Reverend

Pastor’s Point 

(My column in the Sunday bulletin at the Drummondtown Baptist Church, Accomac, Virginia 23301)

 

Of all his attributes, it was the eyes I loved the best.

On a bad day, they encouraged me; on a good day, they laughed with me.  It was all there in his eyes.  And when I want to see him again since he’s been gone so long, all I have to do is summon the eyes, and he is with me.  And then I am at peace.

I knew him from birth.  We grew up together.  I taught him the essentials of the world about him, but I never taught him loyalty.  He had that tucked away deep inside from the first days.

He and I would walk every morning down Cheriton’s main street, skipping past the still sleeping town lawns until we reached the highway.  Then with anticipation growing, we would bolt across the road on our way to the Bay at Cherrystone—back when the campground was a quiet oasis without all the fuss you see today.

On our way, we played hide and seek through fields of gold until we both rounded a corner, pausing to smell the salt air mingling with sunrise fingers that stretched over the harbor.  We sat together and watched little fishing boats slither out across still water in search of buried treasure, crab pots piled high in the stern.

I still miss him today, but when I miss him the most, I just look for the eyes.  And when I do, he is with me again–my Irish setter named Reverend.

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Making the List

Making the List—2 Timothy 2:8-15. DBC. October 13, 2019. Dr. Denny

Auschwitz-Birkenau-Poland-1129x752.jpg.optimal.jpg

Introduction:   It was morning in southern Poland and Auschwitz was just waking up.  Elie Wiesel was only 15, one of the youngest prisoners in the concentration camp.  His mother, father, and siblings had been rounded up from a little town in Hungary by the Nazis in 1944 and hauled off in a packed cattle car to the prison camp known for the billowing black smoke pouring from the extermination ovens that burned human sacrifices day and night.

One morning Elie woke up trembling with fear.  This could be the day he would be sent to the ovens.  Everyone in his barracks was ordered to line up outside.  Then one by one, when a name was called, the prisoner stepped forward for inspection.  Those deemed weak and useless for manual labor were ordered to the left.  Those who could work were sent to the right.  The left was the ovens. The right was 18 hours of hard labor. Elie recounts in his book Night that he stepped forward when called and then spontaneously began running back and forth in front of the inspector.  He ran for his life hopping and jumping, proving his worth, demonstrating his strength and praying to a God he no longer believed in for help.

Background:  When we turn to 2 Timothy in the NT we feel as if we are reading Night by Elie Wiesel.  Paul, like Elie and his father, is imprisoned in Rome’s worst nightmare, the Mamertine jail (recently restored by archaeologists and open for tourists).  Paul now bears the label of “criminal” κακοῦργος. The word was popular in the time of Nero who burnt the city down and blamed the Roman Christians.  Rome burning.jpgPaul is now in that category of miscreants who destroyed 70% of the city of Rome in the fire.  He is bound to the walls of the prison in chains. He is condemned to death and he says “the time of my departure has come.”

And then comes the statement in our text today (2 Tim 2:15) that sends shivers up my spine.  Paul says to timothy and to us today, Prepare to step forward and prove yourself to be a fit and ready workman ready to toil for the gospel.  Make sure you get on the List.  Don’t let them discard you to the ovens. 

Paul gives us three insights into the heart and soul of an approved workman.  See you think like Paul as I present them:

  1. See the Big PictureDon’t get caught up on the details of your life. Look beyond your present troubles and see the big picture—see how your life fits into the overall plan of God.  Paul could have focused on his chains.  He could have spent the hours in the day pulling on the chains tethered to the dungeon wall, feeling his loss of freedom, feeling defeated and abandoned.

*It would like a man summoned to a rich man’s palace and given the commission to create a landscaped paradise on the 200 acres that rolled out before the castle.  I want waterfalls, and orchards of white blossomed trees, and acres of lavender orchids.  Now get started.  And the man wanders into the field and pauses to smell a single dwarfed lily forgetting the vast undertaking before him.  He can’t see the big picture.  Just the lily.

Paul says I know I’m in jail, chained to this wall but I look beyond my immediate pain.  After all, he says in verse 9—I might be chained to the wall but the Word of God is not chained.  There it is!  There’s the big picture forming in his mind.  Now he’s looking to something bigger—to God’s guiding hand in the midst of the dungeon’s darkness.  An approved workman sees the big picture.

  1. Build up your endurance. You’ve got to have. Endurance, Paul says, to be an approved workman.  Otherwise, you will falter when the first storm comes.  And in Elie Wiesel’s case, anyone who faltered in the work fields was shot on the spot.  Endurance is essential for survival.

*I looked up to see how a boxer toughens his body for the grueling 125 rounds of a boxing match.  He has to have endurance.  One way was to work his abs in training.  So now I’m going to tell you all a secret to those six-pack abs you all dream about every night.  And don’t say you never get anything practical in my sermons.  Here it is.  How to get DBC six-pack abs!  The technique boxers use is simple and effective.  Here is what you need:  An Amazon Basics Medicine Ball–$33 bucks and free shipping.  Or any medicine ball.  They range from 1 to 50 pounds.  2.  A partner.   You need someone who has room for improvement on the waistline.  Now you and your partner stand about 3-5 five feet from each other.  One of you takes the ball, grip it solidly and then toss it with power to your friend’s stomach.  Now the secret is for the one receiving the ball to let it smack your stomach first then catch it.  Do this a hundred time s a day for 20 years and you too can have the dream abs that will likely get you into the movies.

Paul tells us that an approved workman has a certain toughness, a measure of endurance to weather the storms that come in life.

  1. Avoid distractions: The final element in making the List of approved workmen is to avoid distractions.  Paul remembers so many meetings he held over the years where people got into senseless meaningless arguments, “wrangling over words” was how he put in in verse 14.  It’s just a waste of time, he said.  Silly distractions just lead to ruin.

In Elie’s case, distractions on the work line would have resulted in a fierce whipping or worse.  And Paul is telling us that we have work to do for the Lord and we don’t want to drift away into a world of distractions.

*When I had just gotten my little Irish Setter, Reverend, years ago, I began training him.  I used to walk him along some country roads teaching him to heel.  It took a while but he eventually got it down pretty good.  Irish setter.jpgHis main flaw in the training was that as we walked along with me shouting Heel!  He would often smell the most delicious daffodils on the side of the road and they would distract him.  He was a connoisseur of smells and anything would do.  But daffodils were one of his favorites.  I would yell heel land he would stroll over and take a long smell of the sweet fragrance and then look at me with indifference.

Conclusion:

Every month I get a little booklet in the mail that I don’t use.  But it comes anyway.  It’s called Angie’s List.  It’s a magazine filled with approved workmen.  It has their history, their services, their star rating and if you choose one there might be a discount.  Everyone is approved.  They’ve all made the list.

Angie’s list might have its. Purpose but I would like to recommend Paul’s List.  To get on it you must learn to see the big picture when life squeezes you hard—you need to have endurance and you must be capable of focusing on the lesson at hand—avoiding distractions.  Do this and you will Make the List.”

 

3-2-1-Ignition

3-2-1-Ignition—2 Timothy 1:1-14—Dr. Denny—DBC—October 6, 2019220px-Ham_Launch_-_GPN-2000-001007_(cropped).jpg

Introduction:  On the morning of May 5, 1961, a Mercury-Redstone rocket, 82 feet tall rose from the launch pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  Sitting inside the cramped Mercury capsule was astronaut Alan Shepard who was about to kick start America’s future as a spacefaring nation.

It was a critical time in our country because just two weeks before this date the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space orbiting the Earth for 108 minutes.  The American spirit for space travel had been faltering up to this point.  Bu Alan Shepard changed the equation to one of confidence and victory.

The launch happened at 9:34 am EST.  The Chief Test Conductor Bob Moser said this about this launch:  “It was an intense countdown.  Everybody had their job.  There was no joking around.  But we enjoyed it, and it worked….”  And then the countdown concluded with “3-2-1-Ignition.” 

Background:  Now let’s slip back into our text in 2 Timothy where Paul uses a NASA rocket term ἀναζωπυρεῖν  (1 time only) that means to ignite.  It’s an explosive word, literally, and it’s directed first at Timothy and ultimately at us who sit here in the DBC pews.  If I could paraphrase the Greek it would: “3-2-1-Ignition.”  But before we see just what that means to us, Paul wants Timothy to remember something.

  1. Something to Remember: (2 Tim. 1:6).  There was a unique event that happened in timothy’s life that Paul could not forget.  Whenever he replayed this moment in his mind, he always saw the tears;  not his tears, but Timothy’s.   And it was critical from Paul’s perspective that Timothy remember this event always.

                       Memory plays an important part in our lives and without it, we lose our identity and begin to drift away like a fall leaf on a swift-moving creek.

*I went for an annual Wellness checkup Friday at the Rural Health.  The lady took me back into a cramped room with filing cabinets and a small desk shoved against the wall.  I sat down, our knees almost touching and she began her interrogation keeping accurate notes of everything I said.  “The government wants you to stay healthy so they won’t have to spend any money on you,” she said with a little smirk.  Then after a flurry of questions, she said, “Now it’s time for your memory test.”  I shuddered at this statement and my blood pressure shot up.  “I’m going to give you three words to remember and then a little later I will ask you for those three words.  Okay?”   I was going to bolt for the door right then but I figured the government wouldn’t like it so I stayed put and said, “Okay.”  She smiled like she had me cornered and then continued:  “Your three words are RIVER—FINGER—NATION.  Got it?”  “I think so,” I said.  Then she began a campaign of misdirection.  “Now draw me a clock with the numbers on it.” I did that.  “Okay now put the clock fingers at 10 after 11.”  I did that.

Then with her eyes narrowing a bit she looked at me said, “What are the three words.”    (ASK AUDIENCE FOR THE WORDS).

Paul said to Timothy there is something I want you always to remember.  It was just a few years back when I was here with you that I summoned the church together.  We gathered around you.  Your grandmother Lois was there and your mother Eunice who taught your spiritual ABCs from your earliest days.  And now we see that same faith growing within you.  And it was then that I laid my hands upon you and launched your public ministry.  Do you remember that Timothy?  Do you remember how brightly the flame of faith burned within your heart?  Do you remember how you began preaching in the church with zeal and enthusiasm?

And this is the question Paul sets before each of us here this morning.  I want you to remember something, he tells us.  Go back to that time when your faith was new and the call of Christ was ringing in y our ears.  Go back to that time when you trusted Christ and remember how it was.  It’s a memory you must never forget.

  1. Something to Re-Ignite (2 Tim. 1:6)And now we come back to the Mercury capsule quivering on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. Those huge engines had been test-started many times but now as they lay silent and cold it was time to re-ignite them.  And this is what Paul says to timothy.  It’s time for you to re-ignite that first event when I laid my hands upon you.  It’s time to stir up the embers and get the fire going again.  (READ v6.  KINDLE AFRESH the gift of God which is in you…”.

             *There’s a little wood frog that illustrates Paul’s principle of ignition of our faith.  This wood frog lives in the arctic circle in Alaska.  As the winter slowly descends upon the tundra, this little frog settles down in the water and freezes solid with the water around him.  Slowly he stops breathing and his heart stops beating.  If effect, he is dead.  But when the spring thaw settles in again he slowly comes back to life, re-igniting his body temperature.

*It’s so provocative to hear Paul use this “ignition” word considering where he is.  Many think 2 Timothy is his last letter.  He is in custody at Rome’s worst prison—The Mamertine Prison which had two levels, the lowest level a small confined space in utter darkness.  He senses that his life is nearly over.  He writes in chapter 4:6 “the time of my departure has come.”  There is no tomorrow for the aging apostle.  And yet, in his last days, he remembers the thrill of laying his hands on the young Timothy and lighting a fire that still needs to be ignited every so often.

Conclusion
      How many times had Alan Shepard sat in the tiny space capsule and touched the controls before this launch date?  How many times had he imagined the power of the explosive ignition beneath him as the rocket prepared to burst into the heavens?  And then when the day actually came and clicked his seat belt on for the final time, once again he reignited his imagination and waited for the countdown:  3-2-1-Ignition.

Paul wants us to count down every so often and relive our first days of faith and launch off into new adventures as saints on another grand mission.

 

Getting Rich Quick! Guaranteed!

I Timothy 6:6-12—Dr. Denny—DBC—September 29, 2019

Introduction:  George C. Parker was a con man plain and simple.  Of course, he had many other con names he used such as James J. O’Brien, Warden Kennedy, Mr. Roberts, and Mr. Taylor.[4]  But he was George C. Parker.  He was born in NYC to Irish parents.  He had four brothers and three sisters and was a high school graduate.  (I wonder how many teachers he drove crazy).  George C. Parker believed in getting rich quick.  No long days toiling in a factory for him.
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One day he had a brilliant idea:  I will sell the Brooklyn Bridge.  He tried to play devil’s advocate: ‘You can’t do that.  You don’t own it!’.  But none of that slowed him down.  So he put it up for sale.  His suckers were often immigrants who had a little money and knew nothing of the rule of law or the American system.  He was very convincing.  He made up fake documents that looked real.  He didn’t just sell the bridge once.  He sold over and over.  The police came once and arrested the victims who thought the bridge was theirs and were setting up toll booths.

Background:  Paul made it clear to young Timothy.  ‘Just forget George C. Parker.  Forget the Brooklyn Bridge.  Give up this love of money and riches.  Just learn to live simply with what you have’. 

But make no mistake.  Paul wants you to be rich—filthy rich.  And he has a formula that you can follow.  It’s just like baking a cake—do this and this and this.  Paul has a formula for a life rich in contentment and happiness.  I am going to share that formula with you this morning.

  1. Quickly Flee (v11). There are times in our lives when we have to get up and run for all we can.  When you’re lounging on the beach and you see a tsunami coming you can’t finish the chapter in your novel. You have to get up and run.  And Paul says if you want to be truly rich you have to have times of flight.  Since Paul is talking about money in the previous verses this is clearly one thing wants you to know.  Flee the money trap, he says.  Don’t get caught in its snare.  It will ruin your life.  The love of money is the root of all evil, he says and the sooner you get running from it the happier you will be.

            *Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher of the 6th century BC said this:  “He who is contented is rich.  Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.  When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

Paul said the same thing in verses 6-8. READ. 

            *Lucius Cincinnatus was a hero of ancient Rome.  He was a simple farmer who loved nothing better than the simple life beneath the sun out in his fields, breathing the country air.  But one day when Rome was about to attacked and the citizens didn’t know what to do. They ran out to his farm and begged for his help. They made him dictator for 6 months –all-powerful.  He put his plow down. Raced into the city and ordered every able-bodied man to come with weapons to the forum.  Cincinatus.jpgWithin 15 days he put down the insurrection, defeated the enemy and then—well what did he do next?  He was all-powerful.  He could do anything he wanted.  He was dictator for 6 months.  What did he do?  He tossed all of that to the ground and went home to his farm and his plow and his chickens and fresh air.  He didn’t want anything more.  He was contented with the simple life.   *(George Washington called Cincinnatus when the Revolutionary war was over).

  1. Urgently Pursue: Paul’s formula for riches included a paradox.  He said I want you to flee but I also want you to pursue.  Flee the trap of money but pursue the six pillars of happiness and success.  He lists them in verse 11—READ TEXT.  ———–

Can we do both at the same?  Can we flee but pursue?  Yes.  We flee from something but run toward something.  If you want to be truly rich as God defines wealth, then you have to spend your life pursuing the six pillars of happiness:  righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness

This is a diet rich in all the essential nutrients for robust health and riches.  There are at least six sermons in this one verse.  Pursuing these pillars is like losing weight.  You don’t have to lose it all in one day and you can pursue these six goals over your lifetime.

 Pick one a day.  On Monday focus on gentleness—Tuesday select godliness—Wednesday think often about love– and pursue faith on Thursday.  Slip into righteousness on Friday and for the weekend pursue perseverance.

Paul’s message here is simple:  Life without pursuit is empty and meaningless.  You must pursue—Just don’t pursue money and Brooklyn Bridge deals and get rich quick schemes.  Pursue the pillars of happiness.

  1. Continuously Fight (v12)— There is a time to stop running and fight.  Paul says, “Fight the good fight of faith.”  There is a time to fight.

*When I was in second grade just before my family moved to Japan, I lived in Sumpter SC.  Each day I loved to go out on the playground at recess.  There were woods off in the distance and I loved to run through the woods.  But there was a bully out there always waiting for me.  I got to where I hated going on the play-ground.  I didn’t know how to fight so I was afraid.  But one day Big Becky came to my defense.  She was a huge 5th grader with biceps.  She was tough.  And when she heard my story she set out after the bully and sent him flying.

In Eph 6:11 Paul said, Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil…

In other words, there is a time to fight.

Conclusion:

So we started off this morning with George C. Parker selling the Brooklyn Bridge because he wasn’t content with his life.  He wanted to get rich quick.  It resulted in him spending his life in Sing Sing Prison in NY.

Let’s do better than that.  Let’s find the true riches that God offers.  Let’s flee the love of money and learn to live with contentment.  Let’s Pursue the pillars of happiness and let’s fight the true fight of faith resisting the devil’s snares that will only bring us down.

 

 

 

 

Rags to Riches

Rags to Riches—Ps 113—September 22, 2019—DBC—Dr. Denny

Introduction:  Our Psalm today was often sung at Jewish festivals and special occasions.  It’s a happy Psalm meant to encourage us on our journey through life.  It reminds us of God’s unique interest in each of us and His interventions in our lives.

It’s a Rags to Riches Psalm. It’s a little like Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations where Pip, an orphan in southeast England comes into money as a teenager and lives the high life.  We hear this theme in verses 7-8:  “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…”.

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This is a Psalm to tuck away in your pocket or purse as you prepare for the day ahead.  And whenever you feel lost in this world,  or unappreciated or in some kind of despair, just pull this Psalm out our of your pocket and breath in deeply its fragrance for it will surely lift your soul and give you hope.

  1. This is a happy Psalm and it begins with a startling observation in verse 6: God, who is enthroned on high, humbles Himself to behold…. Isn’t that an intriguing whisper from God’s lips?  He humbles Himself to behold…Behold what, we ask.  What is it that God is looking at?  And in that question tumbles out the brilliant answer:  He beholds you and He beholds me as we start our day, as we laugh in the morning hours and cry in the afternoon—He beholds.    As we labor long hours at a job that is difficult—He beholds.  As we approach a fork in the road and struggle to decide on the way before us—He beholds.  Psalm 113 connects us to a God who cares about every detail of our lives. He’s watching because He cares.

*I read a BBC story this week about life in Kenya’s poorest villages.  There, snake bites are so prevalent that they occur every five minutes, and many times are fatal.  The nearest hospital is often too far away and the roads are too rutted and rough for ambulances.   So one nurse came up with a splendid idea:  She bought a motorcycle and equipped it with emergency medical aid. Then when she hears of a snakebite attack, she jumps on the motorcycle and races to the victim, puts him on the back of the cycle and carries them to the hospital in time for the antivenom treatment to work.  It’s called The Snakebite Squad. It’s an example of effective intervention in life’s daily traumas.

Our Psalm is like this.  God beholds us in our daily lives and rushes to our aid at just the right moment bringing aid and sustenance to help us live.

Example #1– Our Psalmist demonstrates this principle twice in this short Psalm.  First in verses 7-8. He lifts the poor up from the dust…That is such an incredible act of divine mercy!  He beholds your every moment and He can’t wait to lift you up.  It’s rags to riches.  From dust to a throne.  That is what God does for you and me.

     *Andrew Carnegie:  Let me give you an example of this divine principle.  In 1835 a little baby boy was born in Dunfermline, Scotland. His mother and father were destitute laborers and this little boy didn’t get much time in school.  Desperate, the family decided to emigrate to America in 1848 when the boy was 13.  The parents put him out to work in a textile mill where he made $1.20 a week.

Carnegie.jpgBut the boy was determined to help his parents and he soon got a job as a messenger boy and factory worker and then a secretary and telegraph operator at the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Before long he became superintendent of the railroad’s western division.  He saved his money all along the way and invested in a steel mill that by the turn of the century became know as Carnegie Steel Company which he sold for $480 million.

Our Psalmist declares that God beholds us from his throne on his high and lifts the poor from the dust and makes us sit with princesAnd from this simple truth, I can declare with confidence that God watches youHe watches you—and he will lift you from the dust. He will help you make the right decisions.  He will whisper encouraging words to you when you are down.

Example #2—The Psalmist gives another example in case you still doubt That God beholds.  He tells us of a woman whose life is one of difficulty and shame.

Her home is silent without the pitter-patter of children’s feet.  She is barren—a curse for any woman of the ancient world.    But God beheld her daily sufferings and he stepped in and smiled upon her giving her joy and wonderful children to brighten her days. It’s another rags to riches intervention.

*Catherine 1 of Russia:  When I thought of this woman in our text my mind went to a modern example of such divine intervention.  In 1684 a little girl was born into a family of Lithuanian peasants.  The little girl’s parents who struggled daily each day with life died from the plague when the girl was only three.

catherine1.jpgTaken in by a local pastor she spent her days as a housemaid in Latvia.  When Russia conquered the city in 1702, the girl, now 18, was captured and taken to Moscow. She became a servant in a high-ranking government official and it was there that she met the Russian Emperor Peter the Great. She was illiterate and uneducated but she charmed the emperor and they married in 1712.  When he died in 1725, she became the first Russian empress.

She, like the woman in our text, went from despair to joy because God beholds—He follows our lives.  He knows of our failures and limitations.  But he longs to help.

Conclusion: 

In verse 5 we hear these words:  Who is like the Lord our God who is enthroned on high, who humbles himself to behold…

As you leave today to go home, remember this one truth:  God goes with you.  He follows your every movement and waits to hear from you.  Call upon him and watch him spring into action to lift you from the dust.

 

Waiting for the Whirlwind

Waiting for the Whirlwind.2 Kings 2: 11-14–June 30, 2019—DBC. Dr. Denny

Introduction:  I’m going to start with a question and I don’t want you to stretch the truth (like fish stories—I caught one this. Big).   Just be honest.  Ready?  How long did it take you to run your last marathon?  The fastest marathon was set in 2018 at 2 hours, 1 min and 39 seconds by a Kenyan.  The slowest marathon was set in 2003 by Lloyd Scott who took 6 days, 30 min and 56 seconds. (He was wearing a 130 lb. deep-sea diving suit and he said he got food poising and so he had to keep stopping to go the bathroom and it took him forever to get out the suit etc.).
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Background and commentary:  This morning we will follow Elijah who walks a marathon to his whirlwind departure from this world.  The distance he travels from Gilgal to the Jordan River is about 26 miles so I wanted to put it into perspective so you could understand how this amazing story unfolded.  This is a tale of life and death and since we all only have so many years and days allotted to us by God we want to make the most of the days we have.  But make no mistake:  we will all do what Elijah did on this last day of his life.  We will walk one day to the very edge of life and then we will be gone, swept up in a final exit to eternity. 

  1. Gilgal to Bethel—8 miles. Elijah lived such an incredible life.  He was a man of enormous spiritual power.  He had command of nature like Jesus did.     *Once after years of famine, he stood on the edge of Mt Carmel that looked out over the Mediterranean sea and called for rain.  He bowed his face to the ground between his knees and prayed for rain.  After each prayer, he sent his servant to the edge of the cliff to peer out over the sea scanning the horizon for a cloud.  7 times Elijah bowed and prayed and on the seventh time the servant reported back.  “I see a cloud, so tiny, so distant, like a small hand.”  Run for your life shouted Elijah and before they knew it the clouds were black and torrent fell from the heavens.  Elijah sprinted the 17 miles back to safety in Jezreel.

But in our story today God has whispered an electrifying statement into his ear—“Elijah.  Today is your final day.”  Just as He will whisper to you one day. When Elijah hears this private message from the Lord, he sets in motion his final activities.  He calls Elisha his prophet in training and asks him politely to remain while he travels to Bethel about 8 miles southeast.  It is as I see it an act of profound kindness to the younger prophet.  He doesn’t want to alarm him or frighten him by telling him that today he will die.  He simply asks to remain at Gilgal while he makes a quick trip to town.  It is difficult to watch a loved one fade away and often little is said in the last hours. Elijah too feels a sense of solitude and silence and he wants to walk alone.  But Elisha will have none of it.  He won’t leave the prophet’s side who makes no objection to the young man following him.

When Elijah arrives at Bethel the school of prophets in the town run out to see him for somehow they know what is about to happen.  They don’t approach the venerable Elijah for his a man you don’t confront without permission.  Instead, they run to Elisha with their chatter and speculation.  But Elisha refuses to entertain them.    It is a solemn day and he won’t have it disturbed by gossiping students.  “Quiet!” he shouts to them.  “Hush!” says the Hebrew text.

  1. Bethel to Jericho—Our final day is often a journey revealed only in moments. Elijah stood in Bethel awaiting direction.  Then God says to him:  “Go down to Jericho.”12 miles down the mountain—a descent of nearly 3000 feet to the Jordan valley.  But once again he urges Elisha to remain behind.  Again the young man refuses and shares the journey with the dying man.  *So many times I have been the young man walking to the brink with an older person. So many times I have been by the bedside or said a final prayer not long before the whirlwind came and took them away.  It is a sacred time and Elisha wanted to share it and Elijah was happy for the company.  And once again when they arrived at the town of Jericho flocks of religious students rushed to see the prophet chattering and squawking.  Elisha told them to “Hush!”  It is a quiet time.  Be silent.”  And so once again Elijah waited for God to guide him on for even a journey’s end is often unclear. We don’t know if we will leave in the morning or at noon or in the long night’s reverie.  But then as always, God whispers the words we need.  He is there with us on in our last hours and He shows us the way.
  2. Jericho to Jordan–And so he says to Elijah, go down to the Jordan. And Elijah one last time tried to spare the young prophet of the sorrow of the final departure.  But Elisha says no.  I will not leave you.  And so the final 6 miles down to the Jordan commences.  The two prophets walk alone until their feet wriggle in the river’s edge. Off to the right in the distance, they see Mt. Nebo where Moses stood and glanced longingly oat the promised land and then died, forbidden to cross over.  They remembered that it was at this very place the Ark of the Covenant had parted the river as the Israelites crossed into the Promised land led by Joshua. But now the journey takes them back across into Gilead where Elijah was born.  He is going home.  He knows the mountains in the distance and he remembers the history of this very place.

Then, in an explosive moment in time, Elijah took off his mantle and struck the river which shuddered at the command and split apart instantly.  The two men walked across the dry river bed as their ancestors had done.  And then Elijah turns to Elisha and makes a profound statement.  “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.”  This profound moment brimming with intimate generosity displays for us the heart of the old prophet.  Such love and kindness he offers to the young man.  Ask me for something.  Anything. And it shall be yours., he said to him.   What would you ask for in such a rarified hour?  Elisha doesn’t hesitate for a second.  His request comes from a heart of gold who only intent is to honor the prophet and God.  “I want to like you, he says.  Just give me a double portion of your spirit.”  And the old man was shocked but pleased.  “If God wills it when I am gone it will be so.

  1. The Whirlwind—Suddenly as they were considering the request, walking casually along away from the Jordan, a chariot of fire pulled by a team of fiery horses separates the two men. Elisha falls back enraptured at the sight before him.  The great whirlwind spins the chariot of fire heavenward and within seconds it is gone and Elisha is left behind hearing only the sounds of the desert wind blowing softly against the mantle that lay at his feet.

Conclusion:  One day your whirlwind will come for you.  Will you be ready?  Will your final day be filled with kindness, generosity, happy remembrances?  This can only be so if you have faith in Christ who died for you on the cross.  Don’t let your whirlwind catch you by surprise. Make your peace with God now.

Despair beneath a Juniper

Despair beneath a Juniper-1 Kings 19:1-15.  June 23, 2019–Drummondtown Baptist Church–Accomac Virginia 23301–David R. Denny. Ph.D.

I want to take you, this morning, to a poignant and desperate scene in the life of one of the greatest men in the OT (the prophet Elijah).    I don’t want to disturb him for he is in deep despair and I’m sure he would not appreciate a group of tourists gawking at him.  But if you are quiet we can see him off in the distance lying beneath a Juniper tree in the wilderness of Beersheba (about an hour and a half southwest of Jerusalem—44 miles).

     (The Juniper tree is not the tree we know of by that name.  This is really the white broom tree of Palestine, a beautiful bushy shrub that grows about 10-12 feet tall and puts out the most gorgeous white blossoms that cast a welcoming shade for travelers through the desert).
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      It is beneath this pleasant and friendly three that the great prophet lies exhausted.  He is dispirited and drained.  His will to live has vanished with the hot winds of the desert and he sees no future, no way forward.  As we peer at him from a distance we see a once vibrant man at life’s end.  And it is in the wake of utter despair that we see him.  It is a sad spectacle.  It’s like watching Superman cringing and shivering in the shadow of a chunk of kryptonite.

If you cup your hand around your ear you might be able to hear him. His death words are given to us in 1 Kings 19:4.  Have you read them?  Have you heard them stumble from his cracked and parched lips as he lies crumpled beneath the broom tree?  “It is enough: now, O LORD, take my life.”

  *I read an interesting article a few days about a CEO of a Washington think tank who was on a plane.  This highly accomplished man was getting older and had been thinking of his life. He had decided to quit his position and do something simpler in a search for life’s meaning.  But as he thought about this he heard a man in the seat ahead of him moaning.  He couldn’t see him because the cabin was dark but him speaking in quiet tones to the passenger beside him.  “I wish I was dead,” said the voice in the seat before him.  Nobody remembers me.  I am irrelevant now.  I wish I was dead.”  When the plane landed and the lights came on he was curious to see who this was.  And to his shock when the elderly man stood he immediately recognized him as a famous celebrity known worldwide for great accomplishments.  Once the other passengers saw him they began to seek his autographs the man smiled and his demeanor changed.  But those words of death haunted the CEO.

And that is what I hear as I listen from a distance.  Elijah wants to die.  Known worldwide for his miracles and brilliance, we see him now as a wreck of a man whose only wish in life is to perish in the desert beneath the broom tree.

Elijah was a man of action who got things done.  He reminds me of Julius Caesar who preferred to ride out into battle conquering whole countries rather than sitting in the palace at Rome.  Elijah was a dynamic man who headed up a school of prophets.  He had stature and prominence in Israel.

Elijah hated what was happening to his country.  Ahab the king of Israel had married a Phoenician queen, Jezebel, who worshipped Baal, the god of rain and lightning and dew.  Temples of Baal were sprouting up all over the place eclipsing the worship of Jehovah, the one true God.  Elijah decided to take on mighty Baal and the prophets who worshipped him. He challenged the god to duel.  Come to Mt Carmel and let’s fight it out he said to the followers of Baal.  The prophets of Baal were angry and agreed.  They came and built a huge altar upon the mountain and sacrificed an ox and then called for fire from heaven.  Nothing happened.  The prophets shouted louder and cut themselves and danced around the altar but nothing happened. Elijah stood and mocked them.  “Maybe your god is asleep.  Shout a little louder.”  After hours of this, Elijah stepped in and said it was his turn.  He too built a huge altar and sacrificed an ox.  He dug ditches around the altar and poured water over the altar not once but three times drenching it all and filled the trenches. (Baal was the god of water so Elijah was making a bold statement here).    Then he called upon God to consume the altar with fire.    (Read I Kings 18:38)— 

Such faith!  Such confidence in God.  Elijah was so powerful and yet look at him now.  He moans beneath a bush and looks a lot like you and me when life gets hard.

Joke:  Sitting by the window of her convent, Sister Barbara opened a letter from home one evening. Inside the letter was a $100 bill her parents had sent.  Sister Barbara smiled at the gesture. As she read the letter by the window, she noticed a shabbily dressed stranger leaning against the lamp post below.  Quickly, she wrote, “Don’t despair. Sister Barbara,” on a piece of paper, wrapped the $100 bill in it, got the man’s attention and tossed it out the window to him. The stranger picked it up, and with a puzzled expression and a tip of his hat, went off down the street.  The next day, Sister Barbara was told that a man was at the door, insisting on seeing her. She went down and found the stranger waiting.  Without a word, he handed her a huge wad of $100 bills.  “What’s this?” she asked.  “That’s the $8,000 you have coming Sister,” he replied. “Don’t Despair paid 80-to-1.”

The Solution to Despair

Elijah did not die beneath the Juniper tree.  He did what you and I can do when we find ourselves beneath the Juniper.  Let’s see how he recovered and found joy and happiness again. Maybe we too can find renewal when life gets hard.

 

  1.   He lay down and slept. So simple. Just a little rest.  I think sometimes when exhaustion sets in we need to find a time to just lie down a little beneath the Juniper and sleep awhile. *I remember that Alexander the Great would take a quick nap when he was weary.  He would take a small ball in his hand and then close his eyes and drift off. When sleep came and his hands relaxed and the ball hit the ground, he would wake refreshed.
  2. He conversed with an angel. Now that one might be a problem but remember that angels are all around us.  They ministered to Jesus in the garden and they will help you as well in your hard times.  Just be open to the divine and seek the angel’s touch when you feel yourself in despair.
  3. He ate some hot bread and drank some cool water. A little refreshment can sometimes lift your spirits.  Next time you feel yourself going under, run down the Island House and get hot fried flounder and some sweet potato fries.
  4. Listen for the still small voice of God(1 Kings 19:12). Elijah left the Juniper tree and journeyed on to Mt. Horeb and there he tucked himself away in a cave.  But when he stepped out on the ledge of the cave he heard the still small voice of God in the gentle breeze.

Conclusion:

God wants you to be happy and successful. But we are not immune from hard times and feelings of despair.  So when they come, remember Elijah and how he recovered by taking a few simple steps and drawing nearer to God.