The occasion was a city-wide art contest. They were told to paint paintings entitled "Peace." While the judges were understandably attracted to this beautiful pastural scene that a local painter had painted. It was a green pasture. It was the puffy white clouds and the beautiful blue sky and a little boy going by with a fishing pole over his shoulder and a quiet brook and some birds. That got second place. First place - well, the picture was of an angry, stormy day at the sea shore as the ocean was beating against the cliffs and the cliffs were stark and dark because of the darkness of the storm. The sky in this painting was angry and black, green and purple. You had to look twice to figure out what in world this had to do with peace. But if you looked halfway up the cliff these little baby birds were nestled underneath the wing of their mother, and they were sleeping totally oblivious to the storm that was howling all around them. Now it's the Christmas season. It's suppose to be about peace; but, if you feel the holiday pressure like I do, seems more like a storm, a stress which leads us into those birds.

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    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.

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      I guess every athlete would like to do something immortal, something that will be remembered. Roy Riegels did - in a way. He played center in the 1929 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, California. The game was almost over - the score was very close. Both teams knew that any score might well decide the game. Then, on one play, Roy Riegels suddenly found himself with a ball in his hands. Now centers only know what to do with the ball when they're snapping it to the quarterback - but Roy Riegels had it whether he liked it or not. Well, he started running as fast as a center can go - right for the goal line. He glanced back over his shoulder and he saw a strange sight - he was being frantically pursued by his own teammates. His instincts told him to just keep running, and he did - until he was tackled just short of the goal - by one of his own teammates. Roy Riegels was running for the other team's goal. And shortly, the other team went on to score and win the game. And as for athletic immortality? He went down in football history - as Wrong Way Riegels!

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        One thing I was never tempted to be was the neighborhood bully - you have to be big to be him. Now in the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up, there was a guy big enough to bully all of us - his name, believe it or not, was Boomer. If his mother named him that, it is her fault that he was a bully. Well, he was the first terrorist I ever knew - and I was one of his terrorees.

        He threatened all of us little kids, he hurt us, and took our stuff. One day, I had had enough of Boomer's terrorism. So I marched down the street to his apartment building and went where no one ever went - to his back porch, to his door. Sure enough, Boomer came to the door, looking as nasty as ever. But I insisted that he give back the stuff he had taken. You say, "What a brave little guy you were." Sort of. Left out one small detail - when I went to stand up to the bully, my father went with me.

         

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          Well, some of us had to wait almost 20 years for it - but the 1996 New York Yankees finally won the World Series. Now they had to be the champs to do it - the Atlanta Braves. And after the first two games of the best-of-seven series, I thought the Yankees had gone into a coma - they got creamed. Ah, but that's when it got exciting - they came back to win next two games. The series was tied at two games apiece, of course - and the then Yankees appeared to doze off again in Game Five - they were behind 6-0! Speaking of dozing off, that's what at least one Yankee fan did - including the guy I heard buying a newspaper the next day. He saw the headline announcing that the Yankees had come back and won that game 8-6! He grabbed that newspaper, saw the outcome of the game, and then said some things I can't quote - after which he said, "I can't believe it! I gave up on them in the seventh inning and went to sleep!" He missed a great victory.

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            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.

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              I have no official statistics on what I'm about to say - only personal impressions - but I believe the State of Pennsylvania is the roadkill capital of the Northeast - especially for dead deer. I've just seen many more deer by the side of the road there than in any state in our region - of course, there's a lot more of Pennsylvania too. But I read an article about the outraged mayor of a small town in Pennsylvania - the interstate runs through his community. The reason for his outrage? A paving crew was working on that road one day last summer - and they came upon a dead deer with much of its carcass lying on the road. Do you want to try to guess what they did next? Yes! They went right ahead and paved right over the deer!

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                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.

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                  My friend, Jack, has a short list of people he totally respects. He told me that recently, and then he told me who is at the top of that list. His Dad. He said, "Don't think that meant I always did what he said when I was a kid, in fact, the usual script went something like this: Dad told me to do something or not to do something and because I'm stubborn I'd go ahead and do what I wanted! After which my Dad would spank me, after which I would do it Dad's way." And then Jack smiles and he said, "Now let me show you the kind of rocket scientist I am." I began to think, "You know Jack the story always ends the same way, you end up doing what your father says. Either you do it when he says it or you do it after you get spanked. But either way you do it." Now, he said, "Here's where my scientific mind kicked in. Why not eliminate those middle steps where you get spanked and just do what he says." Hey! Do I have brilliant friends, or what?

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                    I'll tell you what kind of airplane passenger makes an interesting neighbor - someone who has never flown before! Flight attendants sometimes refer to them as white knuckle flyers from the way they hang on. My friend, John, was on his way to speak somewhere and since it was just a one day meeting he was dressed in the suit that he had with him. And that day John had the joy of sitting next to a lady who was on her rookie flight. She was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! Whenever there was a noise, like the landing gear retracting, she would say, "What was that?" And John would patiently explain. After they had been airborne a few minutes, Mrs. Rookie suddenly muttered, "I feel sick." Well, my friend hurriedly found that little discomfort bag in the pouch in front of her, the one they give you when your stomach doesn't want to keep what it has. Wouldn't you know it, a few moments later, John's neighbor turned to him and unloaded her lunch all over his only suit. And what was her only comment after redecorating him? "I feel so much better now." Yeah - well, how do you think he feels now?

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