For several years consecutive, the basketball players of Wardensville High School, a small school in Hardy County of West Virginia, did not lose a home basketball game.
Our gym was referred to as a “crackerbox gym” because of its small floor and close-to-the-court seating. Back in the day, the sports writer of the Winchester Evening Star, Russ Potts, once wrote about our longtime home-court winning streak that “even the Celtics would lose on the Warriors’ home court.”
The streak was still intact when my younger brother, Chris, played. He and his teammates were such care-free characters and cut-ups that it often drew the ire of Coach Pete Vance. One night they had played particularly lackadaisical. The opposing team had the Warriors on the verge of losing a game at home. “You are not playing with any gits,” Coach had told them at half-time. “Gits” was his pronunciation of “guts,” which was always funny to us.
With about four minutes to play, Chris said their team was behind by 12 points. Having snared a rebound, Chris dribbled the ball slowly toward front court. Coach Vance was beside himself trying to hurry him up. The four other players huddled spontaneously close to the coach as they waited for Chris.
While sustaining the dribble within a few feet of the coach, Chris said, “Coach, we now got them where we want them!” Coach Vance started to pull him out of the game for that, but all team time-outs had been used by that time. He could not stop the game with team control.
From that point, the Warriors got on a roll. They erased the 12-point deficit, and won the game by several points. Chris liked telling the story, one of many he liked telling.
However, the remembrance of this story and what Chris told the coach took on particular significance for me last Wednesday, Feb. 3 as I saw my brother lying in that hospital bed in the Berkeley Medical Center, in Martinsburg, W.Va. He had died about an hour earlier. It is merely a loving speculation for sure, but, I can imagine the Lord telling Chris as his soul and spirit entered Heaven, “I now got you where I want you.”
There is something about the dying of our loved ones that makes us feel as though death is ripping us off. All too often people get angry about it. Grief becomes almost an unbearable extended experience for many.
I will be the first to admit that the death of a loved one hurts hard. However, a believer in Jesus Christ should grieve well the death of the believer in Jesus Christ. It begins with the very point of this account that when one dies physically, the Lord gets us to where He wants us.
He said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” Receiving us unto Himself is getting us where He wants us, is it not?
After all, mankind is behind in the score of life to begin with because of the reality of the condemnation of sin. On the other hand, God knew exactly what He was doing on our behalf when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the Cross to provide a sure salvation from the guilt and consequences of sin.
The Lord loves us. He does not want us to go to hell. He wants us to go to Heaven, for sure. To me, it is no small measure of consolation to know that the Lord takes the born-again Christian to where He wants us to be there in Heaven with Him.
There in the hospital room I gathered the family around for prayer. I told them we have not lost Chris. We know where He is. He is still alive, just living in a far better place.
You cannot beat that with any amount of hoops.
The Rev. Ron Branch is pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Mason, W.Va.