The Gate of Heaven

Genesis 28:17—July 19, 2020-  Zoom 16 Dr. David R. Denny

Introduction:  Today we will shadow Jacob as he sets off on a long journey of thousands of miles.  He is heading back to his roots, back to the Paddanaram, the Euphrates Valley area where Abraham grew up ,and where his relatives still lived.  It is an arduous trip that begins, up the seacoast of Palestine.  But what makes this excursion so unique is that Jacob, early in the journey, will stop at the very gate of heaven (Bethel).

            In our sermon today we will learn a simple but valuable truth—God is always near us.  He is not ‘off somewhere’ unknown to us.  He doesn’t not live far away as is depicted in ancient Egyptian pictures.  He is close by always, ready to listen to our cries, ready to come to our aid when we are weary, ready to guide uswhen we have lost our way.  That is the lesson today.  So let’s hurry and catch up with Jacob who has just set out to find a wife in Abraham’s village faraway.  (a simple outline—get a pencil at write it down as we go—And I will ost tht entire sermon on

1.  The Journey—Gen 28:10 tells us this:  “Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran.”  And just like that, an adventure of thousands of miles began.  Beersheba is south of Jerusalem.  Jacob begins there and follows the coastline north wondering if God is watching him, wondering if God cares.  

            *Your life journey began at a point in time, somewhere in the distant past.  Close your eyes for a minute.  Can you see the events of your past parading by in  your memory?  We’ve all been traveling like Jacob.  As we walk along our unique pathway in life, each step is unknown.  We walk by faith.  No one knows what today will bring.  None of us know how tomorrow will end.  Such was the case with Jacob.  He merely, as the Bible says in our text, “departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran.”  

2.  The Dream—After several days of travelling, Jacob stops at a “certain place” (v. 11) to rest for the night.  It is about 81 miles from Beersheba south of Jerusalem to Beitin, or as the Bible calls it, Bethel.  He had walked until the sun set.    That little detail tells us so much about the earnestness of Jacob.  He wasn’t wasting any time on this mission to find a bride.  He walked until the sun set.  

*There aren’t any lights where I live at night so when the sun sets you have to get home quick or the boogie man will get you.  When it’s pitch black, it’s time to get in the house.  And Jacob stopped after sunset, started a fire, propped up a rock pillow, and finally lay down to rest.  *Isn’t it a wonderful feeling after a long day around the house to just lay down and let the night sweep over you?  So it was for Jacob.  As he slept, he had a dream.  Dreams are windows to our soul.  They sometimes tell us about our lives, about our worries, about our aspirations.  When was the last time you had a dramatic dream?  –Jacob lay down upon his rock pillow, sighed deeply, and dreamed.  He saw a ladder reaching to Heaven and the angels of God were traveling up and down.  And he heard a voice from God speaking to him (Gen 28:13-15). 

3.  The Promise—As the dream unfolded, and the angels came and went, God makes several promises to Jacob–“I am with you and will keep you wherever you go… And I promise to get you back home safely with your bride” (Gen. 28:15).  

            God didn’t have to do that.  He didn’t have to make promises.  But it is the nature of God to help us on our journeys, and so He is generous with his promises.  And you can rest assured that these promises made to Jacob are valid for you as well:

            #1–I am with you.  #2. I will keep you wherever you go.  #3 I will get you safely home.  If you have some time after you get off Zoom, write these promises down and carry them with you today wherever you go:  REPEAT PROMISES—

4.  The Amazement—Now this brings us to the reaction of Jacob to this entire scene of the ladder and the angels and the voice of God and those marvelous promises.  Jacob sits up in the dark and his heart rings with amazement. 

  “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”(Gen. 28:16).  

Are you amazed by God anymore?  Are you amazed how God walks with you each day? Or have you become so used to your church traditions that you don’t really sense God’s presence anymore?  I want you to feel like Jacob did.  I want you to see the ladder touching your life.  I want you to want to jump and shout at what God is doing in your life today. 

            That last phrase is so powerful—“And I did not know it.”  Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  When Jacob stopped that night after the sun set, and found a rock for his pillow, and laid down to rest for the night, he didn’t know that God was there.  He didn’t know it.  But God was there all along.  

            And that brings me back to our main lesson for this sermon—God is always near us.  And so He is, whether we acknowledge Him or not—He is near us.  Whether we pray or not—He is near us.  Whether we call upon Him  or not—He is near us.  

            Jacob sat up like a bolt in the middle of the night and said, with amazement, “I didn’t even know God was here!”  (Take some time to find God today.  Speak to Him.  He is close by.  Just call upon Him and listen for His voice).

5.  The Dedication—And so our story closes with Jacob drifting off back to sleep amazed at his new discovery.  And as the ladder faded away into the bosom of the night, Jacob dedicated himself anew to his service to God.  He built an altar, poured oil upon it, and promised to serve and honor God for the rest of his life.


Will you do the same?  Let today be your “ladder” day. Be amazed at God’s presence in your life. Dedicate yourself anew to the Savior today. 

Wedding Pictures

Wedding Pictures—Ps 45—July 5, 2020. Zoom #14 Dr. David R. Denny. Accomac VA 

"Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made You glad...(Ps. 45:8).

Introduction:  Today we will peruse with joy and contemplation the wedding pictures of the Messiah.  We will all gather as special guests of the King to view the intimate portraits of him and his bride at their ivory palace.  Everybody who is somebody is there.  Guests from around the globe are in attendance.  We will join them and stare with wonder at this eternal union of the Bride and groom.

            Perhaps you remember the details of your wedding, the emotions of that tender moment, the impact it had on your life and still has to this very day.  Weddings are momentous occasions in our lives, and so it is with pleasure and joy that we join in this sacred event of Psalm 45.

Our outline is simple today:  

First we observe the wedding pictures of the Groom in all His majesty.  
Next we will reflect on the beauty of the Bride.  
Then finally we will slip into the wedding book ourselves and be more than observers.  (This is a mystery, as Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:32).  For make no mistake, Christ is the King and groom and we as believers are the bride in this memorable Psalm.

1.  The Majesty of the Groom.

            The first half of this Psalm features the Groom.  As we turn the pages of the wedding album, it is the Groom who stands out, featured prominently in all his splendor.  

            a.  First (vs 3-5), we see him as a mighty warrior capable of leading his armies into battle.  He carries a sword on his thigh (v3). He rides forth victoriously in his battle chariot. He fights for truth and justice and is the King of righteousness.  His arrows are sharp, and his skill as an archer is undisputable.  His arrows strike the hearts of his enemies as he flies courageously into the thick of battle.  

            b.  But this impressive warrior has another side.  The pictures shift as we come into verses 6-9.  Now we see him standing in the palace awaiting his bride.  He waits with a scepter that brands Him as the King.  His reputation is firmly established in all the region where He lives.  He is known as a one who hates evil and wickedness.  He has been anointed by God to rule with strength and joy.  He is a happy king and this is his blissful wedding day.

            Flip the pictures of the wedding album.  Study carefully this impressive King now surrounded by palatial glory. wearing garments that smell heavily of exotic perfumes.  His embroidered wedding robes are drenched in the fragrances of the orient: myrrh and aloe and cassia with the scent of cinnamon.  Behind him the palace orchestra plays melodies of joy that make everyone smile.  All about him are the noble ladies of the palace clad in golden garments from Ophir (where Solomon used to get his gold on ships from Tarshish every 3 years—1 Kings 10).  

            Now we must pause here for a brief intermission and slip into the pages of the NT for Breaking News.  The writer of Hebrews begins his book by reading from Psalm 45, our text this morning

            But of the Son, God says, Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His Kingdom.  You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions…

            What does this mean as he quotes our Psalm?  He makes it clear to all who have spiritual insight that the King in Psalm 35 is none other than Christ our Savior, the Son of God.  Our writer in Hebrews launches his book by glancing through the wedding pictures of Psalm 45 and finding Jesus.  It is Jesus, the Messiah, he says who stands in that palace on His wedding day.  And it is we who are the Bride.

            And so the Breaking News is breathtaking:  You and I are in this wedding album of Ps 45.  Christ is the Groom in the palace and we are the Bride, believers in the Christ.  This is our wedding day.  Now that is Breaking News!

2.  The Beauty of the Bride—13-15—Here the wedding album displays the bride sumptuously clothed in a flowing wedding dress embroidered with golden threads from Ophir, fluttering along the polished palace floors as she strolls through the entrance toward the King (making her grand entrance as brides do).  Her ladies in waiting traipse behind her monitoring every detail of this marital waltz as she comes ever closer to the Groom.  Every face is lit with joy, and every heart rejoices over this union.  —Ahh. It is so much to take in!  Step back for a moment now and reflect on its meaning—

3.  The Mystery of this Psalm—

            Paul calls this wedding a great mystery, illuminated by the Spirit of God for those who know Him personally.  He tells the Ephesian believers this in Eph 5:27 and 32-32:

            That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkly or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless…

            For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  The mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 

            And John the Apostle steps in to add his insights.  In the closing words of his great book Revelation, he sees a marvelous vision:  

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband (REV. 21:1-2). 

Conclusion:  As we close today’s sermon, we will take with us the pictures of the great wedding in Ps 45. Only now we see that we are the ones in the photo album. Psalm 45 is all about you and me, and the blending our of hearts in a royal wedding forever.

Finger Painting Psalm 8

June 7, 2020. Finger Painting    Psalm 8    


Introduction:  Today we’re going to do something fun and uplifting, because all we hear from day to day is bad news.  So today we’re going to finger paint.    We’re going to imitate God Himself.  As you can see in verse three, the Bible tells us that God used His fingers when He flung out the stars.  Isn’t that the most beautiful image?  You have to be a bit of artist to really see it.  God is sitting at His easel staring at the blackness of the universe when He lifts His fingers and begins to twirl and doodle bringing twinkling lights into view.  He smiles. He likes was is developing before His eyes.  

         Go ahead.  No one is watching you.  Turn off your video if you have to.  Lift your fingers and begin to draw in the air.   Scatter a few stars.  Drop a moon here and there.  How do you feel?  I want you to carry this image of God finger painting with you today.  Every so often, pause and see God at work, creating the world and us at His easel.  

Here is a simple two-point outline that will help us think about this activity of God:

1.  You are the artistic creation of God.  He made you while sitting in His studio, and in so doing found such joy in how you turned out.  He didn’t make a mistake.  If you have big ears, that is how God wanted it for you.  If you’re short or tall, God did it purposefully.  If you have blue eyes or brown eyes, that is what God wanted for you.  There’s no need to change yourself.  You are just the way He envisioned you.  You’re perfect in His eyes.  (Isn’t that a comforting and inspiring thought)?

         My mother was an artist.  She loved to sit and paint.  She took her first drawing class when we lived in Japan. The Tokyo Baptist Church had a school with a variety of classes from flower arranging to painting to lessons in Japanese.  She took them all, but she especially loved painting.  

         She learned later in life how to do toll painting.  She would paint flowers and trees and landscape images on pots, spoons, plates etc.  That is the very scene we see here in our text.  “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained…” (Ps 8:3).  God is toll painting as He makes His world.  

         We are not accidents of evolution.  We aren’t mistakes.  We are the product of God’s artistry.  He made us and loved us as soon as He created us.

2.  You are valued.  You aren’t just some castaway tossed to the side of the street.  God created you and now He values you more and more each day.  

         a.  He thinks about you every day. (v4).  Nothing lifts our spirits more than a little card in the mail from a friend saying these simple words:  “I was thinking about you.”  And God writes one of these each day and sends it to you.  “I don’t need anything,” He says.   “I’m was just thinking about you.”  We are valued.  

         b.  He made us a little lower than Himself (v5).  That is an amazing thought.  We’re just a little lower than Himself.  

         *In the year 42 BC , the Roman senate did something it had never done before:  it deified Julius Caesar.  Before this no Roman citizen had ever been declared a god.  But now there was one—Caesar.  The Psalmist tells us that God made us a little lower than Himself.  We are not equal with God, but we bear so many of His features.  We look a little like him, walk like Him, act like Him.  We are just a little lower than Him. And so we are valued by our Creator.

         *There is an art collector in Paris who has accumulated over 2000 original artifacts about Napoleon Bonaparte.  He has his entire house dedicated to Napoleon. He has Napoleon’s war hat, the very throne he sat on, and he wears the sapphire ring Napoleon wore.  It is obvious what he values.  I saw no pictures of his wife or his parents or his children.  Only Napoleon.  

         But if you stroll through heaven, you will pictures of you spread all over heaven.  All He talks about is you.  You are valued by God.


         How did you do in your finger painting moment?  I hope you see God crating you at His heavenly easel as you live out this day.  And remember forever this simple but profound truth:  You are the artistic creation of God and you are highly valued in heaven.

Voices from the Past–Skeletons

Petronius, Satyricon 5:34

Banqueting in Nero’s palace.

Trimalchio’s extravagant and outrageous dinner feast, in the heart of ancient Rome, paused as Ethiopian slaves hustled away the previous course of peahen eggs.  Oh, so delicious they were, nicely seasoned with pepper and hiding fat orioles within. Soon, two other slaves with curly hair carried little skin bottles and poured wine over our hands.  Everyone clapped enthusiastically, and then glass jars, carefully sealed and coated, were set before us.  

Trimalchio, the host, interrupted our wine-label reading and announced that this wine was the real stuff, genuine Falerian wine 100 years old, bottled in the consulship of Opimius   He smiled and then chirped that this expensive elixir would outlast us all and urged us to drink heartily.  

While we were sipping and savoring the luxurious wine, a whistling slave brought in a silver skeleton fastened in such a way that the joints could be bent in any direction.  The servants tossed it upon the table before us and twisted it into several suggestive postures while Trimalchio recited his own poem:

Nothing but bones, that what we are.
Death hustles us humans away.
Today we’re here, and tomorrow we’re not,
So live and drink while you may!

David said our lives are nothing more than breaths of air that slip into the evening mists with barely a notice.  He and Trimalchio, with his wriggling silver skeleton,  mutter the same truth:  we don’t have long on this earth.   

            “LORD, …You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Ps 139:4-5). 

Kiss the skeleton 
and make today count.

“This is a brief life, but in its brevity
it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.”
Rudyard Kipling

Voices from the Past–Treasure

Gaul gold stater 58 BC

Gaul golden stater 58 BC

Caesar, The Gallic War 6:17

As Caesar traveled through the land of the Gauls, he noticed an unusual custom observed by these warrior peoples.  After battles, the Gauls gather the spoils of war into the local village and pile them in sacred heaps in public places.  As the inhabitants go about their normal duties, they pass by the glittering mounds of gold and silver objects with no thought of taking them secretly.   Day after day, the morning sun reflects off the treasures reminding citizens of the victory in battle, fanning a pride in accomplishment.  And in the evening’s moon glow, as people return from the fields, these spoils of war usher them home, breeding quiet confidence in the army’s power.

    Should anyone break these rules and pilfer from the treasure pile secretly, woe to them.  If discovered, they are dragged from their home and tortured grievously for the offense.   

            Achan could have profited by this custom of honesty.  It was Achan who stole from his town’s sacred pile of war loot, dreaming night after night of a beautiful mantel from Shinar. He took the mantle and stole 200 shekels of silver and a heavy bar of gold, hurrying home to bury them in the ground beneath his family tent. When Joshua discovered this breach of trust, the retaliation was brutal and swift (Joshua 7).

            Jesus offers valuable spiritual advice about treasure:  “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).

Earthly treasures fade.
Heavenly treasures glitter forever.

“Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.”

Voices from the Past–Ennobling

Xenophon, Anabasis 6:5

Jean Adrien Guignet

The army stood, stumped, at the deep ravine, unable to go on in pursuit of the Bithynian army.  “It can’t be passed,” said general Sophaenetus, staring at the crevasse before them.  “It’s too deep and risky.  Let’s turn back.”  While the soldiers grumbled, Xenophon rode up in a frenzy, asking why the army had stopped moving.  “It’s the ravine, sir,” barked Sophaenetus, the oldest general. 

 “Nonsense!” said Xenophon, who, after a brief pep talk to the hesitant force, led the men step by step down into the treacherous deep.  When they gathered victorious on the other side, Xenophon ordered his men into battle formation and said this one notable thing:  “Listen, men.  The enemy is just beyond that ridge.  So as we march on, call the names of those marching beside you.  Inspire them. And remember to do something ennobling today, something memorable, so that no matter what happens in combat, people will whisper your name in awe for generations to come.”

Then, marching with purpose rapidly, they pursued the Bithynians.  Suddenly, the trumpet sounded, they struck up the paean, raised the battle-cry, couched their spears, and sent the enemy running for the hills. 

            Ravines often bring out the worst in us, forcing us to turn away from a destination or goal in frustration.  But they can be a turning point, a rare chance to say or do something ennobling.  

            Paul said to Titus, “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame…” (Titus 2:7-8).

Strike up the paean!
Do something ennobling today.
“Make each day your masterpiece.”
John Wooden

Voices from the Past–Forgotten

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1

Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon


Pausanias, our tour guide to the mysteries of ancient Greece, stands upon the Sounion promontory at the edge of the world, so it seems. This tip of land rises high above the Aegean Sea about 43 miles south of Athens.  Upon it rests the slender ivory pillars of the Temple of Poseidon where Lord Byron once etched his name into the base of one of the columns and wrote these memorable words:  

“Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
where nothing, save the waves and I,
may hear our mutual murmurs sweep…”

            Pausanias, standing in the shadow of the glorious temple atop the promontory, points to the harbor ahead and then bids us glance at the ancient town of Laurium.  He mentions in a passing breath that this was where the Athenians once exploited silver mines.  It was from these mines that untold scores of unfortunate slaves toiled night and day, scraping out the precious silver to make Athenian coins.  There were as many as 20,000 pitiful slaves, many of them children, who worked in deplorable conditions and died forgotten in these ghastly silver-sprayed shafts of the deep.

For Pausanias, the mines were a mere novelty and he didn’t linger more than a few seconds before leading us on to grander themes.  But I wonder—

            Are you forgotten?  Do you call Laurium home?  Isaiah reminds us of a golden truth:  

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:15).  

Don’t let the mines crush you.
God has not forgotten you.

“We sometimes think we want to disappear,
but all we really want is to be found.”

Voices from the Past–Weariness

Xenophon, Anabasis 5:8

Dr. David R. Denny 

A fierce, wintery wind whipped the beaten soldiers as they trudged through the Pontic Mountains toward the Black Sea.  Artaxerxes had chased them for weeks, and the Greek army was exhausted.  One by one, they fell, frostbitten, and defeated by winter’s merciless breath…

Paul said it best:  “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ…And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal. 6:2/9).

 Put the shovel down!
Don’t let weariness win.

 “I know not age, nor weariness nor defeat.”
Rose Kennedy


Turning Corners

Turning Corners by David R. Denny

Walk long enough on a straight path, and you will, of course, fall off the earth.  That’s why we have corners.  They entice us gently to change our course, to explore something yet unseen, to visit some vista just beyond sight.

One morning on a stroll through Onancock, I spotted a corner just up the way.  Corners1Everything curved around a light post and roamed off somewhere beyond my sight.  I paused to consider several options:  I could turn back and step on the familiar cracks of a sidewalk already visited or say a prayer and venture forward.  I opted to embrace the curve like Marco Polo, who always cut his anchors and sailed boldly ahead.

 Corners can be a little frightening at times.  They chide those who don’t like to change, mocking with polite chuckles all timid souls who simply refuse to step out of their ruts.

I swallowed hard, hailed Marco, and opted for a new adventure.  My reward was almost instantaneous.  I had barely entered the windblown curve when the sweet savor of honeybuns and chocolate eclairs wafted through a screen door.Corners2

I was never so glad for turning a corner in my life.  What about you?

The Debutante

The Debutante by David R. Denny

In all honesty, her features were less than pristine; some would even say, rather dull.  Perhaps it was the prominent forehead that seemed almost to resemble the bow of a great ocean vessel or maybe it was the sheer bulk of the girl—her squared shoulders, lack of a waistline, rounded feet that made any shoe seem ill-fitted, etc. She certainly did not seem like debutante ball material.

The whisperings around town plagued her whenever she ventured out on some innocent errand. She preferred the sideroads and back paths when possible but all too many times there were none and she was forced to face her public.  These were the moments that tried her soul.  Her heavy heart wondered how she could ever mingle with bankers’ daughters or other elites on the night of the festivities.

It was with glee that she stood one fine morning in front of Sherry’s Clothing store starring in the window. The dress was perfect, gleaming in rare, Ox-blood red, known as rare chic on the streets of Paris but unheard of in this small town.  Standing alone before the slim mannequin, lost in a storybook fantasy, she wondered what people would say.   She knew it broke all the rules of debutante white, but still, hers had not been a preferred path in life and now was not a time to make changes….

The evening unfolded with feathers and veils.  The chosen ones, girls with pedigrees, strolled under lights into the ballroom, their headdresses glowing with stardust. Accompanied by black vested dates, the ladies smiled and curtsied in the custom of grand traditions.

And then a hush fell as a single beam alighted upon the door frame beneath which stood our heroine, swaddled in scarlet, smiling beneath the blessings of heaven’s panoply.
David R. Denny