Turning Points

Turning Points
Acts 11:1-18—May 19, 2019–David R. Denny PhD
Drummondtown Baptist Church–Accomac Virginia

Introduction:  Where were you on Christmas Day, December 25th, 1776?  If you can’t remember, then let me refresh your memory and remind you what happened on that fateful day in American history.  (I do this because the theme of my sermon today is Turning Points so I will begin by taking you to this turning point in American history).

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Turning Point #1—An example from American History.

This was the day Washington and his Continental troops decided to take a huge risk and cross the Delaware River.  Then they attacked the British at Trenton NJ.  Morale had been perilously low for the American forces.  They had lost N Y C and they had been chased like rabbits all over the place.  Troops were deserting or their enlistments were up.  Just before the daring battle plan to attack with only 2400 troops, Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet called The American Crisis.   Here is what he wrote:  READ—-Within one day of its publication and just before the attack, Washington read this pamphlet to his troops.  It instantly became a turning point. Morale shot up and the troops were ready to fight.

Turning point #2—Salvation comes to the Gentiles (Acts 11)

Now let’s go back further in time to a breathtaking turning point that took place in a coastal town on the shores of the Mediterranean not far from Mt Zion that we studied Wednesday night.  Caesarea is the location of our story today. It was the capital of Palestine after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.  It was built by Herod and became the region’s most beautiful city.  Herod spent 12 years building a harbor that spilled out beneath his great palace.  He also built a hippodrome that stat seated 20,000 spectators to watch chariot races. And there was a huge aqueduct that brought water to the city from Mt. Carmel from the north and a grand amphitheater still used today for modern outdoor events. And in excavations of the 1950s, a plaque with Pilate’s name on it was found proving his existence.
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It was in this grand city that Peter, directed by a vision, came to meet with Cornelius, a Roman centurion who though not a Jew still worshipped God with great piety.  Peter came to his home nervous about this breach of protocol. Jewish men were not allowed to enter a Gentile’s home or eat with them.  And yet Peter did these things because of a vision directing him to this place.  And as he spoke to the Gentiles gathered in the soldier’s home an amazing thing happened that stunned Peter and the Jerusalem church to the core.  It was so powerful a turning point that the Christians in Jerusalem didn’t believe it and argued with Peter about later when he arrived there In Acts 11.

So what was this amazing turning point event? It happened as Peter told the soldier’s family the gospel story about the death and resurrection of Jesus. While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles (Acts 10:44).  These non-Jewish men and women began to speak with tongues just as the Jewish brethren had done on Mt. Zion in the upper room.  And when the Jerusalem brethren heard the story they finally realized a profound truth that we know today:  God Loves Everyone.  Not just a select few from a certain city or location, but everyone.

Today we know and accept this truth as almost commonplace.  We know that we here in our church on Front Street aren’t the only ones whom God loves.  Everyone is invited to our services and everyone is invited to believe in Christ and find salvation.  BUT—back in time, back in the ancient city called Caesarea, this was not the case.  Then only a select few were considered the chosen ones. Until this eventful day when Peter preached to a soldier’s family along the coast of the sea and the love of God enveloped them all.  It was a Turning Point.

Turning Points that come  in our lives as a result of this miracle of the past:

            Now let’s think about lives today.  How does this miracle at Caesarea affect us today?  It does every day in countless small and great turning points that make up our lives. Because we know God loves us and we are not excluded from heaven’s blessing, we live so differently.  All the decisions in our lives are sparked by this first miracle by the sea.

Your life today would be so different if Peter had not gone to Caesarea. Your life would not be the same one you live today if the Spirit of God had not fallen upon the soldier and his family and friends.  Every step you take today is forever linked to this first turning point.

When you chose to marry, what did you do? You prayed for guidance from the God who loves you.  (The first turning point now affects this turning point).  And the result is that God led you to your husband or wife.
*This was the case with Isaac of old.  When he was nearing 40 years of age, he prayed for a wife.  It is one of the most beautiful stories of the OT.  It is told in Genesis 24.   Abraham, very old, sends his servant Eliezer to find a bride.  And when he sees Rebekah at the well he thinks this is the one.  Issac and R.jpgThe story concludes on such a touching scene In Gen. 24:62).  Isaac is in the field one evening meditating when he sees camels coming in the distance. He begins to walk toward them for he knows that this might be the woman God has chosen for him.  And as he walks ever faster toward the camels, Rebekah also sees the shape of a man approaching and wonders who it is.  “That is my master,” said Eliezer.  And when they got closer she discreetly covers her face with a veil.  Isaac does the smart thing and immediately takes her to his mother’s tent for Sarah’s approval.  And then the romance unfurls and they are married and the Bible says Isaac loved her with all his heart.—

It was a turning point.  It was linked to the core truth—God loves me.  The same truth Cornelius came to know. The same truth you and I know.  And now all turning points are forever linked to God as we move day by day through this life.

Conclusion:

Have you accepted the first truth—that God loves you?  Have you opened your life to the Lord and yielded yourself and your future into His hands?  If not make this moment a turning point and trust Him to be our Savior.

Nightmare on Straight Street

Nightmare on Straight Street(Acts 9:11).  May 5, 2019.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a difficult but necessary task lies before you.  You can try to run from this challenge like Jonah did, but chances are if you resist the challenge you will encounter a whale, (in other words, there will be consequences).

I want to take you to such an event this morning and show you how an ordinary person—a person like you and me, faced a difficult decision, and how he handled it.  Perhaps this story will inspire you to face some fear in your life or to move forward on some difficult decision.

Background

There are two streets mentioned in our story this morning—one is unnamed and one is called Straight.  On the unnamed street near Damascus Saul travels on a ruthless mission.  His face is hard and set on murder.  With every labored breath, he utters a threat against the Christians who live peacefully in the ancient walled city of Damascus.

*On an old map dated 1855, tradition marks the place that Saul fell to the dusty street and fought against a heavenly voice and a bright light that blinded him.
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He was nearly there.  He was so close to committing the crimes against innocent saints.  He could see the walls of the old city looming just beyond the gardens and olive groves on the southern side of the city.  But God stopped him in his tracks before the untold atrocities could erupt in his untethered heart.

But there is another street mentioned in our story:  the street called Straight.  It was an ancient Roman road built in the fashion of Roman logic and orderliness. It ran 1500 meters (nearly a mile) west to east, perfectly straight, with a series of north/south corridors like river tributaries crisscrossing this main artery.

*I have an old photo made in 1900.  It has been colorized and it shows people strolling casually down the narrow street called Straight.  A few are on horseback dressed in Syrian garments.  Some are westerners wearing London suits carrying parasols to shade themselves from the fierce midday sun.

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It is on this thoroughfare that history was forever changed.  For it was here on the western side of Straight Street not far from the city where a disciple of Jesus named Judas lived. And it was here that Saul the raging bull lay trembling with confusion, blinded by a terrific light.  And it is here in Judas’ house that we have the Nightmare on Straight Street.

 

  1. God often used ordinary people to do difficult things.

Now we must pause and pick up our protagonist for this story on the northeastern side of the city.  On my old map, I see the house of Ananias near an old cemetery that lay just outside the wall. And it is there that we meet a believer in Jesus.  He is an ordinary man.   And it is here that I must pause and make the first of two points this morning:  God often uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  I see this principle at work throughout the Scriptures:  It was an ordinary low born Hebrew child in Egypt—just a little baby of slave parents, who rose to become Moses the liberator of a nation.  And it was just a lowly, ordinary lad who kept sheep in the hills around Bethlehem that pick up a few stones and slew Goliath.

And so don’t be alarmed if God taps you on the shoulder and asks you to step into a challenging task, a difficult assignment that you might feel is beyond your ability. Just remember our first lesson this morning:  God often uses ordinary people to do difficult things.

And this was the case when God slipped quietly into Ananias’ life with a vision(Acts 9:10).  “Ananias, I have a job for you.”  “What is it, Lord?”  “I want you to slip down the street called Straight just a few blocks from you live and lay your healing hands upon a murderer of saints.  He trembles in blindness in Judas’ house.  Go and touch his eyes for me.”

An ordinary man asked to do a difficult task.  He should have said no!

*I read an article the other day entitled 10 guilt-free strategies for saying no. In each scenario, the author shows us how to gracefully and effectively say no.  I don’t think Ananias had read this article.  He tried to say no but he couldn’t pull it off.  It isn’t logical to liberate murderers and criminals.  But his no carried no power with Jesus who quickly brushed his protest off and told him quietly clearly to just get up and GO!

*I often wondered how he would explain this assignment to his wife: Honey, I have to go out for a while.  “Where?  Just out. Where?  Down to Judas’ house.  Birthday? No.  Why?  To help a murderer!

So let’s all learn from this.  God sometimes asks us to do things that are difficult, out of the ordinary, things that we don’t understand.

  1. Difficult challenges make us stronger. It was Peter who said in 1 Peter 5:10 that difficult challenges always result in wonderful personal benefits.  And so is the case here.  Ananias is ordered to do a difficult thing:  Go and help Saul your mortal enemy.  It was a supreme challenge but it led to the birth of the world’s greatest missionary—the Apostle Paul.

*George Washington was given this impossible task.  Defend NYC against the British.  But the British had unlimited resources, and scores of powerful ships and 20,000 well-armed soldiers.  In Ron Chernow’s book on Washington he said, “For some soldiers, their only weapons consisted of sharpened scythes fastened to poles, forming primitive spears” (p. 253). Washington lost NYC but in that struggle, he learned about himself, and somehow gained a new strength that eventually led his forces to victory at Yorktown.

Conclusion:

Perhaps the greatest example of an ordinary man facing a difficult challenge is seen in the garden of Gethsemane.  There Jesus, a man born of poor ordinary parents, was now challenged to save the world and die upon the cross.  He kneeled in the garden that night and Luke tells us that he was in such agony and distress that he prayed for the cup to pass from Him if possible and He sweats drops of blood, so great was His inner turmoil.

As we leave the Nightmare on Straight Street let us bid Anania’s farewell and leave determined that we too will face life’s difficult choices with courage and hope knowing God is with us all the way.

My Mother’s Cake

My Mother’s Cake
(Mother’s day) 2 Timothy 1:5–May 12, 2019. Dr. David R. Denny
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Introduction:

Timothy’s mother’s name was Eunice and I’m sure she made a chocolate cake for him when he was a little boy.  Timothy and Paul often reminisced about Eunice and Lois, her mother, in the evenings when time slows down and memories begin to chatter.  I have searched my Greek NT for Eunice’s chocolate cake recipe but for some reason, I am coming up blank.  So I thought I would tell you about my mother’s cake since I was there—an active eye witness to this pleasant part of my childhood.

Every time I meditate on my mother’s cake adventure I grow to appreciate many qualities that mothers share.

 First of all, I have to begin by stating unequivocally that my mother could not cook worth a lick.  (If she were sitting in the front row here, after throwing a coffee cup at me, she would grudgingly agree).  Dinner time for me as a boy was often about survival.  My mother tried her best to cook spinach and cauliflower and other exotic vegetables which nearly killed me.  But I will say that through it all she emerged the victor on three items which I gladly ate without complaint:

I’ll start with the dessert entre firstforget the Triple-cheese Cheesecake with Amaretti Crust or the Hazelnut-and-Chocolate Meringue Cake.  No—she gave up on those long ago.  But somehow she perfected chocolate pudding.  So I always had a dessert.  —And then for the main course after a hundred burnt beef tips and meatloaves, she learned how to put on my plate—are you ready?—spaghetti. Not the sauce—Just the spaghetti.    She would cook it in an old tin pot and when it was finished she would hover over me at the table and pour it out in one big mound.  When I saw it, I felt safe.  She never mangled spaghetti.  And then for the beverage ( I call it the first course), she would set before me in a purple or orange Five and Dime plastic glass some southern tea with a twist of lemon.  She was really good at that.

So there you have it—three courses that made me what I am today—tea—plain spaghetti and chocolate pudding!

  1. Mothers gather. Everything I ever needed to know about mothers I learned from watching her bake my first chocolate cake. And so when I saw her standing all excited in the kitchen one bright morning in Sumpter SC near Shaw Air Force Base, I knew something was up.  I sat down on the floor and watched her gathering all the supplies.  She had a recipe book, the pages wrinkled with exasperated tears from many a failure, and a big green bowl and whisk and some eggs, etc.

Mothers are good at gathering what their kids need to be successful. They gather activities, Bible Schools, opportunities, birthday parties, and anything that will help us blossom as people.

* Once when I was just beginning to learn to read, she sat down on the sofa in our little house off base after gathering up the morning newspaper.  She patted the sofa with a smile and I joined her.  “Let’s look for all the THE words,” she said smiling.  She slid her index finger along the first line and stopped at a THE. I looked at the three letters and then asked excitedly if I could try. “Sure,” she said.  And off we went GATHERING…

Not only did she gather the paper for me and all the THESShe gathered the opportunity to be with me and make me feel important.  I learned this quality of motherhood from watching her bake my first chocolate cake. She had gathered all her supplies to be successful.

  1. Mothers Sift. She had poured out the flour from the mix into a bowl.  Then she put a cupful into a sifter to get out the lumps and to make the flour softer.  By now she was humming softly and enjoying herself.  I just sat there with my chin propped up spellbound.  It was later in life that I realized that mothers are skillful at sifting the good and bad elements of life for their children. It’s a daily chore all mothers master because this is a challenging world and kids are mischievous by nature.

*When I was in kindergarten, I remember practicing some new words in class. These were unusual words that all seemed to have four letters.  They rolled off my tongue so deliciously, but my teacher didn’t like them at all and she dragged me into the bathroom and washed my tongue with soap.  Then she gave me a note to take home.  When I gave it to my mother, she began sitting at once.  It was instinct.  She lugged me to the bathroom and did the same thing—soaping up my mouth—sifting good from evil.  I’m far from perfect today, but when I tend to stray, I remember her sifting the chocolate cake flour and her sifting out my bad words.

  1. Mothers Pray. When she had finished all her tasks and was ready to slide the cake into the oven, she did something I will always remember—She stopped and said a little prayer.  It wasn’t much.  Very simple something like “Father, bless this cake.”  Then she slid it into the oven and closed the door. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just the cake that was baking.  It was the prayer baking too.

I came to understand as I grew older that good mothers know the meaning of thoughtful prayer.  She prayed for me each day when I rode my bike off to school at the Yokohama Air Force Base in Japan.   She prayed for me just before she turned off the lights at night in my bedroom.  If it wasn’t for a million prayers of mothers all around the globe, the world as we know it would be no more.

*John tells us in Revelation 5:8that all of these humble prayers of mothers are gathered carefully into sacred golden bowls and given to the Lamb of God who stands beside the great throne of God.  A mother’s prayer never dies.  It lives on in heaven forever.    I learned all of this by watching my mother bake a chocolate cake for me one morning long ago.

  1. Mothers Wait Expectantly. Once the oven door closed, I wondered what was next.  That’s when my mother said, “Now we wait.  It’s going to be a wonderful cake.”  And that‘s when I realized that every mother spends her life waiting expectantly for good things to happen in her family.

Mothers are like everyone. They are prone to discouragement and despair.  They know hardships and heartaches.  But beneath it all, mothers believe in their children and their families.  They wait expecting the cloud to lift and the good days that will come. And so it was that day when she slid the cake into the oven.  She settled back with a happy expectancy believing in her cake.

*I have a photo of my mother standing beside Alice and me outside the graduation chapel at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  It had taken me many years to get this day. And through all of those, even though I had left home years earlier, she was still waiting expectantly.  In the photo, she stands beside me as if the oven door had just opened and the beautiful cake was done.  It’s what mothers do.  They wait and believe.

 

  1. Mothers Celebrate (in Good Times and Bad). She told me that when I hear the bell ring that means to come running, the cake is done and ready for icing.  And so I remember pacing around the living room counting my steps over and over to pass the time when all of a sudden the bell started jumping and hollering.  We both hurried to the oven door.  She opened it and took out the cake.  It smelled divine and when we finally saw it we stared for a few seconds, taking it all in.  I wasn’t sure what to say.  I looked at her face.  She studied the cake for a few seconds, her brow wrinkling softly, and then smiled and so I smiled.  She set it down on the special platter she had on the dining room table.  The entire cake leaned to the left like the Tower of Pisa.  In the center, there was a large sunken crater. 

She ignored all the deficiencies and began to celebrate by icing the cake with great cheer.  She spread the icing generously making little waves here and there and letting me lick the knife.  And when it was done I learned the final truth:  mothers know how to celebrate in good times and bad—and I realized that the real icing in a mother’s cake is not the chocolate—but the love.