Straight Talk for Street Thugs

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

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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.”

Conclusion:

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
Happiness

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.

Application:

      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.

Conclusion:

      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.

The Invitation

Bird feeder

I hung the invitation beneath the tree in the backyard and waited. I was so excited. Who would stop by, I wondered? I don’t get many visitors way out here by the sea, so I was hopeful.

But nobody came.  Nobody.

Each morning for the first few days since I had hung the invitation beneath the tree on a little golden hook I had screwed into the low hanging branch, I had waited breathlessly. Somebody will come, I said to myself. And then when they do come, I will greet them, and we will be friends.

But nobody came.  Nobody.

Perhaps it was my fault, I thought. Maybe I had been a bit vague about who could come. I hadn’t meant to exclude anyone, but the feeder was built for the songbirds only. The little-spiraled wire that encircled the feeding tube was thin and delicate, so the invitation was for the smaller songbirds.

Each morning after my initial disappointments vanished, I checked the tube to make sure the birdseed was plentiful. It was. No one touched it. I also cleaned out the bird feeder that sat beside it keeping the water fresh.

Two days ago, when I rose with waning enthusiasm to check the feeder, I was so surprised. A little cardinal was on the wire pecking at one of the feeder holes. I stared through my binoculars so I wouldn’t disturb him. Finally, I thought, they’re coming. And they did. Soon the Brown-headed Nuthatch stopped for a snack along with a boisterous Northern Mockingbird.

Then something unusual happened. Some huge blackbirds sat nearby on a fence rail reading the invitation. They saw the fine wire and the tiny holes and sensed that they weren’t welcome. I stood back and wondered what they would do. I noticed they chatted furiously with one another, their conversation public and a bit edgy.

Then one flew over to the feeder and grasped the spiraled wire. It didn’t fit his oversized claws, but he was tenacious. He hovered, half-perched on the wire, wings fluttering to help him keep his balance. He tore at the feeder holes and poked out huge chunks of seed that fell to the ground.

At first, I was annoyed. These birds were too big, I thought. I hadn’t invited them. But then I slowly realized that they had determined that the invitation was for them.

I’m glad they come now. I’ve thought more about this whole thing, and I have decided that invitations should always be for everyone.

David R. Denny

 

Lucky Penny

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The claw marks on the front porch said it all–Owl.

And Penny was missing. She’s an indoor cat and hates to get her paws dirty. Each morning brings a feline routine that begins in front of her mirror grooming, getting the whiskers just right, fluffing up the hair on her elegant tail, etc. Toss her outside, and she’ll hate you for life.

But Penny was missing, and the ominous owl talon marks stretched from the door to the front steps. Off an on all night long we called from the porch our hands clenching the railing, our eyes searching the dark yard for any sign of movement. Our somber pleas blended with the distant voices of pond frogs and crickets who hadn’t seen her.

I tried consoling my wife while standing on top of the claw marks so she wouldn’t see the traces of nature’s cruelty. “Something has happened to her,” she wailed. Unable to summon a wise Greek proverb relevant to this emergency, I merely shrugged. “She’ll be fine. She’s just exploring.” Even I didn’t believe that.

After a fitful night of difficult sleep, I woke early and stepped outside. No Penny. The claw marks were fresh and deep. I pieced the crime together in my mind. The owl had studied her patterns of peering through the screen door. He had timed Penny’s brief dalliances with the outside world, her ever so short and tentative excursions a few paces from the door onto the porch.

He had watched, veiled behind pinecones and hunger, lurking. And as Penny played with a cricket just beyond the safety of the den door he struck, his threatening talons striking the jugular and dragging her across the rough boards into the upper branches of the marsh pines.

Just as I was preparing myself to call the undertaker, I saw a little paw flicker in the tall grass. And then came whiskers, a smirk, and a sarcastic trot past me into the house. I stood stunned.

I thought of asking her what happened, and fleshing out the power of needless fear, but she was in no mood for light chatter.

David R. Denny

Tweet

It was an early morning tweet.

Its impact was immediate. The three short syllables were barbed and struck deep into my psyche.

There was a melody to them,
the notes dripping with venom.

The tweet came again and again
like a revolver dropped on cold concrete spitting bullets.

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

I searched the treetops behind my house, but I couldn’t see him.
The dew-speckled leaves of this sunrise morning hid him.

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

The words bore a foreign accent, slurred but purposeful.

I subpoenaed him, but he did not comply.
I merely wanted to ask the obvious. Why?
Why do hate me? You don’t know me.

The wren, however, was polite. She sang me a lullaby
as I slipped away to the beckoning garden.

The dark tweet faded as the morning unfolded.
A doe nibbled a low branch by the creek.

I smiled again.

David R. Denny
Visions501@gmail.com

Tweet

 

Brood

The husband wasn’t friendly, but I understood. I had startled him, and he had a lot on his mind.

All ten of his kids were in the road.

The mother was doing her best to shoo them to the curb, but it was taking time.

My instinct was to chastise. Good parents don’t let kids roam around in the streets. But I was a kid once, and streets have a way of summoning.

I slowed down and kept off the horn. Both parents were already flustered. Ten little kids. It seemed like a mini schoolhouse.

I rolled my window down thinking I could offer some guidance—they seemed lost their eyes darting here and there searching, panicking.

They didn’t trust me.

I felt the cruelty of isolation at that moment. They were alone, wanderers in the wilderness. All they had was each other.

But a struggling family that stays together is a powerful force in a world of evil.

I drove on feeling somehow confident. They had each other.

There is no greater love.

David R. Denny
Visions501@gmail.com

Brood

Vanity

She was pretty. I’ll be the first to say it.

Her mascara was a bit heavy for such a delicate face, but I’m not criticizing. I think it’s a matter of taste.

Her lips were prominent. They made a provocative statement suggesting inner strength and independence. I think the thick watermelon lipstick was overdone, but when I stepped back and took it all in–saw the whole person–she was impressive.

But why the vanity?

Every day for a week I watched her staring into a small mirror. She posed with such gusto, swiveling her head at odd angles as if she were preparing for an essential role in a Hollywood blockbuster. Of course, she’s not the first to preen before a mirror. Tutankhamun’s 3000-year-old personal hand mirror made of polished metal with a golden handle tells us otherwise.

But why the vanity?

I decided to approach her discreetly and offer a little counsel. I wanted to tell her she was beautiful but not to confuse beauty with virtue. I wanted to warn of time’s inevitable weight and the wrinkles that would one day crowd the mirror. But alas she would not allow it. For whenever she caught my shadow drawing near, she flitted away showing little interest in temperance.

I decided to accept her as she was. After all, who am I to make judgments? Now, whenever I see her from my porch clapping her feathered hands with glee at her image in my car mirror, I smile and turn to the swallows dipping and diving above the lawn.

They don’t show any interest in mirrors.

David R. Denny  PhD
Observations
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