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by AJ Vanegas on November 05, 2018

It was a beautiful summer’s night in the collegiate Cape Cod Baseball League. As I eagerly awaited to make my debut appearance, our pitching coach got the attention of the bullpen, signaled a V with both of his arms raised, and pointed toward the pitcher’s mound. The entire team knew that this meant the manager was calling for Vanegas to come in for the 9th inning. Excitedly, I took my last sip of water and ran from the bullpen onto the field. Unexpectedly, as I torqued my body to throw, I found that I was throwing the ball with more velocity than ever before; 98 mph, then 99mph, even 100mph! After striking out the first two batters, I was confident that our team had the game won! I toed the rubber to get ready to throw the next pitch with as much energy as I could possibly muster. There were 2 outs with nobody on the bases; what could possibly go wrong? What I didn’t know was that the next pitch that I would throw would change the course of my life forever.

If you were to step into my shoes at this very moment, you would have witnessed a young man whose heart was confident in his own ability to compete at the highest levels of baseball. Additionally, you would have experienced a young mind that was hopeful and convinced that he would one day become a Major League pitcher. As I reflect on this moment 7 years later, I have come to the realization that this internal belief about my future did not merely exist in my head and my heart, but had also manifested itself in every aspect of my life. This calculated certainty eventually modified my behavior with others closest to me, altered the way I dieted, emphasized the way I trained, changed the way I invested my time, and influenced every decision that I made about my life going forward.

I suppose one could say that I was full of faith at this moment. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see. When I think of being “sure” of something unseen that I had a tremendous amount of “hope” for, I oftentimes think of how hopeful and certain I was in myself and my career. In a similar fashion, the God of the universe calls us to be “sure” of the truths that are claimed in the Bible even when we do not see them; that Jesus is the Messiah who suffered a sacrificial death on the cross, rose to life on the third day, and continues to reign as the King over all things (Mk. 16:19; Lk. 24:44-47; Phil 2:9-11). God’s word calls us to have “hope” that a better day is on the horizon where we will experience true satisfaction, eternal life with Him, complete restoration, and true justice (Jn. 3:16; 1 Pt 5:10; Rev. 21: 1-8). The power of the Holy Spirit then calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that in times of doubt and hopelessness, we can fix our eyes on Jesus’ truth (Rom. 12:1-2; Heb. 12:1-2). When the Holy Spirit supernaturally transforms our hearts and minds in, these truths manifest themselves by the way we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength (Deut. 6:4-9; Mt. 22:37; Gal. 5:22-23).

Human beings, however, have a long history of faithlessness in the way we doubt God’s promises and misplace our beliefs. The book of Exodus and Numbers documents the generation of Israelites who had witnessed God reveal His covenant name YHWH, deliver them from Egypt through a series of supernatural plagues, guide them with pillars of cloud and fire, split the Red Sea and engulf an entire army of Egyptians, institute laws for their developing nation, and various other divine interventions (Ex. 3:13-15, 7:14 – 11:10, 13:21, 14:1-31, 21—24, 31—35). If there was any generation that ought to have been faithful, this would have been the one. The Israelites, however, continually complained about their provisions, their insecurity in the wilderness, the improbability of victory against the Canaanites, and the leadership of Moses and Aaron to the point where they desired to pack up and go back to Egypt (Num. 11 – 14).

It turns out that when we have faith in things other than God’s truth, it inevitably fails. On the very next pitch that I would throw, all of the kinetic energy that I had generated to throw 100 mph took its toll on my body. As I hyper-extended my front “landing” leg, there was an immediate jolting sensation sent straight to my lower back. I came out of the pitch wincing in uncomfortable pain. For the next 6 months, I would wrestle with physical therapy before opting for back surgery at the age of 20. After wiping out my junior season and preparing for my senior season, I found that favoring my back as I threw caused even more stress on my arm. As a result of deteriorating pitching mechanics, I was diagnosed with a partially torn labrum in my shoulder (a death sentence for most pitchers). Pitching with a beat-up shoulder then led to bone spurs in my elbow. All it took was one pitch to change the course of my entire life.

Needless to say, I went through all of these experiences grumbling against God as I doubted the goodness and very essence of God. Yet praise be to our Lord that there remains hope in the faithfulness of God even when we are not faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). Near the middle of the book of Numbers, the story shifts from the individual problems of Israel to the perspective of the foreign Moabite king named Balak and his hired sorcerer Balaam. On three different mountaintops, Balaam attempts to provoke God’s curse on the Israelites as he looked out to the entire nation encamped right outside Moab. Even though God would have been completely justified to curse Israel because of their actions, Balaam receives three similar prophecies that say that what God has chosen to bless, He can never curse because He is faithful to His promises (Gen 12:1-3; Num. 23:8, 19-20, 24:5-7).

What the Israelites did not know was that in the midst of their faithlessness, the Lord was watching over them remaining faithful to His promise of blessing. God would transform the Israelites on an individual level by dwelling with them, exhibiting justice toward the rebellious nation, and progressing His story through Abraham’s descendants. What I did not know is that in the midst of my own faithlessness, God would confront my own idolatry and doubt. God, however would progress His story by bringing me into ministry, using my educational background to pursue His wisdom in Seminary, using my baseball experience to coach young men, and using this blog post to encourage someone to receive salvation by placing their faith in Jesus (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9). What I did not know is God would be the one calling me off the bench to experience life-transformation and be a part of His unfolding story!