I think most of us remember hearing that news first about Kobe Bryant's sudden death in the helicopter crash. I notice a deep sense of sadness people have. A lot of times it was like they almost had lost somebody that they knew. And then we learned his 13-year-old daughter had died and seven other extraordinary people were also lost in that crash.
Several years ago, it was like the talk of people watching TV. It was that show "Lost." I never got hooked on that series, but a whole lot of my friends did. I would often see the day after that they'd be shaking their heads, rolling their eyes, and they're kind of tongue-tied when it came to trying to explain what happened the night before. Well, one Sunday night, their long journey ended with this 2 ½ hour finale, creatively titled, "The End." I don't know how long they worked on that title.
It still sickens me to see it on a news replay. Those plumes of smoke over Cape Canaveral - the awful trail from what had been the Space Shuttle "Challenger." Teacher Christa McCauliffe and six other crew members were gone before our eyes. Hard to believe it was so many years ago. Hard to believe the memories and the feelings are still so vivid.
It was a stark picture of what's happening on Indian reservations across this country. It was the funeral of another Native American young person. There are so many of them, and I've been to too many of them. Their number one cause of death is accidental death. It's often attributable to alcohol or drugs, honestly, followed by suicide, and then homicide. Seventy-five percent of Native young people die a violent death, and James was one of those. Our On Eagles' Wings team of Native young people had brought the hope that they have found in Jesus Christ to his reservation. Later, James and his brother actually traveled with our team to other reservations in the early years of our ministry there. But one deadly night, James became one of those awful statistics. We were honored to be invited by his family to the wake, the funeral and the burial in a small tribal cemetery. The men there stepped up to the open grave and they threw a handful of dirt on James' casket. Then most of the folks there left, except for his family and a few close friends. We stayed. There was a large, homemade wooden cross at the head of the grave. I'll never forget the scene of James' brother, visibly just shattered by shock and grief, hugging and just resting all his weight on that cross, like hanging onto it for dear life.
Americans kind of are trial junkies. I mean, there's like whole TV channels, you know, devoted to watching trials. Many of us are fascinated with high-profile trials that will sometimes headline our news. Legal proceedings seem to grind on for months, if not years, and then there are weeks of hotly contested testimony. Then suddenly it's in the hands of the jury. I've certainly checked the news to see if the verdict was in on some prominent trials. Then, after all those months, it's suddenly over. In a moment, the verdict is in. When the verdict is guilty, there is one more decision to be announced - the penalty. In some terrible cases, the penalty has been death.
During our college years, my wife spent part of a summer as a counselor at a Bible camp that was buried deep in the mountains. I mean like deep in the mountains - deep enough in the mountains that the rattlesnakes are plentiful. One day as she was hiking with her girls through the woods, they all heard what they thought was just a branch or a stick breaking. Until they realized that one of the girls had been struck in the leg by a rattlesnake. Now my wife was someone you wanted to have around you when there was a crisis - really cool head. She ran to the nearby camp and immediately went for the box in the infirmary that said Snake Bite Kit on it. But her heart sank when she opened it; the life-saving kit was empty. Thankfully, they were able to get that girl to a hospital in time to save her life, no thanks to the empty snake bite kit!
Every year they have this annual White House Correspondents Dinner. I don't watch it often, but some years ago I actually did watch it and I was pretty amazed by what I heard. Reporters from all over the world are at this dinner, and the President of the United States is usually there - not always. He usually does an uncharacteristically humorous speech. I've seen several Presidents do that. Well, the President finished and then one of America's most popular comedians was introduced as the night's entertainment. But this man, who is known far more for being suggestive than being spiritual, made this statement: "I've been watching the evening news a lot lately with my Bible opened to the Book of Revelation. And as I'm hearing what's happened in the world, I just go 'check, check, check.'"
Okay, so it was one of those times when our kids were going crazy that my wife would love to repeat one of her favorite sayings, "The apple falls not far from the tree." I never did hear her say that when they did something good. Actually, I have been credited or blamed for a number of things as their father. Supposedly, my daughter has her father's nose, and some people think she got some writing ability from me. My sons have been accused of having my sense of humor, which is totally scary. I wish I could find out who has their father's hair; more and more of it is missing. Well, if you're a father, your children do have a lot of you in them, let's face it. I hope they've inherited what really matters from you.
Flowers are always special. They just seem kind of more special in the winter. There was a lady who worked in our ministry offices and she had some flowers on her desk. I stopped by to pick up some work, and there I saw these beautiful flowers in a vase. That's pretty significant. I mean, after all, how many times do the words "man" and "notice" ever go together in the same sentence, right? Actually, I noticed a few more times as I hustled down the hall past her door. Then I actually put on the brakes for a moment and I stuck my head in to smell the flowers on her desk. It wasn't worth the stop. There was no smell. They're fake!
I guess every generation has its surprising music hits. Like a song by a Mississippi truck driver about a hound dog - Elvis something - or a song by some longhaired British quartet about wanting to hold your hand. I think they were called The Beatles. Now, in more recent years, there was a very surprising song that skyrocketed to number one for several weeks and to a Grammy nomination. It's been a while, but it was a pretty provocative song. The singer was not well known, but the song asked some questions that I never thought I'd hear in a popular song. It had a haunting melody that was pretty hard to forget. Years ago, as I played a portion of that song for 11,000 teenagers I was speaking to, virtually everyone in the room sang the lyrics. "What if God was one of us, what would His name be? If God was one of us, what would His face look like?" You know what? The questions were provocative. The answers are shocking!