A man wanted to become a monk so he went to the monastery and talked to the abbot (the head monk). The abbot said, “You must take a vow of silence and can only say two words every three years.” The man agreed. After the first three years, the abbot came to him and said, “What are your two words?” “Food cold!”, the man replied. The abbot made sure the meals are not cold. Three more years went by and the abbot came to him and said, “What are your two words?” “Robe dirty!” the man exclaimed. The abbot ordered his robe be washed. Three more years went by and the abbot came to him and said, “What are your two words?” “Bed hard!” The abbot made sure the mattress got re-stuffed. Three more years went by and the abbot came to him and said, “What are your two words?” “I quit!” said the man. “Well,” the abbot replied, “I'm not surprised – you've done nothing but complain since you got here!”
Complaining or gratitude? In case you’re wondering if your Pastor has lost it or got confused thinking this is Thanksgiving week, I have not. Gratitude is not meant to be once a year. It is so easy to complain, to be grumpy; but it takes a lot of time and effort to cultivate a culture of thanksgiving and gratitude. Today is a very special day. After worship today, our congregation meets to share a meal together and celebrate a year of ministry to the Lord.
The Annual Meeting is a harvest festival. It is an annual celebration of what God has done in us, for us, and through us. It is a festival of gratitude for the food God provided for us, for the crops gathered to the stores. In the spiritual sense, today we celebrate the lives that have been transformed by God’s grace; the hearts that have been dedicated or rededicated to Jesus; and the visions, dreams, and hopes God has given to this congregation.
Moving from complaining and grumbling to gratitude and thanksgiving is a long journey. Cultivating this kind of culture requires a lot of work. In Exodus chapter 16 we see a grumbling people. Yes, the Israelites were a grumbling people. They grumbled when Moses came to save them from the hands of Pharaoh. They grumbled at the banks of the Red Sea. They grumbled when they didn’t have water to drink. They grumbled when they thought they will face starvation in the wilderness in Sinai. This is a nation of grumblers. Today and next Sunday I would like to tackle this topic. This morning I would like to talk about grumbling and ingratitude, and next Sunday, Lord willing, I will be talking about how do we get past our grumbling?
What is the Big Deal about Grumbling?
So, what is the big deal about grumbling anyway? The more I read the Bible, the more I come to realize that grumbling and ungratefulness is a sin. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5 Paul included the sin of ingratitude among some serious sins. He says, “But mark this: There will be terrible times 2 in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving.” We can identify two ways the sin of grumbling offends God:
First: Grumbling Denies the Sovereignty of God
When the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron leading them out into the wilderness, complaining about the lack of food and remembering the great feasts back in Egypt, God told Moses that they were not grumbling against him, but against God Himself! Moses was executing God’s plan and by grumbling about the hardships and continually pulling back to the former life, it was God they were complaining against, it was His plan they were undermining. While it may seem that we are merely complaining against people or circumstances, we are in fact complaining against the plan and purpose of God, and against God Himself!
There are ways to express reservations or concerns to leaders and those in charge. In Proverbs 15:22 the Bible acknowledges that in a multitude of counselors there is wisdom, and wise leaders listen to sound counsel. But by grumbling, they were rejecting God’s promise, His purpose and His prize. They were rejecting the one who was leading them in the direction of Canaan, not Egypt.
Second: Grumbling Discourages the People of God
Grumbling encourages others to adopt the same negative, unsupportive and crippling attitude toward God’s leaders and God’s plan. Grumbling never simply affects us personally and individually. By nature, grumbling, most likely, is done in the open. It encourages people to feel that God cannot fulfill what he has promised.
There were those in the Israelite camp who encouraged others to believe that it was all a pipe-dream, that the conquest of the Promised Land would never come about. The grumbling spread throughout the camp. Grumbling and complaining became a way of life for the Israelites in the wilderness, a sort of default reaction to hardships and adversity that always put them on the wrong side of the will of God. Ingratitude caused pilgrims to literally drag their feet the whole way on their journey, and even the generation made it to Canaan was with only halfhearted enthusiasm, which led to a history of compromise, moral failure and ultimately to exile. Grumbling produces the kind of environment among the people of God that leads to discouragement and drawing back. Grumbling is destructive to the work of God. It will burn, undermine, breakdown, discourage, and destroy the work of God.
How Do we Get Past our Grumbling?
Although I will talk in detail about this topic next Sunday, let me give you a very helpful hint this morning. How do we get past grumbling? Is this possible? Faith is the spirit that carries on in confidence, even when it is hard, or nearly impossible. Faith lifts its eyes and sees God (Ps. 121:1-2). Faith stops identifying with what is wrong, inconvenient, undesirable and uncomfortable, to grasp the promise of God and to go forward with him, until the victory is won and the promise is fulfilled. And if that does not come in this lifetime, it rejoices in the prospect of joining with those in the future who will be alive at that moment of Jesus return, when every promise will come to total fulfillment (Heb. 11:39-40)! 3 So, whatever wilderness you wander right now, there will be manna from Heaven each morning in the form of Jesus Christ—the one who forgives our sins, sends his Spirit, heals our diseases, and promises us eternal life now and forever. Whatever road you have to travel today, when you wake up tomorrow morning, there will be new mercies from Jesus. Friends, let’s trust that God will provide, and that He already has provided in Christ. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, February 10, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris Yousef, Pastor
Isaiah 51:1-6; Ephesians 1:15-23
This morning we continue our study looking at one of the most remarkable prayers in the Bible. It is one of two prayers Paul prayed for the Church in Ephesus and they are found in Ephesians 1:15-23 and Ephesians 3:14-21. The two prayers give us a glimpse of how important prayer was for the apostle Paul and how important it should be for us today. The last couple Sundays we saw Paul praying for “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation” to be given to the Ephesians so that they may think and ponder the mystery of their faith.
One great thing Paul asked the Ephesians to ponder was the truth that in Christ God chose them before the creation of this world. Ephesians 1:4 states, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Yes, you heard it right. God has chosen YOU before the creation of this world. Before you even existed, God loved you so much. We neither earned nor deserved God’s love. This “choosing” is based on God’s sovereign pleasure and good will.
Often times we tend to think that we are the ones who chose God, but in reality, it is the opposite. God is the one who has chosen us. In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” You belong to God. You don’t belong to anyone or anything else but God. God has chosen us with a purpose in mind ~ I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.
We also talked about another magnificent truth, another important component of our faith and that is “God’s calling.” God has called us to great things. In 1 Corinthians 1:9 we read, “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26, Paul invites the Corinthians to consider their calling. “Consider your calling, brothers and sisters.” Believe me, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that the God of this universe has chosen YOU and has called YOU to be in fellowship with Him.
As Paul continues his prayer for the Ephesians in today’s passage, he adds that he is praying for the Lord to give them knowledge of the “HOPE” to which He has called us. Ephesians 1:17-18, “ I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” Paul prays for God’s people to know the hope to which God called you.
What is Hope?
2 But what is that “hope to which God called us”? “Hope” is a much-misunderstood word. For some, hope denotes a lack of certainty, or a lack of assurance. Often, hope is mistaken for wishful thinking. But hope, in the Biblical and theological sense of the word, is not any of these things. The more I read the Bible, the more I see that hope is not a passion for the possible, but it is a passion for the impossible. Two important features or characteristics of Biblical hope:
First: Hope is Built on Trust in God
Hope isn’t built on what we have seen. We do not believe in heaven because God has given us a walk through heaven to see what it will be like when we get there. If we already saw what we are hoping for it wouldn’t be hope any longer. Hope is built on trust in God that all that He promised He will fulfill. It depends entirely on our ability to trust God and His ability. Hope is not built on our circumstances, rather, on the “One who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did” Romans 4:17.
Abraham wasn’t just a great example of faith in the Lord, he exemplified what hope does for a person. In Romans 4:18-22 we read, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s faith resulted in hope which kept him faithful to the Lord. It is the same hope that will keep us trusting God all along.
Second: Hope is an Anchor of the Soul
The writer of Hebrews says that hope serves as an anchor of the soul. In Hebrews 6:19 we read, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” For Paul, hope is what keeps him fighting the good fight. Hope is what keeps him praying and praising even while in prison. Hope is what gives Paul the boldness to declare that the gathering of a few believers of Jews and Gentiles in the port city of Ephesus is no mere sociological fact but a new humanity in Christ.
As ridiculous as it might sound, God called the Christian community at Ephesus to be a sign of the age to come ~ a sign of God’s Kingdom on earth. By eating together in friendship, they actively participated in the unfolding of God’s purpose for creation. By joining together in the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, this small band of disciples witnessed that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. In short, God called the little flock at Ephesus to be a sacrament of Christ’s work of cosmic reconciliation.
The point I am trying to make is an important one: hope will motivate us to keep growing in faith and commitment to God even when things seem to be going wrong. There isn’t anything that destroys us more than the feeling that “Hope is lost.” Friends, there is power in the hope of our calling. There is power in the name above every name; power to enlighten the eyes of our hearts; power to wake those who are asleep; power to wake those who are pretending to be asleep. Let’s claim that power. Hope abides. God is not finished with us yet. “And now these 3 three remain: faith, hope and love” 1 Corinthians 13:13. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street Blackwood, NJ 08012
(Sunday, February 3, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris Yousef, Pastor
Polycarp is a famous name in the history of Christianity. He lived between 69 and 155 A.D. Polycarp was the Bishop of the Church in Smyrna, a city in Asia Minor known today as Izmir in the modern day Turkey. He is said to have known the apostle John and to have been instructed by him in the Christian faith. An account of Polycarp’s arrest, trial, conviction, and martyrdom, was written after his death by some members of his congregation. Although Polycarp wrote some great books defending the Christian faith, his greatest contribution to Christianity may be his martyred death. His martyrdom stands as one of the most amazing stories of true faithfulness and full commitment. The Roman emperors had unleashed bitter attacks against Christians during this period, and many Christians gave their lives for the sake of Christ. Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian. Amidst an angry mob, the Roman ruler took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, “Caesar, not Jesus Christ, is Lord.” If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar's statue, he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake. Historical Background of John Chapter 6 In the gospel of John chapter 6 we see a different picture than this one. John 6 begins with a large crowd following Jesus. As John 6 comes to a close, however, a small group is gathered around the Lord. The crowds turned back for many reasons. Some left because of Jesus’ radical demands as we see in John 6:60, “When many of His disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Some have left because of their unwillingness to follow Christ’s teachings as we see in verse 66. For some, Jesus of Nazareth was not the Messiah of their expectations. He demanded full obedience and full commitment of His followers; halfhearted discipleship is not enough. With Jesus, there is no middle ground; one either is or isn’t. Now, it is Jesus and the Twelve. In John 6:67 Jesus asks this critical question: “Do you also wish to go away?” Can you imagine the silence that ensued? I bet you could have heard a pin bounce on the hard dirt floor. Peter, always speaking first, breaks the silence. In verses 69-70 he says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
As we look together at this passage this morning, please allow me to underscore two important observations: First: Clinging to Christ Friends, as we walk with the Lord there will be times in our lives when we will not understand God’s mighty acts. There will be times when Christ will not meet our expectations. There will be 2 times when we will get so confused. There will be times when we pray but no answer. What do we need to do then? Quit? Leave Jesus? Abandon our faith? Absolutely not! For me, this story is about staying with Jesus; staying with Jesus even when we don’t understand Him; staying with Jesus even when others leave; staying with Jesus even when we are confused; staying with Jesus even when He says creepy things. The twelve remain when others walk away. I hope you and I today would stick with Jesus even when we are perplexed. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Lord, you have liberated, comforted, healed, and transformed our lives and we’re sticking around. Like the disciples who remained when the crowds deserted Jesus, we are still here. Please listen to the words of the Scripture by Asaph in Psalm 73:25-28, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” Like Asaph and the disciples who remained when the crowds deserted Jesus, we are still here and I am praying for us to continue to be near God. Second: Genuine Faith Cannot Walk Away When Jesus asked the disciples if they too are leaving Him, Peter answers for the group. He expresses their total commitment and states the fact that they know Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and is the way to eternal life.
Peter had taken a step that many in his day had not, or could not take. In this passage, Peter introduces to us what a genuine faith is. A real faith in Jesus has two components: believing and knowing or experiencing. Listen again to the words of Peter in John 6: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” These two possessions, believing and experiencing, allowed Peter to make an absolute commitment of his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Genuine faith cannot walk away. There came a time of weakness in Peter’s life when he failed the Lord. He did turn his back on Jesus for a time, but he did not walk away forever! Once we have felt the powerful touch of the Almighty God, once we have walked in the light of His glory, once we have tasted of His goodness and experienced His best, we will never be satisfied with substitutes and imitations! We may wander for a time, but we, like the prodigal son will “finally come to our senses.” We will remember what it was like in the Father’s house and we will come home! When we do, God will receive us with open arms and perfect restoration. Friends, today’s message challenges us to the core – or should do, if we’re hearing it right. We are a culture that has turned its back on Christ and on the Biblical truths. Look at the way we live, the way we think, the way we talk, the way we spend our money, the way our values are set, we will find out that we have created our paradise away from Christ and His will. “Do you also wish to go away?” At some time each one of us will have to wrestle with the question. But would we go, and what are we looking for?” To a different church or religion? To some vague notion about being kind and respectful toward others? These are good things, but do they fill that deep place that longs for God? Do they give hope in things not seen? Do they stand with us when the rest of our life falls away? Do they connect us to what is holy in life? Nowhere else. No one else. My friends, let’s cling to Jesus because genuine faith will never walk away. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street Blackwood, NJ 08012
(Sunday June 12, 2016)
Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor