First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ October 18, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Ecclesiastes 12:1-8; James 4:13-17
As you may remember, since July, we’ve been examining together the book of Ecclesiastes. We have followed King Solomon, who, by the way, calls himself the Preacher, we have followed the Preacher on his journey to find the true meaning of life. As King Solomon started out his quest to find the meaning of life, he only found himself going in circles; going down cul-de-sacs; going in turnabouts, and discovering that all of the things that he pursued without God left him right back where he started, only tired for the energy he had invested in the journey.
As we get to the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, it seems that Solomon ties up all the loose ends. Solomon has taken us through the journey and has helped us understand that life without God is a meaningless experience. As I said, it’s like being in a cul-de-sac, it’s like going around about. It keeps you spinning, but it gets you nowhere. It just leaves you empty and exhausted. Throughout Ecclesiastes, the Preacher offered many metaphors to describe this reality. He said that life without God is like chasing the wind. It’s like vanity. It’s like a puff of smoke. Life without God, Solomon has demonstrated in many ways, is meaningless.
In the 12th chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon reaches his final conclusion. We will get the chance today and next Sunday to look at this chapter. In the first part of his conclusion, in Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, the Preacher reminds us and invites us to seriously consider the truth that we are creatures of time. Time is important. We are born and one day, we die. Our journey here on earth has a beginning and it also has an end. Between these two moments, our birth and our death, our beginning and our end, God has given us a purpose to fulfill, a mission to accomplish, so beware of time.
Solomon kept the best until last and in his conclusion, the Preacher offers us some helpful insights. Let me briefly share a couple of Solomon’s insights as he concludes Ecclesiastes:
First: Remember Your Creator
“Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come,” the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 12:1. Two times in this last chapter, verses 1 & 6, Solomon says, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth.” When we are young, we think we don’t need to be serious about God now. There’s time for that later. We will get serious about God when we’re older. But Solomon says, “Get your stuff with God together when you’re young so you can carry that into your adult years, and you will have this solid foundation that will give you such stability as you face the storms of life.”
Do it as young as you can because before you knew it, the days of trouble will come. “What is your life?” asked the apostle James in chapter 4:17. “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” A mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. I read this week about a little boy who asked his grandmother how old she was and she said, “I’m 39 and holding.” The little boy thought for a moment and said, “Grandma, how old would you be if you let go?” Time flies by, doesn’t it? Therefore, we need to remember our creator as early as we can. The word “remember” means to fully get involved. To make a room for God in your lives. To take God seriously.
Then we get to verses 3 to 7. These verses could be depressing. Take a deep breath, everybody over 40. Solomon is gonna give us a little picture, sort of poetically and metaphorically about getting older. I will not cover the whole list but let me give you a few examples.
He starts out by saying in verse 3: “In the day when the guards of the house tremble,” well, the ghuards of your house are your arms and your hands. As we get older, they start to tremble. “The strong men,” those are your legs, your knees, and your shoulders weaken and you walk bent over. And then it says: “When the grinders cease because they are few.” That means you’re losing your teeth. And then it says: “When the windows grow dim.” That means your eyesight isn’t very good. “The doors on the street are shut.” That means you can’t hear what’s going on outside anymore. Then the Preacher talks about “all the daughters of song are brought low” which means your voice starts to quiver and weaken. Then we become afraid of heights and afraid of falling when you walk down the street. As we age, “the almond tree blossoms” which means your hair turns white. And then it says, “all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets.” That’s a funeral procession. Embrace your aging thankfully, the Preacher would say, and do something for God and His kingdom.
Second: It’s Never Too Late to Start Over
But what should I do if I never had the chance to surrender my life to Christ when I was younger? What should I do if I never considered following Christ? What should I do if I really never made a room for God in my life? “Do it now,” Solomon would say. As long as we breathe, it’s never too late.
A couple months ago, I met with a man about my age whose life is on the edge. He has been going through a tough time and it seemed there is no hope. I listened to him as he opened his heart to me and after about an hour, he asked me, “What should I do now?” “Start over,” I said. The fact is, everyone experiences failure in life. Life is never an unbroken series of victories. We all have setbacks and losses, and sometimes a defeat can seem to overwhelm you.
In Job 17:11, Job said, “My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.” This is a picture of a man who was so overwhelmed, so broken, but by God’s grace he was restored and he accomplished God’s purposes in his life. Some of us may feel like Job today, “My days have passed, and my plans are shattered.” Have you ever felt like that? Then let me remind you. Our God is the God of new beginnings. It’s never too late to start over. God is able to take a minus in your life and turn it into a plus. God specializes in turning crucifixion into resurrection. Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross so that you could have a second chance – a new beginning. So whether you’re in your twenties, fifties, or eighties, remember your creator. That’s still a chance to do that. Let’s love God and honor God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ October 11, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Ecclesiastes 11:1-6; Philippians 2:25-30
Today we continue our journey in the Book of Ecclesiastes and we get to Ecclesiastes chapter 11. As the Preacher, the Qoheleth, King Solomon, nears the end of his journey, his remarks are full of perspective and hope. He becomes more pragmatic and practical, and less philosophical.
In today’s Scripture, the Teacher invites us to be risk takers; something that most of us are not good at. Most people want to play it safe and as a result, we are missing lots of blessings. Someone said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Jimmy Carter said, “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Risk takers change the world. Risk takers impact their communities and pave the road for others.
Some of us might say, “Wait a minute, godly people don’t take risks!” We are to be wise and always consider the cost. That’s true, but I see no contradiction between this and being a risk taker. In fact, the Bible is full of people who took risks and achieved so much for the glory of God and the good of others.
Following God is all about being a risk taker. Without the willingness to take risks … Abraham would not have left his land and his people to the land the Lord will show him; Moses would never have gone back to Egypt to lead the oppressed to the Promised land; Elijah would not have faced the prophets of Baal and call the nation back to worship the God of Israel; Esther would not have appealed to the King for the lives of her people; Daniel would not have prayed three times a day; David would not have stood before Goliath; Rahab would not have helped the Israelites; Peter would not have stepped out of the boat; Barnabus would not have embraced Saul of Tarsus; Paul would not have gone on his missionary journeys. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself was a risk taker.
Taking risks is part of living by faith. In Philippians 2:25-30, the apostle Paul introduces to us a Christian, a regular dude who took great risks for Christ. His name is Epaphroditus. We don’t know much about Epaphroditus, but we do know he took risks for Christ. Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians to Rome to bring finances to Paul and to minister to Paul in any way. In Rome, Epaphroditus became dangerously ill. Paul says in Philippians 2:27, “He almost died” then in verse 30, he says, “He risked his life.” Through his sacrifice, Paul was ministered to and the letter to the Philippians got carried to the believers in Philippi. A good risk is one which is biblical, Spirit-filled, confirmed by the church and for God’s glory.
That’s what we’re looking at in our passage today from Ecclesiastes 11. Solomon would tell us today don’t play it safe; take risks. And he says two things:
First: Take Wise Risks
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days,” says the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 11:1. What does this mean? It obviously doesn’t mean getting soggy pieces of bread back that you’ve thrown into the waves. Some translations put it this way: “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return.” When Ecclesiastes was written, Israel had been transformed from a small agricultural nation to one that was right on the trading route between Egypt in the west and Asia and Europe in the East and North.
In Ecclesiastes 11:1, the Preacher tells us to take a risk, to engage in a trade, to wait for the goods to sell, and the ships to return with fine goods from foreign lands. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. To “find it after many days” is to receive the reward that comes after risking a wise investment. Get out there and do something, the Preacher says.
Verse 2 continues “Divide your means seven ways, or even eight, for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.” Here again we have the element of risk. Solomon says diversify your investments. Be creative. Be open to try and invest in seven or eight ventures. Don’t withdraw from investing, because then you’ll lose out on any potential gain. Invest boldly and wisely. Don’t be idle.
Second: Don’t Wait for Perfect Conditions
Here is what the preacher says in verses 4-6, “Whoever observes the wind will not sow; and whoever regards the clouds will not reap. Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”
Don’t wait for the perfect conditions because if you wait, you will not do anything. The picture here is for a farmer who is waiting for a day with minimal wind to scatter their seeds. That way you could scatter the seeds evenly over the field. But this perfect weather may never come, so at some point, you have to take the risk. Friends, if we wait until we are “less busy” or until we think it is the right moment, we will do nothing. At some point, you just have to scatter the seed trusting the sovereignty of God. We need to see that the results are in his hands. We are not in charge of results. We are in charge of being faithful with what God has given us. The rest is up to God.
This may be one of the easiest passages in Ecclesiastes to explain, but one of the hardest to apply because we are prone to play it safe. Life and ministry are risky. There is a risk in loving. There is a risk in commitment. There is a risk in sharing our faith. There’s a risk in giving financially to support ministries. There’s risk in going to the mission field. There’s risk in almost everything that we do.
Be a good steward. Be proactive. Be wise with your life. Cast your bread upon the water, for you will find it after many days. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle. Do something. Don’t be idle. Invest in what is lasting and eternal. Sow the seeds of love and hope and trust God to cause them to grow. Recognize the providence of God. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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