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“Paul Is Dead!”

Talk about your crazy rumors! If you are over 55 years old, you remember one of the great urban legends of all time. “Paul is dead!” I don’t even need to explain that to you. You know exactly what I’m talking about. In the late 1960s American college students published articles claiming that clues to Paul McCartney’s death could be found among the lyrics and artwork of the Beatles’ recent recordings. He was killed in a car crash, according to the rumors circulated in London.

The Drake University student newspaper published an article titled, Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead? It was said that Beatles music played backwards confirmed his death. Famed lawyer F. Lee Bailey took to the air with a one-hour television special, in which he promoted the “evidence” of McCartney’s death. The rumors continued to spread. Then, on this date, 1969, something happened that pretty much debunked the rumors. On April 24, 1969 Paul McCartney did a live interview, in which he insisted he was very much alive, though he had chosen to “be a little less famous these days.” There. The rumor was finally put to rest, once and for all.

Well, not so quick, Sherlock. In just a matter of a few weeks, the rumors returned. On October 21, 1969, the Beatles’ press office issued a statement attesting to McCartney’s good health. The November, 1969 issue of Life Magazine plastered Paul’s picture on the cover, with the words, “Paul is still with us.” But still, some did not believe. Does this story sound familiar to anyone but me? It should. You see, a couple thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was put to death. Most assumed he’d stay dead. But, right on cue, he rose the third day. He appeared before Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary. Then he appeared to Peter and John, then the rest of the disciples. One day he appeared to 500 at one time. But still, the rumors persisted. Jesus was dead. Well, I can put those rumors to rest once and for all. I know he is alive. How do I know? It’s simple. I was just talking to him this morning.

Swallowing Goldfish

Though most fads seem to spring up from nowhere, the art of goldfish swallowing can be traced to one individual and one specific date. On March 3, 1939, Harvard student Lothrop Withington, Jr. swallowed a live fish to win a $10 bet. Days later, not to be outdone, a college student in Pennsylvania downed three fish seasoned with salt and pepper. When a fellow classmate upped the ante to six goldfish, the gauntlet had been thrown down and the fad spread like wildfire on campuses across the country. Before the goldfish craze faded a few months later, thousands of goldfish had met their collective demise and even coeds had taken up the challenge.

Now, I love seafood as much as anyone. I love shrimp, catfish, scallops, trout, oysters, and crabmeat. I even like the “fish” they sell out of the chain restaurant named after a pirate. But I draw the line at goldfish. But Lothrop was like a lot of us. He was willing to swallow anything, whether it was good for him or not. We are told that we are winning the war with ISIS and the war on poverty. We are told that more money equals better schools. We are told that gay marriage is a matter for the federal government, despite what it says in the Bill of Rights. We are told that electing the right President will solve all our problems. We are told that global warming isn’t real, while others tell us global warming is our greatest threat. But many are swallowing more important myths. Happiness is about what happens to us, rather than what happens in us. You can work your way into heaven. There are certain things you can do to make God love you more. There are certain things you can do to make God love you less. If a couple lives together first, their marriage will be better. Children don’t need a dad at home. All roads lead to heaven. Though the stuff you have now doesn’t make you happy, having more of it will.

An old friend of mine from Gainesville, Texas said something I have never forgotten. Johnny Leftwich often said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” There are times we need to take a stand. We need to investigate, then embrace the truth. I am not a believer because I was raised that way. I am a believer because that is where my pursuit for truth led me. I believe in the three pillars of The Proud Americans: God, family, and country. There is a lot of “stuff” being propagated in today’s world. That doesn’t mean you have to swallow everything that comes along. Stick to goldfish.

Coca-Cola

In 1997 one of the finest business leaders in the world died. His name was Roberto Goizueta, and he was the chairman and chief executive officer of the Coca-Cola Company. A few months before he died, he said, “A billion hours ago, human life appeared on Earth. A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged. A billion seconds ago, the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. And a billion Coca-Colas ago . . . was yesterday morning.” He told an Atlanta newspaper he had no plans for retirement. Six weeks later he was dead. And so was Coca-Cola. Or was it? Normally, when the CEO suddenly goes away, the company goes in the tank. But not Coke. Goizueta had grown Coke from a $4 billion company to a $150 billion company. But he did something more important than that. He groomed Douglas Ivester to take his place, if and when the need would arise. Goizueta taught Ivester everything he knew, just in case. And “in case” happened. It always does.

You see, the key to your success in any venture is not what you do, but what you prepare others to do. Paul mastered this concept, and he told Titus to do the same. He understood the importance of finding good men and training them to lead the next generation. To young Titus, Paul said, “An elder must be blameless, entrusted with God’s work” (Titus 1:6). You probably spend a lot of time working on doing things better. Start leading others to do things better. That is the secret of Coke. That is the secret of life.

Superman Comes to Smithton, Illinois

Bryce Schottel needed a miracle. Bryce Schottel needed Superman. Bryce got his wish, as Superman paid a visit to the home of the seven-year-old cancer patient in Smithton, Illinois. Suffering from lymphatic cancer since February, Bryce remains in good spirits. His mother, Regina Carlton, told ABC News, “After a scan they told us he had lymphoma in his stomach and pelvic region and a tumor in his abdomen. They were supposed to start his fourth cycle of chemotherapy yesterday, but it appears that he has an infection in his lung.” Regina confirmed that the one thing that keeps Bryce going is his love for superheroes. “My son loves Superman,” she said.

Enter Damon Cole, a Dallas police officer. After reading about Bryce’s condition, Cole made the 11-hour drive from his home in Texas to Bryce’s home in Illinois. Driving his Superman-themed car, Cole arrived at Bryce’s front door on April 15, dressed as Superman and presenting Bryce with a Superman figurine. “He just ate it up,” said Cole. “After I took him outside and showed him my Superman car, he was blown away. All he could say was ‘Wow!’” Carlton was overwhelmed with the kind act shown her son. “There’s not a lot of people in this world that would do anything like that anymore, who are so selfless and generous,” she said. “It took a complete stranger who made the long trip to make my son smile.” Jesus did that for us. We are afflicted with a disease called “sin.” There is no man-made cure. But a stranger came from another world. This super man did for us what we could not do for ourselves. But he can do more than put a smile on your face. He came from heaven to earth so we can go from earth to heaven.

American Idol – Nick Fradiani

Nick Fradiani was the winner of the 14th installment of the Fox hit is a 29-year-old rocker from Guilford, Connecticut. Fradiani knocked off Clark Beckham of White House, Tennessee in the finals. “This is amazing,” Nick told host Ryan Seacrest. “This is the best day of my life.” Joining Idol alums such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Kris Allen, Fradiani is set to receive close to half a million dollars in benefits for his trouble. “I can’t even think right now,” said the newest Idol. The show will bring its final installment next year, confirmed Fox executives, as its Nielson ratings have plunged from 30.3 million viewers to 9.15 million in 2015. Nick Fradiani is a big deal . . . today. But in a few weeks, only the most astute Idol fans will remember his name.

That’s how it usually works with idols. Think about some of your celebrity idols from years gone by. My childhood idol was Willie Mays, the “Say Hey” kid, and best baseball player of all time. As a young musician, I idolized jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. As a football fan in Houston, I came to idolize Earl Campbell, the greatest player I ever saw. I would later idolize Ronald Reagan. As far as comedians go, my idol was Bob Newhart. But it’s funny. None of these men really affected my life. Mays never hit a ball with his bat or Ferguson a note with his horn that changed me. Campbell, Reagan, and Newhart did nothing that altered the trajectory of my life. But I’ll tell you who did. His name was Elga Steward. His name was Jim Trevathan. His name was Cecil Sewell. And his name was Gene Wofford. You won’t find their pictures in People or their stories in Newsweek. But they were my idols. They did change my life. In order, these men were my eighth grade English teacher, senior high band director, pastor, and college professor.

John Maxwell had it right when he said, “You impress people from a distance, but you influence them up close.” I confess. I watched the last part of the last episode of American Idol. Nick Fradiani is a rare talent. But I will never be able to spell his last name from memory and I won’t remember his first name tomorrow. He impressed me, but he didn’t influence me. American’s Idol is not my idol. You can have Nick. I’m sure he’s a fine young man. But as for me, I’ll stick with the men who have proven themselves over the course of time: Elga, Jim, Cecil, and Gene. They are difference-makers. They are my mentors. And in the best sense of the word, they are, and will forever be, my idols.

Friends

None of us is really equipped to deal with the death of loved ones. That’s why this day in history, 14 years ago, was so hard for millions. It was the death that affected 52 million of us. I’m not talking about Philip Kapleau, the American educator who died May 6, 2004 at the age of 92. I’m not talking about Barney Kessel, the American composer who died May 6, 2004 at the age of 81. And I’m not talking about Virginia Capers, the American actress who died May 6, 2004 at the age of 79. No, I’m talking about the death of Friends, the NBC sitcom that ended on May 6, 2004 at the age of eleven.

There were 52.46 million viewers who made this the fourth most watched finale in television history. For eleven years, millions followed the antics of Jennifer Anniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, and Matt LaBlanc. Just the title of the series was enough to pull us in. Everyone loves to have friends. But there is bad news when it comes to friends. The March 18 edition of Time included a survey that asked, “How many close friends do you have?” The most common answer was “None.” Psychology Today says we can handle up to 150 friends at one time. But David Oragui, author of Build a Better Life, claims the optimum number is three. How many friends do you have? (Acquaintances don’t count!) By “friend,” I mean someone who knows your darkest secrets, has walked with you through life’s deepest valleys, and who stands with you, not because you’re right, but because you’re wrong.

The Bible tells of a man who “gave his life for his friends.” His name was Jesus. I could never say it as well as Joseph Scriven, who wrote these words in 1855.   What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!   Are we weak and heavy-laden, Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge, Take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.   I remember when Friends signed off. But I have a Friend who will never sign off. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Whether you have 150 friends or just three, make sure you have the Friend who never fails. Say it with me! What a friend we have in Jesus!

Babe Ruth – 103 Years Later

One hundred years ago, the New York Yankees arrived at the Polo Grounds to begin a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox. The year was 1915. They had no idea of what to expect from Boston’s rookie pitcher, George Herman Ruth. While they were preparing to face the young left handed pitcher, the last thing they thought about was his bat. The game was scoreless when he stepped to the plate in the top of the third inning. Pitcher Jack Warhop was on the mound for the Yankees. It was Ruth’s 18th major league at-bat. No one could predict what was about to take place. Ruth swung at Warhop’s first pitch. The 8,000 in attendance gasped at the crack of the bat. The ball landed in the right field bleachers. Wilmot Griffin wrote in the New York Evening Journal, “Mr. Warhop of the Yankees looked reproachfully at the opposing pitcher who was so unclubby as to do such a thing like that to one of his own trade (a fellow pitcher).” Babe Ruth collected two more hits that day, while pitching 12 1/3 innings in an eventual loss to the Bronx Bombers.

While his amazing home run career was just ahead, the 20-year-old rookie was then known for his pitching. It wasn’t until 1920 that he was moved to the outfield fulltime in order to bat every day. The Great Bambino would soon re-write the record book and lead the Yankees (following a trade from Boston) to four World Series championships. One hundred years ago, they thought of Babe Ruth as a pitcher. He would become the greatest power hitter of all time, amassing 714 homers over the next 20 years. But it all began on May 6, 1915. With one swing of the bat and one column by a sports reporter, his fame was launched.

I wonder how many of us are just one word of encouragement from our greater path. Launching his 2016 presidential bid, Mike Huckabee said, “Where you are from does not have to determine where you end up.” That is true in all parts of life. Babe Ruth was a pitcher. But he would go on to become baseball’s greatest star . . . all because he refused to let his past define his future. We all have a past. I don’t know your past, but I do know mine. And I know that where you have been and where you are today does not have to dictate the path you take tomorrow. God has a better future. So step up to the plate and start swinging.

Mired in the Weeds

It was a bright afternoon in Forbes Field, in Pittsburgh. The date was October 13, 1960. It was game seven of the World Series. The dominant New York Yankees were in town against the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates. Though the Series was tied at three games apiece, the Yankees were clearly the superior team, amassing a total run advantage of 46-17. The Pirates were mild competition for the likes of Mantle, Maris, Berra, Ford, and MVP Bobby Richardson. But it all came down to the final inning of the final game. The score was 9-9. At 3:36 p.m., light hitting second baseman Bill Mazeroski stepped to the plate. And with one swing of the bat, the World Series had its first-ever walk-off home run. Mazeroski drove the ball to left field, completely out of the stadium.

Now, if you visit Cooperstown, you will see all the great historic home run balls on display: Babe Ruth’s 60th home run ball from 1927, Roger Maris’ 61st from 1961, etc. But you won’t find the most significant ball ever hit. The Mazeroski ball isn’t there. Here’s what happened. A 14-year-old boy named Andy Jerpe went to the game that day. He left in the bottom of the 9th so he wouldn’t be late for dinner. Walking beyond the stadium, he heard the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. Unexpectedly, 15 feet away, landed “the ball.” A police officer ran over to Andy as he picked up the historic ball, and he escorted the 9th grader to the Pirates’ clubhouse. There, Andy offered the ball to Mazeroski, who declined. “No thanks, son. You can keep the ball. The memory is good enough for me.” He signed the historic ball, and Andy walked home, now late for dinner and much in trouble.

Andy put the ball in a case on the mantle above the fireplace at home. Six months later, some friends came over, and they decided to get up a game of baseball. The problem was, they didn’t have a ball. But Andy did. So they took the Mazeroski ball to the field. Soon, someone knocked the ball into a field. After a brief search for the ball, they gave up. It was mired in the weeds. A few days later, Andy’s dad noticed the ball missing from the mantle. When Andy told him the story, they went back to the field to look for the ball again. The field had been mowed and the historic ball was lost forever.

Many of us are like that ball. We have great value. But we get mired in the weeds. We have big plans, but get sidetracked by insignificant issues of day-to-day life. We become mired in the weeds. We stop growing in our faith because of our pursuit for the next dollar. We find ourselves mired in the weeds. We didn’t intend to end up there. Nor did we give ample time to finding our way out. God has huge plans for each of us. When we get lost, we are like that baseball. We don’t want to be lost. It just happens. It happens because we get mired in the weeds.  

Rolling Stones’ Lies

The Phi Kappa Psi college fraternity has been around since 1852. Their motto is “United by friendship, sustained by honor, and led by truth, we live and we flourish.” The fraternity has 101 chapters and has initiated 119,000 members over the past 163 years. In November, the “honor” part of the fraternity’s motto was called into serious question by Sabrina Erdely, writing for The Rolling Stones magazine. She uncovered the story of “Jackie,” a University of Virginia freshman who was raped at the frat house by seven members of the fraternity.

Erdely was the only journalist to expose the horror of what happened that terrible night at Psi Kappy Psi. Her work and bravery are deserving of a Pulitzer. Except for one thing. It seems “Jackie” made the whole thing up, and Erdely was too lazy to interview any of the accused. When the truth came out, it was Rolling Stones that was exposed. Neither the writer nor the editor bothered to question any of the accused or get a single iota of evidence. “Clearly our fraternity and its members have been defamed, but more importantly we fear this entire episode may prompt some victims to remain in the shadows, fearful to confront their attackers.” For their part, the leaders of Rolling Stones have not dismissed the writer or editor behind the false accusations. The first amendment to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

But this leaves out one very important word: responsibility. What is the lesson from this incident? Read the words of that great philosopher, Bob Dylan. “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” I admit I don’t know much about Phi Kappa Psi. But I do know this. In order for a freedom to be enjoyed, it must be accompanied by responsibility.

Where’s His Cap?

Leslie Weatherford tells the story of a sailor who dove into the water to rescue a drowning boy. A few days later the boy and his mom were shopping and the boy saw the sailor and told his mom that he was the man who had saved his life. His mother walked up to the young man and asked if he was, indeed, the one who had pulled her son out of the water. The sailor confirmed that he was the one. He then anticipated a warm embrace, a heartfelt “thank you,” and perhaps a reward, though he didn’t seek any of those things. What he got was far different: a question, not an affirmation. Said the boy’s mother, “My son had a new cap on that day when he fell into the water. You were right there. Did you find it?”

People are funny. The man saved the boy’s life, and all his mother seemed to care about was a $10 cap. But think about it. A couple thousand years ago, Jesus dove into the lake of sin to pull you out. He did it to save your life forever. In response, do you thank him? Or do you ask for things as meaningless as a $10 cap? Let me ask it a bit differently. Do you spend more time seeking God’s hand or God’s face? Jesus risked his life to save yours. Is it too much to whisper a simple “thank you”? The apostle Paul said it like this. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).