(The Semi Final)

“Here we go, here we go, here we go!” Dan sang as he walked home from the football match with his Grandfather. Newtown United, Dan’s local team, had been playing and they had won again. They were only a few points off the top of the division now. OK, so it wasn’t the Premier League but it was Dan’s local side and Dan’s teacher was their star player.

Dan was football crazy and not only did he enjoy watching it, he loved playing it. In fact at nine and a half, he was one of the best in his school.  He was on the school team and he never missed the Wednesday afternoon practice.

Well, there was one practice he had missed that season. He’d been sick all week but on Wednesday morning he was up, trotting downstairs with his boots over his shoulder and ready to go. OK, so he had a streaming cold and a high temperature but that wasn’t going to stop him. His mum had other ideas. She took one look at him and ordered “Bed!”

“But Mum I’m fine” (Cough, sniff) “I feel much better. Remember we prayed about it last night?”

But Dan’s mum just smiled and told him to get back to bed with the comment “Dan, I may believe in miracles but this is not one of them!” This was one match Dan was not going to win no matter how many times he tried to twist and turn!

As Dan thought about the team, he remembered how they had been pretty rubbish at the beginning of the season! But that was “BMW”, Before Mr Williams. You see not only was Mr Williams star player for Newtown United and one of Dan’s teachers, he was also in charge of the school football team and that had made all the difference. All the players on the team had soon realised that if they were going to play well they had to listen to what Mr Williams had to say and learn to play by the rules.

Kicking the ball around in the lunch times was one thing but if they wanted to be good, then they had to learn to play as a team. It was funny really because when Dan read stories in the Bible he often thought it was a bit like his football playing. There were so many characters in the Bible who thought they could live by their own rules without taking any notice of God’s, only to find that they were in a right mess in the end.  And that is just how Dan’s school team had been before they started listening to Mr Williams.

For the first time in years Dan’s school, Bushby Primary, were winning matches, and it wasn’t the players who were better, it was the fact that the team were listening to Mr Williams’ instructions.

Bushby Primary had reached the Semi Final for the first time ever and if they won, then they would have a chance to be in the final of the Schools Cup. You can imagine how excited Dan was about it.

The weekend before the match came and on Saturday morning at the crack of dawn Dan was out in the back garden practising his football skills. When Monday came Dan was determined to be at his peak! He was kicking the ball against the back wall so hard that he woke up his Mum, who couldn’t believe it when she looked out the window to see Dan playing football at quarter to seven in the morning! “Your son is football mad” she moaned to Dan’s Dad who was lying in bed with the pillow over his head to keep out the noise.

After breakfast Dan went off the park with William and Joseph, yes you guessed it, to play football. But not before his Mum warned him against going off on his own. “Typical Mum” he thought, but deep down he knew she was only thinking of his safety.

Next morning, Sunday, Dan woke up with football on his mind again. But then he remembered he had to go to Church. The truth was, normally he really enjoyed church but this particular morning the thought of having to go to church instead of playing football was not exactly what he called fun.

Soon the whole family was ready to go. Even the “pest” was coming with them. The “pest” was one of the better names Dan had for his little sister. Dan looked longingly at the football pitches as they went past in the car on the way to church. “I wish,” he sighed.

Actually once he got to church it was OK. Although most of his friends from school didn’t go to Church, William did so he sat with him behind his Mum and Dad.

The story that morning was really good. The Minster, Paul was telling one of Jesus’ parable. He began “Imagine two builders. They both had the same job to do but, boy, did they end up with different results.”

Dan could think of a few people like that in his school, like Andrew. He was always in trouble. Andrew had two ears just like everyone else but he never seemed to listen. Like the time when they had a “lecture” in assembly  about using the subway to cross the road. That same night Dan had walked home with Andrew. Do you think Andrew was going to use the subway? Not him. He thought he knew better! But the car that hit him as he crossed the road had other ideas. and the doctor said he was lucky to be alive. But six months later he was doing the same thing. Some people never learn.

Pastor Paul continued the story “The two builders both started building. Their tools and materials were pretty much the same. The big difference was what they built their houses on. The foolish man built his house on the sand and that is where his problems began”

Dan could guess what was going to happen next. He knew that sand just wasn’t strong enough for building things that last. It didn’t matter how good the materials were if the foundations weren’t strong enough.

Paul said “The foolish man’s house looked fine from a distance but when the bad weather came the problems started. It wasn’t long before the cracks appeared and then ‘‘Splat!’” Paul disappeared behind the lectern he was using for his notes. He slowly stood up putting his glasses back on straight. “Disaster had struck and the house had come down flat as a pancake. The foolish man had found that when it came to the crunch foundations mattered a lot.”

Paul then went on to tell them about the wise man. “He had the same job and pretty much the same materials to work with. The big difference was what he built his house on. He chose to build on a big firm rock. When the bad weather came and the wind blew and the rain fell, the house took a bit of a beating but it still stood firm. It wasn’t because the wise man was a great builder.  It was what he had chosen to build on that had made all the difference.”

Dan couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for the foolish man. After all they had both worked hard. But as Pastor Paul went on to say; “Jesus  said that we all were either like the wise builder or the foolish one. We either choose to build our lives on God’s ways and command, which would never fail or do our own thing which often ended in disaster.”

Church was soon over and as Dan ate his Sunday lunch he thought about the story. Dan was pretty sure that he wanted God to be the boss in his life and that living by Gods rules would be the best way but it was not always easy to do. He thought it was easy for Jesus to tell these stories but much harder for Dan to live that way.

After dinner though, Dan forgot about the story and started thinking again about the match next day. He got his football boots out and decided to give them a really good polish or “spit and polish” as his Grandfather called it . By the time he had finished, they were so shiny you could use them as a mirror for combing your hair, which wasn’t that useful as Dan hated combing his hair!

On Sunday night Dan could hardly sleep as he was so excited. And next day in school he found it very hard to concentrate, especially in the maths lesson as. he was dreaming of Bushby Primary playing against Man United at Wembley in the in Cup final.

“Daniel what are you doing?” demanded his maths teacher who had caught him gazing out the window.

“Sorry sir,” said Dan as he tried hard to look like he was really working.

At last the afternoon came and the team were in the dressing room waiting for the game to begin. Mr Williams was reminding them of team tactics. “Don’t forget to listen to me boys. I’ll be shouting instructions from the side of the pitch and don’t forget all the things we have been practising.”

One of the boys pointed out that the other team looked a lot bigger than them. Mr Williams just said “It must be the breakfast cereal they eat!” The team laughed but they were feeling a bit nervous.

When they started to play, their game went to pieces. It seemed like the other team were bigger, faster, and better. But the main problem was Bushby Primary weren’t playing as a team and they certainly weren’t listening to Mr Williams instructions. At the end of the first half they were a goal down and the truth was they were lucky not to be three goals down.

As they came off the pitch the team were all blaming each other and even the referee for their poor performance. But it was their own fault. Mr Williams gathered them all together. He was calm but a bit cross because they hadn’t done as he had asked. He told them; “Boys, you were just not playing properly.”

He was about to explain why, when Andrew interrupted him shouting. “That’s easy for you to say sir, but you’re not on the pitch!”  You could have cut the air with a knife. Andrew had really blown it now. You don’t interrupt teachers and you certainly don’t shout at them. Not if you want to live that is!

Mr Williams gave Andrew a stern look and said “Andrew, I may not be on the pitch with you now but I have played the game for more years than you’ve had hot dinners and it is because you have learnt to listen to me this season that we have been winning games and have got this far in the cup.”

The boys looked at him and had to admit that what he said was true. At the beginning of the season Dan’s sister, Suzie, might have scored against them, but now here they were in the semi final.

As Dan listened to Mr Williams his mind went back to the day before and the story in church of the wise and foolish builders. He remembered how at Sunday lunch he had thought how it was easy for Jesus to talk about living by God’s rules but much harder to actually live by them. But as he thought again he realised that Jesus had lived by God’s rules. In fact he had not only lived his life by them but had died, and come back to life again to make it possible for Dan and people like him to have the strength to live by them too! Dan could ask for Jesus help in every’ situation... including this football match.

The boys took what Mr Williams had said to heart and when they went out for the second half, they were like a different team. They started to play the way Mr Williams had taught them and were listening as he shouted instructions from the side of the pitch.

It wasn’t long before Joseph, Dan’s best friend scored a goal. It was a cracking header from a corner kick. But were they going to have enough time to score another goal? Time was running out.

There were only a few minutes of the match left when Mr Williams shouted to Dan to move up the pitch and closer to the goal. Mr Williams had noticed that the other side were getting tired and were not coming so far up the pitch. Dan hadn’t noticed but he listened to Mr Williams instructions. It wasn’t long after that when Andrew kicked the ball right up the field. If Dan had been in his normal position he never would have reached it but now he was in a great position. He ran as fast as he could,  got the ball past a player, saw a gap and kicked it as hard as he could. The goal keeper  made a great dive but the ball was too fast and too hard for him to reach and it flew into the back of the net. Dan couldn’t believe his eyes. He had scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the schools cup semi final! As he ran back up the pitch he couldn’t help saying “Thanks Jesus” under his breath and then gave a big thumbs up to Mr Williams who had a huge grin on his face.

A few minutes later the whistle blew and Bushby Primary were through to the final of the schools’ cup. and they all knew one thing, it was Mr Williams they had to thank, although Dan was sure Jesus had answered his prayers too.

As Dan walked home with his Dad, his boots over his shoulder he couldn’t help thinking that there had been someone else on the edge of the pitch cheering him on that day - that was Jesus! Dan thought about Mr Williams smile as he had given him the thumbs up and Dan wondered if Jesus too had been smiling when the ball flew into the net.

Dan had learned a very important lesson: Just as when it came to playing football he needed to hear and obey Mr Williams’ voice, so when it came to life he needed to learn to recognise God’s voice as he wanted to be a guide and a friend. Dan knew he had to be prepared not only to listen, but to obey and do what Jesus said.

That day Dan had made another of his Amazing Discoveries. Together in life, Dan and Jesus could build a winning team because what is most important is was what you build your life on, and not what you have for breakfast!

Copyright Steve Harris