tiger-woodsI can beat Tiger Woods at golf.  Yeah, you heard me right.  I can beat Tiger Woods in a game of golf.  Sure, he may have won 14 major championships, 70 PGA tournaments, and 3 U.S. Amateur Titles, but I can still take him.

Wanna know how I am so confident?  It’s all in the numbers.  Tiger’s scoring average this season on the PGA Tour was 69.06.  So far in five rounds of golf I have played in 2009, I have averaged an 86.  Since 86 is more than 69, I feel I have a great chance to beat him.  Sure, I am aware that when I play with Tiger I will most likely be intimidated and not play as well as when I hit it around with some friends out at the local municipal course, but surely I won’t play 17 strokes WORSE will I?  Surely not.

Wait.  What’s that you say?  Golf is about hitting the ball the FEWEST number of times where the LOWEST score wins?  Oh, OK.  I would now like to amend me previous prediction . . .

It’s easy to see, though, why I would anticipate beating Tiger on the links.  After all, in virtually every sport, the higher the score, the greater the chance at victory.  Basketball, football, baseball, tennis, bowling, bocce ball, even yard darts all award the victors crown to the athlete who scores the most points.  Given this overwhelming trend in sports, is it not to be expected that I would assume my 86 would be 17 BETTER than Tiger’s 69?

The problem with my logic is that in the game of golf, the rules specify that low score wins.  It does not matter what I think or how other sports declare a winner.  If I am playing golf, I must adhere to the rules established by the creators and caretakers of the game, and acknowledge that low ball wins.

Of course I realize the rules of golf, and would never assert that my 15 handicap could ever compete with the greatest player on the planet, but I was thinking about this analogy on Sunday as our Senior Pastor Bruce Hess preached on Philippians 3:1-11.  In this passage, the Apostle Paul provides the Philippian church with his religious resume.  In Philippians 3:4-6 Paul says, “If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”  While this religious pedigree may be somewhat cryptic to us, know that to a first century Jew, this was five star spirituality.

In Paul’s day (as in ours) almost all religions define their “winners” by their spiritual achievements.  In most systems, the winners (who are awarded with eternal life) are picked by who scores the most goodness points.  Given this situation, it was not surprising that Paul began 3:4 by saying that he has “more” reasons to put confidence in his religious resume than anyone else, because (as 3:6 states) Paul was “faultless” according to his religion’s righteous rules.  According to these rules, Paul would have been declared a winner.

However, in 3:7-9 Paul says, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  What Paul was saying was that his Jewish religious resume made him look like a winner under the old set of rules, however, in Christ, he realized that there are a different set of rules.  Under the new rules, scoring 86 goodness points does not make you a winner.  What makes you a spiritual winner is if your faith points to the 1 Savior Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins.  Though most religions don’t use that scoring system, in Christianity, 1 beats many every time.

At first this rule clarification is quite troubling.  We find it hard to believe that God would not save those who had scored the most points in this life.  That seems only fair and sporting.  However, the flaw in this thinking is that ANYONE could be good enough for a holy God.  No matter how many points we may score, we can never achieve a perfect score for God.  In fact, the Bible says that only Jesus Christ truly lived His life with a perfect and winning score.  Since God loved humanity and desired a relationship with them, and knowing that humanity would never score enough goodness points on their own to win the game, God made a very gracious offer.  He offers to have us join Jesus’ team.  When we do so, His winning score becomes affiliated with our name, and we get the benefit of reaping His reward . . . eternal life.

Therefore, as you read this today, I would like to challenge all of you to take stock on what rules you are playing the game of life by.  Are you playing by the rules of virtually every other religious game, where scoring goodness points wins you eternal life, or are you playing by the reality of Jesus Christ who says that He is the one way to peace with God and forgiveness of our sins.

It is crazy for me to think that I could beat Tiger Woods in golf.  It is even crazier to think that I could somehow be good enough for a holy and perfect God.  Thankfully He has shown us the rules that allow for our sin to be fully paid for by Jesus death so that His life might flow through us.

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