Observations #10

Written by Dr. David R. Denny

From the Schoolhouse5077107-model-dancing-a-pirouette-in-a-graceful-manner-with-hands-up-and-feet-straight-stock-photo

Josh pirouetted across the floor just after I began talking about the judicial branch.  Nobody paid him any mind.

That didn’t deter him from executing two mid-air leaps and a magnanimous leg kick that would have made Mikhail Baryshnikov blush with pride.  He finally fluttered to a graceful conclusion settling into a desk and clicking on his computer.

“Now, class, the judicial branch plays an important role in our government,” I said.  “As you know…”

Josh stuck two ear buds into his head and turned on some Broadway musical.

I kept going.  “We’re going to begin today by discussing just what courts really do.”

Josh rose like a slow summer squall and began the dramatic finale to Romeo and Juliet.  Tears welled in his eyes as he held his lover one last time and then drank the poison.

No one paid him any mind.

And I explained the difference between the state and federal courts.

Photo by: Dreamstime.com


From the Pulpit

We left Thyatira with high spirits.  The Lord was pleased with this congregation and gave them high marks for improvement in all aspects of their spiritual journey.

But it didn’t take long after arriving in Sardis before we were mired in the slough of despair.  The Lord spared any pleasantries with this church and instead slammed them with three devastating words, three words that still seem to echo off the lonely remaining two pillars of the Temple of Artemis that once dominated this wealthy city.   What did He say to them in a moment of heated discourse?  He said, “You are dead!” (Rev. 3:2).  (Insert Greek text here).  This chilling sentence, brief but potent, gives us all pause as we reflect upon our own lives.   Melito, the ancient church father who belonged to the Church at Sardis, came along several decades after this critical period.  He dedicated his life to restoring the church’s name.  Let’s all take inspiration from Melito and strive to live to the fullest


From the Pewdaydreams.jpg

Shelley and I compared middle school report cards after church.  We must have had the same teacher.  Her little teacher note at the bottom of the card said the same thing mine said:  squirms a lot–daydreams.

My sixth-grade teacher in Jacksonville Arkansas, Mr. Cochran, was a bona fide cowboy who tolerated daydreaming.  He seemed to understand me.  He raised and raced quarterhorses.  He gave me all kinds of valuable advice.  One day he said to the class,  “Gentlemen, always change your shoes at least once a day.  It’s good for your feet.”

I’m sure Shelley’s teacher gave equally inciteful aphorisms to guide her through the restless school afternoons.  I miss those days when squirming and dreaming kept interrupting the memorization of the times tables.

It’s comforting to know I wasn’t the only daydreamer sitting behind a wooden desk.  And by the way,  just what exactly did your teacher write about you?  Let me know.  I won’t laugh.  (LOL).

Artwork by: https://www.neonmob.com

Lullabies and Reveille

Seven Churches Series
Revelation 3:1-6
Dr. David R. Dennytemple_of_artemis_sardis_turkey4

The Temple of Artemis outside Sart (ancient Sardis), Turkey  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Temple_of_Artemis_Sardis_Turkey4.jpg

Today we leave Thyatira heading inland further to the ancient city of Sardis, the former capital of Lydia. As we walk along the dusty Turkish roads in search of the new city, all of us on this journey should be feeling pretty good. For when we departed from Thyatira, that blue class working town, the Lord gave us all the Morningstar. Do you have your star in your pocket? It is a personal gift from the Lord given to all overcomers who sojourn through life resisting the evil of the world, holding fast to the teaching of the Lord.

As we depart Thyatira with the Morningstar in our pocket, which is God’s pledge of love and encouragement and faithfulness to us, we can still hear that echo of encouragement given to them and to us—“Your deeds of late are greater than at first.” Remember that? The faithful saints at Thyatira were getting better, gaining strength, growing in spiritual confidence. They were aging like old wine, their faith gaining subtle textures and nuances that only time can give.

It was so uplifting to visit a church where the fruits of the Spirit were so evident. Everyone was pulling together in spite of the tests and difficulties. Everyone was excelling in love and faith and service and perseverance. So let me just remind you if you ever find yourself a little down in your Christian journey, if the blues ever hit you and you feel a bit like giving up sometime—then go back and visit your Christian brothers and sisters in Thyatira.


 

As we head another 30-40 miles further inland, walking with the Lord toward Sardis, it is reassuring to know that He cares enough about the churches to make this journey. This circuit through the churches was a personal mission of the Lord. He cares about us and He just wants to make sure we’re all on track.

The Bible begins with a personal journey. The Lord each day would walk in the garden, enjoying the fragrances of the early morning or the cool winds of the evening. It was here that He supped with Adam and enjoyed his company. —And it was on the road to Emmaus that the Lord once again walked with some grieving disciples, men lost in depths of despair. And as the Lord walked he listened, he encouraged, his challenged the men just as He does to you when you walk with Him daily. —


 

**When I used to live on the Easter Shore, I pastored the Cheriton Baptist Church for 6 years. It was a beautiful church built in 1920. It had a second level balcony that wrapped around the sanctuary. It had hand-made stained glass windows with the names of the early members etched into the base. And on the top of the church there rested a massive dome that gave the building architectural stature. I loved that sanctuary.

Every morning I would rise at sunrise, take my elegant Irish Setter named Reverend and off we would go bounding across Route 13 toward the Chesapeake Bay. The fields were silent early in the morning, and often the bay mists would roll in over the soybeans fields. We would tromp across the wet fields trying to get to the Bay before the watermen left. Then we would sit on the wharf and watch the little oyster boats drift off to sea their motors slowly revving up as they approached the deeper water.


 

Well, for some reason walking down this Turkish road to Sardis made me think about those Eastern Shore jaunts. Sardis lies about 60 miles inland from Ephesus where our journey started. It was at one time one of the world’s great cities, being the capital of Lydia. But time has certainly ravaged this place. Sardis was the home of a famous church father named Melito who lived there in the middle of the second century, just a generation from the writing of this letter.

As you approach the ruins of the city you can see in the distance two huge pillars standing watch over the silent remains of the dead city. These two pillars are very ancient going back hundreds of years before Christ. They area the only two complete pillars of the temple of Cybele (Artemis) that dominated the city of Sardis. This temple was so massive it is twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens. I’ve been to the Parthenon which takes your breath away it is so magnificent. But this temple in Sardis is twice the size of the Parthenon. Its ruins are still there today spread out beneath the shadow of the two remaining solitary pillars.


 

Just below the temple, there is a 5-acre gymnasium built in the early 2nd century, just aa few years after our text. It is still there today almost fully intact. The gymnasium complex and the massive temple of Artemis give us hints at the lifestyle of the citizens of this old city. Cybelean worshippers were known for orgies and sexual mutilation and extreme fertility rituals. Priests were routinely castrated and then dressed up in women’s clothes to satisfy Cybele.

Sardis was a city given to pleasure and it made it difficult to be a serious and devoted Christian. And so as we sit and rest beneath the two remaining pillars of the temple it is easy to hear the scathing rebuke given to this church echoing among the broken stones and scattered pillars.

In every other church, the Lord always began with something good, something positive about the church. To the Ephesians, he began by complimenting them on not growing weary in their work for the Lord. To the Smyrnans He sympathized with their poverty and offered no condemnation at all. To the saints at Pergamum, he smiled with pride that they had not denied the faith. And to the Thyatiran church, he boasted about their progress and growing faith. But when the Lord strolls into the city of Sardis and gazes at the great temple where immorality reigned he merely shook his head and then with brutal honesty and disgust, he said three little words that still haunt the place to this very day. Three words that no church ever hear. Three words filled with the dark realities that can beset any church at any time in history. He looked around and said, YOU ARE DEAD. (Nekros ei).

There is no small talk here. There are no greetings here, no pleasantries, no hand shaking or back slapping. Things are beyond that. The Lord is looking at these saints and dialing 911. He’s put the stethoscope on their chests and nothing is registering.   He hasn’t given up hope entirely because the next words out of his mouth are a command to wake up! I can see the Lord there slapping the face of the corpse, shouting at them, giving CPR. Doing all He can to bring them back. But it’s a sad picture. Let’s all make a vow right now that this will never happen to us here at DBC. Let’s don’t ever be the one church that he declares to be dead.


 

* I watched a strange old Irish movie last night about a little boy whose father was the town drunk. He idolized his father who in his earlier days was a brilliant trumpet player. He still carried his trumpet around and would play a few random notes in between drinking, but his life was over. One day the boy came home, and his father was sitting motionless in the chair in the middle of the living room. The boy acted as if nothing was terribly wrong. But the father wasn’t moving, and the flies were landing on his face. So the little boy was swinging the fly swatter wildly over the father and chattering aimlessly about this and that. Just chattering and swinging his fly swatter at the flies. Then the doorbell rings and the town doctor asks to see the father. “Oh sir, he’s off on a long journey to Dublin. “ When will he be back?” asked the doctor suspiciously. Oh not for days sir. Not for days.” The doctor leaves, and the boy keeps striking the air with the swatter.—A few days later, the town policeman and the doctor return and haul the corpse out of the house.

“You are dead, says the Lord to the church in Sardis. “For I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.”

How does a church get to this point? How does a Christian drift so far from home? It’s nothing major usually. It’s like a marriage. First, it’s the clothes left lying around, then the long work hours late at night, then the suspicion, then the fights and nasty words shouted across the living room, then the stopping off at the bars after work and before long a couple just doesn’t love each other anymore. It might take years, it might come more swiftly. But love can spoil, and faithfulness can warp with time and fracture with neglect.

Churches have to renew their calling every Sunday to avoid this pitfall.   Churches have to visit the early days often like we did last Sunday. Churches have to renew their vows often and rise early and stroll with the Lord through the wet fields to the Bay watching the sunrise and finding that mystical connection to the heart of heaven where it all begins.


 

Melito, the revered and famous church father who lived and died in Sardis, came along a generation after this scathing rebuke from the Lord. Tradition says he worked tirelessly to win the favor of the Lord again at his church. He made tireless journeys to Palestine to connect with the spirit of the Gospel. Melito took these words seriously. He labored to find the first love for Sardis.

What are you doing here to fan the flame of revival and evangelism and zealousness? Each of us has that responsibility. We don’t want the Lord to stroll in one Sunday, push me aside, take the mike and say the three words.

 

Observation #9

From the Schoolhouse
David R. Denny

She was spunky for a little 8th-grade girl.
She stood at my desk gripping the stolen artificial flower, shaking it before me in a blatant attempt at bribery.
I saw a glimmer of a smile, but she didn’t waiver in intensity.
“This flower is yours if you fix my grade.”  The words growled softly like a Cheshire cat warning a Pitt bull.

My Description

“Where did you get that Camellia?” I asked.

“Where did you get that Camellia?” I asked.
She didn’t like the question.  She pressed on. “It’s yours if you can fix that C+.”  She leaned forward a little extending the hostage in the space between her and me.
“Where did you get it?”  I could see this diversionary tactic was getting to her.
“I picked it out of the flowers in front of the school,” she said without guilt.  After a pause, she began marching again.  “It’s yours if you just…”         She didn’t bother finishing.  She knew I understood.
I took the flower and jammed it into a red plastic cup on my desk.
She smiled as if the victory was hers.  I let her have her moment.
Then I pointed to an empty REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup wrapper.
Photo at: http://www.thatwayhat.com/


From the Pulpit

report-cardWe passed out report cards Sunday as we visited the ancient congregation of Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29).    This congregation was admired by the Lord who gave them high marks. They had no faults except for a minority that followed Jezebel.  She was an errant member who favored compromise with the unions and sacrificing meat to idols.  But other than that, they were in great shape.  There’s not much left of this old city today except a few shattered pillars and stones enclosed in a city park in the center of the modern town in western Turkey.  The gift God bestowed upon them for their excellent grades was the morning star.  So if you remember from last week, we’ve now got the white stone in our left pocket and the morning star in the right!


From the Pew

I want to thank Tommy Hines for his humorous rendition of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  We were both chuckling as he told me of his “miracle” recently.  He had been designated as the BBQ man for an oyster and BBQ festival.    He found out when he got there that there were more folks in line than he figured on.  He just kept on dishing out the goods expecting to hear the hiss of disappointment from the unfortunate stragglers in the back of the line.  “But it seemed like the BBQ just kept multiplying,” he said.  “And I could barely believe that I actually had a little left over when the last person passed by.  It was a miracle,” he said smiling.

And who are we to think otherwise.  I’ll take a miracle anytime it comes.    “Good job, Tommy.  By the way,  could you pass the BBQ?”
Artwork by: http://sanjacintobaptist.com/bbqcowboy3c

Just Say No!

thyatira_01

Ruins of ancient Thyatira:   http://padfield.com/turkey/sevenchurches/index.html

“Just Say No!”
Rev. 2:18-29
February 5, 2017

Today we continue on with our journey among the 7 churches of Revelation.   One thing is clear as we walk the streets of these ancient cities and meet the churches and Christians of yesteryear: one thing is clearthe Lord is vitally interested in what we are doing in our churches.

He isn’t just following the steps of your life individually. He certainly is doing that. The Lord plots every aspect of your sojourn on earth. He knows your every decision and thought. He counts the hairs on your head and takes careful notice of your aspirations in life, your hurts and disappointments, your sufferings and your accomplishments.

*My youngest son, Jon, who is 22 and lives just off the ODU campus, is in his final semester of engineering. He just got his first official job this week as an engineer with a firm in Greenbrier. He will work part time he while completes his degree. When he walks across the stage in a few months and gets his degree he will walk into a new world as an engineer. He is frantically out buying suits and shirts and ties—things college guys don’t usually worry about.

Surely God cares about the early days of our lives and the middle years and the senior years. But there is no question that God is highly aware and focused on what we do as a church. That much is certain as we watch from a great distance the Lord pinning badges on the heroes of the 7 churches and castigating others and warning and chiding and encouraging and rewarding the saints of these churches.

Bottom line—God is watching us here at Drummondtown too. He takes notes of our decisions, our foibles, our strengths, our hopes, and our plans for the future. Let’s learn all we can from how these 7 churches complied or failed to comply with God’s concerns.


As we stroll away from the city of Pergamum where we were last Sunday, the smoke of the boiling cauldron, shaped like a huge copper bull, haunts us. We heard the order to toss Antipas into the brazen bull for refusing to worship the Roman deities. We heard the pastor’s strained attempts to mouth a final hymn as he died a cruel death. We walk away toward Thyatira glancing over our shoulders every so often at the trailing smoke of the boiling bull with the somber realization that there is a price to pay sometimes for committing our lives to Christ.

Thyatira is 35 miles southeast from Pergamum. It lies 50 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Only a few broken walls remain today of this blue collar working man’s town. Today if you visit the modern city of Akhisar in Turkey, you will see the ancient walls of Thyatira. The city has them enclosed behind a modest wrought iron fence in the center of the city. It almost looks like a park with benches just outside the fence. People takes their lunch breaks nestled up against the old walls of Thyatira.

If you step back in time with me and enter the bustling streets of the town you would immediately find your self swept up in the sounds and smells of a variety of trades and guilds all in full motion. Ancient inscriptions found at this site prove this town to have more trades than any other contemporary city in the Roman province of Asia. The inscriptions tells us there were wool-workers here, linen-workers, outer garment workers, leather-workers, potters, bakers, slave dealers, bronze-smiths, tent makers, and dyers to mention a few. So as we enter the main thoroughfare looking for our church we hear the pinging of hammers in the bronze shops, the shouts of the baker selling his bread, the screams of the linen merchant ordering us out of the road so his cart can pass.

Thyatira was famous for dye making. The water from the local rivers and wells had just the right texture and clarity for perfect dye making. The master dye makers made a gorgeous scarlet dye that was the envy of the ancient world. They made it from the roots of the madder plant that grow to a meter in length. Who can tell me the famous woman from Thyatira mentioned in the Bible? Let’s turn to Acts 16:14.  And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics . . . was listening.

So we are in Lydia’s town. This is where she started her business. Somehow she just happened to be in Philippi on a morning when Paul was there and heard the gospel. She is the first convert in this area and came back and helped start this church.


Thyatira was a difficult place to be a Christian. Everybody belonged to one of the trade unions. And every trade guild had pagan rituals and festivals you had to attend.

Here is what William Barclay, the famous British Bible scholar says about these local guilds: These guilds met frequently, and they met for a common meal. Such a meal was, at least in part, a religious ceremony. It would probably meet in a heathen temple, and it would certainly begin with a libation to the gods, and the meal itself would largely consist of meat offered to idols. The official position of the church meant that a Christian could not attend such a meal.

So the common position in the church was that you couldn’t be a member of a union or a trade group and be a good Christian. It caused the very problems mentioned in our text today. We’ll talk more about this in a moment. But first a basic question:How is the church here doing? What kind of report card does this church get from the Lord?report-card

 

 

*I passed out report cards Friday at school. There is nothing more compelling to an 8th grader than his or her report card. Report cards take precedent over any current romantic issues, over any facebook squabbles, over any pending date or weekend dance. So when I’m holding the report cards the kids swarm me like a flock of chickens at feeding time. I can play a few games here. This is my moment. I’m in charge here. So a slight frown at a certain report card can send terror through the flock.

So what’s the report card for Thyatira? Well it’s remarkable. In this pagan working man’s town where the unions rule everything the Lord smiles and hands out A – cards. Let’s paraphrase verse 19. Here the lord hands out the cards and says “Well everyone, you’ve been working hard. I am impressed. You get high marks for love and faith and service and perseverance..”

Now let’s pause here for a second. I want each of you reach out and take your report card from the Lord right now. Go ahead. Just take it. You’ve got one you know. Now look inside. What does it say? Does it say well done? Does it say A for love—A for faith—A for service—A for perseverance? How many absences are on your card? How many incompletes? How many “needs improvements” are there? Compare your card with the ones handed out here to these saints living in tough Thyatira. Can you do better? Can we do better as a church? That should be our goal always. To get the highest marks on our cards. We want to please the Lord.

But wait. There is a most remarkable comment at the bottom of these report cards handed out to the Thyatiran saints. Do you see the comment written in bold ink strokes at the bottom of the report card? It says: “Your deeds of late are greater than at first.”

Let’s put that in context. Compare what the comment was on the bottom of Ephesian report card. What did the Lord say there? Your early work was great but you’ve slipped recently. You’ve lost your first love. But just the opposite is said here. You were a little slow to start but I’ve been watching and you’re getting better. “Your deeds of late are greater than at first.”

* I remember when I first played cornet. I was in the sixth grade and I lived way out in the country in Jacksonville Arkansas. Across the dirt road in front of my house there was a huge pasture with long horned steer and a big pond. I had a few neighbors along the road but not many. Mostly just steers. And I would sit on my front porch after school, take out my shiny new cornet and play church hymns. At first I could only make a few loud honks, nothing that sounded like a hymn. And the steers didn’t approve. They would bellow back and move away toward the lake. That was discouraging. I figured if the cows didn’t like me I must be pretty bad. But I kept honking and blowing every night.

And then one night after all the neighbors had once again slammed their doors in disgust and the steers were walking away gossiping and rolling their eyes—I blew a clear string of notes. It was amazing. A few consecutive clear notes of Amazing Grace. And the steers turned around and stared at me. And I knew then that I was getting better.

And here as the Lord hands out the cards to the saints at Thyatira he tells them—You started slow but you’re doing much better. And that’s what we want to hear at our church. You’ve done well over the past 50 years but you’re getting better. Your ministry is growing stronger. You’re on the right track.

But there was one criticism to a tiny portion of the church. There was a group in the church that just couldn’t say no. The Jezebel faction was pushing for compromise with the unions. This Jezebel was some kind of prophetess or influential woman in the congregation who was urging everyone to join the unions, go to the temple parties, sacrifice to the union idols, and just get along and go along with the world around them.

But the Lord demanded that they stay pure, stay on task, keep the priorities of the ministry first. Just say no to Jezebel, just say no to compromise. But they couldn’t seem to do it.

However, once the Lord addressed the Jezebel faction he turned back to the rest of the congregation and said—but to all of you who aren’t in that group, I place no other burden on you.

Perhaps we can all learn from this criticism. There are times we should stop and say no in our pilgrimage of faith. There are times when we should turn away, when we should run from evil influences, when we should take a bold stand against the forces of evil that would tear us down and harm our witness.

Well as we leave Thyatira, the church in the union town, let’s glance once more time at their A- report card and vow that we too will stay true to the Lord where we live and work.


Report card image: http://www.bisd303.org/Domain/765

 

 

Observation #8

 

img_0999

Me, musing about the mystical, while a school buddy drew my picture in New Orleans.

 

From the Schoolhouse

She caught me staring.
I apologized.
She said it was ok.

I glanced at the machine wistfully.  “I always wanted to learn, but well, it wasn’t a manly thing, you know.”

She understood. “I could teach you.,” she said.  “It’s not that hard.”

I doubted her.  She saw it in my nervous expression.  “How long would it take?” I asked.

“Not long.”  Her ebullience was mildly contagious.

She led me by the hand to the machine.  It glistened with an ivory luster, its hard shell waiting for me.  She paused and asked me if I was a musician.  I blinked not seeing the connection.  “Yes.”

“Great,” she said as she fluttered over to a cabinet sequestered in the shadows behind the other machines. She rummaged a little and then with a satisfied sigh pulled out a little zip lock bag.  The pillow slip, still freshly folded and untouched by human hands, swarmed with miniature guitars.  She studied it carefully and then smiled.  “This will do.  This will do fine.  We’ll start tomorrow.”

wholesale-fashion-spanish-colorful-guitars-font-b-love-b-font-music-mania-best-gift-unique-square

“The pillow slip…swarmed with miniature guitars.”

 

 

From the Pulpit

This week we traveled further north up the Aegean coast of Turkey to one of the most renown ancient cities.  Pergamos, according to Pliny, was one of the most illustrious cities of that time.  It had a library of over 200,000 books.  It had a church hero in Antipas who stood his ground and died a heroic martyr at the end of the first century.  Our text was found in Revelation 2:12-17 and in these words we see God dropping white stones into our hands.  The white stone was a voting pebble used in courts to grant freedom to the victim.  And His promise to us is that if we hold true to  Him He will grant us daily white stones, daily encouragements, daily confirmations of hope.

From the Pew

I hadn’t seen Beverly Watson in 25 years.  And yet there she was standing in front of the computer lab at the Eastern Shore Community College.  In fact, I hadn’t even recognized her as I passed the entrance desk on my way to the morning seminar on Coastal Resilience.  The college hosted this event so anyone interested in sea level rise and its impact on the Shore could come and explore the nuances of its latest app (see www.coastalresilience.org).  I joined about 25 other professionals, scientists, retirees, city planners etc who likewise wanted to gain additional knowledge about the impact of rising water on the fragile coastline.

It was only after Beverly came in and spoke to me at the break that I recognized my former member of the Cheriton Baptist Church.  So much time had passed.  And yet she was looking almost the same as the day I left Cheriton.  I recalled how many times she had selflessly left the pew of the old sanctuary to attend to the Sunday morning nursery.  And here she was volunteering at an event at the college.  It was such a pleasure to refresh memories and catch up the latest news of friends I had lost contact with in all these interim years.

coastal