When the President of the United States declared a war on terrorism, the lives of millions of American military personnel suddenly changed dramatically, and the war still rages on. Some of the first to be affected were the crews of our major combat ships, like aircraft carriers. In a matter of days, thousands were shipping out; maybe you remember those days. Reporters were trying to guess what their destinations were. But, of course, not even the crews knew. Except for a few commanders, their orders were unknown.
On a visit to the home area where my wife grew up, she took me to this picturesque spot along the beautiful river there. When she was a little girl, she and her whole family went swimming there with the pastor of their church and his wife. That little patch of river became the scene of a dramatic rescue that afternoon. The pastor almost drowned and my father-in-law jumped in and literally saved this pastor's life. I learned recently that that pastor was one of four people that my father-in-law saved from drowning in his life. He got very serious about that when he told me the reason why. He told me about a time when he was a boy, and he literally watched two young girls drown in a river before he even knew how to swim. Immediately after that he learned to swim and to rescue drowning people. You know what motivated him? I'll tell you what, in his own words, he said, "I saw someone I couldn't rescue and I decided right then that would never happen again."
When a police officer shows up for his shift, he has no idea where he's going to end up that day. That's not really up to him. His car is connected to headquarters by way of radio – and on the other end sits that person who will tell him where he's going next – the dispatcher. An officer can be cruising along peacefully one minute and the next minute racing full speed to the scene of a crime. They go wherever the dispatcher sends them. It's that voice from headquarters who sends an officer to where he or she needs to be next.
One of the amusing sides of Christmas is people shopping in departments they never otherwise shop in - generally clueless. Let me give you an example that I can relate to-men shopping in the ladies clothing department. Oh, we're a mess. Now, if you need a good laugh; you're feeling a little down, you ought to go to the ladies garment department somewhere; especially the more personal the item is, the funnier it is to watch men shopping. They're slightly embarrassed, generally incompetent at what they're doing, and it's very important if you're going to go shopping for a woman during the Christmas season that you get the woman's size: your wife, your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, or whatever. And you trust that the tags are right, of course, on the size. You know that a small had better be a small, because you don't know anything. A large had better be a large. Now, you want to know how to sow some confusion and have some fun? (Don't anybody do this, please.) Imagine if someone snuck into that store late one night and just changed the tags around. Well, people would make a lot of wrong choices, all because the sizes were wrong. Now, that doesn't happen to clothes, but it does happen to people, and it takes the Christmas Story to straighten out small and large.
Oh, I will long remember some of those thrill-packed times of my life when I was teaching our oldest son to drive. Actually, there was a strange by-product of his learning to drive-my driving improved! Over the years you can get a little careless about some of the right ways to drive, especially when you're living in the metropolitan New York area where stunt driving is a survival skill! But knowing that my son was learning to drive, I suddenly became conscious of this pair of eyes watching me from the back seat-an impressionable teenage boy watching how his Dad holds the wheel, keeps the speed limit, changes lanes, stops at stop signs and approaches cars from the rear. Those eyes had an effect. I honestly ended up driving, well, like I should have been driving all along
When you work at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, you know there will be no physical link to the outside world for you between February and October. You are 840 miles from the nearest populated site and you're facing average winter temperatures of 80 below zero. Now, imagine being one of the women stationed there and discovering a lump that indicates you may have breast cancer. Distant medical authorities determined that this lady had to receive some emergency medical supplies. (And it really happened.) Getting those supplies though? Well, easier said than done.
When our oldest grandson was 14 months old, he had a ball discovering his world. I loved to take him in my arms and get him excited about something in God's world. I'd point to a tree, or a flower, or a dog, or a cow and I'd teach him the word for it. After that, whenever we'd be together, he'd start the pointing, and he'd give me his version of the word for whatever he was pointing to. But I think I saw the greatest wonder in him when he'd look up at the night sky. It didn't matter what was going on around him, he'd start looking up and pointing at the moon, the stars. Man, he loved the stars! He just couldn't miss those lights shining in that dark night sky.
Our neighbor, Dan, is a walking miracle. One year he was in a terrible automobile accident that many say should have killed him. He was evacuated from the crash site by a helicopter actually, with multiple injuries, including his back being broken in two places. But God wasn't finished with Dan yet. He miraculously spared his life--and miraculously delivered Dan from the paralysis that his injuries should have given him. And through it all, Dan surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. What a testimony Dan has! Now, I've never had a serious injury in my life. I've never been in a hospital for a long time facing possible death or paralysis. So my story is nowhere near as dramatic as Dan's. But that's OK. I'm excited about how God put Dan back together, but I'm glad I didn't have to be put back together!
Well, it's been kind of a long time since our daughter was a little girl, all grown up, married, a mom and all. But the other day she told me about a Bible verse she learned as a little girl and has never forgotten. You've probably heard it, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Then she told me why she's never forgotten it. One day when she was pretty young I brought her to my office, and at lunchtime, we walked downtown to get something to eat. And, as Lisa remembers very vividly, we passed this storefront that must have been a fortune teller's place. There was a picture of a big human palm in the window, signifying that the occupant did palm reading. Now, Lisa tells that I explained to her what that all meant-and that night she got to thinking about it. And really she was too scared to go to sleep. At which point she says I knelt next to her bed and I gave her a word for today from the Word of God: "If God be for us, who can be against us?" She went to sleep repeating those words. She said she never forgot them, and she's hung onto them many times in the years to come.
Ronald Reagan led one of the most extraordinary lives of the 20th Century-a life which he sadly and progressively forgot in the last years of his life. His long battle with Alzheimer's Disease acted like a cruel eraser. It removed recollections of what he had done and even who he was. After Ronald Reagan's death, we learned a lot more about what happened during his long journey into darkness. Memory of his years in Hollywood just disappeared, and then he couldn't remember being Governor of California, and ultimately he lost all that had happened in his years as being President of the United States. But one memory stayed alive almost until the end. In the office that Nancy Reagan set up for him, there was a picture on the wall; it was a picture of the Rock River in Illinois. When visitors would ask him about it, after most of his life was there no more, he would brighten and he'd say, "Oh, that's where I was a lifeguard when I was 17. That's where I saved 77 lives!"