a parable from golf

Last week I was invited to be the after dinner speaker at a Christian Golf Society day. I was also invited to join them for a round of golf before the meal… the less said about that the better! Ahem.

After dinner I shared a few illusions with the golfers (including a few golf-related illusions) and showed them this very special golf ball.

This is the first (and so far only) golf ball to have started with me on the first tee of a round of golf, be used for the entire round of golf and finish by landing in the cup on the 18th green. It’s a very special golf ball.

Golf balls are cleverly designed for one main purpose. They are designed to travel from tee to fairway to green to cup. They have dimples on them to aid flight. The dimples are like the wings of a golf ball and (surprisingly perhaps) a dimpled golf ball will travel higher and further than a smooth one. It’s something to do with air pressure.

They also have a core inside the hard exterior. This core is like the engine. When (if) the club face connects with the ball the inner core is compressed and then expands to hurl itself off the club and travel faster and further than a solid ball would.

It’s very clever and different balls have different dimple arrangements and different cores in order to be easier to control or travel further.

However they all have the same purpose – to travel from tee to fairway to green to cup.

I have retired my special golf ball from active duty because I can’t bear the thought that it might get lost because (this may surprise you) I often lose golf balls. When I am searching for my lost ball I often find other balls that have been lost by other golfers. When a ball gets lost it does not stop being a golf ball, but it stops fulfilling its purpose – to travel from tee to fairway to green to cup.

Humans are like golf balls in that we also have been created for a purpose. That purpose is to know God. But like golf balls we too can get lost: lost because our attitudes, actions, thoughts and words take us from the ‘straight and narrow’. It doesn’t stop us from being human, but we’re not fulfilling our purpose because these things separate us from God.

The message of Jesus is that we don’t have to stay lost. He said that he came to find those who were lost and there’s a party thrown in heaven when that happens – even more than if a golfer finds a special ball he had lost.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the old joke I almost used on Sunday morning…*

golf holeA Minister decided he needed a day off (no, that’s not the joke). He woke up one morning, looked out on a beautiful day, and decided to play a round of golf (some of you are already at the punchline now). The only problem was that it was a Sunday.

He phoned his Church Secretary and pretended to have lost his voice. He croaked that he would not be able to take the service and received the sympathy of his Secretary. Then he put the phone down, picked up his clubs, put them in the car and joyfully drove off to the golf course.

Meanwhile, from above, two angels were watching. One, a novice, was seriously indignant: “Did you see that?” he blurted. “That Minister lied to his Church and is now off to play golf on a Sunday. We need to stop him!”

“Don’t worry,” said the other angel, a Wing Commander. “It will be sorted.”

The Minister arrived at the golf course and set himself up on the first tee. He swung at the ball, sliced it and it shot off to the right. It careened into a tree, rebounded onto the course and trundled happily up the fairway.

“Did you see that!” shouted the novice angel. “He lied to his Church, is playing golf on a Sunday, and now he’s hitting fluke shots.”

“Don’t worry,” said the Wing Commander. “It will be sorted.”

The Minister chipped onto the green and then sank a 15 foot putt for a birdie.

“Did you see that!” screamed the novice angel. “He lied to his Church, is playing golf on a Sunday, he’s hitting fluke shots and now he’s got a birdie!”

“Don’t worry,” said the Wing Commander. “It will be sorted.”

The next hole was a par three. The Minister lined up his tee shot, swung, and for once made a perfect connection. The ball sailed into the air, straight and true, and landed on the bottom tier of the green. It bounced a couple of times and then rolled up the slope towards the hole and stopped right on the very edge of the cup. Then, after a brief pause, the ball dropped into the hole for a hole in one.

“Did you see that!” fumed the novice angel, forgetting all about the serenity of heaven. “He lied to his Church, is playing golf on a Sunday, he’s hitting fluke shots to get a birdie, and now he’s hit a hole in one! He’s having the round of his life! He should not be getting away with this!”

“Don’t worry, it’s sorted” said the Wing Commander. “He may be having the round of his life, and he may have hit a hole in one, but who can he tell?”

Most of you got to the punch line well before you read it. And I get the feeling that this happens a lot with Christians. Not so much with jokes but with sermons and Bible Studies and the like. We know that the answer will be often one or more of ‘follow Jesus, share your faith, pray, and / or read the Bible’. That may be true at a superficial level, but in my experience it’s as I do those things that I find new experiences every time. Sometimes God takes the familiar things and applies them in new ways. Sometimes I need to be reminded about the familiar things and reapply them to my life. And then there are the ‘wow’ moments when I discover something new or am reminded of something I had forgotten.

If that joke was familiar to you the chances are you would not have remembered it until I told it. If it was new to you the chances are you would not have come across it anywhere else today. It may seem mundane to say ‘follow Jesus, share your faith, pray, and / or read the Bible’ but in doing those things we find the amazing, the exciting, the surprising.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*I decided against telling the joke on Sunday, but I like it so much that I thought you deserved to read it today!

confessions of a golfist

 

If you look carefully you will see a ball near the pin. That was mine - shortly before I putted it for one of the rarest birdies on the planet!
If you look carefully you will see a ball near the pin. That was mine on a previous round of golf – shortly before I putted it for one of the rarest birdies on the planet!

I have a confession to make. I am a golfist. (No, not a ‘goldfish’, a ‘golfist’). I have been playing for a couple of years now, introduced by one of our church members, and while I am still not very good I do enjoy it. In order to try to minimise the slices, hooks and other mis-hits I try to visit a local driving range so I can keep practicing when I don’t have time for a complete round of golf.

Recently two things have happened that were significant. One is a landmark that I consider to be a major achievement. I played 18 holes of golf and finished with the same golf ball with which I teed off from the first hole. It hid a few times but I always found it! That is a first for me. I feel as if I ought to retire that ball from active service and mount it on some sort of plinth.

The second happened on Saturday at the driving range. I was using the driver (that’s the big hitty one) and hit a fairly decent drive. But as the club head swung through the ball (to use the correct terminology) instead of a ‘ping’ there was a ‘thunk’. I looked at the club and saw that the head had a massive crack in it that ran right across the top. (That’s not supposed to be there, in case you didn’t know).

The driver was part of a whole set of clubs, and as the clubs were only a year old I took it back to the shop where I bought them. I was seriously impressed with the customer service. Without a quibble (admittedly the evidence was right in front of them – a massive crack in a newish golf club) the shop said that they would send it back to the manufacturer and get a replacement. When I pointed out that it was only about a month before that I had bought a new grip (slightly thicker) for the club they said that they would put one on the replacement.

Yesterday morning I had a call from the shop to say that the manufacturer wanted me to return all of the clubs in the set. It seems that they want to do some sort of quality tests on them. They will send a new set of clubs to replace this set. When I pointed out to the shop that I had actually paid for new, thicker grips on all of the clubs they said that they would mention this to the manufacturer and now the manufacturer is also going to send a new set of grips.

That’s what I call good customer service. I must remember to thank them (Nevada Bob’s and Wilson). At this stage you may be speculating about what reflection I am going to make…

Is it something about churches improving their customer service?

Nope.

Is it something about Christians being properly equipped or fit for purpose?

Nope.

Is it Henry, the mild mannered janitor?*

Ahem. [tries again]

Is it about that ball which survived 18 holes of my golfing?

Could be!

You see as proud as I am of that round of golf if I retired the ball at this point it would no longer be fulfilling its purpose as a golf ball. It would become an exhibit in a museum (albeit one that only I would want to visit). The ball was designed to be played with. It was designed to travel from the top of a tee to the bottom of a little hole, propelled by a big hitty stick on other slightly less hitty sticks.

We need to celebrate our achievements. We need to learn from and be encouraged by history. But let’s not live in the past. Let’s not look back to the ‘good old days’ but enjoy what we have now and look forward to what God has in store for us next. Let’s allow Jesus to use us again and again and again. And the good news is he will never lose us!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Sorry, that only makes even the slightest sense if you have ever watched the intro to the cartoon ‘Hong Kong Phooey’!

the end

Today marks my last day ‘at work’ until almost the end of August. It also marks the last of my daily bloggages until then. This is not because I intend to stop reflecting but because I will not necessarily be within reach of a machine or internet connection with which to write the bloggerel that you consume. I intend to write a few bloggages as I go along (internet connections allowing), and also hope to write a few in advance and schedule them to appear at different points during my absence.

golf hole

So the pressure’s on to make this one a good one. Is it just me, or do you also feel an added pressure when you come to doing the last of something. I like to swing golf clubs in the general direction of a golf ball (in the hope that they will go in the direction I am aiming) and find that when I am at the driving range I want to make sure I hit the last ball well, or when I am playing the last hole on a course I want it to be a good one. If you are in show-business (amateur or professional) do you try to ensure that your last performance in a run is the best? Maybe at work you try to make sure that you finish well at the end of each day or at the end of a week.

I think it is because the last thing we do stays with us for a while and we want to have a feeling of satisfaction and contentment that comes from having finished well. I can happily forget a lot of sliced golf shots if I have hit the last shot well or played the last hole well.

Finishing well is important for all of us, not just in our daily life but in all that we do. This is one reason why it is such a privilege and blessing to lead and take part in funeral services and thanksgiving services. In those difficult times we have the opportunity to remember, to give thanks and to be uplifted by a good finish to a person’s life. When I was training to be a Minister I was terrified about the idea of taking a funeral. It seemed so morbid and sad. It seemed such a gloomy thing to have to do. But now, having conducted quite a few services, I find it a real blessing to be involved in them because they provide a good finish to someone’s life.

It’s even more of a blessing and encouragement if that person was a follower of Jesus because we know that death is followed by resurrection.

So what will you do well today? How are you finishing?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

In my first church the Senior Minister and I were meeting together when our caretaker, a formidable lady, came in to see us. It was the start of the year and she came in to ask for the dates of all the weddings and funerals for the coming year.

“Certainly Betty,” said David, opening his diary, “When would you like us to book you in for your funeral?”

golf grace

golf hole
How come it’s so difficult to get the little ball into that hole?

I recently took part in a golf tournament. Well, ‘tournament’ might be a bit of an exaggeration. There were seven ‘threes’ and as well as playing for individual glory there was also a team competition between the ‘threes’. I was delighted that our team came second!

This is not, I hasten to add, because I am a great golfer. I don’t have a handicap and can’t guarantee where the ball will go once I have swung the club at it. But I enjoy playing and (despite being drenched by a monsoon) had a great afternoon. I thing I contributed 5 or 6 points to our team’s total. That sounds less impressive when you think that our team total was over 60 points! But we came second by one point and that winning point could have been mine!

I was so blessed by the encouragement and friendship of my playing partners. They did not give up on me even when I hit the ball way into the rough and encouraged me if I hit a good shot. And I was so blessed that they shared the blessing of coming second with me as if I had contributed half of the points rather than under 10% of them! That’s grace in action.

It did remind me of Jesus’ parable of the workers in a vineyard who all received the same wage regardless of how long they had worked. That too is an illustration of God’s grace – he does not give according to what we deserve, he gives according to his generosity, mercy and love. He gives his forgiveness, fresh starts, encouragement, strength, presence, support, comfort and so much more without limit, without grudging and without preconditions.

Grace indeed!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

On the subject of grace, I used to play for a church football team in a local league. Most of the lads were not Christians, but it was our tradition to pray before a match. On one occasion there weren’t any Christians available but the lads still felt that they ought to pray so one of them prayed the only prayer he could remember – grace from school:

“For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”

The team got hammered 9-0. They saw the funny side of it!