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.

A Service of Thanksgiving for H. B. Rew

Mt. Holly Cemetery
1:15 pm

May 28, 2019
Dr. David R. Denny
Drummondtown Baptist Church

 Revelation 22:1-5. “Then he showed me a river…”

         I normally read Rev. 21:4 where John tells us that in heaven there will no longer be any tears or pain.  But when I reflected on all his escapades out on the water fishing, I thought how much he must love this river of life, clear as crystal, that runs through the main street of heaven now that he has some time on his hands.

 Psalm 23—“The Lord is my shepherd…”

            This was HB’s request on a visit I made to see him at Westminster.  He was watching a western when I walked in.  He greeted me with a huge smile and I sat beside him. After talking a while about all sorts of things, I told him I had to go and asked him what text would he like me to read to him.  I was pleased to hear him say Psalm 23.  I read it slowly and the words seemed to bring us both comfort.

 Benediction

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 A Service of Thanksgiving for H. B. Rew
2:00 pm

 Prelude                                                                                       Jo Anne Coniglio

 

Welcome

         The family of HB Rew welcomes you here this morning as does the congregation of the DBC.  This will be a service of thanksgiving for HB. There will be some sadness, but there will also be joy and thankfulness for his life.  I am glad you have come to join us.

 Invocation

         Dear Lord, HB touched all of us in some way.  He made our lives better.  We give you thanks for sharing him with the people of the Shore and beyond.  Bless this time together this afternoon as we remember his life.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 Hymn #330                                                                               Amazing Grace

         John Newton (1725-1807) who throughout his 20s was a ruthless slave ship captain known for his brutality.  Nearing the age of 30, after a serious illness, he found the Lord, entered the ministry, and wrote a haunting confession with words like these:  I once was wretch, a man lost and blind but now I see. 

 Scripture Reading #1                                                              Matthew 6:25-34

 Hymn #48                                                                             Morning Has Broken

(Traditional Gaelic Melody—Psalm 57:8-9—“I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord.”

 Scripture Reading #2.                                                                 John 14:1-6

 Remembrances                                                               Dr. David R. Denny

 Choral Response                Hymn #71                                 On Eagle’s Wings

 Benediction

 

A Service of Thanksgiving for H. B. Rew
Remembrances
by
David R. Denny

        I’ve known HB for 1095 days. I met him first in late May of 2016, and now I am conducting his funeral in late May of 2019.  1095 days.  I’ve only been given three hours to speak so I don’t think I can cover all those days.  So I think I will limit it to just three encounters that will reside with me forever.

Encounter #1: 

The first time I met HB was on May 29th, 2016. I had been invited to the DBC to speak as a fill-in while they searched for a minister.  I was living in Chesapeake and teaching 8thgrade civics and English, a job I loved by the way. I remember standing in the pulpit of the historic church on Front Street, this pulpit where I stand now.  It was a delightful morning, but this is not the encounter I wish to convey.  That occurred later in the early afternoon at the inquisition down the road and around the bend.

HB, always a man to get to the bottom of things, was on a small self-appointed group of four to wine and dine me and with great subtlety to find out if I was some kind of kook, heretic, or misfit (like he had done in all of his bank interviews over the years).  In other words, he invited me to lunch to toss me in the air like chaff on the threshing floor.  His partners in crime were Leslie his wife, and Wayne and Dale Parks.  It was four against one.  I remember that day and I will remember it forever.

The place HB chose was one of his favorite domains, the dining area of the Eastern Shore Yacht & Country Club.  When I saw the place as I got of my car, I thought ‘man, I’m in with the millionaires’! 

The waiter seated us at a white table with a view of the water.  I remember scanning the dock to see which yacht was theirs.  We began a little stiffly picking gingerly at the shrimp and grits, sparring with gentle jabs, dissecting each other’s words carefully. But in the midst of this interview, something happened that I will never forget. After the third or fourth question, HB tossed all the formality out the window and we just became friends.  (You know that has happened when everyone is sharing food on their plates.  “Here, said Leslie, take some of my shrimp.  You just have to try them).  The rest of the meal had nothing to do with credentials, my ancestry or my bloodlines. The rest was just campfire talk, getting to know one another, sensing that maybe this friendship was some type of divine summoning.  (And it was).        This tells me so much about HB…

Encounter #2:

My second memorable encounter with HB and Leslie occurred on December 17, 2017.  It was in the chill of mid-winter and little did we know that in a week or so the entire Shore would be blanketed with a thick carpet of snow that turned Henry’s Point into a white landscape choking all the roads and leaving my wife and me happily stranded at the end of Sea Breeze Avenue by the oceanfront.

The day I speak of for this encounter was a Sunday and Leslie had taught her SS class of which I was an avid follower.  HB was there too tossing in his occasional comment. When the church was over HB approached and invited my wife and me to lunch at the Island House.  I had learned by now that he did not have a yacht but he did have a van and it was into this van that we all gathered as he drove us to the restaurant.  When we arrived we sat next to the window.  Leslie and HB looked regal.  I snapped a picture of them and you can see it if you go to my Facebook page.  Leslie wore a hazelnut colored dress with an onyx and gold necklace. Her flounder was piping hot but she paused long enough for me to snap the picture.  HB was sitting with his arms crossed and a beaming smile with a whisper of mischievousness.

This was all wonderful of course, but it is what happened when we left that I particularly remember. I figured it would take us about 7-10 minutes to get home.  But now that HB had been fed and the van was so warm and comfortable, he got the grand idea to take us on an impromptu tour through the backroads.  Leslie sighed but consented and off we went.  I thought there couldn’t be that much to see on either side of Drummondtown Rd, but I was so wrong.  We crisscrossed that road back and forth a hundred times stopping at every home and chicken shed in Accomac.  Midway through this glorious tour Leslie had had enough and ordered him home immediately.  He just smiled like he had heard all that before and continued merrily on with the tour.

And this was when I learned just how much of the Shore was in his DNA.  Every turn in the road was etched deeply in his soul.  Every house along the way had a story and every story had a name of someone he knew.  I’m a come here, but he was an Eastern Shore man from top to bottom.

Encounter #3

My final encounter with HB is different than the others.  It happened after HB had died but before I knew of his death.  It was on Friday, May 24t,2019mid-morning.

I was sitting at my computer writing the Sunday sermon.  I was not thinking of HB at the moment. After all, I had just visited him a few days earlier and he was fine.  My sermon was titled “Living Beneath a Smile” and it came from Ps 67:1: which says: “God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us—“

I was lingering on this one word SHINE, just reveling in the joy of the word.  It was used elsewhere of a rising morning sun drifting casually over the seaside marsh summoning songs from the shore pipers and making the little bean sprouts in my garden perk up.  I leaned back from the computer and just marveled at God’s face smiling at me when something broke my reverie—the phone rang!

I didn’t want to leave this scene in my mind but the phone persisted.  So I picked it up and the voice on the other end shook me to the core.   “HB has just died,” he said.  I could scarcely take it in.  I spoke for a minute or two and then put the phone down.  Slowly the imagery of the sun, the smiling face of God, returned in full glow and I looked at the text I had just written:  “God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to smile upon us—“

And in that moment I realized that this text was a sign to me.  This Psalm will forever be linked to HB in my mind. For beneath the shining face of God in Ps 67 I saw HB strolling down heaven’s promenade beside the river of life flowing clear as crystal. HBs suffering is over now.  He’s not locked in a hospital bed.  He’s living beneath the smile, singing some Eastern Shore song on heaven’s highway, rejoicing in His Lord and waiting for the rest of us to join him.

Benediction:

     24The LORD bless you, and keep you (HB);

      25The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;

      26The LORD lift up His countenance on you,(HB),
And give you peace.’

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.
Map of Damascus 1855.png

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. 

Directions to the Resurrection

Directions to the Resurrection by David R. Denny Ph.D. April 21,2019. Drummondtown Baptist Church, Accomac Virginia

Introduction:  This morning I’m going to do something that men are not good at: I’m going to give directions.  I’m so used to getting lost when I drive places that I don’t even worry about it anymore.  I just enjoy wherever I end up.

*Joke—I heard of a tired hunter out in the wilds stumbled into a camp. “Am I glad to see you,” he said. “I’ve been lost for three days.” “Don’t get too excited, friend,” the other hunter replied. “I’ve been lost for three weeks.”

This morning I’m going to give us all directions to the resurrection.  The directions come from the Scriptures so I feel pretty safe about them.  And I hope that when it is all said and done all of us will gather there together and marvel at the wonder of Easter.

  1. Turn Left at the Via Dolorosa. Let us begin our journey to the Resurrection by turning left on the Via Dolorosa, the street of Sorrows and Sighs.  This ancient thoroughfare runs 2000 ft east to west beginning at the Fortress of Antonia near the Dome of the Rock.  Here Pilate condemned the Savior and cast Him aside as so much rubbish.  Once out upon the street, the cross was placed upon his shoulders and the death march began. The crown of thorns tore into his scalp and sent rivulets of blood into his eyes and down his sacred cheeks.  He stumbled blindly forward gasping for air, his legs trembling beneath the weight.  He only lasted several hundred yards before he collapsed at the third station of the cross.ViaDolorosa2.jpg

            If you want to find the resurrection you must walk with Jesus along the stations of the cross and study his features as he carries the sins of the world—your sins and mine.  Tradition says He fell three times on this memorable road before he reached Golgotha.

At station 4, he pauses and says farewell to his mother.  How sorrowful this moment must have been.  How does a mother say goodbye like this?  It is a moment beyond words.  Perhaps they spoke only with their eyes.  And then, prodded by the soldiers, he continued until He could go no further. Luke tells us (Luke 23:26) that the soldiers forced a man from the country named Simon to carry the cross for Jesus.

Perhaps you say at this moment that you will skip the stations of the cross and run straight for the empty tomb.  But I say you will never find it unless you first turn left at the Via Dolorosa and live the sorrow and pain of the long walk of shame.

 

  1. Turn right at Golgotha. But it is not enough to merely walk beside Him on the Via Dolorosa.  As I study my map I see clearly that you must turn at Golgotha if you intend to find the Resurrection.  Come with me.  Let us stay on track for we don’t’ want to get lost.  Let us stop beneath the cross and pay our respects to the only one who loved you and me fully. You cannot find the resurrection without first finding the cross.

As we take the graphic scene in we notice the coarse behavior of the soldiers who gamble for the garments of the Savior.  Listen to the crackle of the dice as it tumbles from the cup upon the ground.  Hear the raucous laughter of the one who won the cloak and the good-natured ribbing of the losers who lost a day’s pay.Golgotha.jpg

Listen to the sneers of the religious scribes who wonder out loud why this man can’t save himself like he did so many others. The sarcasm cuts through the wails of those who are devastated.

Hear the hollow challenge of the criminal to his side.  ‘If you’re a King, save yourself! You’re no king.  You can’t do it. You’re just a criminal like us’.

If you would find the resurrection you must turn left at Golgotha.  It is here you hear the golden words of the dying savior“Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

It is here at the cross that we hear the final words the Savior uttered as a man“It is finished!” If you would find the resurrection, you must hear these last whispered gasps.  It is the only way to the resurrection.

*I looked up the value of decibels in everyday life.  Heavy street traffic is 90 decibels—The cabin of a jet cruising is 80 db.—Average conversation at three feet away is 60 db.—quiet auditorium is 40 db.—a recording studio is 30—db.—and rustling leaves are 20 db.

*And so it is at 25 dbs.—the muffled sounds of fading leaves in a fall orchard that we hear the final words of Jesus—It is finished.  Miss these words and you will likely get lost on your journey to the Resurrection.

  1. Head straight ahead to Garden Street. We now are at our final directional point.  We have turned left on the Via Dolorosa and experienced the sorrow of the lasts step of Jesus.  We turned right at Golgotha and stood like penitents beneath the cross.

Now we must study the map and go straight ahead to Garden street for it here that we hear the sound of a woman weeping.  She is distraught and continues to stoop down and look within an empty tomb where Jesus once lay.  And as I observe her pain I know she is near the resurrection but has not found it yet. She followed all the previous directions:  She walked the street of sorrows following Jesus as he struggled under the cross. She stood at Golgotha mesmerized by His sacrifice.  And now she stands in the garden beside the tomb but she has not found the resurrection yet.

It is only when she turns to the gardener that dramatic changes occur.  The gardener asks why she is crying.  She explains her story and begs him to take her to the body if he knows the way (John 20:15).  Just tell me where you have laid him, she asks in words laden with tears.  She has not found it yet.  She is near just like you may be near but she had not found it yet. She is so close.  She is only four letters from the resurrection.  And when you are this close you see its contours and your whole body begins to tremble.  And then He says  “Mary!”  And she found it.