Rope Dance

Terence

Meditations from the Classics

Rope Dance
Terence: Brothers 4:7 (160 B.C.)
1 Corinthians 3:5-9
rope

There was, in ancient times, a Greek dance that traced its roots back to the Trojan War.  In the dance, one person would lead off drawing a rope after him.  The rest of the company would take hold of it as they danced until like one giant writhing serpent they were all moving with joyous unity.

Terence mentioned this in his play The Brothers.  In one act (4:7), a wedding is anticipated and this dance of the rope was to be a part of the celebration.

Everyone wasn’t happy about this.  One sour character named Demea, the father of the groom, thought there was already too much excess in this joyous occasion and now a rope dance too?  That’s too much, he told them.  He spoke out against it saying:

“Having hold of the rope, you will be dancing with them…Ah me!  Are you not ashamed of this?”  (Terence: Brothers 4:7).


Well, in spite of Demea’s stuffiness, the rope dance is a joyous portrait of teamwork.  It reminds us that laboring together for God can be a cohesive process of joy and love.  Isn’t that what Paul means when he talks about “laborers together with God”? (1 Cor. 3:9).  In a way, all God’s people should be holding the rope and with spiritual ecstasy rope dancing into the future as a team.

So try this:  Next time you get to church, bring a rope with you.  Get your deacon chairman to take one end.  Grab a few choir members and a couple of Sunday school teachers.  Point them to the rope.  Start weaving through the pews.  Urge the members to take hold.  Don’t leave the pastor out.  Ask him to grab the end.  Then just celebrate.  Do the rope dance and feel the power of unity.

David R.Denny  Ph.D.
1  image: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2326079/Danakil-Depression-Incredible-pictures-vast-desert-basin-heart-Ethiopias-ancient-salt-trade.html

Sexual Aberrations

Meditations from the Classics

Apuleius (A.D. 170)
The Golden Ass (Metamorphoses) 10
Romans 1:21-32

225px-Lucius_Apuleius_Platonicus,_from_'Crabbes_Historical_Dictionary',_published_in_1825_(C19)

Depiction of Apuleius

 

Apuleius (A.D. 125-170), the early Latin writer, gives valuable insights into the daily habits of the populace of his day.  In one of his bizarre tales, he described how a rich and respected lady of Corinth desperately pursued a licentious relationship with a donkey.  Overcome by this unnatural urge, she bribed the donkey’s keeper for the privilege of a single night of undisturbed love.  She took great care in preparing the bedroom for her night of revelry:

…Four eunuchs strewed the ground with mattresses of down and air-filled bolsters.  The coverlet was of cloth of gold and broidery of Tyrian dye,and the pillows were small but wide enough for their purpose, and soft like those of which delicate ladies lay their lazy cheeks or necks.  The eunuchs, anxious not to delay the pleasures of their mistress a moment longer, closed the bedroom doors and went away; but there were tall wax candles that banished every shadow from the glowing room….The lady kept repeating these words of love: “You are the one I love…you are the one I desire…without you I cannot live…”
(“Amo” et “Cupio” et “Te solum diligo,” et “Sine te iam vivere nequeo.”

The lady and the donkey.  It was a tryst worthy of modern day Hollywood.  How many “X’s” can we put on this debauched scene?  And yet, Apuleius didn’t think anything about it.  To him, it was just business as usual.

What makes this so difficult to accept is that this story took place in Corinth in the second century, only a few generations after St. Paul had come through this very city with the gospel of purity and light.

Remember, though, that Paul himself encountered sexual aberrations in Corinth of such a nature he blushed to mention it:

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1).

But I think even St. Paul would be caught by surprise over this story:  a lady of substance, of upbringing, of wealth, of high standing–in bed with a donkey.  Man!  It leaves you without words.

Sexual tension and temptation are everywhere in the modern world.  All disciples must be on guard.  Immorality can take you down.  The best policy is to adhere to Paul’s advice:  Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).

1 https://archive.org/stream/goldenassbeingme00apuliala/goldenassbeingme00apuliala_djvu.txt

David R.Denny  Ph.D.

 

 

 

Archery

Meditations from the Classics

Archery
Ephesians 6:16
Homer, Iliad 4:100-125  (762 BC)

Archery played a prominent part in the battles of the Bible.  Archers struck Saul multiple times in his final battle (1 Sam 31:3) and King Josiah likewise was mortally wounded on a battlefield littered with arrows (2 Kings 23).  It was the knowledge of archery that enabled Jonathan to secretly communicate with David during Saul’s reign of terror:

In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David.  He had a small boy with him, and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot” (1 Sam. 20:35-36).

There is a valuable description of the art of archery in Homer’s Iliad.  Pandarus has just been convinced by the goddess Athene to shoot Menelaus:

archery

“…then and there he unsheathed his polished bow.  It was made from the horns of an ibex that he himself had shot in the breast…The horns on its head, measuring sixteen hands across, were worked up by a craftsman in horn, who fitted them together, made all smooth, and put a golden tip on the end.  Pandarus strung the bow, slanting it against the ground, and laid carefully down, while his gallant followers held their shields in front to protect him from attack by the fierce Achaeans…Then he took off the lid of his quiver and picked out an arrow, feathered but as yet unused, and fraught with agony.  He deftly fitted the sharp arrow to the string and offered up a prayer to the Archery King Apollo…And now, gripping the notched end and the ox-gut string, he drew them back together till the string was near his breast and the iron point was by the bow.  When he had bent the great bow to a circle, it gave a twang, the string sang out, and the sharp arrow leapt into the air, eager to wing its way into the enemy ranks.”

Satan possesses a powerful bow as well, one with nefarious intentions.  Can’t you see him groaning under the string of his taut bow before he unleashed another arrow at a faltering saint?

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith, ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked– τὰ  βέλη  τοῦ  πονηροῦ (Eph. 6:16).

So, keep your shields up and trust God for your daily protection.

David R. Denny  PhD.
1 Archery image: https://koryvantesstudies.org/studies-in-english-language/page210-2/

Murder on the Orient Express

Drummondtown Baptist Church
August 14, 2016
Acts 9:1-6
(Begin with reading verses 1-2)–

This morning I am going to lead you into a world of murder and intrigue. The panorama will not be a pretty one. It requires a warning to all in attendance today: The following scenes in this Biblical story contain graphic violence and might be disturbing to some viewers. But then the world of the New Testament was a violent place as nations and powers fought for supremacy (in much the same way they do today).

This morning we will follow the bloody footprints of Saul the murderer φόνου and religious fanatic down an oriental road toward a destination that if fulfilled will culminate in the destruction of many innocent lives. For make no mistake about it, Acts 9 begins with black intentions and the scent of blood lies heavily on these early verses. Saul is stalking his prey like a hunter pursuing big game.

 (Σαοὺλ  Σαούλ,  τί  με  διώκεις; Acts 9:4)–Why are you hunting me, stalking me?)

             *Perhaps one of Agatha Christie’s novels will set the proper mood. First published in 1934, Murder on the Orient Express told the story of a brutal murder of a fugitive criminal on a train departing Constantinople. Detective Poirot boards the train and settles in for a comfortable evening of rest in his sleeping berth. But in the middle of the night, he hears a loud noise. He eventually goes back to sleep but the next day it is discovered that a passenger has been murdered, stabbed 12 times. It is (just like our text today) a bloody scene. There are 12 people on the train and each one is a suspect.Murder on the O Express

Mr. Poirot is urged to take the case and find the murderer. The case proves to be a challenge. None of the facts seem to make sense but in the end, he discovers a startling reality, a reality that we actually see in our text this morning. He discovers that each of the 12 passengers is guilty. Each passenger had in fact stabbed the fugitive one time in the middle of the night venting their rage and hostility upon him for kidnapping and then murdering three-year-old American heiress Daisy Armstrong. These 12 upstanding members of society each had some personal link to the little slain girl and her family and each decided they would stalk the fugitive and take murderous revenge.

Now come back to our text. I see the same cauldron of boiling emotions. For Saul is a man possessed with murderous intentions. (The word in verse 1 in the Greek is best translated SLAUGHTERER–Saul the slaughterer. He hates Christians with a passion and makes a focused commitment to track them down. You, had you lived in Saul’s day, would surely have been his targets. Drummondtown would have been on his list. Even now as I stand and preach someone would have to be at the church door on lookout. Which one of you will guard the door? We would have practiced our escape route out the back. We would worship in fear and live in uncertainty. Saul was a hunter and you would be his prey.

Maybe some of you are thinking I’m exaggerating a little about his cruelty. Maybe you feel a slight twinge of sympathy for Saul. Then let’s go back a few verses to Acts 7:58–8:3 and see this same Saul clapping with glee as Stephen is stoned to death. The Jewish fanatics were laying their robes at his feet, partially disrobing so they could lift and throw a barrage of fatal stones upon Stephen. (Acts 8:1)–“And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.”   —-And remember, Saul hears the pious Stephen praying to Jesus and offering forgiveness to his attackers. And yet still, Saul laughs at this death scene.

Many years later when this same Saul had matured he looked back on this episode and recounted the gruesome murder of Stephen in macabre detail. Listen to his words in

Acts 26:9-11. READ TEXT

            And so now we see the vicious portrait of this criminal named Saul. Should he have lived in our day he would be on death row right now awaiting the gas chamber. But in his day, in the culture of the Sanhedrin, he was a hero and was unleashed on the heretics.

And so our text begins with a brutal close-up of a man on a mission. He is breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1). The word for breathing out is a word used often by the Classical Greek writers of violent anger. It’s a word that you can hear. It is heavy breathing. Hot breathing. Vitriolic breathing that flushes the face and fills the eyes with visible rage.   Saul was “breathing heavily.”

*I’m not much of a wrestling fan but the other day I was changing channels and I paused on the wrestling channel. I was going to flip on but I got caught up in the drama of two wrestlers. One guy’s name was Big Show. 7 feet tall, 455 pounds (two of me!), with a size 22 shoes and a 64-inch chest. –I should have kept flipping the channel and continued looking for my nature show on delicate Monarch butterlies.

But…There he was looming high over the wrestling canvas–BIG SHOW. He was vowing revenge on another guy for saying something ugly about his mother. And so in the hype before the big match the camera zoomed in on his face and he was snarling and breathing heavily, almost gasping as he struggled to hold his anger in for the interview.           This was Saul. Hear Saul breathing. Follow him down the Oriental road he travels to Damascus. He struts with long strides carrying orders from the Sanhedrin to capture saints, men, and women in Damascus. His intentions are black. His goal–drag saints back to Jerusalem for slaughter.

Now let’s take our remote and pause the action here and look closely at this angry man on an angry road. I want to ask all you here at Drummondtown Baptist Church a theological question. It’s a question that anchors our core beliefs. Could God, would God ever love a man like this? Could Jesus ever seek a man like this? (Could you)? Is there anything redeemable in a man like this?

Nowhere in all of Scripture is the mercy and love of God seen more fully than in this story. For before us, charging down the road toward Damascus is a man not so different than you and me. For the Bible is quick to declare this truth; “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  (Could you repeat this verse with me)?

For this story to have the truest meaning you must see yourself as Saul on the oriental expressway to Damascus. You must see yourself as a sinner unworthy of any mercy or grace. You must see yourself as God sees you. Romans 3:10 holds an accurate mirror up before us.

(Romans 3:10-19)—Paul quotes from Psalm 14:1-3 Read this text.

            If you can place yourself on this road with Saul and see yourself as completely void of any righteousness then you will able to experience the wondrous miracle that is about to befall this murderer.

It was about noon Damascus time that Saul suddenly saw a light from heaven flash around him. READ TEXT-ACTS 9:3-4

And in that split second world history changed forever. In that moment salvation hit Saul like David’s stone hit Goliath. It rocked his soul, shook his heart, knocked him off his feet. (It was if you want to learn a new word, a sockdolager–a decisive blow). Do you remember my last word–velleity–a dream you do nothing to achieve)

He never knew what hit him. He went from breathing heavily, hyperventilating with anger toward the saints, to lying bent and broken on a dusty road. And if ever there was a picture of the reality of salvation this would be it. A life rushing at breakneck speed in one direction smacks dead into a loving God who is charging full speed toward the sinner.

            **If you ever happen to be near Geneva Switzerland you might want to check out the Hadron Collider.  It’s the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, the largest single machine in the world. It is 17 miles in circumference and buried nearly 600 feet underground. The goal is to smash particles into one another at super fast speeds and discover the secrets of atoms.

This is what happened on the road to Damascus. Two forces collided and the sparks of salvation burst into the soul of Saul– sinner of the worst degree.

Saul must have been so bewildered. He has just had a conversation with Jesus, the very One he had spent his life hating. Now this very Jesus has knocked him to the ground and questioned him. “Saul, Saul, why are you hunting me down like an animal?” And Saul had no answers. All he knew to do was surrender. And in an instant he went from breathing threats and murder to loving mankind and devoting his life to sharing the love of the Gospel. And so finally my sermon reaches my culminating point with this question:

Have you met Jesus on the road to Damascus? Have you collided with the Love of God?

 *When I was seven year old my dad moved our family to Japan. He was in the Air Force. At first we lived off base in a real Japanese village. We had a Japanese maid. I remember her so well. Asuka was my friend. One day she was sweeping the back porch and I heard a sad song on the radio. “What does the song say?” I asked her. And she paused and thought and then continued to sweep while telling me the meaning of the song. She was so kind.

It was not long after we arrived in Tokyo that we began attending the Tokyo Baptist Church.  I used to sit in the balcony and send paper planes fluttering down toward the worshippers.

But one Sunday I remember when I was about 7 years old I was sitting on the main floor near the middle of the sanctuary. When the service ended Milton DuPriest who was the pastor began urging people to come forward and surrender to Christ. I felt like I could not stand still another second. I moved out from the pew and made the long walk to the alter and there I gave my life to Christ.

Have you surrendered your life to Jesus? Has your life collided with the love of God as Saul’s did? If not do it now.   Life is too short to wait any longer.

 

Answers to Prayer

Meditations from the Classics

Answers to Prayer
Virgil, Aeneid 6:42-76 (29 B.C.)
Luke 11:1-13

Cumae_Cave_of_the_Sibyl_AvL

Entrance to the Cave of the Sibyl (photo by Alexander Van Loon)

The Sibyl, that woman of prediction and prophecy, lived in a huge cave hollowed out from the flank of Cumae’s hill in southern Italy. The Sibyl was a woman with connections. She could see into the future. The voice of the gods spoke through her.

 The cave where her divine utterances could be heard had a hundred wide approaches:
         “a hundred mouths from which there issue a hundred voices, the Sibyl’s answers.”1

Many people would approach the cave hoping to get guidance or answers to their prayers as Aeneas did seeking guidance for his voyage to Italy.  But the doors were closed.  Answers could not be had unless the Sibyl was particularly moved by the gods.  If a seeker happened to be slow, for example, to pay certain vows or offer sacrifices, the doors would stay closed.

Occasionally, however, the spirits would fall upon the Sibyl.  She would turn wild as she struggled with the god. The deity would often shake her and ride her until she fell exhausted to the cave floor.

Or as Virgil phrases it, the god would torment her until he “mastered her wild heart, breaking her in with a firm hand.”

And then, when the god had broken the wild woman, the answer would come.  The hundred immense doors of the place would fly open of their own accord and her inspired responses would shriek forth from the manifold mouths of the sacred cave.


The prayer process is so different for the believer:

We face no cave with a hundred shut doors.
We don’t plead before a wild-eyed Sibyl.
We don’t toss coins or offer sacrifices on bloodied altars.

No, we just come simply and humbly to the one door of our heavenly Father.  We knock with quiet confidence.  And with kind assurances, He opens the door, greets us with love and answers our prayers.

“And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

David R. Denny Ph.D.
1 Translation by C. Day Lewis.  Original Latin text: “quo lati ducunt aditus centum, ostia centum” (www.perseus.tufts.edu).

Apostate

Meditations from the Classics

Apostate
Xenophon, Anabasis (370 B.C.)  Book 1:4
1 John 2:18
Anabasis
The mark of an apostate was flight.  John warned his church against those who would not sustain fellowship with the saints.  Their untimely exodus was proof of their apostasy, he said:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

Those who scorn the communal meal, the Christian kiss, the hand of fellowship, the joy of worship are none other than last day anti-Christs, according to John. They left, said the apostle because they never were one of us.

Xenophon told a similar tale of desertion in his history of the Persian Expedition:

“Cyrus had gathered a large army and was marching to take the Persian throne.  When his troops arrived at Myriandus, a city on the sea near Damascus, he camped for seven days.  During the night two of his captains, Xenias and Pasion, fled.  They got on board a ship, stowed away their most valuable property and sailed off.”

The soldiers wondered what Cyrus would do.  Rumors were spreading. Cyrus called his troops together and told them that he was well aware of the betrayal, but he saw no profit in pursuing them.

“No, let them go, with the knowledge that they have betrayed worse to us than we have to them”

And so in both cases, the camp of Cyrus and John’s church, those with no kindred heart left the family. And so it is today. AWOL captains on midnight schooners to safety are too abundant. John’s advice is succinct and practical. Remain in the fellowship. Be faithful disciples. Apostasy doesn’t pay.

David R. Denny Ph.D.

Effort

Waywords

EffortZachariah 7  (6/5th century B.C.)
Matthew 22:37

daniel-9

James Tissot’s painting “The Flight of the Prisoners” illustrates Judah’s exile from Jerusalem.

The people of Bethel were tired.   For seventy years they had been in prison.  They served their time.  They were model prisoners.  They didn’t complain.  They stayed out of trouble.

 

While in prison (Babylon) they grew very ceremonious.  They thought it best to impress God with a visible religiousness.  Perhaps, then, He would have mercy on them and let them go home.

So they decided the thing to do was to establish a somber fast day on the fifth month to remember the day the Temple burnt to the ground in Jerusalem.  And so they turned joy to sorrow and fasted on the fifth month.

Soon, however, they wondered if it was enough.  To play it safe they decided to create another fast day in the seventh month.  Better to play it safe, right?  And so they fasted on the seventh month as well, remembering the awful carnage, two months after the downfall of Jerusalem when Gedaliah rebelled.

Soon,  however, they wondered if it was enough.  Was God satisfied with just two fasts?  They didn’t know.  Better to be safe.  So they started a tenth month fast which was a sad reminder of the day the siege of Jerusalem began.  (It lasted two long years).  They put on sackcloth and ashes and moaned and cried so God would be impressed.

Soon, however, they wondered if it was enough.  Was God satisfied with just three fasts?  Better to be safe.  So they initiated a fourth-month one.  This was a reminder to them of the terrible day the leaders in Jerusalem fled the city leaving it defenseless before the enemy.  (All these fasts are mentioned in Jeremiah).

Finally, the happy day came.  They were released from prison.  They went home to Bethel.  But they were tired of being religious.  So they sent a delegation to Jerusalem and they asked God if they could quit all those fasts now.

And God told them He didn’t know what they were talking about!  “…was it actually for Me that you fasted?” (Zach 7:5).

Learn a lesson.  God is not impressed by religious activity.  What He wants is all your love (Matthew 2:37), not more–

Effort.

David R. Denny  Ph.D.