Winning the White Stone

Revelation 2:12-17  (Series on the Seven Churches)
Dr. David R. Denny

The Theatre of Pergamon ( Bergama ) is one of the steepest theatres in the world. Capable of holding a 10,000 people audience it was constructed in the 3rd century BC and underwent changes in the Roman period of Emperor Caracalla ( 2111-217 AD). Pergamon

10,000 seat theater in ancient Pergamos.http://funkystock.photoshelter.com/image/I000046cZl5KnLfU

As we continue to travel the circuit of the 7 ancient churches of Revelation, we remember where we have been so far. We began at Ephesus one of the jewels of the ancient world, a city known for beauty and prestige. The church, under the influence of the John the Apostle who made his home there, began with a small congregation of 12 and grew to a stable and honorable Christian group. Their only fault was they had lost their first love. The initial zeal and enthusiasm for the Lord were cooling a little.

Then we moved northward about 35 miles and came into Smyrna built high on a mountain line looking over the Aegean Sea. Here the believers witnessed the horrible but courageous death of Polycarp who at the age of 86 died with bravery and conviction inspiring thousands to live boldly for the Lord. No word of criticism was ever issued to this loyal church.


Now we approach an amazing ancient city, Pergamos, called by Pliny an ancient historian, by far the most illustrious of Asia. It is 15 miles inland from the Aegean Sea and rests on a cone shaped hill that overlooks the Caicus plain. If you were a military commander, this is the place you would want to be. From atop Pergamum, you can see for miles and miles in every direction. This entire city was given to the Romans on the death of the king a century before the Bible times. So the Romans were heavily invested in this city.

Pergamum had a library with over 200,000 books. This was the second largest collection after Alexandria. When Egypt went on strike and refused to send them any more paper for printing, they simply invented parchment and kept on writing and storing books.

Pergamum had the most fabulous assortment of buildings that stretched across the top of this small mountain. I have an artist’s rendition of the acropolis and I stare at the picture in awe as gleaming marble temples and huge altars spill across the ridge. There is a 10,000 seat stone terraced theater that plunges down the mountainside to the theater floor below. It is the steepest theater ever built in the ancient world and probably the modern world too. You can see this theater today if you go to the site. It is still there.

altar-of-zeus

Altar of Zeus from ancient Pergamos–Berlin Museum

 

photo at this site: http://www.uludagsozluk.com/e/30558151/

There is an ancient altar dedicated to Zeus that is mentioned in verse 13. You can travel to the Berlin Museum not far from where I used to live when I was little and see a complete restoration of this monumental pagan altar.   The altar is bigger than this church building and can be seen from travelers approaching the city from miles away. A temple was built up around this altar dedicated to the pagan god when the city defeated the invading Celts. In the text before us, this is called Satan’s throne for it seems to embody the spirit of this city, a place saturated with evil religions that made living the Christian life so dangerous and difficult.


It was tough living for Christ in Pergamum. How could you ever resist the culture of the day?   How could you keep from being absorbed into the pagan rituals, the pagan influence? Every day as you left your home the idols would scream to get your attention, the temples would tempt you to enter and make compromises. Every day as you came and went past the Zeus altar, it would dominate your thoughts challenging your faith and your belief in Jesus.   And yet somehow the faithful to Christ remained steadfast. They did not deny the faith.

Today we live in a modern Pergamum. The culture of America presents endless distractions from a life of purity and simplicity. In some ways, I feel sorry for the youth of today. The kids I see and teach each day are deluged with dangerous influences. Drugs, alcohol, sex, loneliness, anxiety. They live every day in a maelstrom of hurt and worry. The culture is potent and peer pressure is powerful.

*When I was a kid life was simpler. I had a hero that doesn’t even exist today. I remember living on the Yokohama Air Force base in Japan and waiting all week for Saturday so I could get up and walk with my friends to the base movie theater. I clutched my 15 cents for the ticket tightly in my hand.  That was a lot of money. The line to get into the theater seemed a mile long but I didn’t care. I was going in to see Roy Rogers and Trigger. Roy was everything I aspired to be. Rugged, tough, handsome (well, forget that part), beautiful wife, I got that one–. He was always doing the right thing, winning the day, rescuing the downtrodden and he had a great horse. If I mention Roy Rogers to my students they look at me strangely. They don’t even know what I’m talking about.

Well, Pergamum was a tough place to be a Christian. But the saints were holding true to the Savior and the principles of the faith. And the Lord commends them for this.

The spirit of the church in Pergamum, the spirit of steadfastness and faithfulness, is embodied in a little-known believer by the name of Antipas. He is called My witness in verse 13 and My faithful one. Tradition says John appointed Antipas to be bishop of the church and that he was much like Polycarp. The two men probably knew each other.

        Antipas was an aged man when one day he was summoned by the governor of Pergamum and ordered to turn from his new religion of Christianity. When Antipas stood strong for his faith in Christ this angered the governor who gave him one last chance to live. He ordered Antipas to toss in a little incense into the red-hot copper bull-shaped altar of Caesar. When he refused to aid in the worship of demons and pagan deities, he was thrown into the boiling pot himself and like a lobster, he was roasted alive.

And in our text our Lord acknowledges this sacrifice. “. . . even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”


            The criticism of this faithful congregation is simple but direct. Some in the church were beginning to compromise with the world about them. Some were beginning to accept the ways of the Nicolaitans who were followers of a religious man named Nicolas who eventually tossed aside all morality and lived a life of excess and immorality. And some of you, says the Lord, are also mimicking the prophet Balaam who is described in 2 Peter 2:16 as a madman who refused to listen to the voice of God. These two men, Balaam a renegade prophet of the OT and Nicolas were slowly influencing some in the church to yield to the temptations about them.

So put in simple words, the fault of this church was compromise with the world about them. And this is not the goal of the church, not then –not today. We are to live in the world but to be apart from it at the same time. Antipas held true to the tenets of the faith, true to the Holy Spirit within, true to the heritage of the church. He refused to mimic the world about him, to compromise with the seductive influences of the culture in Pergamum.

Now let me take you to a verse that will lock this ideal of Antipas in your mind. Turn to Romans 12:1-2. Let’s read this text. Think Pergamum when you hear these verses: READ VERSES 1-2.———–Don’t be conformed to this world. This word ‘conformed’ is only used twice in the NT. It means don’t mimic the world, don’t take on the same shape, the textures, the ideals of the world about you.

I have this against you, says Christ to the church (then and today). You are beginning to look more and more like Pergamum and less and less like Christ. You haven’t been totally changed yet. I still see Christ in you. You’re holding up pretty good all in all considering you’re living where Satan’s throne is. But I can see subtle changes in you. This is the message to Pergamum and to us today.

Now. What can we do about this pull toward conformity and compromise?   We need an incentive. Something to motivate us to want to be true to the death. Okay says the Lord. Here’s what I will offer. I will give a white stone to anyone who holds faithful to the end.

In the ancient courts of justice, the accused were condemned by black pebbles and acquitted by white pebbles or stones. And so the white stone represents approval and acquittal.   When used in the message to the church it means that for those who stay true to God in a difficult place, God will express His approval of you just as he did of Antipas.

Paul said in 1 Cor 9:27, I buffet my body because I don’t want to be disqualified. I want to be approved. I want to win the white stone.

*There was an interesting Roman custom that used white stones also. When the Roman emperor would summon the city into the coliseum for an event, he would stand and toss white stones with special giveaways written upon the stone. Some would say, Frumentum (free food) or vestes—Free clothes etc. White stones would rain down upon the people, tossed by the hand of the emperor, little giveaways that motivated the people to come to the games.


Be true to me says the Lord to the saints of Pergamum. Be true to me he says to the members of Drummondtown Don’t mimic the world about you. Hold fast to your faith. And if you do, if you live like Antipas, I will give you white stones from heaven. I will brag about you, give you my approval, and toss gifts from my heart to yours.

And so as we leave Pergamum now in the past, let’s gaze up one final time at this ancient citadel of infamy from the Caicus valley below. As we stare at Satan’s throne, that huge altar of Zeus, let us determine to hold fast to our faith. As we see the smoke rising from the copper bull where Antipas is slowly burning to death, singing hymns to God in his final moments of suffering, let’s pledge to ourselves a new commitment to be true to God this year.

 

 

Observation #7

From the Schoolhouse

There was one empty seat.

school-desk.jpg

I went ahead and marked Cheryl absent, but that was puzzling since I had just seen her outside the class door an hour earlier.  It wasn’t until the block was nearly over an hour and a half later that the knock on the door came.  It was an ominous sound, something like Edgar Allan Poe’s raven rapping at his chamber door.  I moved methodically toward the intrusion, and after cracking the portal, the security guard groaned these words:  “She’s been hiding in the girl’s bathroom.”

   Not entirely grasping this verbal shorthand, I queried the guard.

   “Who’s been hiding where?”

   “Cheryl.  She locked herself in the girl’s bathroom with Amanda!”

   I paused for what seemed like an extended lunation and then waited for the other shoe to fall.

   “So write her up,” she said.  “That’ll teach her.”  The guard marched away triumphantly leaving me stuck in a bathroom visual I couldn’t quite shake.

   I talked to the girl later.  She had been soothing a friend whose world had just splintered apart over some boyfriend triviality.  Just hiding in the dark, chatting.  Girl stuff.

   The more I thought about it, the more I realized how simple the middle school mind is.  When a crisis comes along, just head for the nearest escape, even if it is a bathroom stall, and take care of business (regardless of the penalty to come).


From the Pulpit

This Sunday we moved up the Aegean Road 35 miles from Ephesus to Smyrna, home of Homer.  Polycarp was the pastor of this church, a saintly man who died a martyr in the year 155 A.D.

In our text (Revelation 2:8-11) we heard a whisper and promise.  Do you remember?  The whisper was in the phrase “…, but you are rich.”  That countered the reality of poverty and tribulation that plague saints in the metropolis.  And the promise was that those who labored in Smyrna would one day receive the crown of life.

So as you go through your days, listen for the whispers of hope that God gives you each day, and cling to His promises.


From the Pew

She spoke to me from the pew in an unknown syntax, the grammar a little muddled and the words clip-clopping along making music only she understood.  I didn’t let her know I was lost.  Her eyes were pretty, striving to tell me something that her tongue couldn’t decipher.  I didn’t understand.  I tried, but I couldn’t translate her attempt at language.rose.jpg

But I understood the rose.  It was a lavender beauty with tightly spun petals that beckoned above a long stem wrapped in shiny Reynolds.   She extended it arm’s length and smiled.  I understood it perfectly.  Suddenly I saw through the veil and knew she meant it to please me.  She was just a little woman holding a rose gathered from some unknown garden hideaway.  How much time had she consumed planning this surprise?  How long on bended knee had she spent prodding among a thorny bush to find just the right one?

I accepted the gift and thanked her.  Again she spoke in a flurry of letters–all twisted and free floating in the space between us like a little starburst without form.  I didn’t understand.

 But I understood the rose.


Desk photo courtesy: Greenpoint Vintage Furniture

Ten Days in the Brig

Revelation 2:8-11
Series on the 7 ChurchesDr. Denny

 

ruins-of-smyrna-lou-ann-bagnall.jpg

Ruins of ancient Smyrna

 

Today we will travel north from Ephesus to Smyrna–35 miles–distance to Cheriton.Exit the beautiful city of Ephesus that we are studying on Wednesday night and move northward on the Ephesian Road along the Aegean coast and off in the distance, about 35 miles north of Ephesus, you will see one of the gems of the ancient world—the city of Smyrna. It tumbles down off Mt. Pagos, a small mountain rising about 1250 feet above the Aegean Sea. It was a gorgeous place, praised by so many ancient writers. It’s dominant, stately buildings rested atop the mountain and the homes dotted the hillside all the way down to the harbor.

Innocents abroad smyrna.jpg

Mark Twain–Innocents Abroad–chapter 39

 

Mark Twain–The Innocents Abroad–Tells the story of visiting Smyrna as a tourist. He went into a little church on the site and after a small fee was given a candle as a souvenir. He placed it in his hat and as the day unfolded the sun melted it and grease ran down the back of his neck. Twain noted with humor that all that was left was a “sorry-looking” wick.   (see His drawing of the spot).

The Ephesian Road leads into the ancient city through the Ephesian Gate. Here on the top of the mountain, a great fortress was built in the time just after Alexander the Great. The fortress and a great theater and a gymnasium all look down the slopes toward the sea, toward the harbor that made Smyrna such a magnificent city of old.

Smyrna is the home of Homer the famous bard of the classical Greek period. The modern city of Izmir has grown over and around the ancient city. There are but a few ruins there today. A few pillars stare in silence down empty stretches of former thoroughfares, rows of foundation stones that mark a few forgotten streets.

Smyrna is the home of Homer the famous bard of the classical Greek period. The modern city of Izmir has grown over and around the ancient city. There are but a few ruins there today. A few pillars stare in silence down empty stretches of former thoroughfares, rows of foundation stones that mark a few forgotten streets

At the turn of the first century, when John writes the last book of the NT, Smyrna was the home to a persecuted church. Times were tough here. Christians were outcasts from the local Roman society. Poverty ruled the lives of these believers. Poverty in the midst of plenty for Smyrna was a rich city. Its harbor was fed by the Hermus River that took merchants far inland to peddle their wares. But the Christians were having it tough.

John writes about this in verse 9. “I know your tribulation and your poverty. . .” The reputation of suffering had spread throughout the region. John, who lived in Ephesus, knew how tough things were there. And with a gentle touch adds a wonderful parenthetical phrase in his letter to the church when he says “but you are rich.”

            Listen carefully. Do you hear the whisper from the throne of grace? “But you are rich” almost seems like an afterthought but it brings such comfort to the wounded heart. It seems as if John pulls them aside, their dirty and torn robes draping off frail and weary shoulders and puts his arms around them all. And in a whispering voice reminds them that life is not measured by material things. Life isn’t the sum of gold coins in a safe or a mansion on a hill. Life and love are really measured differently in the eyes of God. You have what really matters, whispers the aged apostle to this hurting flock. You have wealth the world cannot see. You have the love of God in your hearts. You have love for one another. You have a song that your persecutors cannot hear. ‘You are really rich.’

The source of their tribulation is made clear in the text. A synagogue of Satan existed in Smyrna. By this John meant that there were Jewish residents who resented this cult of Jesus and who wanted to destroy it. Each Sabbath day they met not to worship but to gossip and scheme on how to harm the Christians. The Jesus cult was unwelcome in Smyrna. These Jews were pressuring the government to do something about it.

Jesus encountered Jews like this Himself. John 8:31-38 (Read verse 37—‘I know that you are Abraham’s offspring: yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.’’

It was the apostle Paul who defined a true Jew. He said, ‘A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; And circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit’ (Rom. 2:29).

Clearly, these Jewish people in Smyrna were not Jews of the heart and soul. They were shallow and empty worshippers of Abraham. And they hated the new followers of Jesus living among them and they did all they could to make life difficult for them.

*Surely there is comfort for all saints who face difficult times by these words of John. He tells us that all of our trials, persecutions, tribulations are known to the Savior. For it is the Lord Himself speaking in verse 9 when he says with such loving consolation, ‘I know your tribulation. I know your poverty.’ I know all about you. I’m walking right beside you. You’re not alone even if you do live in Smyrna.

*I heard a few days ago that Mrs. White, a former teacher friend of mine who taught Civics across the hall from me when I first started 9 years ago, was not well. She had retired about 4 years ago and I had n’t seen much of her anymore. She had been a dynamic teacher in her younger years but when I got there she was already changing. She didn’t like the kids much anymore. The kids would tease her. They would play tricks on her and try to get her angry. I heard she was in the nursing home beside Chesapeake General. So Friday after I got off from work I went to see her.

I stepped into her room past the first bed where another patient lay and pulled the curtain aside and stared down at her in the hospital bed. She was curled up, staring at the wall. Her face was strange to me, very thin and gaunt, her eyes sunken and her expression remote. But when she saw me, she brightened and I recognized her voice. It was her, sort of. As I talked with her, I kept thinking back to when she was just across the hall, robust and talented and with a rich history of expertise in her field. Now she was but a ghost beneath a hospital sheet.

But somehow I wanted her to know someone cared for her. I wanted to bring a personal touch. And that is what Jesus does to these suffering saints in Smyrna. He tells them as he stands close to them in their suffering time, «I know. . . I know. . . I’m here. . . I know your tribulation, I know your poverty. I see you behind the curtain. I haven’t forgotten you.

Verse ten teaches us a remarkable lesson in life. I thought surely when I got to verse ten I would hear the Savior say as he passed his words of comfort on to these suffering saints that He would end this period of hurt at once. I thought he would say, Don’t worry anymore. I’m here and I will make sure this pain ends at once. But he doesn’t say that!—He says to them and to us also, that sometimes trials and difficulties are good for us. And so some of you are going to be cast into the brig for 10 days. When this happens, be faithful unto death. And I will give you the crown of life.»

The crown here is not the royal crown of regal authority. It is not the Diadema but rather the stephanos, the wreath awarded to the winner of the games. It is the crown of achievement given to those who remain faithful to the Lord in times of suffering. The Lord doesn’t abolish their suffering. He doesn’t sweep in with a legion of armed angels tramping through the city streets, blotting out the persecutors. No. He merely agrees to step into the brig with them. He will go with them into the exile of testing, not abolish it.

*It was not many years after this letter to Smyrna was written, about 50 years or so, that these words «Be faithful until death» come true. For the first documented martyr of the faith beyond the first century takes place here in Smyrna. For it is here the great father of the ancient church Polycarp lived and worshiped.

When you hear the name Polycarp, bow in deference to his amazing life. He was born just after Paul was murdered by the Romans. His life and memory are embedded in the last first century. He knew John who lived in Ephesus just down the road. He knew many other people who had witnessed the life of Jesus first hand. Polycarp is the living connection between the first and second century. He brought that first-hand link to the apostles with him to Smyrna. He was a godly and courageous pastor and bishop. Polycarp bore the very tribulations and poverty of the saints in Smyrna.

saint-polycarp-bishop-martyr.jpg

Polycarp at age 87 ready to die.

 

Polycarp heard one day that the Romans were coming to arrest him. He was 86 years old now and still active and leading the church. His followers urged him to flee. ‘Run, pastor. Run while there is time.’

‘No. I will not run.” And he didn’t. He merely went home and waited for them. And when they banged on his door he opened it and greeted the soldiers. They dragged him off to the arena and stood him before the Roman proconsul. A huge crowd of onlookers watched with soap opera eyes as the Roman consul interrogated him. Polycarp stood calmly and answered with and courage. Finally, the Roman judge got angry and ordered him to renounce Christ and he would spare him. Here is what Polycarp said to the Roman judge and to the thousands of onlookers in the stands. “For 86 years I have served Jesus, and he has never done me wrong. How can I now blaspheme my King who saved me?”

This angered the Proconsul who ordered him to be nailed to a cross and burned at the stake. Polycarp asked the soldiers not to nail him. He would not need nails. “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” The year was AD 155.

And it is here as we hear the crackle of the branches burning beneath the saintly Polycarp that we hear the echo of John’s text in verse 10: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” How ironic it is that it would be John’s personal friend Polycarp who would literally live these words out in the arena.

Smyrna was the suffering church. No ill word is spoken against this church. Their suffering refined their spirits and kept them pure. What is the word spoken to the Drummondtown Baptist Church? It is this. Be faithful in all you do. Do not be alarmed at times of sufferings. Be reassured that the Savior will go with you through your time of testing.


https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp/
Ancient letter describing the death.
Photo of ancient smyrna–
http://fineartamerica.com/featured/ruins-of-smyrna-lou-ann-bagnall.html

 

 

 

 

 

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/twain/mark/innocents/chapter39.html

Looking for Love

Revelation 2:1-7
Series on the 7 Churches

Ephesus was one of the most remarkable cities of the ancient world. Paul labored and lived here for three years so we want to know a little about it. In the time of the New Testament, this city was the 2nd largest in the world behind Rome itself. There were 250,000 residents of the metropolis. (That’s more than all the city of Chesapeake (229,000–and the population of Accomack 33,000). 7 times larger than Accomac).   Rome, understanding its strategic value made it the capital of the Asian province. It was the Atlanta of its day, with everything coming and going through Ephesus. The word Ephesus itself means desire and this was a city of passion, energy, and desire.

theatre2

Theater in ancient Ephesus

 

If you take a tour of ancient Ephesus you will surely stroll down Marble Street, the very street that led to the famous theater mentioned in Acts 19, where a riot broke out. This famous theater seated 25,000 people and is still visible today in all its glory.   Paul had been preaching against idols and false gods such as Artemis. A lot of people made their living making and selling these statues and business was down thanks to Paul.   So the people gathered in this theater and screamed and hollered for hours and hours. (Read text in Acts 19:29RUSHED INTO THE THEATER . . .

 

This theater was on Marble Street. And if you stroll a little past the theater toward the Celcus Library you will surely stop and notice the imprint of a woman’s foot, carved into the marble stone. It is on the right side of the street and it was positioned with all the skill of our modern advertising executives. (Called by some as the first professional advertisement). It can’t be ignored. It demands your attention. It gets you thinking. It’s the marble calling card of the brothel that is still there in ruins today. The brothel had two floors. The main floor had a beautiful atrium with gorgeous mosaics of the seasons some of which are still visible today. The atrium welcomed the guests who were looking for love. The building also had a second floor where the smaller more intimate rooms resided. Etched into the marble stone beside the left foot is the drawing of a woman with an impressive hair style and below that a drawing of a pulsing heart of love.

          A typical day for a resident of this city might be to arise and go the public baths of Varius on the east side of town and catch up on the latest news while bathing in the various pools of water, the hot, tepid and cold pools. (frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium) Then from there you would stroll past the Temple of Isis and wander into the smaller Odeon where a group of actors was rehearsing for an evening performance. The Odeion held 1500 people, perfect for a cozy up close experience of some current play. Then on down Marble Street past the huge theater empty at the moment. Then past the brothel and the alluring footprint. Many shops would be open and wares of all kinds would be on display with vendors and business people serving light food for the early risers. And then on toward the end of the street where the huge library of Celcus was open for a quiet hour of reading

It is to this city of Asia, Ephesus, that Christ brings a commendation and a warning. Surely we here at Grassfield can benefit from the words of the Lord as He walked among the saints on these very streets. We know the Lord was there because of the phrase in Rev 2:1—The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this . . .

We know from these words that our Lord is vitally interested in what goes in the Ephesian Church, in the Drummondtown Baptist Church. He observes, takes notes, writes His critique of how we are doing and gives us feedback through His Spirit. Churches that pass His test are commended and those that don’t are reproved and given warnings. Grassfield is being watched and critiqued by this very Lord who walked the streets of ancient Ephesus. We should look with keen interest into the affairs of these churches and learn from history’s lessons.

Paul knew this city very well. He walked these very streets himself for three years. (Acts 20:28-31). It was a hard ministry. There were many detractors, many people who resisted the message of grace.

When Paul arrived in Ephesus the first time there only about 12 disciples. (12 in a city of 250,000). He met with them, baptized them in the name of Jesus since they had only had the baptism of John the Baptist. And from that humble beginning, he built a great church of dedicated believers who anchored the work of God in Asia.tyrannus.jpg

Those early days were so exciting in the life of the Ephesian congregation. Paul set up a school in a local building owned by Tyrannus. Tyrannus was a Greek schoolteacher who had his own class of local pupils. But when his day ended, Paul stepped in and taught the disciples the truths of the Gospel. He did this daily for two years. Every day he gathered his flock together at the schoolhouse. Every day they walked past the baths, past the theater, past the brothel, past the library to the little school that Paul had set up in the building that Tyrannus owned.

**Many years ago when I was just out of seminary I linked up with the Illinois Baptist Convention and became a church planter. They sent me to Ottawa, a town of about 25,000 about 2 hours west of Chicago. I started off with 7 members (Paul had 12 and I had 7) and we met on the second floor of the YMCA. I was so excited to have a church. It didn’t matter to me at all that I had no pulpit, no pews, no choir, no hymnbooks, no WMU, no deacon board, no building of my own. I had seven members and I had one sermon. That was enough to get started.

Each Sunday for several months I learned to preach over the sounds of the bustling YMCA members. On the first floor just below me, there was always a rousing game of men’s basketball. I could see them while I preached. The second-floor room I was in was surrounded by glass windows. Cheers and jeers punctuated my sermonic points. When a basket was made the players would whoop and howl and when somebody got body blocked I would hear some choice words that usually didn’t blend well my second or third point But I just kept on preaching. And people started coming.

After awhile I realized that the Y wasn’t the best place to be and it wasn’t big enough. So I looked around and I found the Reddick Mansion in the center of the city. (When you go home I want you to  google the Reddick Mansion and look at it. It is one of our nation’s most historic buildings. (Athe Chamber of Commerce was meeting upstairs).   It is a 22-room pre-civil war mansion of the utmost elegance and style. It had ornamental plaster cornices, ceiling medallions, marble fireplaces and woodwork throughout unmatched in beauty and craftsmanship. The Lincoln-Douglas debates happened just in front of this very mansion. I used to sit on the steps and imagine watching Lincoln argue his cases before me.

I think I know how Paul felt finding a suitable building and gathering his members and friends there to preach and pray. I was at the Reddick Mansion and Paul was at the school of Tyrannus building up the Ephesian congregation. There was a genuine love among these early brethren. Miracles happened daily in these early years. The Scriptures say that God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul (Acts 19:11–). Paul was so anointed with the Holy Spirit that the handkerchiefs and aprons he wore when he worked would be carried from his body to the sick and their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.

So powerful was the ministry of the church that an entire movement sprang up against the magic of the day. There was even a book burning. (Read Acts 19:19-20).

But something had happened as the decades rolled on. Something troubling. By the time of our Revelation text, Paul was gone, martyred in Rome. The congregation still met and worshiped and prayed and did good works. But something was missing. It was not their perseverance in the face of opposition.   No, this congregation had steeled themselves well to resist the evil and temptations of the city. But something was wrong. It wasn’t that the church had grown weary and didn’t have the energy to carry on with the mandate of the Gospel. No. They were hard workers and they stuck to their mission. But something was missing. Something was wrong.

     But I have this against you, that you have left your first love (Rev. 2:4). (Read it slowly in Greek). ἀλλὰ  ἔχω  κατὰ  σοῦ  ὅτι  τὴν  ἀγάπην  σου  τὴν  πρώτην  ἀφῆκες.

This repudiation of the church has echoed through the centuries with a hauntingly sad reverberation. Lost your first love. Lost your first love. The heavenly criticism tolls it dreary message up and down Marble Street and causes us all to wonder. How could this happen? The dynamic first pastor hasn’t been gone but a few years and already the glow is gone. The embers of spiritual passion and fervor are cooling. The traditions of the church are solid. The members continue to meet and help the poor and read the Scriptures. But still the toll rings out its devastating message—Lost your first Love. Lost your first love.

And swiftly behind the echoing toll comes the harsh reality of God. I am not happy with this. And unless you remember where you used to be, and repent and do the deeds you did at first I will come and remove your lampstand.

Every church, Grassfield in no exception, must grapple with this very command of God. He walks among us and looks for love. He looks for that first love, that first commitment, that first joy and determination and zeal. It is the Lord who is looking for love now, not some sailor off a ship staggering down Marble Street. It is the Lord Himself searching for the love that once burned brightly for the cause of Christ.

As we march on into the blank pages of a new year, let’s all vow to restore the first love. Let’s all vow to find that spark of spiritual fervor that Paul had when he walked down Marble Street in the ancient city of Ephesus.


(Photo of Ephesian theater) http://www.ephesus.us/ephesus/theatre.htm

 

Observations #5

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Here is the entrance to my neighborhood in Chesapeake.  A beautiful winter wonderland.  Photo by Dr. Denny


From the Schoolhouse
We were locked in mortal combat.
He was just a wisp of a boy, and he did not know I was unbeaten.  Unbeaten in 15 years.
We sat opposite each other on the edge of a lunch room table.  A covey of kids had gathered leering over our shoulders like they were staring at a barnyard cock fight.  I was confident when he hurled the challenge.  I rolled up my sleeve and waited for him to do the same.  His hair was slicked back, and his eyes sparkled as if he knew something I didn’t.  I ignored it and remembered all the challengers I had stiffed over the years.  I was ready.
Someone in the crowd yelled go and our arms charged.  I was used to this first shock when the muscles in the forearms stiffened and screamed.  He met my early thrust with a quiet vengeance; his smile puckered and proud.  I squirmed a little and tried not to show concern.  My arm was going down in slow motion, a surrender I resisted uncomfortably.  Within seven seconds it was over.  We stared at each other.  The crowd hushed…
And then we all laughed, rose, and trotted out of the cafeteria.  I was beaten but comforted by all my students as we strolled back to class and another lesson on the Executive Branch.


From the Pulpit

celsuslibraryephesus1Beginning this Sunday, I will assume the mantle of tour guide.  I remember many years ago in 1993 leading a group of history lovers to the ancient city of Ephesus.  Paul labored there for three years and became intimately acquainted with its foibles and possibilities.  He knew of the renown library of Celsus and of the arena that still stands today mentioned in Acts 19.  During the New Testament period, Ephesus was the second largest metropolis with a residency of 250,000.
So, get your walking boots on and let’s travel to Ephesus and walk in the shadow of Paul down Marble Street.


From the Pew

The pews were silent today.  The expressions of joy when singing a hymn, the thirst for a sip from Heaven’s cup, the warm handshakes with friends not seen for a week–all muffled beneath the snow.  The pews were silent today.

But wait, for I do hear voices from the past barely heard but strangely still present.  They speak from the pages of the church’s history.  Mrs. Annie Taylor, a resident of Drummondtown, smiles with satisfaction at the success of her original gift of $1500 (worth $48,000 today).  Her only guiding stipulation when she gave it on December 3, 1849, was to use the money to build a Baptist church in Drummondtown.   And though the pews are silent today, somehow if you listen carefully you will hear her expressions of thankfulness for congregations that have come and gone through the decades.

Sixty-three years later the church waited with high expectations as Dr. R. H. Pitt, the senior editor of the Religious Herald rose to the pulpit to dedicate the new sanctuary.  He and Dr. F. W. Boatwright, President of Richmond College both challenged the congregation to pursue the work of the Lord in this new and impressive edifice.

Yes, the pews were silent today, but even in silence voices can be heard.


I hope everybody stays warm and safe.  I’ll see you all soon at church.
Dr. Denny

Observations #4

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Bayly’s Neck Rd, Accomac, Va 23301–Photo by Dr. Denny

From the SchoolroomIMG_1523.jpg
The teachers on my hall were invited to decorate their doors for Christmas.  Each door would have a theme based on the twelve days of Christmas.  My door would be the two turtle doves.  So I did as all harried teachers do when time is short–I delegated.
“Kate!  Evan!  Come here.”  My two privates approached me warily.
“Yea,” said Katie wondering what I wanted.
“I need a two-turtledove door pronto,” I said imperiously.
They both just stared at me like I had lost it.  I could see they weren’t absorbing the seriousness of this covert mission.
“You need what?” asked Evan.
“You know, two turtle doves on my door.  It’s for Christmas.”
After a bit of arm-twisting and bribery, they got to work.  The kids spread out in the hallway in front of the door and pulled out piles of paper and scissors and tape and began sketching out their masterpiece–little MIchaelangelos prepping for a Sistine Chapel fresco.
I didn’t win the best artwork, but I did have the joy of watching the turtle-doves soar on the door for the week of Christmas.

From the Pulpit
    I thought it would be fun to use the modern folk tune by the Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn),  to express the 30 ideas of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  After all, the words to the tune were almost verbatim from the Scripture with the exception of the phrase, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  In other words, the new year will challenge us all with a multitude of scenarios and we ought to prepare for them all.  I only focused on three (to keep the sermon from getting too long):  there is a time to laugh, a time to weep and a time to be silent.  (See the full sermon at my website www.BlaktiePress.com).

From the Pew
    We needed some help for the closing hymn of the service.  It’s my fault.  I got a little devious and thought we ought to sing the actual folk song for our benediction.  I’ve never seen such a valiant effort by everyone trying to locate the tune.  Jo’s brilliant organ playing helped, but it wasn’t until I played the actual Byrd’s song through the speaker system that everyone really got it.  But by then, alas, we had dismissed, and people were slowly leaving.  Still, I got a real kick out of watching everyone’s faces as they struggled demurely for the melody.


Farewell until next week.  I hope everyone has a momentous New Year full of wonderful surprises.  I love you all.

Dr. Denny

Turn, Turn, Turn

Turn, Turn, Turn
David R. Denny, Pastor
Ecclesiastes 3
Drummondtown Baptist Church
January 1, 2017

Begin with the song Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds.

http://ontheflip-side.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-flip-sides-of-byrds-singles-she.html

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  •      Riding on the touring bus, the lead guitarist Jim McGuinn was asked by his soon to be wife Dolores to play this song.  He played it not like a folk song, but with a rock beat and the idea to record was born.
  •      Billboard hot 100 entered at #80 and rose to become #1 on Dec 4, 1965.
  •      The song holds the distinction as the #1 hit with the oldest lyrics.
  •      78 takes over 5 days to record it.

To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.


Introduction:

According to Ecclesiastes, there is a time and a season for everything.  As we approach this new year, I would like to make a few predictions for you:

  1. Sometime this year you will find a season of laughter.

In a world that seems to be self-destructing, laughter is essential.  Laughter reflects a happy heart a life confident in and contented.  Christians of all people should laugh because the Spirit of God fills us with joy and we have so much to be happy about.  Churches should be happy places.  I see that happiness when I watch you greet one another each Sunday in the service.

Happiness is often missing in the secular workforce.  I hate to say this but the schools are often difficult places for kids and teachers alike.  Kids get bullied and fight peer pressure.  And teachers are under enormous stress to perform.  I see teachers quitting all the time in my school because they can’t take it anymore.

John 4–The wedding at Cana.  I’m sure that Jesus came to this wedding with a spirit of joviality and laughter…

*Mary Beard–ancient Joke book. *Celebrated classics professor Mary Beard has brought to light a volume more than 1,600 years old, which she says shows the Romans not to be the “pompous, bridge-building toga wearers” they’re often seen as, but rather a race ready to laugh at themselves.  *Written in Greek, Philogelos, or The Laughter Lover, dates to the third or fourth century AD, and contains some 260 jokes which Beard said are “very similar” to the jokes we have today, although peopled with different stereotypes – the “egghead”, or absent-minded professor, is a particular figure of fun, along with the eunuch, and people with hernias or bad breath.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/mar/13/roman-joke-book-beard

Beard’s favourite joke is a version of the Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman variety, with a barber, a bald man and an absent-minded professor taking a journey together. They have to camp overnight, so decide to take turns watching the luggage. When it’s the barber’s turn, he gets bored, so amuses himself by shaving the head of the professor. When the professor is woken up for his shift, he feels his head, and says “How stupid is that barber? He’s woken up the bald man instead of me.”

  1.  Sometime this year you find a time to weep.

As pastor, I wish I could shelter you all from this time, but I can’t.  Sorrow and tragedy are woven deeply into the fabric of faith and life.  We cannot escape it.  Solomon who wrote these words whispers a truth that we all know will touch us at some point. There is a time to weep, but where better to touch sorrow’s hem than in the church surrounded by one another and the every present love of God.  Yes, you will weep sometime this year, but standing beside you all the while will be the Great Shepherd who feels your pain and brings you solace.

Hebrews 4:15:  For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

John 11:35.  Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus and wept.  There are two Greek words for weep:  δακρύω (used only 1 time in the NT and it means to weep silently); the other word used 40 times in the NT is κλαίω, which is to express one’s emotions fully while weeping like Peter id Matthew 26:75.

3.   As this year progresses day by day, find the times to be silent.

      We live in a noisy world.  I like to take walks and many times I will walk along Cedar Road, the main road in front of my neighborhood.  But the traffic is so loud I can barely hear myself think.  Noise is everywhere.  When I go to the gym, everybody has earphones in their ears listening to loud music.  **I heard on the news the other day that kids today are ruining their hearing by listening to loud music with their headphones.     

     But God has designated times for silence.  God wants you to take off the headphones, turn off the TV, unplug from the world of sound and listen to Him in silence

*Elijah was on the run.  I Kings 19:11- 13).  He had just called down fire and burnt up his sacrifice on the altar.  This upset Jezebel who was on the hunt for him.  Elijah fled to Mt. Horeb where God told him to stand on the mountain and wait for God to appear  –Wind–earthquake–Fire–(No god)  then God came in a still small voice–Or if you translate the Hebrew–a thin sound of silence (1 Kings 19:12. ק֖וֹל  דְּמָמָ֥ה  דַקָּֽה  (1 Kings 19:11- 13).  “A thin sound of silence,” or the voice of an impalpable silence.  SILENCE IN THE BIBLE–PAOLO TORRESAN  jbq.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/313/313_Silence…Jewish Bible Quarterly.

Conclusion:
       There is a time for silence, says Solomon. In silence your head will clear, your heart can replenish its zeal, your spirit will be refreshed.  Take time each day for silence.  And in that time, seek the Lord and listen to that quiet voice that uses when He wants to tell you something.

To  everything–turn, turn, turn–there is a season, a time to every purpose under heaven.

Let’s stand and sing this song and prepare our hearts for the year to come, a year filled with seasons set by God for our lives.

*Album cover fond at this site: http://ontheflip-side.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-flip-sides-of-byrds-singles-she.html