A Plan From An Unlikely Man

We just celebrated on July 20 its 45th anniversary!  Of all the events in American history, the event most Americans wish they could have seen (as reported by “USA Today”) was the lunar landing 45 years ago by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.  I just learned an interesting aspect of that event.

President John F. Kennedy “unexpectedly” announced in 1961 that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  That announcement was a shocker to his friends, but was indicative of the vision of what could happen.  Vision is what people are able to see that other people can’t see.

Scientists went to work on a plan to accomplish this.  Remember – a dream without a plan can become a nightmare!  Wernher von Braun proposed a 100-foot-tall rocket that could land on the lunar surface on its tail.  Other scientists suggested a spacecraft that would orbit the earth and then send some space vehicle to travel to the moon.

An interesting thing occurred.  An obscure NASA engineer named John Houbolt did something very unusual.  He skipped official channels (which some have suggested was a bold act of insubordination) and sent another option to Robert Seamans, Jr., the associate administrator for NASA.

Houbolt had to convince Seamans that he was “not dealing with a crank.”  He said that he felt confident that his idea would work.  He called for a lighter, less expensive lunar orbit rendezvous while a spacecraft would go most of the distance to the moon, then a smaller lunar module would detach and descend to the moon’s surface.  It would be occupied by a two-man crew.  After the two men finished their exploration, the module would carry them back to the orbiting spacecraft and then back to Earth.

In 1962, NASA selected Houbolt’s plan.  I remember that July 20, 1969, Sunday night when most everybody called off evening worship or got out early in order to see the lunar landing.  Houbolt was in the NASA Mission Control Center when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.  Houbolt’s idea worked!!

Houbolt said, “One of the crowning moments of that event was when Von Braun sat in front of me, and did the okay sign and said, ‘Thank you, John.’”  Houbolt thought that kind of recognition from Wernher von Braun was one of the biggest rewards he had ever received!

A lunar landing was considered impossible – but God redefined what was possible.  (Read more examples in my book “When God Redefines the Possible.”)  The plans for the vision were not drawn up by the expected experts; they came from a very unsuspecting young engineer.

What if John Houbolt had just said that he was too young and experienced and had not projected his idea?  What if he had not been bold enough to “circumvent the system” to get his idea before the proper people?  I wonder how many people told him that he was crazy when he first projected the idea.

Read about Andrew in John 1:35-42.  He was a nobody, but he boldly went to his brother Peter and told him about Jesus, and Peter became the great leader.  About the only spotlight that fell on Andrew was the reflected light from Peter’s accomplishments.

God uses insignificant people to do significant things.  Big doors swing on small hinges.  Impossible things become possible when the most unsuspecting person is willing to step out and project an idea.

Nobody is exempt from the possibility that anybody can become somebody!

Apologies for Miscommunication

During the World Cup Soccer this summer Delta Air Lines made a terrible mistake in communication.  They had to apologize for a tweet that went out to over 600,000 people!

Delta’s tweet was the equivalent of a referee’s red card.  Following the U.S 2-1 victory over Ghana, the tweet showed the Statue of Liberty to represent the U.S. and used a giraffe to symbolize Ghana.

Giraffes aren’t native to Ghana, the West African country with more than 25 million people.  Delta apologized and said that the tweet “was both inaccurate and inappropriate.” Even though Delta does not fly to Ghana, it was a terrible mistake in communication.

Delta has put in place a program to review its means of communication.  They want “to ensure that future images and posts reflect both our values and our global focus.”

This July 2014 Facebook has publically apologized for running a psychology experiment on thousands of people without their consent or knowledge.  Sheryl Sandberg, the No. 2 executive, said the company communicated “poorly” about the experiment, which tested whether Facebook could manipulate users’ emotions.

Facebook really gets a communication out quickly to a lot of people.  They have discovered that bad communication goes sometimes more rapidly than good communication.

Protestors have said, “We are not experimental rats in a laboratory.  What gives them the right to run experiments without our knowledge?”

Sandberg has done a lot of apologizing.  She said, “This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that is what it was – it was poorly communicated, and for that communication, we apologize.”

Communication is so important.  Look at the millions of dollars lost in companies because of poor communication.  Look at sports teams that lose contests because of poor communication.  Look at families that suffer because of poor communication.  Look what happens to churches – the list goes on and on.

When God wanted to communicate who He was and how He related to mankind, He sent the perfect communication – His Son Jesus.  He didn’t send an idea or a message, He sent a Person.  John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:1

What Jesus said and did embodied God’s message to each of us.  His Word was perfect communication.  We might not hear the message, or we might reject the message, but the communication is always perfect.  God will never have to apologize for miscommunication!

I am glad God didn’t tweet or use Facebook – He sent His Son.

How To Handle Mistakes

In life mistakes are made.  How do we handle them?  Here are two great examples.

At the recent Miss Florida pageant Elizabeth Fechtel, a twenty-year-old University of Florida student from Leesburg was crowned Miss Florida.  What an honor!

A few days later the Miss Florida Organization discovered a tabulation error in the judging. (Florida seems to have trouble counting votes!)  Executive Director Mary Sullivan said the tabulation error was noticed during a routine recount.  A mark on one judge’s ballot was inadvertently overlooked.  The ballots were tabulated again by an independent auditor and confirmed the mistake.

The Miss Florida crown was taken from Elizabeth and given to Victoria Cowen of Panama City.  The response by Elizabeth is inspiring.  She wrote, “I am saddened to say there was an error in tabulation…I am a firm believer that God has a plan and a purpose…Victoria Cowen will be a great titleholder and I hope you all show her the recognition she deserves.”

“There is one idea I want to emphasis:  I was Miss Florida for a glimpse, but more importantly, I have been Elizabeth Fechtel since day one.  A title does not define me.  It opens doors, but it does not dictate who I am and where I am going…I recognize the mistake in the balloting is less important than my choice on how to handle the recovery process.  My choice is to charge forward and make a lasting impact on my community and country, as Elizabeth Fechtel.”

She concluded with a Bible verse, “…we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hardpressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Wow – what a reaction!  What a way to handle a mistake.  What an example of faith.  What an attitude to face all of the ups and downs of life.

In an earlier century a young girl contracted eye disease.  Her parents took her to what they thought was a doctor, but it was a man posing as a physician.  He treated her with the wrong medicine and it blinded her for life.

The young girl was Fanny Crosby.  Instead of being filled with bitter resentment she decided to let her life be full of praise and gratitude.  She said, “It may have been a mistake on the doctor’s part, but not on God’s part.”

Being blind she pursued the opportunity to write and sing hymns of praise.  She embraced the “mistake” as a blessing.  She wrote more than 8,000 hymns – favorites like “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” and “I Am Thine, O Lord.”  What a way to handle a mistake.

Two great women who teach us how to handle mistakes.  In my book Fanny Crosby “saw” what people with 20/20 vision could never see.  In my book Elizabeth Fechtel did not lose the Miss Florida title – she gained the Miss Number One Human Being title!

Time To Get It Right!!!

Should we say “Under God” in our Pledge and should our coins bear the motto “In God We Trust”?  Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow entered three law suits saying that God should be removed from the Pledge and the coins.  He says the phrase alienates non-religious people in the U. S.

An initial ruling in 2002 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Newdow.  Recently the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its decision and said that the phrase “under God” can remain in the Pledge of Allegiance because the phrase is religious but does not represent a prayer.  A similar ruling was issued about “In God We Trust” being our motto on our currency because it said the use of “God” is ceremonial and patriotic, but not religious.

I am glad the Court reversed itself, but I regret it was done for the reasons stated.  God has never been just a patriotic or ceremonial term.

Amos wrote, “For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: ‘Seek Me and live’.”  (Amos 5:4) David wrote, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.”  (Psalm 127:1)  The Bible got it right!

The first pilgrims made it clear that the colonies were being established “to the glory of God.”  The framers of our first Constitution recognized the role of God in our independence.  Benjamin Franklin said, “The longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth:   that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”  Thomas Jefferson said, “The liberties of a nation are secure only when there is a firm conviction in the minds of her people that these liberties are the gift of God.”

The Preamble to the Constitution of each of the fifty states contains some reference to God. 40 states specifically call Him God, while the other 10 refer to Supreme Ruler, Creator, Supreme Being, etc.  Our forefathers got it right!

The debate to remove God was gaining momentum at the turn of this century.  A lot of that quickly changed when 9/11 occurred.  Congressmen and government leaders on 9/12/01 quit debating about the use of God in public settings and joined hands on the Capitol steps and started praying and singing “God Bless America.”  Baseball stadiums dropped the traditional 7th inning “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and replaced it with “God Bless America.”  It is amazing to me that we even debate this issue.  We are here because of the goodness and grace of God.  We will survive and prosper only as we accept God’s grace and goodness and live appropriately.

When Francis Scott Key penned our National Anthem, he ended that first verse with a question, “O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”  That is a legitimate question to ask today.

Most people don’t know that there are other verses to the National Anthem.  Many think the next verse is “play ball.”

The last verse ends with these words – “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: ‘In God We Trust’.”  Then he ends that verse, not with a question, but a statement.  When we know what our motto is – “In God We Trust” – the future is not a question.  That verse ends with the affirmation “And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

Francis Scott Key got it right!  The Bible got it right!  Our fore fathers got it right!  Isn’t it time that we get it right?

“Open Mic”

Several people requested that I share more about the Coaches’ Conference.  One aspect of a conference is to have an “open mic” session when anyone can stand up with a mic and share anything about coaching, family, their relationship to God, etc.  I think this is the most inspiring and informing benefit of a conference.  An old proverb says “Give people a fact or an idea and you can enlighten their minds:  tell them a story and you touch their souls.”

One coach shared a letter he had just received from an athlete.  He said he had never received a letter from a former athlete.  The young boy had always been in trouble.  The coach took an interest in him, loved him, disciplined him, and told him he believed in him.  The young boy was an excellent athlete.  Years later he writes a letter to the coach thanking him for the difference he had made in his life.  The coach didn’t really realize what he had done for the boy.

Most of the things we teach in life are not in teaching sessions.  Most learning takes place when people just see how we act and react in different situations.  This boy thanked the coach for turning his life around.  He is now engaged in a successful vocation.  He told the coach that he would probably have been dead, or on drugs, or in prison like so many of his friends.  That coach made a difference!

It reminds me that many of us need to take a moment and write a letter or make a phone call to a coach or a teacher that has made a difference in our lives.  When is the last time that you thanked someone for making a difference in your life?

I was so impressed with Chanda Rigby, the new women’s basketball coach at Troy University.  She has a reputation for turning programs around.

At an “open mic” she shared how she got into basketball.  Her dad was a big sports enthusiast and she had two brothers.  One of her brothers was extremely fast and the other was extremely big and strong.  The father would often be with his kids and refer to one of her brothers and say “this is going to be my running back.”  He would refer to the other brother and say “this is going to be my linebacker.”

Chanda had heard him say that several times.  One day as a little girl, after he had referred to his two sons, she asked the question, “Dad, what am I going to be?”  Her dad thought for a moment and said, “You are going to be my basketball player.”

That is how Chanda got into basketball.  It is important to remember what we say to people.  Her daddy spoke empowering words into her life and what a difference that has made.

She had recently coached one of the top Junior College basketball teams in the nation.  When she came to Troy, she asked about the girls being recruited.  She then posed this question, “Can this girl play in a Division I Final Four?”  When her staff indicated that a recruit couldn’t play at that level, Chanda said, “We don’t need to be recruiting her.”  She has set a high standard. She recently signed one of the nation’s top recruits.   I predict that she will soon have Troy in the Final Four!

What story could you tell in a “open mic” session?

Do What Coaches Do!

I love coaches.  They make a difference!  If I had not been a minister, I would probably have been a coach.  Some of the biggest influences in my life were my coaches in junior high, high school, and college.

I have had the opportunity to speak at the Coaches’ Family Conference a couple of times at Black Mountain, North Carolina.  I also had a chance to speak at the worship service for the meeting of the American College Football Coaches’ Association in Nashville, where over 7,000 coaches attend.

The first weekend of June I spoke at a Coaches’ Family Conference for coaches and their families.  It was held at the Blue Lake Camp just south of Andalusia, Alabama.  It was a difference-maker!

Let me tell you about Jimmy Reeves, the coach who put that weekend together.  A Coaches’ Conference at Black Mountain, North Carolina had transformed his life, and he wanted to share it with many coaches in Alabama and West Florida who might not be able to go to Black Mountain.  Here is his story:

“At the age of 38 years old, I suddenly found myself alone and divorced after an eleven year marriage that produced 2 beautiful daughters. I was fortunate to win custody of my girls, ages 6 and 8, but had no idea how I was going to take care of them. I had a great job as head football coach, baseball coach and AD at a 4A high school but my relationship with the Lord had declined as my success as a coach increased. The life that I had dreamed of had turned into a mess.

That summer, John Gibbons invited me to the FCA Coach’s camp in Black Mountain N.C. I was reluctant, to say the least, about attending a “spiritual” camp but I loaded up my girls and headed north. During the camp, God began to open my eyes to what my purpose as a father and a coach really was.

I was amazed to find that there were men who had the same occupation as me that actually put God and family as their main priority in life. Through new relationships with these Christian families, my family began to grow in the Lord. We returned to Black Mountain Coach’s camp for 12 straight years.

There is no doubt in my mind that God used Black Mountain to save my life. My daughters are grown now and I can’t help but wonder if my marriage would have survived if I had been given the opportunity to attend an FCA Coach’s camp that emphasizes relationships with God and family.

Consequently, the Blue Lake Family Camp in Andalusia, Alabama has emerged. We just completed our 4th camp and lives are being changed just like mine was. I thank God every day for not giving up on me and for an invitation to an FCA camp that saved my family.”       Coaches make a difference.  You can participate.  Consider giving a scholarship to some coach and his/her family to attend a Coaches’ Family Camp.  Pray for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes who has such a powerful influence in the lives of coaches.  Contact an FCA staff member from your area and tell them that you are praying for them.  Pray for Coach Les Steckel who is the President of the National FCA organization.  Pray for Dal Shealy who heads up the specialized ministry for college coaches.  Pray for Grant Teaff who is the Executive Director of American College Football Coaches Association.

Do what coaches do – make a difference!

A New Heart

Steven Rummage tells an interesting story about Bill Wohl.  Bill had been kept alive for 149 days by a temporary artificial heart.  He needed a transplant.

Michael Brady was a stuntman for Universal Studios.  He was preparing to parachute onto the top of a train.  As he was climbing up the ladder on the side of the train to check some of his props, he accidently fell hitting his head and dying instantly.  Michael’s body was taken to the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.  There his heart was transplanted into Bill Wohl.

Six months after receiving his new heart, Bill Wohl received a letter from Michael Brady’s family.  They sent a picture of Michael and told him about the 36-year-old Hollywood stuntman.

Bill saw in the picture that Michael was a super fit, incredibly good looking guy.  He couldn’t believe that young guy’s heart was now transplanted in him.  He said, “I was an overweight guy pursuing a wild lifestyle.  I was in terrible condition.”

When he realized that he had a new opportunity with a new heart, he changed his whole lifestyle and started competing in swimming, cycling, and track and winning performance medals.

Bill Wohl in a recent interview in his Scottsdale condo said, “Everyday, all day, I thank God for Michael Brady.  When I ride, when I work out – the biggest thing is to honor him.”  A new heart has changed his life.

A new heart makes us new people.  If an overweight, out of shape man can totally change his physical makeup because of a heart transplant, think what happens spiritually when Jesus gives us a new heart.  We don’t think, talk, or act the same.  Our outward actions are governed by the new inward heart.

One of the greatest phone calls I ever received was from one of my grandson’s.  He simply said, “Pop Pop, guess what?  Today I gave my heart to Jesus.”  That is the best news any grandparent can ever hear.

I was preaching recently in a large Baptist Church that is without a preacher.  One of the staff members there had grown up in Frazer.  I never will forget visiting with him when he was a little boy attending children’s elementary camp.  He said, “John Ed I found a new friend –Jesus. He changed my life.  I am a new person.  He has given me a new heart.”  That young man is now part of that church staff.

A great contemporary song is “Change My Heart Oh God.”

Change my heart oh God,                                                                                           Make it ever true.                                                                                                    Change my heart oh God,                                                                                             May I be like You.

You are the potter,                                                                                                              I am the clay,                                                                                                               Mold me and make me,                                                                                                This is what I pray.

God has a new heart for every person who is willing to receive it!

Graduation (and Speakers) Changes

One of the exciting ceremonies of the spring of the year is graduation when students are recognized for academic achievement.  These occur from kindergarten through graduate schools.

Graduations have been in the news this year.  Some people were invited to speak at graduations, and then those invitations were revoked.  That has been an interesting phenomenon.  I felt pretty good because I was invited to give the graduation address at Oakland City University in Indiana to the college graduating seniors on a Saturday morning and the graduate school students in the afternoon.  They invited me, and did not disinvite me.  I felt like I had accomplished something!

I believe in graduation.  I have degrees from several different institutions.  Someone said you have to be careful today so you don’t “die by degrees.”  There was some interesting news on graduation this spring.

In May a New York school canceled its annual year-end kindergarten performance “because the kids have to keep working so they will be college and career ready.”  That is part of a letter from the principal at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, N.Y.

Of course you would know that the school got a lot of flak from the parents and friends.  Over 2,000 people signed a petition to reinstate the tradition of the graduation.  The school district defended the decision by saying that the graduation preparation “requires multiple days away from classroom work and is not the best use of the limited time we have with our youngest learners.”

Can you imagine that?  Kindergarteners’ preparation for college and career overrode a traditional ceremony!  Isn’t there more to education than simply “classroom days for kindergarteners!”

What is most important in education?  Jessie White was supposed to graduate from college in 1939, but she couldn’t afford a $5 transcript fee.  Imagine that – doing the college work, but $5 kept her from a diploma.  She joined the Marines.   Today she is 99-years-old, and last month received her diploma during a ceremony hosted by Dr. Alan Stehle the president of Beal College at Bangor.

How many degrees we have doesn’t determine how educated we are.  Wisdom is more than just a diploma!

The Bible speaks about Solomon and how his wisdom came from knowing God. It says, “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore…Solomon’s wisdom surpassed all the wisdom of Egypt.”  (I Kings 4:29, 30) “All the earth was seeking to hear the wisdom God had put in Solomon’s heart.”  (I Kings 10:24)

How wise are you?

Graduation didn’t make Solomon wise – God did!

Your Drawbridge

We are constantly warned that we have to be careful what we eat.  If we consume spoiled or poisonous food, it will have very adverse effects on us.  When going into a foreign country you have to be careful about drinking the water.  What we put into our bodies will determine how our bodies function.

The same is true of our minds.  What goes in determines our actions.  You can’t put in bad things and expect good things to come out.  Our minds are like a computer – garbage in, garbage out.

We are the only ones who determine what goes into our minds.  This makes guarding our minds very important.  Recently Jim Denison referred to the following quote by Henri Nouwen:  “Think of a medieval castle surrounded by a moat.  The drawbridge is the only access to the interior of the castle.  The lord of the castle must have the power to decide when to draw the bridge and when to let it down.  Without such power, he can become the victim of enemies, strangers, and wanderers.  He will never feel at peace in his own castle.”

Apply this image of the drawbridge to your mind.  You are the keeper of the drawbridge.  You  need to keep the drawbridge up when bitterness comes calling.  All of us have adversities in life.  We get mistreated.  If you invite bitterness into your mind, you will become a bitter person who other people don’t enjoy – and you won’t enjoy yourself.

Negativity inevitably comes calling.  Keep the drawbridge up.  A negative outlook will always produce negative results.  Whenever people say that something is impossible, practice selective deafness.  Don’t listen to them.

Pride is constantly requesting entrance.  The middle letter of pride is “I.”  It creates an attitude where we think life focuses around ourselves.  Sin also has “I” as the middle letter.  Pride is an expression of sin.  It is when we think we can replace God.  When sin and pride call, keep the drawbridge up.

Fear will come calling.  Fear will paralyze you.  Fear will conjure up demons that don’t exist.  Fear will make you feel totally inadequate to face a situation.  The Bible speaks 365 times against fear – that is once for every day of the year that will help you keep the drawbridge up on fear.

There are some good visitors that will come calling.  Put the drawbridge down for them.  One is faith.  Faith is the antithesis to fear.  Faith means that we are going to follow what God desires for us.  One of the best definitions of faith is “forsaking all, I take Him.” He is in charge of the future.

Hope will come calling.  Put down the drawbridge.  I love the lines in South Pacific where the young lady sings, “I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and I can’t get it out of my mind.”  The most basic hope that we have is not in our individual achievement or our personal abilities, but in the fact that God created us and has a plan and purpose for our lives.

Love will come calling.  Welcome love.  Jesus taught that it is the way that we are to live – to love God and to love our fellowman.  It is the universal language that everyone understands.

You are in charge of the drawbridge to your mind.  Nobody else can operate it for you.  What you allow to cross the drawbridge will greatly affect your quality of life and your effectiveness as a human being.

Guard carefully your drawbridge.


Backyard Bonanza

A couple in California’s Sierra Nevada, who desire to remain anonymous, really got a surprise recently when they discovered an old tin can buried in their backyard. It looked like a piece of rusted trash, but then they saw that there was some dirt-encrusted metal discs inside the can. When they cleaned the discs, they discovered rare 19th-century U.S. gold coins!

Of course this set them to looking for more cans in the backyard. They did discover seven more cans. Early estimates suggest that the gold coins are worth over $10 million. They have connected with a renowned collector who is going to offer the coins at auction in May 2014.

The couple was very cute about the incident. The man said, “It was very hard to believe. I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear.”

$10 million right in their own backyard. I know a lot of people have gone searching for gold out in California. Today there are still a lot of panhandlers who look for gold. This couple found it in their own backyard.

There is something about human nature that always thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. People think if you go somewhere else you might find success, happiness, love, etc. The joy of living is not “out there” – it is right in our own backyard. God has equipped each of us with everything that is necessary to discover all the joys of life that He has given to us.

Years ago a man named Russell Conwell made a lot of money traveling around the world making a speech called “Acres of Diamonds.” It really had this same theme. It was about a farmer who sold his land to go out and look for diamonds. He traveled the world and spent all his money. He never found them. He then learned that the man who had bought his farm had actually discovered one of the largest deposits of diamonds in the world.

It was in his backyard all the time – but he thought he had to go somewhere else.

In Luke 15 the prodigal son thought that the real joys of life were “out there.” He left home and went to find them. He wound up broke and destitute and working in a pig pen. His food was the leftovers from what the pigs wouldn’t eat. He then “came to himself” and decided to go home. It was there that he discovered real life.

Wherever we find ourselves today, God will provide everything that is necessary for this day to be as full and meaningful as possible. Happiness is not “out there.” A better marriage is not “out there.” A better life is not “out there.” Success is not “out there.” Check your “backyard!”

The Greek word in Luke 15:17 that we translate “came to himself,” or “woke up” really indicates a whole new way of thinking. It is time to wake up! Paul wrote to the people in Rome, “it is time for you to wake-up.” Romans 13:11

In May, a couple in Sierra Nevada will discover the value of what was in their backyard. I hope we can discover that today!