Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Mark of Discipleship - Generosity


Psalm 112:1-10
Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands.  His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.  Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.  Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.  Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.  Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.  He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.  His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.  He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever;  is horn will be lifted high in honor.  The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

1 Timothy 6:6-21
But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.         In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time-- God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.       Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.  Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you.

          I thought I’d start this morning’s sermon with a poll.  A survey.

          Just a simple show of hands will do.

          How many of you here today would like to be remembered as a skin flint who was selfish and greedy -- raise your hands.

          OK, how many would like to be remembered as generous?

          Most people would rather be remembered as a generous person than a selfish person.

          One of St. Paul’s New Testament letters is a short note named Philippians.  This is a great letter and it’s very personal.  Paul is in prison, and the Philippians have sent him a gift.  This letter is essentially a thank-you note. 

          In the letter, Paul tells his readers, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

          The story is told of a mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.”

          Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you should be like Jesus!  Give me that first pancake!”

          Well, we should all be like Jesus.  We should all learn to become more generous. 

Our elders have identified seven marks of discipleship that all of our church members should embrace and demonstrate in our lives.  One of these is giving our time, talent and money.  Put another way, we should all be generous. 

We need to be generous to one another.  Neighbors need to be generous to people in their community.  Family members need to be generous to relatives.  Strangers need to be generous to one another.

          In a recent telephone survey, a question was asked “Do you consider yourself to be a generous person?”  An overwhelming number -- over 90% -- said yes.  This was followed up by a second question.  “Describe the last time you did something that was generous.”

          Now surveyors did not consider the details of the answer important.  Instead, they had a stop watch in hand and they were timing the respondents to see how long it took them to begin to remember their last generous act.

          The average time?  Twenty seconds.

          Twenty seconds.

          A long time.  They would have a few seconds of silence.  Then they would hem and haw for a moment with slowly saying, “Welllllll, let me seeeee.”

          If it takes us that long to remember the last time we were generous, then we can’t be a TRULY generous people.

          We want to be generous.

          God’s Word tells us to be generous.

          How, then, can we become generous?


          First, generous people don’t put their trust in money. 

          St. Paul tells us in our New Testament lesson, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.”

          On all American money there is a motto, “In God We Trust.”  Unfortunately, we don’t trust the words of the motto; we trust the money it is printed on.

          You’ve probably have seen the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? “ 

          I don’t need another show of hands.  I know if asked, most if not all of us would raise our hands and say “yes”  I want to be a millionaire.

          Why?  We dream of winning the lottery.  We dream of striking it rich.  Why?

          Because we think that money will solve all of our problems.  Money gives us happiness.  Money gives us security.

          The car breaks down -- if we had enough money, we’d just buy a new one.

          The kids aren’t happy -- if we had enough money, we’d just take them to Disney World for a month.

          The house is a mess -- if we had enough money, we’d just hire a maid.

          Money makes us secure -- or at least, that is the common way of thinking.

          From time to time I get a letter from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.  The letter always says the same thing, “Congratulations Maynard Pittendreigh,” and of course they almost always spell my name incorrectly.   “You may already have won a million dollars.”  Most of the time, these letters are thrown into the trash without even being opened, but once in a while I’ll take a look at it.  Somewhere in the letter there is the phrase, “Imagine having security for the rest of your life.”

          But money doesn’t add up to security.

          Ecclesiastes chapter 5 verse 10 says this: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”

          Trusting money is trusting in something that doesn’t have the power to make us secure and happy.

          Not long ago I read an article in the newspaper about a hospital in a Midwestern city where officials discovered that the firefighting equipment had never been connected.  For 35 years it had been relied upon for the safety of the patients in case of emergency.  But it had never been attached to the city's water main.  The pipe that led from the building extended 4 feet underground -- and there it stopped!  The medical staff and the patients had felt complete confidence in the system. They thought that if a blaze broke out, they could depend on a nearby hose to extinguish it. But theirs was a false security.  Although the costly equipment with its polished valves and well-placed outlets was adequate for the building, it lacked the most important thing -- a source of water!

          And that is the way it is with many of us.  We trust in something that looks like it can do the job, but it is absolutely useless.  Money has no power to give us happiness and security, and yet, we trust in it all too easily.

          And this trusting in money keeps us from becoming a generous people.  We cling to money thinking it will give us the things we need in life.

          If we are to become a generous people, we have to learn to stop trusting in money as our source of happiness and security so we can be able to let go of it and give it away.

          Instead of money, we have to trust something, or someone, else.


          Generous people don’t trust money, but they trust God. 

          St. Paul tells us in our New Testament Lesson, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.“

          If you trust in money for happiness and security, of course you aren’t going to become generous.  You can’t let go of those things that you think will fulfill your life.  But if you trust God to provide for you, then you can begin to become generous and be able to share with others.

          Now strangely, it is easy to put our trust in money.  It is not easy for us to put our trust in God.

          A man falls off a cliff.

          As he is falling he miraculously grabs onto a twig -- a small tree growing out of the side of the canyon wall.

          For just a brief moment he thinks he is safe, but then he notices the plant is being pulled out of the ground because of his weight.

          Knowing he has just moments to live, he yells up to heaven.  “God almighty.  If you’re up there, save me.”

          Much to the man’s surprise, he hears a voice.

          “This is the Lord God.  Let go of the tree.  I’ll catch you.”

          The man looks down -- it is a long, long way down.

          Then he looks up and yells out, “Thanks a lot God, but is there anyone ELSE up there who can help?”

          It is hard to trust in God.


          St. Paul gives Timothy some guidance in our New Testament Lesson on how to develop generosity.  First, we need to stop trusting in money.  Second, we need to put our trust in God.  One third thing -- practice makes perfect.

          Generous people become generous, by developing the skill of generosity.

          St. Paul tells us in our New Testament lesson, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

          It is not in our nature to be generous.  Generosity is a skill.  It has to be developed.  And most of us have not developed this skill.

          Singing is a skill.  Typing is a skill.  Driving.  Speaking in public.  Teaching.  All of these are skills.  We all have skills.  If you stop and think about something that you are good at, you are good at it because you take the time and energy to develop that skill.

          Golf is a skill.  I used to play golf when I was in high school and college, but I haven’t played much in the past several years. 

Not long ago, my son decided he wanted to take up golf and asked me if I would go out and play with him.
The only thing that kept me from being absolutely humiliated was that I was playing with my son who had never played golf.
None of us did well.  We would take a swing, look down, and see the ball was still on the tee.  We’d land in a sand trap, hit the ball, go over the green and land in another sand trap.  But we were well matched for each other, because all of us were so equally bad, equally unskilled. 

          But if we were to practice everyday, then we would certainly improve our game. 

          Generosity is the same thing.

          It isn’t something that comes naturally.  It is something that you have to work at and develop.

          The Bible constantly offers us the challenge to be generous and giving --

          Giving to the church,

          Giving to our neighbors,

          Giving to strangers.

          Giving our time, our talents, and our money.

          Generosity should become the way of life for the Christian.

          In Hebrews 13:16, the Bible says, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

          In St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Chapter 6 verses 9-10, we read, “Let us not become tired of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

          Practice your generosity.

          Be generous to your church, to your neighbors, to strangers.

          OK, it’s test time.  No need to get out your number 2 pencils or sheets of paper.   I’m going to time you.  I’ve got my stopwatch in hand.  I’m going to give you 20 seconds.

          Can you remember the last time you showed someone generosity?

          “20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”

          Did you come up with anything?

          Are we generous enough?

Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2013
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Mark of Discipleship - Worship Weekly

Isaiah 6:1-8

1          In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.
2          Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
3          And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
4          At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5          "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
6          Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
7          With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
8          Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

            In a television program I watch, there is an episode in which the minister stood up before the congregation.  It was a vast sanctuary -- but it was almost empty.  The minister looked out upon all of the empty seats and surveyed the 4 lonely people in the congregation -- one young man, and three elderly women.
            The minister begins to speak.
            "I give thanks to God that there are at least a handful of us who have made the effort to come to worship, who have come to feed on the Word of God, and who don't believe that God is less important than the football game on television."
            Suddenly, the young man in the back pew jumps up.  "Oh no, I forgot about the football game."  And with that he runs out of the sanctuary.
            I am in a middle of a series of sermons that I am calling The Seven Marks of Discipleship.  We don’t want to bring people to Christ and leave it at that, we want to bring people to Christ and help them to become life long followers – disciples of our Lord. 
            In thinking about discipleship, I came up with these Seven Marks. 
            The seven marks are in no particular order – but they are listed on the front of the bulletin each week. One of these marks is to worship weekly.
            In this country, 43% attend church worship at least once each week. 
            A lot of people rarely go to church, including Christians.  And it is not uncommon to hear people say, “I can worship God on the beach or in my own home.”
            Well – that may be true – but only to a degree.  You can worship God at home, or on the beach.  But that is not enough.  You need to be with other people for a depth of worship. 
            Why come to church to worship?
            There are all sorts of reasons to worship weekly.  I skimmed through some books and articles and did a bit of Googling about this.  It turns out that there are all sorts of reasons – some of them are not straight out of the Bible or spiritual in nature.  They are just plain, old, good reasons.
            For example.  Regular church attendance is good for your sex life.  I’m not sure how this works.  After all, I don’t often give you any advice about sex during my sermons.  But, study after study indicates that there is a strong correlation between worship attendance and sexual satisfaction.[i] 
            This matter of sexual satisfaction may be related to another result in recent studies.  People who attend worship tend to be happier and more satisfied about everything.  Not just sex, but life in general.[ii]
Another reason to attend worship – stronger marraiges.  The divorce rate in this country is 40%.  Some studies say 50%.  That’s for those in first marriages.  For those in second marriages, it is 67%.  For those in third marriages it is 74%.  For those who attend worship weekly, it is 18%. [iii]

            Other studies show that people who attend worship are more likely to have less stress.[iv] 
They are better at coping with disasters.[v] 

            And have more satisfying life in their old age.[vi]

            With all due respect to the singer, Billy Joel, it is NOT true that only the good die you.  Attend worship weekly and you will live an average of 8 more years.[vii] 

            There are medical studies that show that worship improves your blood pressure.[viii]

            Some studies indicate that if you and your family come to church weekly, then your teeanger will be better behaved.  Man!  I read something like that and I just have to wonder.  I think back on what my Mom and Dad went through and I can only wonder  - “how bad would it have been if we had NOT attended church?” [ix]

            Worship has all sorts of unexpected benefits.  It has a direct and very powerful benefit on our lives.  As long as we do it regularly and frequently.
            Have you ever met people who exercise regularly – every three or four months, like clock work, they go to the gym or health club.  But what good is that?  You have to go frequently.
            You can save for retirement with every paycheck, or you can put a little away every couple of years – who gets the best benefit?  The person who saves frequently.
            Worship should be done weekly.
            One of the marks of a true disciple is that we should worship weekly.  And it is not just in those secular studies that show the benefits to improving blood pressure, adding 8 years of life, or giving a more satisfying sex life.
            It is in obedience to God, who said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8).
One reason to come to worship in this Sanctuary, is so we can deal with life outside of the Sanctuary.
Many people think that worship is an escape from reality.  But worship is not escape.  It is a strategy to deal with the realities of life.
True worship is something that happens in the midst of life.
In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah begins this passage with an interesting statement.  “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” 
It’s like saying, “In the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I worshipped God. 
In the year that Kennedy was assassinated, I worshipped God. 
In the year of the school shooting, I worshipped God. 
In the year of 9-11, I worshipped God. 
In the year that I was married,
in the year that my son was born,
in the year my friend died,
in the middle of life,
in the midst of experiences good and bad, I was worshipping the Lord.

Worship in the Sanctuary can never be oblivious to what is happening out there.
Why do we worship God?  It is not to escape life out there, it is to deal with life out there.
If you want your worship inside the Sanctuary to be true worship, then you bring in with you all of the baggage of what is happening out in the world. 
In the Old Testament Psalms, one writer said (Ps 86:6-7), “Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy.  In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.” 
It is a natural part of worship to bring with you the concerns of your life.  We gather here and we bring in the fears of life, the worries of our family, the concerns of the world and we lift them up in prayer, and we seek God’s comfort and guidance. 
Why do we worship God?  Because our lives are so full of concerns and issues that we have to have someplace to take them. 

Another reason we worship God is because God is worthy of worship.

In Isaiah, the prophet goes to the Temple, and he says “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”  It is the presence of God that fills the worship.

True worship always focuses on God and on his holiness.
We’ve lost something of that in our worship services.  There was a time when people were so aware of this aspect of worship that the very churches themselves were being constructed in ways that emphasized the awesomeness of God.  It is difficult to walk into one of the cathedrals of Europe built centuries ago without feeling awe and wonder.  The quiet, the slight aroma of incense or candles, the artistry of stained glass windows and classical music moves one to acknowledge awe and wonder.
In recent years, theology and worship have emphasized the personal nature of God, the love God, and joy of God to such a degree that for some reason we’ve forgotten that our God is also an awesome God.  We have almost reformed God into a “little buddy” or someone to pal around with.  We have forgotten that God is such an awesome and holy God that to be in His presence is to be filled with wonder.
It is not that one concept of God is true and the other isn’t.  God is awesome, and holy, and wonderful – and He is also love, and joy and a personal relationship. 
And since God is indeed all of these things, we worship God because he is worthy of worship.  He deserves our worship.

Another reason we come to worship is so that our lives will be different.  Worship makes a difference in our lives.  As the studies show, it improves our blood pressure, marriages, stress levels, and yes, apparently even improves our sexuality.
But more than that, it makes us better people.
Worship at its best, always motivates the worshipper to roll up the sleeves and to get to work for the good of the community and for our neighbors. 
In our Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah is in the Temple worshipping God.  He hears the call to worship, with angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
He is moved to confess his sins, which is followed by the assurance of his pardon.
He hears the word of God proclaimed, hearing the voice of God saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And what follows then is the service.  The work.  The rolling up of sleeves and the reaching out to others.  In the Scripture lesson, the Prophet said, "Here am I. Send me!"
True worship will always result in service.  We cannot enter the sanctuary to worship, without departing into the world to serve.
So, why are we here?  Why did we come to worship today?  We came in here, in part, to be challenged to do something out there.

Copyright 2012, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.

[i]   Michael, R.Y., J.H. Gagnon, E.O. Laumann, and G. Kolata. Chapter 6 in Sex in America: A DefinitiveSurvey. Boston: Little Brown. 1995.Travis, C., and S. Sadd. The Redbook Report on Female Sexuality. New York: Delacorte Press. 1977

[ii] (Cutler, S.J., "Member in Different Types of Voluntary Associations and Psychological Well-Being," TheGerontologist 16 (1976): 355-339.

[iii] Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri..Shrum, W., "Religion and Marital Instability: Change in the 1970's?" Review of Religious Research 21(1980): 135-147.

[iv] Williams, R.W., D.B. Larson, R.E. Bucker, R.C. Hackman, and C.M. Pale, "Religion and Psychological Distress in a Community Sample," Social Science Medicine 32 (1991): 1257-1262.

[v] Seeman, T.E., and B.S. McEwen, "Impact of Social Environment Characteristics on NeuroendocrineRegulation," Psychosomatic Medicine 58 (1996): 459-471.

[vi] Steinitz, L.Y., "Religiosity, Well-Being, and Weltanschauung Among the Elderly," Journal for the ScientificStudy of Religion 19 (1980): 60-67.

[vii] Seeman, T.E.,G.A. Kaplan, L. Knudsen, R. Cohen, and J. Guralnik, "Social Network Ties and MortalityAmong the Elderly in the Alameda County Study," American Journal of Epidemiology 126 (1987): 714-723.Schoenbach, V.J., B.H. Kaplan, L. Fredman, and D.G. Kleinbaum, "Social Ties and Mortality in EvansCounty, Georgia," American Journal of Epidemiology 123 (1986): 577-591.

[viii] Larson D.W., H.G. Koenig, B.H. Kaplan, R.S. Greenberg, E. Loge, and H.A. Tyroler, "The Impact of Religionon Men's Blood Pressure," Journal of Religion and Health 28 (4), (1989): 265-278.)  Others that indicate worship improves your chances of surviving cardiac surgery.  T.E., D.H. Freeman, and E.D. Manheimer, "Lack of Social Participation or Religious Strength andComfort as Risk Factors for Death After Cardiac Surgery in the Elderly," Psychosomatic Medicine 57(1995): 5-15. 

[ix] Wallace, J.M., and T.A. Forman, "Religion's Role in Promoting Health and Reducing the Risk AmongAmerican Youth," Health Education and Behavior 25 (1998): 721-741.