Various persons have observed that no one has any more religion than he or she can demonstrate in an emergency. This was certainly true of Arland D. Williams, Jr., a bank examiner with the Federal Reserve System in Atlanta, who was aboard the ill-fated Boeing 737 that crashed in the frigid Potomac River shortly after taking off from Washington's National Airport, January 13, 1982.
Identification of the hero was announced in June of 1983. Representatives from the Coast Guard said when a helicopter lowered a line to survivors, Williams indicated he was trapped (it was later discovered his seat belt was jammed) and passed "the line on to other injured persons" By his not grabbing the rescue line, thus saving valuable time, other passengers were saved.
In presenting the medal to Williams's mother, Virginia L. Williams, Mattoon, Illinois, his teenage son, Arland D. Williams, III, and daughter, Leslie Ann Williams, President Reagan said: "You can live with tremendous pride in your father," (Read John 15:13).
The Wall Street Journal of June 21, 1983, carried a disturbing article on vacant church buildings in Britain. The delicate debate as to what should be done with idle structures intensified when the rector of a parish down the road from All Saints Church "took the bells down from the tower." He proposed to melt them. Many citizens from Saltfleetby, England, were incensed, especially Mrs. Aegerter, who lives next door to All Saints and who sweeps and cleans the church regularly.
This thirteenth-century stone structure is said to be one of 186 old buildings the Church of England has "mothballed." They have created a "Redundant Church Fund," apparently waiting for a revival, a miracle, or a demographic shift in population.
Their contemporary poet, Philip Larkin, asked: "When churches fall completely out of use, what shall we turn them into?" He continues. Shall we keep "a few chronically on show ... and let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep?"
Since 1969, church authorities have indicated that 908 churches are no longer needed; 247 of them have already been demolished, and another 475 buildings have been "converted" to other purposes.
When is a church redundant? Is it not possible for a so-called active congregation to be spiritually empty?
On the day Major Gordon Cooper orbited the earth for the twenty-second time, his wife, Trudie, set her alarm clock for 4:30 AM. She reports that she awoke at 4:00 and immediately turned on the television, only to hear the announcer say that Gordon had just awakened. Though literally worlds apart, and without any visible means of communication, the affinity between husband and wife, their concern and love were so strong they awakened at almost precisely the same time. This is the miracle of the Spirit.
Something even more startling happened around AD 33, soon after Jesus had ascended. While on earth, He had admonished His disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they received power. Half-frightened, half-dubious, half-believing, they remained. And behold, as they were together in one place, "A sound came from heaven, like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting" (Acts 2:2).
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Rom. 12:6-8).
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Cor. 12:7-11).
And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13).
Whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (1 Pet. 4:11).
There is an arresting story in the thirteenth chapter of Exodus. Following four-hundred agonizing years of slavery, years of hoping, years of praying, the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt. The announcement of their departure was unexpected; preparations to leave were hurriedly made. The trek before them was long and threatening. The liberated souls could take only items necessary for survival. But we read that "Moses took the bones of Joseph with him" (v. 19). This remarkable leader realized that survival kits were incomplete without spiritual symbols of their heritage and hope. There would be little joy in the future if they forgot their past.
Born in Missouri to humble parents on Lincoln's birthday, 1893, Omar Nelson Bradley learned early the lessons of integrity and hard work. Following his father's death in 1908, he assisted his mother, who took in boarders. Despite hardships, or perhaps because of them, and memories of the studious habits of his father, a schoolteacher, Omar graduated from high school with an overall average grade of 91.4. Appointed as an alternate from his district to West Point, and because the principal candidate failed to qualify, young Bradley, who had passed, was selected.
Cleveland Amory, writing in Parade magazine for October 17, 1982, said that the U. S. Trust Company estimates there were 520,000 millionaires in America in 1979. Forbes published a list of four-hundred centimillionaires—people worth more than $100 million—in the U. S. in 1985.
George McLeod, leader of the Iona community, Scotland, told of a young man observed entering and leaving a Catholic church each day at noon. On one occasion, a priest queried the visitor, who revealed that his lunch hour was the only time he could pray. The observer asked, "What do you say in your prayers?"
"I say, 'Jesus, it's Jimmy!'"
The priest was deeply moved by the man's prayer habits. Months later, when he stood in the humble bedroom of a very ill young man, he sensed a Presence. The priest was certain that as he stood there he heard a voice say, "Jimmy, it's Jesus!"
Thomas Carlyle, nineteenth-century Scottish essayist and historian, and his wife Jane Welsh, once entertained a prominent guest whom Carlyle wanted to impress. During a pause in table conversation, Carlyle heard his wife breathing heavily. Whereupon he chided, "Jane, I wish you would not breathe so noisily."
Years later, when Jane ceased breathing altogether, Garlyle read in her diary how much his statement about her breathing had hurt. He wept for another chance, but it was too late! Reflecting on their years together, he realized his had been a long marriage of criticism.
Jack Dempsey, "The Manassa Mauler," who ruled boxing's heavyweight division from 1919 to 1926, died Tuesday, May 31, 1983, at age eighty-seven. This gentle man out of the ring amassed a career total of sixty victories in eighty-one fights, forty-nine by knockouts. He also boxed hundreds of exhibitions, sometimes accommodating as many as a half-dozen hungry aspirants on a single night. Yet, Dempsey enjoyed more admiration and popularity after his defeat by the former Marine and student of Shakespeare, Gene Tunney, than while he was champion. Having been punched almost blind by the "Fighting Marine," Dempsey told his trainer, "Lead me out there, I want to shake his hand."
Forty-three-year-old Gaylord Perry notched his three-hundredth career pitching victory against the New York Yankees, Thursday night, May 6, 1982. Consequently, the cagey hurler for the Seattle Mariners joined the elite group of major league 300-game winners.
Richard "Digger" Phelps (his father is a mortician, hence the nickname), colorful basketball coach at Notre Dame, declares he lived a narrow life for years, living "basketball 365 days a year." After traveling in Europe, seeing historic places and paintings of the masters, his world began to expand. He still loves basketball and wants to win. But there are other equally important things in life. The press quoted him as saying: "Give me a choice now between winning the NCAA Championship—and getting a Van Gogh for my wall, and I'm going to have to do some heavy thinking."
Once in a football game between the University of Chicago, where the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg was head coach, and the University of Illinois, an official sustained an injury. Coach Stagg was asked to step in and referee his own game—a crowning act of confidence! It would be like asking an attorney to judge a case in which he was involved, or a fanner to determine the price support for his crops and those of his neighbors, or asking a parent to evaluate his child's conduct. Alonzo Stagg had so identified himself with integrity that a rival coach could trust him to place the demands of fair play above victory and self-interest.
My first job out of seminary was to recruit students and raise money for Lynchburg College. It was a discouraging task in the 1930s. I shall never forget an elderly lady on whom I called for a special gift to the college. After listening to my presentation, the beautiful, dear soul explained: "Young man, I believe in what you are doing. I would like to help but I have lost everything." Then she excused herself from the room and presently returned, holding in her hands a jar of pickled peaches. "Would you accept this as a reminder of one who loves the church and the college but is unable to give at this time?"
Perhaps you saw the cartoon in The New Yorker depicting an American couple dashing up the steps of the Louvre in Paris shouting, ''Where's the Mona Lisa? We're double-parked!"
Physically, mentally, and emotionally we are all double-parked. We are in a hurry! Schedule is our master, the clock our altar. If we miss the signal light, we are uptight. We do not have time for conversation, for people, for family, or for the church.
H. G. Wells predicted in his The Time Machine two species: the bright, joyous, delicate "eloi," living above ground in leisure and luxury; and the pale "morlocks," living below in dark caves, bending over machines that keep the system going.
Are we approaching this stratification in society? Are we losing identity, if not purpose, because we must keep the system going? Does it have to be this way?
President James A. Garfield claimed that the whole history of humanity could be described as a struggle to answer two questions: (1) How can we gain a little leisure from our toil?, and (2) What do we do with leisure once we get it?
The year was 1941. The place: the Polish village of Minsk. Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's aide on Jewish affairs for the Third Reich, had been sent to witness the execution of five-thousand Jews. Although it was a cold morning, the condemned men, women, and children were ordered to dress down to their underwear. The hapless people walked the last hundred yards of the death march, then jumped into a pit that had been prepared. Observer Eichmann was impressed by the obedience and orderliness of the victims, who apparently had made their peace with death. Then came a barrage of gunfire. Children screamed. Eichmann saw one woman hold her baby high, pleading, "Shoot me, but please let my baby live. Take my baby. Please take my baby."
Eichmann had children of his own, and for a moment he seemed to have felt a twinge of compassion. But before he could voice an order, the baby was hit. "I scarcely spoke a word to the chauffeur on the trip back" he later reported. "I was thinking. I was reflecting about the meaning of life in general."
—1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching