The folks at our local bakery are some of the most effective marketers I know. They don't just give you a sales pitch. No, they don't have highly creative advertising. They just offer samples. For free...one of my favorite words - free. So, I walk in to buy two bagels. There, on a plate on top of the display case, are these little bites of cheesecake, and a little sign that invites me to try one for free. So, I do, and I walk out of that bakery with my two bagels and a cheesecake. I had not planned to get a cheesecake, but they sold it in the best possible way...just by letting me taste it. The taste made me want the whole cheesecake!
Usually a total eclipse of the moon seems to happen when I'm counting sheep in the middle of the night. But this one started about 9:00 at night, and this one I got a chance to see. It's a pretty amazing sight to watch that shadow slowly move across the moon until it eventually covers it completely. I said to the friend who was assisting us with ministry that weekend, "I just wish we had binoculars." "Me, too," he said. Then it dawned on him, he said, "Hey, I do have binoculars in my truck!" All of a sudden we moved from seats near the back to something like front row seats on this eclipse. Those binoculars revealed the craters and all the fascinating details of that disappearing moon. What a difference it made to see it up close!
We lived in a house for twenty-five years, and there was this little bare spot in the grass in our backyard. It was there since our boys were little. That was the first home plate they ever knew. Yes, that's where I taught them their first lessons in how to play baseball. Now our yard wasn't very big, so we had to start with a plastic bat and that little white plastic ball called a wiffle ball. But as I pitched and the boys learned to swing, there was one lesson I tried to permanently tattoo on their brain. It was the lesson my father taught me, that his father probably taught him, that somebody has taught every person who ever picked up a baseball bat. The most basic secret of success in sports...keep your eye on the ball!
It's always been challenging to take our "On Eagle's Wings" team of young Native American believers to do reservation outreach. But going to Alaska to do it? Well, that meant a really challenging challenge! There's a suicide rate there 20 times greater than that of the rest of the young people in America. The young Native Alaskans are a desperate mission field. You can probably imagine the logistics of this kind of outreach were pretty exciting-especially when some of the villages you're in are 400 miles from the nearest road! The entire team had to be transported by missionary airplanes and fishing boats! Since the planes are just single or twin-engine aircraft, you can choose between taking less people with more luggage or more people with less luggage. Since we need every seat filled with a team member, the sacrifice is going to be, believe me, in how much baggage each of us takes. The limit is 20 pounds per person for five weeks! It's hard to travel that light, but it's important. When you carry just the basic essentials, you can move more people and go a lot farther!
He was in Singapore when he got word of a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean and the possibility of a killer tsunami that could be headed for land; land that included his own village in India. He knew what he had to do. Desperately, he tried to reach his family there by means of a cell phone, and they answered. He warned them about the approaching danger, and they in turn warned the entire village of some 150 people. Within minutes they all were headed for high ground. The tsunami did hit that village full force. The homes were destroyed, the boats were destroyed, but every single person from that village survived.
As a New York Knicks basketball fan, I've had some victories and some play-off games to cheer for. But, oh yeah, I've had my share of disappointments. And too many of them came at the hands of one particular opponent some years ago when we were living in the New York area. It was a player named Reggie Miller. He had done more to stop my team than just about anybody I could think of because something happened to this man in a close game, when there was suddenly just a minute or two left. He was like on fire! He may or may not have had lots of points earlier in the game, but somehow – boom! - save your best for last. With time running out, Reggie suddenly became a scoring machine, making fantastic shots, often scoring enough points to send my team home for the season. Any player is a powerful force when he knows the end is near and lights up to make a difference!
I haven't bought a baseball bat for a while, but I know you can buy one that's cheap and may not last long or one that costs a little more and last longer. But a million-dollar baseball bat? That's a little out of my price range. And lest you think I've lost it, not long ago a massive 46-ounce Louisville Slugger bat sold at auction for $1.26 million dollars! What in the world could possibly make a simple baseball bat worth that much to anyone? Who used it. It was the bat used by Babe Ruth in the first baseball game in the new Yankee Stadium in 1923. In the third inning, the Babe blasted a home run right into the right field bleachers, and somebody just laid down over a million bucks for the bat he used.
It started out as an unimpressive ripple in the weather off the coast of Africa. By the time it was over, it had become Hurricane Katrina, pummeling Florida as a category one storm, then surprising most observers by becoming a category five monster over the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina's last minute shift to the east nearly destroyed the city of New Orleans. Yes, we saw some of the darkest side of human nature as people looted things that they didn't really need, and some even tried to shoot some of the very people who were coming to help. But on a much greater scale, the aftermath to Hurricane Katrina was a massive outpouring of heroism in many flavors.
As Americans learned of the desperation of the victims of the storm, thousands of us mobilized to give them a chance to live. We won't soon forget the military helicopters, launching and re-launching every fifteen minutes to look for more people stranded in the toxic floodwaters that buried parts of the city. There were those memorable scenes of the rescuers coming down the rope from those choppers to save people trapped on their roofs. Doctors and nurses came from all over the country. So many came and did what they knew how to do-from cooking, to counseling, to contributing, to caring enough to take in whole families because lives were at stake.
Over the years, I've had the privilege of meeting a lot of men and women who work in law enforcement and man do I appreciate and respect them. Some of them have helped out with security at events where I've spoken. In one city, I met some pretty impressive guys who worked on a SWAT team; those guys were sent in as rapid assault teams in those particularly dangerous situations. Bobby was one of them. They called him "The Slammer." Sounds like someone from the World Wrestling Federation. But they call Bobby that because he's the one who takes out the door when they're raiding a residence. And looking at how he's built (I mean, I think his arm is bigger than my waist) you can see they picked the right man for the job. If you want a door removed, "he da man!"
Spring was planting time on the little farm my wife, Karen, grew up on. And in her early years, that was no small job. Her Granddad actually would hitch up Betsy and Jack-who I thought might have been her cousins but actually Betsy and Jack are mules-and they would start plowing that hard, Ozark ground. Karen would follow behind in her bare feet as Granddad and his team turned up that dirt, broke up those big dirt clods, and smoothed out that broken soil. Then came the seeding…and then the waiting. At that point, it was pretty much up to God-the weather, the warmth, the moisture, and the sunlight. Then, when the corn finally matured, Granddad swung into action again with the big work of harvesting what God had grown. It was really a neat balance of what a man could do and what only God could do.