Straight Talk for Street Thugs

Straight Talk to Street Thugs.
Proverbs 1:8-19. DBC. October 28, 2018. Dr. Denny


This morning we’re going to let Solomon give us all some good advice.  The title of the sermon is Straight Talk to Street Thugs.  You might be thinking to yourself, well this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not a thug.  But we know from St. Paul that we are all sinners and so I think we should shed our self-righteousness and realize that if we hadn’t had wonderful parents and some good breaks we too could be running wild in some gang somewhere.

Solomon, a man of great wisdom, could have started his book with any of a thousand wonderful themes such as joy or happiness or love. But instead, he begins with the dirty subject of rebellion, and hopelessness, and abandonment.  Mix these ingredients into the life of any young person and you end up with a thug running wild without guidance or a future.

*I read the story of just one such person in the newspaper called The Guardian.  The very title of the piece seems outrageous.  The title of the article is: Dangerous, growing, yet unnoticed:  the rise of America’s white gangs.”  In this provocative story, the writer follows the life of a poor street kid namedBenny Ivey from Mississippi.  When Ivey was 12, he began sniffing Scotchguard. He soon followed his adoptive parents and two uncles,—all school dropouts—into addiction.  His dad made $20 an hour as a carpenter, but most of it paid for their habits…..

If only Benny had listened to Solomon.  He said in verse10—“My son if sinners entice you, do not consent…”.’vs 15 also…  But Benny didn’t know Solomon and the only adults in his life were all addicts and lost in the creases of criminal activity.  This is a long story with a happy ending because after years and years of reform schools, jail time and big-time gang violence, he met a nice woman and found God and actually got involved in Sunday school…

Solomon’s message is for all of us today no matter our age or background.  Live your life with the fear of the Lord.   Listen to your parents and have the courage to resist the dark side of life. These aren’t just words for street thugs; this is advice from a wise man who had seen it all.  His own dad was a powerful man who had committed murder and adultery but who had confessed his crimes to the Almighty and found for forgiveness.  Solomon urges all of us to put God first in our lives and to turn away from the evil that tempts us every day.

**I admire Merle Haggard.  He had such a rough start in life.  He was born in a converted boxcar in California. His father died of a brain hemorrhage when he was young and his life seemed to spiral downward for years and years.  Arrested and jailed many times over, it wasn’t until he was about 23, after a week in solitary confinement in San Quentin prison and then watching one of his buddies namedRabbit die on death row that he decided to change his life.  He learned to sing and play the guitar and he listened to Johnny Cash play at San Quentin, he began a recording career.  He never forgot his upbringing.  One of his early hits began this way:  I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole. No one could steer me right but Mama tried…That seems to come right out of Proverbs 1 where Solomon said that you should listen to your mother and if you don’t you’ll simply end up ambushing your own life! (v18). 

I was impressed by how Merle Haggard turned his life around and I invited him to join us today and to sing his song that so embodies the words of Solomon. …

(I played this tune in church)–Merle Haggard singing Mama Tried released in 1968…

Let’s sum up Solomon’s Straight Talk—

  1. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  (v7).  It seems so simple and basic.  Just find the Lord early in your life and set your heart on pleasing Him. **There is no better place than SS to make this happen.  My whole life was changed by simply attending SS.  It was there that I played with other kids, sat in little classes taught by loving adults.  It was in SS that I learned to do Bible drills,find and memorize verses, do arts and crafts that pointed me to the Lord.  It was in SS that I was challenged to be the youth preacher when I was in high school—a job nobody else would take.  I did it and I loved it.  It was in SS that got little pins for attendance and it was in SS that I learned the basic truths of the Gospel.

Solomon would have loved  SS because that is where you learn the fear of the Lord and love of Christ and joy of the church.  And it was in SS that the street thug Benny Ives from Mississippi finally found his freedom.

  1. Honor and learn from your parents—your father and mother (vs 8-9). Benny Ives had no real parents. The closest thing he had were adoptive adults who were all addicts.  Parenting is such an important skill.     *I could always tell in my class of 8th graders at school who came from a good family.  Those parents always came to the open house and wanted me the teacher to know them. Kids from families with good parents usually behaved better and took their education more seriously.

Parents are like guiding lights that keep us on the right path. When the temptations of the dark world ensnare us, and social pressures summon us to do wrong, parents step in and show the way.  If you had good parents, remember to thank God for them.  Not everybody is this fortunate.

**When I was in my 20s I remember going with Alice deep inside ofLuray Caverns.  Down and around we went further into the labyrinth of narrow winding paths. Finally, after about 20 minutes of starring atstalagmitesand listening to the gurgles of water in the distance, the guide stopped and did something that nearly killed me—literally.  He turned off his flashlight and plunged us all into the pitch black that only a cave can deliver.  In an instant, my heart began to race, and perspiration bubbled up on my arms and forehead.  I began hyper ventilating, unable to breathe.  Panic overwhelmed me, and I wanted to run, but I couldn’t see any escape.

This is the effect of living in a world without parents who know the way forward and who are guiding lights.  Parents guide.  It was what they do and kids need that.  They even need it when they become adults. We still get calls from our grown kids when they seem lost or perplexed or in some type of danger.

Solomon reminds us that parents are invaluable and they are the key to avoiding endless troubles in life.

  1. And finally, Solomon tells to have the courage at any age to learn to say NO to temptations that we know will lead us astray.  He tells us in v 15—“My son, do not walk in the way with them.  Keep your feet from their path.” Solomon’s advice is simple.  Just say no like Jesus did in the wilderness where He wandered for 40 days.  Every time the Devil dangled some tempting offer before him, Jesus resisted.  It’s a basic skill but its an essential one.  It takes courage to say no when others are doing wrong.  But Solomon had an unusual take on what was really going on.  He said inverse 18—These people who rush toward trouble are really  ”ambushing their own lives.”

*It was Nancy Reaganwho had the famous slogan “Just Say No!” to drugs.  Much of the media and the world laughed at her naivety for creating such a silly slogan.  Kids can’t do that the experts said.  And maybe that was true, but Solomon seems to be saying the same thing.  I could paraphrase verse ten by saying, “My son, if sinners entice you, ”Just say no.”


So let’s sum up Solomon’s Straight Talk to Street Thugs and the rest of us.

  1. Put God in the center of your life.  It might be old fashioned, but there is something powerful about living a life that is centered around the divine.
  2. Listen to and value your parents. They know a lot more than you think.
  3. Learn how to have personal courage. Just say no when temptation strikes.

The Search for Happiness

The Search for Happiness. 1 Timothy 4:12-16. DBC—October 21, 2018. David R Denny PhD

Introduction:  On a scale of 1-10 rate yourself right now on personal happiness.  Tuck that number away.  No one has to see it except you.   *There is an article in Psychology Today entitled Ten Simple Ways to Find Happiness.   One of them applies to our text today.  #6 on the list is Find Purpose.  The writer says this:  “Those who believe they are contributing to the well-being of humanity tend to feel better about their lives.  Most people want to be part of something greater than they are, simply because it’s fulfilling.”        

            Our text today is all about finding that purpose in your life.  Finding what it is that makes you happy.  Everybody has some gift within them that they excel at, something they are uniquely qualified to do that benefits the world and makes you happy in the process.  What is that thing in your life?  That is something we want to find out this morning.

            I have a feeling after reading our text today that Timothy, the young pastor of the church in Ephesus is a little unhappy. He has lost his way.  He has forgotten his gift.  And this troubles Paul greatly.  We know that some elders in the congregation were looking down on Timothy because he was so much younger than they were.  I think this was having an impact on Timothy who was doing his very best to lead the church forward.

            But there is another hint about Timothy’s well-being tucked away in the Greek text of verse 14.  *My little red Greek book.  I remembered a very important Greek lesson that my old professor Dr. John Burns taught us at the seminary.  I even marked it in my little red Greek book.  I noticed in the front cover of this book that I had stamped my address on it.  5900 Rhonda Road, Terrace Apt., Lynchburg Va.I had just gotten married and we lived in a tiny apartment in the basement of a large house in a quaint neighborhood near the school.  The Greek lesson that my professor taught us this day in class was that sometimes an imperative verb has to be translated with the word STOP.  And 1 Timothy 4:14 is one of these places.  The best way to translate verse 14 is this:  “Timothy, stop neglecting the gift that is within you.”

            I find this statement so troubling and sad. Paul had found young Timothy on his missionary journeys years earlier and was immediately impressed by the young man. He was so fond of him he led him to Christ and then invited him to follow along on the missionary journeys ahead. Paul became very attached to him. He had so much promise.  He was a natural leader and teacher.  This gift had come to Timothy directly from God and through the laying on of hands by the influential men who supported Paul’s ministry (v.14).   It was the gift that made Timothy happy.  But recently he had stopped using it.  When he spoke in the church his face betrayed a tinge of depression and his sermons dragged. He had a gift for these things, but he had laid his gift aside and now he merely went through the motions.  And this is what is sad.  Timothy was no longer happy!  His gift had withered away.  And this is what prompted Paul to say “Timothy, STOP neglecting your gift.”

     *This summer I had a beautiful pot of cornflowers only my back deck.   I loved looking at them.  They were bright and cheerful.  I was a little haphazard about watering though.  I would give them a sip of water every once in a while.  I didn’t have time for watering.  But I sure enjoyed the effervescent blooms.  One day I went out to sit beside the flower pot and I noticed they were dead.  The blush of life was gone.  I had done the very thing Timothy had done.  I had neglected them.  That is the meaning of the Greek word here in verse 14.  And it is Paul who saw it at once when he returned to the church from his travels.  And it was Paul who commanded the Timothy to STOP DOING THIS!  “Stop neglecting your gift, Timothy.”  You’re a natural at preaching and exhorting others to love life. So get back to it.

But wait.  It was not enough to just urge Timothy to find his gift again.  He said another fascinating thing in the opening words of verse 15.  He said to Timothy.  “I want you to pour yourself into your old gifts.  Get yourself all lathered up and excited about it” ( 15 ταῦτα μελέτα ἐν τούτοις ἴσθι). This is the very word that is used in Psalm 2.  “Why are the nations in an uproar and the people so excited in their hatred of God?”  And it was this very Ps 2 text that was repeated in Acts 4 after Peter and John had been released from jail for healing the lame man at the temple.  The saw how worked up all of the people of Jerusalem were against Jesus and the work of the Spirit.——“Timothy, I want you to be like this, frenzied almost about your gift.”

        *I still remember to this very day how worked up my old high school basketball coach used to get at halftime if we were losing. He would come storming into the locker room, slam the door and stare at us without a word for a few seconds. Then he would kick a chair across the room, and when that didn’t seem to rouse us enough he would slam his fist into a locker.

       This is the urgency Paul is commanding Timothy to have.  Timothy, revive your gift.  Put your heart and soul in it.  It is the very thing was made you so happy before.  Stop neglecting it.


      Now let’s shift our attention away from Timothy and back to us.  What is the one thing you love to do?  Are you still doing it?  If you neglect your talent, you will lose it.  —*I loved to play the cornet in high school.  I played all the time.  But at some point in the past, I laid it down and now I can’t even find my old horn.

            Paul said something very important to one of his other congregations.  He said to the Corinthian church, “All of you have a gift.  You need to find it and pull it out.  Dust it off and use it again. It will bring you happiness and purpose.  And then Paul did something very creative to get his message across.  He created a little play and all of the actors were body parts.  Yes.  That sound strange but look at 1 Corinthians 12 and you will see this playful side of Paul. —-Mr. Foot comes out first and looking very gloomy says “I am not much use to anybody.  I am not a hand.  Everybody knows how valuable a hand is.  It can do everything.  But I’m just a foot.”

            And then Ms. Ear comes out on the stage.  “Man, I know how you feel.  I’m just a big old ear.  I’m nothing like an eye.  Eyes are so useful.  They can see everything, and you can put makeup on them etc. But what good is an ear.”

            Paul closes the play by stepping up to the mike and saying loud and clear—Ears and feet are just as important hands and eyes.  Everybody has a gift.  Timothy has a gift but he neglected it.  You have a gift.  Stir it up. Bring it back to life.

            This is so important in the church.  We all have a place here and everyone can do something for the greater good.


      What was your happiness number this morning when you rated yourself?  True happiness comes from serving others and using your unique talents for good in the church and in your community.  Dust off your gift and then put it to use again.  And let’s all go down to Timothy’s church and listen to him now that he’s back on track and using his talents.

Living Youthfully

Living Youthfully—1 Timothy 4:12—Drummontown Baptist Church—Accomac Va 23301 October 14, 2018—David R. Denny PhD

How many of you would like to look 10-20 years younger?  Well, this is your lucky day.  All you have to for this to happen is to listen carefully to my sermon and take mental notes.  It always pays to go to church.  There is no charge for this secret to youthfulness.  It is a gift from me to you.

*I don’t think I’ve ever watched the Shark Tank.  This is a tv show where 5 rich entrepreneurs listen to a business proposal from some rookie who hopes to strike it rich.  If they like it, they will invest and help to launch the dream. I read a recent news story about this show.  Two young women had an idea for a facial cream.  Rub this cream on your face daily and it will literally remove wrinkles and restore a baby’s complexion to your weary face.  When they finished their presentation, all five members of the Star Tank bought in—instantly!  All of the movie stars are now using it.  (For a small fee I will happy to give you the name —Livali—of this product).

*I searched online for secrets to staying young.  Someone interviewed several centenarians in Okinawa, Japan.  All were over 100 years old and still quite youthful. One of their secrets is just so down to earth.  When they eat, they always stop when they 80% full. They never eat to capacity.  They also ate more plants than meat, got the belly fat off, and used their brains.

In our text today, Timothy had just the opposite problem.  He wasn’t old and wanting to be young.  He was too young as the pastor of the church in Ephesus and so many of the older men were looking down on him. READ TEXT—4:12—“Don’t let anyone ‘despise’καταφρονείτω.your youthfulness.  This unique word means literally to “think down”.  Its a cruel way of sizing up someone you don’t like and trying to demean them.   This is actually just plain bullying.  (I was glad to see that Melania Trump is involved in an anti-bullying campaign saying she knows what it feels like to be bullied herself).

Paul is very upset at this. I can tell by reading his words.  He commands Timothy, using the imperative mode, to never let anyone do this to him.  Rise above it Timothy, he says to the young pastor.  —-And then Paul creates a fascinating ingredients list for positive youthful living.  And so let’s look quickly at the five ingredients in Paul’s forever young secret cream.  Each day this week, get up and immerse yourself in Paul’s secret for youthful living and observe the effect upon your life.


  1. Be positive and helpful in what you say to others.ἐνλόγῳ, The old playground taunt went this way:  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  A writer on workplace culture rephrased it this way:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart.”

*On a customer service blog, there were 25 top words that resonated with customers. The top three were: Definitely—I will definitely make sure that it gets done 2.  Absolutely—I absolutely agree with you.  3.  Certainly—I can certainly help you etc.  etc..

Paul says to Timothy—Don’t worry about your critics.  Just let your words be gold and you will see them take effect over a long time.

  1. Live your words. Let your behavior prove your character.  The word here for behavior ἐν ἀναστροφῇ, is Peter’s favorite word.  (“Up—Turn”). Peter uses it 8 times in his two short letters. Why?  Because behavior tells the world who you really are.

*I watched a guy doing some basic Yoga moves the other day. On one Yoga exercise, he started low and swung his arms up high very slowly breathing carefully.  This word means a new inward change charges through you and results in positive, spiritual behavior.

Paul says to Timothy.  Just live your beliefs.  Let the world around you and these old critics in the church see that are you serious about serving God.  You’re not just a charlatan or a pretender.—Do this and your youthfulness will shine through to the world about you.

  1. Love more, hate less. ἐν  ἀγάπῃ,    Frowning can cause wrinkles!  And anger can make you age faster.  In the British Medical Journal Thorax, scientists found that anger and hostility are associated with a host of long-term health problems.

Paul’s advice to young Timothy was simple.  Just love more, Timothy.  Put aside your anger toward those who are against you.  When people resist you, just determine in your heart to retaliate with love.

* My tuna sub at Was Mart.  I waited for five minutes while the lady counted her change 10 times the register.  Finally, another lady showed up and with a smirk just stared at me at the preparation area.  No greeting. No pleasantries.  Now words period.  Just staring waiting for me to make a tuna move.—I didn’t say anything.  I didn’t show much love but I didn’t get mad.

But Paul goes further with Timothy—Return Love when you’re mistreated. Not easy but it leads to youthfulness.   Love more—hate less.

  1. Practice having more faith.   ἐν πίστει,  What was the one thing that upset Jesus more than others?  It was when His disciples or followers demonstrated little faith.  Jesus found it so hard to understand this.  Faith just came naturally to Him.  (Matt 8:26). “He said to them, Why are you afraid, you men of little faith”?      

          Living by faith runs contrary to the modern mind.  We want to be able to explain everything.  We prefer logic and facts.  But Jesus preferred faith.  And he passed that lesson on to Paul who now passed it on to Timothy.  “Timothy, he said, when the critics say it can’t be done or it won’t work, just smile and believe in your heart.  Have faith.

It’s a simple yet profound truth.  Living by faith means we walk hand in hand with God trusting that He can lead the way through this difficult world.  It’s a secret to youthfulness.  It’s daring and bold, and refreshing.  Practice living by faith each day, trusting in God’s care for your life and believing in miracles.

  1. Live a life of Purity. ἐν  ἁγνείᾳ.  This is a rare word but it should not be a rare trait in your life. Purity means casting out the dark and negative influences that abound in this modern world.

*In the OT times there was a unique pledge of purity that individuals often used when they wanted to draw nearer to God. It was called the Nazarite Vow. From the Hebrew word Nazir—separated ones.  Numbers chapter 6 explains this ritual.  If you chose to draw near to God or needed His help, you could take the Nazarite Vow.  You would not drink any alcohol during the vow time. You would never go near a dead body and you would not cut your hair.

Men and women could take the vow.  It was always voluntary and set numbers were created so it didn’t go on forever. Hannah took such a vow in 1 Samuel and Samson did so in Judge 13:5.  Samson was known for his long uncut hair.  This was part of the Nazarite Vow.

We don’t have to take a vow.  But living a dedicated life to God, a pure and chaste life, is one of the commands to young Timothy.

Conclusion: So here you have the secrets to youthful living:

  1. Be positive and helpful in what you say.
  2. Live your words—Behavior
  3. Love more, hate less
  4. Practice living by faith
  5. Live a life of Purity.

Do these things and join ranks with youthful Timothy.  Do these things and watch the wrinkles fall off your soul.

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.