Isn't it amazing how intrigued so many people are with the Titanic - 85 years after it hit an iceberg and sank? Two TV mini-series on it, a blockbuster movie, explorations of the wreckage, even sales of pieces of coal from the Titanic. But it's hard to get the picture out of our minds. The proudest ship ever built - the supposedly unsinkable ship - on its maiden voyage, and then the haunting images of her disappearing into the icy waters of the Atlantic. Some 1,500 people died that night! It wasn't that the Titanic didn't try to get help. They set off flares and radioed an S.O.S. - which was picked up by a ship named the California. Historians have generally thought the California was about 20 miles away that fatal night - too far to away to help. That was until we learned exactly where the Titanic went down. Looking at the location of the California that night and the location of the Titanic has revealed an awful historical secret. It turns out the California was only about five miles away! Which means they were close enough to save people - and they just didn't respond.
I met Gary when we were both working with our local high school football team. He was a coach - I was the football. Actually, I was sort of an unofficial chaplain for the team. Gary's basically a happy guy, pretty laid back. Until they come up in the conversation. They are the men who were prisoners of war or missing in action in the Vietnam War. When it comes to the subject of the MIA's who have not been accounted for, Gary isn't laid back anymore. He becomes very intense, very serious. He is one of a number of veterans who are determined to do whatever they can to make sure we do everything we can to locate or account for those missing soldiers. I was at a flag-raising ceremony where Gary participated in uniform. The rallying point of the veterans there was that black flag - you may have seen it. It has the silhouette of a man's head on it - the words P.O.W. and MIA - and a stirring four-word motto - "You are not forgotten."
Angels, angels, and more angels. Somehow, the world has suddenly gotten very interested in angels. In fact, one of America's most popular TV shows has been a positive show called "Touched by an Angel." It's about these two angels - sort of a rookie and a veteran - who are sent on various assignments to deliver God's messages to people who are in critical situations. Now, I've watched it every once in a while - and the one I saw recently was about the rookie angel's performance review by a senior angel. Now, in the process, they flashed back on the highlights of some of the situations where she had touched people's lives and they had touched hers. There was one brief excerpt from a previous show that really hit me hard, even though I don't know what the whole story was. The young angel was kneeling at the feet of a man who appeared to be a dirty old derelict. The angel had a basin of water - and the man was telling her not to do what she was about to do - wash his feet. But she looked up at him with tears in her eyes and gave an answer that obviously came from deep in her heart - "I have to do this," the angel explained, "so I remember who I am."
Boutros Boutros-Ghali is gone - the man who was Secretary General of the United Nations through much of the 1990s.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali was replaced by a highly respected African diplomat with the comparatively boring name of Kofi Annan. As the spotlight shifted to the new Secretary General, reporters began to learn more about his life, including an enlightening true story he told from his childhood. His teacher came into his class one day when he was a boy, and hung a big white piece of paper on the board with a little black dot in the lower right hand corner. The teacher asked a simple question of his class, "What do you see, boys?" Everyone shouted out eagerly, "The dot! The black dot!" That's when the teacher said, "That's interesting. Doesn't anyone see a big white piece of paper? After all, the dot is just one little spot on this huge page." The Secretary General of the U.N. said he never forgot the lesson from that day - in areas such as negotiations, let's say. Don't get stuck staring at a little dot!
Remember when the word, window, only referred to an opening in a wall covered with glass. Now the space program changed all that. A window is still an opening, but the folks at Cape Canaveral referred to that brief period of time where everything is right for the launch. The wind is okay. The weather is okay. They checked it at the Cape. They checked the down range. The atmospherics are okay for communication. The conditions have been projected for the time of return and they look good. But the window will pass soon. If you're going to get it off the ground, go when the window is open.
Gayle's parents were away - and they had asked her to check on their house while they were gone. Gayle's one of our ministry team. It was a pretty cold night - Gayle thought the heat should be on. She called her dad - in dad fashion, he said, "You should know what to do - done it before. Probably just a zone valve is stuck." So Gayle went to work on the zone valve - she really went to work on it. We're talking about desperate measures - like beating the valve to death with a screwdriver and actually breaking blood vessels in her hand in the process. It refused to stay open in spite of Gayle's vigorous encouragement. Valve 1, Woman 0. When dad got home a few days later, he went to work on it - and it was very easily fixed. Of course, he worked on the other valve - the right valve. Gayle had been working on the valve, it turns out, that was already working! He told Gayle she had made a simple mistake - she put a lot of effort into fixing what was already working - and no effort into what really needed the attention.
Hunting season has always been big for my friend Stan. He was a pretty young man the day he and his cousin went on one of this more memorable trips. Because of the rattlesnake. They were deep in the woods turkey hunting when they heard that telltale rattle right behind them. Stan turned, fired his gun and - I don't mean to be crude - but he actually shot the head off that rattlesnake. And then the rites of manhood thing started. Yeah - Stan says to his cousin, "Pick it up." "No I don't want to pick it up, it's a rattlesnake." "Are you chicken? It can't hurt you anymore." So his cousin picked it up - suddenly he heard that rattle again - and he screamed and threw that snake in the air. Of course, the rattle was just a reflex - obviously that rattlesnake couldn't do any damage. Stan laughed, and his cousin said, "You pick it up, Stan." Finally, Stan started to pick it up and of course the rattle started clicking again. At which point, Stan did exactly what his cousin had done - screamed and threw the snake in the air. Well, they did eventually get that snake home - but the scene was repeated all the way home. Stan and his cousin would take turns carrying the snake - and hearing the rattle - screaming - and throwing it into the air. Even though the rattler couldn't possible bite them.
Oklahoma City. We will never be able to hear those words again without thinking of the carnage of April 19, 1995 - the day a terrorist bomb destroyed the Federal Building and 168 people who were in it. That day in Oklahoma City displayed the very worst in people - and the very best. That awful moment, pulled that community together in a way that it may never have been united before. I mean, all kinds of people threw themselves into the rescue effort - doctors, and nurses, and police, and firefighters, and everyday heroes, counselors, ministers, food suppliers. And someone wisely pointed out that suddenly white didn't matter, black didn't matter, Methodists didn't matter, Baptists didn't matter, old, young. There was one compelling need that had incredible power to erase all the categories.
Okay, this is a word association test! Fruit salad. What did you think of? Well, it depends whether or not you've been in the military. You see, if you haven't been in the military, you probably thought of some little pieces of apple, or melon, in a bowl together - but if you've been in the military you may have found something far less edible than that. We just called a Desert Storm veteran and I did that with him. I said, "What do you think of when I say "fruit salad"? He said, "Oh, ribbons and medals." That's right! To the military it's all those medals - that kind of "fruit salad" matters a lot to people in the military. They are the record that all the world can see in your achievements, in your service to your country. When one of America's top military leaders committed suicide, it was believed that a controversy over his medals may have contributed to that tragedy. He was wearing a medal that was only supposed to be worn by those who have been in direct combat contact. His wartime service on a ship didn't qualify according to his critics. When you've served your country, your service awards are serious business. There are some soon-to-be-issued awards that will go to some very surprising, and surprised people.
Not all the drama of the Olympics takes place during the Olympics. Some of it unfolds in the weeks and months leading up to the games, like the torch, for example.
In the spirit of the ancient Olympics in Greece, the Olympic torch is carried by runners over thousands of miles until it's finally carried into the opening ceremonies to light the official torch of the Olympic Games. In the case of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a journey of 15,280 miles, from Los Angeles to Atlanta, represents quite a torch run. Obviously one person doesn't do it all, I mean, not even I am in that good a shape! Now, every Olympic year there are many runners who each carry the torch for a fraction of the journey and then they hand it off to the next runner. In the case of the Atlanta Games, Coca Cola selected 2,500 of the 10,000 torch bearers that were needed. They accepted nominations from anyone that you might know who you thought was "worthy to carry the torch."