Golf: It’s Only A Game, Right?

golf-teeing-offI started playing golf again after a ten to twelve year hiatus because, well, I never quite got the idea of hitting the ball. And when I did connect, let’s just say people got out of the way.

But after watching the Masters and U.S. Open I decided to try again for several reasons – to get some exercise outside, spend time with friends and maybe get some cool clothes. So I did what any wise person would do to prepare I went straight to the first tee at a local course with a friend.

I mean what could be so hard and besides they now have that red line that follows your ball? I also got some new clubs that a pro told me were great for seniors like me. Something about they were lighter and wouldn’t strain my body so much as though golf is supposedly some kind of physically demanding sport.

So there we were on number one with me trying to remember what club Jordan Spieth would use.  Hmm, he hit three wood here about 260.  Yep, that works for me. These senior clubs are a little heavier then I thought!

I’m actually not sure how far my first drive went, but let’s just say I only saw it for a very brief time and I somehow missed spotting the red line behind it. Okay, so there is apparently still a rule about having to continuously hit the ball in a certain direction. The laughter from the carts waiting behind us also told me that golf is no longer a polite-person’s game. Oh, like I suppose you play like Phil.

I did eventually watch some golf instruction videos on You Tube. These free sessions, all hosted by people with British accents (of course Britain is the home of golf and beer), describe the 264 laws of physics that must be applied if you ever hope to see your ball travel past the ladies’ tees or avoid injuring the general public. By the way, why do the Brits measure their shots in yards instead of meters?

Apparently there are rules about take away, wrist cock, grip pressure, back swing, follow through, club speed (precisely 432 mph), shoulder turn, weight transfer, staying hydrated (and by this they mean beer) and Johnny Miller that must all be followed in just the right order or you will no doubt have to return to the first tee and start over.  I believe that’s called a Mulligan.

Anyhow, if my body could actually do all of those things, much more so in some kind of logical order, I might start preparing for America’s Got Talent right now! The snooty British guy seemed to think I would be able to get my swing down if I just did each of the exercises he prescribed a thousand times a day.

I decided that this was way too complicated so I determined to just try to hit the ball (a Titlist of course) as far as I could and then merely talk like I knew what I was doing. I got a little wristy there, Jon. Had a flyer on that one, Alan. I needed to aim a little more right, Dave, and take it down a club. Yep, flew my elbow that time. Just can’t seem to make a putt.  That sand sure seems damp today. Oops, the wind came up last minute. Where’s the beer cart?

Of course, some people getting up in years have the goal to shoot their age. I will be sixty – eight soon and am hoping to realize that achievement in the near future through at least the first five holes. The truth is that I would have to live as long as early biblical characters to ever shoot my age and by then Jim Nance will be dead and not available to call it.

Oh well, see you on the first tee. I may be there a while.

If You Need More Worship Leaders Or Team Members, Find a Josh.

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A lot of us lost a great friend the other day. More poignantly a family lost a dad, husband, son, grandpa and more. Josh Calvin was one of those guys who made a room, situation, band practice or simple fun time that much better. Sadly, cancer took him way too soon.

I was privileged to be one of his pastors and a fellow musician on our worship team from time to time over a period of eight years in Austin, Texas. And while I left a few rehearsals irritated with myself or others now and then, I can’t ever remember being disappointed in Josh’s contribution to our time together.

He always brought some things to the table of our rehearsal and playing times that I think we might be wise to look for and expect in those who lead or participate in our worship times and even other leadership roles. If nothing else we might pray for and seek out more team members just like Josh.

Let me suggest a few of the qualities that made him pretty special.

Josh was darn good at what he did – playing the guitar. No, Josh wasn’t the best player I ever met but he was always prepared, willing to be taught and eager to do the very best he could do. I’ll take that any day over the diva-like, primadonna players who cover their lack of preparation well but aren’t really ready for prime time and haven’t given their best.

Josh made others look good. If you’re a decent musician you understand the phrase less is more. Josh played less, but better so that the other parts in the band got the attention they deserved or the help they needed to sound even better. He didn’t use his talents to showcase himself while covering up the abilities or unique playing of the rest of the team. I remember time after time when I was playing keys next to him and we easily bowed out for a time while the other took the lead on some section of a song.

Josh sweated the small things while not making too big a deal out of the ones that didn’t matter. Like I said Josh always did his best but he wasn’t fiendishly worried about some little adjustment that perhaps wouldn’t be fixed and therefore he might not sound good enough. Josh often made things work with what he had or we had including potential limitations that perhaps couldn’t be avoided that week. I knew that when Josh was playing that week that we weren’t going to have any meltdowns when something didn’t work.

Josh always took time to care about others. He’d ask you how your week was, engage in fun conversation about hiking or whatever but included listening to your stories not just telling his. When he said he’d pray for you he meant it. He’d stick around and talk if you needed him to. He was willing to share his own weaknesses, too, as a bit of encouragement to someone else.

Josh took time to ponder and slow down. I remember looking forward to hearing about his next backpacking trip, getaway on some remote trail and what he’d be reading while he was gone. He knew the value of refilling and reflection that I’m convinced brought the depth he had to other parts of his life.

Frankly, I don’t know what all led to Josh being the way he was, at least in my experience, but I’m thankful for who he became and for the people I know he impacted, including me. Our teams could use a lot more like Josh. I’m just sad that we didn’t get more time with him, at least for now.

 

When You’re Losing People You Love Too Soon

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We’ve received news in recent weeks of the passing or entering into hospice of several close friends, ones who are way too young to die at least in human terms. My wife’s brother Paul died at age sixty two years ago. There are other challenges people we know are facing that I just don’t understand. And I would guess we’re not unique and that many of you reading this post are experiencing similar circumstances.

As I said, I don’t get most of these situations. Why do seemingly good people with spouses, kids, grandkids and many good years left to serve God and others pass away before their time? Why couldn’t evil people have taken their place and my friends and loved ones been spared, avoiding the grief that they themselves and/or their families are now facing?

And yes, there are legitimate, spiritual, bigger picture answers some of which we can understand to a point and others we must leave to God. I’m not going to re-visit those here. They can be helpful but that’s not my focus for now.

Instead I want to simply offer a few suggestions for any of us who are facing these tough, hard-to-understand losses that won’t take away the pain but will perhaps do something in us that we might miss otherwise.

First, don’t wait to embrace every moment with those you love. By embrace I mean that we slow down, hear their stories, enjoy the experiences and not rush to the next thing. I realize that this sounds like a prediction that these people are going to die soon. It can seem like the reason we don’t want to buy life insurance but it’s not. In fact this is one way that we insure that we don’t miss out on real life.

Now is the time to experience relationship at its fullest not later.

Second, accept that there are a lot of events we don’t understand and won’t change. Am I suggesting that Christians shouldn’t pray for healing and other miracles or that God never gives them? Of course not. He does still do what seems impossible but that’s not always His answer or choice for us or those we care about.

Too many Christians demand, claim or promise God’s response to what THEY want and then look foolish or respond with silly answers as to why their friend or loved one didn’t survive. God is God and He does things beyond our understanding, things that hurt, grieve and confuse.

Third, be Jesus to those who are hurting. Yes, Jesus healed many when He was on earth, but not all. He also wept when his friend Lazarus died. He loved the unlovely, the grieving and the lost. Sometimes our faith will discover its deepest meaning and growth in the fertile soil of pain and loss. We may find Jesus most tender and real through our tears, not just our smiles.

This is the time when those facing the worst need us to be at our Christian best, not perfect, but caring, loving and listening.

 

The Heresy Of Calling Others’ Thinking Heresy

WLC-ThePerfectChurch_ThePerfectChurch-SS-CurrentI just read an article written a  year or two ago by a Christian leader called The Heresy of Worshiptainment. As you might guess the article suggests that because a church’s worship might be exciting, include a large number of people and be even the slightest bit attractive to others, it can’t really focus on God – it’s just entertainment. [NOTE: the word entertainment actually means to keep the attention of, something many churches have great trouble doing.]

This writer suggested that people would be best to do what his church decided to do and get rid of all the extras and just teach the Word. Thousands have come they said so I guess that’s what we should all do and consider, right? Of course there were no references to the church being the Body of Christ, encouraging one another, discipling others, missions, helping the poor or caring. Sounded like just meeting together and studying the Bible (was there application too?) would be enough. And frankly, I’ve not heard to too many other churches having the same success with that approach.

But this article follows the common practice these days to pan anything that’s not acceptable to the author or group making the statements or writing the book. So they look down on big churches, contemporary ones, those that aren’t radical or big or small or something enough. If you don’t have enough small groups or a mid-week prayer service or become integrated or teach using this method or that, you aren’t acceptable.

You see I’m not writing today about worship styles, preaching methods or church structure though I have my opinions about those. No, I’m writing to ask supposedly well-known leaders to quit trying to set the specific standards for today’s church and how God must and does work. God is a creative, powerful, multi-faceted God who made people and cultures and societies very different. No one size, style or approach fits all so quit writing books and teaching at conferences suggesting there is!

We have no right to demand methodologically that our way is the best or only way. If there are important principles then yes, by all means share them, model them, live them. Of course there are foundational concepts that God has made clear for his church. So let’s focus on those but concurrently celebrate our differences and the fact that God reaches people in thousands of ways and settings. And yes some are being reached in those services that appear to others to be mere entertainment, where a different translation is used or where the preaching style isn’t what we claim to be the biblical style.

And if those leading those services are caught up in merely doing a show not leading worship or preaching truth then shame on them and they’ll need to deal with God on that. But it’s not the style of service, preaching or coffee service that was necessarily the problem.

Churches are not going to change because we change the style or format though those choices may have their place and purpose. Churches change when people change, when they develop a common vision about the importance of Matthew 28, making disciples, the process of helping a person meet Christ to growing into a fully devoted and commitment follower of Christ. And frankly, I hope they don’t all end up looking alike, especially like me!

The Power of ONE Thing You Do Today

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There was a song sung decades ago by Three Dog Night called One Is The Loneliest Number. Of course we talk these days about the importance of having people in our lives, those who care about us and not feeling alone.

However, there are also regular challenges and exhortations from preachers, experts and motivators to combine our efforts with others, do something BIG and create a movement that will change the world somehow.  And all of that has its place and purpose.

But sometimes I think we need a few more reminders about what just ONE person like us can do to initiate change, genuine transformation and long-term impact. One isn’t necessarily lonely.

Perhaps it borders on trite or cheesy but the picture of a rock thrown into the water and the corresponding ripples created by that single rock still makes the point.

One action, comment or decision can have results that are both big and lasting for years even generations to come. They ripple beyond that one choice.

I like the picture of a giant domino display,  you know the ones very disciplined people set up over dozens of square feet of space using all sorts of twists, turns, rises and falls for the final result.

Once their preparation is completed, however, what starts the process? The designer knocks over one domino and the rest just happens. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dominoes begin to fall at a rapid pace, initiating a fascinating, often beautiful display of motion, color and flare.

You see, our one action today, tomorrow or the next day – a word of encouragement, an act of kindness, a listening ear or hundreds of other possibilities – could be that first domino in the life of someone.  It could be the one domino that leads to another falling, another after that and then hundreds or more after that in a family, office, community or neighborhood.

But if we don’t knock it over, think of what might be missed or never happen? You see, we can all be that first domino no matter our past, present, limitations or struggles. We just need to have our eyes and ears open. If you’re a person of faith, you might listen for that whisper or quiet voice saying Do it now. Whatever, don’t miss out. Don’t stay paralyzed. Knock one over – today.

Last Laugh: Eating Healthy Could Kill You

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We had a major crisis at our house the other day. We were out of regular hamburger buns. Thankfully we have a strong marriage.

However, I needed one for the lunch I was going to take to work and so my resourceful wife looked through the freezer and found several gluten-free buns apparently left from our if-we’re-the-only-living-survivors cache of bread and other frozen things.

The bun didn’t look too bad (okay it could have been a pretend rock at the history museum), so I slipped it into a Ziploc bag and went off to work. Later at our staff meeting I placed my perfectly grilled burger from the night before on said bun, added some mustard that had likely been in the church fridge before the Internet and dug in.

I now know why it makes sense that if you rearrange the letters in GLUTEN-FREE you get TEEN LEG FUR or URGENT FLEE. I’ve never eaten a paper bag but . . . . Who new that gluten which also can spell LEG NUT mattered so much?

I truly do feel bad for those who have to limit their diet to gluten – free items. They generally have serious health cautions and need that regimen.

But I wonder about the people who for  supposed health reasons CHOOSE other similar options. You know – green smoothie cleanses, HMR (Help Me Rhonda) diet, the military diet (eat what you want, then run twenty miles with a full pack and throw up) and the Werewolf Diet (I’m not kidding) where you fast during every full moon and watch horror movies (okay I am kidding).

There is one program called the Cookie Diet now also a new sponsor on Sesame Street. Now that’s one I could get into although I don’t think they include gooey chocolate chips or Snickerdoodles. But supposedly a regular dose of somewhat tasty cookies can lose you pounds and give you new energy and health in no time.

Hmm . . . where are the Oreos?

Hospitals, Hope and Heaven

HospitalA close relative had an unexpected accident and was taken  to the hospital the other day. She is elderly but her latest trip to Untold Stories of the E.R. was certainly not planned. Thankfully she survived but as is often the case, her life (and ours to some degree) will again change significantly.

Several days of waiting and watching left me again wondering about a number of things that maybe you have pondered of late as well. Some I can answer, others I cannot. So for a few minutes I want to just throw out a few questions, thoughts or perspectives that were at least made prominent the past 72 hours.

For example, life does not seem very fair or gracious when people are near the end of life. Our relative thankfully did not die during this recent episode but it was clear that there were for her times of fear, feeling out of control and panic. It appears that while God may be there to meet us in Heaven we will likely feel very alone walking through that next door to meet him. No one from this life goes with us.

Second, we probably should say what we want to say if we haven’t said it already. Life can end quickly. We and those we love won’t necessarily have one more day, meal or even breath. So we would be wise to speak love, care and thankfulness to those who mean the most to us. And we should do it NOW.

Hospitals remind us that the ability to communicate what we think and feel can often be stolen from us for a time or for forever. Most people feel regret when they never got the chance to speak life into another person. Don’t be one of them if you can help it.

Third, this life can be great but will never be enough. When loved ones experience the actual loss of a mother, father, dad, son, grandma, grandpa they naturally long for just one more day, one more moment, one more opportunity to say what they wanted to say to them. It doesn’t matter how long we had, we want more.

So, doesn’t that suggest that we need to have as many those moments now as possible? I think so. If we’ll never have enough, then we ought to fill our personal tank as full as possible before those special people are gone.

Yes, hospitals may be the end of the line for some relationships, only a stopover for others.  Either way, let your next visit remind you, too, that now might be the best time for saying and doing those loving things you always thought you’d get to someday.

Don’t leave them in the future.

The Good Life Is Highly Overrated

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Have you ever been taking a few days of unexpected leisure, enjoying an extended vacation or living in an especially beautiful locale? If so, did anyone come up to you and say something like, “So, you’re enjoying the good life, huh?” And perhaps you responded with, “Well, yes I guess so.”

But did you ever stop and think about what made those few days, that extra week or that prime living spot the good life. Was it really good at that point but everything leading up to that moment was not so great? I doubt it. Sure, you were in a wonderful, restful or inspiring place or time of life, but I doubt if you were finally encontering a good life after years, even decades of an all bad life.

You see, I wonder if we’ve become confused about what makes life particularly good at a given juncture. Is it possible that we’re mixing up good with enjoyable, plush, a lack of formal work or activity, a limited schedule or even extra or ample resources?

For those of you from a faith background, you know what I mean when I say that I regularly hear well-meaning Christians talk about something wonderful, even miraculous happening to them and they then say, God is good. And my response, at least inwardly is, “Well, of course He is good, but He was good before your pleasant fortunes occurred. He’s good even when life seems terrible and life isn’t working as we’d hoped it would.”

So what might better represent a good life? I’m confident that there is no one set of circumstances or outcomes but I do think there are a few principles or realities worth mentioning that make life good.

Life is good when we are truly thankful for what we have. Thankfulness means that we’re not constantly wishing for more, that we can still have gratitude for the blessings all around us – family, friends, faith, a home, a job, etc. – even when other areas are a bit out of control, even desperate.

Life is good when we still see God in the world around us. We still see His majesty in creation, in life, in the fact that we can take another breath and live for another day.

Life is also good when we are growing, changing, being stretched and trying new things to become a better person. Want to really life the bad life? Quit getting better.

And life is good when we sense that we’re living out our purpose, using our gifts and sharing our resources as meager as they may seem. People who have discovered their purpose or purposes, the thing that makes them feel whole again, truly live the good life.

So if you’ve been waiting and wish for the good life, look again. It might just be the life you’ve either been living for a long time or  the one right next to you waiting for you to begin.

No Waiting: Not Necessarily

waitI made one of my several-times-a-week visits to a Starbucks near where I am both a chaplain and pastor. (I believe most seminaries teach a class on studying in coffee shops. Mine did.)

Anyhow, I noticed something that I think I’ve been missing in most of the places we go that have drive-thru windows. If you’re in the outside line, you get better service. I’ll see eight or ten cars go through and receive their orders while I wait on mine.

On the one hand I get it. They have to keep the line moving. But it’s a bit discouraging to realize that those of us inside who have made the effort to get out of our cars and slow down a little, get treated with less importance then those who are hurrying to the next place or commitment.

And I suppose I should be thankful that it works this way because these facilities are actually helping me slow down! But there’s a bigger point here.

Our culture doesn’t like to wait and many of us have bought into that way of life as the best way. We have Amazon Prime now where our packages come the same day or next at worst. They’re even talking about sending them by drone at some point. Geesh, I hope mine doesn’t get confused with a military drone that ends up sending a heat-seeking missile at my front porch! Either way no waiting.

We can order our food and drinks ahead of time and just pick them up when WE want them. No waiting. We can pay a little extra or become really important so that we don’t have any delay boarding our airplanes. No waiting.

Is there much of anything that you can’t get online without much of a wait? I don’t think so except maybe another child. I’ll wait.

Is there anything wrong with increasing some of our conveniences and helping us avoid so many lines and delays?  Of course not. But I think there are some reasons why we shouldn’t always avoid the waiting.

One, waiting can help us learn that everything good in life isn’t necessarily instant.  I wonder if young people today are actually learning that if they can’t get something right now – a skill, talent, benefit, gift or whatever – that it isn’t worth having. And yet some of the best, most lasting, inspiring, life-changing moments and experiences can never be instant.

Great paintings, Olympic medals, intimate relationships and miracle producing skills were not obtained in a No Waiting line.  They are usually the result of years of work, sweat, practice, training and perseverance.

Two, waiting teaches us to slow down and see some things we might miss by just rushing through. It’s like flying versus driving. There are great benefits to flying but driving lets us see little towns, meet new people and view things from up close at 40 or 60 miles per hour, not four hundred. I think of the people I’ve met along the way in a car or train, the fun signs or little towns we’ve stopped to see or the wildlife that just happened along the way that we would have missed traveling faster.

And even when my slowdown was caused by less desirable circumstances, the waiting has often had special benefits. I remember having to spend the night in Frankfurt, Germany because of missing my flight back to Chicago. However, that evening before I slept I had dinner with a wonderful Austrian man in a small, airport restaurant. That may never happen again and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

So, okay there are times when the fast lane is best. But remember that waiting may be part of God’s way to slow us down so that we don’t look back on our lives someday and wish we’d seen and experienced all those things that others enjoyed by skipping the drive thru. I think I’ll have another latte – inside.

No Politics From Me: Just Principles That Might Help Us

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I’m on Facebook quite a bit along with nominal looks at Twitter and of course other places where people get adamant about their political and social views. I appreciate the passion they have about their perspective because I’m pretty passionate about my views, at least the ones that I think have a moral basis and are not just my preferences.

However, I don’t spend much time debating those views on public sites and you might think about taking the same position. Why?

First, very few people will change their mind because of your rant, meme, believed absolute, attack or guilt trip. Most of us are pretty convinced we’re right and don’t change sides easily. That doesn’t mean we can’t change our views but it will take some time, thought, deeper conversations and nuanced insights to do so.

Second, people are rarely drawn to us to know more about anything if we come across as arrogant, know-it-alls. Frankly, I want to keep the door open to connecting with people, even those who disagree, so I’ll share more about my views  with people but it has to happen in another, better setting.

You see, there are several kinds of posts that we need to quit posting. To keep doing so will lose us friends, make us look trite and convince more people that we really aren’t that insightful. Not much of a legacy or reputation.

One, let’s stop exaggerating and suggesting that anyone’s actions are going to do something to all, everyone, forever or the culture. They aren’t. Hyperbole is cheap, lazy criticism and if we’re going to make a statement then at least back it up.

Two, on a related note, let’s quit using tired, unfair labels for anyone who disagrees. People aren’t necessarily bigots, haters, racists, un-Christian or losers just because they don’t see eye to eye with us. Name-calling is merely unkind and won’t help any further discussions to happen, ones that could actually help the discourse.

Three, let’s stop suggesting that our way or ideas should have no limits. Statements like I’m for freedom or no wall or refugees or faith or forgiveness or . . . .may be irresponsible, impossible and dangerous if there are no parameters.

The bottom line is that we need to learn to tolerate and at least listen to those who don’t see it our way. There’s  too much yelling and screaming, even on Facebook, these days. How about a little more listening and learning first?