Lessons from a Walk

This past weekend, as I was walking on the University of Oregon campus, it seemed that the Lord was speaking to me through so many things that I was seeing. I gained four reminders that encouraged me, and I’d like to share them with you.

The first one was that sometimes we will be planted into difficult unfriendly circumstances. But we are to “bloom where we are planted.” Like this little daffodil, our surroundings may be less that encouraging.

I think we’ve all heard that phrase, “Bloom where you are planted.” It is not from the Bible, but there is Biblical truth in it. The apostle Paul said that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstances that he was in. (Phil. 4:11) And, in fact, Paul plainly stated in 1 Corinthians 7:17 that each one of us should live our lives in the situation the Lord assigned to us. He repeated the teaching in verses 20 and 24 of the same chapter. In Mark 11, Jesus cursed a fig tree that had no fruit even though it was not the season for fruit. Later, when his disciples questioned him about that, Jesus responded that they were to have faith. I believe that he was saying to them that if they would have faith in what God can do, that they could bear fruit/blossom even when it seemed impossible to do so. The little daffodil pictured above was not planted in the most friendly or conducive of spots, but it was doing it’s best to show its beauty in that pot. It was a reminder to me to stop grumbling and complaining and saying, “I’ll do it later when things are better.” I need to do my best according to God’s grace in the situation that I am in.

The second lesson came from another little daffodil that was growing “all alone”. It looked that way, at least. And I felt sorry for it. However, when I looked around, I discovered that it really was not alone. Separated a bit, but not alone. (See the second picture.) It reminded me that although I’ve been ‘socially distanced’ from many of my friends for months and months, and separated by miles from others, I am not really alone. God, whom I cannot see is right beside me, and there are others nearby, if I will only look around and reach out from my little corner.

So, what so we do when we are feeling alone, overwhelmed by circumstances? We remind ourselves that we are never alone. I often walk around to the west side of Matthew Knight Arena, and if the sun is in the right spot in the evening sky, I will see the reflection that you will see in the picture below. It reminds me that God is always with me in every spot, even the reflection in a window! And I am reminded of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.”

My fourth lesson this weekend came from a sign in a restaurant window. Here in Eugene as in most of your towns and cities, restaurants have been closed. Things are slowly beginning to open up here in Eugene, and this restaurant wanted folks to know that.

But, you know, the one thing that has brought much comfort to me throughout this whole pandemic, is that our Lord is never “closed”! Psalm 121:3 assures us that God, our Protector never sleeps! He is always “open for business”! Jeremiah 33:3 tells us that God says, “Call on me, and I will answer and tell you great and incomprehensible things that you do not know.”

So, my outtake from this weekend was that circumstances and situations may look less than ideal sometimes, and that although I may feel alone sometimes, in fact, I am never alone! My God and Savior loved me so much that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins so that I may have fellowship and eternal life with Him! He loved me THAT MUCH and He is not going to leave me nor be unavailable to me when I call out to Him.

Near Though We Cannot See Him

Yesterday morning, as I sat at my table by my front window and ate breakfast, I so much enjoyed watching the birds on the other side of the glass. We were only about 6′ apart, but they could not see me because of the glare of the morning sun against the glass. Yet, if I moved suddenly, they would see that movement and fly away in fright. I could not help but think that I had filled the feeder that was over this bird’s head, and I would surely scare away any larger bird or animal that would come to harm them. Yet, they did not know that, and even were afraid of me.

That led me to think how my Heavenly Father, though I cannot see Him, is even nearer than I was to that bird. He is spirit and we cannot see Him, but He is there.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always.”

Hebrews 13:5 reminds us that He said, “I will never leave you nor abandon you.”

Psalm 16:8 says that He is at my right hand, and Psalm 73:23 tells me that He is holding my right hand.

Philippians 4:5 tells us that “the Lord is near.”

This past year has been one of incredible challenges for all of us. On top of the pandemic and social unrest, many of us have had to deal with illness, injuries, death, betrayals, and a multitude of other crises. The pandemic and social distancing have left many of us feeling very alone and isolated. So, it is good to remember that we are never alone. The same God who created the universe and gave us life is near to us; He is with us and will never, ever leave or abandon us. He is near, protecting us, and providing for us in the same way that I do for my little birds, except that His protection and provision are without fault or fail.

Now that is a track in the sand that I can follow without doubt!

JOY

In my younger years, I remember being taught that JOY came from putting Jesus first in your life, then Others, then Yourself. J-O-Y! I saw this principle worked out just this past Friday.

I had a business appointment near the mall here, so after I finished, I decided to go to the mall to see if I could find a pair of shoes. All of my winter dress shoes were starting to fall apart. I needed something with a slight heel but not too high. However, I did not have much money to spend. Shortly after I entered the mall, I saw an employee of Bath & Body standing at their entrance handing out bags and letting people know of their sales that day. I stopped and asked her if there was a shoe store in the mall, and she said, “Unfortunately, no.” She invited me into her store, but I explained to her that money was tight and that I couldn’t purchase any of their merchandise that day. I went and looked at J.C. Penney’s and the shoes ranged from $60-90. I could not afford that! I walked back out into the mall, and as I passed her again, she suggested that I go to Macys because they often had good clearance sales. So, I did that and sure enough, I found a pair for 74% off-$19.96!! And they were exactly what I wanted.

I had to go by Bath & Body on my way out of the mall, and that young lady was still at their entrance. She recognized me and asked if I’d found any. I told her yes and about the big discount. Never once after the first contact had she asked me again to purchase anything in her store. However, I decided to ‘reward’ her selflessness and treat myself, so I entered the store and bought two items of their merchandise-both purchases totally less than the full price of the cheapest shoes at Penney’s or Macys!

It reminded me of the Biblical teaching, “The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6) And Jesus taught his disciples that, “Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

God will see and bless when you put others’ welfare above your own.

And to finish the day….that evening, I received an email that told me that I would be receiving a full refund for a $119.96 purchase that I had made a few weeks ago. It was a purchase that I really couldn’t afford, but I did it in support of some others, and it was something that I also got a lot of enjoyment from so I do not want you to think that I did it only for them. However, the thing is that although I shared what I’d done with a friend and expressed my opinion that it was a little pricey, I did not ask for a refund!

Somehow, I think it all fit together. You just cannot out-give the Lord!!

Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31 in answer to someone’s query as to what was the most important commandment, “The most important is Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”

Jesus-Others-You= JOY!

One Last Group of Memories

I would like to share with you one last group of memories of my time with the basketball program at Sunrise Christian Academy.

  1. I will tell you how it all started-how I became the boys’ biggest fan. One day in the fall of 2014, I looked at the boys in my class who were basketball players, and I thought how, right or wrong, basketball was the most important thing in their lives. I also thought how their parents were all at least a thousand miles away so unable to watch their sons play. That weekend there was going to be a tournament at Campus High School which was only 5-minutes from my house, so I decided to attend. I spent Saturday dashing back & forth between games getting my wash done for the week, but it was worth it. Then, Monday morning in class, one of the players, GJ, said to me, “Miss Richards, thank you for coming to my games Saturday. You know my mom can’t be here, but it was almost like she was, knowing that you were there to watch me play.” From that day forward, I never missed a game if there was any way for me to be there. Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Kansas City, Pratt, Grand Island- I was there. I grew to love it, but it was always especially for the boys whose parents couldn’t be there.
  2. That same young man told me another Monday morning, “Miss Richards, you made it hard on us this morning!” I honestly had no idea what he was talking about and asked, “Who? Me? What did I do?” Then, the story came out. I’d shared with their coach on Friday that the group of players were not only talking in class, they were distracting others. He said that he’d take care of it, and he did. That Monday morning, he’d taken the talkers to Wichita State University, and they’d had to do laps up and down the bleachers! They were slightly slow learners, and on another day after another incident, one of them asked me, “Miss Richards, do you have to tell Coach everything that goes on in this class?” I responded, “It depends on the day; it depends on the day.” LOL!
  3. Then, I can’t help but remember the day that I sat with two players and talked about the sign that I had on my bulletin board which read, “God is the only reason that I’ve made it this far.” I shared with them my testimony, and one of them shared how it was true for him, too, because his mother had told him how he had almost died as a toddler, but God saved him. And that reminds me also, of the very first class that I had, and we read together Pistol Pete Maravich’s autobiography. We got behind and did not finish the book, so on the last day I showed them a video of Pete sharing his testimony of how he made it to the NBA and got his gold ring, but still his life was empty. That was when, 17 years after someone had shared the plan of salvation with him, he got down on his knees and gave his life to Christ. He explained very clearly what he needed to do and the difference that it had made in his life. To my knowledge, those four young men are still not believers, but I pray that even if it takes 17 years, or longer, that they will one day remember Pete’s testimony and do what he did.
  4. Then there was the time that I arrived at school very early, as usual. It was about 6am and still dark. I parked behind what we called the 800-building. As I got out of my car, I could hear boys’ voices over in the fields near me, but it was too dark to see who it was or what they were doing. It frightened me a bit because our superintendent had been telling us in faculty meeting that very often people were trying to break into our buildings. I ran for the building door and my classroom, and locked myself in. Later in the day, I said to one of the players when he came to class, “I really needed you for protection this morning!” I told him what had happened, and he started laughing. “Miss Richards, that was us! We were running laps over on the softball field!” That was also the time that I began to learn that our basketball players very often had early morning workouts and training! When they came in the front door of the school at 7:55am, that was NOT their first trip to school that morning!

There are so many more memories, but I am going to bring this series to a close. It is good to remember, but there is also a time that it is time to move on. The Lord has called me to a new place and ministry. I am still in touch with many of those young men, and they continue to bless my lives, but now it is time to make new memories.

Trusting God

The Bible is full of verses that tell us to trust God. The one that come to my mind immediately is Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord will all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” There will be many times in our lives when we are put in situations where we must trust God. During those times, our enemy the devil delights in throwing darts of doubt at our minds. The Bible tells us to use our shield of faith to resist those darts. (Ephesians 6: 16) Earlier today, it helped me to write down a list of the reasons that I can trust God with the questions, hurts, difficulties, and trials of my life, and so I am sharing my list with you. I know you may be able to add to this list, and I welcome your comments and feedback so that we can build a fuller list. But for starters, here is my list of reasons that I know that I can trust God:

  1. God is love. He doesn’t just love (as a verb); He is love! He loved me so much that He gave his only son to die for me that I might have salvation & eternal life. (John 3:16) If there was room for only one reason & verse, this one alone would suffice. I can trust God because He is 100% love!
  2. God is also powerful; He can do anything. Jeremiah 32:17 tells us, “Oh, Lord God! You yourself made the heavens and earth by your great power and with your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for you!” Jesus himself told us that all things are possible with God. (Matthew 19:26) I can trust God because there is nothing that He cannot do! To put it in terms of comparing God’s power to my own limited power, Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God can do “exceedingly abundantly” above all that we ask of Him, or are even able to think that He could/might do! I can trust God because He has the power to do even greater things that I have the ability to imagine!
  3. God cannot do wrong. Job 34:10 tells me, “Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding, it is impossible for God to do wrong and for the Almighty to act unjustly. Sometimes, people I know have made wrong choices and/or made mistakes. If it happens often enough, I have begun to not trust them. However, I can trust God because what He does is always right and good; God will never make a mistake! Sometimes, I may not understand what He is doing or why He is doing it, but I can trust that it is the right thing to do! And in the end, He will work all things together for good. (Romans 8:28)
  4. God is a compassionate God. This really goes along with love, but I like to list it separately. Psalm 103:13-14 tells me that “As a father has compassion on his children so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows what we are made of remembering that we are dust.” This comforts me because we live in a world where kindness and compassion seem to be found in decreasing amounts. I can trust God because I know that He knows my weaknesses, and He will show me compassion.
  5. God keeps His promises. The Bible has many, many references to things that God promises to us, but I know people in my world who make a lot of promises. Yet, I rarely see one fulfilled. God, however, keeps His word. 2 Timothy 2:13 tells us that “God is faithful; He cannot deny himself.” Hebrews 10:23 also tells that, “He who promised is faithful.” I can trust God because anything that He has promised to do, He will do it. He keeps His Word!
  6. I can trust God because He never sleeps, and is never too busy. I have some friends in my life who I trust as much as anyone of us here on earth can be trusted. However, sometimes they do sleep at night, and during the day, they are sometimes busy. I might need them desperately, but I cannot reach them at certain times. God, however, never sleeps (Psalm 121:4) and when we call on him, He has promised to answer (Jeremiah 33:3). I can trust God because He will always be ready, willing, and able to listen to me.
  7. I can trust God because He is everywhere. There is no where that I can be, that He will not be there. (Proverbs 15:3, Jeremiah 23:24, Psalm 139:7-10) There were some people in Wichita that I could trust to help me…if they were awake and not busy, and in once case, especially, I know that at times he set aside his own work to help me. However, he is in Wichita as I write this; he is not here. He, like the rest of my human friends, is limited by time and space. God is not. He is everywhere. I can trust Him to be present wherever I am with all of His knowledge and power.

It has helped me to make this list to refer to. I hope it will help you to be assured that when God says to trust Him as He does in Proverb 3:5, we have many reasons that we can do that!

More Memories

Some of you are enjoying my reminiscing; so am I! So here are 5 more.

  1. Last year my classroom was on the mezzanine up over the old gym at Sunrise. I enjoyed interacting with the players as they were headed to their coach’s office or out the side door to their bus. I really had fun asking them if they knew why the basketball baskets had backboards. Without exception they were like me and had never thought about it. I learned that question and it’s answer while helping a player do research for a paper the year before. So, let me tell you….originally, baskets did not have backboards and gym were set up just like the old gym at Sunrise. The fans stood around on the balconies and watched the game down below. Some of the longer-armed fans would reach down and block shots, swatting the ball away from the basket. When officials could not convince schools to police their own behavior, they influenced the powers that be to require a backboard behind the basket…to prevent people from interfering with the players shots! I had the most fun when I told some players about it when we were actually standing up on the balcony and they could ‘practice’ knocking balls away. With the long-armed young men we had/have at Sunrise, we could have prevented every opponent from scoring entirely!!
  2. Another memory that I have always occurred in the spring after the basketball season was over. I’d be up at school to tutor or for some other reason, and I’d walk into the new gym. It would be dark and silent. Occasionally , as if placed there by some artist, there would be one lone basketball lying on the floor somewhere. It always made me feel so sad. But then one day towards the end of summer vacation, I would go up to school, and as soon as I walked in the front door, I would hear it! The sound of basketballs bouncing on the gym floor or off the rim or backboard! That was always sweet music to my ears!! Most usually, I detoured from wherever I had been headed, to the gym and just stood there and watched and listened once again. So, you can imagine that if I felt that way after 3 months, how I am feeling now after 11 months!
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2019.jpg
  1. Once in awhile, I needed to go to the weight room to find someone. I was never sure what I should do as I walked into that room full of men and young men. So, I usually fell back on my college days habit, and I would yell, “Woman on the floor!” The looks on the younger boys’ faces were priceless! It was clear that they had no idea what I was talking about or doing, and some looks seemed to suggest a certain amount of insanity on my part. LOL!
  2. I also remember several times that I sat with the players of one team while another team played. You gain a whole new perspective on a game when you watch it with a basketball player! I miss it!!
KODAK Digital Still Camera
  1. During my years at Sunrise, I had opportunities to tutor several young men to help them with their classwork, and also to prepare for taking the ACT. Nothing gave me greater happiness than to hear the results of their test scores and know that this time they had passed! There are young men in college today and also playing at the professional level because I was able to help them with their studies. One young man had taken the ACT four times and was unable to get a high enough score to get admitted to a D-1 school. But we worked every day, and he did it! Others were struggling because English was/is their second language. It means a great deal to me to know that I helped them on their way to success. The gifts some have given me are just, as we say, “the maraschino cherry on top.” I watch them out on the court and my heart swells with pride at what they worked and overcame in order to be where they are now. That is really the real ‘cherry’ to me!

Memories

I’ve alluded to all of the remembering that I’ve been doing recently about my days “with” Sunrise Christian Academy basketball. I’ve made a list of the memories that first pop up in my mind. There are 33 bullets on that list, so far! However, you are safe-I am not going to share all 33 with you here. You’ve already read about three of them here and on Facebook recently, so only 30! LOL! No, not really. I would like to share 5 with you, though.

The first one I will share happened seven years ago this very day. I drove down to Oklahoma City for an evening game on that Friday evening, spent the night, and then watched two SCA games the next day before going to an OU (Oklahoma University, not to be confused with UO, University of Oregon!) game that Saturday afternoon to watch Buddy Hield play. (Honestly, I really had no idea at that point who Buddy was; I was just going along with the crowd. Now I wish I’d paid more attention to the game.) My memories, though, of that weekend are from when I heard foul language flow across the gym earlier that day from the mouth of the opposing team’s coach. What made that particularly troubling to me is that we were playing another Christian private school. For privacy, I will not mention the name of the school, but I will tell you that ‘God’ was a part of their school/team name. I was shocked, and more so as I saw that our players were struggling against a team that was playing ‘dirty’ ball. You could just feel an oppressive atmosphere in the gym. So, at halftime, I decided to pray for our team. They were down at the half, and as they were running down the tunnel next to where I was sitting to go to the locker room, I hollered down to our point guard, “I’m praying for you!” And I did pray. I prayed for God to help our players continue to persevere and play as they had been taught to, in a way that would honor God. And for the first and only time, I asked God to help our boys win this game. I reasoned, “Both teams are carrying your name, Lord, but only one team is honoring you. The other team is, in fact, profaning your name. Lord, will you help Sunrise win?” When the second half started, our boys began to narrow the deficit. I felt like I could feel a different atmosphere in the gym. And when the final buzzer sounded, Sunrise was ahead!! We won!! Later, during the next game, I sat with one of the players on the Elite team who had played in the first game. I told him what had happened and what I had done. He told me that he, too, felt a different atmosphere in the gym second half!! My first Sunrise basketball memory, and I will never forget it!

Second, I’ll always remember the day that I was given a retirement gift-my own SCA jersey!! It is not possible that they could have given me anything better! I have worn it, and will continue to wear it, and it is entirely possible that I will leave word to be buried in it!

Another special memory happened last year. I was talking and joking with a student after a game and someone took our picture. The man asked my name and what was my position at the school. I told him, but had no idea that I and the student were going to end up on the front page of the Wichita Eagle the next day!

Speaking of positions, the fourth memory that I want to share with you happened during practices. My final year at Sunrise, I began to go over some days to watch our teams practice. I totally enjoyed sitting there watching them. When it began to be really interesting was when recruitment season opened, and college recruiters were also there to watch the practices. I’ll admit to being curious about who was there, but in the beginning did not dare to approach them. (I had not yet been on the front page of the Wichita Eagle, yet! LOL!) But I soon learned that they are an extroverted friendly bunch. The funniest time was when one came up to me, introduced himself, and asked what my position with the program was. Caught off guard, I am not sure now what I said. It was probably a mixture of “just an old English teacher” and “biggest fan”. After that, if I recognized the school name on their shirt, and had some talking point, I would approach them and introduce myself. I did not dare to do that to Bill Self, though. Haha! I did hate that I missed Tom Izzo, however. After the recruiters moved on, I began to use the time to sit and pray for the young men. It was a special season for me.

My fifth memory to share with you today comes from the many games that I attended when I was trying to get good photos for the players. In that process, I gained many many photos of referees’ backs! I learned that the perfect vantage point for me was also the perfect spot for them! One time when one of the men recognized me from other games and came over to chat before the game started, I laughed and asked him if we could come to some agreement as to where he was going to stand. He laughed but would not commit to one spot. LOL! Then, I remember the frustration of getting my camera lined up for a dunk only to have the player shoot a 3-pointer, or vice-versa. I cannot remember which one it was now, but I do remember asking him to give me some kind of sign as to which he was preparing to do so I’d be ready for it. It was one of those times that I got a heavy sigh, a chuckle, and a “Miss Richards!” response. Haha!

OK! That’s it for tonight! I may share some more later, in bite-sized chunks so they don’t get too long. I hope you will enjoy my reminiscing; I’m loving it!!

Plan B

Sometimes God speaks to us in the most unusual ways! Awhile ago, I went to McDonalds to get my lunch. I have their app on my phone, and I have used it numerous times already. However, today for some reason, when I got to the restaurant and parked in the ‘pick up’ slot, the app and/or my phone would not connect to the Internet or phone service, so I could not complete my order. (I’ve had no problems with the app before, and no problems with my phone before or after.) So, I backed out of the slot and proceeded to the drive-through lane. As I approached the kiosk to order my meal, I saw the advertisement for Shamrock shakes. I LOVE shamrock shakes! They had not appeared on my app’s menu so I did not know that they were available. I still have no idea what was going on with my app and/or phone, but I was thrilled that by going to Plan B, I was able to order a shamrock shake rather than a Coke. I can order a Coke any ole day!

As I said last night, I have been missing my basketball world a great deal this winter, and that has led me to do a lot of reminiscing. One memory that I have is when I was told at the beginning of one school year that my classroom was going to be next to the cafeteria. I “just knew” that it wouldn’t work out because it would be so noisy. In fact, it was not noisy at all, and through the years that I was in that location, it afforded me many opportunities to join the international students & basketball players for breakfast, lunch, or supper. And many other times when I did not eat with them, but I would walk around and greet them, or chat with them briefly. For me, that room ended up being the very best spot in the whole school! None better!! Plan B was indeed the best for me!

Two illustrations of why you need to keep an open mind and trust what the Lord is doing.

Psalm 147:5 “Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite.” The Lord may interrupt our Plan A because He has something so much better in store for us-His Plan!! B is Better!!!

What I’ve learned from basketball players

I am missing my basketball world, coaches and players, a great deal these days. I miss the camaraderie that I have had with them throughout the last 7 years of my life. They have encouraged, comforted, and inspired me. Today, I have been thinking a lot of all that I have learned from them. I would have to write a whole book to share all that I have seen and learned! I have read multiple posts on social media about how we don’t need athletes in our lives, basically implying that athletes have nothing positive to offer us by their lives and work, and especially this is so when the going gets rough as it has this past year. However, I disagree because I have learned a great deal from athletes, specifically basketball players, concepts and challenges that are Biblical and could help us greatly to overcome times like 2020 and 2021. Years ago, I prepared the small poster pictured below and hung it on the wall of my classroom. I would like to discuss each of those points with you.

  1. Practice makes perfect. LOTS of practice makes perfect. Every successful basketball player that I know spends hours a day practicing the skills that they want to be good at. Not one of them was born with NBA-ready skill. They practiced and learned and improved every skill that they are good at. While the Bible does not specifically tell us to practice (as in practicing to get better at it) the fruit and skills that we should exhibit as Christians, it does tell us in 1 Timothy 4:15 to “practice these things [the gift given to you by God]…so that your progress may be evident to all.” Progress would indicate to me that you have been doing the things over and over until you are getting better at doing them. In Hebrews 5 & 6, Paul talks about leaving elementary things behind and going on to maturity. That implies to me learning and practice. Jesus himself told us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and that involves teaching and practicing the skills that we want to have as Christians. When we become a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, and he will help us learn and grow in the use of the fruit of the Spirit and other qualities and skills that we need to have as Christians, but none of us just wake up one morning miraculously enabled to do any of them. Forgiving, gratitude, patience, love are all things we need to learn to do well. My own example is that I have learned to be a more thankful person as I have consciously practiced doing it over the last year or so. It is much easier to do now than when I first started. So, yes, practice makes perfect; LOTS of practice makes perfect!
  2. “It’s hard!” is no excuse. I have seen basketball players push themselves to the limits in conditioning and training so that they might get stronger and improve. In fact, back in Sunrise Christian Academy, they have made it their theme. They call it the Exit Zone. In other words, it’s only when you exit out of what is comfortable for you, only then will you begin to improve. In fact, usually “It’s hard is necessary to make any real progress in any area of life. The Bible teaches us that in several places that life will not be easy, but that in the trials and difficulties, we will grow and mature. Romans 5:3-5 tells us to “rejoice in our afflictions because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.” Not only is “It’s hard!” not an excuse, it is actually necessary! Over and over again in my own life, I have seen how I have learned the most through my difficulties, and I have heard so many others share the same testimony. Jesus himself told us that in this world we will have trouble. (John 16:33) However, he also told us to not be afraid of the trouble because he has conquered the world, and later the apostle Paul told us that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) So, yes, not only is “It’s hard!” no excuse, it is often necessary.
  3. You keep playing even if you are losing-there is still hope for a win. I have been amazed through the years at the effort that basketball coaches and players will put in, even to the very last second of a game, trying to make a comeback. As Christians, it is also important for us to have this mindset as well. Things look bad now? It appears that you’re going to lose? No hope for a win this time? NOT SO! That is because God is “able to do above and beyond all we ask or think according to the power that works in us.” (Eph 3:20) God asked the question of Jeremiah in Jer. 32:17, “Is anything too difficult for me?” Jesus gave the answer in Luke 1:37 and Matthew 19:26 when he assured us that “nothing is impossible with God.” So, we should never give up even when things are looking grim. With our Heavenly Father, there is always the possibility of a win! So, yes, you keep playing even if you are losing-there is still hope for a win.
  4. You keep playing even if here is no hope of winning this time. You do your best until the last buzzer sounds. I did not experience it much at Sunrise Christian Academy because of the quality of their teams; it did not happen often that a Sunrise team lost by 40-50 points. But I had opportunity to observe other teams that were in that situation. However, never even once did I see a team give up and quit the game because they were so badly behind. They played their hardest and best to the very end even though their situation was humiliating. I’m reminded of King David praying for his ill son in 2 Samuel 12:16-24. He did not give up until there was no breath left in his son. But when his son had died, then he got up and ate and comforted his wife. I believe that should be our attitude. We place our hope in God, but if things do not turn out as we had prayed for and hoped for, we still trust our loving Heavenly Father, and we place what we cannot understand in His hands as well. (Proverb 3:5)

I learned through a basketball game years ago that there are more things at work than we can understand sometimes because God can see the larger picture. I remember watching a game where our Sunrise Select team lost. I had been sitting with some of the players of our Elite team. Later, I met one of the mothers of one of the players on the opposing team. I congratulated her on their win. She then told me with excitement that she could barely contain how much that win meant to her son’s team. She told me how his team had had a losing season the previous season, and then this year for their very first game they had to face Sunrise Christian Academy! They knew the odds were against them winning (In their eyes, it was a David vs. Goliath situation), but they played their best, and they won!! After parting from the mother, I sought out one of the young men that I had been sitting with and told him what I’d learned. I told him, “Isaiah, that win meant everything to them and gave them hope. Sunrise, well, we’ll survive the loss and go on to win again.” That was the day that I learned that God sees the bigger picture, and we need to do our best to the very end, but trust the end results to Him.

God’s Forgiveness is Awesome!

I’m going to open my heart today and share with you a not-so-pretty part of it, and then the lesson that I’ve learned.

Recently, someone did not follow through on a promise made to me. I could not even call this person a friend; he is just someone that I have become a little acquainted with through social media. He is a photographer, and I asked him for a favor, and he promised to do it. However, he did not keep the promise, and I became angry. I wrote an angry message to him privately on Instagram. However, after several hours, I became convicted about my anger, and left him a message admitting that I was wrong to say what I had said, and I apologized. After a day or so, I did not see a “seen” notification, so I investigated further. It appears that he has blocked me! I did however find his email address on his website and sent him an email putting, “I apologize, I was wrong” in the subject line. I feel like he will at least see that even if he does not read my email.

As I confessed my sin last night to my Lord, and prayed about the whole situation, it occurred to me that this young man is reacting much as one would expect. I cannot really blame him although I do hope that he will accept my apology and forgive me. Then, as I reflected on the difficulty that I am having to make sure that I can reach him with my apology, I began to realize once again what an awesome God I serve!

When I became convicted of my sin, I did not need to prepare any kind of gift or sacrifice, nor did I need to go to a temple anywhere to approach my God. I simply bowed my head in the spot that I was, and asked for God’s forgiveness. This was possible because Jesus became the sacrifice for my sin when he died on the cross.

Colossians 2:14 says, “He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. “

Isaiah 53:5 also says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed

Hebrews 4:16 adds, ” Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we many receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”

And 1 John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

ISN’T THAT AMAZING? That the Almighty God would love us so much that not only is He willing to forgive our sins against Him, but He personally made a way that that would even be possible!! AMAZING GRACE! is right!! I have learned anew the awesomeness of God’s grace and love!!