How to Win Carnival Games

Ethan Trex has done the world a great favor. He has studied carnival games and devised a winning strategy. Follow these simple tips and you can be the king of carnivals, a prince to preschoolers. Let’s start with the “Balloon Dart Throw.” The scam is that the darts are dull and much lighter than normal darts. And the balloons are under inflated, which makes them harder to pop. The strategy is to not hurl the darts hard, but to loft them up, so they can come down onto their target with the assistance of gravity.

Ever tried the “Basketball Shoot”? The rims are smaller than regulation and oval-shaped. The backboards have a harder bounce, the balls are overinflated, and the rims are higher. The trick is to toss the ball underhanded; it’s all about getting a good arc on the ball.

Then there’s the “Milk Bottle Pyramid.” The bottoms are heavier. So if you aim for the middle, you’ll never win. You must go low!

Now let’s talk about the “Game of Life.” The scam is that it looks like you can win by your own strength. The trick is to recognize you can’t win unless you depend totally on God. God said, back in the first book of the Bible, “I will go with you to Egypt, and I will bring you up again.”

American Revolution Begins

At about 5:00 a.m., April 19, 1775, seven hundred British troops, on a mission to capture Patriot leaders and seize a Patriot arsenal, marched in Lexington to find 77 armed minutemen under Captain John Parker waiting for them on the town’s common green. British Major John Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation, the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the area. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, eight Americans lay dead or dying and ten others were wounded. Only one British soldier was injured, but the American Revolution had begun.

Eight years and 25,000 deaths later, the United States of America had won her independence and was a free nation. That is how revolutions happen. They start small and end big. One shot was fired, and the world took notice, 241 years ago today.

When’s the last time you “fired a shot”? Take aim at God’s preferred future for you life. He is speaking, if you’re listening. Too often we shoot before aiming. Let God direct you, and take aim at the revolution He has in front of you. Then take your best shot.

Holy Huddles

I was insecure as a child. I think it goes back to my infant years. When mom used to rock me, she used really big rocks. My insecurities carried over into my teen years. When I watched football games on television, I hated it when the players got into huddles. I assumed they were talking about me.

Actually, there was a day when they didn’t huddle up at all. The quarterback would tell each player what to do. Then it all changed at the powerhouse of college football: Callaudet University. Located in Washington, D.C., Gallaudet is a school for the deaf. The quarterback calls the plays by sign language.

In the old days, one of their quarterbacks noticed the defense was watching him call the plays. So he asked the players to “huddle up,” so he could call the plays without being seen by the opposition.

The custom continues today, on the football field and in the church. yes, in the church! In most churches, we are more concerned with “holy huddles” (meetings, gatherings in our buildings) than we are with putting points on the board (ministry, service).

Church, it’s time to break the huddle!

Family Tree

The great American novelist Mark Twain said that he spent a large sum of money to trace his family tree and then spent twice as much trying to keep his ancestry a secret. He was like the family that reportedly wanted its history written up, so they hired a professional biographer to do it, but they were worried about how the document would handle the family’s black sheep. Uncle George had been executed in the electric chair for murder.

“No problem,” said the biographer. “I’ll say that Uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution. He was attached to his position by the strongest of ties, and his death came as a real shock.”

We can’t do much about our ancestors, but we influence our descendants greatly. I have often commented that I will change the world more by how I pastor my son than by how I pastored my churches. Even if you could change your ancestry, would it matter? Spend your time where you have the most influence, with your family. The seeds you plant today will bear fruit tomorrow. The Bible says it like this – “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3).


Robert Ballard was a man on a quest. He wanted to find the Titanic. And on September 1, 1985, he discovered the sunken ship in the North Atlantic, more than 350 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.

I got chills when I read his account for the first time. He sent down that bright probe light and saw that sight more than two miles below the surface of the icy waters. “My first direct view of Titanic lasted less than two minutes, but the stark sight of her immense black hull towering above the ocean floor will remain forever ingrained in my memory. My lifelong dream was to find this great ship and during the past 13 years the quest for her has dominated my life.”

What quest is dominating your life today? What do you dream about when you are laying in bed late at night? What would you do if you could do anything? What is the carrot that keeps you going?

God created us with passion. Ask him to give you a passion worth committing your life to. Paul said, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Heart Transplant

A man who was having trouble went to the doctor to see what his options were. The doctor recommended a heart transplant. The man reluctantly agreed, and asked if there were any hearts immediately available, considering that money was no object.

“I do have three hearts,” said the doctor. “The first is from an 18-year-old kid, non-smoker, athletic, swimmer, with a great diet. He hit his head on the swimming pool and died. It’s $100,000.”

The man asked about the second heart.

“It’s from a marathon runner, 24 years old. Great condition, very strong. He got hit by a bus. It’s $150,000.”

“And what about the third heart?” asked the patient.

“The third heart is from a heavy drinker, cigar smoker, and steak-lover. Man was grossly overweight. This heart is $500,000.”

The patient asked, “Hey, why is that heart so expensive? He lived a terrible life!”

The doctor explained. “It’s true the man lived a hard life. But he was a lawyer, so his heart has never been used.”

Okay, that’s a bad joke! But here’s the point. It doesn’t matter how we live our lives unless we live them from the heart. If we make all our choices and plan all our futures only from the brain, we will miss the best part of life. Jesus said it is what comes from the heart that really matters (Mark 7).

So learn the lesson now. An unused heart is a terrible thing to waste.

April Fools’ Day

When I was serving as pastor of First Baptist Church in Gainesville, Texas, in 2006, I got a phone call in my office. The woman on the other end said, “Dr. Denison, your name was given to us as the local pastor who gets the most involved in community issues. I represent a man who is thinking about running for public office. There are four of us in a car, on our way from Oklahoma City to Dallas. We are stopping in Gainesville for lunch, and wondered if we could stop by your office for a few minutes while we are in town. Our candidate would like to meet you.”

I said, “Sure,” not even asking who this “candidate” was. And a few minutes later, my assistant knocked on my door, and in walked this “candidate,” happy to meet a local pastor on his way though our town.

His name was Barack Obama.

Now that is a great story. It’s not a true story, but it’s a great story. Hilda van Stockum wrote, in The Borrowed House, “It is much easier to believe lies than the truth.” Paul said there is coming a time when man will run after a lie rather than embrace the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:11). That day has come.

Today is April Fools’ Day – so watch out. You may hear some good-natured stories that aren’t true. Like mine. I never met the President of my local Rotary Club, let alone the President of the United States. But sometimes our words move beyond being good-natured. We need to recognize a lie. Better yet, we must learn to embrace the Truth.

United States Withdraws from Vietnam

On this day in history, 1973, the last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed the remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. In 1961, after two decades of indirect military aid, President John F. Kennedy sent the first large force of U.S. military personnel to Vietnam to bolster the ineffective regime of South Vietnam against the communist North. Three years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered limited bombing raids on North Vietnam and Congress authorized the use of U.S. troops. By 1965, Johnson jumped troop levels to more than 300,000 as U.S. air forces commenced the largest bombing campaign in history. Finally, in January 1973, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed a peace agreement ending direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. Its key provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means.

Throughout history there have been thousands of wars. The bloodiest war in American history was not Vietnam. Nor was it WWI or WWII. It was the Civil War. Much like the war of Vietnam, the Civil War pitted brother against brother. It’s interesting that when we went to war with a foreign enemy, as we have done many times, we lost fewer lives. It was when we fought against ourselves that we lost more soldiers than any other time in American history.

That’s a good lesson for America today . . . but one we seem slow to learn.


Miracle at Niagara Falls

On July 9, 1960, Jim Honeycutt took his co-worker’s children for a boat ride on the upper Niagara River. Jim wanted to give the two kids, 17-year-old Deanne Woodward and her seven-year-old brother Roger, a great view of the rapids, so he took their boat past the marked “point of no return.” Soon, he was being quickly swept downstream, and his efforts to turn back were useless. The boat flipped, and Jim and Roger were rushed toward the brink of the Falls, while Deanne was rescued by John R. Hayes, a New Jersey police officer, who leaned over the protective railing and pulled her out of the water.

Mr. Honeycutt and the young boy fought with all their might, but were no match for the three thousand tons of water that crash over the Horseshoe Falls each second. Predictably, Honeycutt plunged to his death. But Roger, unable to swim, was spotted by Clifford Keech, Captain of the Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat, who saw his orange life jacket popping up within the white water. Keech threw the boy a life preserver, and Roger Woodward became the first survivor to go over Niagara Falls.

In 1990, Roger Woodward returned to Niagara Falls, Ontario, on the thirtieth anniversary of the event. He shared his story with the Glengate Alliance Church, telling of the panic that gripped his heart as he was thrust into the rushing waters. “I was scared to death. I can remember going through the rapids and being thrown into the water and being beaten up pretty badly. My panic shifted to anger as I saw people up and down the shoreline and wondered why they wouldn’t come out and rescue me.” How did the seven-year-old boy survive? “It wasn’t the hand of fate,” he says. “It wasn’t the hand of luck. It was the hand of God that saved my life that day and saved my sister so that we could one day come to know Him.”

Last week, Beth and I visited Niagara Falls. We rode the Maid of the Mist boat and observed the very spot young Roger went over the Falls. Indeed, it was the hand of God that saved him. While there were great numbers of tourists on either side of the Falls that historic day 55 years ago, God did for Roger what no person could possibly do. I’m sure many of them were well-intentioned. But none of them were a match for the raging Falls of Niagara. The boy himself did not know how to swim. All he knew how to do was take the life preserver that was thrown in his direction. That was a decision he had to make for himself.

Each of us were headed toward the inevitable falls. Our efforts could not save us, our friends could not reach us, and our works could not help us. The words of the Psalmist come to mind: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit . . . he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). The miracle of Niagara Falls can be your miracle. The Captain has provided your life preserver in his Son, Jesus Christ. There is no more work to be done, but there is a decision to be made. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Like Roger Woodward, you have been preserved for a moment like this. It isn’t the hand of fate. It’s not the hand of luck. It is the hand of God that is reaching out to you today.

The Revival at Howard Payne

On January 22, 1995, at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church in Brownwood, Texas, two students from Howard Payne University, stood up and confessed their sins. As a result of this incident, many others started to confess their sins before the church. On January 26, a similar event took place on the campus of Howard Payne, a Baptist institution. Word quickly spread to other colleges, and Howard Payne students were soon being invited to share their stories, and similar revivals broke out. From these schools, more students were invited to still other schools, where the movement of God continued to spread.

One of the first two students to confess his sins was a young man named Chris. As he testified about his own life and the spiritual condition of his classmates, “People just started streaming down the aisles” to pray, confess their sins, and restore seemingly doomed relationships,” according to John Avant, pastor of Coggin Avenue. From this time forward, the church  began holding three and a half hour services. Avant said, “This is not something we’re trying to manufacture. It’s the most wonderful thing we’ve ever experienced.”

The events at Coggin Avenue were preceded by about seven weeks of increased prayer. According to Avant, “God is shaking us – something no person could do. God began doing some things in very isolated ways. He transformed the life of a prominent man in the community who was considering suicide, and couples who were within days of divorce were walking the church aisle to seek God’s forgiveness at the altar.” The pastor said that after the events of January 22, the motto among several high school students had become, “God’s going to rock the world, and it’s starting in Brownwood.” They said, “Southern Baptists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Independent Baptists, and Presbyterians are getting together just to kneel and pray for revival.”

At Howard Payne, revival broke out during a January 26 “celebration” service, as students praised God in song and shared their testimonies. Students then started to schedule all-night prayer meetings in dormitories. Then, things really got interesting, February 13-15, during five meetings at Howard Payne. A Southern Baptist revival leader preached a series of five worship services, attended by guests who came from as far away as 200 miles. On Tuesday, February 14, more than 600 attended, and student leaders went up to the platform to confess their sins publicly. About 200 stayed after the service to continue praying. Andrea was one of the students there. She reported, “Once we saw the Holy Spirit move, we didn’t want to leave.”

After Howard Payne, some of the first schools to be affected were Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, Illinois, Criswell College in Dallas, and Moorehead State University in Kentucky. In each case, students went forward during long services to publicly repent of pride, lust, bondage to materialism, bitterness, and racism.

Like the Great Awakenings, the revival of Brownwood has long since faded. Evangelist Billy Sunday used to say, “Revivals are like baths. They don’t last.” That may be true, but that doesn’t mean we stop taking baths. Today, all over the country, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of adults ministering in churches, schools, banks, and civic clubs, whose lives were changes in 1995. So, in retrospect, the revival really hasn’t faded. Perhaps you are the product of a revival. Have you been the one to walk the aisle in a church someplace, to confess your sins and receive the grace of Christ?

God did an amazing, unplanned thing 20 years ago. It started in a small church and on a college campus. I have been in that church and I have preached on that campus. I celebrate what God did then. And I celebrate that fact that what God did in Brownwood in 1995, he can do in your town today. You don’t need an evangelist, choir, or committee. You need two people who are willing to confess their sins. Then all heaven will break out. What God did at Howard Payne he can do in you.