by Tad Lindley
I grew up playing a variation on basketball called “33”. Thirty-three is sort of like tackle basketball. The only rules are no double dribbling, and no traveling. It was every player for him self and we used whatever necessary means to prevent the opponents from scoring. It was not uncommon to see full body checking on the one with the ball. Lay ups were rare. Charging under the basket with the ball would be like carrying a bloody moose quarter through a pack of blind pit bulls.
Fast forward five years from the playground. Somebody asked me to join the team. I’d grown up on 33, so I figured I knew the basics of basketball. Our first game was at the recreation center at UAF. It was the most frustrating basketball I ever played. I was trying to drive in for a lay up or a hand off and a guy was in my way, so I just ran right over him. The refs blew the whistle and pointed at me.
I felt like I was in a foreign country. My teammates had to interpret for me what was going on. If I understand correctly a person gets removed from the game after five fouls. That’s what happened to me. That was the last basketball I played for a long time. The referees would not let me play the way I wanted to, so I just gave up on basketball.
Basketball without rules
Perhaps I might have taken the time to learn the rules of basketball, but I never did. Basketball without rules would be chaos. Likewise life without rules tends to lead to tragic choices. A lot of people will never live for God, because they do not want to conform to His rules. Too many times people have said, “I don’t want any part of a God that won’t let me live my life the way I want to.” Imagine if the men recruited to fly the planes into the twin towers had been playing by God’s rules, namely, Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:31).
Why I will never be a great ball player
Even knowing all the rules of the game is not enough. I can understand why the jump ball arrow is pointing the way it is, and whether the guy at the free throw line shoots once or twice. I can know how to approach the basket without getting called for charging. I can know the history of the game and who all the great coaches and players were. All these things might help me, but there is one problem: I cannot make baskets. I have no finesse. My form is designed to launch a basketball through a hail of flailing arms on an asphalt court, not to smoothly arc the ball in from the three point line.
How to be a great ball player
By the same token, I can know all the commandments of God and still not be a friend of God. You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you. (John 15:14) Jesus put it like this: God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The “spirit” of basketball is our carefully cultivated talent on the court. The “truth” of basketball is that no matter how good you are at making a lay up, you cannot run over defensemen to do it. To be a great player, one has to play hard, make baskets, get rebounds, run well, dribble well, think smart, and practice. But all of that will not matter if he is sitting on the bench ejected from the game because he could not follow the rules.
Worship him in truth
We worship Jesus in truth by knowing what the Bible says. That is the truth. We must read it as long as we can still see. We must hear the preaching of the word of God. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17) We hear the word of God when it is preached, and our faith is developed. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Do I really have to go to listen to preaching? According to the Lord we do. It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (I Corinthians 1:21)
Worship him in spirit
We may look Christian. We may even go through the motions. We might even lift our hands when we pray as recommended in the Bible (I Timothy 2:8). But our heart must be right with God. We must love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might (Deuteronomy 6:5). And we must love people: all people. We may have the truth. We might immerse people in baptism like they did in the Bible. We might call on the name of the Lord at baptism as did Peter, Paul, Phillip, and John. We might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost like they did in the Book of Acts. We may have memorized all the gifts of the spirit, all the fruit of the spirit, all the names of the prophets and apostles, but if we do not worship God in spirit we will be lost. Without loving Jesus and all people, we have nothing (I Corinthians 13:2).
Reader, you can be great in the kingdom of God. Don’t foul out; worship him in spirit and in truth.
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.