OVERCOME THE CIRCUMSTANCE

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.”  (II Corinthians 2:8). Don’t allow desperation to drive your decisions.  “Wait on the Lord, and be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart.  Wait, I say, on the Lord.”  (Psalm 27:14)

The circumstances of life are not your destiny.  Find your place of service and determine to walk in it, “be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”  I Corinthians 15:58)

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IT’S COLD!

The cold of winter is upon us!  Everyone can appreciate a warm and safe shelter from the cold, stormy blast that is now being felt across the land.  It’s cold!

Worse yet, however, is to live with a cold heart evidenced by the chilling insensitivity that seems to be the order of the day.  Cold from within the heart will alienate us from one another and cause ‘I don’t care about you’ attitudes.  People inflict pain and agony upon others from a cold heart.  Horrible acts are committed upon others, sometimes in mass, because of cold hearts.

The chill of frigid weather is no comparison to men who have hearts frozen to the cares of others and  who inflict agony and sorrow.

Seek today to be a person with a warm heart to love God and others.  Don’t allow yourself to become victim to “. . . the love of many will grow cold.”  (Matthew 24:12 NKJV)  

DINNER ON THE GROUND

I suspect that you cannot imagine a combination of the words dinner and ground, especially considering the entire prepositional phrase, ‘on the ground.’  Who knowingly eats food on the ground?  Right.  Except you may not have experienced the ‘good ole days’ of feasting outside with churchgoers from all over the community for worship, an associational meeting, a baptismal service (usually near a pond, lake, or river), or church musical, with dinner on the ground.

These were days before fellowship halls, when the only facility was likely to be a one room building with its ‘necessary’ facility outside and down the hill in a less obvious location.

People gathered to line the ground with sheets and other coverings upon which they would organize their foods for display and consumption.  So the phrase was a literal reference to ‘dinner on the ground.’  Congregations of means (and space) would bring chairs from the building to line them up for the display of the smorgasbord of delicious delights while human lines formed to make their choices of ‘sumtin’ to eat in this festive gathering.

Dinner on the ground has also been held among the trees between which were built ‘plank tables’ by the men of the church.  On these, the ladies would bring the boxes to their choice spot along the table, and there serve their goodies.  People generally knew which boxes held the best and most flavorful foods and would wander close to get their ‘piece of the pie.’

Sitting might not be an option.  You can’t eat in the sanctuary!  So, a chair outside was an option if they were available.  An old pew strategically placed outside was a comfort to enjoy your dining pleasures.  Or standing, perhaps near that choice box would have to work.

Bottom line, those dinner on the ground events were special.  Friends were made or cultivated during the festive sharing of food and love among those in attendance.  Relationships grew during wholesome conversation during dinner on the ground.  And the rustic conditions outside made it more special because people concentrated on the food and the fellowship.  It was real while engaging in laughter, love, and luscious foods.

And nobody was worried about food poisoning, salmonella, or food allergies.  It was simply a good time at dinner on the ground.

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  Acts 2:46-47 ESV

HEARTBREAK FOR LITTLE LEAGUE CHAMPIONS

Like many across the land, the stripping of all championship titles from the Jackie Robinson West Little League All-Star Team by Little League International Charter/Tournament Committee has been a saddening reality, especially for the boys who worked hard and faithfully to reach the great achievement of champions.  Like the Honorable Mayor Rahm Emmanuel stated, “Every home run was real.  Every great catch was real.  The passion they brought from Chicago to Williamsport was real.  And the character they showed on and off the field was real.”  The honor of the adults involved was not real!

Mr. Stephen D. Keener, Little League International President and CEO, called the decision “heartbreaking.”  “What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.” The official Little League International statement was in part, “the Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4 Administrator knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries.”

Unfortunately, the losers in this matter are the boys who struggled to overcome adversity, worked hard with dedication and focus, maintained their grades and character throughout the process, and were honored and hailed as champions, only to now be stripped of the championship.

Why?  Because of overzealous adults.  Breaking the rules don’t matter, just win.  Character issues don’t matter, just win.  The results justify the means, just win.  Getting caught doesn’t matter, just win.  Work the boys to prove their athleticism, forget values or principles, just win!

The real prize for children and youth that are engaged in little league sports on into high school and beyond should not be winning at any cost.  Teamwork, sportsmanship, character, relationships, and hard work should be the aim of every activity, game, or championship series.  Winning has to be defined in such a way that everyone, especially the youth, will be able to take away from the experience something that will be educational, character building and lasting for a lifetime.

Out of focus ‘win at all costs’ attitudes in the little leagues lead to immoral, amoral, out of focus attitudes that are displayed too often in college and professional sports leagues, with little if any thought to how the game is played or how character affects each player.  This is unwise and creates a superficial goodness or image in the sport and lives of the players and coaches.

Local communities, parents, and league officials should demand the best of everyone involved.  Parents should facilitate honest representation of themselves and their children.  And while Chicago and surrounding communities are seeking to reach a balance in this unfortunate situation, the boys matter most!  But irresponsible parties should be held accountable for not playing within the rules, not only by Little League International, but the local communities as well.

Rules, policies, or guidelines matter.  Accountability does matter.  Character and personal dignity, they matter.  The process and how it develops, they matter.  And the outcome, the end of it all, winning does matter.  The reality of a job well-done cannot be challenged or stripped from winners when character drives one from within.

The adults in this case should know better.  The youth, hopefully, will learn the valuable lesson of how much character does matter.  And it matters also to maintain the honor of champion.  The title without the honor within is empty.

THE GATE IS OPEN KOATCH!

Penned in and left alone, Koatch was both angry and frustrated.  He barked his chagrin loudly for several minutes.  After an hour in the dog pen, the gate was opened so that he was free to go in any direction.  But, unfortunately, he didn’t realize it and continued his ranting and running from one corner to the other.  He was especially annoyed that I walked past the pen to a distance beyond it so that he ran faster and ranted more loudly, of course, to no avail.  After a while of this behavior, he stopped to notice that the gate was open and proceeded to sniff his way to his master and cause of all of this commotion.

But, the gate was open and he actually saw it opened but was so overwhelmed with the dynamics of the situation and his frustration, that he did not take notice of it.

Too many people spend the better part of their lives ranting and raving about one issue after another.  They feel penned in by entrapments of their own making or by boundaries and limits set by others.  Some are angry at the world about dreams deferred or lost while others make little or no attempts at seeking deliverance or freedom.  Depression and misery have become the order of the day for many.

But the gate is open.  Stop!  Cease from troubling yourself!  The gate is open!  You are free and you’re free right now to be all that you are capable of being and to do all that you are called to do.  Cut the drama!  Stop looking down!  Halt the comparisons to others!  Refuse bitterness or envy and jealousy.  Forget about blaming everyone for your slow start or failures even.

The gate is open!  John 8:36 ESV:  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  Jesus has already paid the price for our freedom.  Follow Him!  The gate is open for everyone that seeks to follow the Son, Jesus the Christ, to access and experience freedom.  You may be running from corner to corner in your own penned up existence, but God wants you to know that the gate is open to new opportunity and possibility.

Galatians 5:13 ESV – “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh . . .”

Change your perspective and change your outlook on things.  Try a new approach and take notice of the opportunities for you to realize your potential and possibility.  You are free to go because the gate is open!

BE CAREFUL OF YOUR PLAY!!!

Koatch was enjoying some time outside in the sunshine and playing with small objects on the ground.  At first it appeared  that he’d taken notice of a small leaf being blown along by the gentle breeze.  Upon closer observation, it became clear that this was a red wasp that this little novice of a creature was sniffing and pushing around with his little nose.  This little puppy didn’t know that he was playing with danger.

If you’ve never had a close encounter with red wasps or felt the intense power of one of their stings, then you may not appreciate the use of the term danger.  They hurt . . . the really hurt.  They are not red for no reason.  They are dangerous!  Therefore, my little almost newborn canine friend Koatch had to be rescued, and immediately.

There are times in each of our life journeys when we are playing with fire and innocently exploring new adventures.  Someone with more experience and understanding about things has to come to our rescue and even then some of us will not listen.  We can be so engaged with the newness of things that we cannot be objective to assess the dangers that lurk beneath.  Dangers, which, if ignored, can impact the quality of our lives for the rest of our lives.  Or, at least for too long a period of time, it may change the appearance of things and our feelings, causing great pain and sorrow.

Be careful that you not toy around with seemingly small things in life.  Or, don’t treat things that matter as though they are nothing.  There are painful consequences to playing and not recognizing the danger involved or the importance of it all.  Life could change forever because of a moment of play.  Sometimes the pain is too deep to overlook and may affect other people’s lives as well.

“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.”  Ephesians 5:15 KJV

THE STARS STILL SHINE AT NIGHT!

I saw the stars last night.  They were brilliant and shined brightly with amazing beauty!

And they took me back to days out in the country when under the cover of darkness, these same stars shined brightly to capture my attention and wonder.  It was amazing then and they were amazing last night.

Some things never change!  Some things shouldn’t change and the stars never change.  Men have charted their course around the world by them on land, water and even in the air.  They can be counted on to stay in the same place through time and circumstance.

I know this to be a fact.  Fifty years ago as a little boy I chased the ‘lightnin’ bugs’ during the dusk of evening and later would look up into the skies to see the same exact tapestry I saw last night.  They shone with the same brilliance in the exact same place . . . all of them; every one of them scattered in the sky from the eastern horizon toward the far western.  No wonder exploring travelers could count on their guidance to navigate through the seas and over the terrain to lands and places with such precision.  “Lift up yours eyes on high and see Who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26 NKJV

They’ve been there all this time, at times covered by a layer or layers of clouds, shrouding them from view.  Other times, the lights of the city made viewing them difficult to near impossible to see and capture their beauty.  But, they were there all the time.  And once again, last night, they captured my attention with amazement.  I stopped to see, with my childlike wonder and now maturing faith, what caught my eye 50 years ago.

I was reminded of the surety of God!  The One who has been with me these 50 years and still captures my heart with the creative things that He has made.  Most of all, those stars remind me of the steadfast love of God, which, just like the stars, remains there all of the time despite my difficulties seeing it because of the sometimes shrouded covering of life’s darkness of night or the sometimes overpowering nature of all things superficial.

His love is always there!

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39 NKJV

THE ENDURING SNOWDROP

Pictured here is an early Spring or Late Winter flowering bulb known as the Snowdrop.  It is in the front yard and the only one in the entire yard.  This single flower is the first of its kind this year and almost overlooked because of its petite size close to the ground.  They do grow larger, but the infrequent frigid nights have probably affected its growth potential.

Despite its challenges, this Snowdrop is there, standing approximately 4-5 inches in height, its flower perhaps the heaviest portion of the entire plant.

The challenges of our lives are at times such that we cannot reach our fullest possibilities.  Or, at least it seems that circumstances and situations have hampered our growth.  But, before you write yourself off as having failed the possibility test, consider this:  The quality of the Snowdrop under its challenging conditions may have been enhanced.  Obviously, this little plant is strong, having to support such a large flower, with the wind and the cold at times blowing down upon it.  But it is standing.  And, its beauty has not been altered by its circumstance.

Think more positively about your situation.  Your promise and possibility is still being realized as your strength of character and beauty within still springs forth to bless the lives of others.  Contrary winds of life may have attempted to blow you away, but you still stand to testify of endurance, victory, and strength, which may all be enough for someone to observe and consider.

As a standing, walking and living testimony, someone is being blessed by you by mere observation.  Never underestimate the power of your light within to enlighten and inspire others to keep trying and to maintain a course of endurance.  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NKJV)  And remember, the source of the light within is Jesus, the light of the world, who endured great trial and even death, yet remaining victorious.

“You, therefore, must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” II Timothy 2:3 NKJV

AN UNDISCLOSED SOURCE

It has become common to use the phrase ‘an undisclosed source.’  Whether speaking of classified or top secret information, newsworthy information, or secret financial donations, or just plain old good gossip, ‘undisclosed’ is a word usually applied.

Isn’t there something wrong with these ‘secrets’ that hide individuals or institutions that seek influence or control in a free society?  If motives are legitimate and honorable, why hide?  And, those who are willing to publish the news without a disclosure regarding from whence this ‘information’ has come become suspect.  If the information is legitimate, why isn’t the source willing to be disclosed?’

To disclose is to open up, or make something known or public.  Undisclose(d) is not in the dictionary but is one of those words grouped under one heading with the prefix ‘un.’  Merriam-Webster identifies ‘un’ as meaning ‘not’ or the opposite of.  In other words, news information or donation sources are not disclosed or made known to the public.  No reason or explanation is offered usually.  And there are cases in which journalists refuse vital information sources and have to serve jail time for their refusal to divulge the ‘undisclosed source.’

Is the matter something rumored?  Who saw it happen?  Did it happen?  Why is there cover-up?  How much money from who?  The questions can go on and on and on without disclosure.

Of course, good gossip doesn’t usually come with a ‘disclosed source.’  Much of the time individuals are so happy to get the ‘news’ that it really doesn’t matter who said it.  It doesn’t matter anymore that we may be repeating a lie or an exaggeration.  And we’ve come to expect a little embellishment to go along with the best stories.  Right!

Well consider these matters:

  1. Witnesses are needed to establish credibility.  Witnesses are people who have seen something; a person who was present for an event and can say that it happened.  Who are the witnesses, where are they (if they exist)?  If the source isn’t available for examination, one has to question the credibility of the one delivering the information.
  2. The Biblical norm is stated in Deuteronomy 19:15 (NKJV):  “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or sin that he commits;  by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”  It is repeated by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 13:1 (NKJV).
  3. The spirit of the 9th commandment is jeopardized by this undisclosed issue. It states, “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16 NKJV).  How do we know if the information, news, etc. is false or true when its source is undisclosed?  Full disclosure helps to eliminate the possibility of false information.
  4. Who can you believe, the one bringing the information or the undisclosed source? But, we can’t ask clarifying questions because we don’t know the source.  The one reporting isn’t talking, but only repeating his/her claim(s).

It is no wonder that cynicism, skepticism, and doubt runs rampant everywhere.  We don’t know any more who to believe or trust when false information and misinformation have become common.

Are you one of those ‘undisclosed sources?

DESTINATION UNKNOWN

Every day, travelers head in most every direction in the skies with designated departure times with expectation of arrival to a destination at an appointed time.  The jet and its passengers move definitively and determinedly through the heavens to places unknown.

Those travelers are much the same as those on the ground, pondering their movements among people as they go here and there in cars, buses, trains, or trucks.  Destination unknown:  We can only wonder where they’re all heading.

Such is life.  As we make choices and decisions about our likes, dislikes, preferences, ambitions, hopes, dreams, we’re moving deliberately to somewhere developing and growing a life and legacy as we go on a fast track that quickly adjusts to the right or the left, up or down, or perhaps just straight ahead.  The destination isn’t clear, but we’re on our way!

Be careful how you travel though.  Excess baggage can ruin the trip.  Be careful what you pick up along the way.  Travel comforts can affect others.  Don’t create travel discomforts by insisting on your own comforts creating burdens for other travelers.  Be nice, assistance may be needed down the road.  Someone you neglect or ignore may be the one person with the very skill needed to help you to carry on with your journey.

Life has a way of returning favors.  Be sure to offer them as you travel because the journey will take turns without warning and there will be need for favor in your adjustments in those turns.  And the travel really does bring adjustments.  A gate change or seat adjustment, comforts, discomforts, physical challenges, or health issues can all make the journey so different.

The journey does end somewhere at a yet undisclosed location.  The means of travel does not matter, the journey ceases somewhere in time and space where travelers will get off of the bus one last time, leave the car parked for one last time, exit the train or plane one last time, or back the truck up for one last haul.  As was once said among the ‘mothers of the church’ or the elderly faithful, ‘when I’ve gone in my room to come out no more,’ that too will be a last.

Travel so that you can leave with dignity on the last ride.  Move along in life with meaning and purpose achieved only by interacting peaceably with others and helping others to journey to their end.  Because, at the end, everyone discover that this journey is not about us individually as much as it is about others that we can help, meet their needs and demonstrate caring concern.

The destination is determined by how we are willing to submit to someone bigger than ourselves to love other people.

Destination unknown?  Not really!  The treasures of the heart tell us where we’re headed.  They remind us daily whether we’re about ourselves or others.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV