If I asked you about your family heritage, what tales would you tell? Who were your ancestors? Are you like them at all? Can you trace your DNA? Do you follow the family rules? Do you care at all?
My family, of the clan Montgomerie, was proud of their Scottish roots. They were a bit of a motley crew however, judging by the family crest—a warrior maiden holds the severed head of an enemy high in one hand, her sword in the other. The motto reads: Garde Bien—look well. I should say! We have two distinct tartans, the hunting and the dress.
My husband also boasts of Scottish lineage; but without a family crest and tartan, what fame could he lay claim to? Turns out he does have bragging rights. According to his family tree his great grandfather Allen Paul was married to Jean Naismith. That makes my Alan second cousin twice removed of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
In 1890 James Naismith graduated with a theology degree. His first thought was to do ministry with youth in the field of athletics, so he enrolled in a physical education training program in Springfield, Massachusetts. One of his assignments was to create an indoor game for the cold winter months. There were thirteen simple rules to begin—without rules, sidelines, and appropriate goals, all games would be mayhem. The unique goals, made of peach baskets with the bottoms still in, were set at ten feet.
All ears perked up in the Paul household when Fox Business announced its weekly Strange Inheritance documentary would highlight the heirs of James Naismith. It seems James had amazingly preserved those original thirteen rules intact. The signed Naismith Rules sold at a Sotheby auction in 2010 for $4.34 million, a big deal as Lincoln’s Proclamation of Independence sold for only $3.7 million at the same auction.
Heritage and rules play a great part in our lives. To have been created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), to have Him breathe into man the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), is no small thing. But along with breath came one life-saving rule: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17, NIV). Play the game; follow the rule. Enjoy all the other trees in Eden, and you will flourish under the tree of life for eternity. We can only imagine.
How long did it take for that rule to be broken? How long for one slippery serpent to slither in? How long for Eve to sink her teeth into the forbidden fruit? How long for Adam to join her? How long for shame to uncover innocence? (Genesis 3:1-8). Sin certainly altered the spiritual DNA of mankind.
Fortunately God was not finished with us; but He did institute a new court to play on when He banished Adam and Eve from Eden (Genesis 3:23). Adam would sweat in the thorny fields to provide for his family. Eve would suffer the pains of childbirth. And the family was officially organized: “he (Adam) will rule over you (Eve)” (Genesis 3:16-17, NIV). New court, new rule, and the first we see of the Lord’s game plan: God promised “enmity” would crush the enemy’s head (Genesis 3:15, NIV).
Genealogy is readily traceable in the Bible. From Adam, created in God’s image, through Seth, we get to Noah. If not for Noah, God would have wiped mankind from the face of the earth (Genesis 6:5-8). Noah’s line continues through his son Shem to Terah and his son Abram, and incidentally to Jesus (Luke 3:23-37).
If Adam is the “son of God” as Luke’s genealogy says, then I am the “son of God” in that direct lineage—ah, but minus my crucial spiritual DNA. Yes, the Greek word for “son” in Luke’s list is the same word used by God for “Son” on the Mt. of Transfiguration (Luke 9:35). However, that Son is modified by “beloved” (Matthew 3:17, NIV), or better still by “only begotten” (John 3:16, NIV), monogenes in Greek—the only one in the family. DNA counts.
Rules count too. Man has always needed a few, to get along and to please the Lord. That first rule in Eden was a biggie. The next set of rules we read about were given on Mt. Sinai, ten of them, set in stone.
Those Ten should have been sufficient; but God got more specific as delineated in Leviticus. Worship was at the heart of the new rules, plus instructions on how to live a holy life. Getting along in the family and with your neighbor is a daunting task without guidelines. Not to be outdone by God, the Jewish leaders added rules of their own, many of them finicky, many intended to circumvent the restrictions on their freedom.
If God’s people followed God’s rules, they would end up in a win-win situation. Problem with the Jews, and with us, is that no matter how hard we try to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s, we cannot. Even David, “a man after (God’s) own heart” (Acts 13:22, NIV), couldn’t. And Solomon’s wisdom failed him miserably. It was true then; it is true now—“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV).
Thank heavens God had not forgotten the promised enmity over the serpent of death. He repeatedly told His people about this one who would come: a child…a son…called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.…He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on forever (Isaiah 9:6-7, NIV). Game plan on!
Years later Paul explained it this way to the Galatians: The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed…meaning one person, who is Christ.…The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise (Galatians 3:16-18, NIV).
Grace! The inheritance does not depend on the rules. Christ was the game plan all along. The Law merely filled in the gap until the Christ would come, and that which was promised would be given through faith in Jesus: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:19-26, NIV).
You ask, are there no longer rules? Yes and no. Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, NIV). The Law and the Prophets pointed to our need for Jesus, but they could not crush the enemy. Jesus has crushed the enemy.
If the rules were never the way to God, why did God give even that one rule to Adam and Eve in the beginning? Did He set them up to fail? Not at all; without the freedom to choose they would not be “in God’s image”. Rules and boundaries and goals are our safety nets. They also show us how to live worthy of our standing as “sons of God through faith in Christ”.
So Jesus neatly wrapped up the Law and the Prophets into two rules: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’”, and “‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-40). He was setting high but attainable goals to aim at, in grace.
I laugh when I think of those original peach-basket basketball goals with the bottoms still in. It certainly delayed the momentum when a player scored—all play stopped while someone ran for a ten-foot ladder to retrieve the ball. The bottoms were quickly cut out of the baskets. The problem was not with the height of the goal; it remains at ten-feet. My thirteen-year-old grandson is six-six and capable of dunking, occasionally.
There also needed to be small changes to the first rules, the most significant to rule #3:
A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.
Think of basketball without dribbling, compared with the fast-paced game today. When I played girls’ basketball, the rules were even crazier. Each position (guard or forward) played her respective two-thirds of the court, and you could bounce the ball twice only.
But the freedom achieved in basketball pales in comparison with the freedom we have been given in Christ. As you well know, we are sons of God by grace, through faith—it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). And we follow the rules of Love.
While a value of $4.34 million was placed on those original basketball rules, one cannot put a value on our being created in God’s image, nor on the grace of the original game plan of God to set enmity over death, nor on the love of God to send His “only begotten Son” to the cross, nor on the resultant spiritual DNA of the Spirit in me. Amen; Amen!