GOLF: God's Game
(Psalm 130;Romans 6:1b-11)

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Tne day Pastor Smith found himself wondering whether there were any golf courses in heaven. It intrigued him so he even began to ask the question in his prayers. Then one day he received a direct answer from God.

"Yes," said God, "there are many excellent golf courses in heaven. The greens are always in first-class condition, the weather is always perfect, and you always play with the nicest people."

"Oh, thank you," responded Pastor Smith. "That's really great news." "Yes it is," replied God. "And we have you down for a foursome next Saturday."

I've played golf for a number of years now, and I really enjoy the game because of the challenge, and because of the satisfaction of making that one good shot, or that one good putt. And those of you who play golf know the satisfaction I'm talking about. You can have the worst round of golf going but when you make that one good shot that's enough to motivate you to come back to the course to do it all over again.

Well, golf in many ways is like life. It's not an easy game, it has it's obstacles and hazards, struggles, victories, conflicts, and yes its blessings, and when you experience those victories and blessings you want to experience more.

As I've studied and played the game of golf I've gained an appreciation for, how like golf, life can be challenging, and more specifically how living as a Christian in this world can be challenging. You see both golf and living a Christian life require the following: " Persistence " Patience " Practice " Mentoring and training " Faith " Confidence " Passion " And the desire to keep on playing and getting better no matter what Golf also has a way of bringing you to your knees. If you're not modest about your golfing abilities it won't take long for you to assume a role of humility, which often times happens as soon as you prepare to tee off from the first tee, but that's the nature of the game,whether the game is golf or life itself.

Some have said that the game of golf is a beautiful walk spoiled by a little white ball, and if you've watched any of the U.S. Open this weekend there are many golf pros that would agree. Well, when you stop and think about it, living life itself is a beautiful walk spoiled by sin, and I think it's safe to say many of us can witness to this truth.

The game of golf requires many different skills and abilities that take time to develop. For one thing, in golf there's always the issue of the proper stance, whether you have an open stance, closed stance, or straight stance. The stance dictates everything, where the shot will go, whether it's a fade or draw, or whether it's a slice or duck hook.

In life, we too assume some kind of stance - a stance for what we believe, for how we live our life, and for what kind of legacy we'll leave behind. Is our stance so open that we're easily influenced by the world, is our stance so closed we shut ourselves off from God's Word, or do we use a straight or more balanced stance keeping the world's influences and God's word in the proper perspective.

I've also found over the years that it's very important to find a good coach, mentor, and leader, to help me understand the fundamentals of the game, and to be able to trust that person with my total swing, beginning with the stance on through the follow-through. For my golf game I've turned to Harvey Pinnick and Jack Nicholas, and I've tried to learn as much as I can from these two great teachers.

A good friend of mine was celebrating a birthday several years ago and his wife decided to buy him seven golf lessons for his birthday. My friend looked forward to these. He was always a pretty good player, but he had kind of plateaued with his scoring and was interested in tweaking his swing to score better.

After he took his first lesson I asked him how it went. He said, "The lesson was terrible." I asked him, "why?" He said the instructor asked him to take a few swings so that he could get a sense for what he needed to improve. So my friend took a few swings and the instructor told him, "go put your clubs away, you won't need them for the first few lessons."

You see his swing was so fundamentally bad the golf pro had to start from the beginning to rebuild his swing. It's funny because my friend was getting by and doing a fairly good job on the golf course, but he wasn't going to go get any better until he understood and executed the proper fundamentals of the swing. My friend had to trust the pro to help rid him of the bad swing habits he had developed, replacing them with good solid swing fundamentals.

Well, again the same is true in life. Many of us can get by doing what we're doing, but our growth levels off because we don't have a good understanding of how the divine golf pro wants us to live. And sometimes to grow means we need to start with the basics again, we need to develop a better understanding of God, what our purpose in life is, build our relationship with God, and be able, without hesitation, to place our trust in our coach, mentor and leader, Jesus Christ.

And the truth is, if we place our total lives in Christ's hands, the rewards are great, Jesus will direct our lives and make our lives abundant, worthwhile, joy-filled, and fruitful.

One of the golfing fundamentals I've been messing with this past year has been my grip on the club. Now there are several different kinds of grips, the overlap, baseball, or interlocking grip. I used to use the overlap grip, mainly because most of the pro golfers do. But I changed late last year to the interlocking grip because I took the time to understand which grip was best for my hand size and shot making abilities. After changing my grip and practicing with it for some time my golf score has improved tremendously.

Life is no different. As we go through life, we all will grip something, and something or someone will grip us. In other words, others and other things influence us over the course of our lives.

Now when you grip a golf club you must exert the appropriate amount of pressure on the club grip. If you grip to lightly, the club goes flying when you swing, often times going further down the fairway then the ball. If you grip the club to tightly, your muscles tense up and there's a lack of fluidity in your swing.

The proper grip is one that maintains the proper amount of pressure on the club grip throughout the swing. I believe it was Sam Snead who described the proper amount of pressure needed to make a good swing. Sam said, "when you hold the club; pretend you're holding a bird in your hand. Exert enough pressure to keep if from flying away, but not so much that you squeeze it to death."

In life we too must have a grip on what we're doing and why we're doing it. But the grip we maintain on our life mustn't be so light that we succumb to every temptation and sin that comes our way. Conversely we shouldn't be gripping so tightly that we fail to see the changes we need to make in our lives to be more in line with the teachings of Jesus.

We need to exert the proper amount of pressure so that we maintain control over what it is we're doing, yet be flexible enough to realize we may need to change some things in our life to be in line with God, and God's call on our life.

One of the greatest challenges for me as I play golf is keeping my eye on the ball. Most of my miss hits can be attributed to the fact I lift my head to see where the ball is going before I even hit it. And keeping your eye on the ball is a basic must in any sport a ball is used.

The New Testament speaks of "keeping ourselves in God's love as we wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Jude 1:21) God is the one in which we must give our undivided attention. He must be our focus. We can't live a Jesus would have us live if we take our eyes off of him.

One of the most exciting things in my life has been to keep looking to Jesus, to see what's really happening, to know where I'm headed, and this realization has given me a solid reason for much hope. If we take our eyes off Jesus chances are we will miss hit, we will travel down a path inconsistent with God's plan for us.

But lets face it we've all had our share of miss hits. Sometimes we come up short and it takes a couple of more shots to get where God wants us, sometimes we end up in the rough so we struggle to recover, sometimes we end up in a hazard and have to take a penalty for what we've done. But you know what, regardless of the miss hit, the game isn't over.

Yes, we may pay the consequences for what we've done, but we're never out of the game, we're allowed to finish the round, God never throws us off the course, even if we lose control and throw our clubs.

And often times when you think back on the round you've just played, no matter how bad it was, you can always point to that one shot that will bring you back. You can always see how God was present and active in your life.

In life it's God's love and forgiveness that brings us back, that keeps us going on for the "prize." God never gives up on us. God loves us no matter what we've done and will grant forgiveness if we seek it.

Life is tough, and some days it's tougher than others, but because of Jesus Christ, God always offers us a chance to get back in the game, because God offers Love and forgiveness.

Psalm 130:3-4 says, "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness."

Keeping a record of sins is equivalent to holding a grudge, it's the same as building a wall between us and another person, and as you know when we hold a grudge against someone else it's nearly impossible to openly talk with one another.

God doesn't keep a record of our miss hits, our sins; when he forgives he forgives completely, tearing down any wall between God and us. Therefore we ought to revere God, and give thanks for his willingness and desire to forgive us. When you pray, realize that God is holding nothing against you. His lines of communication are completely open.

Now some might suggest if God loves to forgive, why not give God more stuff to forgive? If forgiveness is guaranteed, do we have the freedom to sin as much as we want? Well, Paul's forceful answer in our reading from Romans this morning is, NO!

Deciding to take advantage of God shows that a person doesn't understand the seriousness of sin. God's forgiveness doesn't make sin less serious; his Son's death for our sin very clearly illustrates for us the dreadful seriousness of sin. The availability of God's mercy must not become an excuse for careless living and moral laxness.

If you truly enjoy the game of golf and you knew of a way to get better, wouldn't you pursue it? Why would anyone want to continue to play below their potential, continue to make bogies when birdies are possible, continue to hook and slice shots when a long straight shot down the middle of the fairway is possible. If someone knew there was a better more fruitful way to live, why would they want to continue to sin and live in sin?

Because "we have been baptized into Christ Jesus we have also been baptized into his death, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may have a new life." (Romans 6:3-4)

This means we can enjoy our new life because we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Our sinful desires, our bondage to sin, and our love of sin died with Christ.

And since we are now united by faith with Jesus in his resurrection life, we have unbroken fellowship with God and freedom from sin's hold on us.

We don't have to succumb to, or be content with our life's miss hits; we can overcome them by God's grace of love and forgiveness, allowing us to grow into golfers, into the disciples, God wants us to be.


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