Many of us have played basketball at one time or another. Regardless of our level of talent we know that there are some rules that should be followed in order to play the game. If you run with the ball, stop your dribble and restart it, or step out of bounds you are committing either a travel, double dribble, or out of bounds violation. All of these result in you losing the ball to the other team until you get the ball back in a variety of different ways, some of which I just mentioned. These all seem like common sense rules that can be agreed upon in order to have a game that we all recognize as basketball. That is until the day my son’s fifth grade team (whom I coach) played against an opponent (that I’ll keep nameless) and their coach that had a different philosophy.
Many of you have faced this new philosophy with your kids, teams, or friends. It’s the philosophy of, “The actual rules are too hard to follow, so… let’s change them!”. Let me set the scene. My team is a mix of eight kids that all have very different talents, experience and skill levels. Some have never played basketball before, and some may never again in an organized setting. My goal for the team is simple. Teach them the basics of the game which includes knowledge of the actual rules. I feel this is important so that they can be as successful as they can today, but it also creates a foundation for them at the next level in middle school. Some players already know the rules, and are able to help guide the newcomers to the game, but the basics stay the same. Do some rules get broken? Yes, and consequences follow. Why? Those are the rules that were set for the game of basketball and we learn from those mistakes and get better because of it… until we played this other team.
The team showed up at our school and started warming up with layups and basic drills that you would expect, and the players varied in levels of ability as is also expected. I went over to the coach to introduce myself and to go over the expectations of how we should run the game (at this level we don’t have electronic scoreboards, so we usually recruit parents for time, score, and being a referee). The coach, as he pulled out his own whistle, proceeded to inform me of the lack of ability of his team. What he would prefer is to not have turn over violations for the following: over and back, fouls, double dribble, traveling, or stepping out of bounds. These are all too hard for his team so if we could change the rules we could have a positive experience for everyone. I asked, “What if they are fouled in the act of shooting? Can we do free throws?.” “NO!!!” he said. “They all have parents here, and if they miss a free throw horribly in front of them it could be embarrassing! And of course, we don’t want to keep score.”. So we let them play the game their way, but I warned my team of what they were going to face. They were going to face someone who was not going to use the same set of rules they are used to, and also told them that they were NOT allowed to play that way. We were going to stick to our foundation and follow the rules of the game. As the game progressed we stayed the course but not without frustration. Every time the other team committed a violation, the whistling coach would simply give the ball back to his team. If we committed a violation that was called, he actually would try to give my players back the ball and play by his rules but more often than not I would not allow it. Some of the players on my team would say, “Why?” or “That’s not fair!” and I would simply say… We have to follow the rules. Everything came to a head when one of their players was going for a shot and one of our players jumped across and slapped the ball out of bounds! All the parents did a collective cheer at the great play, but then came a deafening whistle. “BLRRRRT…. FOUL!”, yelled the whistling coach. Before I could even think of reacting a kid from my bench (whom we will simply call my son… because he is) jumped up and yelled, “What?!?”. This caused an outburst of laughter from parents on both sides. I looked at my son, and he said, “Dad, they’re cheating! We aren’t doing that!” I said, “I know, and we are better for it!”. We did end up winning. One of the parents kept score, unsolicited by me and I praised my team for sticking to the rules even though it was frustrating.
Many of you may think that it is just common sense to simply play by the rules. But is it? After the game I realized that God had just blessed me with a mini snap shot of what our society has turned into. Every day we are challenged with the frustration of our culture being modified to fit a “NEW agenda” so that people aren’t embarrassed, or made to feel foolish. We “change the rules” little by little all the time and pretty soon the game of life is nothing like what God had intended it to be. Life styles and sinful actions that were once considered immoral are now tolerated and even applauded. Why? Because the old rules are too hard to follow, too old fashion, too “religious nut radical”, or too insensitive, heck, if you change the definition of what was once illegal to legal we can even cut down on crime! That will cause less stress and make people feel better about themselves. Ah, bliss… Are you seeing the connection? If we can’t be trusted with sticking to the rules for something simple like basketball, how can we be trusted to stick to the rules for things that are of more consequence? After all, it’s not about hard work, determination, and values to become a better person. It’s about making sure you don’t have any discomfort from failure. That’s why the Bible is scoffed at by so many. It’s FULL of overcoming failure, hard work, determination, and a bunch of other stuff people aren’t willing to do anymore. And for us that try to play the game with a rule book that is too often attacked, forgotten, or laughed at… it’s frustrating. But we have to stay the course, run the race, and fight the good fight! We may ask God “Why!?!” but we already know the answer don’t we? As we are faced with faith challenges I hope we can be like that tiny voice from the bench that stands up and challenges the call! We know that compromising our principles is way more devastating than the final score of a basketball game. And if God is truly your coach, then at the end of the game of life the only cheer that matters is “Well done good and faithful servant!”.