SOUDER: In sports or life, it’s always good to know the score

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In sports, the rules can change. In life, they are simple.

By Chuck Souder

Anyone that knows me very well knows two things about me: I love to play games, and I love to win. I grew up playing all kinds of sports – baseball, football, tennis – but my favorite was always basketball.

My family also played lots of board games like Monopoly and Life, word games like Scrabble and Boggle and card games like Euchre and Rook. But it didn’t matter what sport or game I was playing, because of my extremely competitive nature, I always did my very best to win.

Now, this probably sounds like a no-brainer, but if you want to win, the reality is that no matter what game you are playing, it’s very important to know how the score is kept. In other words, it’s always important to know how to tell if you are winning or losing.

For all of the games I listed above and for the vast, vast majority of others, the person (or team) with the highest score wins. (I think this may be part of the reason I’m not very good at golf – because all of my life I have tried to get the highest score, I can’t seem to grasp the concept of trying to get the lowest one – but I digress.)

If you are a sports and game enthusiast like I am, you’ll know that sometimes rule changes come along that alter how the game is played. Sometimes there are “house rules” that vary from the originals.

Whether it’s Monopoly (making the “Free Parking” space a jackpot of previously collected money) or corn hole (saying you have to hit 21 exactly – or not) or even basketball (make-it-take-it), sometimes “house rules” can dramatically change the outcome.

There are even times that the “‘official” rules of a game change, though usually they are rules that only indirectly affect the scoring – like the introduction of the shot clock and alternating possessions in basketball, or regulating the material in a baseball bat.

However, occasionally a change of rules directly alters the scoring of a game and dramatically impacts how that game is played. There may have been others, but there are two that stand out to me as the rule changes that most radically affected their respective games. One is the 3-point shot in basketball, and the other is rally scoring in volleyball.

As with rotary telephones (party lines anyone?) or black-and-white televisions, most young people today can’t even envision basketball or volleyball without these rules, but I’m old enough to have lived through both. But as much as the 3-point shot changed basketball, I believe that rally scoring in volleyball was an even bigger difference maker. Allow me to explain.

For those that don’t know, it used to be that your team could only score a point if you served. Rally scoring, on the other hand, means that someone scores on every play.

Now, my daughter is currently a freshman and plays on the volleyball team at Shelby County High School and has played the last two years on a club team, so I have seen some pretty decent girls’ volleyball. However, just short three years ago she played on the sixth-grade team, where sometimes the play was somewhat south of “pretty decent.”

In fact, I’m relatively certain that the rally scoring rule was implemented solely because of sixth- grade girls’ volleyball (in the same way that the alternating possession rule was surely implemented solely because of sixth-grade girls basketball).

You see, under the old rules, because you could only score when your team served, in order to reach 21 (or 25) points you had to have at least that many good serves. Unfortunately, at the sixth-grade level, sometimes good serves are few and far between.

In fact, I believe some of those sixth-grade games might still be going on today if it weren’t for rally scoring. Now, even if a serve is missed, the opposing team gets a point, so that the games can end in a timely fashion, and sixth-grade girls’ volleyball players everywhere (and their parents) can get home before midnight.

Well, it’s one thing to talk about the scorekeeping rules for different sports, but what about scorekeeping in a more important arena – namely, our relationship with God. How does God keep score?

As much as I like winning at other games, winning at the “game” of life should be viewed as the most important victory of all.

Since most people in our community profess a belief in God and in heaven, perhaps the most important question one could ask is, “What are the rules of the game?” or “How does one get to heaven?”

Unfortunately, I’ve found that many people – even people who attend church on a regular basis – are unsure about the answer. In fact, I suspect that if you were to go to Kroger or Walmart and ask random people the question, “Are you going to heaven?,” the most common answer you would get would be, “I hope so.”

This is because, as pastor and author Andy Stanley points out in his excellent little book, How Good is Good Enough?, many people are unsure of their standing before God. Many people have bought into some form of the notion that “good people” go to heaven, so they hope that at the end of their lives’ their good deeds will outweigh their bad ones. But because they can’t see that heavenly “scale” that supposedly keeps track of such things, they never know what the “score” is, and so are unsure about their place in eternity.

But while the “good people go” idea is central to most religions (just with differing opinions of what constitutes ‘good’), Christianity stands in stark contrast. Jesus came to show us that though following God’s standards is important and will help us live a more abundant life here on earth, they aren’t what get us to heaven. In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say that no one can get to heaven simply by obeying the rules – because none of us are able to follow them perfectly. Christianity is not about following a set of rules or trying harder.

Instead, Christianity teaches that when anyone humbles himself and admits his weakness and dependence upon God’s grace, and accepts Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, that person becomes a child of God and is given the “gift of God” which is “eternal life” (Romans 3 & 6).

Those same verses in the book of Romans even tell us why God gives eternal freely instead of giving us a list of things to do to earn it – so that we can’t boast in our own goodness or religious behavior, and that we realize that no one is any better (or worse) than anyone else in God’s eyes.

The bad news? You’re not good enough to earn your way to heaven.

The good news? That’s not the way you get there in the first place.

Now you know the score.


Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org. Find other columns by Souder at www.SentinelNews.com/columns.