Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Holy Wholeness - James 5:13-20

James 5:13-20
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

We have this wonderful promise in the New Testament Book of James.

”Are any among you suffering? They should pray … Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick.”

It is a wonderful promise to know that if we are sick, all we have to do is pray to God and the Lord will give us a complete healing.

We have people who are sick with cancer, people who struggle with lung or heart disease, people who have diseases that are rare, and people with illnesses that are common.  James says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick.”

When I was a child one of my sisters became very sick.  She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had an operation.  We lived in a small town at the time and everyone knew us.  So everyone was praying for us, and no one prayed harder than our oldest sister, Shannon. 

And no one had more faith than our sister Shannon.  She was convinced that God was going to heal our sister, Missy.  She clung to the promises of James, who says very plainly, “The prayer of faith will save the sick.”

In August, 1959, my sister Shannon was married and I remember seeing her and her husband leave for their honeymoon, but before leaving, our younger sister was carried into the room to say goodbye.  By this time she was so very, very sick and she could not walk.  She had not been able to be at the wedding service.  When Missy was carried in room, the whole house grew silent, because the whole town knew this 7 year old child was so sick.

But Shannon had such deep faith and she firmly believed that the “prayer of faith will save the sick.”

So Shannon and her new husband kissed Missy goodbye and left for their honeymoon – and while they were gone - Missy died.

“The prayer of faith will save the sick.”  It’s right there in black and white – in the Bible.

So what’s the deal?  Did my sister Shannon not pray with enough faith?  Was there a flaw in her faith?

Forty years later, Shannon became sick with a rare liver disease.  The family gathered in prayer and we were so glad when she was finally going to have a liver transplant.  But the transplant did not work out as we had hoped.  Shannon died in the recovery room.

“The prayer of faith will save the sick.”  It’s right there in black and white – in the Bible.

There was another case that comes to mind.  It was quite some time ago.  A child was born in a well-known political family.  The father, who loved the child deeply, prayed to God for the baby.  He fasted and stayed in the house with the child, lying on the floor day and night.  The elders came to this man and tried to get him off the floor, but he refused to get up or to eat.  He was totally committed to prayer.  After all, as James says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick.”

And after seven days – the baby died. 

That story is straight from the Bible, and the father was King David.

What is it about this promise of healing? 

Why doesn’t it work?

Well, here’s the thing – in the Bible this word for healing is more than a physical healing. 

It is sometimes a physical healing, but it is always a spiritual healing as well. 

This word that James uses that is translated as healing, appears frequently in the New Testament, often in ways that have nothing to do with physical illness.

Very often the word for “healing” is synonymous with “salvation.” 

Paul uses this same word in  1 Corinthians 15:1-2 when he says, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news] that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,  through which also you are being saved…”  “saved” – “healed” – same word.

To be healed in the Bible is to be saved.  It is to be made whole. 

In fact, in John’s Gospel when Jesus encounters a man who has been sick for decades, the question is asked by Jesus, “Do you want to be made WHOLE.”

Isaiah 53:5 is a key verse on healing, but like the verse in James it is often misunderstood and misapplied. Isaiah says this in a prophecy about Christ’s death:  “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

The word translated “healed” can mean either spiritual or physical healing. However, the context of Isaiah 53  makes it clear that it is speaking of spiritual healing.  The verse is talking about sin and righteousness, not sickness and disease. Therefore, being “healed” in the Scriptures can often be a reference to being forgiven and saved, not physically healed.

Mr. Sanders was an elder in a church I served in Brunswick, Georgia.   He asked me and an elder to come to his home one day to have prayer with him, which we did.  He was going to have to have surgery on his knee, but Mr. Sanders was so positive.  He was looking forward to being healed and he had great faith that God was going to answer his prayers and help him to walk with without pain.

When the time came for the surgery, he had to go to a specialist in Atlanta, and I drove him there – it was about a 4 hour drive and I asked him who was going to pick him up.

He just smiled and said that God was going to fix up his knee so well that after the surgery he would just walk home.

Of course, he didn’t walk from Atlanta to Brunswick – someone else gave him a lift.  It was, after all, a four hour drive! 

But the surgery did not go well.  A few months later he was in the hospital again – one morning I went to see him in the hospital and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “They are going to have to cut off my leg.”

After the loss of his leg and confined to a wheel chair, Mr. Sanders kept up his positive attitude.  He had been the volunteer gardener at the church and he couldn’t wait to get back to his roses.  I have a photograph of him, tending those flowers while sitting in his wheel chair.  Big smile on his face. 

That is what wholeness is.  A simple healing would have given him his leg back, but wholeness meant he had his life back.

John Thompson was another elder in a church I served years ago.  When I went to see him in the hospital he told me about the serious surgery he was about to have.  He said, “The doctors tell me that after tomorrow there is a good chance that there won’t be a John Thompson anymore.” 

Then he smiled at me and said, “I told the doctors that I knew where I would be if I died in the surgery.” 

That assurance of salvation is wholeness, which is deeper than any physical healing.

As it happened, John Thompson did die in surgery that day, but his faith was deep and as James teaches, “The prayer of faith will save the sick.”  Save – not as in physical cure, but as in making one whole.

My Uncle Walter was a man of great faith, and he prayed for a healing.  This was a man who had been in the Air Force.  He was involved in the D-Day invasion.  He was at the Battle of the Bulge.  He was a combat veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  He had faced death many times with great courage.

And then at the age of 83 he was diagnosed with cancer. 

And worse – he was overcome with fear.

He prayed desperately.  He latched onto this text from James and often reminded God that the Bible promised that the prayer of faith would heal.  Uncle Walter was like a man in a court of law reminding God of his contractual obligations to heal him.

He ended up in a research program and was taking a pill every day that made him quite sick to his stomach, but it was extending his life.  Each single pill cost $10,000, and I told him I was not sure I could swallow a pill that cost more than my used car.  Walter told me that the medical research program was paying for those pills, but I still think it would have been hard for me to take a $10,000 pill every day. 

I began to worry more deeply about Walter.  Those pills were making him extremely sick and he had given up any quality of life.  Those pills added a mere 5 weeks to his life.

Walter died with no physical cure.  And worse, he died without wholeness.

Had he been open to being made whole, rather than so narrowly focused on being cured, Uncle Walter would have found it possible to live his last days without fear, and to die with the same courage he had on the battlefields. 

Wholeness would have given him a sense of gratitude for all the years of joyful living, rather than a bitterness about his long life coming to an end. 

Wholeness would have given him a gentle acceptance that he was about to experience the promises of eternal life. 

Paul said in the New Testament letter to the Thessalonians, “give thanks in all circumstances…” 

He said this having lived a hard life.  He’d been in prison.  People had tried to kill him.  He had lived in poverty.  He had a physical ailment that he called a pain in his side.  He wrote in Corinthians about how he repeatedly prayed that God would remove that pain.  But according to Paul, God’s message to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul was not physically healed, but he was spiritually healed and had a sense of wholeness.  Even in his pain, Paul wrote, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

No one wants to live in pain.  No one wants to lose the ability to walk or to see or to hear.  No one wants to endure the hardship of lungs that strain for every breath, or to suffer with a heart that beats with pain. 

But wholeness helps us to move beyond the need for physical healing and to see beyond this present pain.  Wholeness gives us a spiritual health in which we can give thanks in all circumstances.

Getting back to my sister, Missy.  I remember many years later being with my father and some others in our extended family.

The conversation turned to my sister’s death.  Someone in the small group asked my father if he had ever been angry at God for not healing this little girl of the brain tumor that took her life. 

My Dad said that just the opposite was true.

He felt very grateful and very thankful. 

-Missy had been adopted into our family and she could have gone to any number of families, but God chose us to be her family.  Dad did not focus on her death, but on her life.  In the short time she had on this earth, God had chosen us with a wonderful opportunity to be the family that gave Missy the joy and love to make her life meaningful. 

Of course, we all wanted Missy to be healed physically, but for all of us in the family to be healed with a spiritual wholeness was far more important.

Wholeness is more than healing. 

In this world we may not be removed from suffering or pain, but wholeness gives us the ability to see beyond what we endure to see the blessing of God’s presence in our lives.

 Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Wise Up! James 3:13-18

James 3:13-18
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for[f] those who make peace.

Several years ago Harold Kushner’s three-year-old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease and the family learned that this child would only live until his early teens.  The Kushner family was faced with one of life’s most difficult questions: Why, God? Why did this happen to us?

Years later, Rabbi Kushner wrote a straightforward, elegant book dealing with the doubts and fears that arise when tragedy strikes. Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People is a classic that offers clear thinking and comfort in times of sorrow.

Of course, humor permeates all of life, and not long ago I saw a meme on Facebook, posing that same question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  The satirical answer?  Because good people do stupid things.

I’m not sure that this is not just a satirical statement.  It has some truth to it.  Bad things happen to us for a variety of reasons – and one reason is people are stupid.

You may have heard of the Darwin Award – every year a news group selects people who have exhibited extreme and verifiable stupidity.

Here are some examples:

1. When his caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.

2. After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from one hospital to another had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The hospital staff fell for this.  The whole staff!  The deception wasn’t discovered for 3 days.

3.   Alfred had trouble with termites at home. He had heard that natural gas was dangerous, and figured it would be a good, low-cost way to fumigate his house. So he shut the doors and windows, turned on the gas, and spent the night in a nearby camper trailer with his wife. The next morning he stepped out of the trailer, took a breath of the crisp, cool air, and walked over to his house.

Alfred probably should have put out the cigarette when he opened the door.

The force of the explosion blew him off the porch and into a nearby creek, knocked out the town's telephones and electricity, and blew the doors off a church. It rattled windows and nerves six miles away.

Alfred was evacuated by helicopter to the burn unit at a nearby hospital.

To make matters worse, his house was uninsured. And, apparently termites live in closed-in spaces and need very little oxygen and can apparently survive in an atmosphere of natural gas.

            The reason these are funny is because they happened to someone ELSE. 

            There seems to be an epidemic of stupid behavior in our society. 
Now that doesn’t sound very nice does it?  My Mom would have hated to have heard me call anyone stupid.  So let’s put it in more polite terms – there is an epidemic of UNWISE behavior!

            That’s the way the Bible puts it.  The Scriptures never say, “don’t be stupid,” but it is always telling us to “seek wisdom.”  And when you get right down to it, these are essentially the same thing.

            I hope none of us have blown up our home in an effort to get rid of our termites, but all of us have done things that were unwise.

            We let that suspicious mole go unattended for far too long, or ignored the lump that turned out to be cancer.  We failed to save money for our kid’s college or our own retirement.  We bought things we could not afford and charged it on credit cards that now overwhelm us.  We failed to study for the test that we know is going to be given tomorrow morning or we slacked off of a project that was due at work.  We did not attend to the needs of our husband or wife and we let our marriage suffer.  We text while driving, engage in unsafe sex, leave the purse on the front seat of an unlocked car because we are going into the store for only a moment…  unwise behavior. 

            James asks the question, “who is wise among you,” and when he does he does not expect many hands to go up with people saying, “me! I’m wise.”  All of us need to stop acting so stupid!  Or – I should say, all of us need to start acting more wisely.

So how do we secure wisdom?

First, James talks about wisdom as coming from above.  All true wisdom is from God.  We might get bits and pieces from self help books, or from inspirational motivational speakers, but primarily wisdom is something we secure from God.

Throughout the Bible, there is a difference between the wisdom that God gives and the wisdom that the world gives. 

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”  (1 Corinthians 3:19)


In fact, Paul went onto say that those who depended on the wisdom of this world were doomed to perish, but emphasized that need to look toward God for wisdom. (1 Corinthians 2:6-10). 


The first step in gaining wisdom is not looking at the wisdom of the world, but rather looking toward God and asking the Lord for wisdom.

            This is what King Solomon did.  Remember him?  Old Testament king who is known as a person of great wisdom.  How did he become wise?  He asked God for wisdom.

At the very beginning of the book of James, in the very first chapter, James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Now, mind you, to say that the first step is in asking God for wisdom is not a statement of the obvious.  Most of us don’t ask God for wisdom.  Where do we look for wisdom?  We look for it in the world around us. 

You want wisdom, then look for it in our nation’s role models, our athletes and movie stars – and there you will find rampant drug abuse and broken marriages.

You want wisdom, then look for it in our music and movies – and there you will find violence and words of hatred.

James says there are two kinds of wisdom.  One is the kind the world gives, and the other is the kind God gives.

James says (3:15-16), “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

The Second Step In Gaining Wisdom Is To Put Ourselves Aside and To Put God First.

One of the characteristics of godly wisdom, according to James, is that it does not insist on having its own way!  As James put it, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield…”  How often have we met someone who insists on having his or her own way? 

The wisdom of the world is “me first.”

The wisdom of God is “God first.”

So many of us make unwise choices because we are living a self-centered, rather than a God-centered life.

A self-centered life is not just one in which we simply put ourselves first, but one in which God is eclipsed by our own stardom.

In a self-centered life we see ourselves as the main character in our story, the great star in our decades-long drama.  We relegate God to a supporting role whose influence is minimal.

We have taught, and been taught, that everyone is special and unique. After all, there is only one me, and this is my life. The reality is that our lives aren't even about us. God is both the author and the central character of our story, for our stories are just a part of his story.

As Christians we do not live or work for ourselves, or for any other person in this world. We live to glorify and to enjoy God.

When we live for God, we find our actions to be guided by true wisdom from above.

The Third Step In Gaining Wisdom Is To Develop Wisdom By Acting Wise.

            Throughout the book of James, there is a sense in which actions help mold the character.  It was James who wrote, (James 2:17), “Faith without actions is dead.”

            James also writes early in his book, (James 1:22-24)  “Do not merely listen to the word of God.  Do what it says.”

For James, the inner character of a person is demonstrated in the outward conduct of the person.  But the reverse is also true.  The outward conduct of a person’s life helps mold the inner character of that person. 

James says in our New Testament lesson, (James 3:13)  “Who is wise among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

To put it another way, wisdom is a skill, and you develop this skill through practice.

We read about those people who win those annual Darwin Awards and we are amazed!  I mean, a man who blows up his house in an effort to get rid of termites?  But we all do things that are unwise.

We feel a lump, and we don’t see a doctor.  We keep buying things we do not need and cannot afford and we are swamped with consumer debt.  We text and drive.  We drink and drive.  So many things we do are unwise.

In the New Testament book of Ephesians, we read, “Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise,” (Ephesians 5:1).  

James teaches us in his book that we find wisdom by asking God for it, by putting God first in our lives, and by putting into practice the wisdom that God provides.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Words of Encouragement - James 3:1-12

Old Testament Lesson                                                                  Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,[a]
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious,
    I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
    he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
    Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?

New Testament Lesson                                                                 James 3:1-12
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters,[a] for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,[b] and is itself set on fire by hell.[c] For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,[d] this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters,[e] yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

In the book The Joy Luck Club, one little girl has the ability “to see the secrets of a chessboard.” Her gift enables her to become a national chess champion when she is eight years old.

But she has a parent who is both envious of her daughter and selfishly determined to use her daughter for her own ambitions for wealth and power.

In one scene the little girl dares to resist her mother’s obsessive pressure for perfection.  In response the mother stands in icy silence and finally tells her daughter, “You are nothing. You are nothing at all.”

This is how the little girl described what happened next: This power I had, this belief in what I’d been given, I could actually feel draining away. I could feel myself becoming ordinary… and the best part of me disappeared.” (Daniel Meyer, “Words and Wisdom: Secrets to the Significant Life” Part 4,

The old adage we learned when we were kids, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is not true.  Words hurt.  Words can destroy our souls.

On the other hand, some words inspire, heal and motivate.
Scott Adams was the creator of the newspaper cartoon series, “Dilbert.”  He tells the story that when he was just starting out in this profession, he would send his portfolio to one cartoon editor after another and received one rejection slip after another.

One cartoon editor called Adams and suggested that he enroll in art classes.

Then Sarah Gillespie, an editor at United Media and considered one of the genuine experts in the field, called to offer Adams a contract. At first, after receiving so many rejections, Adams didn’t believe her. He asked asked if he should change his style or to improve his drawings, and she said he was good enough to become a real success.

She talked about how much confidence she had in his work and abilities. 

Adams later said that this confidence in him had a profound impact on him.  He felt obligated to live up to this other person’s confidence.  He began to improve his style.  His drawing improved with each submission.  Her kind words of confidence had a profound positive  impact on him and his career. (James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner, Encouraging the Heart, Josey-Bass, 1999,

James says that “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison …  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?

        The author of Hebrews said in his New Testament book (Heb 3:13), “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”

        St. Paul said in his first letter to the Thessalonians (5:11), “Encourage one another and build each other up.”

        Yet most of us do not do that.  We speak evil of one another.  We tell lies about one another.  We give discouraging words to one another. 

        Many of us stand at life’s piers and look down at others and tell others, “You’re never going to make it.” 

        “You are a fool.”

        “It can’t be done.”

James was right when he said “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison …  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?  We need to learn to watch what we say.

        The Duke of Wellington,  the British military leader who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo was not an easy person to serve under.  He was a brilliant, demanding soldier but he was not one to shower his subordinates with praise and words of encouragement.  Yet, even the Duke understood that his methods left something to be desired.  Late in his life he was asked if he had his life to live over again, would he do anything differently.  And he admitted that if given the opportunity he would give more praise to others.

        And all of us ought to do just that.  Praise one another and give encouragement.

        Now mind you, I’m not suggesting that the Scriptures teach that we should give false praise and empty flattery.

        Psalm 12 warns against “flattering lips (that) speak with deception.”

        William Author Ward once said, “Flatter me and I will never believe you.  Criticize me and I may not like you.  Ignore me and I will never forgive you.  But encourage me and I will never forget you.”

        Dr. John Trent, President of Today’s Family, said in a magazine article that sometimes giving encouragement means giving praise in the work of another person.  Words and phrases like, “great job,” or “I’m proud of you,” or “Beautiful work,” or “well done.”

        But on the other hand, there are times when encouragement makes no pretense that the other person has done a good job because maybe the other person has not done a good job at all.

        Maybe they have done a lousy job, but we still should watch what we say, for they still need a word of encouragement from us.

        You need to lift someone up in such a way that says to him or her, “You’re worth something.  You have value to others.”

      When James says "out of the same mouth comes praise or cursing," I am reminded of my own father.  My mother once told me that the best thing about my becoming an ordained pastor is that my Dad no longer used profanity - as much!  

      Dad had a prolific vocabulary - he had cussing down to a fine art.  But he also knew how to praise.  One day our family went into a restaurant and as we were being escorted to our booth we passed another booth with another family.  
     Now Dad was a textile executive and that time he was a General Manager of a mill that had over 4,000 employees.  Part of his job included giving awards to individuals and departments every month.  There was the most productive, the most improved, the least defects, whatever.  

     As Dad passed this table he stopped and praised the father of the family for his role in helping the Weave Room accomplish some great something or other.  

    As Dad spoke, this man beamed.  His wife beamed with pride.  His little boy was busting with pride.

    When we sat down I asked my Dad who the man was, and Dad said, "I can't remember his name, but he's one of the worst employees we have.  His department is good, but he's worthless."

     Now here's the thing - a year or so later I am reading the town newspaper.  Now it was a small town and the newspaper was only a weekly publication.  It was the largest weekly newspaper in Greenwood County, but it was also the ONLY weekly newspaper in Greenwood County.  Every month there would be a full page of photos of my Dad presenting awards to departments or individuals in the mill.  And there was my Dad giving an award to this man whom he had earlier described as his worst employee.  

    In a mill of 4000 workers, this man was now being given an employee of the month award.  In the caption, this man mentioned my Dad's words of praise to him as being the reason why he had begun to work so hard and efficiently.

    Words of praise and encouragement can be an investment that pays great dividends.  

James was right when he “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

We need to watch what we say.  What do we do with our words?  Do we hurt, or do we heal?  Do we discourage, or do we encourage?

Years ago Hollywood put out a movie entitled “Stand And Deliver” It was the story of Jamie Escalante who was an incredibly successful teacher in a rough high school. In his class were two students named Johnny. One was a bright student and a joy to teach, but the other wasted his talents, bucked authority, and refused to learn anything.

Well, at the first PTA meeting for parents, Johnny's mother asked Escalante for a report on her son's progress. The teacher said, “Why, Johnny is a joy to have in my class. I am so glad he is one of my students.

Well, the next day rebellious rambunctious Johnny walked into the classroom with a big smile on his face and a totally different attitude.

He ran up to Mr. Escalante and said, “My mother told me what you said about me last night, and I just want you to know I’ve never had a teacher who wanted me before or even liked me, and I'm going to work harder than I’ve ever done to be a good student.

Indeed he became a model student.

Well, what Johnny did not know was that Mr. Escalante thought that Johnny's mother was the mother of the other Johnny who was his best student. His comments were meant not for that Johnny but the other, but the results were unbelievable. One encouraging word spoken at the right moment, at the right time, for the right person, transformed a young man's life. That is exactly what encouragement does.

 James was right when he said, “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  But, James also said, “Out of the same mouth comes praise.”
We need to watch what we say.  For we can hurt or heal.  We can encourage or discourage.

This week, look at your classmates in school.  Look at your coworkers.  Look at your friends.  Look at your family.
There are people around you who need your word of encouragement. 

Give it to them!

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Mark of Generosity Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9; James 2:14-17

Old Testament Lesson                                                       Proverbs 22:1-2, 8, 9

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
    the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
    for they share their bread with the poor.

New Testament Lesson                                                                James 2:14-17
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[a] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

        You can tell that it is time for the presidential campaigns.  There are polls in every issue of every paper, every day.

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

        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.

        A good definition of the character of generosity is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In that 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. 

On the front of our bulletin each week there is a list of the 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, we put actions behind our words.
        James is a book that has little patience with a faith that does not put actions into our words.  Our New Testament lesson says, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
        One of the key complaints non-Christians have about Christians is that we are so hypocritical.  We say one thing, we do something else. 
        We talk about love, but we don’t show it.
        Christians quote the Bible when it says, “Judge not,” but nonChristians see us as very judgmental. 
        We talk about helping the poor, but we don’t. 
        It is not enough to talk about being generous.  We have to BE generous.  And if it takes 20 seconds for us to remember when we were generous, we probably aren’t being nearly as generous as Christ would to have us to be.
        What’s wrong with us?
        Why can’t put these words into action?

        I think that one reason is that when we look at our money we don’t do what the money says.  Two years after I was born, the words, “In God we trust” became the official motto of America.  That phrase appeared on some American money starting in 1864, but since 1957 it has appeared on all paper currency printed by the US Mint. 
        But do we abide by that motto, “In God we trust,” or do we trust the money those words are printed upon?

generous people don’t put their trust in money. 

        St. Paul says in the New Testament letter of First Timoty, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.”

        And yet – this is where we put our trust.

        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. 

        Remember what St. Paul told Timothy: “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.

        James would probably tell us that we learn by doing.  The word for this is PRACTICE.

        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. 

I remember when I first started playing, I went out with some friends and 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 we practiced every day and we became more skillful at it.  Then we stopped practicing, and now it has been so many years since I’ve played I know I would do very poorly on the golf course. 

        Generosity is the same thing.

        It isn’t something that comes naturally.  It is something that you have to work at and develop.  James said it – faith that you do not put into practice is dead. 

        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.”

        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 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.