History Lessons

History Lessons

I have always liked history. My 8th grade history teacher was named W.W. Davis. Isn’t that cool? If you grow up with the initials W.W., you are destined to be a history teacher. He had horned rim glasses and a handlebar mustache. He always wore a bowtie to class and he fiddled with it when he was lecturing. And he lectured.
Long, hot, South Carolina afternoons, 6th period, just before the end of the day and W.W. (World War as we called him) would lecture from opening bell to closing bell on the nuances of the Byzantine Empire or the causes of the Industrial Revolution. Most of the kids fought to stay awake or threw spitballs in the back of the class. I loved the class because I loved history. Or maybe it was the other way around. I loved history because I loved the class.

There was something about the stories that Mr. Davis told that captured my imagination and caught my heart. The stories were not about dates, or obscure cities, or the rise and fall of kingdoms. The stories were about people. Real people that were experiencing the history that we were trying to learn. They didn’t have a script. There was no text book for them to follow. They were making it up as they went along. They were doing the best that they could with the limited information that they had. Sometimes they really messed things up. And sometimes they were marvelously successful.
In either case they were real people doing life and leaving a record of it so that a hundred, five hundred, a thousand years later some 8th grade kids in Georgetown, South Carolina could learn some lessons and maybe do a better job with their own circumstances.

It has been attributed to a number of people, but it was probably philosopher George Santayana that said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” And so, I love history. And I love learning the lessons that history wants to teach me.

Often those lessons are hidden in simple phrases, short anecdotes, pithy statements. The long, convoluted epoch stories are too obvious, too worked over. They are just the backdrop for the wonderful gems of person to person messages, stored away for a hundred generations only to be uncovered by the grace of God at just the time we need them.

So, here’s a quick lesson on a funny little paragraph at the beginning of one of the great history books of all time, Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is basically a collection of sermons given by Moses to the Children of Israel as they are preparing to leave the wilderness and settle in the Promised Land. Imagine Moses with horned rim glasses, a handle bar mustache and a bowtie standing up in front of the Israelites and saying, “Today’s lesson children is about the time the spies went to Canaan and came back afraid.”

Here is the funny statement that taught me a history lesson today. In the very beginning of the book, Deuteronomy 1:1. Moses is reminding them of where they were. In verse 2 he says, almost parenthetically, “It takes eleven days to get here from where we started.” And then, without explanation he begins verse 3, “In the 40th year, on the 1st day, of the 11th month.” Isn’t that funny? “It should have taken us eleven days. It’s been forty years.” There’s a history lesson for you. If you keep wandering around in your past you will spend a lifetime there and never get out. The very reason we learn about history, especially our own, is so that we don’t have to keep circling back to it all the time. If you do what you’ve always done you will get what you’ve always got. Moses goes on a few verses later to say in verse 6, “The Lord our God said to us, ‘You have stayed on this mountain long enough. Break camp and advance to the hill country.’”

Today is the first day of a brand, new year. This is a great time to break camp and advance. My guess is you have wandered around in regret, or shame, or fear, or hurt long enough. You may have turned an 11 day journey into a wilderness way of life. Learn from history. Put that thing behind you and start forward. Learn from history but don’t dwell in it. My pastor preached a great message yesterday on this very topic. He reminded us that Paul says in Philippians 3:13, “Forgetting those things which are behind, I press on.” Pastor Eddie said Paul doesn’t say I forgot those things. He says I am forgetting. It’s a process. I am working on it every day. BUT I AM WORKING ON IT. On the first day of 2018 I declare I have been camped in the desert for too long. I am not that far from the promised land. I am going to break camp and move ahead. Here’s three things that might help you do that:

• Write a letter of forgiveness. Sit down and write a letter to that person that you have resented for way too long telling them you forgive them. Then…burn the letter and let it go.
• Start taking in the good. That’s a phrase my wife uses all the time. Fill your mind and your heart with praise and promises and the power of God. You might join us in reading one chapter of Deuteronomy (history), one chapter of Proverbs (wisdom), and one chapter of Corinthians (lessons on living) each day.
• Surrender one big fear to God today. What is that thing that worries you most? Keeps you awake at night? Steals your joy? Give that to God today and trust Him to handle it in 2018. Write it on a post-it note, stick it in the front of your Bible, and every time it comes up, open your Bible and say, “Oh yeah, I gave that to God.”

Everyday at the end of 6th period W.W. Davis would say, “That’s the lesson for today boys and girls.” (I know, we were 14 years old). Then he would say, “Go out and make your own history.” That’s my challenge to you to begin 2018. Let’s learn lessons from history. Let’s get out of the wilderness and move forward. And let’s make our own history. Oh, and let’s all wear a bowtie tomorrow.


Everyday in January we are reading one chapter of Deuteronomy, Proverbs and Corinthians. Feel free to invite others to visit this blog at www.branchesblog.com. And visit this link to hear Pastor Eddie’s sermon, it’s a great one. www. http://familywc.com/sermons/saying-goodbye-to-2017-and-other-things/ See you tomorrow.

14 Responses to History Lessons

  1. Not so sure about wearing a bow tie, but I need to walk on out of the wilderness and move FORWARD! Thanks for a timely blog!!

  2. Don’t own a bow tie, I’m ready to move on with Jesus, thank you for encouraging me to be better, God bless you.

  3. Don’t own a bowtie and don’t like them, I will substitute with a pretty bow around my neck. Thank you for a positive way to start the New Year. I will follow your lead to our history. Thank you

  4. A bow in my hair might have to suffice. Thank you for being the small voice reaffirming God’s nudging

  5. I have won a great battle, but it still threatens to steal my joy. I’m tired of going around in circles and I want to break free, to leave this horror of the past, to move away from it. How does one command ones brain to do so?

  6. Thank You Dr. Courtney for your willingness to share your stories. we (Yvonne) and I enjoy them very much . they are funny, encouraging and much more, more than you know. Our prayers for you , Branches counseling and your loved ones is only one way for us to support you and the calling God has for your life. we love you and Doris so much. Peace be with you . In Jesus Christ name . Amen

  7. I have a hurt that left a huge hole in my heart and has kept my life with just fake happiness. I haven’t been able to forgive what was done for most of my marriage. I do I forgive and be able to be Enough and live a True Happy Life.

  8. Really enjoyed how you tied the two stories together. Heard someone say ” The one thing we have learned from history is that men don’t learn from history” But like you said if we would learn from our past mistakes we wouldn’t continue to do them over and over again.

Leave a Reply