Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | February 24, 2015

Weekly Sermon Notes from Rev. Mouris Yousef

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday February 22nd, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World” #4

Isaiah 49:1-6; 2 Timothy 1:13-14

 

This morning we conclude a 4-week series of messages that we titled, “Un Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World.” As I was preparing these messages, I had a solo goal in my mind that is giving ourselves as individuals and as a congregation another chance to discover or rediscover the meaning and the implications of the gospel of Christ on our lives. Galatians 1:6-10 has been a key Scripture to this series of messages. We said that it is very easy to lose sight of the one true gospel. You and I know that there are many false ones out there! We are always tempted to alter, to modify, and to water down the demands of the one true gospel. We are always tempted to embrace and to pursue a cheap grace rather than the costly grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

This morning I would like to spend sometime with the words of the Scripture in 2 Timothy 1:13-14. Paul charges Timothy, a young minister in Ephesus, to “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to him.” When we have something that’s worth guarding, then we find a safe place to put it. We can buy a safe, we can rent a safety deposit box in a bank, or if we lived during the time of Jesus, we would dig a hole somewhere in our field or house and store our valuable treasures in jars of clay. We, the Church of Jesus Christ, have something worth protecting. We have something worth guarding. Scripture is very clear about this. This morning I would like to look at this and ask two questions. The first: what is it that we have to protect? Second: how do we protect it?

 

First: What Is It That We Have to Protect?

The second letter to Timothy was written near the end of Paul’s life. Paul was in prison in Rome awaiting death. Within a few short years after writing this letter, Paul would be martyred under Nero’s reign. And so Paul writes this letter to his young associate, Timothy, encouraging him to continue the fight of faith even as Paul approaches the end of his life.

 

At the end of the previous letter that Paul had written to Timothy, a few years earlier, Paul had written in 1 Timothy 6:20, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.” What deposit? What is Paul talking about? Well, here in Paul’s second letter to Timothy in chapter 1:13-14, Paul again writes: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to youguard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” What Paul is saying here is that Timothy has been given something that is valuable and that needs to be protected. It’s a deposit – something that one person has placed in trust to another person’s safekeeping.

 

Paul is talking about the message that he has entrusted to Timothy. The gospel is the good deposit we’ve received. The apostolic gospel is the good deposit. It is “the pattern of sound teaching.” In 2:2 Paul calls it “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses.” Paul charges Timothy to protect it, keep watch over it, and with God’s help ensure that it’s kept safe. In other words, it’s something that is in danger of being lost if it is not protected. Friends, the gospel is too valuable to lose. There is nothing that is more important than guarding the gospel.

Second: How Do We Protect It?

How do we protect the gospel? I am sure we could come up with all kinds of ways to answer this question. As your pastor, I always ask myself how can I keep the gospel central to our life together here at the Elmer Presbyterian Church. That is my job as I preach weekly. Everything I teach must be grounded in the gospel. I need to make gospel connections, showing the doctrinal and behavioral implications of the gospel. Every ministry of the church must maintain the gospel at its core. We’ve got to be swinging the gospel hammer continually. I think this is exactly what Paul is saying we need to do.

 

But the important question I am posing here is: what do we need to do to protect the gospel? The general thought over the last few weeks was in order to guard it, we first have to know it. Let me add a couple quick thoughts to this. From Paul’s letters to Timothy, two important things can be identified as fundamental ways to guard the gospel message. The first important thing is Evangelism, sharing the good news with others. This is exactly what Paul mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:8-10, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” In Isaiah 49:6 God says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

 

A second way to guard the gospel message is found in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Paul says that’s exactly what Timothy is to do. He has already had this information passed on to him by Paul in the presence of other witnesses. He’s supposed to find reliable people so he can entrust the gospel to them. But those reliable people are not supposed to just hold on to the gospel themselves. They will be entrusted with the gospel so that they, in turn, can pass it on to others. We already have four generations in this verse: Paul, Timothy, reliable people, and others. The gospel is protected as it is transmitted from generation to generation. We become part of a living chain of truth that extends through the centuries. The story of Christianity is one of countless chains, countless generations who have entrusted the gospel to others who can, in turn, entrust the gospel again to the next generation. This applies to all of us: elders, deacons, members, parents, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and everyone.

 

Surprisingly enough, Paul is not saying that we protect the gospel through printing out millions and billions of copies of the Bible. We do not guard the gospel though building magnificent cathedrals. We do not protect the gospel when we take it and hide it for ourselves. Rather, we guard the one true gospel when we share it with others and keep it alive. We guard it when we entrust it to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. My hope for each one of us during the month of February was to gain greater clarity on the gospel and all of its implications. As we do this, we would value the message, treasure it, and allow the message to move us to share it with others and entrust it to reliable followers who qualify to teach others. Church, you’ve the best product ever. We have the most amazing news anyone can hear! Let me stop here today and we will begin a new series of messages during the month of March that I called, The Great Ends of the Church. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | February 24, 2015

Elmer Presbyterian Church News Wk 2/23/15

 

Last Sunday Rev. Mouris Yousef used Scripture readings Isaiah 49:1-6 and 2 Timothy 1:13-14 to conclude his series titled “An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World!” My goal with these messages was to give ourselves another chance to discover the meaning and the implications of the gospel of Christ on our lives. It is easy to lose sight of the one true gospel, and we know that there are many false ones out there! In 2 Timothy 1:13-14 Paul charges Timothy to “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to him.” When we have something worth guarding we find a safe place to put it. We, the Church of Jesus Christ, have something worth protecting, worth guarding. This week I ask what is it we have to protect, and how do we protect it?

 

Paul is saying that Timothy has been given something valuable that needs to be protected. It’s a deposit-something one person placed in trust to another person. Paul is talking about the message that he has entrusted to Timothy. The gospel is the good deposit we’ve received. The apostolic gospel is “the pattern of sound teaching.” Paul charges Timothy to protect it, keep watch over it, and with God’s help ensure that it’s kept safe. There is nothing more important than guarding the gospel. As your pastor, I ask how can I keep the gospel central to our life here at the Elmer Presbyterian Church. Everything I teach must be grounded in the gospel. Every ministry of the church must maintain the gospel at its core. But the important question I am posing here is: what do we need to do to protect the gospel? From Paul’s letters to Timothy, two things can be identified as fundamental ways to guard the gospel message. The first thing is Evangelism, sharing the good news with others. A second way to guard the gospel message is found in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Paul tells Timothy he’s supposed to find reliable people so he can entrust the gospel to them. But those reliable people are not supposed to just hold on to the gospel themselves. They will be entrusted with the gospel so that they, in turn, can pass it on to others. The gospel is protected as it is transmitted from generation to generation.

 

Paul is not saying that we protect the gospel through printing out millions of copies of the Bible. We don’t guard the gospel by building cathedrals. We don’t protect the gospel when we hide it for ourselves. We guard the one true gospel when we share it with others and keep it alive. We guard it when we entrust it to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. My hope is that each of us gains greater clarity on the gospel and all of its implications. As we do this, we would value the message, treasure it, and allow the message to move us to share it with others and entrust it to reliable followers who qualify to teach others.

 

Next Sunday, March 1st, we welcome Rev. John Lore as he shares his message with us while Rev. Yousef and his family join the Youth Group on their Snow Camp trip. All are invited to attend our service at 10:00 am.

Sunday school follows worship from 11:30 am–12 noon for children ages 4th through 8th grades.

Rev. Yousef’s Lenten Bible study, “Exploring the Way: An Introduction to the Spiritual Journey” will be offered for five Tuesdays beginning February 24th. Rev. Yousef leads the 10:00 am study at the church, and a house group offers the study at 7:00 pm. The community is welcome to participate. Please call the church for more information.

The Women’s Association meets Tuesday, March 3rd at 6:00 pm.

The Way youth group meets weekly on Wednesday in the Church, with Bible themed study, activities and games.

Junior youth in 4th through 7th grades meet from 6:30-8:00 pm, while senior youth 8th grade and up meet from 7-9 pm. All youth in the area are invited to participate in the activities.

Our Clothes Closet will next be open on Tuesday, March 17th, from 6-7 pm, offering serviceable used clothing for children and adults to those in need at no cost. However, if you need assistance before then, please call the church.

Due to the Lenten Bible studies, the Men’s Bible study is on hiatus until after Easter.

The Elmer Presbyterian Church is located at 107 Chestnut Street (Rt. 40) in Elmer, at the intersection of Rt. 40 and Front Street. The church is handicap accessible, with parking available behind the church. If you would like information about any of our worship services or programs, or need transportation, please call 856-358-8888.

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | February 16, 2015

Elmer Presbyterian Church News Wk. 2.16.15

ELMER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – news wk 02/16/15:

Rev. Mouris Yousef’s sermon last Sunday was part three of “An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World!” based on Scripture readings Hosea 4:1-6 and Galatians 1:6-10. This week we continue our look at Galatians chapter 1:6-10. The new believers in Galatia faced the danger of altering the gospel of Christ. The apostle Paul had taught the Galatians the pure gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, but other teachers who came later on taught them something that contradicted the teachings of the apostles. The believers in Galatia were turning their back on the one true gospel of Christ. The Judaizes, a group of Christian believers who had come from a Jewish background, taught that people get saved through both faith in Jesus and observing the ritual of circumcision, the sign of God’s covenant in the Old Testament. Paul rejected that teaching and challenged the church to go back to the one true gospel of Jesus. Grace was the real issue at stake. Because we are called to “live in the grace of Christ”, we are tempted to abuse God’s gift of God’s grace. There are two ways to understand the concept and the gift of grace. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer correctly analyzed the dangers of the church’s frivolous attitude toward grace, and he coined two terms: “Cheap Grace” and “Costly Grace.”

“Cheap Grace” is grace that has become so watered down that it no longer resembles the grace of the New Testament, the costly grace of the gospels. Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church. Cheap grace is grace without price; grace without cost! Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. The preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. There is a different kind of grace, the grace we encounter in the Scriptures. Bonhoeffer calls it, “Costly Grace.” Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again. It is the gift which must be asked for. Grace is costly because it compels a follower of Christ to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son

Many Christians are willing to serve, to follow, and to acknowledge Christ if it does not cost them anything. But if there is a price to pay, we suddenly lose interest. In Philippians 2:8 the Bible says that Jesus “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Someone said, “Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing and is worth nothing.”

Next Sunday, February 22nd, Rev. Yousef will conclude his series of messages with part four of “An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World!” using Scripture readings Isaiah 49:1-6 and 2 Timothy 1:13-14. All are invited to attend our service at 10:00 am.

Sunday school follows worship from 11:30 am–12 noon for children ages 4th through 8th grades.

Rev. Yousef has developed a Lenten Bible study titled “Exploring the Way: An Introduction to the Spiritual Journey” which will be offered for five Tuesdays beginning February 24th. Rev. Yousef will lead the study at 10:00 am at the church, and two house groups in Elmer will offer the study at 7:00 pm. We will discover the way of Jesus during this spiritual journey, and it will be a blessing for beginners in the Christian faith and veterans alike. Our community family, friends and neighbors are invited to join us for this Lenten study. Please call the church for more information.

The Way youth group meets weekly on Wednesday in the Church, with Bible themed study, activities and games. Junior youth in 4th through 7th grades meet from 6:30-8:00 pm, while senior youth 8th grade and up meet from 7-9 pm. All youth in the area are invited to participate in the activities.

The Chancel Choir meets Thursdays at 7:30pm for rehearsals-join us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” The Easter Cantata rehearsals will begin this week, Thursday, February 19, 2015-all are welcome to practice with us as we perfect our music for Easter Sunday! We will be presenting  “Love Grew Where The Blood Fell” which tells the story of God’s loving plan for us through the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus.

Our Clothes Closet will next be open on Tuesday, March 17th, from 6-7 pm, offering serviceable used clothing for children and adults to those in need at no cost. However, if you need assistance before then, please call the church.

Due to the Lenten Bible studies, the Men’s Bible study is on hiatus until after Easter.

The Elmer Presbyterian Church is located at 107 Chestnut Street (Rt. 40) in Elmer, at the intersection of Rt. 40 and Front Street. The church is handicap accessible, with parking available behind the church. If you would like information about any of our worship services or programs, or need transportation, please call 856-358-8888.

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | February 16, 2015

Weekly Sermon Notes from Rev. Mouris Yousef 2.15.15

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday February 15th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World” #3

Hosea 4:1-6; Galatians 1:6-10

 This morning we continue unpacking Galatians chapter 1:6-10. This particular passage of God’s Word brings to us as followers of Christ today a very timely message. I believe Christians today face the same danger the Galatian believers faced over two thousand years ago. The new believers in Galatia faced the danger of altering the gospel of Christ. The apostle Paul had taught the Galatians the pure gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, but other teachers who came later on taught them something different; a teaching that contradicted the teachings of the apostles. We need to always remember that when we do not pay a careful attention wheat and tares can grow together side by side in our hearts and our lives. That is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 13:24-25, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went away.”

The believers in Galatia were turning their back on the one true gospel of Christ. This is why Paul addresses the fairly new established congregation and says to them in Galatians 1:6-7, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.” The Judaizes, a group of Christian believers who had come from a Jewish background, taught that people get saved through both faith in Jesus and observing the ritual of circumcision, the sign of God’s covenant in the Old Testament. In Galatians Paul rejected that teaching and challenged the church to go back to the one true gospel of Jesus. Paul said, “It is not gospel at all.” It has nothing to do with the gospel, the good news of Jesus of Nazareth. As I mentioned last week, grace was the real issue at stake. Because we are called to “live in the grace of Christ”, we are tempted to abuse God’s gift of God’s grace. As I mentioned last Sunday, “grace” is a terribly misunderstood word.

Two Kinds of Grace

Although the Scripture does not use this terminology, two kinds of grace can be seen and identified in God’s Word. There are two ways to understand the concept and the gift of grace. No one has explained the difference between the two kinds of grace and put it as beautifully as the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and Nazi resister. He spoke powerfully against misusing and against abusing the reality of God’s grace. Bonhoeffer’s most famous work is The Cost of Discipleship, first published in 1939. This book is a rigorous exposition and interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, and Matthew 9:35-10:42. In his masterpiece, Bonhoeffer coined two important terms: “Cheap Grace” and “Costly Grace.”[1] He correctly analyzed the dangers of the church’s frivolous attitude toward grace. This morning I would like to spend some time examining these two concepts in the light of God’s Word.

First: Cheap Grace

What do we mean by “Cheap Grace?” This is grace that has become so watered down that it no longer resembles the grace of the New Testament, the costly grace of the gospels. It is a compromising grace. Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace is a grace without any fixing limits. It is that understanding of grace that Paul fought against in Romans 6:1-2. Cheap grace is grace without price; grace without cost! This is not the Biblical understanding of grace.

Bonhoeffer says, “Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God …. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.” Do you see how dangerous and deadly this interpretation of grace?

Bonhoeffer continues on elaborating more on that thought and says, “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. Well, then, let Christians live like the rest of the world, let them model themselves on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from their old lives under sin.” Cheap grace, therefore, is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Second: Costly Grace

There is a different kind of grace. It is the true understanding of God’s grace. It is the grace we encounter in the Scriptures. Bonhoeffer calls it, “Costly Grace.” He defines it as, “The treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a person will gladly go and sell all that he/she has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a follower will pluck out the eye which causes them to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his/her nets and follows Him.”

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again. It is the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a follower must knock. Bonhoeffer puts it in such a beautiful way when he says, “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a follower his/her life, and it is grace because it gives a disciple the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “You were bought at a price, 1 Corinthians 6:20” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us …. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” Grace is costly because it compels a follower of Christ to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Friends, for Bonhoeffer, the call of Christ meant standing against Hitler. It meant the loss of his academic career, his security, his chance to escape the grasp of the Nazis, his future marriage, his freedom and eventually his life. He would not have thought that this was extraordinary; but only rather what the grace of God in Christ had called him to do. Unlike Bonhoeffer, many Christians are willing to serve, to follow, and to acknowledge Christ if it does not cost them anything. But if there is a price to pay, we suddenly lose interest. In Philippians 2:8 the Bible says that Jesus “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Someone said, “Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing and it is worth nothing.” If there is to be any blessing, there must be some bleeding. At a religious festival in Brazil, a missionary was going from booth to booth, examining the wares. He saw a sign above one booth: “Cheap Crosses.” He thought, “That’s what many Christians are looking for these days – cheap crosses. My Lord’s cross was not cheap. Why should mine be?” Let me stop here today and we will conclude this series of messages next Sunday. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Touchstone: NY, 1959), 45-49.

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | February 9, 2015

Rev. Mouris Yousef Sermon 2.8.15

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday February 8th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World” #2

Hosea 4:1-6; Galatians 1:6-10

 

The story appears in many versions, but it usually goes something like this—a policeman sees a drunk man searching for something on his hands and knees under a street light. The policeman approaches him and asks the man what he has lost. The man says he lost his keys. They both look under the streetlight together, running their hands through wet grass and over rough pavement. After a few minutes of getting nowhere, the policeman asks the man if he is sure he lost his keys there. The intoxicated man says, “No, as a matter of fact I lost them in the park.” The policeman asks, “Then why in the world are you searching for the keys here?” “Because this is where the light is,” says the intoxicated man.

If that story had been around in the Apostle Paul’s day, he might have told it to the new Christians in a community called Galatia, who unfortunately were looking for life, renewal, strength, hope, and light in all the wrong places. Isn’t this what we do all the time? If you were here this past Sunday, we looked at Galatians 1:6-10, a very important passage that speaks so loudly to the lives of Christ’s followers today. Last Sunday we defined the gospel in three important ways: (1) It is God’s gospel ~ Romans 1:1; (2) It is the gospel of Christ ~ 2 Corinthians 2:12; (3) It is our gospel ~ 2 Timothy 2:8.

 

Paul is Astonished

Yet this was not the case with the Galatians’ Church. Although they had been taught the true gospel, they turned their back to it. In Galatians 1:6-7 we read, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospelwhich is really no gospel at all.” As you can tell, Paul sounds different in this letter. He is deeply upset about something. Paul usually begins with a warm greeting to his churches. Even in 1 Corinthians, Paul greets his audience in 1 Corinthians 1:4 with warm affection: “I thank my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” As we read a little longer in 1 Corinthians, we will see that Paul is upset with the lack of unity in the church. He is upset with the Corinthian church but he is much more upset with the Galatian church. There is no formality in Galatians. After a short greeting, he plunges headlong into a rebuke.

 What is the big deal here? The Corinthian church had issues too and Paul gives them a nice greeting.  Why doesn’t Paul greet the Galatian churches with a more encouraging tone? Paul is so upset because the very gospel is at stake.  How people get saved is at stake.  The purity of God’s message is at stake. That is why Paul is astonished. He is genuinely surprised and disappointed at the church abandoning the gospel in its pure form.

A Different or Other Gospel?

So what is happening here? The text says that the Galatians are turning to a different gospel. What did Paul mean by this? What is this different gospel? We know from later in the book that this different gospel is that the churches of Galatia were being told that they must receive circumcision to be saved. So we could sum up this “other gospel” as “Grace plus circumcision,” or “grace plus some work.” In other words, the grace of Christ is not sufficient for salvation.  The grace of Christ is perhaps 99% effective in saving sinners but not fully effective. There is yet work to be done to earn salvation.

As I thought about this, I realized that the issue of grace was central to this discussion. In fact, it is still central to our spiritual life today. Listen one more time to Galatians 1:6-7, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.”

Grace is the Heart of the Gospel of Christ

I think it will be important at this point to lay down a Biblical definition of grace. What is grace? Grace is a terribly misunderstood word. Defining it succinctly is notoriously difficult. Some of the most detailed theology textbooks do not offer any concise definition of the term. Someone has proposed an acronym: GRACE is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That’s not a bad way to characterize grace, but it is not a sufficient theological definition.

One of the best-known definitions of grace is only three words: God’s unmerited favor. American theologian A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) expanded on that: “Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits on the undeserving.” American-Dutch theologian Louis Berkhof (1873-1957) is more to the point: “grace is the unmerited operation of God in the heart of humans, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” From Ephesians 1:5-6 we know that grace is God’s sovereign initiative to sinners.

The Continuity of God’s Grace

Grace is not a one-time event in the Christian experience. From Romans 5:2 we know that, “We stand in grace.” The entire Christian life is driven and empowered by grace: “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods” ~ Hebrews 13:9. Peter said we should “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” 2 Peters 3:18. We can say, therefore, that grace is not some kind of ethereal blessing that lies idle until we appropriate it. Rather, it is our every day experience!

Grace and its Relationship to the Law

In Romans 4:16; 5:20; 6:14-15; Galatians 2:21, 5:4, Paul frequently contrasted grace with law. He was careful to state, however, that grace does not nullify the moral demands of God’s law. Rather, it fulfills the righteousness of the law ~ Romans 6:14-15. It does not annul the righteous demands of the law; it confirms and validates them ~ Romans 3:31. Grace has its own law, a higher, liberating law: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” ~ Romans 8:2; James 1:25. This new law emancipates us from sin as well as death. In fact, that is the good news of the gospel! God has acted to set us free from sin — not just the consequences, but it’s very power and presence. One day we will never know the experience of temptation, a stray thought, a misspoken word, a false motive. Guilt will be gone, and with it shame, and as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “so we shall always be with the Lord.” Hallelujah!

 Friends, let me conclude by saying that many professing Christians today utterly ignore the Biblical truth that “grace instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” ~ Titus 2:12. Instead, more often live as if grace were a supernatural “Get Out of Jail FREE” ticket-a no-strings-attached, open-ended package of amnesty, beneficence, indulgence, forbearance, charity, leniency, immunity, approval, tolerance, and self-awarded privilege divorced from any moral demands.” This is clearly not the grace of Titus 2:12. In Romans 6:1-2, Paul was explicit about this: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it.” Indeed, as Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Let me stop here today and we will dig deeper into the concepts of cheap grace versus costly grace next Sunday, Lord willing. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | February 9, 2015

Elmer Presbyterian Church Wk. 2.9.15

ELMER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – news wk 02/09/15:

Rev. Mouris Yousef’s sermon last Sunday was part two of “An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World!” based on Scripture readings Jeremiah 32:30-35 and Galatians 1:6-10. In the Apostle Paul’s day, the Christians in Galatia were looking for life, renewal, strength, hope, and light in all the wrong places. Isn’t this what we do all the time? Last week we looked at Galatians 1:6-10, a passage that speaks to the lives of Christ’s followers today. We defined the gospel in three ways: It is God’s gospel; It is the gospel of Christ; It is our gospel. Yet this was not the case with the Galatians’ Church. Although they had been taught the true gospel, they turned their back to it. In Galatians 1:6-7 we read, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all.” What’s the big deal here? Paul is so upset because the very gospel is at stake. How people get saved is at stake. The purity of God’s message is at stake. Paul is genuinely disappointed at the church abandoning the gospel in its pure form.

So what’s happening here? The text says that the Galatians are turning to a different gospel, one that tells the churches of Galatia that they must receive circumcision to be saved. So we could sum up this “other gospel” as “Grace plus circumcision,” or “grace plus some work.” In other words, the grace of Christ is not sufficient for salvation. The issue of grace was central to this discussion. In fact, it is still central to our spiritual life today. Grace is a misunderstood word, and defining it succinctly is notoriously difficult. One of the best-known definitions of grace is only three words: God’s unmerited favor. Theologian Louis Berkhof states, “Grace is the unmerited operation of God in the heart of humans, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” Grace is not a one-time event in the Christian experience. The entire Christian life is driven and empowered by grace. We can say that grace is not some kind of ethereal blessing that lies idle until we appropriate it. Rather, it is our everyday experience!

Paul frequently contrasted grace with law. He was careful to state, however, that grace does not nullify the moral demands of God’s law. Rather, it fulfills the righteousness of the law. Grace has its own law, a higher, liberating law: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death”. This new law emancipates us from sin as well as death. In fact, that is the good news of the gospel! God has acted to set us free from sin-not just the consequences, but its very power and presence. Many professing Christians today utterly ignore the Biblical truth that “grace instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” and instead live as if grace were a supernatural “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Paul was explicit about this: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Next week we’ll look deeper into the concepts of cheap grace versus costly grace.

Rev. Yousef’s sermon next Sunday, February 15th, will be part three of “An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World!” based on Scripture readings Ezekiel 16:1-14 and Galatians 1:6-10. All are invited to attend our service at 10:00 am. Sunday school follows worship from 11:30 am–12 noon for children ages 4th through 8th grades.

The Community Bible study, led by Rev. Yousef, meets on Tuesdays at 10:00 am. If you’d like to learn more about the Word of God this is a great opportunity to join others in lively and informed discussions of the Bible.

Our Clothes Closet will be open Tuesday, February 17th, from 6-7 pm, offering serviceable used clothing for children and adults to those in need at no cost. However, if you need assistance before then, please call the church.

The Men’s Bible study meets on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm.

The Way youth group meets weekly on Wednesday in the Church, with Bible themed study, activities and games. Junior youth in 4th through 7th grades meet from 6:30-8:00 pm, while senior youth 8th grade and up meet from 7-9 pm. All youth in the area are invited to participate in the activities.

The Chancel Choir meets Thursdays at 7:30pm for rehearsals-join us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!”

The Elmer Presbyterian Church is located at 107 Chestnut Street (Rt. 40) in Elmer, at the intersection of Rt. 40 and Front Street. The church is handicap accessible, with parking available behind the church. If you would like information about any of our worship services or programs, or need transportation, please call 856-358-8888.

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | February 2, 2015

Sermon Notes from Rev. Mouris Yousef 2.1.15

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday February 1st, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World” #1

Jeremiah 32:30-35; Galatians 1:6-10

 

Have you ever asked yourself, or been asked by someone, what is the gospel? The “gospel” is a word that we use very often and I am not quite sure if we really know what it means. Is it that body of literature that speaks about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? We are told the “gospel” is the good news. What is good about the “good news” anyway? What are some of the gospel’s implications on our lives today? During the month of February, we will try to answer some of these fundamental questions. Over the next few weeks we will revisit our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its impact on the lives of Christ’s followers. Galatians 1:6-10 will be our key Scripture as we dig deeper into the heart of this topic. Let me tell you something: No question is more central for our time than this—what is the gospel? Although Galatians chapter one does not define the gospel, the rest of the letter to the Galatians does.

 

Galatians is one of the best books in the Bible in helping us refine and clarify what the heart of the gospel is which can’t be replaced or altered. There is a tragic pattern in churches and in history, I think. Renewal always breaks forth on a church or on an age through a fresh encounter with the gospel and the Spirit. Hearts are filled with the love of Christ and mouths are filled with praise, the concern for evangelism and reaching out to others rises. All this happens as the body of Christ, the church, encounters in such a fresh way the meaning and the power of the gospel.

 

I honestly believe that one of our major problems today is a lack of understanding of the Biblical teaching. Our understanding is so hazy and imprecise that we can sit listening to heresies and false teachers without even discerning them. Therefore, the danger of believing and embracing a distorted version of the gospel is always there. This is exactly what happened to the Galatians. It arises right in their midst to the extent that the apostle Paul called it “a different gospel” in Galatians 1:6. It is astonishing to see how the Galatians turned away from the teaching of the one true gospel. Same thing happened to the people of God during Jeremiah’s time. In Jeremiah 32:33 we read, “They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline.” Toward the end of his life, Paul gathered the church leaders of Ephesus and in Acts 20:30 he warned them, “From among your own selves will arise men speaking distorted things to draw away the disciples after them.” He also says in verse 27 that he has done his part to prepare them by “declaring the whole counsel of God.” I hope to be able to say the same thing someday about Elmer: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

 

The Glories of the Gospel

The gospel is an unchanging message for an ever-changing world. Therefore, this is an issue of more than just a passing concern. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the heart of our message and the reason for our existence. Several hundred years ago the Puritans talked about the “glories of the gospel.” By that they meant the wonder of God’s plan for saving sinners. God saves sinners by declaring them righteous in His sight on the basis of the blood of Jesus, and He does it through faith alone. Most amazingly, He justifies sinners while they are still sinners ~ Romans 4:5. God doesn’t say, “Clean yourself up and I will accept you.” Or “Let me infuse righteousness in you and if you cooperate with me, you will eventually be justified in my sight.” No! He says to sinners, “Come just as you are and I will declare you righteous right now.” The Apostle Paul had more to say about the gospel than anyone else. Let’s look at three ways Paul described the gospel:

 

First: It is God’s Gospel — Romans 1:1

In Romans 1:1 we read, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” Paul called himself an apostle of “the gospel of God.” The gospel begins with God! God made the first move and if He didn’t make the first move, we would make no move at all. The gospel is not about us. It’s about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. God is the author of the gospel. When confronted with human rebellion, God chose to become our Redeemer and our Deliverer. That is why the Bible tells us that the Father sent the Son to the earth (John 17:3). It’s not as if a committee of humans petitioned God to send Jesus to the earth. That was entirely God’s doing. Furthermore, what we know about the gospel comes from God Himself. We know what we know because He has told us in His Word. The truth of the gospel does not depend on the church, or human tradition, or any particular denomination. Therefore, we base what we say on the authority of God’s Word. And we deny any gospel other than the one revealed in the New Testament.

 

Second: It is the Gospel of Christ — II Corinthians 2:12

The second description of the gospel is found in 2 Corinthians 2:12 “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ…” Not only does the gospel begin with God, it centers upon the Lord Jesus Christ—who He is and what He accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection. In these days of political correctness and mushy theology, we need to reassert the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

 

Even though it isn’t popular, we must say what the Bible says: The only way to know God is through the reconciling death of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. That means the eternal destiny of all people depends on whether they know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Acts 4:12 says it explicitly: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” We may not care for those words, but there it is in black and white. Jesus said the same thing in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 

The Bible offers no hope to sincere worshipers of other religions. There is no other way and no other name than Jesus Christ. Sincerity is not enough to get you to heaven. Only Jesus saves. This is why we preach the gospel. This is why we urgently do the work of evangelism. We’ve got the Good News the world needs to hear.

 

Third: It is “My Gospel” — II Timothy 2:8

So, the gospel is God’s gospel. It is also the gospel of Christ. Finally, it is our gospel. In 2 Timothy 2:8 we read, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” In the end doctrine doesn’t save, Jesus saves. We need correct doctrine to tell us who Jesus is, who we are, and how we can be saved. But it is Christ alone who saves. It is not enough to know the truth. We must believe the truth. It is not enough to possess the truth; the truth must possess us. Paul called it “my gospel.” Can you say that?

 

Friends, this gospel we preach is so simple that little children can believe it. It is so profound that the greatest scholars have been pondering it for 2000 years. Let us hold fast to the true gospel. For in the gospel we find Jesus Christ. What else do we need? The only thing you bring to the table today is your need of a Savior, and that is the heart of the gospel. Come with empty hands and God will fill them. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | February 2, 2015

Elmer Presbyterian Church News Wk. 2.2.15

ELMER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – news wk 02/02/15:

Rev. Mouris Yousef’s sermon last Sunday was the first part of “An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World!” based on Scripture readings Jeremiah 32:30-35 and Galatians 1:6-10. What is the gospel? Is it that body of literature that speaks about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? What are some of the gospel’s implications on our lives today? During the month of February, we’ll try to answer some of these questions using Galatians 1:6-10 as our key Scripture. I believe our understanding of Biblical teaching is so hazy and imprecise that we can sit listening to heresies and false teachers without even discerning them. Therefore, the danger of believing and embracing a distorted version of the gospel is always there. This happened to the Galatians. It is astonishing to see how they turned away from the teaching of the one true gospel. In Acts 20:30 Paul warned the church leaders of Ephesus, “From among your own selves will arise men speaking distorted things to draw away the disciples after them.” The gospel is an unchanging message for an ever-changing world. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the heart of our message and the reason for our existence. God saves sinners by declaring them righteous in His sight on the basis of the blood of Jesus, and He does it through faith alone. He says to sinners, “Come just as you are and I will declare you righteous right now.” Let’s look at three ways the Apostle Paul described the gospel:

 

Paul called himself an apostle of “the gospel of God.” The gospel begins with God! The gospel is not about us. It’s about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. When confronted with human rebellion, God chose to become our Redeemer and our Deliverer. That is why the Bible tells us that the Father sent the Son to the earth (John 17:3). We base what we say on the authority of God’s Word. And we deny any gospel other than the one revealed in the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 2:12 we read, “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ…” Not only does the gospel begin with God, it centers upon the Lord Jesus Christ-who He is and what He accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection. The only way to know God is through the reconciling death of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. That means the eternal destiny of all people depends on whether they know Jesus as Lord and Savior. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 

So, the gospel is God’s gospel. It is also the gospel of Christ. Finally, it is our gospel. We need correct doctrine to tell us who Jesus is, who we are, and how we can be saved. But it is Christ alone who saves. It is not enough to know the truth. We must believe the truth. It is not enough to possess the truth; the truth must possess us. Friends, this gospel we preach is so simple that little children can believe it, yet so profound that great scholars have been pondering it for 2000 years. Let us hold fast to the true gospel. For in the gospel we find Jesus Christ. What else do we need?

 

Rev. Yousef’s sermon next Sunday, February 8th, will be part two of “An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World!” based on Scripture readings Hosea 4:1-6 and Galatians 1:6-10. All are invited to attend our service at 10:00 am. Sunday school follows worship from 11:30 am–12 noon for children ages 4th through 8th grades.

 

The Women’s Bible study meets Monday, February 9th at 7:00 pm.

 

The Community Bible study, led by Rev. Yousef, meets on Tuesdays at 10:00 am. If you’d like to learn more about the Word of God this is a great opportunity to join others in lively and informed discussions of the Bible.

 

The Men’s Bible study meets on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm.

 

The Way youth group meets weekly on Wednesday in the Church, with Bible themed study, activities and games.

Junior youth in 4th through 7th grades meet from 6:30-8:00 pm, while senior youth 8th grade and up meet from 7-9 pm. All youth in the area are invited to participate in the activities.

 

The Chancel Choir meets Thursdays at 7:30pm for rehearsals-join us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!”

 

Our Clothes Closet will next be open Tuesday, February 17th, from 6-7 pm, offering serviceable used clothing for children and adults to those in need at no cost. However, if you need assistance before then, please call the church.

 

The Elmer Presbyterian Church is located at 107 Chestnut Street (Rt. 40) in Elmer, at the intersection of Rt. 40 and Front Street. The church is handicap accessible, with parking available behind the church. If you would like information about any of our worship services or programs, or need transportation, please call 856-358-8888.

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | January 27, 2015

Elmer Presbyterian Church News Wk. 1.26.15

ELMER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – news wk 01/26/15:

Rev. Mouris Yousef’s sermon last Sunday was the second part of “Going Forward by Faith!” based on Scripture readings Exodus 13:17-22 and John 16:12-15. Last week we said that, based on the truth of God’s presence and wisdom, you and I should look at ourselves differently today. We will see ourselves in a new light. Because God is present and because He always makes His wisdom available to us, He is forever pressing us to move forward in our life with Him, to get hold of that “better, abundant, and full life” He is offering us. As we pursue this kind of life, we are reminded that our hope for the future is rooted in our confidence in God, not in ourselves. The Exodus story of the Israelites leaving Egypt, shows us how we can move forward with the assurance of four great foundations about our amazing God. Last week we covered the first two foundations, God’s presence and God’s wisdom. This week we look at the third and fourth foundations from Exodus 13, God’s Faithfulness and God’s guidance.

 

In Exodus 13:19 we read, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” This may seem out of place in the narrative but it is an important reminder of God’s faithfulness and God’s unfailing promises. Joseph was in place when God used circumstances to bring Jacob and the rest of his family to Egypt. Joseph understood and believed the promises of God. He knew that God would one day fulfill His promise to Abraham to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. At times we need to look at some projects that remind us of the faithfulness of God, and remember how we threw ourselves on the faithfulness of God and He showed Himself faithful. So God’s people move forward in faith … faith in God’s presence, God’s wisdom, God’s faithfulness, and finally in God’s Guidance.

 

Exodus 13:20 says, “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert.” The people of God are camped looking out over the wilderness that is before them. How would they make it? In Exodus 13:21 the Scripture says, “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” God directly guided His people in this way. The pillar was a manifestation of God Himself, guiding His people. They knew all day, every day that God was with them. We don’t have this kind of direct physical guidance today, but we do have the Word of God. In Psalm 119:105, the Bible says about itself: “Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” Friends, there are times when we don’t know which way to go, and in those times we need to remember the uplifting truth of God’s guidance.

 

During February Rev. Yousef will focus on the content and the implications of a true understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ to our lives today. His sermon for next Sunday, February 1st is “An Unchanging Message for an Ever-Changing World!” based on Scripture readings Jeremiah 32:30-35 and Galatians 1:6-10. We’ll be celebrating the Lord’s Supper during our Worship Service, with an Open Table for all who confess Christ as Lord and Savior. All are invited to attend our service at 10:00 am.

 

Sunday school follows worship from 11:30 am–12 noon for children ages 4th through 8th grades.

 

The Community Bible study, led by Rev. Yousef, meets on Tuesdays at 10:00 am. If you’d like to learn more about the Word of God this is a great opportunity to join others in lively and informed discussions of the Bible.

 

The Women’s Association meets Tuesday, February 3rd at 6:00 pm.

 

The Men’s Bible study meets on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm.

 

The Way youth group meets weekly on Wednesday in the Church, with Bible themed study, activities and games. Junior youth in 4th through 7th grades meet from 6:30-8:00 pm, while senior youth 8th grade and up meet from 7-9 pm. All youth in the area are invited to participate in the activities.

 

The Chancel Choir meets on Thursdays at 7:30pm for rehearsals-join us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!”

 

Our Clothes Closet will next be open Tuesday, February 17th, from 6-7 pm, offering serviceable used clothing for children and adults to those in need at no cost. However, if you need assistance before then, please call the church.

 

The Elmer Presbyterian Church is located at 107 Chestnut Street (Rt. 40) in Elmer, at the intersection of Rt. 40 and Front Street. The church is handicap accessible, with parking available behind the church. If you would like information about any of our worship services or programs, or need transportation, please call 856-358-8888.

Posted by: Elmer Presbyterian Church | January 27, 2015

Weekly Sermon Notes from Rev. Yousef

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday January 25th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Going Forward by Faith” #2

Exodus 13:17-22; John 16:12-15

 

Robert Sculler, the founder and former Senior Pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA, tells a story of a banker who always tossed a coin in the cup of a legless beggar who sat on the street outside the bank. But, unlike most people, the banker would always insist on getting one of the pencils the man had beside him. “You are a merchant,” the banker would say, “and I always except to receive good value from merchants I do business with.” One day the legless man was not on the sidewalk. Time passed and the banker forgot about him, until he walked into a pubic building and there in the concessions stand sat the former beggar. He was obviously the owner of his own small business now. “I have always hoped you might come by someday,” the man said. “You are largely responsible for me being here, instead of a beggar receiving gifts. I started selling pencils – lots of them. You gave me self-respect and caused me to look at myself differently.” Friends, in the light of what we said last Sunday, based on the unshakeable truth of God’s presence and God’s wisdom, you and I should look at ourselves differently today. We will see ourselves in a new light.

 

Because God is present and because He always makes His wisdom available to us, He is forever pressing us to move forward in our life with Him. He is pressing us to get hold of that “better, abundant, and full life” He is offering us. As we pursue this kind of life, we are reminded that our hope for the future is rooted in our confidence in God, not in ourselves. In other words, as I said last Sunday, we are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because He holds tightly to us. The Exodus story, the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt, shows us how we can move forward, how can step into the unknown, with the assurance of four great foundations about our amazing God: God’s presence, God’s wisdom, God’s faithfulness, and God’s guidance.

 

Last Sunday we covered the first two foundations, namely, (1) God’s presence and (2) God’s wisdom. These two great affirmations are found in Exodus 13:17, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” God is present and He is the real hero of the Exodus story. His wisdom is also so richly given to His people as they journey toward the Promised Land. This morning we will look at the third and fourth foundations from Exodus 13.

 

Third: God’s Faithfulness

In Exodus 13:19 we read, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” This may seem a little out of place in the narrative. It is not. In fact, it is an important reminder of God’s faithfulness and God’s unfailing promises. Israel was God’s covenant people. Israel’s (Jacob’s) son, Joseph, was the first to arrive in Egypt, hundreds of years before Moses came on the scene. Joseph ended up in Egypt by what may appear to be a huge accident or mistake. But it wasn’t. Joseph’s brothers sold him to a bunch of slave traders who ultimately sold him to Potiphar, the Captain of the Palace Guard at the time. But Joseph remained faithful and was in place when God used circumstances to bring Jacob and the rest of his family to Egypt. That’s where it all started for Israel in Egypt hundreds of years before Moses and the Exodus.

 

Joseph understood and believed the promises of God. He knew that God would one day fulfill His promise to Abraham to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. God is faithful, and we need people around us who remind us of that great truth. There are times when I get a little discouraged. And in times like that I need to look at some people who remind me of the faithfulness of God. I look around this room and I see some of you who are such a testimony to God’s faithfulness to heal, or to deliver, or to provide … and that encourages me.

 

At times we need to look at some projects that remind us of the faithfulness of God. As we look at those projects, we remember how we threw ourselves on the faithfulness of God and He showed Himself faithful. The Israelites carried the bones of Joseph’s up with them as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. For them, it was an important anchor. Joseph was a man of faith. He knew God would deliver His people. We need to cherish the tradition of faith in our families and in our church. So God’s people move forward in faith … faith in God’s presence, God’s wisdom, God’s faithfulness, and finally in …

 

Fourth: God’s Guidance

Although we see God’s guidance all through the text, I want to talk about it in more detail. In Exodus 13:20 we read, “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert.” So there the people of God are camped looking out over the wilderness that is before them. They’ve never been this way before. How would they make it? The text tells us. In Exodus 13:21 the Scripture says, “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”

 

The nation was guided by a pillar or column of cloud by day that became a pillar of fire at night. Perhaps you might think of it as a tornado. Later in the Book of Exodus the pillar was seen as an angel of the Lord. Occasionally God even spoke through the pillar. So God directly guided His people in this way. When it moved, they moved. When it stooped, they stopped.

 

God’s guidance was clear. The pillar was a manifestation of God Himself, guiding His people. They knew all day, every day, that God was with them. They could go on this uncertain course because they were assured of the guidance of God. They could travel, they could journey, in the light of God’s guidance. Exodus 13:22 “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” Now we don’t have this kind of direct physical guidance today. But what we do have is the Word of God. In Psalm 119:105, the Bible says about itself: “Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” As we read the Scripture, meditate on it, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us. In John 16:13 we read, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

 

Friends, there are times when we don’t know which way to go, and in those times we need to remember the uplifting truth of God’s guidance. Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Catholic monk who lived in the first part of the 20th century and wrote extensively in the area of Christian Spirituality. In his book Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton wrote fifteen lines that have become known as “the Merton Prayer.” That is a great prayer for 2015. I would like to conclude my sermon this morning by praying with you Merton’s prayer: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.” In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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