The Glory of a Goal

Rarely has an outstanding group of youth come along that is constituted of so many exceptional academic and athletic students as the one with which I was blessed to grow up. Most were over achievers. Our football team was such. One of our most challenging nights teamed us against a powerhouse from our neighboring town of Magnolia, a much larger school and more experienced team. They were good and they knew it. 

It was our first game at night under the lights in the rain. All that was to their advantage.

On one occasion they were on our one yard line where it seemed they spent much of the night, though they seldom crossed it. Their running back came around my end. Their big tackle, who later played for LSU, took me out of the play and into the end zone. One of our defensive backs hit the runner and the wet ball popped out right into my arms a few yards in the end zone. I grabbed it and started to down it, but quickly concluded that if I downed it someone might fall on me and that didn’t seem like a good option. Someone yelled “run” and that sounded like a better plan. I got through the tangled mass of players before most knew what had happened. I realized I was in the open with green grass ahead. Looking over my left shoulder I saw my shadow, comfort. I glanced over my right shoulder and there was one shadow too many, discomfort.

I knew that if I was going to outrun my nemesis I would have to deceive him, so I cut to the left, and he cut to the left. I cut to the right and he cut to the right. For the last 85 of my run that went on. When at last I crossed the goal line there was no one within 75 yards of me. They were all looking to see what I was running from. I looked down and there they were, two shadows, both mine created by the cross lights of the stadium. I had been running from my shadow. If I had simply run to the goal and not from my shadow I would have gotten there faster and the home stands would not have been laughing.

That imagery has followed me through life as motivation to keep my eyes on the goal, and not run from distracting shadows.

A modern English translation of Philippians 3: 14 – 20 gives a biblical perspective of this principle. 

“…with my eyes fixed on the goal I push on to secure the prize of God’s heavenward call in Christ Jesus. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.”

There is consolation in knowing, “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3)

Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out

Growing up folks always said I was a good boy, and I hope they were right, BUT I was a boy with all that implies. There were times I tried to expand the limits. Notice, I tried, rarely with success.

My cadre of explorers was going for a hike in the woods one day. Mom agreed for me to go with one caveat, no skinny dipping. It was a hot summer’s day. After walking in the woods, our wonder world, for a while we came to a cool little stream. My buddies all shed their clothes and plunged in with screams of delight. Enough is enough, this was too good to miss. There was no one within a mile of us. I hung my clothes on a vine covered tree and joined the swim. A few days later I developed a severe itching where no fellow with clothes on should have it. It was right where my pants should have been. Diagnosis, that little vine on the tree was, you guessed it, poison ivy. The evidence was undeniable. Verdict, guilty.

On another occasion I was told not to play on the recently picked cotton in our barn. Our large crib was nearly full and ready to go to the gin. I played on the hay in the loft of the barn for a while. When the time to leave came, surely one jump on the cotton would not hurt. I put one hand on one side of the opening from the loft and the other on the other side and swung down. As I did I heard a crack accompanied by pain. I could not tell anyone there was pain and what caused it. A few days later I had my shirt off. My mom, the in house truancy officer, asked what the lump in the middle of my chest was. Gotcha, I had broken my sternum and have a disfiguration to this day as proof.

Plowing and planting was a mixed bag. Our mule, old Tom, had finished plowing the field. My job was to drop the seed, that is, plant them. which soon became fatiguing and boring. With about 50+ seeds remaining I dumped them and covered them. A little over a week later my dirty deed became evident when there was a clump of plants sprouting together. As usual, guilty.

“He catches the wise in their own craftiness” (I Corinthians 3: 14)

There is a lesson there that applies to all of our actions: you always reap what you sow, you reap more than you sow, and you always reap later what you sow. That is an irrevocable, unalterable, absolute, universal law., meaning you can’t get away with it.

Basically, actions have consequences. Write that across the inside of your brow. Make every temptation pass under it for a final review.

There was a time when the thought that God sees you frightened me. Then it occurred to me that means He knows when I am in need of His help at all times.

Here is a final sobering thought regarding the final assize. “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8: 17) If you get away with a thing here there is no getting away with it there. 

Alligators and Oysters

The pleasure of poling a pirogue down a narrow marshland canal in predawn solitude is invigorating. There is a kaleidoscope of sounds formed by geese honking, nutria squealing, ducks quacking, and alligators bellowing. All of these marsh sounds set one’s imagination on fire.

This fascinating place is populated by a rare group of people known as Cajuns. They are hardy descendants who gravitated there from Nova Scotia and Canada. One old Cajun there wears a necklace made of alligator teeth. A visitor commented, “I suppose those are the same as a string of pearls to us.” “No,” he said, “Anybody can open an oyster.” Without saying it, getting the teeth from an alligator requires a risky effort. Comparatively, opening an oyster is easy.

Anybody can do the easy, simple task. It takes someone extraordinary to do the exceptional. Anybody can open an oyster, but it takes someone extraordinary to wrestle an alligator.

If you know a successful person you know someone who has suffered. A bubble doesn’t rise to the surface of water without consistently overcoming the resistance of the water. It swills around to minimize the resistance to rise.

It takes an exceptional person to stick with a difficult task, a special person to stand up for a worthy cause in face of opposition, and a strong-willed individual to not compromise when opposed.

John Bunyan, author of “Pilgrim’s Progress,” was threatened and imprisoned because of his faith. When offered his release if he would renounce his faith he said, “I will stay in this dungeon until the moss grows out of my eyebrows before I will make a butchery of my conscience or a slaughter house of my convictions.” That is a real alligator wrestler.

William Penn asserted his alligator grip when he professed, “Right is right though all men be against it, and wrong is wrong though all men be for it.”

The healthy heartbeat of a productive person is a life produced by a challenge afforded by competitive struggle. Without it life is bland and bleached. Struggle produces strength.

Every day we choose between alligators and oysters. We make our choices and then our choices make us.

The next time there is a difficult, but potentially productive job to be done, choose your necklace. Anybody can open an oyster.        

Happiness is found in completing a job that requires your own brain and skill.

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” (Romans 15:5)

War Clouds

As a 10 year old child war was a frightening thing. My first alarm of World War II was nothing compared to what my little buddy was experiencing on Pearl Harbor that December 7 morning. He and his mom huddled under their porch from where they could overlook the harbor where his dad was. From there they could see the devastation at the base.

My first fright was caused by three P-51s flying overhead just above the treetops in my hometown. I ran inside and stayed all afternoon.

I was afraid our town would be the next target of the Japanese. I heard grown folks talking about the potential of our nation’s industrial complex being potential targets. Surely Mr. Ed’s cotton gin and Mr. Pillie’s saw mill would be prime targets.

Within days there were no young adult males in town. They had been called into service. Our small town became known in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” as having the highest per capita of commissioned officers in America. There were three generals plus a number of other officers.

Things changed at once. The town mobilized instantly. Our home became a “hub of defense.” An air raid siren was put high up in our pecan tree where it could be heard all over town. Air raid drills were conducted periodically.

All homes and businesses were required to paint their windows black, or have curtains, or turn off all lights for a night drill. 

All boys under military age were organized into a Civil Patrol. Young as I was, I got involved. One night’s drill was met with alarm. A light was left on under the shed at the gin. I spent at least 15 minutes throwing rocks at it until I hit it. I didn’t want the town exposed to bombers that I thought were sure to come.

The Civil Patrol was charged with reporting any overflying plane to a designated military station. At the sound of a plane we rushed outside to get info to call in a report. I remember the codes. A single engine high flying plane was, “One bi high seen.”

We were ready for any enemy attack we were sure would come.

Every human soul is like a city under attack, which you can be sure will come. Our spiritual battles and warfare are real, even though we cannot physically see the attacker. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh….” II Corinthians 10: 3

Using the implements of warfare in the days of the Bible principles are noted to enable us to be successful in our spiritual warfare.

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Ephesians 6: 10 – 13

For a fuller understanding, read Ephesians 6: 10 – 17.

A Church Like No Other

I got started in church at a young age. Mom brought a small pallet which she put on the floor between pews and put me on it.

I grew to love and appreciate that church. In many ways it was ahead of its time. The church had an orchestra long before they were popular. Proportionately it was a large one. Darrel was on the trumpet, Bob on the clarinet, Mr. Ross and Mrs. Sally on violins, and Mr. Addison on the trombone beating time with his foot on the wooden floor. They were good.

I was saved during a revival, but there was another in which I almost rebelled against the church. It was a revival during the hot summer. As children we had played outside before the service. The sermon was long and not appealing to youth. Nevertheless I was trying hard to be interested. The sanctuary had folding doors down the side that closed off part of the assembly to be used as classrooms.

There were several of us boys sitting in one of those wings. The folded doors blocked my vision of the preacher. In all sincerity I leaned forward to see around the doors. My chin was propped up on my arm and hand with one finger beside my cheek. My chin slipped and that one finger momentarily covered my one closed eye the preacher could see from the pulpit. I am sure that from his perspective he thought I was sleeping. Forcefully he said, “A lot of you are sleeping and going to hell, like this boy sitting over here, and pointed me out. How not to reach youth.

There were many good days. One Sunday our Sunday School teacher announced we were going to have a picnic next Saturday at the artesian well. There was one caveat, everyone had to prepare their own lunch. On the big day I got out a jar of peanut butter and a banana. I squashed up the banana and blended it into the peanut butter, smoothed it out on a slice of bread, and capped it with another. Double play on a second.

At the picnic we played around for a while and the teacher called out, “Boys and girls, it’s time for the picnic.” I had been listening as we played and one cute little girl said, “In my picnic basket I have a whole fried chicken, a bowl of potato salad, some muffins, and a big jar of ice tea.” My lunch was in a brown paper sack. She said, “Nelson, why don’t we spread our lunches together.” I said, “Well, I think that is a very good idea.” Hers was in a picnic basket and mine in a brown paper sack. When we did spread all I had was hers and all she had was mine.

In like manner Jesus says to us, “Come on, my child, let’s spread together.” Wouldn’t it be foolish to say, “No, I want all of mine myself.” Whereas if you agree to “spread” with Him all He has is yours and fortunately all you have is His.” 

All your anxieties, all of your fears take to the mercy seat and leave them there. In turn He gives you grace and peace. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

If you have never repentantly called on Jesus asking for Him to forgive your sins, “spreading” that is, with Him, do it now to get His bountiful basket of blessings. When you spread your sin with Him He forgives and gives new life.

“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.”  Psalm 86:5