It’s playoff time! And the Dodgers are in it!
Growing up less than fifteen miles from New York City, I was very aware of Major League baseball, particularly the Yankees. The Dodgers and the Giants were also in NY then, and all three teams’ home games were televised. For the most part, I watched Yankee games so I could root against them, which was very frustrating, because they were in their prime.
I learned to follow the ups and downs of particular ball players and kept up with their latest statistics in the newspaper. It was pretty simple then. You measured a hitter’s performance by his BA (Batting Average), his RBIs (Runs Batted In) and his HRs (Home Runs). A pitcher was evaluated based on his W-L record (Wins vs. Losses), his ERA (Earned Run Average; how many earned runs did he allow in a nine-inning game) and, in the case of relief pitchers, his S (Saves). It was pretty easy to know who was performing well.
When I read a newspaper sports page today, I’m knocked over by some new abbreviations representing supposedly more sophisticated measurements. Hitters are now measured by OBP (On Base Percentage), SLG (Slugging percentage), OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) and even BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). Pitchers are rated by IRA (Inherited Runs Allowed), IPS (Innings Per Start), OPA (Opponents’ Batting Average), LIPS (Late Inning Pressure Situation) and WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched). Clever statisticians have even tried to combine all the complex measurements into one formula, a player’s PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm). Since the 1980s, a new field of statistics called sabermetrics has been developed to try to project a young baseball player’s future potential, and more and more team owners have been using these in their decision-making.
So, how do we measure our performance in the Christian life? Don’t laugh; you can actually find some on-line indicators, such as the CCI (Christian Character Index) and the DDES (Daily Spiritual Experience Scale).
Jesus often mentioned good works (Matthew 23:1-7, Luke 18:9-14). He was talking to Jewish spiritual leaders who thought that piling up what in their religion were called mitzvot (righteous acts) gained them favor in God’s eyes. While he warned them about thinking that this would be the basis of their salvation, he still encouraged good behavior:
Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
Like them, some of us think that coming up with a good works resume will raise our spiritual stats in God’s eyes, and we’ve got to get over that.
But most of us have more trouble interpreting our negative stats than our positive. We are hung up on our strikeouts with the bases loaded or our failure to get that last batter out. We call these statistics sins. We try to distinguish between little sins and big sins. The Catholic Church developed the concept of venial sins vs. mortal sins; when you commit the former, the coach comes out and gives you a little talking-to; when you commit the latter, you’re in danger of being taken out of the game.
Actually, whether you’re talking about good works or sins, there’s no clear behavioral scoresheet in the Bible. That’s because the Lord doesn’t want us to agonize about how we’re measuring up, and he certainly doesn’t want us to apply statistical analysis evaluation to other people. He wants us to think only about what he is in the process of creating in us. As it is expressed in last Sunday’s sermon text,
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
You can’t measure that with any fancy statistical “algorithm.” (That’s a new high-tech term designed to confuse you even more.)
As a professional baseball player in the post-season, or as an everyday, garden-variety Christian, you can’t get any better training advice than this word from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs:Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not look to the right or to the left. (Proverbs 4:25-27)
I’m still old-fashioned enough to believe that this year’s World Series hero will be someone whose performance would never have been predicted by his statistics.
I also believe that the average sincere, conscientious follower of Jesus is more likely to be a hero of faith than the most obviously gifted Christian star.
— Pastor George Van Alstine