Maybe you remember when a major earthquake shook the San Francisco area back in 1989. It was strong enough to break the Bay Bridge and create traffic headaches for months. The Golden Gate Bridge literally has one leg on the San Andreas Fault, but it was undamaged by the same quake. The reason? The Bay Bridge was built rigid all the way through. The Golden Gate is solidly anchored, but it’s built to flex when there’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on.
On a football team you’re either “O” or “D”—which means you either play offense, trying to score point, or defense, trying to keep the other team from scoring points. You can’t be all defense or offense. It takes both to win in football and in raising kids.
If you’d been in some of the youth groups I’ve led, you’d eventually end up doing the four cards thing. Yeah, this is no youth group I know. But I’m going to ask you to do it with me right now in your imagination—four index cards. I would ask those young people to write the four most important things in their life on those cards, one on each card. And then came the hard part.
I’ve never forgotten how the show opened: “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound—Superman!” That’s my hero, man. They called him the Man of Steel…unbeatable, unstoppable, except for one thing called Kryptonite. One piece of rock from Superman’s native planet and he was down, man. It’s the one thing he couldn’t beat.
When we’ve taken teams of Native young people to remote Alaskan villages, we’ve flown with some awesome missionary pilots. They really know how to navigate the challenges. Now, when you’re flying, so much depends on your attitude…actually, your life and the lives of your passengers depend on your attitude.
So what’s a good investment this new year? Tons of people are going for gold. Its value is at an all-time high, but the process for getting to this precious asset isn’t easy. You don’t mine gold nuggets. It’s found in microscopic particles, mixed into the dirt. On a recent news show, one mine worker said, “You can’t tell by looking at it that there’s gold in it.” The NBC News reporter said, “Getting the gold out is a massive task. They grind it, treat it, and heat it until they can literally squeeze out the good stuff. They’ll move 190,000 tons of dirt a day; they’ll get a few thousand ounces of gold.” But here’s what makes it all worthwhile. All this produces a 90% pure bar of gold, and right now that is worth one and a quarter million dollars! It is, this report said, “…a precious metal, getting more precious all the time.”
At a recent parent-teacher conference, our daughter realized that she and our grandson’s teacher had both asked him for an explanation of the same creative answer on a recent test. When Mom asked, he gave one of his characteristically amusing replies: “Mom, there are some things that only one mind can know.” She cracked up!
Jesus said we all need faith like a little child. Sometimes our little three-year-old granddaughter says things that remind me why He said that. She’d been in bed for a couple of hours, but she was wide awake when her Mom checked on her. She asked, "Honey, what are you doing all this time?" That little girl's answer was immediate...it was striking. She said, “Listening to God.”
My friend Joanne seems like an unlikely candidate to be working with women in prison. She dresses fashionably, she lives well, moves comfortably among the upscale folks in her community. But something happened to her heart as she traveled with our Native American team as a cook, seeing the need on reservation after reservation. God called her to a ministry of her own, and she’s making a great impact on women whose lives couldn’t be more different from hers.
The unthinkable tragedy happened; the unsinkable ship went down. And now the loved ones of passengers on the Titanic were anxiously awaiting word on whether the person they loved had lived or died. The owners, White Star Lines, had set up two large charts in their offices in Liverpool. And as news came back from the scene of the sinking and the rescue vessels, an employee would enter the room and enter another name on one of those two charts. Each one had a growing list of names. One list said “Those who were saved;” the other list, “Those who were lost.”
The Christmas pageant was the big event of the Christmas season every year in this little Heartland town, and every parent wanted their son or daughter to get a part in the play. The year they’ll never forget was the year that little Harold wanted to be in the play. He was a little slow and, to be honest, a risk to put on stage. But the director decided to give him a chance to play the innkeeper. He only had one line, “I’m sorry. We have no room.”
A year ago today, I was looking for a lost sheep—literally. We’d gotten three lambs for our grandchildren to enjoy. We were keeping it a Christmas surprise. Two were safe inside, but one managed to jump a fence and run away. Well, for the next few hours, there were seven of us out in the cold, desperately trying to find one lost sheep, because there are lots of dogs and coyotes running around. We knew what would happen to that lamb if we didn’t find him and bring him home.
Our daughter and our young grandsons had just dug out all their Christmas decorations—especially the manger. They found Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, but they couldn’t find Jesus. As soon as Dad walked in the door from work, a distraught little boy was at the door asking one urgent question, “Where’s Jesus?”
Christmastime was “break out the bathrobe” time for us church kids; time to play shepherds and various other characters in the annual Christmas play. (By the way, I’m pretty sure shepherds never wore bathrobes.) We had Mary and Joseph and shepherds and wise men and angels—even an innkeeper, but we never had anybody play the chief priests and teachers of the law, even though they were part of the Christmas story, too.
I was attending a national meeting in the beautiful Garden of the Gods in Colorado. And since I was a rookie in the group, they offered to take me on what they called the initiation hike, to a majestic, cascading waterfall. Well, our hike took us next to a roaring Rocky Mountain stream and to a rock wall that looked like the end of the hike and no waterfall. I asked about it, and they told me it was on the other side of the stream, but there was no bridge—only a round pipeline that spanned the stream. They told me there was only one way to see the waterfall: “You cross the pipeline.” I said, “You cross the pipeline!” I didn’t want to end up swimming with the trout! So, standing at the edge of that roaring stream, I was at a crossroads. I had gone as far as I could go safely. That might be where you are in your life right now.
It was a dumb way to spend a Christmas Day! We’d given our sons a brand new, professional quality football. It was an unusual 60-degree day, so we went outside to toss it. Then came the pass that I caught on the end of my little finger—bad idea. Off to the emergency room—broken finger on Christmas.
This year the “must have” toy is a little electronic hamster called, of all things, a Zsu-Zsu Pet. In past years, parents have combed the mall for Cabbage Patch Kids, Star Wars figures, Tickle Me Elmo’s, X-Box. Even if it’s not the toy du jour, many parents will do whatever it takes to get what will make their kids happy.
There was a pretty dramatic moment in New York Harbor last month. The USS New York sailed to the very point where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood until that fateful September 11. Many family members of people who died that day were there. Part of the hull of that ship was fashioned from steel taken from the rubble of the World Trade Center, to build a ship that will now be part of the battle against the very forces that brought those towers down.
Like a lot of guys, my friend Chuck holds off going to the doctor for as long as he can. That time came a few days ago when he hit a wall with his recurring bouts of depleted energy and strength. His red blood count was so low that they rushed him by ambulance to a bigger hospital, and after several units of blood into his body, he’s doing a lot better. They told him he’d actually been in real danger.
We think we’ve got problems getting flu vaccine this year! It’s nothing compared with the vaccine crisis they faced about 85 years ago in Nome, Alaska. Cases of diphtheria had been detected, and the only hope of averting an epidemic was vaccine, which was over 600 miles away in Anchorage. They brought it as far as they could by train, but most of the trip would have to be by dog sled. And so began what would come to be called The Race to Nome—known today as the Iditarod Race. A series of dog teams picked up the life-saving relay, and it turned out to be one of the worst winters in years—minus 60 degrees, whiteout conditions. Normally it was a 25-day trip. Those courageous mushers and their teams made it in five and a half days. The epidemic was averted; lives were saved.
Last Christmas, Baby Jesus was missing. Well, actually, the Baby Jesus figurine from a major park Nativity scene. They found Him, but not in good shape. Someone had used black marker to scrawl racial epithets and satanic symbols and other obscene references on the body, the eyes were blacked out, pieces were broken off—Baby Jesus had been treated horribly.
If you like movies with neat happy endings, you really wouldn’t like the second “Star Wars” movie. It ends with one of the heroes, Han Solo, being put on ice by the villain. And during the years it took to make the next movie, that’s where poor Han Solo was—just like frozen in time, just like they left him at the end of that movie.
It was one of those amazing news stories that seem to happen every Christmas. A little four-year old Amish girl was thrown from this buggy that was racing out of control because the horse had spooked as her parents were loading her into it. That night, in spite of the efforts of many searchers, she spent the night outside in these freezing temperatures. By morning, a small army of volunteers was searching frantically for little Hannah. Finally, one woman on her way to work decided to stop for a few minutes and search an area she passed every day, and that’s where she found little Hannah all huddled up in a ball, very cold, but alive. The doctor said it was unexplainable she could survive ten hours in frigid temperatures that the searchers could barely handle. They called it “a Christmas miracle.”
I was speaking for a businessman’s outreach in Rockefeller Center not long ago, and a brother in Christ came up to me with a hugely encouraging report. He said, “Our small group’s been growing through your thirteen-week DVD series, and it’s really having an impact! This past week, you talked about the three-open prayer. So I’ve been praying it every day this week, and the results have been amazing!”
They start young with the backpacks these days. When our granddaughter was three she wore her backpack a lot. At one point, she had it loaded with her favorite books, and I do mean loaded. She walked through the living room all bent over from the weight of what she was carrying, and our son said, “Well, why don’t you let me take that off your back?” Her first response: “No, Daddy, I can carry it.” Then, just a few more steps, she looked up and said, “OK, Daddy, would you take it please?” Of course, he did and after which he asked her, “Is that better, honey?” She said, “Ah, it’s a lot better, Daddy!”
In high school, our youngest son got a puppy, and even though I didn’t grow up with a dog, well, I found this little black-and-white Shih-Tzu puppy named Missy kind of cute. All day, while our son was in school, she’d basically just mope around the kitchen, but as soon as she heard him pulling into the driveway, she ran to the back door, her tail wagging furiously. Now, if our son went to his room, Missy went to his room. If he went to the basement, Missy went to the basement. If he went out in the yard, Missy went out in the yard. Her m. o. was pretty basic. She didn’t really care where she was, she just wanted to be wherever her master was.
Our three-year-old granddaughter is clearly a firstborn. Not long ago, her mother told her no to something she wanted to do. My little angel went into her room, telling her mother that, "I need to pray." She came out a couple of minutes later to announce, "Mommy, Jesus says it's OK."
It was one of the darkest days of the Civil War for the Northern Army. The Confederate Army launched a surprise attack on the Union encampment on the Tennessee River. Ten thousand of Grant’s army were killed, captured or wounded in one day. General Sherman came to Grant to recommend a retreat across the river until he saw the determined look on the general’s face.