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Life is a series of choices
Scripture: James 5:13-20
Track 11 of 12 in the Words to Grow By series
Running time: 39 minutes, 05 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.
Keith Ehresman Speaker: Keith Ehresman
Keith is the Family Minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

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Sermon for Sunday, March 13, 2005
11th sermon in an 11 part series
"Life is a series of choices"
"Words to Grow By"
(James 5:13-20 )
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

Well, life has become very good. I found out that there is an ice cream place with an ATM (lots of laughter) in less than a week! That's all it took. I appreciate Bobby Collins being out on the lookout for me.

Life is full of choices and that's one of the good ones, which kind of ice cream you eat. The best choice, of course, is at Goldenrod out in New Hampshire. They make their own and it is absolutely incredible so I forced my way out there in two weeks or three, something like that. I'll think of you as I'm standing in line choosing from one of those many dozen flavors of absolutely wonderful. . . . . . You're smiling like you've been there?? Yeah she knows. I'm trying to figure out how to get it shipped. I haven't figured that out yet. It's just one of those things.

Yeah it's really true. Life is full of choices. You've gotta decide today, am I gonna eat cinnamon rolls before or after service?? I'm watching to see if any of you decided to eat during. The kids are doing their cinnamon rolls and I walked in the building and thought that's almost as bad as when they bake cookies during a thirty hour famine. I'm up here preaching and smelling at the same time for three services. I'm trying to figure out how to make it last.

I wish all of our choices were that easy, don't you? Because I have a sneaking suspicion that your life and mine are not dissimilar in this sense that life is often just a bit of a "roller-coaster". And there are those wonderful "Up" moments in our life and then there are those times when we find ourselves clear at the very bottom and wondering what in the world is gonna happen next.

And in every one of those situations we're faced with this dilemma of trying to respond to that appropriately. I mean, ideally, that's what we do. Right? We respond, not react? We've thought enough ahead of time about what life is like. We've made some choices about how we're gonna respond to events in life and not just be reactionary people thinking that we simply react to whatever that circumstance brings. James has painted that kind of "roller-coaster" picture for us. He's talking about really good times but he's also talked about times of trials and temptation. He's talked about times when we are under oppression. He's talked about times when we're faced with sin. He's talked about dealing with issues of wealth and he has asked us how we're going to respond.

In this last text in James 5:13-20 we're going to be confronted with these issues. What about times of sickness and suffering? What about times when you're blessed and encouraged? How do you respond to those times? In this text you're going to hear one dominant theme over and over again. The way you respond to life is by praying. That's his word for it - that we pray. I hope you find the picture delightful. Don't be distracted, but it really is what it's about. Eight times in this text he tells us to pray. Listen as I read.

James 5:13-20 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (It's another word for prayer.) Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The issues in the first part of this text are really very clear. There are times in every believers life when there is trouble. The word literally means "hardship" or "adversity". Times when things just don't go well. You know those times? It just seems like everything you do comes out wrong. Every pressure seems absolutely indomitable in your spirit. It just feels heavy. And he says, how do you respond to that? You pray!

Then he rolls it over and he says, there are other times. There are times when everything seems to be good. There are times when you are encouraged. It's the idea that there is this time, literally the word is sometimes translated, "cheerful", when everything just seems to be positive. You turn around and there's a dollar bill laying on the ground. I mean, it's just that kind of day. It's that kind of era in your life when everything is positive. And what does he say to do? Pray! In this term, sing praises. It's actually the word that we use for the Old Testament Book of Psalms. To offer back to God words of gratitude, thanksgiving.

Then he says, what happens when you get sick, ill? Those hard seasons in life. And again he says, pray. Only this time he adds a little help. He says, ask the elders to come and anoint you with oil and pray. But it's still the same solution. You got adversity? Pray! Cheerful? Pray! Sick? Pray! And then he promises you some interesting results. He will heal you. He will raise you up, he says. He will provide for you forgiveness of sin if that's needed. It sounds like such a simple straight forward text. Got trouble? Pray! God will take care of it. And sometimes it actually turns out that way, doesn't it? I mean, just the way you expect it to turn out. It's the kind of thing that happens just like you would anticipate it in a story book. If you could write it, this is how you'd write it.

Some years ago, I don't know how many actually, you'd think I would know this. I have never even bothered to ask. This church decided to start a health ministry. One of the things they did was do blood pressure checks. I started preaching over here after Larry left and one Sunday morning just decided to stop in down there for a blood pressure check because I wanted to be an encouragement to our medical people. Naomi Rabe had the audacity to say. I thought you were a runner? I'm looking at her thinking, well, what does that mean? She said, Your blood pressure is really high. Okay! No, she says, I mean it's really high. You need to do something about this. And I shook my head like any male and said, okay, I will. So I came back on Wednesday night to teach and Mary Ann Weisenborn said, Did you get your blood pressure checked this week? Now, that's kind of how she said it. It reminded me just a little bit of a "mother hen" but I never have told her that. So she drags me off in the library and take my blood pressure. She won't even tell me what it is. She goes and gets another nurse. Brings her in. Takes my blood pressure. She goes and gets one of the doctors who comes in and says, If you were in my office you wouldn't leave this building! I said, Okay, I'll get it taken care of. So I went to my doctor and they took some blood work. And why on earth they would do a PSA count when they're checking for your blood pressure, I don't know, cause there's no connection between the two that I know of. My persistent doctor said, Your PSA count is too high. Not much, but too high. Want it checked. And in June 2000 I had cancer surgery and in three months I'll have my last checkup to get past that magic five years. Sometimes that's how it works. Isn't it? You pray and God honors it and you come out okay. But you know as well as I do that it does not always work that way.

Tony Campolo tells the story of preaching in a church in Oregon. He was asked if he would pray for a man who had cancer. Did not have but days to live. And so he did. He laid his hands on him and he prayed for him. This was on a Sunday and on Wednesday the wife called and said, "My husband is the one who had cancer and you prayed for him." And Tony's response was, "Oh, God healed him" and before he could say anything. She said, "He died. But don't feel bad". "He had become bitter and angry toward God. He would lay in his bed and just simply curse God, day-after-day because he wanted to live. He wanted to see his grandchildren. He wanted to see them grow up." And she said, "You came and prayed and everything changed. We had three days that were the best three days of our lives. We sang and we prayed and we read the Bible and we rejoiced." She said, "God didn't cure him but he healed him".

There is always that struggle within us to try to tell God what is the correct answer to our illness and our opinion is always, "get over it". That is not always what God chooses.

But James would remind us that there is always a healing that is involved even though it may not be physical. That God sometimes chooses not to redeem us from that actual physical sickness but he does, in fact, redeem our lives if we are willing to let that happen. And it forces a question. It's impossible to read this text with any discernment at all and not be forced with the question, is there a connection between sin and sickness? You heard it. Didn't you? Let's look at it again. It's right here in front of you. You can't miss it.

James 5:15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

So is there a connection between sin and sickness? And the answer is, "Yes" Sometimes!

One of the most troubling texts in the New Testament in over in 1Corinthians 11. I have read this text often and wondered what in the world it might mean. I'd like personally to just explain it away if that's okay. Sometimes I would rather not know what the Bible says. This one troubles me.

1Corinthians 11:29 It's in that passage about the Lord's Supper and the struggle that the early church had in trying to live out the Lord's Supper effectively. And it says in 1Corinthians 11:29 Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

That's why many among you are weak and sick and a number of you have fallen asleep which is a euphemism for "died". Apparently in the Corinthian situation there were people who were not taking the Lord's Supper in a discerning manner and it was producing physical illness and death.

Are there times when sickness is a direct result of our sin? Yes, there are. And the appropriate response to that is confession, confession of the sin and God's forgiveness. But please don't hear that every sickness is a response to sin. That is not true. We live in a fallen universe. People get sick. They get sick because of germs. But what does it mean? It means when I am ill, I ought to at least do this. Look in the mirror and ask myself is there sin in my life that needs to be forgiven? There may or may not be a direct connection but that is the issue isn't it? There may or may not be! So we take the time to look and if there is we seek forgiveness.

It strikes me that it would be really odd this morning to read this text and not do what we're talking about. So we're going to for just a little bit. This first part of the text is about people who are struggling with adversity. There are some hard times in your life. Some of you have told me some of your hard times so I know it's true that you have them. It's about praying for people who are ill. Some of you are struggling with some illnesses in your life or in your families lives and we need to pray. Some of you are just in that other part. You're in that cheerful part and you frankly, just need somebody to say a word of thanks because life is good and God has blessed you right at this particular moment. You're on the other side of that "roller coaster". I want to just ask - this is going to make some of you feel really uncomfortable, so it's okay, you don't have to do this if you don't want. But if there is something in your life right at this particular moment for which you would like us to pray, would you raise your hand? Maybe it's just a physical illness, maybe it's a time of adversity. We're not asking you to identify it. You don't have to stand up and say your name. But if you, specifically, this morning would like us to pray, would you raise your hand? Would you kind of take a look around and see the people's whose hands are up. What I'd like you to do is, over the next couple of minutes, just be praying for these people. Now here's the other part that may make you uncomfortable, but you're sitting near one of those people and you want to lean your hand up and just touch them on the shoulder and pray for them, then feel free to do that as well. But let's just take a moment and pray together. Shall we? For the adversity in people's lives, for the sickness that they face.

I know that there are lots of people who suffer and it's often difficult to only separate one or two out but many of you know that our own Dick Smith, one of our elders has been battling cancer now for a couple of years. Dick is in the hospital right now in a great deal of pain and hopefully be coming out of the hospital within the next couple of days, but I promised yesterday that we would pray for him specifically this morning and I just want to call your attention to his name along with those others that you have just recognized and would you be thinking about him as we pray. I'm going to ask you to pray with me audibly, this prayer that will be up here. I will lead us in it. Would you join me as we pray?

Lord, Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you hallowed earthly pain and gave us the example of obedience to your Father's will. Be near us in our time of weakness and pain. Sustain us by your grace that our strength and courage may not fail. Heal us according to your will and help us always to believe that what happens to us here is of little account if you hold us in eternal life. Our Lord and our God, Amen.

James says there is a powerful nature to prayer. He identifies it in Elijah. He says the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:17. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

1Kings 17 tells the story of Elijah simply showing up one day and saying it's not going to rain King Ahab and for three and a half years it didn't. Two chapters later here he finds himself on Mount Carmel in a battle against the prophets of Baal, at which point he prays and seven times sends his servant over to the hillside to see if anything's happening and on that seventh trip there is this little cloud in the sky and at that point he says to King Ahab, you need to go home because it's gonna rain.

The interesting thing about this text and I think probably the encouraging thing about this text is that it says, Elijah was a man just like us. Frankly I'm intimidated by the statement that the prayer of a righteous man avails much or is very effective because I don't necessarily consider myself to be a righteous man. The text says, Elijah is just like us and his prayers mattered.

In fact, it's interesting how this is worded. The NIV says, He prayed earnestly. The word literally is he "prayed praying". It just doubles the word of prayer for emphasis. He "prayed prayed". It's earnest prayer and it avails much.

We wanted you to hear the testimony of how God works in prayer and so I'm gonna ask Keith to come up here and just simply share with us his testimony about how God does this.


The prayer of a righteous man, a righteous woman avails much.

Well, if the issues of hardship and illness are troubling to us, when you come to the end of this text you have to add one of the most troubling issues in all the New Testament and that is the issue of people "wandering" from their faith.

James 5:19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The idea of wandering is the idea of being deceived. It is the same word that's used in the parable of the lost sheep. Suppose one of your sheep has wandered away and gotten lost. It's the image used of one who has been deceived. This term is sometimes used in the Old Testament to describe Israel's backsliding nature. I want you to hear what he says because it is such a significant issue to us.

Should they wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death

Sin is such a serious issue. And quite honestly, I'm not positive that we have done justice in the last several decades in American churches of dealing with the serious nature of sin. That doesn't do away with grace. Grace is such a marvelous blessing that God gives us. That he does not hold our sins over us if we are willing and wanting to be forgiven. But grace is not license to sin. And unfortunately that's often what we have turned it into. So let me briefly just call your attention to a couple of texts of Scripture. Just back up in your Bibles about six or eight pages to Hebrews 6. We will do this quickly because this deserves a great deal of attention and we can't give it the kind of attention it needs so we will cover it fairly quick.

Hebrews 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

The writer of Hebrews has a great concern for those who know Christ and have experienced the presence of his Spirit in their lives who turned back to sin again and deliberately keep sinning. It's a very simple picture. There are no sacrifices left. He only had one Son. He can't do any more than send him. If you do disgrace to that gift, there is no other gift that God has left to give.

Come over a couple Chapter to Hebrews 10:. This Hebrew writer apparently was dealing with a group of Christian people who were struggling with this issue of being faithful to their decision to be believers. And in Hebrews 10:19 after saying that we should have confidence to enter into God's Most Holy Place he comes down a bit further to Hebrews 10:26 and says, If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "the Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Those are texts that sometimes I would just as soon were not in Scripture. But they're there and they remind us that sin is serious.

But they also are in a context of a community of faith who take each other seriously. Just back up in that Hebrews 10, or just keep reading in that 10th Chapter just a bit further. Hebrews 10:19 We have this confidence and we live by a new and living way Hebrews 10:21 we have a great high priest. Hebrews10:22 Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly. Look at Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The community of faith is the community of responsible people who take each other seriously. They never allow someone to wander without noticing and they never allow someone to wander without encouraging them to get back on the path.

In fact back over in Hebrews 3:12 is this encouragement to us. See to it brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

Christians take their responsibility to each other seriously. We choose how we're going to respond to our brothers and sisters who are struggling in their faith. One choice is to be sad and to kind of shake your head in remorse. The other is the Biblical response of saying, in my sadness I will talk to you. I will encourage you. I will, if necessary, confront you.

It is impossible to live in a community of faith and not have people around us who are struggling with their faith, struggling with their faithfulness. Maybe you can think of some people right now in your own life, in your circle of acquaintance, that for one reason or another are not being faithful to the Lord. The question is only, what are you going to do about it?

I'd like you to join me as we pray one additional prayer this morning. It's a prayer of confession about us. But it's also, I'm hoping in this context, a prayer that will remind us we have a responsibility to others. Join me in praying.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. Amen.

What we want to invite you to this morning is really very simple. It's the call of this particular text. You got difficulties? Pray! Have things to rejoice about? Sing praises! Are you ill? Don't be afraid to call the elders and let them anoint you with oil and pray over you. That anointing of oil, by the way, is really just a statement about doing what is medicinal. Oil was the thing that they used. And so, seeking out doctors is appropriate but it's not doctors alone. It is prayer because of the righteous prayers of good people availing a great deal.

We're inviting you to look around and to realize who it is that needs a word of encouragement, a pat on the back, a kick in the seat of the pants and administer that with love and grace. But administer it! Because it is so utterly significant. And we're inviting you to personal renewal. To your own personal renewing of God's presence in your life. That you be faithful to Him.

You can remain seated. Let's sing these songs together.