Nightmare on Straight Street

Nightmare on Straight Street(Acts 9:11).  May 5, 2019.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a difficult but necessary task lies before you.  You can try to run from this challenge like Jonah did, but chances are if you resist the challenge you will encounter a whale, (in other words, there will be consequences).

I want to take you to such an event this morning and show you how an ordinary person—a person like you and me, faced a difficult decision, and how he handled it.  Perhaps this story will inspire you to face some fear in your life or to move forward on some difficult decision.

Background

There are two streets mentioned in our story this morning—one is unnamed and one is called Straight.  On the unnamed street near Damascus Saul travels on a ruthless mission.  His face is hard and set on murder.  With every labored breath, he utters a threat against the Christians who live peacefully in the ancient walled city of Damascus.

*On an old map dated 1855, tradition marks the place that Saul fell to the dusty street and fought against a heavenly voice and a bright light that blinded him.
Map of Damascus 1855.png

He was nearly there.  He was so close to committing the crimes against innocent saints.  He could see the walls of the old city looming just beyond the gardens and olive groves on the southern side of the city.  But God stopped him in his tracks before the untold atrocities could erupt in his untethered heart.

But there is another street mentioned in our story:  the street called Straight.  It was an ancient Roman road built in the fashion of Roman logic and orderliness. It ran 1500 meters (nearly a mile) west to east, perfectly straight, with a series of north/south corridors like river tributaries crisscrossing this main artery.

*I have an old photo made in 1900.  It has been colorized and it shows people strolling casually down the narrow street called Straight.  A few are on horseback dressed in Syrian garments.  Some are westerners wearing London suits carrying parasols to shade themselves from the fierce midday sun.

Street called Straight.png

It is on this thoroughfare that history was forever changed.  For it was here on the western side of Straight Street not far from the city where a disciple of Jesus named Judas lived. And it was here that Saul the raging bull lay trembling with confusion, blinded by a terrific light.  And it is here in Judas’ house that we have the Nightmare on Straight Street.

 

  1. God often used ordinary people to do difficult things.

Now we must pause and pick up our protagonist for this story on the northeastern side of the city.  On my old map, I see the house of Ananias near an old cemetery that lay just outside the wall. And it is there that we meet a believer in Jesus.  He is an ordinary man.   And it is here that I must pause and make the first of two points this morning:  God often uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  I see this principle at work throughout the Scriptures:  It was an ordinary low born Hebrew child in Egypt—just a little baby of slave parents, who rose to become Moses the liberator of a nation.  And it was just a lowly, ordinary lad who kept sheep in the hills around Bethlehem that pick up a few stones and slew Goliath.

And so don’t be alarmed if God taps you on the shoulder and asks you to step into a challenging task, a difficult assignment that you might feel is beyond your ability. Just remember our first lesson this morning:  God often uses ordinary people to do difficult things.

And this was the case when God slipped quietly into Ananias’ life with a vision(Acts 9:10).  “Ananias, I have a job for you.”  “What is it, Lord?”  “I want you to slip down the street called Straight just a few blocks from you live and lay your healing hands upon a murderer of saints.  He trembles in blindness in Judas’ house.  Go and touch his eyes for me.”

An ordinary man asked to do a difficult task.  He should have said no!

*I read an article the other day entitled 10 guilt-free strategies for saying no. In each scenario, the author shows us how to gracefully and effectively say no.  I don’t think Ananias had read this article.  He tried to say no but he couldn’t pull it off.  It isn’t logical to liberate murderers and criminals.  But his no carried no power with Jesus who quickly brushed his protest off and told him quietly clearly to just get up and GO!

*I often wondered how he would explain this assignment to his wife: Honey, I have to go out for a while.  “Where?  Just out. Where?  Down to Judas’ house.  Birthday? No.  Why?  To help a murderer!

So let’s all learn from this.  God sometimes asks us to do things that are difficult, out of the ordinary, things that we don’t understand.

  1. Difficult challenges make us stronger. It was Peter who said in 1 Peter 5:10 that difficult challenges always result in wonderful personal benefits.  And so is the case here.  Ananias is ordered to do a difficult thing:  Go and help Saul your mortal enemy.  It was a supreme challenge but it led to the birth of the world’s greatest missionary—the Apostle Paul.

*George Washington was given this impossible task.  Defend NYC against the British.  But the British had unlimited resources, and scores of powerful ships and 20,000 well-armed soldiers.  In Ron Chernow’s book on Washington he said, “For some soldiers, their only weapons consisted of sharpened scythes fastened to poles, forming primitive spears” (p. 253). Washington lost NYC but in that struggle, he learned about himself, and somehow gained a new strength that eventually led his forces to victory at Yorktown.

Conclusion:

Perhaps the greatest example of an ordinary man facing a difficult challenge is seen in the garden of Gethsemane.  There Jesus, a man born of poor ordinary parents, was now challenged to save the world and die upon the cross.  He kneeled in the garden that night and Luke tells us that he was in such agony and distress that he prayed for the cup to pass from Him if possible and He sweats drops of blood, so great was His inner turmoil.

As we leave the Nightmare on Straight Street let us bid Anania’s farewell and leave determined that we too will face life’s difficult choices with courage and hope knowing God is with us all the way.

The Necessity of Daily Ascents

The Necessity of Daily Ascents—Luke 9:28-36- March 3, 2019—DBC—Dr. Denny

Introduction:  This morning we are going to take an exhilarating hike up one of the most iconic mountains in Palestine.  It will be a sacred ascent in the tradition of Jesus our Savior who made this very trek before us.  And in this journey, we will see the value of daily ascents.  I believe every Christian should make a daily ascent, a daily spiritual journey. Spiritual ascents help us to rediscover our purpose in life and they also recharge our spirits as we absorb the power and grace of the Savior.

Anyone who has the physical strength and mental determination can walk the Appalachian Trail in our country created in 1921. It runs 2200 miles and passes through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

However, if you go to Israel they too have such a trail—TheIsrael National Trail–that runs across the entire country of Israel from the north to the south—636 miles.  It takes about 60 days to walk the entire trail.  It is listed in National Geographic’s 20 most “epic trails.”  It is said, “to delve into the grade scale of biblical landscapes as well as the everyday lives of the modern Israeli.”

This trail passes by our mountain this morning—Mt. Tabor—located in the world that Jesus knew just 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.  It rises nearly 2000 ft out of the Jezreel Valley. It is a strange place because it is not a part of a mountain chain.  It is an island all to itself, a majestic respite from the lowlands around it.

Our Ascent up Mt. Tabor

As we follow the Savior up the mountain we will remember that 8 days before this trek up Mt. Tabor, Jesus fed the 5000 down by the Sea of Galilee.  And now Jesus needs to find some quiet time with God.  And so he gathers his closest disciples—Peter, James, and John- and invites them to join him in prayer on the Mt. Tabor.  (The mountain’s name is not mentioned in the Bible, but Origin, a luminary of the ancient church fathers of the 3rdcentury tells us that he believes Mt. Tabor to be the mountain).

The climb to the top is a beautiful one.  Mt. Tabor is covered with vegetation including oak trees and over 400 varieties of plants including the large yellow crocuses, the Persian lily that stands several feet tall dressed in royal purple flowers and black-eyes red tulips that take your breath.

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Chromolithographic card 1870-1880 by Helga Von Cramm

 

As Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up the long trail to the summit, they felt the presence of God in the beauty of the mountainside.  Finally, they all stopped at the top and each found a place to kneel and pray. But it wasn’t long before all of the disciples were fast asleep and Jesus was left alone to reflect on His life—its purpose and plan, just as we must do daily in our ascents, our moments alone with God.

But then a most remarkable thing happened, missed entirely by the sleeping disciples—Jesus was transformed.  The Greek text tells us his face changed much like that of Moses when he too climbed ancient Mt Horeb and received the law. Moses’ face glowed so brightly with the presence of the divine upon it that he had to cover it with a veil when he descended to talk with the people below.

And here the same thing happened-  Jesus’ face brimmed with a heavenly light and his garments sparkled with the dazzling brightness of lightning (a Greek word used only one time n the NT-ἐξαστράπτων).  If only we had not fallen asleep!  The disciples missed this at first.  Can you imagine?  But that was not all they missed.  For as Jesus prayed two men joined Him.  Moses and Elijah appeared upon the mountain and they all conversed.  This was predicted in the final verses of the OT. If you turn to the last page of the OT you will read in Malachi 4:5-6 that Moses and Elijah would come in the final days and this prediction is now happening on Mt Tabor while the disciples sleep.

Could we pause here and just gaze at the wonder of it all?  It is a heavenly scene like none other.  Thomas Aquinas called this the greatest of all Jesus’ miracles.  It is here that we get a glimpse behind the veil of time.  Here we see what one day we will all experience. Heavenly beings shining like lightning, speaking of heavenly things.

Would you like to know what they spoke of specifically?  We know what the conversation was about because Luke records it just as the disciples told him later.  What did they talk about?—They talked about the Cross and the impending departure of Jesus after the resurrection (Luke 9:31).

But now comes the part of the story I love.  Peter awakens and steps into a living dream.  Only it’s not really a dream.  For heaven is not a dream.  He witnessed the realities of heaven and could scarcely speak.  When his voice did come to him he could only stutter something silly like let me set up a tent for each of you so you can stay awhile.  The Bible tells us that he didn’t even know what he was saying!

Why do we need daily ascents?

  1. First of because they clarify our purpose for living.

When we pause in each day and step aside from our busy lives and venture up the mountain with Jesus we begin to rethink our purpose in life.  Why are we here?  What has God called us to do with our lives?  We need this time of reflection for without it we merely get lost in the world of endless activities.

  1. Secondly, we need to recharge our spirits. We need our faces to glow again.  We need to absorb the power and glory of God into our lives.  We need this daily and thus we need ascents daily.

Conclusion:

Last year one of the most amazing physical feats anyone has every accomplished happened in Yosemite National Park.  Alex Honnold, 33- climbed El Capitan, a 3000 vertical cliff face without any ropes or assistance. He planned this climb for 10 years and when he finally decided it was time to climb, on June 3, 2017, he had flutters in his stomach looking up at the peak in the clouds.  And then he took the first step up and for four hours he climbed straight up a cliff that all the experts said was impossible to conquer. When he finally scrambled up on the top, he posed for a selfie holding all of his gear: shoes and a bag of chalk.

As amazing as this was, it pales in comparison with the transfigured Jesus on little Mt. Tabor.  Maybe you can’t solo up El Capitan, but you can climb Mt. Tabor with Jesus and renew your purpose in life and recharge your spirit with the presence of God.

The Power of Meditation

The Power of MeditationPs 19:14, Drummondtown Baptist Church, Dr. Denny, January 27, 2019

Review:
Last week we discovered the Fountain of Life (Ps 36) mentioned by David.  God’s wants you to drink from Him, to commune with Him daily.  And in this constant spiritual dialogue, He will infuse you with love and joy and a purpose for living.

Introduction:
Today we will take another step in our relationship with the divine.  We will learn the power of meditation. When you first hear this phrase, the power of meditation, you might conjure up images of crazy people sitting high on a mountain communing with nature.  But let’s not be alarmed by meditation.  David himself valued it and took daily time to calm himself and connect himself to God.

*The University of Rochester Medical Center in NY has an informative article on the Power of Meditation https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=2509

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The staff at the school reminds us that our modern lives are already very stressful.  And as we focus daily on our worries and anxieties, the stress level in our lives often rises to the breaking point.  (We all can see this especially in the federal workers who have been furloughed).  Lingering on life’s problems can affect your health and your mental well-being and the medical staff urges everyone to cultivate the art of healthful mediation.  One quote from the article says, “Meditation allows you to become more awake and more purposeful about your actions.  It teaches you how to respond, rather than react, to situations in your life.”

             **I watched a short video from another source on the basics of mediation.  Here is what the instructor said to do:

—Sit on the floor with legs folded or in a chair if needed.  —-Place your hands before you—Spine erect—breathing from the abdomen in slow breaths—Avoid distractions—Let them pass by and merely witness them—don’t linger on them.  Start with only a 1 minute and work up to 10-20 minutes a day.  The effects will linger long after the session is over.

  1. David’s Troubled Life:

Today we take our inspiration from King David who mediated daily and wrote the Psalms that came from his that flooded his heart during these quiet times with God. But we must remember that David had a troubled life.  His family was in disarray most of the time.  He had multiple wives as was the custom of the day.  His children fought with one another.  One son,  Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar.  The infuriated another son named Absalom who managed to get revenge by killing the brother. Absalom ran away home to avoid the wrath of the king.  David wouldn’t speak to his son for years. Etc..  An yet—still David found time to meditate and through these quiet times, he always found hope and forgiveness and direction.

  1. David’s Meditation: Let’s step quietly into David’s palace that looked out over the Kidron Valley below the great temple mount.  https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/did-i-find-king-davids-palace/Davids Palace.png

*Archaeologists think they may have found David’s palace in this location according to an article written 2017 by Eilat Mazar.  The remains of a massive structure date to the times of David.  Let’s imagine we are setting on edge of the great palace looking out toward the valley and the hills beyond.  There David settles himself in the morning breeze and begins to quiet his soul.

He calms his breathing and discards the anxieties that roil his soul.  He begins by contemplating the majestic movement of the sun as it rises slowly across the horizon (Ps 19:1-6).  He images god sending out the sun like a bridegroom stepping out of his chamber.

Next, he finds immense pleasure in thinking of the majesty of the commandments and law of God (7-12).  These words of God are sweeter than honey and in his meditation, he tastes the honeycomb and finds peace in God’s guiding words to him.

Conclusion:
Then after a certain time, he closes his meditation with a short prayer:  (v14):  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.

David R.Denny Ph.D.
Visions501@gmail.com

 

 

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.

elixir-life-recipe.jpg

           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.

 

mammoth-mountain.jpg

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.

Treasure Hunting–Proverbs 2:1-5. David R. Denny PhD

Treasure Hunting—Proverbs 2:1-5—Drummondtown Baptist Church—November 4, 2018, Dr. David R. Denny PhD

Golden-diadem

Introduction:
Today we’re going to do some treasure hunting.  It’s not going to be easy.  Expect some hardships.  It is Solomon himself who dares us to undertake this challenge.  He tells us clearly that there are hidden treasures waiting for those willing to search (v4).

            *I would like to take you back to a treasure found almost by accident by a wealthy German businessman named Heinrich Schliemann.  He began the adventure of a lifetime by setting out to find ancient Troy.  Homer wrote about this battle of Troy and Schliemann knew Homer almost by heart. This ancient tale by Homer so captured his imagination that he set out one day in 1871 to prove Troy existed. After several years of poking around in a place called Hissarlik —-western Turkey—where he thought Troy to be, he indeed did find the old city just as Homer had described.  —-But this was not enough for Schliemann.  He wanted to find the Treasures of Priam, the king of Troy.  He reasoned that the king must have buried his treasure in the ground somewhere in the city so the invading Greek soldiers would not find it.

         One day as he was propping up a trench on the southeastern side of the city, he saw a glimpse of gold starring at him from beneath the crumbling dirt.  It turned out to be the spectacular hidden treasure.   One of the many items was a golden headdress worn by his queen that dribbled down over her head in hundreds of delicate golden strands.

         As we begin our own adventure this morning searching for hidden treasure, we will follow the guidelines of Solomon himself. And if you do so you will be richly rewarded beyond your expectation.  You too will find a treasure of value far greater than the gold of Troy.  Solomon wants us all to find the most dramatic and valuable of all treasures—God Himself.  He wants to lead us first to Wisdom, Discernment, and Understanding and when we have found these early traces of gold they will take us directly to God Himself.  (READ vs 4-5—“If you seek her…you will discover the knowledge of God.”

So, how do we go about finding this “hidden treasure”?…

 1. We must awaken our spiritual senses. (v2—“your ear…your heart”).  You will not find God—whom Solomon considers to be the greatest treasure that exists—without awakening your spiritual senses. You can see he focuses our attention on our ears and our heart.  Solomon wants us to learn how to listen for the still small voice of God who often lingers behind the noise of the modern world.  And we must tune our hearts to hear a different melody than plays on the radio stations. Our ears and our hearts must be conditioned to seek wisdom. —— I think he is telling us something profound here about how we live and go about our daily activities. It is possible for people to go galloping through an entire day without once listening for God’s voice.  We must change that, Solomon says.  We must step out of our doors in the morning and search for the divine.  God is there, but we must seek him.

             *It was Jeremiah who said to a dispirited nation of Israel held in captivity in Babylon that even though their daily lives were difficult in captivity, they could still find hidden treasure in their misery.  Jeremiah 29:12-13Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

    Sistine        *Michelangelo was only 33 when he was summoned by Pope Julius 11 in 1508 to paint frescoes on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.  He was known as a sculptor, not a painter.  He was working at this very time on the astonishing 17 foot high “David” in Florence. It was then that the pope summoned him and gave him the plum commission to paint the ceiling.  Nobody believed he could do it.  But of course, we know better.  When you walk quietly into the chapel today and stare in silent awe at the great masterpiece, you feel all of your inner senses scrambling to attention.  This is what Solomon wants for you as you search for divine treasure.  He wants your ears to hear the quiet voice of God in your daily walks and your heart to open in your valiant quest for God.

2.  We must awaken our voices.  Solomon wants us to invoke more than our ears and our hearts.  He wants us to lift our voices in this quest for treasure.  (2:3: “… cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding”).  There is a rising intensity here as our search for treasure continues.  We are now progressing from the silent search with our ears and hearts to a more boisterous calling out for God.  “Cry out for discernment,” says Solomon and “lift your voice for understanding.” 

            *When I was little I ran away from home.  I was living on the Yokohama Air Force base and I was in the 3rd grade.  My mom had ticked me off somehow. I can’t remember what happened, but I remember very clearly running away.  I had made it all the way to my school, and I was determined to never ever go home again. I would live like Huckleberry Finn using my wits to survive. I was just about to begin this new life when I heard my mother calling out for me way off in the distance. It was a sound I will never forget. It was not just a call.  It was more like a sorrowful wailing. There was a desperate tone in her voice I had never heard before.  As she came closer and closer, the voice grew louder, more pressing and poignant. I hid behind the corner of the building.  My heart began to slowly melt as I felt her anguish.  I finally stepped out surrendering so she wouldn’t cry anymore, and she took home lovingly.

            There is something about calling out, about lifting our voices to a cause.  And Solomon tells us to do this very thing as we search for God.

            Jesus once said the most amazing thing as He walked triumphantly toward the city of Jerusalem inLuke 19:40.  The people who lined the road toward Bethany were tossing their coats on the road before Him praising in a loud voice.  The Pharisees didn’t like it all.  They told Jesus to order the mob to be silent.  “But Jesus answered,  ‘I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out’).  And so, as you move through your day, find time to cry out to the Lord.

3.  Solomon Promises us Success.  As we conclude our quest for hidden treasure Solomon is quick to tell us the most important fact of treasure huntingThe Treasure is meant to be found. v5:  “you will discover the knowledge of God.”  For God is never so distant or so reclusive or hidden that we cannot find Him.  He wants to be found.  Again we turn to Jeremiah where He records the voice of God telling us that God will be found if we search for Him with all our heart.  I’m so happy to hear that.  It would be discouraging to be always be looking for something and never to find it.

            When we had our Easter egg hunt last year,  I remember it was a beautiful day outside. We had about 90 or so folks crammed inside the fellowship hall while Diane and her elves began hiding the eggs. I’m not sure how many eggs she hid, but I know it was hundreds and hundreds.  Scores of little treasures all tucked away in the yard beneath bushes and flowers.  And when the kids were released to find them, I think they were all plucked from their hiding places in less than five minutes!  Those treasures were hidden but in such a way that anybody who searched for them could find them.

Conclusion:

            Our search for hidden treasure is now coming to an end for this morning. But let’s always remember Solomon’s wise words. Begin your daily search for God with your ears and your heart opening like a rose beneath the sun.  Then open your voices in prayer and call out for God.  And when you do these things you will find hidden treasure for God wants you to find Him.

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.