Sandlot Softball and Sandlot Theology

larryBy Larry L. Eddings

When I was a boy, we played softball in a sandy, weed-choked field next to our home. We only had an old ragged, well-worn softball, and a flat piece of board for the bat. The baselines were imaginary, as were the distances between them. Home plate was a piece of cardboard. The bases were marked by a certain rock or tree stump or mound of dirt. The outfield boundary was an imaginary line between two trees or bushes. Anything that happened to be hit beyond that was considered a homerun.

We had lots of fun – most of the time. Because there was only an imaginary line between home plate and first and third bases, arguments began to show up as to whether it was a fair or foul ball. Then, too, did the ball actually go beyond the imaginary line between the two trees or bushes in the outfield before someone caught it? Questions also arose as to whether our feet actually touched or missed the rock or tree stump or mound of dirt while running the bases.

Another issue that caused heated arguments was whether the pitcher had thrown a “strike” or “ball.” There were no umpires. Every player assumed the job of umpire. Since no one actually knew the rules for the game most of them existed only in the imagination of the players. Things generally went well until someone disagreed with another person’s imagined rule – especially when the disagreement happened with the owner of the ball. During those times, more often than not, that person took his ball and went home. That ended the game.

Upon entering junior high and high school, I began to participate in organized sports. It was then that I discovered that there were actual boundary lines and rules related to all the games. Beyond that, all players were required to follow the rules in the rulebook and stay within the boundaries. There was even an umpire that called “strike,” “ball,” or “you’re out.”

I soon learned that these same rules apply whether a kid engages in them in grade school, high school, college, or later as an Olympic competitor or professional athlete. All the sports have rules and they all have lines and boundaries.

Boundaries and lines are not made to restrict those who engage in the sport. Neither are they designed in order to curtail any free exercise of unique and special gifts that an athlete wishes to show off as they engage in the sport. They are there to make the game equal for everyone and to free everyone to play the game with excitement and abandon.

In the Church

In much the same way, it is my conviction that life – especially life within the Judeo-­Christian faith, can be lived out with a sandlot mentality or mindset. Or, on a much more positive and freeing note, it can be lived out within the boundaries, markers and rules laid down by the One who created life in the first place. God has carefully laid out in the Rulebook, (Scriptures, if you will), what is required of those who desire to experience life at an abundant, fulfilling, and freeing level.

Baseball glove and ballWhen the Twelve Hebrew tribes were called into being as a nation, God gave some very specific boundaries and guidelines. They were established, not to restrict, but so that God’s people would be enabled to live life freely and to the full in their relationship with God and with each other (Exodus 20:3-17). God set certain boundaries in order for that to happen.

Some of those rules deal specifically with boundaries for people’s relationship with God. “You will have no other gods before me,” “You will not make any idols,” “You will not take my name in vain,” and “You will remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

Some of the rules have to do with boundaries for relationships within the family: “Honor your father and mother that you may have long life” and “You will not commit adultery.”

Other rules have to do with boundaries for relationships within the human social structure: “You will not murder,” “You will not steal…,” “You will not bear false witness [lie],” and “You will not covet your neighbors possessions…”

As long as Israel abided by these basic rules and stayed within those boundaries, things went very well and they enjoyed God’s presence and abundance. When they ignored or disobeyed the rules altogether by continually stepping out of bounds, they suffered the consequences. God blew the whistle.

When Jesus came to live among us, he did not come to change God’s rule book or to reset the boundaries of God’s plan for abundant life. He made that very clear when he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth that until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Living In Christ

Jesus did not come to tell us that God had changed his mind. He did not come to change the rules or the boundaries of God’s plan for human life. He came as Light to enlighten us on God’s plan and put within us the desire and ability to accept and play by the rules and boundaries already established. He was not involved in giving us a sandlot theology that changes according to human whims, players’ preferences, vain imaginations, or real or perceived offenses.

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you. This is how people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34, 35). He commands us to love one another as he has loved us. This command is predicated on who He knew himself to be and under whose authority he operated. He made it very clear that he did nothing except what God had told him to do and he said nothing except what God had told him to say (John 5:19; 12:50).

Therefore, his teachings and his actions are God initiated and God directed.  Jesus told his followers, “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). He expected that same kind of obedience from them. He said that we if we love him we will show it by obeying what he commanded (John 14:15).

Jesus did not come to tell us that he was establishing a New Covenant because God had changed his mind about the first set of rules or that they were offensive to some of the players and too hard for them to follow. He came to model for us what life is like when we obediently follow the rules and stay within the boundaries. Then we can have life, have it abundantly and to the full.

God’s boundaries and rules are put in place, not to restrict us or take away our freedom. They are there to provide the way by which life can be lived freely and to the full in all our relationships – with God, with our families, and with our larger human family.

This is evidenced in the schisms that have historically and are presently happening within the Body of Believers called The Church. There are those who, for whatever reason, keep wanting to change the rules and move the boundary lines to “better speak to contemporary issues.”

In these contemporary times, many within the Church, including some elected leaders, are operating according to sandlot rules with a sandlot theology about a God whose mind is continually changing. Some may call it progressive revelation. These new revelations usually come to those who desire to change the rules to conform to the mindset of those who want to live the Christian life, but to do it without offending or being offended.

Flux and stability

The trouble with a sandlot mentality and sandlot theology is that things are in a state of continual flux and there remains little stability, confidence, assurance, or true freedom. It may all be different tomorrow because someone has made a well-articulated speech or written a scholarly book that has provided a most convincing human argument that this is a new day. Thus the boundaries should be moved to accommodate new revelations, which also mandate the need for a new set of rules. This, of course, may be changed once again tomorrow when a more convincing speech is given or another more scholarly book is written.

Such sandlot theology makes one wonder what would happen if God, getting tired of all the persuasive speeches and arguments, were to just take his ball and go home? But it won’t happen! God is in this for keeps. The stakes are too high! God’s rules and boundaries are not going to change just because someone – inside or outside the church – doesn’t like them and might be offended by them. God has a goal in mind for all who are willing to allow his Spirit to move us to ‘‘follow God’s decrees and be careful to keep his laws.” That goal is eternal life in God’s  eternal kingdom.

The Gospel writer, Matthew, records this closing statement of Jesus as he concluded his “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 7:24-27). I have reversed the order of the verses. However, the message and its obvious truth remains unchanged.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice, is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rains came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. But everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man that built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock.”

When we, as the Church, declare that the Church is built and established on the rock-hard foundation of God’s unchanging love and his good and eternal plan for humanity – which is Jesus Christ, then regardless of the circumstances that beat against it and batter it, that Church will stand!

Larry L. Eddings is a retired United Methodist pastor and general evangelist in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.

Comments

  1. I like what Rev. Eddings has said. I hear so much back ground chatter that I begin to wonder what the rules really are. Also, I ask myself if I have the wrong understanding of the rules. It can get confusing.

  2. Licensed Local Pastor says

    Thank you for a well written and inspired article.

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