by Jacob Burson
It’s slightly fun and frustrating coaching my son’s 7-8 year old basketball team. The league is very flexible on the rules of basketball and it takes some getting used to. Lots of traveling, walking, fouling, and double dribbling…for those who don’t know basketball, it’s a lot of rules being broken, with no whistles being blown. The rule violation tolerance is to promote play. The refs know it, the coaches know it, the parents know it, and the recreation department promotes it. We all see the rules being broken, but we let it slide because we know the kids are learning. If there’s an extremely excessive violation, the referee will blow his whistle and make a call, but the ratio is low. I’m willing to bet that the number of violations that are called is somewhere below 10%. It’s in the single digit of percentages.
It is a joy to watch them play, though, even though they’re breaking the rules. The grace we’re collectively showing is huge and necessary. Without it, the games would last forever, and the kids would hate basketball. And while I’m yelling for our team to get their hands up on defense, I feel it; there is more community grace being shown to these fresh new basketball players learning their sport than the grace many of us Christians and our churches show our brothers and sisters in Christ. Especially those who would be new to our community… We are quick to blow whistles and point to rules. Coldly. Harshly. Technically, we are right, the rules are listed. The rules are clear. We can point to the rules. You can’t do that, they can’t do this, we can’t do that, she can’t say that, he can’t be there… It’s in the rule book… We can’t let this go. If we let this go now I’m afraid they’ll never get it right or, even worse, people will think we support this kind of behavior and we can’t have our image tarnished like that…where’s my whistle?
Fear has made our church communities exclusive. We’re afraid of losing many things more than we are afraid of losing new believers or those who’d otherwise want to see what we have to offer. Our fear runs people off before we ever get a chance to blow our whistle or, most commonly, people know us by our constantly whistle blowing. They’ve heard us, our fear, loud and clear.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:18
I can only imagine what the first Christians were going through 2,000 years ago… Sharing the Gospel and adding all of these new believers with all of their baggage and egregious rules violations. Lord, they were a mess. Even after they were “in the faith,” they were breaking rules. Paul had to write them letters to correct their ways. Letters penned after years he had spent with them, personally. Getting close with them while they were spiritual toddlers… All of this grace shown to these new believers 2,000 years ago and the church was exploding with growth… And here we are… 2,000 years later, with American church attendance declining every year, and asking God to grow the Church again. Maybe individually we each should start acting like the ancient Church? Maybe we will have to swallow our whistle sometimes and be ready to open our doors and create spaces that might get a little messy? Maybe we have to sharpen our own skills to be prepared to train the sojourners and potential new believers coming our way?
I remind my son to dribble in his games, but I don’t berate him when he doesn’t. I don’t take him out of the game and punish him. He keeps playing, “warts and all.” Same for his teammates. My son and I work on the skills together, at home, in the driveway. We watch basketball games together on TV, we talk about the plays and the players, and I show him how to do the things we talk about. He sees me do it. He sees me dribble, I show him. He trusts me. He knows if I’m trying to correct him, I’m doing so from a place of experience and love. Through example and action, he can tell that I’ve put in some work, and maybe it’ll work for him too.
Be known today, not from your whistle and your fear, but be known by your action, your patience, and your love.