Can You Count on Five More Months?
By Gary Kerr
On Sunday morning, January 1, 1956, a young gospel preacher named Orlan Hogue preached a “New Year’s” sermon for the local congregation in Huntingdon, Tennessee, where he was the local preacher. The sermon was entitled “Take Heed,” and it contained five main points.
He reminded them that 1955 was history. He discussed the great progress that had been made by the church in Huntingdon during 1955, including a large number of conversions, and then admonished them to be thankful to God and to give God the glory for past successes.
He described “how” the successes of the past year had been achieved, including such things as peace and harmony among the members, a great spirit of cooperation, and hard work.
He said, “1956 is now before us,” and he issued a challenge to the members to put the past behind them, not rest on their laurels, and focus on even greater efforts in 1956.
He reminded them that success would only be achieved if every member contributed to the work. Success would not come through the efforts of the preacher alone, or if only a few were actively involved in the work. It would only be when “every part does its share” (Eph. 4:16, NKJV) that even greater things could be accomplished.
He closed with an exhortation to get busy and make 1956 the best year ever in the history of the church. He cheered them on with the encouraging words that “our prospects look bright for the work in Huntingdon in 1956!”
I have in my possession the original type-written sermon outline that Brother Hogue used to preach that New Year’s lesson. It came into my possession a number of years ago after Brother Hogue’s brother-in-law, Earl Fly, passed away in Jackson, Tennessee. Brother Fly had written two things on the bottom of the type-written page. He wrote, “By O.H. Hogue” and then underneath that, he wrote the chilling words, “Orlan died May 10, 1956.” Brother Hogue died as a result of injuries suffered in a fall at the Huntingdon Post Office. He left behind a wife and two small children, and his death was mourned by a local church whose members loved him dearly for his work’s sake among them.
Three lessons come to mind as we think about the story of Orlan Hogue’s New Year’s sermon.
First, Brother Hogue was right to encourage the brethren in Huntingdon to remember the past year, and to meditate on the good things that had been happening among them during that time. The apostle Paul frequently used this technique of commending brethren for past victories and present successes as a means of encouraging them to greater efforts in the future. Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica is a good example of this kind of motivation.
Second, I am impressed with Brother Hogue’s optimism and enthusiasm. It is obvious that he was excited about the prospects facing him and the Huntingdon church in 1956. He was planning on twelve full months being busy doing the work of the Lord. Orlan was, by all reports, extremely skilled in the pulpit, as a writer, as a Bible class teacher, and as a personal worker.
Third, his tragic death reminds us of the sobering lesson from the pen of the inspired author James: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town, and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” (James 4:13-14, ESV)
Undoubtedly many of you have made some significant future plans. When you made your plans, did it even cross your mind that you might not live to see them carried through? If your life were to end before this year does, would you be prepared to stand before God in judgment? Do you know for certain that you have a guarantee of even five more months of life?
I believe that Orlan Hogue was prepared on that tragic day in May, 1956 when an accident cut short his talented life. The most important lesson to remember from the tragic story of Brother Hogue’s life and tragic death is that we all do everything possible to be prepared every minute of every hour of every day for the unexpected. Remember, “You are just a mist!”