I don't golf and you would not want to attempt to instruct me in this "fine art" of swing, stance, and aim! I tried - once! After about 4 holes and a hundred or so strokes, I decided there were other "relaxing activities" I might better pursue! Don't get me wrong, I think it is great for those who actually manage to direct that tiny ball toward that tiny cup with great accuracy and untiring enthusiasm. It is just not my "calling". But...out of every experience comes some opportunity to learn a lesson or two. So, although the course "challenged" me, there were lessons which came from the experience. Once I actually decided to just stop "trying", I actually found the time out on the course quite enjoyable. Peaceful, beautiful to the eye, and in a way, restful. As I listened to the various other members in our foursome talk their way through the 18-holes, I heard some terms which actually began to speak to me of something quite unrelated to golf! I kind of think Paul may have been a golfer - he actually describes Jesus making a "hole-in-one"! Who, but a golfer, would actually speak that way???
It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! (I Corinthians 15:57 MSG)
So, I told you I learned some terms on the course which spoke of something of something quite different than the golf "language" they were intended to bespeak. I actually did not learn what these terms meant until I looked them up later, but my curiosity was piqued on the course, so you know I'd head to the trusty "Webster's" with each term I just did not "get". Here's some things I learned:
- Bunker: I had always thought of a bunker in terms of what it meant to the military - a place of refuge, where you'd "dig in" and be able to be protected in the fight while being able to launch an attack of your own. In golf language, a bunker is a hollow obstruction or hazard which contains sand. Land your ball in there and it could take you a couple of strokes to actually get it back on course again. The bunker in golf is purposefully placed in your path, not to protect you, but to present you with obstacles to getting your ball into the cup! I kind of think the enemy of our souls has purposefully created bunkers in our lives - not as places of refuge - but as places of hazard. Their design is to keep us away from being able to finish the course. As I managed to find bunker after bunker (hazard after hazard), I was defeated in my quest to learn the sport of golf. This may not seem like much to you, but when I took this to heart in a spiritual sense, it made sense to see those hollow places, innocent looking like a sandy little beach in the middle of beautiful green - but they contain challenge after challenge to overcome!
- Dog Leg: Okay, this one kind of stumped me, but I got it when I thought it through. The dog leg on the course is the fairway (long, grassy expanse) which turns to the right or the left. The hole is somewhere at the end of the dog leg - but is not clearly in view. The builders of golf courses purposefully place a few of these "dog legs" into the course to challenge the golfer. The golfer really has no clear view of the hole, but they "drive" in faith. I wonder how many "dog legs" have been purposefully placed in our lives just to get us "driving" in faith?
- Par: To me, being at "par" was an impossibility. It was a nice aim, but unrealistic for me. Par is the "expected" number of strokes (times you hit that tiny white ball) to finish the course. In my experience, the more I stayed on the course, the more the strokes added up! I was nowhere close to par. The thing I recognized - this was not the course I was supposed to be on! It is more the course we are supposed to be playing "IN" or "ON" than the number of strokes it takes to get us through it! I was defeated by the course - not by a lack of enthusiasm. I took lots and lots of swings, but landed very few balls into the cup! To me, par was impossible. I came to see the "course" often stumps the player. This is so true in our spiritual lives, as well. When we are on a new course, every "swing" is like a total "faith thing". We don't know exactly where the ball will land, but we take our best swings and hope to be reasonably close to "par" in the end.
- Rough: This is the place on the course with longest and thickest grass. You don't really want your ball to land in the rough because hitting it out of the longer grass is much more difficult than hitting it off a tee! You might not have as much control over the ball. I learned the course is not made up of one type of grass, but many types. The most common grass for the fairway is a longer grass. Yet, this grass is not well-suited for the green (the place where the cup is). Why? It doesn't do well once it is cut short. It is designed to be left a little longer. On the green, they cut the grass very short because they are "carving" the grass to allow smooth passage to the hole. I think God places us right where we need to be along our "course" in life. Sometimes we find ourselves in the "rough" - in a little bit "deeper" than we might want to be. Nothing on the course is there by mistake - even the "roughs" are there on purpose. They are designed to help us direct our path a little differently the next time we take a swing!
So, not exactly the most spiritual lesson on our passage today, but I think you might be able to glean a thing or two from my very limited understanding of golf terms! Here's the truth - Jesus landed a "hole-in-one" - totally giving us the ability to live life "on par" with him! Nothing put in his path caused him to give up - he finished the course. His reward wasn't a greed jacket (like the kind a player wins at the Master's), but an inheritance - you and I! Through his perfect completion of the course, he dealt with sin, guilt and death. All for us - his inheritance! Kind of glad he didn't give up on the course! Just sayin!