So I saw two police cars blazing down the highway, lights and sirens going strong. I thought the chances were that they didn't decide to go wherever they were going. No, the dispatcher did. All day long, an officer cruises in his car, listening to the crackle of that police radio. Then suddenly he or she hears something like this, "Unit 3, disturbance at Franklin and North Avenue. Respond immediately." And he's off! Just because the dispatcher told him to.
He was one of the outstanding place kickers in the National Football League, and he actually helping his team win some memorable games with his field goal accuracy. But he had a spiritual hole in his heart. As he tells his story-which he did before tens of thousands of people at a Billy Graham Mission - it was a sudden, debilitating disease that got his attention. He began to be aware how desperately he needed the God who could do what he could never do. He points to the man who was his ball - holder as the one who really showed him Jesus. Of course, when that football is snapped to the holder for that field goal attempt, it's the sure hands of the ball holder that the kicker depends on completely. But this former star, now a highly visible ambassador for Christ in his community, tells insightfully how much his Christian teammate really meant in his life. He explains it this way: "He wasn't just holding the football in his hands, he was holding my eternal future in his hands!"
When that terrorist bomb ripped apart the Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City on that infamous April 19 years ago, Mark was on the scene within ten minutes. Today that scene of horrendous carnage and violence is a tranquil Memorial Site in downtown Oklahoma City. One night when I was speaking in that city, Mark (who was a police officer) took me there for a personal tour that was pretty moving. Gesturing toward that quiet memorial area that stands where the building once stood, he showed me where the nursery had been, from which he had carried the youngest victims of the bombing. And he pointed to the area where he had assisted in the dramatic rescue of a woman who thought she was going to die but was brought out alive by some valiant rescuers. Mark remembers making a quick call to his wife that day, telling her and his daughters, "I love you. I'll see you later" not knowing how much later that would be. As he and the men around him looked at the sagging wreckage over their heads, Mark just said to his supervisor, "I think we’re going to die here." They must have all thought that. But they refused to leave because lives were at stake.
Ten more minutes and my wife would have never been born. The story that changed everything is hope for any of us who love someone who's making some very bad choices. My wife's grandfather, Bill, had given up on life. Trashing a profitable career for the alcohol and cocaine he could not resist. He was labeled with a prison record, he was penniless, he was hopeless and he was suicidal.
Ian is one of the more amazing people I've met. The people who knew him publicly, when they were with him privately it was a shock. He had been the leader of Youth for Christ's highly effective ministry in New Zealand. As you would converse with him, you would quickly learn that Ian had a stutter - which sometimes made it difficult just for him to get through a sentence. It was noticeable, but it wasn't important. I mean, Ian was a godly, magnetic person. But when you saw him in action before a crowd - as I did at a national youth convention with 3,000 teenagers - get ready for a shock. I mean, I felt bad, wonder-ing how he was going to communicate effectively to all these teenagers with a stutter like that. To my amazement, I discovered there suddenly was no stutter. His speech was perfect! He emceed, he preached flawlessly. That's what was so amazing about Ian - something happened to him when he had to speak well. And to you.
He's a real American hero! He received America's highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and He earned it, believe me. It was November 14, 1965, Major Bruce Crandall flew a Huey helicopter assigned to lift troops into Ia Drang, which was to become known as the "Valley of Death". His mission to deliver the troops was done. But pretty soon he realized the plight of those troops. There were 450 American soldiers hugely outnumbered by 2,000 enemy troops. Major Crandall began flying into that Valley of Death to bring out the wounded and to bring in ammunition. Before that day was over, he had flown for fourteen hours straight-22 flights barraged with enemy fire. It took three different choppers to do it all; two were too damaged to continue. One officer said, "Without Major Crandall, our battalion would almost surely have been overrun." Crandall simply said, "They knew we would come if they needed it no matter what." That's heroism.
I looked, I blinked, I looked again, and I still wasn't sure what I was seeing. We were driving next to a railroad track and I saw this vehicle moving along the railroad track, but it wasn't a train. It was a pickup truck. Now, he's moving right along the track like a train, but he's a truck? Let's see, trucks have tires, railroads have tracks. Tires don't ride on tracks. I see a problem here. Well, as I looked closer I realized what was going on. This was a maintenance truck for the railroad, specially modified to run on tracks. It was mounted with these special train wheels extending out from both the front and the back of the pickup. Kind of cool! So because he had been specially outfitted, he was able to go where he normally could never go!
In much of America, spring announces its arrival with an explosion of color. Those yellow forsythia flowers start popping out on bushes, the daffodils start to poke their heads through the ground, and the trees around our headquarters suddenly color the landscape with those delicate white flowers. Now, my wife, who I think was a certified plantologist, told me that those are ornamental pear trees. When I asked her about the "ornamental" part, she pointed out to me that they produce beautiful flowers, but these pear trees don't produce any pears. I guess that's why they're ornamental.
Professional tennis star-a nun. What? Sounds like two different stories doesn't it? In this case, it's the same life story. Andrea Jaeger first picked up a tennis racket at the age of eight. By 14, she was a tennis pro. Soon she was challenging tennis greats like Chris Evert and Tracy Austin; she was ranked number two in the world. Then came a serious shoulder injury that required seven surgeries and she was forced to retire. She took her prize money, she moved to Colorado, and started a charitable foundation that helps sick, abused, and at-risk children. So she became an Episcopal nun, and she was actually burying her life in a ministry to needy children. According to USA Today, after her injury she was told, "Your life's over. You've failed. You'll never amount to anything." Oh, were they wrong. The article on her new life concluded this way: "Her name will never be etched on Grand Slam hardware, but she can live with that. 'It's like I have kids' names in my heart,' and she says, 'That is life's trophy.'"
One summer we took some time out at a quiet little house in the country. My wife was a country girl who always loved the country. I'm a city boy who has learned to love the country. We had some really special days there. And at the end of the day, we would open all the windows in our room, climb into bed, and listen to the symphony - God's Philharmonic. The crickets and tree toads and tree frogs would combine their voices in this beautiful - and loud - moonlight serenade. Didn't hear that too much on the south side of Chicago. I feel peaceful just telling you about it again. My wife caught one of those tree frogs one day and showed it to City Boy here. I almost had to look twice. I was amazed at how tiny that frog was. I don't even know if he was like as big as a nickel. But as my wife said, "He sure can make noise. One of these guys is louder than several crickets at full volume!" So that night, I fell asleep to the big sounds of those very little guys.