In the last hours of his Presidency, Bill Clinton created quite a bit of uproar. He did what all outgoing Presidents of the United States do – he issued pardons to scores of Americans convicted of felonies. He was actually exercising a unique power granted to the President by the Constitution – to release a person from the legal penalties for a crime that they have committed. In the case of the Clinton pardons, there were a few that evoked reactions that ranged from surprise to shock to even anger – people who seemingly did not deserve a pardon. Whatever the merits or mistakes of those particular actions, all of us were reminded of a power we sometimes forget the President has – he can confer mercy far beyond what a person may deserve – in the form of that beautiful six-letter word – pardon.
After the Gulf War in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. They made it to a mountainside just inside the Turkish border where they set up a refugee camp with little or no food, medical help, or sanitation. Christian agencies, of course, felt the urgency of people who were dying there every day, so they rose to the occasion, and they came in with a flood of emergency help and supplies. Many Christian representatives were there – but missionaries from one agency reportedly experienced a unique receptivity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While many Christian representatives worked from truck and distribution points, handing out food and blankets, the Operation Mobilization missionaries succeeded in getting unusually close to the people…because of the garbage. Mountains of trash just rapidly overtook that camp – dirty, smelly garbage that no one wanted to touch. But these missionaries plunged into picking up that repulsive trash. And the ones who were willing to pick up the garbage were the ones who found many people willing to hear about their Jesus.
The election of 2000 will not soon be forgotten in the United States – it lasted 36 days past Election Day. The loser actually got the most popular votes, and George W. Bush finally prevailed with the most votes in our Electoral College. Now it wasn’t the first time there was an interesting presidential election. Take the one in 1888. Like Al Gore, Grover Cleveland carried the popular vote but he failed to carry his own state. And like George Bush, Benjamin Harrison became President with a majority in the Electoral College. In those days, of course, it took a while to get the news. When the head of the Republican Party arrived at Benjamin Harrison’s home in Indianapolis, he proudly announced that they had emerged victorious. As the Party leader crowed over the victory, he found the President-elect in what was described as a prayerful mood. Benjamin Harrison’s response? He simply said, “Providence has given us the victory.”
I had a special visitor the other day – Steven, who is the son of one of our Team members. Cerebral palsy left Steven with some severe mental and physical limitations – in fact, more than any parents could manage at home. So Steven is in a special care facility – and he’s a special young man from whom his parents say they have learned so much about God’s love. Because he’s not home much – and because I’m away a lot – his Mom brought him in the other day so I could meet him. I was just on my way to the radio studio to meet a pressing deadline when Steven came in. I got to tell him how much his Mom means to us, how much she talks about him and loves him, and how much I liked what he was wearing. Even though we were just visiting for a few moments, Steven suddenly started pulling at his coat. His Mom said, “You want to take off your coat and stay a while, don’t you, Steven?” She said he doesn’t do that much. That really got to me.
Most of the top-selling Christian videos in America have the same name on them - Bill Gaither. He has assembled some of Gospel music's legends for what he calls "homecoming" musical gatherings. And as the videos have grown in popularity, some of yesterday's Gospel legends have become legends to a new generation. One of those is a pillar of Gospel music, Vestal Goodman. Belting out her songs with her trademark hankie in her hand, she uses one of the most powerful voices in her field.
But, according to her husband Howard, it wasn't always that way. In fact, he said that when they were first traveling together from revival to revival, Vestal had just this quiet little voice, which is pretty hard to imagine today. But he said something happened the day a storm blew through the camper park where they were staying and that storm destroyed most of what they owned. That night, at the revival service, Vestal got up to sing as usual - except it wasn't usual. Suddenly, for some unexplainable reason - no doubt, supernatural - she belted out her song with a power and authority neither she nor her husband had ever heard - and that has been her trademark ever since.
I was the Boone County Spelling Bee champion once. Aren’t you impressed? I held the title for a little while. That was soon forgotten, and someone else held the title. I’ve been chairman of some things, president of some things – but the titles come and go. You can be “captain”, “most valuable player”, “director”, or “Woman of the Year” – nice titles, but they don’t really have any lasting significance. There’s one that does ... and you’re a candidate.
Lenny Skutnik was just one of thousands of federal workers heading home from work that January night – the night Air Florida’s Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River near the Pentagon. The plane had failed to clear the 14th Street Bridge, and it fell into the frigid waters of the Potomac. A few passengers who had managed to get out before the plane sank were in the icy river, crying for help.
Lenny Skutnik saw the plane go down ... he heard the cries of the passengers in the water ... and he jumped into the river to try to help. He actually managed to save the life of a woman who otherwise would have almost surely died in the Potomac that night. A couple of weeks later, during President Reagan’s State of the Union address, Lenny Skutnik, everyday guy, was introduced as a real American hero on national television by the President of the United States.
Anyone who has taken their child to Disney World has almost surely been required by Junior or Junioretta to ride ‘the ride’. It’s this little boat you take along the winding path of a brightly colored canal. You’re surrounded on all sides by singing dolls representing children from every part of the world. And they’re all singing the same song with the same refrain: “It’s a small world, after all.” Over and over again, they sing, “It’s a small world after all ... It’s a small, small world.” And it’s cute – for a while. But after the 93rd chorus of that little song, you’re ready to swim the rest of the way just to get out of that tunnel. Inside you’re screaming, “I’m sick of a small, small world!” Actually, that’s how a lot of us are feeling about our life.
O.K., it’s no secret – I am technically challenged. So when it comes to computers, I know just the basics. But even I know enough to appreciate some things God provided for our ministry over the past couple of years. Like some new computers, that work much faster than our old ones. And we were able to upgrade some of our software. And the new software has capabilities that make a lot of things possible that weren’t possible before. When it comes to the computers that make such a difference in our lives, a software upgrade can take you to a whole new level.
The men in our family are avid football fans. It is not an uncommon malady in the American male. And no matter how many games you’ve watched, there is one highlight that never ceases to be exciting – when the quarterback lofts a long pass downfield to a receiver who leaps into the air to catch it. Unfortunately, as dramatic as those catches are, they don’t all count. Because sometimes the pass receiver steps out of bounds in the process of bringing in that pass. That’s why those players try every kind of twisting and turning imaginable to stay in bounds. Because it doesn’t matter how impressive the play is – if you’re out of bounds, it just doesn’t count.