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.
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.
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."
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.
Each year in my Campus Life club we would have a meeting honoring the football players and cheerleaders - and we had a crowdbreaker that was always good for laughs. We got three cheerleaders up in front and gave them a bag filled with a complete football uniform, pads and all - minus a couple of items that would have been inappropriate. Then, with a player coaching them verbally, they raced to see which one could get all their uniform on first. You don't realize how much gear a football player has to put on until you try to figure out where all those pads go!
When I'm in Mexico where our Latin American outreach is based, my "Taco Bell" Spanish doesn't get me very far. I mean, how much meaningful communication can you have when all you know are words like "enchilada" and "burrito grande"? "You look burrito grande today." Our Director of Latin American Ministry, David Isais, is a wonderful translator and my best hope of communicating while I'm there. Needless to say, I light up when someone there is fluent in English - I can converse unassisted! In the course of talking with one bilingual, Mexican man, I learned he is involved with automobile racing in that country, sort of the Mexican NASCAR. He's an engineer. When I asked him if they have anything like America's Indianapolis 500, he told me they don't do long distance races like that. They can't. Then I asked him about the pressure of repairing a race car during one of those pit stops, and he informed me that they don't have pit stops. They don't stop. But they can't go as far as cars that do.
Since we're not all military types, it's probably good to explain what a beachhead is before we talk about one. A beachhead is not where the beach begins, or a guy who just thinks about getting to the beach all the time. In wartime, a beachhead is very serious business. It's a small piece of ground you try to take as your first step in taking all the ground that your enemy holds. For example, during World War II, two of the world's greatest generals went against each other when the Allies set out to take North Africa back from the Germans. General Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of the Allied forces, planned to land and take three important beachheads. German general Rommel - the famous "Desert Fox" - basically said, "We must stop Eisenhower within 48 hours of his landing - or we won't stop him." They didn't stop him. And five months after Eisenhower successfully captured that first beachhead, Rommel had to flee and surrender everything, including 250,000 soldiers. But he lost it at that first beachhead.
My plane had left the gate at O'Hare Airport in Chicago - and I thought we were on our way. Wrong. First, they routed us across the backside of the airport - I think it was in Wisconsin. Then, after a slow, meandering tour of that huge airport, we finally ended up in a long line of aircraft waiting to take of. Well, after a while, I got a little impatient. That's okay. What's important is that the pilot not getting impatient. We don't want him to go until the tower says it's okay. He knows you don't take off until you've gotten clearance from the tower - no matter how long you have to wait.
A few years ago I was touring an American Air Force base where they have housed nuclear missiles and B-52 bombers for many years. Along the way, the briefing officer told me something that made me very happy that the Cold War between us and the Soviet Union is history. Because it turns out that the Cold War almost got a whole lot hotter. My host told me about a couple of instances during the 1970s when our planes thought the U.S. was about to be under nuclear attack. In one case, the tracking seemed to prove that, so our pilots scrambled into their bombers, armed with nuclear weapons, and took off to retaliate against the Soviet Union. Obviously, that never happened, but the planes were actually in the air. The problem was in a little computer chip that had created an error in communications. It's pretty scary. There could have been bombs dropped, based on erroneous information.
"Should I call her, Dad?" That was a common question as our boys were teenagers. Like most boys their age, they were unsure of what kind of response they would get from a certain girl. I can remember at that same stage staring at the phone for 45 minutes and thinking of the most suave way possible to start that conversation. But when I heard her voice, I would just croak out this "hello." Now there were a couple of girls I just picked up the phone and called, no problemo. It was the same with my sons. There were these rare girls who just knew how to make a guy feel - well, safe.