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Religious Reflections

Lessons from the Pro Bowl

Pastor Nathan Zakahi

Shortly before moving from Hawaii to Sunnyside, a friend gave our family tickets to the Pro Bowl (a very, very good friend).

We had third row seats at the 40 yard line directly behind the NFC All-Stars bench. Even though the Pro Bowl is played every year in February (since 1980), this was our first and only experience.

My oldest son and I were intently watching the star-studded game. In the meantime, my wife and youngest son were intently watching the bench, waving at any player who got up to get some Gatorade. In my annoyance, I explained to my wife and youngest that what they were doing was fruitless.

"The players are warned ahead of time not to give the fans any false hope of signing autographs since if you do it for one, you must do it for the other 50,000 in attendance," I said.

Ignoring me, half of the family continued to wave and try to make eye contact with the players throughout the whole game. Toward the end of the fourth quarter, a player caught my eye as he walked from the Gatorade table toward our row of seats. That player was Michael Bates, who played for the Carolina Panthers as a return specialist. He took off the Panther cap that he was wearing, signed it with a pen and then pointed in our direction. As I traced his finger, I soon realized he was pointing at my youngest son. He then tossed his cap to my son. Needless to say, I was speechless and my own effort to wave at players during the closing minutes of the game was to no avail. My son and the rest of our family have been fans of Michael Bates ever since that day. It only took a minute of his precious time to encourage an eight-year old boy and gain some lifetime fans.

The writer of Hebrews records in 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews tells us that church involves more than just showing up for services. One of the great functions of church life is encouragement. It means to help others find strength and courage in their life with God. Back in the New Testament setting, members were facing persecution, hardship and turmoil and some were about to give up. A word of hope, a kind deed done in love goes a long way. Almost two thousand years later, not much has changed concerning the need for encouragement.

My son still has that cap hanging on his bedroom wall. I need to look at it more often and be reminded of that day when a football player inconvenienced himself, took time and brought cheer to a young boy. I find it far too easy to be negative, sour and fault finding. Encouragement involves focusing on others and willing to be a little inconvenienced. It may mean targeting someone specific at work or at a church service or at the family dinner table. It takes some of your precious time but the impact is far reaching and more than you may ever know.

- Pastor Nathan Zakahi of the Sunnyside Grace Brethren Church.

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