My wife wasn't ever really very big on jewelry, but she took special joy in pieces that were family heirlooms, like an engagement ring that originally belonged to my grandmother. Over the years, the three small diamonds that had been in that ring had been removed. So, all that was left was a gold band with three empty settings. Well, my wife managed to get a great deal on some stones that she could have set in that ring. It wasn't particularly beautiful before. It's really beautiful now.
I think it seems like, well, maybe America's spiritual national anthem sometimes. I mean, how many times during times of tragedy have we heard the same hymn? Going way back to September 11, 2001. You heard it a lot then. You hear it in police funerals, fireman funerals. It's that centuries-old hymn, Amazing Grace. For years, they've played it at the funerals of fallen policemen and firemen and a lot of everyday men and women. It's been the subject of a public television documentary. And on the emotional anniversaries after September 11, at Ground Zero, what song do those bagpipers play as they approach the site which has now become hallowed ground? Of course, you hear the haunting strains of Amazing Grace. Even for people who don't go to church or know much about the Bible or even believe much of anything, they know Amazing Grace.
City Boy here is a lot of fun to watch when he's trying to be Farm Boy. My wife and I were helping out in someone else's barn a while back, and the large shadow of something flying came over our heads. I hadn't seen the creatures yet; all I could see was this massive shadow on the wall. I knew my responsibility as a man. That's right, run for help! There was actually no reason to run. When we looked up, we saw what was casting those huge, unsettling shadows: yeah, some little moths, flying around the little light overhead. The shadow was scary; the reality behind the shadow not scary at all.
It's one nightmare that is sure to either wake me up or ruin my sleep. I'm about to be introduced to speak at a very important gathering. I have nothing to say. I've run out of time to prepare anything, and they are introducing a man who has no idea what he's going to talk about. But, you know, I'm not the only one who has nightmares like that about not being prepared. In fact, they say it's one of the more common themes of our bad dreams. Now, what you're unprepared for depends on your situation at that point. Some people have nightmares about not being prepared for an exam, or to give a report, or to conduct an important meeting, or to have important guests arrive at your house. Whatever your thing is, that "not ready" thing is real nightmare material.
A ten-year-old boy who never should have waded out into Lake Michigan without knowing how to swim. Me. I can still remember the terror and the helplessness of going under for the second time. I'm alive today because someone on the shore saw me drowning. He jumped in and he saved my life.
Then there were those 33 Chilean miners, trapped for 69 days in a collapsed mine a half mile down. Remember, that rescue capsule was lowered down that newly-created shaft, and the rescuers brought every miner out alive. Or Houston. Hurricane Harvey. Whole neighborhoods, suddenly a lake - and people stranded on their rooftops. Until that rescue chopper came and lifted them to safety.
A listener shared a story with me that's just too powerful not to share with you. A man named George Thomas was a pastor in a small New England town. One Easter Sunday morning, he got up to speak and he set a rusty, bent-up old bird cage next to the pulpit. You could tell by people's faces that the pastor had some explaining to do. He said, "Well, I was walking through town yesterday when I saw a young boy coming toward me, swinging this bird cage. On the bottom of the cage were three little birds who were shivering with cold and fear. So I asked the boy, "What you got there?" He said, "Just some old birds." The pastor then asked, "What are you going to do with them?" The boy said, "Well, I'm gonna tease 'em and pull out their feathers to make 'em fight. Then I'm gonna have a real good time." The pastor pointed out that the boy would soon get tired of those birds and he said, "What are you going to do with them then?" "Oh, I've got some cats," the boy said. "They like birds." What happened next is what puts you and me into this picture.
Today he's a respected Christian professional in our community. But legend has it that he had a strong streak of mischief in him when he was a boy, and maybe even now. An older friend from their church told me that when this man was four, his pastor came up to him at a football game and sat down next to him. And the pastor said, "Well, Mark, what have you been doing with yourself lately?" To which Mark replied with a smile, "Would you believe praying?" To which his pastor replied, "No, Mark, I wouldn't believe it." Smart pastor.
My friend Stan was having some new computer systems installed in his office. In the course of their work, the installers asked him what his password was. Well, in order to understand his answer, you need to know that Stan has experienced a dramatic life change because of something that happened to him spiritually a few years ago. He told the computer guys, "My password is 'Jesus.'" Needless to say, they weren't exactly ready for that one. One of them said, "So you can't get in without Jesus?" My friend smiled and said, "Exactly."
When I was a kid, I used to like to put on shows for the other kids in the neighborhood. Hey, wait a minute, am I still doing shows for the kids in the neighborhood? Anyway, I bought a couple of cheap books on magic back then and I had this little kit of magic tricks. Even at my juvenile level, I soon learned that magic wasn't really magic - it was illusions. My beginner magic book talked about how this basic magician skill was called misdirection. The idea is that while you're doing the trick over here you do something that will get everybody looking over there. They said it helped to talk a lot. Well, I knew I'd at least be good at that part.
When I meet people who went to elementary or high school with my wife, they tell me she was shy. I didn't know her then, but I have found that very hard to accept. From the time I met her at a Christian college, she was like vivacious, she was outgoing and she was confident. I've asked her about this seeming contradiction. You know what she told me? Both descriptions are right. In her secondary school years, she lived in the country with parents who gave her a lot of love and courtesy and spiritual wealth, but who didn't have much of what our world calls wealth. So, she lived in a home without the conveniences that many of her friends in town would consider basic. She didn't have money to spend on clothes or makeup, so she felt a little self-conscious in a campus world that was so much about the way you dress and the "stuff" you have. But when she got to a Christian college, suddenly everything changed. Here's how she put it: "For the first time in my life, the playing field was level."