There are two words that send a shudder through almost everyone who is either in school or was ever in school, because you remember the fear that goes with these words. And if you're currently a student, you don't have to remember them at all; you're living with them. The words - final exam!
We were driving across the state of Kansas, and I was reminded again of what a panoramic view you have there no matter which way you look. Those plains just seem to stretch as far as the eye can see, and your eye can see just about everything - not many hills or mountains to hide in. If you know that terrain, you can understand how quickly an unobstructed wind can carry a fire across that prairie, destroying everything in its path. A Kansas farmer told us that at the first sight of smoke, every farmer and rancher who can see it leaps into action; some in pickup trucks that are loaded with tanks of water, others with tractors and farm equipment. They're all determined to stop that fire before it really gets started.
You might say parenting is not a precise science. You don't just mix certain ingredients and get a certain reaction. In fact, it's largely (I hate to say it) experimental. But after a while you learn more creative ways to do what is right. You can yell, you can overpower, you can threaten them until they're bigger than you are. Or you can work through the method I came to call 'The Squeeze'. It's a method that steers a child to the right choice. It's also known as "The Lousy Choice" approach.
I used to work with someone on our team who was a fanatical fisherman! He actually told me about a boy who was starting very young down that same road, or stream as the case may be. At that point, James was only three years old, but his dad had already taught him to fish! The first time they went fishing together Dad gave him a cricket to use as bait. Well, beginner's luck - James caught himself a little sunfish with that cricket. And then, just for fun, Dad decided to let his boy try some serious bait - what fishermen call stink bait. It's got something like pieces of liver in it. Wouldn't you know it! Little James reeled in a seven pound catfish! When Dad tried to get him to go back to the cricket bait - no way, Dad! He had discovered what kind of bait attracts the big ones!
In our town, Dr. Jennings was one of the most feared teachers in the school system. She taught music, and she began a new year in elementary school one year with a tirade that dumped all over one poor little boy who happened to raise his hand and say, "Mrs. Jennings..." At which she totally exploded and said, "Dr. Jennings, and don't you forget it!" And I want to tell you, that was only the beginning of what she said. You'd better call her Doctor. You get the distinct impression she really needs that title for her identity. But then, have you ever watched high school football players? I've worked with them a lot, and it's kind of fun to watch them, because in a sense, they're seldom seen in public without their letter jacket. You've got to have your jacket to kind of have your identity. Right? Who am I without my letter jacket?
It was one of those rare mornings off for our Native American outreach team and someone had arranged for us to take a brief raft trip down the beautiful Snake River in Wyoming. Our guide pointed out these incredible sights along the way including a stand of tall Aspen trees along the bank. He told us that Aspens actually have a single root system. In other words, that stand of trees all came from the same root, just branching out a lot of different directions. That's amazing! And then our guide who I hope wasn't just putting on some dumb tourists said that the largest living thing in the world is in Colorado, a giant stand of Aspen trees. All the product of a single root. Many, many trees, one root. . .
I think my brief visit to Israel has to be one of the richest memories of my life. I'm not selling Holy Land tours; I'm not going to have a Ron Hutchcraft Holy Land Tour that I'm promoting. I'm just remembering with you in my company, some especially golden moments. One of those was in this dark, damp, cobblestone basement of what is now a church on the Via Dolorosa. Two thousand years ago it wasn't that church; it was part of the palace of Pontius Pilate, the Governor. And I realized that I was standing on stones where Jesus was humiliated in front of a howling mob by some hardened Roman soldiers. And I can't forget the feelings of that. The guide showed us some markings that were scratched into the stones there; probably by some Roman soldiers. He said, "This was a board for a crude game. They called it The Game of The King, and the soldiers loved to play it. In fact, they may have played it with Jesus on those very stones. And you know what, that game is still being played today.
That statue in that church yard had been a beautiful statue. It was Jesus with his arms extended, arms wide open. Great statue! Then the vandals came along and broke off the hands. Strangely, the church decided not to repair the hands. They left it broken like that - the arms extended, but no hands. They put a sign that explained why. It simply said: "He has no hands but our hands."
The events of September 11, 2001, changed a lot of things, including our definition of the word "hero." Because we saw what real heroes look like - those police and firefighters we'll never forget. The ones who went into those burning towers, knowing they might not come out alive. But there were people to rescue. Immediately, professional football and baseball players began to speak out, telling the world they aren't the heroes. The people who risk their lives to save others are. By that definition, the rescue swimmers of the United States Coast Guard more than qualify. We saw them in action after Hurricane Katrina submerged much of New Orleans. They were the men dangling from helicopters, scooping desperate people off rooftops. That was easy compared to some of their rescues, like plunging from a hovering chopper into an angry sea to save a life. There was a movie not too long ago that told the story of these heroes and portrayed how they lived out their motto, "So others may live." The seasoned veteran who is training a class of rookies shows them the depth of a rescuer's life-saving commitment. It's all about grabbing the hand of that person who's about to die and making a promise: "I won't let go." And they don't.
When we were raising our kids, a lot of the time their mother and I weren't quite sure of how we were doing. Were we giving them enough love in the ways they needed it? Were we giving them enough discipline? Were we giving them the right kind of discipline? Were we spending enough time with them? What do you do? Well, you pray! You do your best and you try to live by your priorities and then you wait to see what crop comes up years later. Now one of my particular challenges was to try to balance the extreme demands and busyness of my ministry with the kids' need for a dad, who wasn't a stranger or a visitor in their life. At one point our oldest son was reminiscing about some of his growing up, and by the way, he has a way of doing this. He really "bottom lined" it in a couple of sentences. Here's what he said: "I have two impressions of my childhood. First, my dad was busy a lot." I've got to tell you, my heart sank at that point, because I knew that was all too true. Then he said something that made me want to yell, "Thank You, Lord!" He said, "My dad was busy a lot, but secondly, my dad was with me a lot!"