I Am Blessed!

I feel blessed.  One year ago, I was experiencing severe hip problems.  My hip had been replaced 22 years before, and then a slight revision 3 years after that.  That served me well for years, but in 2017 it became a problem.

A major problem I encountered was that Dr. Don Hodurski had done the original replacement and had since retired.  I went to multiple doctors, but they were leery of doing the revision since they didn’t do the original hip replacement.  Some of the tests showed there were several complications, including some accumulation of fluid.

I was referred to a couple of doctors at Andrews Clinic in Birmingham, but they also were leery of attempting a revision.  One day I met a friend, Shot Thames.  He told me he had just had his hip revised by a great doctor at East Alabama Medical Center.  I also found out my good friend and member of our Board, Lucinda Cannon, had a hip replacement from the same doctor.  Lucinda helped me get an appointment with Dr. Todd Sheils.

It was one of the great blessings of my life!  He surveyed the situation, didn’t talk about how tough it could be, but was offering his talent.  Lynn and I were both elated when he said that he would help.

I then learned from some other doctors who were in medical school with Dr. Sheils that he was #1 in their class and had one of the highest scores on medical boards that they had heard of.  When I met with Dr. Sheils, he talked about how his team would be praying for me.  I am smart enough to know that when you have a doctor with extreme intelligence and skill and a humble spirit to pray and ask for God’s guidance, I was at the right place!!

Dr. Sheils and JE (2)

I had the surgery in February 2017.  Dr. Sheils could not determine if the fluid and other complications were due to infection.  He could not put in the kind of new prosthesis that was needed.  He used his skill to “improvise.”  That surgery was a great success for several months.  But then some complications arose two days after I returned from Germany in November 2017.

I went back to Dr. Sheils and he said at some point, some of the bone deterioration had given way, etc.  I asked him what he would do if it was his hip, and he said he would replace it with the prosthesis that he wanted to use back in February.  He suggested doing it soon.  He said he would be available the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I feel very blessed Dr. Sheils scheduled my surgery right after lunch on Monday, November 27.  He didn’t schedule any other surgeries for the rest of the afternoon in case the worst scenario would require removing the original stem out of the femur or a couple of their major things.  He was prepared for everything.

I just learned that a few years ago, Dr. Sheils’ son was extremely ill.  He was in East Alabama Medical Center.  His liver had begun to fail.  They were getting ready to medi-vac him to Birmingham.  It was a critical moment.  But a lady who works at the hospital came up to Dr. Sheils and told him she was praying for him and that his son would be alright.  She had crocheted an angel and gave it to Dr. Sheils.  The next day, his son went home!

Dr. Sheils hadn’t seen that lady again in 3 years.  Just about 3 or 4 minutes before he went into the operating room for my surgery, she appeared again!  She just told him that she felt like he needed extra prayer.  She wanted him to know she would be praying and everything would be alright.  She was his angel – and mine!  Just as that lady walked off, another lady appeared and said, “I’m really praying for you today.”  Dr. Sheils said he went into my surgery knowing he was really in God’s presence!

My surgery was only about an hour and a half.  He was able to put in the prosthesis that he had desired.  He didn’t have to remove or replace the stem.  He put in a wedge where some of the bone had deteriorated which would require a longer recovery.  When he walked into the waiting room with my family and friends, he had a smile on his face and thumbs up.

I am blessed!  Because of the nature of the surgery, I can place no weight on my left hip for 14 weeks (about the end of February).  I am on a walker, but able to get around really well.  I am able to go to the office every day and keep my speaking engagements that don’t require long travel.  The biggest challenge is not my hip, but my arms in using the walker.  I have no pain with that hip.

I am blessed!

Go Forward

David Livingstone was a great Christian missionary to Africa.  He faced many obstacles, but he always kept moving towards the completion of his mission.  One day he said, “I will go anywhere as long as it is forward.”

What an attitude!  One of the attitudes I want to adopt in 2018 is to always go forward.  It’s easy to meet an obstacle and either sit down or turn around and retreat.  The Biblical perspective is always to go forward.

When the children of Israel came to the Promised Land, they sent 12 spies to check it out (Numbers 13).  Ten of them came back with the majority report saying that the place was occupied by giants who would step on the people of Israel like grasshoppers.  Many people today have a grasshopper attitude.  But there were two spies who came back, Joshua and Caleb, who offered a minority report.  They acknowledged the fact that there were giants, but they declared God was bigger than any giants!  Their message was clear – “Let’s go forward and take the land!”

Some of the people were already forming the “back to Egypt committee.”  The giants were too big – time to give up.  I am in the ministry today because the people of Israel adopted the minority report and went forward.  There may never have been a Christian movement if the children of Israel had not gone forward.

“The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9).  A sad word comes from Jeremiah 7:24 – “But my people would not listen to me.  They kept doing whatever they wanted following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts.  They went backward instead of forward.”

Go forward!  The great entrepreneur Charles Kettering said, “You will never stub your toes standing still.  The faster you go, the more chance there is of stubbing your toe, but also the more chance you have of getting somewhere.”  While there are many ways of going forward, there is only one way of standing still!

Going forward doesn’t mean we will not make mistakes and encounter some failures.  If you never failed at something, it probably means you never tried anything.  Winston Churchill believed that “success is never final.  Failure is never fatal: It’s the courage to continue that counts.”  Failure is never final or fatal.  It can be an investment that helps us act differently in a similar situation the next time.  That’s the spirit of moving forward.

Thomas Edison invented a lot of things that didn’t work.  It took him a thousand different experiments to find the proper formula for a light bulb.  People told him he had failed a lot of times.  He never said he failed.  He simply commented that he had found 999 things that didn’t work!  On one occasion, he said, “Be courageous.  I have seen many depressions in business.  Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous.  Be brave as your fathers before you.  Have faith.  Go forward!”

During 2018, God is going to open a lot of doors in front of us.  We have to be able to see the open door, be prepared to walk through it, then have the courage to take the steps to walk through it.  Many times we don’t see the open door that’s in front of us because we focus so much on the closed door behind us.  Doors don’t stay open long.  When the door opens for you in 2018 – go forward!

The writer of Hebrews said, “God willing, we will move forward to further understanding” (Hebrews 6:3).  That’s an attitude.  The Apostle Paul’s witness in Philippians 3:13 was – “I focus on this one thing, forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.  I press on toward the mark for the prize.”

Go Forward 1

I can sit in my car and place the gear in Neutral.  The car won’t go anywhere, but just sits and “idles.”  It will eventually run out of gas.  I can also place the gear in Reverse.  It’s a difficult thing to drive a car and to live life when we are engaged in Reverse (and looking in the rear view mirror or craning our necks to see behind us).  When I want to get somewhere, I engage my transmission in Drive – a forward gear.  Last year my forward gear carried me over 20,000 miles in my car!  How far are we willing to go forward in 2018?

Derric Johnson writes – “I always wonder why birds stay in the same place … when they can fly anywhere on the earth.  Then I ask myself the same question.”

Is your life in forward gear for 2018?

Wise Men or Wise Guys? Part 2

The Wise Men’s experience at Christmas defines the difference in wise men or wise guys.  Wise men know and follow the wisdom of God.  Wise guys are cocky, arrogant, egotistical, and are going to trust their own wits instead of God.  Two characteristics of wise men were discussed last week – wise men saw the star, and wise men followed the star.  Here are three more characteristics.

  1. When the Wise Men lost sight of the star, they kept going forward (Matthew 2:3-10).

The Wise Men didn’t pack up and go home.  Losing sight of the star was temporary.  They had studied and were prepared.  They kept going forward.

Wise men always move forward.  When Moses led the people of Israel out of bondage, they faced what they thought were impossible situations.  Whenever Moses came to God for advice, God told him, “Tell the people to go forward.”  It’s easy to get discouraged and disappointed.  Sometimes a vision becomes confusing, or you don’t see the vision clearly.  Wise men keep going forward regardless.  Wise guys pack up and go back home.

  1. When the Wise Men arrived at the scene, they worshipped the Christ child and brought Him costly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

wise men worship

Wise men are givers.  Wise guys are takers.  Christmas is a time that demonstrates the difference between wise men and wise guys.  My friend Mary Ann Pickard wrote that “the custom of giving gifts is more in harmony with the Wise Men’s story than receiving gifts from Santa Claus.”  Next year will provide opportunities for you to give of your time, your talent, and your treasure in many specific ways.  Be a giver, not a taker.

  1. The Wise Men went home a different way (Matthew 2:12).

The Wise Men were warned by an angel to go home a different way.  They didn’t ask questions – they obeyed.  They followed God’s directions which protected themselves and the Holy Family.  Wise men follow God’s direction – wise guys try to determine their own path.  Wise men know God never makes a mistake in His sovereign plan and leadership.

God has an eternal view about life that wise men accept.  I was in Atlanta, Georgia staying at a hotel.  As you know, massive traffic jams occur at rush hour.  I was staying in a room many stories up.  I looked out the window and could see traffic jams everywhere.  From my vantage point, I could actually see some areas that were not as congested, and I wanted to tell those drivers to take an alternate route.  But I couldn’t communicate to them.  God has a vantage point that we don’t have.  Any lack of communication with God is not on His part but from our lack of listening and receiving and following.

Wise men know God has a better view of life.  Wise men hear from God and obey.  The meaning of Christmas is living life a different way.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature – old things are passed away and all things are new.”

I remember reading about a salesman who got lost on a country road in south Alabama.  He stopped and asked a farmer how far it was to Elba.  The farmer smiled and said, “The way you are going, it’s about 25,000 miles! But if you turn around, go back to the corner of the field, take a right, go about a mile and take a left, you are only 5 minutes away.”

God has a destination for each of us in 2018.  What direction are you headed?  How far away is it the way you are traveling?  How close would it be if you were willing to turn around and follow God’s directions?  Read Proverbs 3:5-6.

Wise men see the star, follow the star, keep going forward when they can’t see it clearly, give and worship, and are willing to go into the New Year a different way.  Wise guys are just self-centered, cocky, egotistical, and want to decide their own destination.

In 2018, will you be a wise man or a wise guy?

Wise Men or Wise Guys

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is the Wise Men (Matthew 2).  They came from a long distance to worship the Christ child and present their gifts.  Their story gives great insight in how we can live in 2018.

wise men following star

Life can be divided between wise men and wise guys.  Wise men receive and follow the wisdom of God.  Wise guys are cocky and egotistical.  They say we will figure it out ourselves, make our own decisions.  (I use the term wise men and wise guys to include women.)  Here are some characteristics of wise men in Matthew’s account:

1.      Wise men see the star (Matthew 2:2). 

There must have been thousands of stars out that night, and thousands of people looking up at the heavens, but they did not see the holy star.  Wise guys look – wise men see.  Jesus said in Matthew 13:14, “Your problem is that you’ve got eyes but you don’t see.”  In Ephesians 1:18, Paul talks about how the eyes of our hearts can be enlightened so we can see the riches of God.  How well do you see?

Years ago, people looked at their arms and noticed blue lines under their skin and saw blood emerge if there was a cut.  But William Harvey saw more – he saw the circulatory system of the human body.  Years ago, many people saw the stars, the moon, and planets, but one day Nicolas Copernicus saw something different when he discovered the rotations of the earth.  Millions of people saw apples fall off the trees to the ground, but one day Isaac Newton saw the Law of Gravity.  It’s not just what you see with your eyes, but what you see with your heart and mind. 

When I was in high school, I struggled with Algebra.  The teacher would write a formula on the chalk board and ask, “Do you see this?”  Well, I could see everything that she wrote on the board, but I could not “see” how she got the answer.  Seeing was not just looking at what was written, but what it meant.  Wise men see God’s star.

2.      Wise men follow the star (Matthew 2:2). 

I’m sure that on that holy night there were a lot of people who saw the star, but when it started to move, they didn’t follow it.  After all, they were comfortably situated.  They didn’t know where the star was headed.  They were just wise guys content to “play it safe.”

The wise men followed the star.  That’s the reason they experienced the birth of the Christ child.  So many people miss out on the great things in life because they act like wise guys and not wise men.  They fail to follow.

My friend James Davis had the opportunity to go to New Zealand and visit Sir Edmund Hillary just a few months before he died.  He wanted to meet the man who, on May 29, 1953, reached the top of Mount Everest and placed the British flag on the “roof of the world.”

During their visit, James asked Sir Hillary why he was willing to follow such a dangerous dream.  Hillary replied, “If you want to simply experience what other people have experienced, then do what other people have done.  But if you want to experience what no one else has experienced, you must be willing to go where no one else has gone.”

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He saw some men fishing.  He didn’t debate theological issues with them.  He didn’t tell them to believe in Him.  He didn’t promise them prosperity.  He invited them to “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19).  The fishermen were wise men because they immediately got up and followed after Jesus.

In 2018, God is going to place opportunities in front of you.  The star will be shining.  Doors will open.  He will be inviting you to follow Him.  You can either be a wise guy who decides to stay where it is safe and comfortable, or you can be a wise man who is willing to follow the star. 

Are you a wise man or a wise guy?

An Unexpected – But Perfect Ending

A very creative children’s Sunday School teacher asked her class to write and act out their own version of the Christmas story.  It had some traditional parts, but a very unexpected ending.

There were familiar members of the cast – Joseph, the shepherds, the star, the three wise men, the animals and the angels, propped up in the background.  But Mary was nowhere to be seen.  Suddenly, from behind some bales of hay, they could hear the moaning and groaning of someone in pain.  Evidently, Mary was in labor!

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About that time, a doctor arrived dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck.  You could see the relief on Joseph’s face as he took the doctor straight to Mary, then started his pacing back and forth.  A few minutes later, the doctor emerged with a big smile on his face and said, “Congratulations, Joseph!  It’s a God!”

This is the meaning of Christmas.  Christmas isn’t about parties, trees, gifts and family gatherings.  It’s not a holiday – it’s a holy day because God came to be a part of our situation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him will never perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  Christmas is about the giving of His Son to you and me.

The Bible says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  Jesus was called Emmanuel – “God With Us” (Isaiah 7:14).

Luke sums it up when he said, “Behold I bring you good news which is for all the people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  Break that down for a moment. 

1.      It’s positive – Luke says, “I bring you good news of great joy.”  The world has enough bad news.  We need some good news!  Jesus’ birth is the best news the world has ever heard.

2.      It’s personal – The Bible says, “Unto to you.”  Christmas is extremely personal because God loves you so much that He gave His Son to you.  He wasn’t just offered to “humankind,” or people in general – but to people specifically.  “Unto you.”

3.      It’s a plan – The birth of Jesus was prophesied in Micah 5:1-2 with the place that He was born, and the time it was to happen.  His coming to us was always part of God’s divine plan.

4.      It’s a Person – A “Savior who is Christ the Lord.”  Jesus is not an idea, an ideal or an idol, but a Person who has come to save us and empower us for everyday living.  That’s the meaning of Christmas.

One day an English diplomat said, “Congratulations, USA, on the Fourth of July – the second greatest day in history.”  He was then asked, “What is the greatest day in history?”  He replied, “December 25.  If there had been no December 25 – Christmas – there would be no Fourth of July.” 

One day a Sunday School class was talking about the importance and meaning of Easter.  One little boy asked the teacher, “Is Easter the greatest day of the year?”  Another little boy interrupted and said, “No.  Christmas is.  If it had not been for Christmas, there would have been no Easter.”

My dad used to quote a newscaster who would sign off on Christmas Eve with these words – “That night as the sun bent low to kiss the earth goodnight, God reached down and placed a kiss of love on the brow of humanity and gently placed in the waiting arms of Mary His love-gift to the world.”

Congratulations, Joseph – It’s a God!

 

Less Predicting – More Producing

People today are fascinated with predictions about the future.  It has become especially popular when folks predict what God is going to do.  It has also become financially lucrative.

One self-proclaimed “Biblical researcher,” David Meade, predicted the world would end on September 23, 2017.  When it didn’t happen, he amended his highly-publicized claim by saying, “Wait until the middle of October.  I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.”  It’s now past the middle of October! 

Television evangelist Rick Joyner predicted that Christian prophets would soon be able to write news stories a week in advance.  He said, “You don’t need to watch the Super Bowl.  I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen.”  If he could really do that, he could make a quick fortune as a stock broker.

In the 1980’s, Edgar Whisenant wrote a book – “88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988.”  He sold a lot of copies of that book.  When the world didn’t end in 1988, he revised the book to add one more reason and called it “89 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1989.”  The interesting thing about buying that new book was that you could pay for it with a credit card and not make any payments for 2 years! 

Predicting has gone on for a long time.  Back in the 1800’s, a religious leader named William Miller calculated that somewhere between March 21, 1823 and March 21, 1844, Christ would return and Judgment would occur, and the new Millennium would begin.  A contemporary of Miller’s was Alexander Campbell, the leader of the Disciples of Christ.  He wrote an article in 1841 to poke fun at Miller and documented that Miller had taken out a copyright on his book .  What good was a copyright that didn’t expire until 10 years after he said the world would expire? 

Sports fans really love to predict outcomes of games.  Some go a little too far.  A couple of years ago, Burke O’Connell, a New England Patriots fan, had the Patriots logo tattooed on his calf along with these words – “Super Bowl 50 Champs.”  The Patriots lost two days later to the Denver Broncos, but Burke still has the tattoo.  He actually made an even dumber prediction when he had his chin tattooed with the name of his girlfriend, and then she broke up with him!  He simply admitted, “I can’t say ‘live and learn’ because I didn’t live and learn.”

One of my favorite sports stories is about the Major League All-Star game several years ago when Yogi Berra and Stan Musial were playing against each other.  Yogi Berra was in the locker room with all the pitchers from the American League.  They were discussing how to pitch to Stan Musial.  They discussed at length whether you should throw the ball high and tight, or low and away, or change speeds, or keep the ball high and away.  Everybody was predicting how they could get Stan Musial out.  Finally, the inimitable Yogi Berra said, “That’s enough.  Quit.  Your American League pitchers are not going to figure out how in 15 minutes what National League pitchers haven’t been able to figure out in 15 years.” Good advice!

I think the best advice is not to worry or panic about the future.  We know that God is in charge and Jesus is coming again.  We don’t know the day or the hour.  Jesus was very clear that our responsibility is not to figure out the details of His return, but to be ready.  Read Matthew 24:35-42 and 25:13.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do not want to foresee the future.  I am concerned with taking care of the present.  God has given me no control over the moment following.”

We need to quit predicting the future and start producing the fruit of the present!  We need to quit looking for clever ways to use religion to make money, and start letting the Bible teach us how to help prepare people to live effectively starting today and forever.  (Tweet this)

We need to move from apocalyptic conjectures to apostolic certainties!

From Selfies to Service

The word “selfie” was the new word a couple of years ago.   It refers to how people take pictures of themselves.  It has become quite popular.  It has also become extremely dangerous.  In the first 8 months of 2016, 73 people died while taking selfies.  That’s up from 39 selfie deaths in 2015, and 15 selfie deaths in 2014.   The majority of people fell from buildings, mountains – others tried to take selfies on train tracks or while posing with fire arms.  Men accounted for 76% of the deaths.Selfie Naruto

Even animals are becoming fascinated with selfies.  About 6 years ago, a wildlife photographer was shooting pictures in Indonesia.  A crested macaque named Naruto discovered the camera and snapped a photo of himself.  The selfie was placed on social media and immediately went viral.  Interestingly enough, a discussion occurred about who owned the rights to his selfie.  The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have sued so that the monkey can get a percentage of profits he made from the selfie.

In October 2017, a teenage girl was taking selfies of herself at a Los Angeles art exhibit.  She posed in front of a row of pillars, accidently brushed one of the pillars, causing them to fall like dominoes.  She created $200,000 worth of damage.  The artist, Simon Birch, commented, “We trust people.”   I’m not sure if the exhibit will continue trusting selfies.

A Greek fable tells about Narcissus, a youth with extraordinary beauty, who became infatuated with his beauty.  He neglected the advances of Echo, and she died of love sickness.  Narcissus was punished by the gods by being made to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool.  He couldn’t get away from looking at his own reflection, and he grew weak, dying of love-sickness.

Narcissism is alive and well today.  Most of us just think too highly of ourselves.  If most of us could be bought for what we’re worth, and sold for what we think we’re worth – someone could make a fortune!  Derric Johnson said, “It’s amazing to see the number of people taking ego trips . . . with so little luggage!”

One piece of evidence of a selfish mindset might be the rise of “sologamy” – a new term that means marrying one’s self.  This trend comes from single people in Brooklyn and San Francisco who are marrying themselves.  They actually have full marriage ceremonies.  Erika Anderson, 37, recently invited friends and family to witness her tying the knot with herself.  She said, “It means that we are enough, even if we are not partnered with someone else.”

Some of these ceremonies have become quite expensive.  In September 2017, an Italian fitness instructor named Lura Mesi married herself in a very lavish ceremony.  This 40-year woman said she was just tired of playing the dating game.  She spent $12,000 to stage “my fairytale wedding – only without a Prince Charming.” 

Selfies and sologamies are counter to God’s instructions for us.  Jesus was not interested in what He could do for himself, but what He could do for others.  He invites us into that same kind of lifestyle.  He said, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). 

Move from a selfie mentality to a service ministry!

 

“What If?” – The Yella Fella’s Answer

In many small towns across America, young people go off to school, then they find more lucrative places of employment in urban areas rather than returning to their hometowns.  Here is an exception to that trend.

Jimmy Rane grew up in Abbeville, Alabama.  When he was in his third year of law school, an unexpected death in the family brought him back to Abbeville.  These unforeseen circumstances eventually turned him into the owner of a small wood treating business.

That’s how the enterprising law student met a wonderful gentleman named Lawson Curry.  Lawson couldn’t read or write, and he lived in a house with no electricity or running water.  But one day Lawson and Jimmy were talking about ways in which wood treatment and processing could be improved.  He had some good ideas, and Jimmy relied on him as he launched this business.

The company had two employees – Jimmy Rane and Lawson.  The first year they worked really hard, and their sales were $22,000.  After expenses, they had little to show for their efforts.

Jimmy Rane had a dream.  He developed a plan to bring that dream to reality.  A dream without a plan can often become a nightmare.  But a dream with a plan can lead to huge success.  Jimmy worked his plan, and the business grew to be one of the largest wood treatment businesses in the world!  Last year their company’s sales were over $1 Billion!  From $22,000 to $1 Billion!!  And it happened in a small town where folks said you couldn’t do it.

Jimmy Rane doesn’t listen well!  When people tell him something can’t be done, he practices “selective deafness.”  He doesn’t take the opinions of people who don’t understand what it means to achieve a purpose in life.  He is still operating his business on those same principles.

He believes in praying with his employees.  There is a well-used Bible on his desk.  He has a devotional for his employees.  My great friend John Riley is his ICO – Inspirational Communications Officer. 

Jimmy Rane

Jimmy Rane’s office is very unassuming.  His desk is round because he said he never liked to sit across the desk from anyone.  That’s just his value.  There’s an American flag, family photos, autographed pictures of some of the great sports figures, devotional literature, beautiful artwork and a modest sitting section.  My wife could help the looks of that sitting area a lot!!!!

With all his success, Jimmy Rane hasn’t forgotten where he came from.  He has shared generously his success.  The first thing he did was to build a very nice new house for Lawson and his wife Alice.  Lawson couldn’t believe he could live in a house with running water, electricity, kitchen appliances, etc.  Jimmy Ranes appreciated his “partner in business.”  And Jimmy never charged him rent for the house.  Lawson passed away a few years ago, but before he did, he and Jimmy made an agreement that is still being honored to this day – that Lawson’s wife, Alice, could continue to live there rent-free as long as she wanted. 

Jimmy Rane is very active in the United Methodist Church.  He, John Riley, pastor Randy Greene and some leaders were talking about an emphasis the church needed to do in the community in terms of a revival or renewal.  They invited me to come down and preach.  It was a great experience.  On a Wednesday night, the church was filled with people.  There was enthusiastic singing and genuine worship. 

Abbeville is different because of the dream, commitment, creative thinking, and hard work, of Jimmy Rane.  The Methodist church is different because of John Riley and Jimmy Rane and many, many others.

What if more young people went to small towns to start a career?  What if more of us would prayerfully consider initiating something that other folks said would be impossible?  What if more of us were willing to take the risk of following God’s lead to “Walk on the water?”  What if more of us incorporated basic Christian concepts everyday when conducting our business?  What if we chose to share with those in need?  What if – what if?

Where Is Your Ebenezer?

The more that we receive in life, the more prone we are to forget to be thankful for our blessings.  It is easy to forget – it takes intentionality to remember.  Our distinctly American holiday tradition of Thanksgiving is about remembering and being thankful.  How well do you remember?

Moses reminded the people of Israel, “The Lord your God has brought you into the land He promised your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And when He has given you great cities full of good things – cities you didn’t build, wells you didn’t dig, and vineyards and olive trees you didn’t plant – and when you have eaten until you can hold no more, then beware lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the land of slavery.  When you are full, don’t forget” (Deut. 6:10-13).

Rebecca Sharrock is one of only 80 people worldwide who has a condition called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM).  She can remember every moment of her life in extraordinary detail.  She can even remember lying on a sheepskin in the front seat of a car when she was 12 days old.  She was staring up at the steering wheel and wondering what it was.  She is a Harry Potter fan and has memorized all of J.K. Rowling’s Potter books.  She can reel off word-for-word large passages when asked to recite one of the chapters of her books.  Wow – what a capacity to remember! 

Rebecca has that rare condition that helps her remember.  What do you and I do to help us remember?

I’ve seen some people who tie a string around their finger to help them remember something.  I’ve witnessed people set their alarm on their smartphones so they will remember a certain appointment.  When I need to remember to carry something home with me from the office, I place it in front of the door so I have to step over it. 

The New England Patriots have a unique way of remembering their victory in the 2017 Super Bowl.  They were trailing the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 in the 4th quarter.  Everybody had thought the game was over.  The Patriots made a furious comeback and wound up beating the Falcons.

The Patriots designed a unique championship ring to help them remember.  Each player received a ring with 283 little diamonds in it representing the 28-3 deficit they overcame.  I really don’t think they will need any help remembering that come-back to win the Super Bowl, but the ring is a good reminder.  I wonder if this year they might intentionally fall behind 58-3 so they can get more diamonds on the ring next year!!

Intentionally create some way of remembering.  I heard about one little girl who had to apologize in a letter for forgetting her aunt’s birthday.  She was very creative at helping jog her aunt’s memory when she wrote, “Dear Aunty, I’m sorry I forgot your birthday.  It would serve me right if you forget mine next Friday.”

Hosea 13:4-6 records God saying to the Israelites, “I have been with you ever since I brought you out from Egypt.  You have no God but me.  There is no other savior.  I took care of you in the wilderness in that dry and thirsty land.  But when you had eaten and were satisfied, you became proud and forgot me.”

We often sing the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  The second verse has “Here I raise my Ebenezer.”  I expect very few people know what an Ebenezer is.  It is based on 1 Samuel 7, and it is actually a stone that is raised to help us remember how God has helped us in times past.  “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” 

Raise your Ebenezer this Thanksgiving!  Remember not to forget!

What Do You See?

Our focus in life determines our fulfillment and joy in life.  We can spend our time and energy looking at the bad things or good things in life.  What we are looking for determines what we see.

I remember reading about an old legend of three men.  Each of them had two sacks, one tied in front and one tied in the back.  All three were questioned by a visitor.  

The first man explained his sacks this way – the sack on his back held all the good things that family and friends had done for hm.  That way they were hidden from view.  The front sack had all the bad things that had happened to him.  He said he enjoyed stopping and opening the front sack and remembering the bad stuff.  That man had little progress in life because he was always looking at and looking for the bad stuff.

The second man gave his explanation for the sacks.  He kept all the good things in his life and good things he had done in the front sack.  He said that he liked to look at them quite often.  He would take them out and show them to other people.  It was an encouragement to him to focus on the things that people had done for him.  But he kept all his mistakes and failures and bad stuff in the sack on his back.  He said they were heavy and slowed him down, but he couldn’t seem to put them down.

The third man explained his sacks.  He said in the front sack he kept all the positive thoughts he had about people and the blessings he had experienced, and all the good things people had done for him.  The weight was no problem – it was a blessing.  That sack was like the sails of a ship – it kept him going forward. 

He explained that the sack on his back was empty.  He said he cut a big hole in the bottom of the sack.  He put all the bad things he thought about himself and what others had said about him, and all his mistakes and failures in it.  They went in one end and out the other, so he was not carrying any weight in his back sack.

Most of us fit into one of those three men’s situations.  You can hide the good things and continually look at the bad things, and you will be weighted down.  Like the second man, you can look at the good things, but if you still keep the bad things, the weight becomes burdensome and destructive.

Or we can be like the third man who is constantly looking at and thankful for all the good things he has received and what people have done for him.  We all have bad things happen, but that’s the sack where you put the hole in it so when you put it in the sack it falls out the bottom.  The third man’s journey is full of life, joy, happiness and fulfillment.

Read Luke 15:11-31 about a boy whose focus was on the material things he would get in his inheritance.  It was all he could think about.  He took the inheritance and wasted it.  Sitting in a pigpen, his focus changed from what he didn’t have to what he could have back home.  He got up from the pigpen, and as he approached his farmhouse, his father came running down the road to greet him.  He welcomed his son home with open arms.

The good news of life is that our Heavenly Father is always looking for us to discover real joy, happiness and fulfillment, and He welcomes us with open arms and claims us, not as a slave who has come home, but as a son whom He loves.

Charles Dickens said, “Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some.”