In the course of working with our “On Eagles’ Wings” outreach teams, I have done a lot of driving across the Indian reservations of America. And some of them, like the Navajo Reservation, for example, have long stretches where you see only a handful of people or houses. If I follow my usual custom of waiting to get gas until I’m running low, I’m in big trouble. One night several years ago I was driving a borrowed station wagon which had a fuel gauge that was stuck on ¾ of a tank – except I didn’t know that. We struck out across the Navajo Reservation and ended up out of gas literally in the middle of nowhere. People who drive the reservation know there is a basic survival rule – take time to fill up with gas before you start your trip!
When you live in the Northeastern U. S. like we do, you usually pack your shorts and t-shirts about November and file them under "See you in April." But it was January - a big winter month where we live - and people were suddenly all over the place in their shorts and their summer clothes. It was 74 degrees! We figured either our calendar or our thermometer were wacky - but they both were right. It was a great experience - June days in January. Unfortunately, the weather fooled the bushes and flowers in our yard. They felt the warm temperature and said, "Ooo, this feels good. Must be Spring. Time to wake up!" So, sure enough, the buds started appearing all over our yard. But I wanted to yell at them, "Not yet, guys! This isn't going to last! It's too soon! This isn't going to work!" Unfortunately, I don't speak "Plant" fluently. And when the inevitable freezing temperatures returned, those poor early-bloomers were in for an awful shock.
When my family went with me on my first ministry trip to Alaska years ago, we had one important family goal - to see some moose! After all, people were telling us that local residents were literally running into them on the highway. So surely we would see at least one if we drove around. Wrong. When no moose came to meet us, we ventured into a moose preserve - a place where lots of them live. We spent two hours looking at trees - but no Bullwinkle. So, we basically gave up. Then the next morning we were coming out of the driveway of the house where we were staying, and suddenly our daughter screamed, "Moose!" There were two of those critters right at the foot of our driveway! And suddenly I was remembering the advice we received the day we arrived - "As long was you're looking for a moose, you won't see one. But as soon as you stop looking, you'll find one."
It took place in the 1960s - when a lot of strange things took place. It was an experiment where some scientists placed some dogs in a cage, the floor of which was wired to generate an electric current. The scientists locked these dogs in the cage and then they activated the current. It was strong enough to shock the animals, but not to injure them. Needless to say, every time the electricity went through that cage floor, the dogs jumped around and yelped in pain - for a while. It wasn't too long before they got used to the shock, and their only reaction was just a slight twitch. At that point, the scientists opened the door of the cage. But when they turned on the voltage, the dogs just took the shock again - not one of them got out, even though the door was wide open. Now, they had been hurt so many times, they were just conditioned to it. The final step in the experiment was to send a dog into the cage who had not been conditioned to that voltage. As soon as the current went through the cage, that new dog yelped and made a mad dash out the door of the cage - followed by all the other dogs.
Usually when someone has received a death sentence for their crimes, you can count on it years of legal appeals to try to stay alive. That's what makes the true story of a prisoner named George Wilson so amazing. He was convicted of killing a Federal guard during a robbery. But public sentiment at that time was so strong against capital punishment that he eventually received a full pardon from the President of the United States. But, unbelievably, when the pardon was brought to him in his prison cell, he refused it! The Supreme Court was actually called upon to decide how this very strange case should be handled. And they ruled that a pardon is a piece of paper whose only value must be determined by the one receiving the pardon. George Wilson died for what he had done - because he refused to accept his pardon.
The National Park Service called it a "controlled burn" - they set a fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico to remove 900 acres of dry trees and brush. But the controlled burn got out of control. It destroyed some 5,000 acres of private property and parkland, it caused the evacuation of the entire population of Los Alamos, and it destroyed some 200 homes. And saddest of all, the Weather Service had warned the Park Service that there would be high winds, high temperatures, and low humidity - prime conditions for a fire to spread. But apparently their warnings were ignored, and a fire they thought they could control did more damage than they could have ever imagined.
I must confess, I never thought I'd live to see the day when it would happened, but it did - and the whole world saw it. It was that awful wall in Berlin that was there for so long, where so many East Berliners died trying to escape to freedom in West Berlin. No one tried to escape to Communist East Berlin. The Communists erected that ugly wall to keep their people in, covered it with barbed wire, and guarded it with vicious dogs and vicious guards. Most folks, I believe, thought that wall would always be there. But almost overnight, in those dramatic days in 1989, (you can probably picture it in your own mind), the people were allowed to demolish that wall. It was one of the most dramatic moments of the 20th Century. And in the streets of Berlin, 100,000 people chanted four words over and over again - "The wall is gone! The wall is gone!"
Every year as the President of the United States delivers his State of the Union Address, he introduces some everyday heroes in the balcony who embodies a point he's making. Actually, that custom began the night President Reagan introduced a man named Lenny Skutnik. To this day, reporters ask Presidential aides, "Who are the 'Skutniks' this year?'" Lenny Skutnik was one of thousands of Federal workers in Washington, D.C. - until the day Air Florida's Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River.
By far, the most exciting moment at Cape Canaveral is the launch of a space mission. You hear the man in Mission Control counting down, "3...2...1...Liftoff!" Then there's that huge cloud of smoke at the base of the rocket. Then you can see the blazing fire lifting that rocket and its' precious cargo off the pad and into the sky. It's a very impressive sight. But that's not the end of it. You don't just say, "Great launch. Let's go home." No, no. All that fire and smoke isn't just to have a powerful experience - it's to launch a mission, to make some things happen that would never otherwise happen.
I think I was a kid the last time I saw a three-legged race - it was at a Sunday School picnic. I resurrected the three-legged race a while back to illustrate a point to a group of teenagers. In case you've missed the thrill of a three-legged race, here's how it works. The racers run in teams of two. You tie the left leg of one to the right leg of the other, and they run the course as best they can like that. Run might be a slight exaggeration. They skip, they shuffle, they stagger, they limp - but run? Not really. It's really hard to run when you're tied to someone else who's slowing you down!