Sunday, August 14, 2005

Golf & Grace

Several years ago I made an investment in a set of golf clubs when I was working as car salesman. One of the guys who worked in the auto prep department, that detailed the cars and got them ready for delivery, made custom golf clubs. He was ticked one afternoon when a customer of his decided NOT to buy the clubs he had worked for several weeks on. I had never played golf much before that other then borrowing some clubs on occassion and then hacking away on a par three course somewhere.

Most of the other salesmen played on a regular basis so I decided it was time I took up golf. I bought the clubs that consisted only of irons and no drivers.

I began to read GOLF Magazine and do some homework on what kind of bag to buy, which golf shoes where the best, what drivers to purchase, and so on. I jumped in with both feet. Soon I was spending one evening a week at the driving range and two days a week playing at local golf courses. I played everywhere from country clubs to municipal courses that never mowed the grass much less take care of the greens.

I wasn't a great player. In fact, I wasn't even a very good player but I enjoyed it. I stood wrong, held the clubs wrong, lifted my head, bent the arm that was supposed to be straight and staightened the arm that was supposed to be bent. There was one "old timer" I really loved to play with because he always encouraged me. Rather then always trying to fix me he would say things like, "shake it off, kid. The next hole is a new game."

My golf career was simply a hobby. I was not going to make the PGA tour nor was I threat to Tiger Woods' records.

After I became a pastor I had less time to play. One year I had a nationally known speaker and author come to speak at the church. As I was driving him the sixty minutes from the airport to the hotel he asked me if I played golf. I answered, "I play enough to be able to say I play golf." He suggested we play nine holes while he was in town. Sounded like a plan to me. Two days later we were on the first tee early in the morning. I took two practice swings as he prepared his clubs and gear. It was obvious he PLAYED. He told me had played semi-pro several years before and gave private lessons at home when he wasn't traveling and speaking. My heart sank. Instead of being excited to play with someone of this caliber I worried about foolish I was about to look. I didn't care he could help me.

I teed off. I was actually proud of well I did. With a confident smile I turned to face him. He looked at me and said, "Marty, don't people you play golf." Talk about being deflated. It wrecked my game, my day, and my love for golf. For six years I stayed away from golf. The clubs sat in a closet in my house. Occassionally my kids would ask what those "things" were.

Three weeks ago I was watching a classic episode of the Honeymooners with my family. It was the one where Norton taught Ralph to play golf. "Plant your feet firmly on the ground, address the ball 'Hello Ball' and swing..." Something started to stir inside of me. I went to the closet and got out those "things" that hadn't seen the light of day for six years. I went to Wal-Mart and bought some balls and turned my six acre backyard into a driving range. My two boys acted as ball retrievers. It was fun.

Last week I took one of the teens from my church out for a morning of golf. I actually did pretty good for not having played in over six years. What was the difference? Several things...

First... I wasn't under any pressure because of who I was playing against. Sometimes weaker Christians do not find it comforting that stronger Christians are there to help them. They find it intimidating to the point of wanting to quit. Afterall, "I will NEVER measure up to him and his walk."

Second... I was there to have fun. Christian living is not about me pleasing someone else. It's about me living a life that pleases Him.

Third... I remembered some wonderful advice. I was doing well until about the7th hole that had a water trap. That hole didn't go so well but I remembered what an old timer told me many years ago, "shake it off, kid. The next hole is new game." That's Grace! When we mess up, when we sin... God offers us another chance.... a new hole... a new game. His mercies are new EVERY MORNING. Each day is a new hole, a new game.

When you mess up in your walk just remember... it's not about living up to some professional Christians' expectation of you. It's about you being for God all that He desires you to be. Remember, He will never ask you to be something that you cannot be. Be the one God wants you to be and you will discover in His grace that you are more then you ever thought you were.

What an awesome thought. What an awesome GOD!