Waiting for the Whirlwind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despair beneath a Juniper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Solution to Despair

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

 

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

Conclusion:

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

Living with Confidence

Living with Confidence– (Overcoming Life’s Fears)–Jeremiah 1:4-10—DBC—February 3, 2019– David R.Denny. Ph.D.

  Introduction:  What are you most afraid of in life?  (Men, don’t say your wife).  Living with fear and being unable to overcome a steady stream of challenges that are destined to confront you in life can lead to a form of paralysis.  Fear can actually keep you from advancing and living well.
One typical fear that can cripple the average person is the fear of public speaking.

*Mark Twain said, “There are two types of speakers in the world:  1.  The nervous and 2. Liars.”

public speaking.jpeg        *A Braintracey.com researcher said that “the average person ranks the fear of public speaking (also known as glossophobia) higher than the fear of death.
        *At Forbes.com a lady who owns an apparel brand said she had to give talks to business groups and she was terrified until she learned to picture everyone in the front wearing fruit baskets on their head.

*When I lived in Japan my dad wanted to rise in the ranks.  He was an Air-Force text sergeant and he longed for a promotion.  So he decided to overcome his fear and live with confidence. He decided to learn how to do public speaking.  He joined Toastmasters and every week he would leave our little base apartment and head off to face his fears and deliver some speech.  At first, he would come home dejected because he hadn’t done well. But he didn’t quit.  In time, it was common to hear him burst through the door at home shouting out a victory chant and displaying his new trophy.

 

  1. The Life of Jeremiah—Jeremiah was a young man laden with fears. He was a stay behind the scenes type of guy. The quiet type.  But one day God tapped him on the shoulder and said that he was to become a prophet to the nations.  And when he said this Jeremiah’s fears kicked in big time.  He knew he couldn’t and wouldn’t do it.  And it is in this response that I can relate so well to him.  He was afraid. He lacked confidence.  He is so like so many of us in our daily lives.

    A. The political times.—Jeremiah lived in a time of raging politics.   Babylon was the emerging power while Assyrian and Egypt were waning in strength. When Jeremiah, born in 655 BC) was a young teenager, Josiah became king of Judah.  He was only 8 years old!  His father had been murdered and he took the throne.  He was one of history’s best kings.  Jerusalem in his reign was mired in paganism.  Horrible and disgusting rituals of human sacrifice took place then.  The holy temple had images of pagan gods and the people had turned totally away from the God of Moses and Abraham.—But it was Josiah who ordered the temple to be cleansed.  And in the cleaning of the temple, the priests found the sacred books that had been long ago abandoned.   This led to a revival in the land and Jeremiah was in the middle of it all.  

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    The death of King Josiah at Megiddo 608 BC

         B.  Jeremiah’s Resistance—Into this maelstrom, God ordered the shy and uncertain Jeremiah to go.  He was in his twenties still learning how to be a quiet and humble man.  Jeremiah lacked confidence.  He refused to obey God.  He had all his reasons lined up in his debate with God.  (We do the same thing when we are faced with tough  challenges).

  2. The Excuses of Jeremiah

 I can’t do public speaking (Jer. 1:6)
so, therefore, I cannot be a prophet.

    *There was a time when I couldn’t speak before people. Right after my dad was transferred back to the states we settled in Jacksonville Ark.  I was in the 5thgrade.  And one day my teacher handed me a book and said read it and give a report in front of the class in a week.  (I read this week that our brains record every experience we have in life.  There is an impression in the brain for every event. If you were to crack open my head right now you would see a huge X on the spot where I had to give that report).  I have never experienced so much fear in my life before or after.  I remember sitting in the back of the class waiting for the summons forward.  And when I came I could barely walk to the podium. Sweat poured off my brow and plashed upon my handwritten speech.  My legs wobbled like Elvis when he gyrated on stage and words were stuck in thick molasses.

Jeremiah said Lord, I can’t speak.  God grabbed him by the collar, pulled him up real close and touched his mouth (Jer. 1:9). And then he grabbed a handful of words and stuffed them down his throat.  “Now you’re ready,” he said.  “I’ve put my words into your mouth.”

I’m too young (Jer. 1:6).

    Still, Jeremiah wasn’t ready.  So he said, ”I can’t go, Lord, I’m too young” (Jer. 1:6).  That’s funny because Josiah was only 8 when he became King, and Jeremiah was only a few years older than him.  And said to Jeremiah, “I don’t want to hear about your age.  Wherever I send you I will go with you”(Jer. 1:8).

I am afraid (Jer. 1:8).

But still, Jeremiah wasn’t convinced.  He said to God, But I am afraid.  And God looked at him and said  “Well you have no need to be afraid.  Don’t be afraid.  I’ will deliver you in every circumstance”.
*One of our readings today was Luke 4:30.  “But passing through their midst, He went His way.”  This took incredible confidence but this was how Jesus lived His life. And you too can live with confidence and overcome your fears.

A Final Promise from God

Each time Jeremiah whined, God stepped in with reassurance.  But Jeremiah still needed more.  So God said to him, Let me give you a visual—a promise you can see and hold onto as you go forth:    I promise—to make you like a fortified city (Jer. 1:18-19). Your walls will be of bronze so nothing can pierce or burn them.  And the pillars of your city will be of iron. Nothing will be able to break them.  And when people fight you they will not prevail. You are a fortified city!

Conclusion—You can learn to overcome your fears and live with confidence like Jeremiah.  God has a plan for your life.  He has called you to a task.  He will see you through to the end.

 

The Fountain of Life

The Fountain of Life.
Psalm 36:1-12; Isaiah 62:1-5–Drummondtown Baptist Church. Jan. 20, 2019
David R. Denny. Ph.D

 

Introduction:  Our four texts today shine with unusual brilliance. On this second week past Epiphany, the Lord moves among us with sensitivity and love.  He wants nothing more than to restore your life, to lift you from any difficulties and to shower you with love. These are the themes of today’s readings and I have reveled in them all week.

The four readings flow with such grace and passion:

Isaiah (Isa 62:1-5) takes us back to the return of the captives from Babylonian captivity.  So dejected and worn they scarcely know how to live anew in their old city.  But God tells them their restoration will be like a glorious wedding with God as the groom.
David (Psalm 36) tells us over and over in his beautiful Psalm that God loves us in a thousand ways and leads us to the Fountain of Life.
John (John 2:1-11) in our NT readings describes a marvelous wedding in which the Savior turns water to wine and lifts the spirits of a wedding turning sour.
Paul  (1 Cor. 12:1-11) and in the Corinthian letter shows us all how we too can lift those around us with unique gifts of the Spirit that He bestows upon us all.

Let’s turn our focus on the Psalms this morning and the Fountain of Life that God gives to His children.

*Elixir of Life—Just a few years ago, construction on a brand new 22 story glassy hotel began.  But before anything could start, archeologists were called in to dig through the ground.  And what they found was fascinating.  On this parcel of land, they found a history of drinking, easting and lodging and potions for good health.
One such find was a small 200-year-old bottle that fits into the palm of the hand.  Scrolling around the length of the bottle in embossed glass lettering were these words: ELIXER OF LONG LIFE.   Anyone who drank the contents of this bottle would surely live forever with the greatest of health.  The company overseeing the excavation project traced the contents of the bottle back to Germany and found it in an old medical guide.

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           I’m going to reveal to you the very ingredients in this potent at the end of the service today so you too can run out to the pharmacy and have this very life-altering potion ground up for you.

  1.  God’s Love Overcomes Evil: Ps 36:1-4. The theme David presents to us this morning is such a hopeful one.  He tells us in v.9 that God is our Fountain of Life.  He is the Elixir that everyone is searching for in this world.  But before he unfolds this dramatic statement before us, he steps back and sees the world as it really.

The world he tells us is filled with evil.  His portrait of evil is chilling and reads like the evening broadcasts that are so filled with horror and pain.  David tells us that before I bring you to the Fountain of Life I want you to know that I too live in a dark world.  I see misery every day.  I see those who have no fear of God.  I hear them bark and spew wicked words against God.  I know people who lay upon their beds each night planning the next crime spree.  I live in a dark and troubled world just like you do.  I want to say this before I lead you to the Fountain so you will know I am not some flake living in a false utopia.  I know the pain of the real world.  And so God’s people experienced this pain in the captivity of Babylon.  And so you too today here this morning might find your life surrounded by anguish and hurt.

  1. God’s Love Reaches out to us all, all the time even with a backdrop of the darkest strokes. This is what David really wants to talk about this morning.  First, he paints the canvass with black and gray.  He understands the world as it is.  But now he moves on to the joyful side of life. God’s love is real and it reaches from the highest places to the lowest.

The poetry of verses 5-6 is so spectacular!  READ TEXT—God love reaches to the heavens and then to the skies below them and then to the mountains below them and then to the great deep.  Do you see how God’s love and oversight of our lives encompasses all there is about us?  From the heavens beyond our view, to the skies that drift, heavy with clouds and bright with sunshine above us, to the mountains that dot the landscape where we live, and then even to the deepest places upon the earth—From the highest to the lowest God’s love is there.

*Several years ago Russian scientists found life buried in the permafrost of Siberia back when the Mammoths lived.  They discovered little living bacteria on Mammoth Mountain, some in the permafrost and some in the brains of a frozen mammoth.  They found that when they inserted these organisms into mice or small rodents that were quite old and lethargic that they began to dance and skip about.  The hope is that one day we might all get a little dose of these creatures and we too will soon be dancing and singing again.  But David reminds us that God’s love reaches from the heavens to the deepest deep of the ancient permafrost.

 

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The bacteria were originally found on Mamontova Gora – Mammoth Mountain – in Siberia’s Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, in 2009. Pictures: Sergei Goltsov

 

  1. God’s Love is the Fountain of Life. Psalm 36:9. For with You (God) is the Fountain of Life.”  What does this mean?  It means that God gives life meaning and purpose and that God knows how to give us life forever. Our favorite verse of the Bible tells us this:  John 3:16. For God so loved the world that He gave us His son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have—EVERLASTING LIFE.

*People have tried through the ages to stay young forever.  Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt bathed every day in a donkey milk bath to her skin milky white and free of again.  She kept a stable of 700 donkeys so she could maintain her daily routine.  Nero’s wife too followed this regimen as well as Napoleon’s sister.

But David tells us that the truest fountain of Life is found in our relationship with God.  Bathe in his love, David tells us and you will find a youthful secret that many miss out upon.

*Tuck Everlasting—children’s novel.  Rated in the. Top 100 of all time. I taught this to my si graders one year. A young man named Jessie Tuck drinks from a secret fountain in a place called Tree Gap Tennessee  He never ages….

Conclusion:  This morning God is calling you.  He wants to give you life everlasting.  Just trust him with your life and watch yourself grow younger each day.


Elixir ingredients found in the old bottle:  Aloe, which is anti-inflammatory, gentian root, which aids digestion, as well as rhubarb, zedoary, and Spanish saffron.

Singing Thankfulness

Singing Thankfulness. Col 3:16—Drummondtown Baptist Church– Nov 25, 2018.
Dr. David R. Denny

Introduction:
*Can anybody whistle?  (Ask to hear).
*I was a little bored the other day and so I did what we all do when we’re listless and in need of inspiration—I watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In the scene I watched, Snow White was faced with a chore that many men have faced:—a dirty kitchen that your wife told you to clean up.  In this scene, Snow White showed us how to do it. “Just whistle while you work,” she told the squirrels and chipmunks and birds who helped her.

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Just whistle while you work
And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place
So hum a merry tune
It won’t take long when there’s a song to help you set the pace
And as you sweep the room
Imagine that the broom
Is someone that you love and soon you’ll find you’re dancing to the tune
When hearts are high the time will fly so whistle while you work


Colossians 3:16 is our text today and it stands high and lifted up beside John3:16 as one of the most powerful texts in the Bible.  If I was to translate it from the Greek it would go something like this:  JUST WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK.

What makes this so impressive is that Paul was in prison while he wrote this. And it is this context that he reminds us that thankfulness is possible no matter what our life situation. My sermon outline is simple this morning:  1.  Sing thankfulness (or whistle) when times are good. 2. Sing thankfulness (or whistle) when times are bad.

1. Sing thankfulness (or whistle) when times are good.

        This is what David did in Psalms 9, the text I used here at DBC on Thanksgiving morning.  David gave thanks when times were good.  His battles behind him, peace had settled in on the people of Israel and in this tranquility, David sang his thankfulness.  READ TEXT…I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.

*This is what the pilgrims did on the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts.  Just ten months after their arrival in the new world, they had already built seven houses, a common meeting place, and three storehouses. And so they joined with their Wampanoag Indian friends and gave thanks.

But it is often the case that when times are good and we are blessed and contented that we often forget to sing our thankfulness to the Lord.  We become complacent and take our blessings for granted.

*Such was the case in Malachi’s day.  He tells us in this sad treatise on the frailties of the human heart.  Everything was good in Malachi’s day.  The people had come home from captivity Babylon.  They had rebuilt the city walls under Nehemiah’s leadership, and the temple was also repaired and ready for use.  Everyone had it pretty good.  But they forgot God in their abundance.  They no longer sang thankfulness. They gave God only the leftovers.  The priests brought God the weak and maimed animals for sacrifice and the people only put pennies in the offering plate.

*One of the books I taught my 8thgraders was written by Elie Wiesel entitled, Night. He starts the book with a strange character named Moishe the Beadle.  Moishe was a loner, almost clownlike.  Nobody took him seriously.  He was a quiet somber person who spent most of his time in prayer and reading of the Scripture.  He lived in Transylvania a region of Romania.

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He warned everyone to flee because the Nazis were coming but no one believed him.  He was just a clown. But one day they did come and the foreign Jews in the town were herded into cattle cars and taken off to their deaths.  Everyone on the cars had been ordered to walk into a near forest many miles from their town.  They were all shot with machine guns.  Moshe played dead lying under dead bodies.  When the Nazis left, he went back to town and warned the rest to flee.  But nobody believed him.  They were so complacent.  They were like the people in Malachi’s day—sated and full and giving God only an occasional wink.  But then not long after they all of the Jews of Transylvania were ordered into cars and taken off to their deaths.

All of this brings us back to our main point.  Sing thankfulness when times are good. They won’t always be good so develop the habit of giving thanks now while your life is blessed with abundance.  Don’t be complacent.  Don’t give the God the leftovers. Give Him exuberant thankfulness each day.

2. Sing thankfulness (or whistle) when times are bad.

It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who reminded us all that hard times are likely to fall upon everyone sooner or later.

The Rainy Day
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life, some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

It is simply a fact of life that hard times will befall all of us sooner or later.  Is it possible to give thanks in the dark days?  It defies all logic.  I know it is a task that must seem impossible.

*Peter understands that difficult may befall any of us at any time.  He reminds us in 1 Peter 5 that Satan is a roaring lion who seeks to devour us.    But he also tells us that suffering has its limits and “after a little while the God of all grace…will perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you,” 1 Peter 5:9-10).

*It was St Paul and Silas who sang praises to God in the dark jail cell in Philippi.  (Acts 16:23…).

Conclusion:

As Thanksgiving gives way to the Christmas season, let’s all sing our way forward with songs of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us. Let’s give thanks for the smallest of blessings that come our way.  Let’s give thanks in good times and in bad trusting that our lives in God’s hands.

 

 

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.

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