My views about God and about myself were shattered the summer before 6th grade when my older cousin invited me to a summer bible camp where I realized that I knew very little about the God I claimed to believe in. I first heard the word “gospel” and the good news that it offers during a workshop. The first thing I remember learning from the Bible is a verse written in the book of Romans, chapter 6, verse 23, which states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Before I could get to the good news that the gospel offers, I had to deal with some major issues in my life. The small sins in my life that I thought were no big deal were in truth large offenses to a holy and just God. The first part of the verse I shared says that the wages of sin is death. I was convicted that the Bible was God’s true Word, and I was faced with the knowledge that my disobedience separated me from a true relationship with God and resulted in my rightly deserved eternal punishment in hell.
This knowledge weighed heavily on my conscience, but thankfully I went on to learn the second part of Romans 6:23 which says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If left with only the knowledge of my sin, I would have sunk in dire hopelessness. Instead, I was amazed to learn that the gift of eternal life in heaven wasn’t something that I earned or deserved through good works, but that because of God’s great love He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross as a payment for each and every one of my sins. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, I learned that my sins and the punishment it incurs could be exchanged for the free and undeserved gift of eternal life in heaven. During the last night of camp during the campfire, as I was dwelling on the things I learned,I felt a desperation over my sin for the first time in my life. With a broken and humbled heart I cried out to God for the faith to believe, knowing full well that I could do nothing for myself except ask God in prayer to forgive my sins and to take my life into His hands. Through that week at camp God had worked in my heart to give me the understanding I needed to place my faith in the good news of the gospel, and I made the decision to trust Christ and follow Him.
The first few years of my growth as a Christian was slow, but steady. Slow because I had much to learn about what it meant to be a Christian, but steady because God is faithful to grow His children. I began going to church with my cousin, and even though I was eager to learn, I lacked the understanding that the grace of God, and not my own effort, is what leads to a changed life. I had an elementary understanding of what faith lived out looked like. Even after I became a Christian I still battled pride, and I placed a very high value in my high school accomplishments. During high school, God graciously removed these stumbling blocks that hindered me from following hard after Christ. During my junior year, I was cut from the final round of tryouts for the varsity basketball team, and because basketball was one of the things I treasured I was devastated. I believed without a doubt that God’s purpose over all things was good and right, but I had no peace of mind because I wanted to know why this happened.
After spending a few it hit me how ridiculous I was behaving. I was acting as if the world was over because I no longer got to throw a ball into a hoop. Looking at all the other things I was involved with, I saw that I let the things of this world become a greater priority to me than my Lord. Such a simple answer, but I would have never seen it were it not for God’s grace. I now understood that these activities that I was consumed with kept me from faithfully following Christ as hard as I should. I let the things that I achieved define who I was instead of living my life in the image of Christ. And the life of godliness I tried to live was dependent only on my own power and ability to do so instead of trusting in the Holy Spirit to grow me. I prayed harder than ever before to trust in the grace of God to help me surrender my hold on the fading glory of this world.
God continued to work all the pieces of my life together. With much humility, I went back to my basketball coach to ask him if I could help out with the team as a manager. God had plans for me here. I was required to attend and even sometimes participate in practices, and as I began practicing with the team more, my coach rethought his decision and offered me a spot back on the team. It seemed too good to be true, but a large fear I held was that returning to basketball would cause me to be distracted from my walk with God all over again. Could I worship God with my life and enjoy playing basketball at the same time? What does it mean to do all things to the glory of God? If my whole life was to be lived for the glory of God, could I learn to use my participation on the team for His glory? I began to think about what it might mean to be a testimony to my team to reflect Christ in the way I played competitive basketball.
I accepted the offer to join the team, and prayed that God would give me the grace to not mess it up. The next two years of basketball were tougher than any other I have had, full of times of discouragement and disrespect from my team. Yet God helped me to persevere, and it gave me a direct application of what it felt like strive for holiness in whatever context or circumstance of life I was faced with. Since attending college at UCLA, God has continued to teach me what it means to know, love, and worship Him in the study of His Word as it actively works in my life. God continually pushes me to greater heights of knowledge of Him, and continually brings me back daily to the sweetness of the gospel and His grace in my life. My life now is His for His glory until the day I come before His presence in sweet eternity.