Denison Forum – One-armed player dominates basketball tournament: Courageous service that changes the world

March Madness, otherwise known as the NCAA basketball playoffs, continues to dominate sports headlines. Meanwhile, another basketball story deserves our attention today.

Hansel Emmanuel plays for Life Christian Academy in Kissimmee, Florida. Over a recent weekend tournament, the sixteen-year-old averaged twenty-five points and eleven rebounds per game. He can dunk and otherwise dominate a game. 

He also has only one arm, having lost his left arm when a wall accidentally fell on him at the age of six. 

Fireball meteor creates a sonic boom 

Living in a fallen world requires courage. For instance, a rare daytime fireball meteor created a massive sonic boom over the UK last weekend; it may have landed in the sea since there were no reports of a meteorite on land. But since several thousand fireball meteors burn through our atmosphere every day, one may be falling near you—or on you

In addition to acts of nature, acts of humans can be horrendous, as with the suspected gunman in the Boulder supermarket shooting who made his first court appearance yesterday. A lawyer told the court that the suspect has an unspecified mental illness; prosecutors vow to file more charges against him. The day before, several memorials were held for Officer Eric Talley, the hero who responded to the shooting on Monday and was killed. 

Acts in the present can lead to the need for courage in the future. For example, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed their historic peace agreement on this day in 1979, a commitment for which Mr. Sadat was assassinated three years later by Muslim extremists. 

Speaking of Egyptians, security forces in Cairo killed seven suspected militants this week. A police officer died and three others were wounded; the suspected terrorist cell was reportedly plotting attacks against the country’s Coptic Christians to coincide with their Easter celebration. 

Meanwhile, a Jewish high school baseball player is being profiled in the New York Times not only for his talent (he is a star pitcher and switch hitter) but for his dedication to the Shabbat (the Sabbath). He will not play games between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, a commitment that may cost him in the future but one which he refuses to change. 

Evangelicals classified as “extremists” 

Courage is especially vital for those who follow Jesus in our post-Christian (some would say anti-Christian) culture.

A Marine Corps officer warned Congress this week against classifying Christians in the military as “religious extremists.” Mike Berry, who is also general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, noted that a US Army Reserve training presentation on religious extremism lists al-Qaeda, Hamas, and the Ku Klux Klan as “groups that use or advocate violence to accomplish their objectives and are therefore rightly classified as extremists.”

However, Berry added that evangelical Christianity and Catholicism were also included in the presentation as “extremists.” He stated, “The Pentagon cannot possibly believe that because Evangelical Christians and Catholics hold fast to millennia-old views on marriage and human sexuality, they should be labeled as ‘extremists’ and deemed unfit to serve.”

And Jack Phillips is back in the news. The Colorado baker who won a partial victory at the Supreme Court three years ago for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple went on trial Monday in yet another lawsuit. This one involves a “birthday” cake for a transgender woman. 

“Antibodies to the virus of indifference” 

Courage has always been at the heart of Christian discipleship. 

When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of God’s Son, she replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She would risk her marriage, her future, and perhaps even her life to obey God’s call. And the world would forever be changed by her courageous service. (For more, please see the video I recorded yesterday: “How to have the power of God to fulfill the purpose of God,” embedded below.) 

Service often requires such courage, but it always makes a difference that transcends its cost. 

In Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis responds to the coronavirus pandemic by applauding healthcare workers who died fighting the disease: “They did not prefer saving their own lives to saving others’. So many of the nurses, doctors, and caregivers paid that price of love, as did priests and religious and ordinary people whose vocation is service. We return their love by grieving for them and honoring them. 

“Whether or not they were conscious of it, their choice testified to a belief: that it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call. That’s why, in many countries, people stood at their windows or on their doorsteps to applaud them in gratitude and awe. They are the saints next door who have awoken something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching. 

“They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves: not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service. 

“What a sign of contradiction to the individualism and self-obsession and lack of solidarity that so dominate our wealthier societies! Could these caregivers, sadly gone from us now, be showing us the way we must now rebuild?” 

When faith comes at a cost 

Are you paying a price to follow Jesus in our fallen world? If not, why not? 

We don’t need to encourage persecution, of course, but we should not be surprised when it comes. Jesus told us, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). Notice that he said when, not if

When our faith comes at a cost, we can ask Jesus for the courage we need to be faithful. We can ask for the strength to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We can ask for the compassion to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32). 

Scottish theologian and minister John Baillie prayed: “As I lean on his cross may I not refuse my own; but rather may I bear it by the strength of his.” 

Will you make his prayer yours today?

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