preparation, Spiritual Growth

Strength for the Journey

“Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” Isaiah 41:10

Hard work pays off. No one knows that better than those in the pursuit of success, especially high school and college graduates.

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An illustration of how God empowers us: My husband and me on a cruise to Bimini in 2013.

Lately, I have been noticing a lot of sentimental posts and pictures from recent grads on social media. I know that feeling of utter relief and satisfaction. Even though I haven’t been in school for quite some time, I still remember all those hours I spent reading, researching, writing, and discovering formulas for algebraic expressions like it was yesterday.

I thought those days would never end. There were times when I was tempted to quit…and there were times when I did, mentally. In a world where some things are dictated by time—like a four-year degree—it’s hard to escape the pressures of completing each semester with a passing grade. No one wants to arrive late to success and the real world, but in most cases, some people get left behind because they failed a few courses.

That can be discouraging, and this is also something I know full well. I didn’t graduate college with my class. It took me an additional three years to finish because of lack of preparation, concentration, and motivation. I almost gave up because I could not deal with the challenges (math was not my strong suit).

One Sunday morning, I attended church service and heard a guest pastor say, “Just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s impossible.” As simple as that sounded, I thought his declaration was profound. I repeated those words in my head in the latter years of my collegiate journey until it was time for me to cross the stage and receive my degree. I was empowered by them because they confirmed two biblical truths for me: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” and “Nothing is impossible with God” (Philippians 4:13, Luke 1:37).

The former verse was a direct quote from Paul, the apostle who was thanking the Philippians for their generosity. He was also sharing with them how he had been able to survive the worst and best parts of his journey because he knew he would be rewarded for his labor when it was all said and done.

The angel who had just told Mary that her cousin had conceived a son in her old age spoke the latter verse. Mary was still grappling with the idea that she would conceive a son through the Holy Spirit. The angel shared Elizabeth’s pregnancy to assure Mary that God would keep His promise.

Considering that we’re all on a journey, we all need divine encouragement to get us through the hard lessons of faith. Paul did not have a church to fund his missionary trips or a private jet to get him to different parts of the world. He relied on God to meet his physical and spiritual needs. Elizabeth did not have access to expensive fertility treatments to get pregnant right away, but her faith carried her through the ache and the wait.

Therefore, not everything that we desire in this life will come easy. In fact, some of our goals may end up unfulfilled. We need the power of God to endure the grueling process of maturity, but it takes discipline to commit to our spiritual progress or any endeavor in life for that matter.

Just as we graduate when we’ve worked hard and passed all the lessons entailed in our field of study, Scripture states that God will “establish” us after we have “suffered a little while” (or after we have passed life’s tests). As challenging as that sounds, it is refreshing to know that the God who is fully aware of our shortcomings, empowers us to overcome any obstacle.

Whatever challenges you are faced with today as you try to achieve your goals, I pray God gives you strength…and that you readily accept it.

Spiritual Growth

Going the Distance (and Height)

img1491187210827“You have to go through those mountains and valleys–because that’s what life is: soul growth.” – Wayne Newton

Exactly two weeks ago today, my husband and I drove up the famous Mount Wilson peak in the San Gabriel mountains. We were in California for a few days and my husband was looking for an adventure that he could live to talk about later. I just wanted to get close to the famous landmark that is the Hollywood sign. It didn’t occur to me that I would need to travel 6,000 feet off the ground to accomplish my goal.

As we began to ascend on the rocky, narrow winding path leading to the Mount Wilson Observatory, I looked out my window and down. I instinctively held on to the sides of my seat and pleaded with my husband to turn the car around. “Let’s go back. I don’t want to go up there!” I yelled. He told me to calm down. The nerve of him! Did I mention that I am afraid of heights…and my husband’s driving? He had his foot on the accelerator like one of those speed racers in Fast and the Furious (ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but you get my drift).

My heart was racing and my breathing was short. I couldn’t take it, but my husband kept going…and thank God he did. When we had finally reached the point of no return, which was an expansive parking lot filled with cars, I stopped panicking. I rushed out the car as if it was some sort of gas chamber and was surprised to notice that the air seemed much cooler and fresher up the mountains than it did on the ground.

Unfortunately, we were still a little too far from the sign (it was east from where we were), but I was over it once I caught the view of the city and the other mountains. It was beautiful! Not to mention the lavender sky with the splashes of orange right above the horizon and the gleaming Pacific Ocean. The sun was setting and it was casting a nice glow over the peak from which we stood.

I felt calm. It was as if the beauty of my surroundings had me in a trance, making me forget all of my fears and worries.

My experience made me think of Lot, Abraham’s stubborn nephew who refused to go up the mountains when the angels of the Lord instructed him to do so. It is likely that the angels pointed in the direction of the mountains in the west where Abraham was. But Lot chose to settle in the little town of Zoar. His reasoning? “I will die up the mountains!” he told the angels. He was afraid, which kept him from obeying God.

For years, Lot had been sinning against God. He left his greed unchecked and that caused him to take the “best land” for himself. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having property and wealth unless they keep you from walking in God’s will. Abraham walked in God’s will, which is why he did not end up in Lot’s predicament in Sodom. The path that Lot chose led him to greed, sexual immorality, drunkenness and eventually incest (although his daughter’s initiated that sin).

The angels were trying to get him back on the right track, but his pride would not let him comply. Having everything to having nothing only to have to depend on his uncle, Abraham…that was the ultimate humble pie. Lot did not want any servings of that. No, thank you. “Let me settle in Zoar,” he said. When he was finally ready to go up the mountain, it appears that he went east of Zoar to the region of Moab, opposite from where Abraham was and where the angels sent him in the beginning.

In retrospect, Lot missed out on an opportunity to experience God’s unfailing love, including a divine transformation. Ultimately, his unwillingness to confess his sins, repent and obey God led to his demise as well as his family’s. God was gracious enough to spare his life, but there was no way God was going to beg Lot to go higher and dwell in His mountain. That was Lot’s choice to make, just like it is ours. Unlike Lot, we have to be willing to go higher in order to grow. Salvation is simply not enough to transform us.

I can’t say for sure that God led me to the mountain away from the Hollywood sign (which has come to symbolize fame, wealth, and status), but I know for certain that nothing is ever wasted with Him. Going up that mountain afraid and seeing God’s creations from atop caused me to be in awe of Him, which I probably would have missed if I was busy taking selfies next to a man-made sign.

It also taught me that no matter how scary the journey of life gets, God always has my best interest at heart. His purpose is always to take me (and you) to new heights in Him…for His glory!

preparation, Spiritual Growth

The Appointed Time

 A few years ago, my husband and I, including our cousins, missed our flight to the Dominican Republic. We pleaded with the airline to let us check in since our plane had not yet arrived, but they would not budge. I was appalled by their lack of grace. The nerve of them!

Okay, okay, the nerve of us. We knew the rules—arrive two hours before departure, no refunds for a missed flight unless you have insurance (does anyone really pay extra for that?), bags should be checked online to save time at the airport, etc. We broke all of those rules.

Needless to say, our designated chauffeur was my sister whose car had been giving her trouble all week! We should’ve just called a cab, which we ended up doing anyway because my sister’s car stopped on the road. We wasted half an hour pushing the cursed vehicle to the nearest gas station, ten minutes calling other family members and friends to pick us up, and another ten minutes waiting for a taxi because those family members and friends did not pick up their phone. We ended up spending more money (for cab fare and new plane tickets) than we wanted to all because we failed to prepare and manage our time effectively.

When the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of the last days and His return, He revealed to them that there would be wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution of Christians and other tragedies. He also told them that His return would be unexpected. He said, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 27:37-39, New Living Translation).

In true Jesus fashion, He backed up His response with a parable so that the disciples would not miss the spiritual lesson in His teachings. He told them a story about ten bridesmaids who had an important meeting with the bridegroom. When the bridegroom took too long to show up, the bridesmaids fell asleep. They were awakened by a loud announcement, “The bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!” All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Five of them, who are labeled as foolish in the Bible, asked the other five for some oil. “Our lamps are going out,” they said. It’s important to note that these lamps were like torches. The others replied, “We don’t have enough. Go buy some for yourselves.” So the five foolish bridesmaids went out to buy some. But while they were away, the bridegroom showed up. The wise bridesmaids were ushered into a marriage feast and the door was locked behind them. When the other bridesmaids got back, they stood outside asking to be let in. They cried, “Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!” But He replied, “I do not know you!”

It may sound like the bridegroom was being harsh, but He gave them more than enough time to prepare for this meeting. It would have been unfair for Him to accommodate the latecomers since the others did what was required of them.

The five bridesmaids who were considered wise demonstrated their belief in Christ by keeping their lamps burning in a dark environment. The oil in their lamps represented their salvation. The five bridesmaids who were considered foolish had knowledge of Christ and His imminent return, but they did not have a relationship with Him, hence their lack of oil.

Jesus shared this parable with the disciples to teach believers like us the benefits of making the most of the time while we still have it. One way to do that is to let our light shine (or keep our lamps burning) for those who are still in the dark. Jesus was also stressing the importance of preparation. We may be able to make up for missed opportunities, such as an important flight, but we cannot redeem the time we’ve wasted on trivial things on the day of His return.

“Get ready; be prepared!” Ezekiel 38:7 (NLT)

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A compass and a companion

B-17-Jesus-pilot2014 is coming to a close!

I would be remiss if I did not reflect on the lessons that I have learned this year. If I could sum up the past 12 months in one quote, I would borrow the wise words of Thomas Edison: “I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

I didn’t have any goals or resolutions in January. My resolve was to go with the flow. The problem with my course of action is that it did not include an objective. So I was distracted and consumed by what was going on in everyone’s life and trying to act accordingly (often times falling into various sins such as coveting).

Naturally, I was all over the place. I realize now that when you don’t know where you’re going, you either wander (ramble without a definite purpose or objective) or become stagnant (inactive). I found myself in both positions. Some days I wandered aimlessly, going nowhere fast. And other days, I felt stuck. It was depressing to the say the least.

The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 400 years. God was trying to take them somewhere (to the Promised Land), but they were stuck in the past. They lamented:  “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted.” In essence, they were praising their hardships (remember they were enslaved to Egypt) instead of glorifying God for their newfound liberty.

As a result, many of them missed out on an opportunity to enter Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. The generation that was able to inhabit the land became corrupted over time. They forgot about God like their ancestors did and bowed down to other idols. Subsequently, God allowed for King Nebuchadnezzar to deport them to Babylon and hold them captive for 70 years.

In my wilderness experience, I longed for the good old days. King Solomon advised, Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions (Ecclesiastes 7:10).” I get it now. Longing for the past is an indication that you don’t trust God with your future. It also demonstrates your resilience to learn and grow from your downtime. Trust the process of trials because they serve a purpose. 

In my stagnant position, I envied the events going on in my peers’ lives. I was no different from the lame man at the side of the pool. He had been there for 38 years all the while watching others like him get into the water (stirred by an angel from time to time) and become healed from their disabilities.

When Jesus learned that he had been in the same position for such a long time, He asked the man, “Do you want to get well?” If you carefully read the text in John 5:1-9, you will notice that Jesus was not asking the man if he needed help getting into the pool. That’s because Jesus was trying to show him another way to the blessing. Sometimes, what works for others, may not work for you. You have to be open to taking an alternative route, especially if God is leading. Otherwise, you will become stuck in doing the same things over and over, and expecting a different result.

There’s a lesson to be learned in the Israelite’s history. Struggle and Success are one in the same because they can either make you or break you. In the former, you should be humbled by God’s grace. In the latter, you should be humbled by God’s favor. In either case, you should never forget His goodness.

Emotions have a way of robbing us of our memory and leading us astray. They are indeed a bad life compass. In 2015, I am determined to draw near to God when it rains and when the sun shines.

In the final analysis, I will always be in need of His covering; I need shelter from the storm and shade from the heat so that I may always be mindful of His sovereignty. But most importantly, I will always need Him to be my compass and companion on this journey called life.

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You’ve been accepted!

Christian-quotes

I’ve often heard religious leaders repeat the mantra “rejection is simply protection” or “rejection is redirection.”

Every time I hear these expressions, I am immediately reminded of a particular experience when such wise words took on a real meaning for me. Like the time I could not find the funds to cover my tuition at a prestigious private fine arts college in Miami where I aspired to study film. As a result, I ended up enrolling at a community college, transferring to a university (after four years) and graduating with a degree in journalism.

Perhaps that is not the best example since the school did not really reject me. It was my parents who rejected the school and the idea of paying $20,000 plus per year (that did not include books or equipment).

Still, it hurt me until I finally accepted that it was for the best. I saved a lot of money attending a public institution and I learned that I wasn’t as passionate about writing and producing film like I thought I was. I was really attracted to the idea of becoming a successful film writer in Hollywood.

I didn’t deal with much rejection after that. In my former years, things came easy. Whenever I applied to a school, I was accepted. Whenever I applied to a job, I was hired. Whenever I applied for a credit card, I was approved. Easy, peasy.

But these days, things are different. Jobs are competitive, schools are selective, credit cards are manipulative (you have to be very careful and discerning with those) and life is a tougher teacher when you become an adult.

Recently, I applied to several jobs. I was called for interviews for three of them and moved on to the next steps. I prayed, mustered up as much confidence as I could and sold myself to the best of my ability. The hiring managers seemed impressed and assured me that they would be in contact in a week.

After several weeks went by, I had a gut feeling that I would not be hired by neither employers. I was right. I received one disappointing e-mail after another (all in one week): “Thank you for your interest with [insert company name here]. After careful consideration, you have not been selected.” I even received a letter from a school that I attended three years ago but took a break from. I had decided to re-enroll last month so that I could go back and finish the Master of Art program. However, when I tore open the letter, it read: “We regret to inform you that you have not been selected.” Ouch! That hurts! And those aforementioned mantras could offer no sense of relief or hope to me. I felt like I was down for the count.

After all, it was just a few years ago when my husband and I learned that the deal fell through on a house we were trying to purchase. Prior to that, we lost our unborn baby. Surely, rejection letters from a potential employer or school are mild in comparison, but nonetheless, they are some damaging triggers.

Hearing you have not been selected, chosen, picked, favored, etc. every day can remind you of experiences in the past when you felt like a failure, and ultimately take a toll on your confidence.

Thank God, He says otherwise: “But I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” (John 15:16).

Did you catch that? God does not want to lead us to a high-paying job where we are likely to become reckless in our spending, arrogant, compromising, and miserable. At the end of our lives, none of that will contribute to our legacies and that’s what God wants to protect us from. Quite simply, He wants to give us a blessing that “brings wealth, without painful toil for it” (Proverbs 10:22).

In the grand scheme of rejection, God truly wants to redirect us to our purpose — that unique assignment that will bring glory to His name, allow us to make our mark on this world and outlive us for many generations to come.

We may not have been selected for that job position or degree program that would have enabled us to build our careers. But rest assured, we were created by a loving God who has written to us 66 letters of acceptance and promises to lead us to our purpose and fulfillment if we will just trust His route. The way of the world will get us lost anyway.

Spiritual Growth

A Divine Potential

remodeling

I admire people who can make something out of seemingly nothing or, who find value in another person’s trash. Sadly, I am not one of those individuals. You may never find me making crafts or shopping for used items at some yard sale. Call me spoiled or uneconomical, but I take pleasure in purchasing quality items and paying the full price (unless there’s a sale).

However, lately, I have noticed a lot of DIY projects on Pintrest and Instagram that has got me feeling like I missed out on one of God’s greatest giveaways – an abundance of creativity. Apparently, my friends have a lot of it to spare.

One gal pal in particular found four old, broken chairs behind a restaurant. She loaded them up in her car and took them home since she was in need of a dining set. She took the seats apart, sowed new fabric onto them, sanded the wooden frames and painted them gold. After attaching the seats back to the bodies, she had brand-new fancy looking chairs to call her own. What I would have considered a lost cause, she deemed priceless, figuratively and literally.

It dawned on me that when she discovered the chairs, she didn’t just see a big mess; she saw potential just as God did when He created the world.

Contrary to the Big Bang Theory, the book of Genesis makes it clear that God created everything and everyone. It states, “In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate” (Genesis 1:1-2).

After God made the skies, land, plants and animals, He decided to create humans. God took dirty, loose soil and made a man. Then he took a bone from man’s rib cage and created the woman (read Genesis 2:7, 21). God was pleased when He looked down at everything He had made. He saw potential in a dark space and created perfection.

Even though much of God’s creation today has been marred by sin, He doesn’t obsess about the broken fragments of our lives. He’s God and He’s pretty creative. According to the author of the Book of Hebrews, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).

Simply put, we are no longer a lost cause because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. And because we are not a lost cause, we shouldn’t interpret difficulties as a sign to quit. In knowing this, we should look at the circumstances in our lives and see them the way God sees them – with potential.

When the Israelites were released from captivity in Babylon by the Persian king, Cyrus, not many of them returned to Jerusalem. The small group who did, found the city in ruins. Under God’s command, Cyrus was committed to restoring the region to its glory days by rebuilding the Temple. The people participated in this project using materials that Cyrus provided them with. Although the task was daunting at times, the people persevered and completed the Temple (read the Book of Ezra).

The damage done in Jerusalem represents the obstacles that we all face in life. It is interesting to note that God did not get entirely involved with the rebuilding project by performing miraculous deeds as in former crises. He let the people do it themselves which is a clear indication that God does not give us success on a silver platter.

Much like rebuilding a city or taking on DIY projects, getting over a divorce, dealing with health issues or overcoming a financial calamity takes a lot of faith, patience and hard work – all of which are developed through the sight of potential.

It’s hard to see the beauty in difficulties, but they are in fact gifts from God. Through them, we are able to grow and propel to greater heights of perfection which can only be found in Christ.

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A life of gratitude is a life well-celebrated

Last week, I was reminded of how faithful God is and how faithless we truly are. I was rushing to work one morning because I overslept and was, subsequently, late. I didn’t get the chance to eat breakfast or stop by the nearest Starbucks for a turkey, egg and cheese muffin. On top of that, I was worrying about some debt that I needed to settle — since my budget was not adding up – and my struggling wardrobe. I couldn’t remember the last time I shopped for some new clothes.

When I arrived to the office, I made a beeline for my desk. I turned on my computer, logged on and began to sort through my e-mail. At some point, I looked up and noticed that one of the editors had walked in. She had a million (or so it seemed) bags in her hands. She placed them on a nearby table and began to unload.

I observed the contents from the bag closely and noticed that there were boxes of donuts, bagels, fruit containers, two tubs of cream cheese, cookies and plastic utensils. Somebody asked her what the occasion was and she simply replied, “A celebration of life.” She called us all over to help ourselves.

My stomach growled as if it were offering a nod of approval. I silently thanked God and rushed over. I grabbed a bagel and some fruit, and thanked this generous colleague of mine. She nodded and said, “I couldn’t have let the day pass without doing something wonderful. Three years ago, on this exact day, I completed my last chemotherapy. I have been cancer-free since.” I was at a loss for words as I looked into her misty eyes. She continued, “God has been generous to me so it’s only right that I be generous to you guys.” “That is really kind of you,” I responded.

Back at my desk, I mused about the beginning of my day. I had been fretting about unimportant things when God has said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25). How easily do I forget! How easily we forget!

In the Book of Matthew (chapter 14) is a riveting account of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 people. They were hungry, but Jesus saw an opportunity to use their physical need as an illustration of a deeper longing in their souls. He multiplied five loaves of bread and two fishes to cater to the multitude. But first, He gave thanks.

Everyone ate till they were full and there were even left overs! Not only was this seemingly impossible feat a miracle; it was also a testament of what God can do when our resources — time, money, talents, efforts — are limited. The disciples saw the task as a challenge and could not fathom the outcome, but Jesus showed them that anything was possible through Him. He also showed them, unbeknownst to them, that He was indeed the “bread of life,” sufficient enough to fulfill our inner hunger:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” John 6:35

Hence, life is more than food and clothes. It is valuable, yet fragile. We can be here today and gone tomorrow after one bad accident or diagnosis. But thank God for His grace. Thank God that was not how the story ended for my ever appreciating co-worker. And thank God she was mindful of and grateful for that. Not because she brought food for me to eat, but because I was reminded, yet again, of God’s providence.

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Found and Remembered

It is truly a blessing to be loved and cared for, to be wanted and most importantly, to be remembered. Some of us just don’t know how good we have it.

I was recently browsing the Broward Sheriff Office’s website for a community event when I came across the link, “Found and Forgotten.” I clicked on it, opening a page with a list of dead people who had been profiled by BSO and had yet to be identified. Each victim was described by race, hair and eye color, height, estimated age and the clothes they had on. Many of them had been found in canals and wooded areas.

It saddened me to see that they were discovered decades ago, but still unclaimed. I wondered if their families had given up searching for them or failed to even notice that their loved ones were missing. Had these victims been disowned by their families prior to their disappearances?

The mystery surrounding their pasts and causes of death was overwhelming. The fact that they were in their early 20’s was alarming, as well. While we may never know their names and stories, it’s good to know that they mattered to God just as we do.

Ironically, those of us in the faith were once lost and dead (in our sins), but thank God, He found and saved us. Even when we have felt alone on our Christian journeys, “The LORD has remembered us” (Psalm 115:12).

Before Paul became an apostle — at the time he was known as Saul of Tarsus — he sinned against God by persecuting the early Christians and having them put to death. He was relentless in destroying the church. “Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).

One day, as Saul was on his way to Damascus in search of more Christians, he saw the light, literally. According to Saul, “A bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 22:6-11).

Saul learned that it was Jesus confronting him in a supernatural way, and he was immediately convicted. He repented from his sins and went about his newfound journey preaching salvation to sinners as Apostle Paul.

Paul’s conversion (and name change) from darkness to light is synonymous to the transition from spiritual death to eternal life, earthly gains to heavenly treasure.

The struggles he encountered throughout his ministry should have caused him to doubt God’s presence in his life, but his answered prayers (protection from a snake bite and deliverance from prison) assured him that he was remembered by God.

The same could be said about Apostle Peter. Before the launch of his ministry, he had a physical encounter with Jesus while fishing with his brother. Christ offered Peter an invitation he could not refuse — He called Peter out of darkness and into the light to become a “fisher of men.”

Instead of living his life in a dead-end trade, Peter now had an opportunity to do something meaningful. Jesus had chosen him to evangelize and enrich the lives of people who were lost and hopeless. Peter faced many challenges on his journey, but God remembered him, too.

Like the loving father in the parable of the prodigal son (read Luke 15), the Lord extended his welcoming arms to Paul and Peter, both of whom were part of a rebellious generation which had left God to pursue worldly wealth. Both men had turned from their hopelessness (darkness) after seeing the light. They had been found and made alive again; they had been remembered on earth and in heaven.

Today, God is still looking for the lost and seeking to make a claim on those who are “dead” in this cold and conflicting world. And for those of us who have been found, but are struggling in our faith walk, God hears us. Rest assured, He remembers us.

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Against all Odds

dice“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” 1 John 5:4

On Father’s Day, just a few hours before the big game, NBA player Chris Bosh addressed the media about his team’s 3-1 deficit in the Finals. One reporter asked him what his attitude was going into a game where the odds were heavily stacked against the Miami Heat (no NBA franchise has ever rallied from such a hole to win the Larry O’Brien trophy). His reponse: “Odds are for people who can’t do it.” The Heat’s star Lebron James added, “Why not us? History is made to broken, why not be part of it.”

That’s a lot of confidence, but unfortunately it was not enough for Bosh, James and their teammates. They succombed to the San Antonio Spurs in a game – best-of-seven series – that many sports analysts and basketball fans described as a “jaw-dropping masterpiece.” But that doesn’t mean they haven’t defied the odds before; they are one of four teams in NBA history to have gone to the finals back-to-back four times or more. That says a lot considering how long the NBA has been around and the amount of teams that compete each year. That is why the Miami Heat can afford to be hopeful in the face of adversity…and so can we.

We have a lot of odds stacked up against us in our own personal endeavors. Research show and tell us that the ratio of Americans who go on to become billionaires are one in 785,166; one in five marriages will end within five years; the chances of a normal, healthy woman getting pregnant are only 20 to 40 percent; the odds of having identical triplets sans fertility treatments is one in every 2 million; the chances of dying from heart disease is more than one in three if your’re a woman; men have one in two chance of developing cancer; and the chances of living to 100 years of age is one in 1,000.

These statistics, including family history and past experiences (whether personal or interpersonal) cement this idea in our minds that we cannot beat the odds. As a result, when faced with challenges while trying to pursue a seemingly unattainable goal, we shrink back in unbelief, become discouraged and give up.

But a careful look at the lives of the saints in the Bible reveal that perfectly flawed humans who find themselves in compromising situations can defeat the odds as long as they trust God.

When Gideon was given the daunting task of delivering the Israelites from the aggressive Midianites the first thing he did was measure his failures against the enemy’s success. Gideon was the “least in [his] father’s house” and came from a weak clan. On the contrary, the Midianites boasted an army as numerous as the sand on the seashore and they always succeeded in their raids against Israel. How could Gideon not be afraid? An angel of God had to encourage him: “God is with you, you mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12).

Gideon was still unsure if it was truly God asking him to combat the Midianites. He said, “Show me a sign that it is You who speak with me” (Judges 6:17). More specifically, Gideon asked God to make a piece of wool wet overnight and He did. He also asked God to keep another piece of fleece dry while making the surrounding dirt wet and God complied. Gideon finally obliged.

He assembled a formidable group of Israelite men but God commanded him to downsize lest Gideon and his crew take credit for the victory. If anyone was and is deserving of all the glory, it is God.

Gideon’s shrunk his troupe from 32,000 to 300 and they went on to defeat the Midianites. Their victory was truly an anomaly to those watching from afar because the Israelites did not boast an impressive resume. They clearly lacked the strength and size to conquer their enemy, but they had the favor of God upon them. And that was more than enough.

Like Gideon, we may become fearful in the face of adversity and begin to doubt God. In desperation, we may even seek out other options to guarantee a win. But God will always remind us, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). He knows our faith is best developed when we have done everything humanely possible only to fall short.

So He does not only use the odds to build our faith; He employs us in our vulnerable state – by His grace – to test our faith and allow us to defeat the odds for His glory.