Two Golden Words

DBC  January 21, 2018–Sunday sermon
David R. Denny PhD


I Googled “Two Golden Words” the other day and I was pleased with the result. The words that the computer presented to me are often overlooked and much neglected in today’s often vulgar and stressed society. My parents taught me these two words and I learned early on that they had a special power locked away in them. All of you know these words and know their charm. What are they? THANK YOU!

I love to hear these words so much I thought it would nice to say them as a group. So let’s all turn to someone beside you and say them together on three–Ready?

But these are NOT the two Golden Words that I want to talk about today because I know two words more powerful than these. These words were also taught me by my parents and these two words forever changed my life.   I also know from being around you for over a year now that all of you value these two words very highly. What are they? (You won’t be disappointed) SUNDAY SCHOOL! Now let’s all say these two golden words. Ready?—The Dream Team spent yesterday in session talking about this very thing. So this morning I will pause in my study of 1 Thess. and talk about what makes SS so unique.

  1. Sunday school is old fashioned. (Good. We need that) I was thinking of some old fashioned things that are long gone from our society:
    *It used to be that if one was on a crowded bus or subway-one would stand for elderly..
    *Yes, ma’am and no’ ma’am. Walmart–“Would you like the milk in a bag?” the lady asked me. “Yes, ma’am” I replied. She stopped and smiled at me.
    *Writing letters or cards. Almost gone from our society. It’s all texts and emails. (I was so happy to see an old-fashioned card circulating in our Sunday School class for Edgar and Mary…)   Sunday School is old fashioned. It’s an endangered species. But we don’t want to lose it. Sitting around a table with a group of friends talking and sharing and praying and reading the Bible is as old-fashioned as it gets. But it doesn’t get any better than this. There is something so fulfilling and meaningful in this old-fashioned custom.
  2. Sunday School is slow. (Good. We need that). Life is so fast paced. You can get crushed in malls today and the parking lots are crazy. And when I see fans charging into football stadiums I wonder how they sustain such frenzy for 3-4 hours.
    • Sunday School is slow down time. No hopping about and screaming, or cheerleaders whipping up the crowd, or hotdog breaks. Just time to say hello to a friend and ask how their week went and share burdens and prayer requests. Sunday School is slow time.
    • A lot can happen in slow time. It took God a whole day to hang a light bulb, to create light where only darkness was. He took His time. He created light after careful thought. He divided the light from the darkness and made a day and night, a morning and an evening. He positioned the stars just where He wanted them and then stepped back and moved that one over a bit and that one up a bit and then looked and said–“That is good.” It took time. He wasn’t in a hurry. Sunday School is slow time but its valuable time.
    • 3.  Sunday School is–well, its SCHOOL. (Good. We need that). Sunday school began in 1780 in Gloucester England. Robert Raikes worked with criminals and thought that a day of religious training would make a difference. SS began as schools for the poor who worked six days a week and then hung out in alleys and docks getting into trouble and swearing etc. SS also taught proper behavior, cleanliness, provided clothing for the poor and sought lift the moral standard of the kids.

SS is “school” even today. All ages can learn in SS. You can learn about the world of the Bible, about ancient cultures, about how Jesus grew up and how He changed the world. SS will teach you to care about the world and how to love one another and how to be selfless and how to pray effectively and a million other valuable skills.

4.  Sunday School is friendly. (Good. We need that). There’s a movement catching on all across the nation called “We Dine Together.” It started in Boca Raton Florida at the local high school. One student noticed how painful lunch time was for some kids. They sat alone. No one to talk to. No one to share the day with.

            *In my first year of teaching I felt the same way. About 15 teachers would meet for lunch in a teacher’s room and talk and laugh. I would go but no one knew me and so I was excluded. I got so miserable I decided to stay in my room by myself and watch Judge Judy on the television.

So now at the Boca Raton high school, a club called We Dine Together fans out searching for the lonely. Then they sit beside the student and begin a conversation.

And Sunday School is like this. Sunday School is a friendly place. Everyone is always welcome. But not everyone knows this. So we have to invite people and show them how friendly Sunday School can be.

5. Sunday School is memories. I don’t remember everything that happened to me as I grew up. A few things here and thee. I remember hitting my older sister once with a broom. I remember camping trips with my family. But I remember most vividly my SS times.

SS makes eternal memories. I was only in elementary school when I attend the Tokyo Baptist Church. But it is all so clear–the teachers–the rooms–the fun I had.–

*I remember SS at the Second Baptist Church in Jacksonville Ark when I was in the 6th grade. Sitting in little circle in a boys SS class. All of fidgeting and wanted to go out an play but the teacher holding firm spoon feeding wonderful spiritual morsels that I still chew on today.

* I remember my high school youth group at the Riverview Baptist Church in Woodbridge VA. I was chosen to deliver the sermon on Youth Day. I was 15. My first sermon. My parents took me out for lunch after the service to celebrate.

Conclusion: So–let’s rebuild out SS. It’s up to all of us to do this. I can’t do it by myself. But I now I probably wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t grown up in SS. What can you do in our new SS? Be a teacher? Helper? Student? Assistant?

Christmas Secrets 2017

Glance through the Christmas stories in the New Testament and you will notice if you’re a careful reader, that there are secrets buried in the various texts.  This three-part series reveals these secrets.

  1.  Secrets in the Temple (Luke 1:5-25)
    temple.jpgThe first secret slips into the Christmas story from the lips of Gabriel, the angel of God.  He shocks the old priest Zacharias who is in the midst of a once in a lifetime chance to officiate in the Holiest of Holies during the morning worship hour in the temple.  “Your wife will have a son…,” whispers Gabriel through the incense rising off the altar.  But Zacharias mocked the angel and was struck dumb.  Zacharias was forced to carry to stifle the secrets for months.   *See Willa Cather’s marvelous story, “The Enchanted Bluff” to encounter a delicious secret from a kid’s perspective in Sandtown, Nebraska on the summer river).

2.  Our second secret comes via Mathew’s tale in Matthew 1:19.  Here we discover a few fascinating Secrets in a Small Town.  Once again Gabriel makes a spectacular entrance into the Christmas story with a midnight visit to Mary in the small, quaint town of Nazareth.  “You toNazaretho will have a child” he whispers to the young woman in the still of the night.  She keeps the secret well with quiet rejoicings.  But Joseph takes it hard sensing a sudden, inexplicable betrayal on the part of his betrothed.  *See some small-town secrets in the classic tale “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee who tells of the haunted house and Boo Radley).

3.  Our third and final secret, “The Secret Summons,” sparkles in a starry sky in Jerusalem.  Herod, the aged and diseased king stares restlessly at a star twinkling above his exquisite palace in the northwest corner of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Herods palace He fears the implications of the star and sends the Magi off secretly to find the child. Herod’s body is riddled with pain and disease as Josephus tells us in his work The Wars of the Jews (Book 1, chapter 33).   Though Herod means to destroy the Child, God has other plans.


Three Gifts from Me to You


Anybody do their Christmas shopping early this year?   240 days before Christmas. Never too early to start.

       It was just before Christmas and the magistrate was in a happy mood. He asked the prisoner who was in the dock, ‘What are you charged with?’
The prisoner replied, ‘Doing my Christmas shopping too early.’
‘That’s no crime’, said the magistrate. ‘Just how early were you doing this shopping?’
‘Before the shop opened’, answered the prisoner.

                       Well, I shopped early for all of you and it was a tough assignment. I mean, what do you get a church for Christmas? But after giving it some thought and sifting through all the sales I finally settled on three gifts from me to you.

  1. My first gift to you my congregation is one that is hard to wrap but I managed to stuff it down in this little box. Paul often offered this gift to his congregations. Here it is. (present the box). Doesn’t look like much. But my first gift to you is PEACE.   I want each of you to have this.   It is an elusive gift. Few people today seem to have it. It wasn’t on the Walmart shelves. I had to look elsewhere for it. Its value is immeasurable. —-*Liz Taylor’s recent auction of her jewels brought in $115 million dollars. (By the way, I didn’t see any of you there. You don’t like jewelry)? But the gift in this little box is beyond the value of trinkets and glitter. This gift can make your life worthwhile and give your life meaning and value. It’s priceless.

If you possess this gift you will adjust better to all of life’s challenges. When life is up you can rely on this gift to help you appreciate your good fortune. When life is down you can turn to this gift for sustenance and stability.

With this gift, you will sleep better at night. (and what would Michael Jackson have paid for that)? With this gift, the anxiousness that tightens your chest at night will lessen.    *I read in a magazine yesterday that nearly half of all Americans lie awake at night worrying.   This gift will greatly help with this burden. With this gift, your priorities will be adjusted and the less important things of life will flutter to the floor.

*In one of my former churches I used to visit Mrs. Beulah every Thursday. She was 99. She had this gift. If I walked into her home feeling rushed and worried about matters, it left me when I pulled up a chair and sat beside her. Life for Mrs. Beulah was now condensed to the essentials. She was at peace with the world and with herself.

The little things meant everything to her: A new bouquet of roses on the table beside her bed—a picture of her family taken decades earlier—a simple meal, a friend to talk to—the well-worn Bible that she read before she turned off the light each night. With this gift—PEACE—she had mastered the meaning of life.

So, I want to give you PEACE this morning. I want to . . . but I am afraid I can’t. It’s not mine to give. Only Jesus can give this gift. Let me read his words from John 14:27:———

So if you want this gift, you’ll have to see Jesus after the service. But be assured He will be happy to give it to you.

II.  Joy

The second gift I want to give you as a congregation appears nowhere on the periodic table of chemical elements. There are 118 elements in the chart. I’ve searched from the number 1 element Hydrogen to the 45th element Rhodium to the 81st element Thallium to the final element # 118 Ununoctium. (Say that five times) My second gift is nowhere on this list. And yet this is so essential to a happy life and a closer walk with God. And so I want to give you this gift—JOY.

With this gift, you can face any of life’s hardships and persecutions. Without this gift, you will find yourself dreading each day. The sunshine won’t cheer you and the singing of morning birds will only depress you. You must have this gift to enjoy life and to soar above the negativity of this world.

*I read a Dear Abbey column the other day. It was all about a teen-ager who had to move to a new school last in her high school years. She said, “Dear Abbey, I am a miserable child. I hated leaving my boyfriend and all the pals I’d had since first grade. I’m in my junior year and should be thinking about the prom and SAT scores. Instead, I’m crying my eyes out. This new school is awful. The kids are creeps. They treat an outsider like a leper. I’ am miserable in this rotten place. I hate you, Mom and Dad, for doing this to me. I will never forgive you as long as I live.” Signed—Boston heartache.

The Dear Abby response was pretty brutal. It’s your crummy attitude that is the problem. Lighten up a little. . . .

What does she lack? This little gift. Joy transcends the gritty issues of life.   I love James’ approach to life. He said, Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”   James had this gift.

And Paul sums it up best when he says in Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy. Paul had this gift too.

And so I want each of you, my congregation, to have this gift. However, this is not my gift to give. Only God can give this gift. I have no choice but withdraw it. I do so with profound regrets. However, if you see the Lord after the service, He will be pleased to bestow it upon you freely.

III. Love

The final gift I would like to offer you this morning is etched permanently in one of the greatest texts in all the Bible. “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

So I offer this gift of LOVE to you this morning with sincere wishes that you take it and find in it the secret to life.—(present gift).

When you possess this gift the world brightens for you. You begin to see the good in people. You hasten to cheer people on rather than cripple them or add to their misery. You love yourself, you love your neighbor, you love your wife or husband, your children, your dog. You love because you have this gift—love. If you have this gift you become a lot easier to live with. You become patient and kind. You prefer not to brag. You are not arrogant. You are not jealous.

This one gift can revolutionize a home, a marriage, a church and a nation.

This gift was demonstrated by Jesus so we would know what it looks like, feels, like acts. Like. So there would be no confusion.

When Jesus saw a woman taken in adultery about to be stoned, He offered her LOVE.

  1. When Jesus met a scholar by night he offered him this gift.
  2. When Jesus hung dying on the cross and the world mocked him and spit upon him and laughed at him he offered the world this gift. “Father forgive them, for they just don’t know what they are doing.” That’s love in action.

I want to give you this dynamic gift this morning. But I have a problem I can’t do it. It is not my gift to give. I wish I could. But I can’t. All I can do is ask you to see Jesus after the service. It is His gift to give.

I came with three gifts to give to you as my congregation. I came with Peace, Joy, and Love. I regret to say I can, in reality, give you none of these. But I rejoice in this one fact. I know where to send you. I can send you to Jesus. He has them and will gladly bestow upon you this Christmas if you will but turn to Him in faith.

Lullabies and Reveille

Seven Churches Series
Revelation 3:1-6
Dr. David R. Dennytemple_of_artemis_sardis_turkey4

The Temple of Artemis outside Sart (ancient Sardis), Turkey

Today we leave Thyatira heading inland further to the ancient city of Sardis, the former capital of Lydia. As we walk along the dusty Turkish roads in search of the new city, all of us on this journey should be feeling pretty good. For when we departed from Thyatira, that blue class working town, the Lord gave us all the Morningstar. Do you have your star in your pocket? It is a personal gift from the Lord given to all overcomers who sojourn through life resisting the evil of the world, holding fast to the teaching of the Lord.

As we depart Thyatira with the Morningstar in our pocket, which is God’s pledge of love and encouragement and faithfulness to us, we can still hear that echo of encouragement given to them and to us—“Your deeds of late are greater than at first.” Remember that? The faithful saints at Thyatira were getting better, gaining strength, growing in spiritual confidence. They were aging like old wine, their faith gaining subtle textures and nuances that only time can give.

It was so uplifting to visit a church where the fruits of the Spirit were so evident. Everyone was pulling together in spite of the tests and difficulties. Everyone was excelling in love and faith and service and perseverance. So let me just remind you if you ever find yourself a little down in your Christian journey, if the blues ever hit you and you feel a bit like giving up sometime—then go back and visit your Christian brothers and sisters in Thyatira.


As we head another 30-40 miles further inland, walking with the Lord toward Sardis, it is reassuring to know that He cares enough about the churches to make this journey. This circuit through the churches was a personal mission of the Lord. He cares about us and He just wants to make sure we’re all on track.

The Bible begins with a personal journey. The Lord each day would walk in the garden, enjoying the fragrances of the early morning or the cool winds of the evening. It was here that He supped with Adam and enjoyed his company. —And it was on the road to Emmaus that the Lord once again walked with some grieving disciples, men lost in depths of despair. And as the Lord walked he listened, he encouraged, his challenged the men just as He does to you when you walk with Him daily. —


**When I used to live on the Easter Shore, I pastored the Cheriton Baptist Church for 6 years. It was a beautiful church built in 1920. It had a second level balcony that wrapped around the sanctuary. It had hand-made stained glass windows with the names of the early members etched into the base. And on the top of the church there rested a massive dome that gave the building architectural stature. I loved that sanctuary.

Every morning I would rise at sunrise, take my elegant Irish Setter named Reverend and off we would go bounding across Route 13 toward the Chesapeake Bay. The fields were silent early in the morning, and often the bay mists would roll in over the soybeans fields. We would tromp across the wet fields trying to get to the Bay before the watermen left. Then we would sit on the wharf and watch the little oyster boats drift off to sea their motors slowly revving up as they approached the deeper water.


Well, for some reason walking down this Turkish road to Sardis made me think about those Eastern Shore jaunts. Sardis lies about 60 miles inland from Ephesus where our journey started. It was at one time one of the world’s great cities, being the capital of Lydia. But time has certainly ravaged this place. Sardis was the home of a famous church father named Melito who lived there in the middle of the second century, just a generation from the writing of this letter.

As you approach the ruins of the city you can see in the distance two huge pillars standing watch over the silent remains of the dead city. These two pillars are very ancient going back hundreds of years before Christ. They area the only two complete pillars of the temple of Cybele (Artemis) that dominated the city of Sardis. This temple was so massive it is twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens. I’ve been to the Parthenon which takes your breath away it is so magnificent. But this temple in Sardis is twice the size of the Parthenon. Its ruins are still there today spread out beneath the shadow of the two remaining solitary pillars.


Just below the temple, there is a 5-acre gymnasium built in the early 2nd century, just aa few years after our text. It is still there today almost fully intact. The gymnasium complex and the massive temple of Artemis give us hints at the lifestyle of the citizens of this old city. Cybelean worshippers were known for orgies and sexual mutilation and extreme fertility rituals. Priests were routinely castrated and then dressed up in women’s clothes to satisfy Cybele.

Sardis was a city given to pleasure and it made it difficult to be a serious and devoted Christian. And so as we sit and rest beneath the two remaining pillars of the temple it is easy to hear the scathing rebuke given to this church echoing among the broken stones and scattered pillars.

In every other church, the Lord always began with something good, something positive about the church. To the Ephesians, he began by complimenting them on not growing weary in their work for the Lord. To the Smyrnans He sympathized with their poverty and offered no condemnation at all. To the saints at Pergamum, he smiled with pride that they had not denied the faith. And to the Thyatiran church, he boasted about their progress and growing faith. But when the Lord strolls into the city of Sardis and gazes at the great temple where immorality reigned he merely shook his head and then with brutal honesty and disgust, he said three little words that still haunt the place to this very day. Three words that no church ever hear. Three words filled with the dark realities that can beset any church at any time in history. He looked around and said, YOU ARE DEAD. (Nekros ei).

There is no small talk here. There are no greetings here, no pleasantries, no hand shaking or back slapping. Things are beyond that. The Lord is looking at these saints and dialing 911. He’s put the stethoscope on their chests and nothing is registering.   He hasn’t given up hope entirely because the next words out of his mouth are a command to wake up! I can see the Lord there slapping the face of the corpse, shouting at them, giving CPR. Doing all He can to bring them back. But it’s a sad picture. Let’s all make a vow right now that this will never happen to us here at DBC. Let’s don’t ever be the one church that he declares to be dead.


* I watched a strange old Irish movie last night about a little boy whose father was the town drunk. He idolized his father who in his earlier days was a brilliant trumpet player. He still carried his trumpet around and would play a few random notes in between drinking, but his life was over. One day the boy came home, and his father was sitting motionless in the chair in the middle of the living room. The boy acted as if nothing was terribly wrong. But the father wasn’t moving, and the flies were landing on his face. So the little boy was swinging the fly swatter wildly over the father and chattering aimlessly about this and that. Just chattering and swinging his fly swatter at the flies. Then the doorbell rings and the town doctor asks to see the father. “Oh sir, he’s off on a long journey to Dublin. “ When will he be back?” asked the doctor suspiciously. Oh not for days sir. Not for days.” The doctor leaves, and the boy keeps striking the air with the swatter.—A few days later, the town policeman and the doctor return and haul the corpse out of the house.

“You are dead, says the Lord to the church in Sardis. “For I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.”

How does a church get to this point? How does a Christian drift so far from home? It’s nothing major usually. It’s like a marriage. First, it’s the clothes left lying around, then the long work hours late at night, then the suspicion, then the fights and nasty words shouted across the living room, then the stopping off at the bars after work and before long a couple just doesn’t love each other anymore. It might take years, it might come more swiftly. But love can spoil, and faithfulness can warp with time and fracture with neglect.

Churches have to renew their calling every Sunday to avoid this pitfall.   Churches have to visit the early days often like we did last Sunday. Churches have to renew their vows often and rise early and stroll with the Lord through the wet fields to the Bay watching the sunrise and finding that mystical connection to the heart of heaven where it all begins.


Melito, the revered and famous church father who lived and died in Sardis, came along a generation after this scathing rebuke from the Lord. Tradition says he worked tirelessly to win the favor of the Lord again at his church. He made tireless journeys to Palestine to connect with the spirit of the Gospel. Melito took these words seriously. He labored to find the first love for Sardis.

What are you doing here to fan the flame of revival and evangelism and zealousness? Each of us has that responsibility. We don’t want the Lord to stroll in one Sunday, push me aside, take the mike and say the three words.


Just Say No!


Ruins of ancient Thyatira:

“Just Say No!”
Rev. 2:18-29
February 5, 2017

Today we continue on with our journey among the 7 churches of Revelation.   One thing is clear as we walk the streets of these ancient cities and meet the churches and Christians of yesteryear: one thing is clearthe Lord is vitally interested in what we are doing in our churches.

He isn’t just following the steps of your life individually. He certainly is doing that. The Lord plots every aspect of your sojourn on earth. He knows your every decision and thought. He counts the hairs on your head and takes careful notice of your aspirations in life, your hurts and disappointments, your sufferings and your accomplishments.

*My youngest son, Jon, who is 22 and lives just off the ODU campus, is in his final semester of engineering. He just got his first official job this week as an engineer with a firm in Greenbrier. He will work part time he while completes his degree. When he walks across the stage in a few months and gets his degree he will walk into a new world as an engineer. He is frantically out buying suits and shirts and ties—things college guys don’t usually worry about.

Surely God cares about the early days of our lives and the middle years and the senior years. But there is no question that God is highly aware and focused on what we do as a church. That much is certain as we watch from a great distance the Lord pinning badges on the heroes of the 7 churches and castigating others and warning and chiding and encouraging and rewarding the saints of these churches.

Bottom line—God is watching us here at Drummondtown too. He takes notes of our decisions, our foibles, our strengths, our hopes, and our plans for the future. Let’s learn all we can from how these 7 churches complied or failed to comply with God’s concerns.

As we stroll away from the city of Pergamum where we were last Sunday, the smoke of the boiling cauldron, shaped like a huge copper bull, haunts us. We heard the order to toss Antipas into the brazen bull for refusing to worship the Roman deities. We heard the pastor’s strained attempts to mouth a final hymn as he died a cruel death. We walk away toward Thyatira glancing over our shoulders every so often at the trailing smoke of the boiling bull with the somber realization that there is a price to pay sometimes for committing our lives to Christ.

Thyatira is 35 miles southeast from Pergamum. It lies 50 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Only a few broken walls remain today of this blue collar working man’s town. Today if you visit the modern city of Akhisar in Turkey, you will see the ancient walls of Thyatira. The city has them enclosed behind a modest wrought iron fence in the center of the city. It almost looks like a park with benches just outside the fence. People takes their lunch breaks nestled up against the old walls of Thyatira.

If you step back in time with me and enter the bustling streets of the town you would immediately find your self swept up in the sounds and smells of a variety of trades and guilds all in full motion. Ancient inscriptions found at this site prove this town to have more trades than any other contemporary city in the Roman province of Asia. The inscriptions tells us there were wool-workers here, linen-workers, outer garment workers, leather-workers, potters, bakers, slave dealers, bronze-smiths, tent makers, and dyers to mention a few. So as we enter the main thoroughfare looking for our church we hear the pinging of hammers in the bronze shops, the shouts of the baker selling his bread, the screams of the linen merchant ordering us out of the road so his cart can pass.

Thyatira was famous for dye making. The water from the local rivers and wells had just the right texture and clarity for perfect dye making. The master dye makers made a gorgeous scarlet dye that was the envy of the ancient world. They made it from the roots of the madder plant that grow to a meter in length. Who can tell me the famous woman from Thyatira mentioned in the Bible? Let’s turn to Acts 16:14.  And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics . . . was listening.

So we are in Lydia’s town. This is where she started her business. Somehow she just happened to be in Philippi on a morning when Paul was there and heard the gospel. She is the first convert in this area and came back and helped start this church.

Thyatira was a difficult place to be a Christian. Everybody belonged to one of the trade unions. And every trade guild had pagan rituals and festivals you had to attend.

Here is what William Barclay, the famous British Bible scholar says about these local guilds: These guilds met frequently, and they met for a common meal. Such a meal was, at least in part, a religious ceremony. It would probably meet in a heathen temple, and it would certainly begin with a libation to the gods, and the meal itself would largely consist of meat offered to idols. The official position of the church meant that a Christian could not attend such a meal.

So the common position in the church was that you couldn’t be a member of a union or a trade group and be a good Christian. It caused the very problems mentioned in our text today. We’ll talk more about this in a moment. But first a basic question:How is the church here doing? What kind of report card does this church get from the Lord?report-card



*I passed out report cards Friday at school. There is nothing more compelling to an 8th grader than his or her report card. Report cards take precedent over any current romantic issues, over any facebook squabbles, over any pending date or weekend dance. So when I’m holding the report cards the kids swarm me like a flock of chickens at feeding time. I can play a few games here. This is my moment. I’m in charge here. So a slight frown at a certain report card can send terror through the flock.

So what’s the report card for Thyatira? Well it’s remarkable. In this pagan working man’s town where the unions rule everything the Lord smiles and hands out A – cards. Let’s paraphrase verse 19. Here the lord hands out the cards and says “Well everyone, you’ve been working hard. I am impressed. You get high marks for love and faith and service and perseverance..”

Now let’s pause here for a second. I want each of you reach out and take your report card from the Lord right now. Go ahead. Just take it. You’ve got one you know. Now look inside. What does it say? Does it say well done? Does it say A for love—A for faith—A for service—A for perseverance? How many absences are on your card? How many incompletes? How many “needs improvements” are there? Compare your card with the ones handed out here to these saints living in tough Thyatira. Can you do better? Can we do better as a church? That should be our goal always. To get the highest marks on our cards. We want to please the Lord.

But wait. There is a most remarkable comment at the bottom of these report cards handed out to the Thyatiran saints. Do you see the comment written in bold ink strokes at the bottom of the report card? It says: “Your deeds of late are greater than at first.”

Let’s put that in context. Compare what the comment was on the bottom of Ephesian report card. What did the Lord say there? Your early work was great but you’ve slipped recently. You’ve lost your first love. But just the opposite is said here. You were a little slow to start but I’ve been watching and you’re getting better. “Your deeds of late are greater than at first.”

* I remember when I first played cornet. I was in the sixth grade and I lived way out in the country in Jacksonville Arkansas. Across the dirt road in front of my house there was a huge pasture with long horned steer and a big pond. I had a few neighbors along the road but not many. Mostly just steers. And I would sit on my front porch after school, take out my shiny new cornet and play church hymns. At first I could only make a few loud honks, nothing that sounded like a hymn. And the steers didn’t approve. They would bellow back and move away toward the lake. That was discouraging. I figured if the cows didn’t like me I must be pretty bad. But I kept honking and blowing every night.

And then one night after all the neighbors had once again slammed their doors in disgust and the steers were walking away gossiping and rolling their eyes—I blew a clear string of notes. It was amazing. A few consecutive clear notes of Amazing Grace. And the steers turned around and stared at me. And I knew then that I was getting better.

And here as the Lord hands out the cards to the saints at Thyatira he tells them—You started slow but you’re doing much better. And that’s what we want to hear at our church. You’ve done well over the past 50 years but you’re getting better. Your ministry is growing stronger. You’re on the right track.

But there was one criticism to a tiny portion of the church. There was a group in the church that just couldn’t say no. The Jezebel faction was pushing for compromise with the unions. This Jezebel was some kind of prophetess or influential woman in the congregation who was urging everyone to join the unions, go to the temple parties, sacrifice to the union idols, and just get along and go along with the world around them.

But the Lord demanded that they stay pure, stay on task, keep the priorities of the ministry first. Just say no to Jezebel, just say no to compromise. But they couldn’t seem to do it.

However, once the Lord addressed the Jezebel faction he turned back to the rest of the congregation and said—but to all of you who aren’t in that group, I place no other burden on you.

Perhaps we can all learn from this criticism. There are times we should stop and say no in our pilgrimage of faith. There are times when we should turn away, when we should run from evil influences, when we should take a bold stand against the forces of evil that would tear us down and harm our witness.

Well as we leave Thyatira, the church in the union town, let’s glance once more time at their A- report card and vow that we too will stay true to the Lord where we live and work.

Report card image:



Winning the White Stone

Revelation 2:12-17  (Series on the Seven Churches)
Dr. David R. Denny

The Theatre of Pergamon ( Bergama ) is one of the steepest theatres in the world. Capable of holding a 10,000 people audience it was constructed in the 3rd century BC and underwent changes in the Roman period of Emperor Caracalla ( 2111-217 AD). Pergamon

10,000 seat theater in ancient Pergamos.

As we continue to travel the circuit of the 7 ancient churches of Revelation, we remember where we have been so far. We began at Ephesus one of the jewels of the ancient world, a city known for beauty and prestige. The church, under the influence of the John the Apostle who made his home there, began with a small congregation of 12 and grew to a stable and honorable Christian group. Their only fault was they had lost their first love. The initial zeal and enthusiasm for the Lord were cooling a little.

Then we moved northward about 35 miles and came into Smyrna built high on a mountain line looking over the Aegean Sea. Here the believers witnessed the horrible but courageous death of Polycarp who at the age of 86 died with bravery and conviction inspiring thousands to live boldly for the Lord. No word of criticism was ever issued to this loyal church.

Now we approach an amazing ancient city, Pergamos, called by Pliny an ancient historian, by far the most illustrious of Asia. It is 15 miles inland from the Aegean Sea and rests on a cone shaped hill that overlooks the Caicus plain. If you were a military commander, this is the place you would want to be. From atop Pergamum, you can see for miles and miles in every direction. This entire city was given to the Romans on the death of the king a century before the Bible times. So the Romans were heavily invested in this city.

Pergamum had a library with over 200,000 books. This was the second largest collection after Alexandria. When Egypt went on strike and refused to send them any more paper for printing, they simply invented parchment and kept on writing and storing books.

Pergamum had the most fabulous assortment of buildings that stretched across the top of this small mountain. I have an artist’s rendition of the acropolis and I stare at the picture in awe as gleaming marble temples and huge altars spill across the ridge. There is a 10,000 seat stone terraced theater that plunges down the mountainside to the theater floor below. It is the steepest theater ever built in the ancient world and probably the modern world too. You can see this theater today if you go to the site. It is still there.


Altar of Zeus from ancient Pergamos–Berlin Museum


photo at this site:

There is an ancient altar dedicated to Zeus that is mentioned in verse 13. You can travel to the Berlin Museum not far from where I used to live when I was little and see a complete restoration of this monumental pagan altar.   The altar is bigger than this church building and can be seen from travelers approaching the city from miles away. A temple was built up around this altar dedicated to the pagan god when the city defeated the invading Celts. In the text before us, this is called Satan’s throne for it seems to embody the spirit of this city, a place saturated with evil religions that made living the Christian life so dangerous and difficult.

It was tough living for Christ in Pergamum. How could you ever resist the culture of the day?   How could you keep from being absorbed into the pagan rituals, the pagan influence? Every day as you left your home the idols would scream to get your attention, the temples would tempt you to enter and make compromises. Every day as you came and went past the Zeus altar, it would dominate your thoughts challenging your faith and your belief in Jesus.   And yet somehow the faithful to Christ remained steadfast. They did not deny the faith.

Today we live in a modern Pergamum. The culture of America presents endless distractions from a life of purity and simplicity. In some ways, I feel sorry for the youth of today. The kids I see and teach each day are deluged with dangerous influences. Drugs, alcohol, sex, loneliness, anxiety. They live every day in a maelstrom of hurt and worry. The culture is potent and peer pressure is powerful.

*When I was a kid life was simpler. I had a hero that doesn’t even exist today. I remember living on the Yokohama Air Force base in Japan and waiting all week for Saturday so I could get up and walk with my friends to the base movie theater. I clutched my 15 cents for the ticket tightly in my hand.  That was a lot of money. The line to get into the theater seemed a mile long but I didn’t care. I was going in to see Roy Rogers and Trigger. Roy was everything I aspired to be. Rugged, tough, handsome (well, forget that part), beautiful wife, I got that one–. He was always doing the right thing, winning the day, rescuing the downtrodden and he had a great horse. If I mention Roy Rogers to my students they look at me strangely. They don’t even know what I’m talking about.

Well, Pergamum was a tough place to be a Christian. But the saints were holding true to the Savior and the principles of the faith. And the Lord commends them for this.

The spirit of the church in Pergamum, the spirit of steadfastness and faithfulness, is embodied in a little-known believer by the name of Antipas. He is called My witness in verse 13 and My faithful one. Tradition says John appointed Antipas to be bishop of the church and that he was much like Polycarp. The two men probably knew each other.

        Antipas was an aged man when one day he was summoned by the governor of Pergamum and ordered to turn from his new religion of Christianity. When Antipas stood strong for his faith in Christ this angered the governor who gave him one last chance to live. He ordered Antipas to toss in a little incense into the red-hot copper bull-shaped altar of Caesar. When he refused to aid in the worship of demons and pagan deities, he was thrown into the boiling pot himself and like a lobster, he was roasted alive.

And in our text our Lord acknowledges this sacrifice. “. . . even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

            The criticism of this faithful congregation is simple but direct. Some in the church were beginning to compromise with the world about them. Some were beginning to accept the ways of the Nicolaitans who were followers of a religious man named Nicolas who eventually tossed aside all morality and lived a life of excess and immorality. And some of you, says the Lord, are also mimicking the prophet Balaam who is described in 2 Peter 2:16 as a madman who refused to listen to the voice of God. These two men, Balaam a renegade prophet of the OT and Nicolas were slowly influencing some in the church to yield to the temptations about them.

So put in simple words, the fault of this church was compromise with the world about them. And this is not the goal of the church, not then –not today. We are to live in the world but to be apart from it at the same time. Antipas held true to the tenets of the faith, true to the Holy Spirit within, true to the heritage of the church. He refused to mimic the world about him, to compromise with the seductive influences of the culture in Pergamum.

Now let me take you to a verse that will lock this ideal of Antipas in your mind. Turn to Romans 12:1-2. Let’s read this text. Think Pergamum when you hear these verses: READ VERSES 1-2.———–Don’t be conformed to this world. This word ‘conformed’ is only used twice in the NT. It means don’t mimic the world, don’t take on the same shape, the textures, the ideals of the world about you.

I have this against you, says Christ to the church (then and today). You are beginning to look more and more like Pergamum and less and less like Christ. You haven’t been totally changed yet. I still see Christ in you. You’re holding up pretty good all in all considering you’re living where Satan’s throne is. But I can see subtle changes in you. This is the message to Pergamum and to us today.

Now. What can we do about this pull toward conformity and compromise?   We need an incentive. Something to motivate us to want to be true to the death. Okay says the Lord. Here’s what I will offer. I will give a white stone to anyone who holds faithful to the end.

In the ancient courts of justice, the accused were condemned by black pebbles and acquitted by white pebbles or stones. And so the white stone represents approval and acquittal.   When used in the message to the church it means that for those who stay true to God in a difficult place, God will express His approval of you just as he did of Antipas.

Paul said in 1 Cor 9:27, I buffet my body because I don’t want to be disqualified. I want to be approved. I want to win the white stone.

*There was an interesting Roman custom that used white stones also. When the Roman emperor would summon the city into the coliseum for an event, he would stand and toss white stones with special giveaways written upon the stone. Some would say, Frumentum (free food) or vestes—Free clothes etc. White stones would rain down upon the people, tossed by the hand of the emperor, little giveaways that motivated the people to come to the games.

Be true to me says the Lord to the saints of Pergamum. Be true to me he says to the members of Drummondtown Don’t mimic the world about you. Hold fast to your faith. And if you do, if you live like Antipas, I will give you white stones from heaven. I will brag about you, give you my approval, and toss gifts from my heart to yours.

And so as we leave Pergamum now in the past, let’s gaze up one final time at this ancient citadel of infamy from the Caicus valley below. As we stare at Satan’s throne, that huge altar of Zeus, let us determine to hold fast to our faith. As we see the smoke rising from the copper bull where Antipas is slowly burning to death, singing hymns to God in his final moments of suffering, let’s pledge to ourselves a new commitment to be true to God this year.



Ten Days in the Brig

Revelation 2:8-11
Series on the 7 ChurchesDr. Denny



Ruins of ancient Smyrna


Today we will travel north from Ephesus to Smyrna–35 miles–distance to Cheriton.Exit the beautiful city of Ephesus that we are studying on Wednesday night and move northward on the Ephesian Road along the Aegean coast and off in the distance, about 35 miles north of Ephesus, you will see one of the gems of the ancient world—the city of Smyrna. It tumbles down off Mt. Pagos, a small mountain rising about 1250 feet above the Aegean Sea. It was a gorgeous place, praised by so many ancient writers. It’s dominant, stately buildings rested atop the mountain and the homes dotted the hillside all the way down to the harbor.

Innocents abroad smyrna.jpg

Mark Twain–Innocents Abroad–chapter 39


Mark Twain–The Innocents Abroad–Tells the story of visiting Smyrna as a tourist. He went into a little church on the site and after a small fee was given a candle as a souvenir. He placed it in his hat and as the day unfolded the sun melted it and grease ran down the back of his neck. Twain noted with humor that all that was left was a “sorry-looking” wick.   (see His drawing of the spot).

The Ephesian Road leads into the ancient city through the Ephesian Gate. Here on the top of the mountain, a great fortress was built in the time just after Alexander the Great. The fortress and a great theater and a gymnasium all look down the slopes toward the sea, toward the harbor that made Smyrna such a magnificent city of old.

Smyrna is the home of Homer the famous bard of the classical Greek period. The modern city of Izmir has grown over and around the ancient city. There are but a few ruins there today. A few pillars stare in silence down empty stretches of former thoroughfares, rows of foundation stones that mark a few forgotten streets.

Smyrna is the home of Homer the famous bard of the classical Greek period. The modern city of Izmir has grown over and around the ancient city. There are but a few ruins there today. A few pillars stare in silence down empty stretches of former thoroughfares, rows of foundation stones that mark a few forgotten streets

At the turn of the first century, when John writes the last book of the NT, Smyrna was the home to a persecuted church. Times were tough here. Christians were outcasts from the local Roman society. Poverty ruled the lives of these believers. Poverty in the midst of plenty for Smyrna was a rich city. Its harbor was fed by the Hermus River that took merchants far inland to peddle their wares. But the Christians were having it tough.

John writes about this in verse 9. “I know your tribulation and your poverty. . .” The reputation of suffering had spread throughout the region. John, who lived in Ephesus, knew how tough things were there. And with a gentle touch adds a wonderful parenthetical phrase in his letter to the church when he says “but you are rich.”

            Listen carefully. Do you hear the whisper from the throne of grace? “But you are rich” almost seems like an afterthought but it brings such comfort to the wounded heart. It seems as if John pulls them aside, their dirty and torn robes draping off frail and weary shoulders and puts his arms around them all. And in a whispering voice reminds them that life is not measured by material things. Life isn’t the sum of gold coins in a safe or a mansion on a hill. Life and love are really measured differently in the eyes of God. You have what really matters, whispers the aged apostle to this hurting flock. You have wealth the world cannot see. You have the love of God in your hearts. You have love for one another. You have a song that your persecutors cannot hear. ‘You are really rich.’

The source of their tribulation is made clear in the text. A synagogue of Satan existed in Smyrna. By this John meant that there were Jewish residents who resented this cult of Jesus and who wanted to destroy it. Each Sabbath day they met not to worship but to gossip and scheme on how to harm the Christians. The Jesus cult was unwelcome in Smyrna. These Jews were pressuring the government to do something about it.

Jesus encountered Jews like this Himself. John 8:31-38 (Read verse 37—‘I know that you are Abraham’s offspring: yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.’’

It was the apostle Paul who defined a true Jew. He said, ‘A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; And circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit’ (Rom. 2:29).

Clearly, these Jewish people in Smyrna were not Jews of the heart and soul. They were shallow and empty worshippers of Abraham. And they hated the new followers of Jesus living among them and they did all they could to make life difficult for them.

*Surely there is comfort for all saints who face difficult times by these words of John. He tells us that all of our trials, persecutions, tribulations are known to the Savior. For it is the Lord Himself speaking in verse 9 when he says with such loving consolation, ‘I know your tribulation. I know your poverty.’ I know all about you. I’m walking right beside you. You’re not alone even if you do live in Smyrna.

*I heard a few days ago that Mrs. White, a former teacher friend of mine who taught Civics across the hall from me when I first started 9 years ago, was not well. She had retired about 4 years ago and I had n’t seen much of her anymore. She had been a dynamic teacher in her younger years but when I got there she was already changing. She didn’t like the kids much anymore. The kids would tease her. They would play tricks on her and try to get her angry. I heard she was in the nursing home beside Chesapeake General. So Friday after I got off from work I went to see her.

I stepped into her room past the first bed where another patient lay and pulled the curtain aside and stared down at her in the hospital bed. She was curled up, staring at the wall. Her face was strange to me, very thin and gaunt, her eyes sunken and her expression remote. But when she saw me, she brightened and I recognized her voice. It was her, sort of. As I talked with her, I kept thinking back to when she was just across the hall, robust and talented and with a rich history of expertise in her field. Now she was but a ghost beneath a hospital sheet.

But somehow I wanted her to know someone cared for her. I wanted to bring a personal touch. And that is what Jesus does to these suffering saints in Smyrna. He tells them as he stands close to them in their suffering time, «I know. . . I know. . . I’m here. . . I know your tribulation, I know your poverty. I see you behind the curtain. I haven’t forgotten you.

Verse ten teaches us a remarkable lesson in life. I thought surely when I got to verse ten I would hear the Savior say as he passed his words of comfort on to these suffering saints that He would end this period of hurt at once. I thought he would say, Don’t worry anymore. I’m here and I will make sure this pain ends at once. But he doesn’t say that!—He says to them and to us also, that sometimes trials and difficulties are good for us. And so some of you are going to be cast into the brig for 10 days. When this happens, be faithful unto death. And I will give you the crown of life.»

The crown here is not the royal crown of regal authority. It is not the Diadema but rather the stephanos, the wreath awarded to the winner of the games. It is the crown of achievement given to those who remain faithful to the Lord in times of suffering. The Lord doesn’t abolish their suffering. He doesn’t sweep in with a legion of armed angels tramping through the city streets, blotting out the persecutors. No. He merely agrees to step into the brig with them. He will go with them into the exile of testing, not abolish it.

*It was not many years after this letter to Smyrna was written, about 50 years or so, that these words «Be faithful until death» come true. For the first documented martyr of the faith beyond the first century takes place here in Smyrna. For it is here the great father of the ancient church Polycarp lived and worshiped.

When you hear the name Polycarp, bow in deference to his amazing life. He was born just after Paul was murdered by the Romans. His life and memory are embedded in the last first century. He knew John who lived in Ephesus just down the road. He knew many other people who had witnessed the life of Jesus first hand. Polycarp is the living connection between the first and second century. He brought that first-hand link to the apostles with him to Smyrna. He was a godly and courageous pastor and bishop. Polycarp bore the very tribulations and poverty of the saints in Smyrna.


Polycarp at age 87 ready to die.


Polycarp heard one day that the Romans were coming to arrest him. He was 86 years old now and still active and leading the church. His followers urged him to flee. ‘Run, pastor. Run while there is time.’

‘No. I will not run.” And he didn’t. He merely went home and waited for them. And when they banged on his door he opened it and greeted the soldiers. They dragged him off to the arena and stood him before the Roman proconsul. A huge crowd of onlookers watched with soap opera eyes as the Roman consul interrogated him. Polycarp stood calmly and answered with and courage. Finally, the Roman judge got angry and ordered him to renounce Christ and he would spare him. Here is what Polycarp said to the Roman judge and to the thousands of onlookers in the stands. “For 86 years I have served Jesus, and he has never done me wrong. How can I now blaspheme my King who saved me?”

This angered the Proconsul who ordered him to be nailed to a cross and burned at the stake. Polycarp asked the soldiers not to nail him. He would not need nails. “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” The year was AD 155.

And it is here as we hear the crackle of the branches burning beneath the saintly Polycarp that we hear the echo of John’s text in verse 10: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” How ironic it is that it would be John’s personal friend Polycarp who would literally live these words out in the arena.

Smyrna was the suffering church. No ill word is spoken against this church. Their suffering refined their spirits and kept them pure. What is the word spoken to the Drummondtown Baptist Church? It is this. Be faithful in all you do. Do not be alarmed at times of sufferings. Be reassured that the Savior will go with you through your time of testing.
Ancient letter describing the death.
Photo of ancient smyrna–