The Path to Citizenship

The Path to Citizenship–Phil. 3:17-4:1. DBC—March 15, 2017—David R Denny
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Introduction:  We live in a political world and as you know politics is a messy road.  But our text today drives us right into the fray and we can’t avoid it.  In fact, Paul uses a Greek word from which we derive our word for politics.  His word is politeuma.     πολίτευμα, ατος, τό.       It means CITIZENSHIP. I don’t think Paul liked politics too much since this is the only recorded time he ever used this word. But he did use it and so we will follow him this morning.

*Citizenship Test:  If you go to the web site: U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services you can get the 10 test questions an immigrant must know to become a citizen. I thought I would give you this test this morning.  I think we have time.  This is an oral test administered by an immigration officer.  He can ask any 10 of the 100 questions.  You must answer 6 out of the 10 correctly.  So if you have a pen right down your answers and then we will grade them.  —

1. What is the supreme law of the land? (Constitution).
2.  What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? (the Bill of Rights).                   3. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution.  What are these three words?  (We the People).

Textual study: In our text, Paul says that if you are a believer then you have a unique citizenship.  It is different than the citizenship of the USA. A Christian is a citizen of heaven (Phil 3:20.  “For our citizenship is in heaven…”.  This thought sent chills down Paul’s spine.  He knew there was more to life than this world’s pains or sorrows or meaningless daily routines.  There was another word and that was where his citizenship was.  And so for us as well.  Our home is Heaven and it is for that home that we eagerly await.

*Mutiny at the Hyphasis.  One of the greatest stories in all of ancient history is when Alexander the Great’s troops mutinied against him.  For over a decade his Macedonian brothers had followed him all over the known world fighting his battles, claiming more and more territory. They conquered Europe and Palestine and Egypt and Babylon and Persia and now Alexander wanted to conquer India. But it was here on the banks of the Hyphasis River that the men said no.  No more.  The year was 326 and the men were weary of battle.

 

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Mutiny at the Hyphasis–Alexander the Great

They were already filthy rich from the spoils of war.  They missed home.  They missed their wives and children who had grown up without them.  They wanted to go home. Their citizenship was not here on the edge of the world.  Their home was Macedonia.   When they told him no, he couldn’t believe it.  He was so upset he stormed off into his tent and didn’t come out for three days. But the soldiers held firm.  And so suddenly Alexander saw that it was over. And he told them perhaps it was time to go home after all.  When he said this, the soldiers shouted for joy and wept. They all called for blessings on Alexander who though undefeated in all his battles had let himself be defeated by the.

 

What is it they wanted?  They wanted to go home.  It is the same thing Paul wanted and it is our supreme goal as well.  We have citizenship in America for which we give thanks daily.  But it is not our home.  —

*I’ve been a tumbleweed all my life.  My dad moved every two years in the military and so I’ve moved and lived everywhere. But I feel like the Eastern Shore will be my last port of call.  This is it for me.  No more wandering. BUT IT IS NOT MY HOME.  For my citizenship—my home—is in heaven.

* Green, green grass of homegrass of home.jpgThere is a song I hear every once in a while on the radio.  When it starts to play, I usually stop what I am doing and just listen.  It’s a sad song about home.——Read lyrics.

 

Textual thought:  Paul too became very emotional when he spoke of home.  In Phil. 3:18. He said that although he wished everyone was walking with him to his heavenly home, he knew that many were not with him.  There were those he said who cared more about this world. “Their minds are set on earthly things”. He said.  And when he thought of these things the text says he wept. (3:18).

*This reminds me of the Prodigal son.  He left home and his loving family preferring the baubles of this world.  And every day the father wept just as Paul did for those he knew that had sold out.            But what a happy day it was when the son came home again.

Conclusion:   Where is your citizenship?  The path to citizenship comes through the cross.  When you place your faith in Christ and call upon him to be your Savior, then you too will be handed the keys to home.  Heaven will be yours.

 

Desert Storm

Desert Storm—Luke 4:1-13/Ps 91. DBC. March 10—Dr. Denny

Introduction:
        What were you doing on January 1991?  What was America doing on January 1991?  Let me jog your memory.  This was the year that we entered into a 60 billion dollar war.  That’s what it cost to conquer Saddam Hussein.  35 nations followed George Bush and the USA into battle to save Kuwait and conquer Iraq.  The war took 5 weeks.  There were 262 coalition casualties.  It was called Desert Storm.

Background:
         Now let’s step into another desert storm, the one mentioned with such gravitas in the book of Luke.  Here we find the Savior still dripping with the baptismal waters of the Jordan being led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judeato face trials and temptations of the Devil.  And as we step onto the hot sands of the desert, we realize a truth all too common to people of all ages.  We are all prone to trials, testing, and temptations in our lives.  We must be prepared and we must guard ourselves against the certain attacks of the enemy.
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The wilderness of Judea into which Jesus walked is a place of majestic, silent beauty.  It begins near the city of Jerusalem and tumbles thousands of feet down to the Dead Sea. Moses stared humbly at this wilderness from the mountains of Moabto the east of the Dead Sea.  God, however, would not allow him to enter. But Jesus did venture into the wilderness, led by the Spirit and you and I must also enter daily for the life of a Christian is not void of trials.  We, like the Savior, must expect the devil to attack us daily, seeking our weaknesses, exploiting our frailties, striving to weaken our resolve to follow Jesus to the end.

The Judean wilderness where Jesus walked for 40 days is the home of one of the world’s oldest monasteries—Mar Saba.  If you could look down from the air you would see it perched precariously on the edge of the Kidron Valley midway between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.  Built in the year 483 it houses today about 20 monks and is considered to be one of the world’s oldest monasteries.  It still maintains many of its ancient traditions. Mar Saba.jpg

It was into this rugged wilderness, the desert of Mar Saba, that Jesus wandered without food or water for 40 days fending off attacks by the Devil.  He studied the Savior and searched for weaknesses.

According to Luke, the devil knew Jesus was hungry and so he challenged him to turn the rocks into bread.  But Jesus said no.  Then the devil tempted him with power and fame.  ‘I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.’  But Jesus said no.  Then the devil tempted him to leap off the temple wall knowing the angels would come to his rescue.  But Jesus said no.

And so we too must learn to say NO! to the daily temptations that come our way.  And we can do this God’s help.

  *When was your last big test?  How did you handle it?  Did you fall apart?  Did you find your way through to success?

*The biggest test of my life did not come at my doctoral defense even though my best friend Phil Walker had gone into the room where the professors waited to grill all candidates for the doctor’s degree. And when he came out he was in tears. They had flunked his dissertation.  After many years of seminary work, he left without a degree. And as he passed me in shaking his head in utter disbelief, the door swung open and a boney hand from the lead professor summoned me in next.

No, the biggest trial of my life came at a much earlier time in my life.  I was just entering the second grade.  I had left Ms. White, my first-grade teacher behind in Sumpter South Carolina where I used to live in peace and tranquility.  And now I was in Japan and this was my first day in second grade with anew teacher I did not know or trust.  Her name was Ms. Mud and I think it was an appropriate name.

I sat near the back. I did not know anybody. I had no friends.  And then Ms. Mud made a declaration.  “All right, Class get out a sheet of paper.  We’re going to have a test.  I looked at her with my eyes blinking.  Ms. White didn’t give tests.  What is a test?  I squirmed uneasily.  “Number you page from 1-20.  I sighed with relief.  I did know my numbers.  I could probably count to 30.  I had this.

But then she started with something I did not understand.  She called out a word.  She said “our first word today is tree.  I noticed all the kids writing but I didn’t know what to write.  What did she want to know about trees?  I did like trees.  I had fallen out of one once.  I panicked. I didn’t know what to do.  So I just wrote YES!because I knew I did like trees.  But she kept going.  Our next word is DOG.  Everybody began writing.  I did like dogs.  I had a dog named Fluffy.  “YES! Our next word is GIRL.  By now I had it down.  Of course, I had no use for girls.  That was easy.  I wrote boldly the word NO.

When I was all down with the 20 words I turned in my test paper and waited for the verdict. Finally, she curled her finger at me like my doctoral professors and summoned me forward.  I came with high hopes. She stared at me hard with dark eyes and then scribbled a huge E on the paper.  I looked at the verdict and then smiled with such pride.  An Excellent on my fist test.  (It wasn’t until I got home that realized that than an E was a flunking grade).

Conclusion:
Tests and temptations come in all shapes and sizes.  None of us are immune to life’s trials.  Even Jesus faced them as we see so clearly in His Judean Wilderness experience.

Let’s close with the wondrous words of Ps 91, a Psalm for those under attack from the devil, for those of us in the midst of a desert storm.

In this amazing Psalm, we learn that God is our refuge and fortress in times of testing and temptation.  He builds an impenetrable wall about us.  He protects us.  He shelters us with His wings.   And he sends his angels to guard us in times of duress of temptation.

Each of these thoughts is a sermon in itself. God is our fortress—He shelters us with His wings—He sends His angels to watch over us.  Such powerful truths to help you and me through our wilderness wanderings, when we are under attack.

 

The Necessity of Daily Ascents

The Necessity of Daily Ascents—Luke 9:28-36- March 3, 2019—DBC—Dr. Denny

Introduction:  This morning we are going to take an exhilarating hike up one of the most iconic mountains in Palestine.  It will be a sacred ascent in the tradition of Jesus our Savior who made this very trek before us.  And in this journey, we will see the value of daily ascents.  I believe every Christian should make a daily ascent, a daily spiritual journey. Spiritual ascents help us to rediscover our purpose in life and they also recharge our spirits as we absorb the power and grace of the Savior.

Anyone who has the physical strength and mental determination can walk the Appalachian Trail in our country created in 1921. It runs 2200 miles and passes through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

However, if you go to Israel they too have such a trail—TheIsrael National Trail–that runs across the entire country of Israel from the north to the south—636 miles.  It takes about 60 days to walk the entire trail.  It is listed in National Geographic’s 20 most “epic trails.”  It is said, “to delve into the grade scale of biblical landscapes as well as the everyday lives of the modern Israeli.”

This trail passes by our mountain this morning—Mt. Tabor—located in the world that Jesus knew just 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.  It rises nearly 2000 ft out of the Jezreel Valley. It is a strange place because it is not a part of a mountain chain.  It is an island all to itself, a majestic respite from the lowlands around it.

Our Ascent up Mt. Tabor

As we follow the Savior up the mountain we will remember that 8 days before this trek up Mt. Tabor, Jesus fed the 5000 down by the Sea of Galilee.  And now Jesus needs to find some quiet time with God.  And so he gathers his closest disciples—Peter, James, and John- and invites them to join him in prayer on the Mt. Tabor.  (The mountain’s name is not mentioned in the Bible, but Origin, a luminary of the ancient church fathers of the 3rdcentury tells us that he believes Mt. Tabor to be the mountain).

The climb to the top is a beautiful one.  Mt. Tabor is covered with vegetation including oak trees and over 400 varieties of plants including the large yellow crocuses, the Persian lily that stands several feet tall dressed in royal purple flowers and black-eyes red tulips that take your breath.

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Chromolithographic card 1870-1880 by Helga Von Cramm

 

As Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up the long trail to the summit, they felt the presence of God in the beauty of the mountainside.  Finally, they all stopped at the top and each found a place to kneel and pray. But it wasn’t long before all of the disciples were fast asleep and Jesus was left alone to reflect on His life—its purpose and plan, just as we must do daily in our ascents, our moments alone with God.

But then a most remarkable thing happened, missed entirely by the sleeping disciples—Jesus was transformed.  The Greek text tells us his face changed much like that of Moses when he too climbed ancient Mt Horeb and received the law. Moses’ face glowed so brightly with the presence of the divine upon it that he had to cover it with a veil when he descended to talk with the people below.

And here the same thing happened-  Jesus’ face brimmed with a heavenly light and his garments sparkled with the dazzling brightness of lightning (a Greek word used only one time n the NT-ἐξαστράπτων).  If only we had not fallen asleep!  The disciples missed this at first.  Can you imagine?  But that was not all they missed.  For as Jesus prayed two men joined Him.  Moses and Elijah appeared upon the mountain and they all conversed.  This was predicted in the final verses of the OT. If you turn to the last page of the OT you will read in Malachi 4:5-6 that Moses and Elijah would come in the final days and this prediction is now happening on Mt Tabor while the disciples sleep.

Could we pause here and just gaze at the wonder of it all?  It is a heavenly scene like none other.  Thomas Aquinas called this the greatest of all Jesus’ miracles.  It is here that we get a glimpse behind the veil of time.  Here we see what one day we will all experience. Heavenly beings shining like lightning, speaking of heavenly things.

Would you like to know what they spoke of specifically?  We know what the conversation was about because Luke records it just as the disciples told him later.  What did they talk about?—They talked about the Cross and the impending departure of Jesus after the resurrection (Luke 9:31).

But now comes the part of the story I love.  Peter awakens and steps into a living dream.  Only it’s not really a dream.  For heaven is not a dream.  He witnessed the realities of heaven and could scarcely speak.  When his voice did come to him he could only stutter something silly like let me set up a tent for each of you so you can stay awhile.  The Bible tells us that he didn’t even know what he was saying!

Why do we need daily ascents?

  1. First of because they clarify our purpose for living.

When we pause in each day and step aside from our busy lives and venture up the mountain with Jesus we begin to rethink our purpose in life.  Why are we here?  What has God called us to do with our lives?  We need this time of reflection for without it we merely get lost in the world of endless activities.

  1. Secondly, we need to recharge our spirits. We need our faces to glow again.  We need to absorb the power and glory of God into our lives.  We need this daily and thus we need ascents daily.

Conclusion:

Last year one of the most amazing physical feats anyone has every accomplished happened in Yosemite National Park.  Alex Honnold, 33- climbed El Capitan, a 3000 vertical cliff face without any ropes or assistance. He planned this climb for 10 years and when he finally decided it was time to climb, on June 3, 2017, he had flutters in his stomach looking up at the peak in the clouds.  And then he took the first step up and for four hours he climbed straight up a cliff that all the experts said was impossible to conquer. When he finally scrambled up on the top, he posed for a selfie holding all of his gear: shoes and a bag of chalk.

As amazing as this was, it pales in comparison with the transfigured Jesus on little Mt. Tabor.  Maybe you can’t solo up El Capitan, but you can climb Mt. Tabor with Jesus and renew your purpose in life and recharge your spirit with the presence of God.