangelization of the world. Last week we covered the first end, the first purpose, the glorification of God. We said that the   church is the chief instrument for glorifying God in the world. We glorify God by (1) Completing the works God has given us ~ John 17:4. (2) We glorify God by our faith ~ Romans 4:20. The second purpose is to edify the saints. Because Christ’s church is not a building – Christ’s church is a family of believers who share life together – Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church is challenging each of us to jump in and celebrate our spiritual life with the family God has given to us. Two major thoughts for this morning:

 

First: God Ordained Local Churches

The New Testament church was made up of a universal body of redeemed saints. But all of those saints located in identifiable, local, geographic gatherings that were deeply connected at every level: spiritually, emotionally, financially, and relationally. New Testament believers were taught that God wanted them to be a part of a local church. New Testament believers were taught that God wanted them to pour out their lives into one group of people day after day, and week after week.

 

If Christ had only wanted us to only be a part of the universal church then we could all just drive around each Sunday and visit a different church. We could all be well rested, never exhausted by ministry, never in a hurry to get everything done that needs to be accomplished, and just come at the posted time, take in the service, get blessed, and leave. That form of detached, uninvolved, “free as the wind” type of church was never a part of Christ’s plan for His body!

Jesus sent out His apostles to start local, visible groups of believers that lived life together as Christ’s family. God did not design the drive-in-theater type of church that has a parking lot of unconnected individuals all watching the same show. He designed Christ’s family as a group that shares life. God looks to each one of us to do our part in His Church that He is building; and each of us is a unique tool in His Hands; and each of us can do something God designed only for us to do. Therefore, God indeed ordained local churches with purposes in His mind.

 

Second: Equipping the Saints and Edifying of the Body

When we were saved we each became a vital part of Christ’s Church, with a specific job description that is found in many places including Ephesians 4:11-16.   In Ephesians 4 Paul is sharing with us the plan Jesus gave him, to keep His saints all doing what He designed them to do. Listen to God’s plan for the members of His body in Ephesians 4:11-13, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping [preparing, perfecting] of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”  (NKJV).

 

Ephesians 4:12 contains God’s goal for all of us in Christ’s church this morning—bringing believers to spiritual health and spiritual growth through truth in Christ. How is this done within a local church? Paul introduces us to the twin concepts of the “equipping church” and the “edifying church.” Both ministries are vital. We all need to grasp our responsibility, so that we come to church and operate as a church in the way that God designed us to serve Him.

 

Equip: Paul grabs a word that gave an immediate picture in everyone’s mind that read this letter. Saints need to be made whole, they need to be mended, and they need to be repaired. So the word “equip” which means either mending nets or setting bones, describes the taking injured, damaged, or weakened things and getting them back the way they are supposed to be. An equipping church is all about helping people from where they are to where God wants them to be. We all need help, and we all are to help each other. I hope that every one of us will be able le to plug those images into the purpose of Christ’s church as we meet here every time. “Mending lives” so that those lives can be engaged as tools in Christ’s hands building up, helping, exhorting, and discipling others.

 

Friends, believers are out in life getting frayed, torn, and ripped by all the troubles and struggles we go through each day. We each sustain some degree of damage through struggles at work, conflicts at home, and temptations nagging us everywhere, and fears assaulting us when we are alone. We are often just like a net as it gets dragged along the shore in daily use—we have sustained wear and tear to our lives just with the daily pressures and stresses of living.

 

But now comes the wonderful part; the good news. This truth is what has strengthened Christ’s church through all these centuries since Pentecost—when we gather obediently as Christ’s church, He is present; and when Christ is present, He uses us to do His work of repairing one another from the injuries of life’s struggles. He uses us to edify, to build up each other’s faith. Friends, God wants us to actually do something for Christ in the lives of those around us. Through His plan we get back on the road, the broken down relationships mended, the flat tires of lost hope repaired, confidence and assurance are restored, and we go back on the road of life again. We are repaired, mended, and built up—by His Spirit, through His Word, and using other believers. The church that offers these needed repairs is the church that is truly an “equipping” and “edifying” church; and that is what we see as we follow this word through the rest of the New Testament. Jesus uses us within His church to be His instruments through which He mends other believers. May we be so. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 15th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

The Three Great Ends of the Church #1

Glorification of God, Edification of the Saints, and Evangelization of the World!

1 Chronicles 16:23-29; John 17:1-5

 

 

 

This morning we begin a three-week series of messages that I titled, “The Three Great Ends of the Church.” What are the great ends of the church? What is the purpose of this “collective body of believers” we call the church of Jesus Christ? This question has always been very important and central to the life of the church. Why do we do what we do? Why are we here in the Sanctuary, in God’s House, this morning? The more I read the Scriptures, the more I see three major ends of the church. Ecclesiology, the theological study of the Christian Church, tells us that the Church exists for three major purposes: glorification of God, edification of the saints, and evangelization of the world. Over the next few weeks we will revisit our understanding of our ecclesiology. I want us to understand why we do what we do. I want us to understand that when we make an investment in God’s Kingdom, we make the best investment ever. I want us to understand that when we invest our time, our energy, and our money in the service of the Lord, we make the most beautiful thing. This morning I would like to focus on the first purpose, the first end, of the church and that is the glorification of God. The church is the chief instrument for glorifying God in the world.

 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us what man’s chief purpose is for being created. The first question in the Catechism is a very important question. Question #1:  What is the chief end of man (humanity)?   This is asking what is the main purpose of humanity. The answer is “to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.” That is a little understood purpose for which God created humanity. First Peter 4:11 clearly spells this out saying, “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”   We are here not to praise ourselves or glorify anyone. As Isaiah wrote in 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” How does the Church glorify God in the world? How do we glorify God in the world? Two major thoughts:

 

First: Accomplishing the Work God Has Given Us

In John 17:4 Jesus prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” Jesus prayed those words on the night of His betrayal. I’ve always found it interesting that Jesus defined glorifying God as doing the work the Father had given Him. Obedience to the Father’s will = Father receiving glory.

 

We can apply this to ourselves as Christ’s followers too. Jesus receives glory when we accomplish the task that He has given us. If the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, we might ask: how best do we glorify and enjoy God? The way Jesus glorified the Father was by fulfilling the mission.

 

In July1879 the Lord worked in the hearts of sixteen believers to establish what it came to be known as the First Presbyterian Church of Elmer. I am sure that those founding members had the mission clear in their minds. The sought the glorification of God, the edification of the saints, and evangelization of their community. Generation after generation, faithful followers of Christ, a great cloud of witnesses, who have belonged to this Church have worked hard to fulfill this mission. Too often, we think of glorifying God in abstract terms. Instead, our concern to glorify the Father ought to drive us to ask bigger questions about the Church’s mission on earth and our part on that.

 

I like the witness of the Scripture about King David in Acts 13:36. Acts tells us that King David died, only after fulfilling God’s purposes for him in his generation. “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.” In the same way, for such a time as this, God has placed each one of us in a certain location and has charged us to spread the news and fragrance of His kingdom. Jesus could boldly say that God the Father had been glorified, because – as the Son – he had finished the Master’s plan that had been set out for Him from the beginning of time. We, in turn, must not relegate the work the Lord has entrusted to our care.

 

Second: Glorifying God by Our Faith

Friends, do you realize that a lack of faith does not honor and glorify God? In Romans 4:20 the Bible gives us a great example of this truth, the example of Abraham. Abraham actually glorified God by his faith as Paul wrote, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” In fact we cannot please God without faith, but with faith God is well pleased as Hebrews 11:6 says. Hebrews chapter 11 is full of people who glorified God in their lives because their faith was only as strong as the object of their faith: God!

 

Friends, on one hand, we can glorify God by what we do.  On the other hand, we can also bring shame to the name of Christ if we claim to be believers and do not live up to our calling. Paul understood that what we do either glorifies God, glorifies ourselves or brings shame to His Holy Name.  In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul said “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That means that whatever we do, whether serve, pray or give, we must keep in mind that our chief purpose is to glorify God.

 

Friends, we are here to glorify the Lord. The church is on a mission on this earth. In 2 Corinthians 9:13 the Scripture says that God can be glorified “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.”

 

The Apostle Paul was consumed by the desire to glorify God as he said in Philippians 1:20, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

 

There are many ways to glorify God in our lives and my hope today for the Elmer Presbyterian Church is to be intentional about fulfilling that purpose. We can glorify God by our songs of praise and worship. We can exalt Him in our bodies by our acts of obedience, our selfless acts of service, our willingness to witness, and in our actions.  In 1 Chronicles 16:29 King David puts it in such a beautiful way, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” May our lives become a hymn of gory to God. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 8th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

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