Final Score! Soccer / World Cup Devotions

A-T-T-AAA-C-K!

Ephesians 6:10-20, Romans 8:3

…the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  Ephesians 6:17  

In seventh and eighth grade, our daughter, Jillian, cheered for the middle school football team. One of their staple cheers went like this. “A-T-T-AAA-C-K! A-T-T-AAA-C-K! Attack, attack, attack!” The cheer was designed to inspire the offense to take the ball down the field and score a touchdown. If you don’t score, it’s impossible to win a game.

The book of Ephesians, chapter 6, inspires us to put on the whole armor of God. The helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes of peace are some of the essential armor pieces. These particular elements are designed to protect you from the arrows of Satan. But there is one offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). My friend, Danny, preached an awesome sermon in which he challenged his congregation to be conquerors. Satan never takes a day off, so we must be clothed with the armor of God to protect ourselves. But we also need to come out on the offensive, armed with Scriptures that we have memorized for all occasions. So when Satan comes at us, we’re not just taking blows, but we’re giving them too.

Danny is a big soccer fan, and he shared with his congregation how the US soccer team kept falling behind in games in the 2010 World Cup because they were playing back on their heels. The US team spent most of the games trying to climb out of the holes they dug for themselves. Danny shared how his father and brother played on a soccer team that went undefeated three consecutive years and had a different approach. Their team’s philosophy was to be on the attack from the opening whistle, put a couple of goals into the other team’s net, and watch the other team fall apart or scramble to catch up.

We don’t have to scramble to catch up or just stay afloat when we have God in our corner. God is with us, for us, and in us. He gave us his awesome, perfect Word that we can use to come out swinging from the moment we get out of bed until we put our heads on the pillow. To use the Word, we must be in the Word daily, seeking God’s special guidance. Brandish your sword, the mighty Word of God, and use it to become conquerors for the kingdom.

Prayer: Dear Father, may I walk out the door knowing that I can tap your mighty power when I get ready to face the challenges of the enemy. Through your mighty and Holy Word, help me arm myself in such a way that I am easily recognized by those I meet as being from your kingdom. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

Avoid the Red Card

Romans 8:28, Exodus 20:3, 1 John 1:9

And we know that all happens to us is working for our good, if we love God and are fitting into his plan.   Romans 8:28

During the World Cup, it is apparent that the teams clearly understood which players had received yellow cards. When a player receives a yellow card from the referee, he is allowed to stay in the game. However, a second yellow card in the same game is the equivalent of a red card, which would remove the player from the game and also keep the player out of the next game.

Often, a player will receive a red card from the referee by going after an opponent too aggressively, or tackling a player in the goal box, or having a hand ball inside the box. When any of these plays happen, it not only hurts the player but also his or her team. A red card means that your team plays ten on eleven for the remainder of the match.

God was, is, and always will be the referee, and he will show us the yellow card when we begin to slip away from his plan. If we continue to play out of control and outside his game plan, God might red card us and let us sit on the sideline. Clearly, we can bench ourselves by putting ourselves above God and others (Exodus 20:3) through unconfessed sin (1 John 1:9) and allowing strongholds to separate us from God. When we go through the dry season, we wonder where God went. He hasn’t gone anywhere. God never leaves the field (aka throne). He will discipline us because he loves us, and he could give our minutes to others who are obediently following his game plan. God’s action is similar to how a coach might substitute for us if our actions are hurting the team’s chances to win the game.

But there is good news. When we confess the specific sins and ask for forgiveness, God will forgive us, forget that it ever happened, and put us back in his game. When we get back in the game, eternal things are waiting to happen. We will sense the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us and through us when we are in step with God.

Prayer: Father God, please give me a burning desire to share the good news in complete accordance with your plan and your timing. I want to avoid your red card at all costs because I will not be working for the kingdom if it happens. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

Penalty Kick

1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 3:4

                     Who bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness,                                             by whose stripes you were healed.  1 Peter 2:24

When a defensive player tackles an offensive player inside the goal box or touches the ball with his hand inside the box, either is a severe infraction that warrants the stiffest penalty in soccer. Either violation results in a free penalty kick for the offensive team. The ball is placed on the penalty kick box directly in front of the goalie twelve yards away. One player is selected by his team to take the penalty kick. It’s the offensive star versus the goalie. Because the offensive star is usually so accurate and there is so much territory to cover, the goalie is pretty much helpless. He must guess if the kicker will go left or right, high or low, and leap that way as soon as the ball is struck. The odds are that the offensive player will score the goal. When the goal is scored, the defense has paid the price for the penalty kick.

Do you realize that Christ paid the penalty for our sins? When we commit infractions called sin, or transgressions of the law, they can’t go unnoticed by God, who cannot look on sin. God cannot ignore sin because sin separates us from him. But there came One who paid the penalty for all the sin that has been or ever will be committed. Jesus Christ bore all of those sins in his own body on the rugged cross because God loves us so much that he would rather have his Son die than see us eternally separated from him. Christ paid the penalty for us so that we wouldn’t have to. But there is one thing we must do: turn from sin and turn toward God. If we do that and believe that Jesus died for our sin, we will be forgiven, our debt paid in full.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for loving me so much that you sent your beloved Son, who has been with you before the beginning of time, to die a painful death so that the penalty for my transgressions could be paid in full. I am so grateful that I can have a personal relationship with you and Jesus. In the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

Grappling in the Goal Box

Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5, John 15:5, Philippians 4:13

Apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

Watching the World Cup, I notice that much of the attention goes to the flashy goal scorers. The highlights each evening prominently featured the goal scorers.

But it’s the battles in the goal box that are the most hectic plays. When a corner kick occurs, it is flat-out rough in front of the goal. There will be bodies flying, elbows being thrown, players getting kicked, holding, clawing, and scratching. Players contort their bodies as they leap high into the air for headers. Defenders will often do anything possible, including violating the rules, to keep the opponent from getting a shot on goal. It could include stepping on top of another player’s foot with his cleats. Ouch!

Satan fights us with the fervor of those goal box skirmishes. Satan uses any tactic that he can to dissuade us from obeying God. It’s doing battle with Satan through daily prayer and Bible reading that gets us ready when tough times come. If we wait until the tough times to cry out to God without having the relationship, then we won’t be in the position that we need to be.

By putting substantial roots down through daily communion with God, we won’t be blown away when the storms come. There will be no wavering. We will know that God didn’t cause the problems, and he, along with the Holy Spirit, will be there to see us through them. God promised that he will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and that he will be with us until the end of the ages (Matthew 28:20).

We need to memorize Scripture that will help pull us through tough times. Anyone can go into bunker mentality mode and get through stress. But it’s the believer with a strong foundation that can get through stress and strain like a saint, according to Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me have the daily discipline to pray with you and study your Word. I need you during the good times and the bad times. When the bad times come, help me know that you are always there with me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Advertisements

US Open Golf Favorite Devotions

PAYNE STEWART (1965–1999)

2 Timothy 4:7

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.

Payne Stewart was one of the most colorful golfers of his era. He was known for his stylish knickers that he wore to set himself apart from the other golfers. Payne was also quite a practical joker. When Paul Azinger holed a bunker shot on the seventy-second hole to beat him by one at the 1993 Memorial Tournament, Payne was among the first people to congratulate his close friend. After the press conference Paul went back to the locker room to change into his street shoes, which were now full of mashed bananas, thanks to Payne!

Payne had come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ not long before his life on earth came to a stunning end. It was a tragedy that sent shockwaves around the world. On October 25, 1999, a small plane plummeted to the ground near Mina, South Dakota, killing everyone aboard. Among them was golfing great Payne Stewart.

Just a few months earlier, he had captured the US Open in storybook fashion after a devastating loss in the same tournament the year before. Payne was best known among his peers for his flamboyant knickers, rhythmic golf swing, and the pranks that he pulled as a practical joker. But Payne had made huge strides in his faith earlier that year. When he accepted the trophy, he surprised many people by saying, “First of all, I have to give thanks to the Lord. If it weren’t for the faith that I have in him, I wouldn’t have been able to have the faith that I had in myself on the golf course …I’m proud of the fact that my faith in God is so much stronger, and I’m so much more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Often we are led to believe that improved performance on the athletic field comes strictly from working harder and practicing more. But Payne Stewart showed us that the key to winning the Open was his growth in Christ that helped him keep his wits about him in golf ’s most pressure-packed event.

When Payne won the US Open on Father’s Day, he obviously had no idea that he would leave this life behind less than six months later. The good news is that his wife and two children found some comfort because they knew Payne’s final destination was the fairways of heaven. At Payne’s memorial service, in recognition of his distinctive knickers, Paul Azinger paused at the podium and stuffed his pants legs into his socks in a tribute to his brother in Christ.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the legacy of Payne Stewart, a man remembered not only for the joy with which he played the game of golf, but for the joy that he received from finishing his race with Christ as his Lord. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

ARNIE, YOU DON’T HAVE A CHANCE

John 3:16-17

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.

—John 3:17

After the third round of the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills Golf Club in Denver, Colorado, Arnold Palmer trailed by seven shots with a total of 215. As he glumly ate a sandwich before going out for the afternoon round to complete thirty-six holes on the final day, he asked his sportswriter friend, Bob Drum, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, what it would take to win the tournament. The Drummer told him that 280 wins the Open, and he implied that Palmer didn’t have it in him to shoot a 65, and, therefore, didn’t have a chance to win. Clearly miffed, Palmer finished his sandwich and stormed out of the clubhouse.

It might have been a psychological ploy to fire him up. Palmer threw caution to the wind and hit driver on the tight first hole instead of the iron he had laid up with the first three rounds. He burned a low scorcher through the rough up onto the first green almost 350 yards away. That was the first of six birdies that Arnie would make. With each birdie, his gallery grew larger, and word of the charge that Arnie was so famous for swept back to the clubhouse. When an out-of-breath Drum made his way to the ninth tee, Arnie saw him and smirked, as if to say, No chance? I’ll show you! Palmer shot 65 and won the Open by two shots over a young phenom named Jack Nicklaus and a fading superstar named Ben Hogan. Great stuff.

Speaking of Nicklaus, in 1986, the late Tom McCollister handicapped the Masters field in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the prior Sunday and essentially wrote that Jack was too old and didn’t have a chance to win at age forty-six. Nicklaus used the article as motivational fodder and fired a final-round 65 to win the Masters for a record sixth time.

Who has ever told that you can’t do something? You might have reacted angrily, with an “I’ll show them” attitude with added determination. But if your discouragement came at the wrong time from the wrong person, it could have had a tremendous negative impact on you and deterred you from being all that you could be.

On the other hand, who have we ever written off as not being able to do something? With respect to a person becoming a Christian, have you ever told someone verbally, or with body language, or with a lack of prayer that there is no way they can come to Christ? We must remember what sinners we were when Jesus cleansed us in the blood of the Lamb for the first time and that there were people who might have prayed for many years for us to come to Christ. “No matter the circumstance, there is no one on God’s unreachable list,” I once heard Mark Hall of Casting Crowns say. So we must keep praying for those who are, as far as we can tell, not walking with the Lord yet. Everybody has a chance to come to Christ, because God is constantly reaching out to them by placing people in their paths. You could be one of those people.

Prayer: Father God, may I not be quick to pass judgment on someone by remembering that at one time, I was a miserable sinner condemned by my past. But through your free gift of grace and my intercessory prayer, each of my friends and family members can come to know Christ. May I do my part in sharing the good news. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

CUTTING PHIL BY ONE SHOT

Isaiah 40:22, 25-26; John 3:30

It is He that sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers …

—Isaiah 40:22

Suppose you had an opportunity to play Pinehurst when it was in US Open condition. The course runs firm and fast, and some of the hole locations are almost impossible to access. Golf Digest holds a contest annually when several celebrities and a random golfer are drawn from thousands of entries to see if they can break 100. A 10-handicapper would probably break 90 during normal conditions, but in Open conditions, the golfer would be hard pressed to break 100.

Now suppose the 10-handicapper was paired with Phil Mickelson in the white-hot cauldron of Open pressure. Phil will most likely post a score that is two strokes on either side of par. But 10-handicapper Joe Golfer would do well to break 100. Joe Golfer would immediately recognize the difference in their abilities to play tournament golf and know that he’s fortunate to be on the same course with Phil. If you took the best score by Phil or Joe on each of the eighteen holes, Joe would likely play just one hole where his score was one stroke better than Phil’s. If Phil shot 71, their best ball would be 70.

It’s that same way with God when we think we’re doing it all or it’s all about us in bringing people to Christ. God chose completely fallible human beings to spread his gospel, but it doesn’t happen because of our grandiose plans and positioning. The Holy Spirit is used by God to bring new Christians into the kingdom, yet he chooses to use us as bit players and let us help him out with a shot here or there. Louis Giglio reminded us in his book I Am Not but I Know I AM that God is very, very big and that we are very, very small. Certainly it is a tremendous honor and privilege whenever someone comes to Christ through an effort we were involved in. But it’s the power of God, the saving blood of Jesus Christ, and the drawing of the Holy Spirit that gets the job done. It is the power of God working in us and through us.

Prayer: Father God, help me recognize that it’s not the oratory skills that help a person receive Christ, but it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that you use our feeble attempts to bring people to Jesus Christ. Thank you that you allow me to play a small role in the growth of your kingdom, which you and you alone create. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

SHOOTING PAST MY HEADLIGHTS

Psalm 119:105, Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:28

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

—Psalm 119:105 (KJV)

My mentor Jim delighted in the saying, “I’m shooting past my headlights.” What he meant was that he was guessing beyond what he could actually see or without having all of the facts. He was shooting in the dark beyond what he really understood.

It was the eve of the 112th US Open Championship in 2012 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Olympic is a picturesque, cypress-lined course that is often shrouded in thick fog off the Pacific. The excitement had grown that week because the top golfers included a rejuvenated Tiger Woods and the runaway 2011 US Open champion, Rory McIlroy, who was struggling to recapture his form. Tiger, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson— the popular 2012 Masters champion—were the featured threesome that attracted thousands of followers on Thursday and Friday. The heavyweight pairing reminded longtime golf fans of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer when they were known in the 1960s as the Big Three.

Speaking of Palmer, in 1966  Arnold  was  thrashing  the US Open field at Olympic by seven shots as he walked to the tenth tee on Sunday afternoon. But Arnie was thinking about more than his tee shot on ten. Palmer envisioned the clubhouse celebration where he would receive his second US Open trophy to the delight of his adoring army of fans. Arnie actually set his sights on breaking the US Open scoring record instead of taking care of business on each hole of the back nine. Clearly, he was shooting past his headlights.

Palmer made a couple of bogeys, and Casper made a couple of birdies. Arnie’s seemingly insurmountable lead of seven was down to three. Arnie left a six-footer hanging on the front lip on sixteen for another bogey, and he and Casper were now tied. Arnie blew up on the back nine with a forty. Casper fired an outstanding thirty-three and forced an eighteen-hole Monday playoff. In the playoff, Arnie again went out in front, but Casper rallied to beat him. Casper once remarked how tough it was to watch the Sunday back nine collapse by his good friend. The game’s most beloved figure not only failed to win his second US Open title, but he never won another major championship. That tournament arguably triggered the decline of Arnie’s career on the PGA Tour.

Have you ever been guilty of shooting past your headlights? How about when you are trying to work ahead of God? Psalm 119:105 reveals that God shines his light in a way that shows us as much as we are ready to see. It’s like a farmer with a lantern going to the barn before dawn. He only needs to see one step at a time on the well-worn path to arrive safely. It’s easy to be anxious to see the end result and not take care of the business of getting to the finish line. The passage, Romans 8:28 (TLB), teaches that “All things are working for our good when we love God and are fitting into his plans.” When I do my thing and stop fitting into God’s plan, my plan is pretty much toast. God doesn’t need me to grow his kingdom, but he would love to use me if I will just work where he is working.

A golfer once led the final round of a major for the first time and found a note in his locker on Sunday. The note was from a fellow pro and it read, “Fairways and greens, cuz.” His friend’s advice was to play one shot at a time. Hit the fairway then hit the green. Don’t get ahead of yourself out there. That’s good advice for life. Take it one day at a time with God, and trust God with the end result. Let’s focus on him daily with an active prayer life and frequent reading and study of the Bible, and seek his kingdom first (Matthew 6:33).

Prayer: Most merciful and gracious God, if I could just learn to be patient and not run ahead of you, I know that I could help you more. Remind me when I shoot past my headlights and try to do it on my own without you. In the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen.

 

WEBB’S PRAYER

Luke 18:1, Philippians 4:6, Romans 12:12,

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Be patient in trouble and prayerful always.

—Romans 12:12 (TLB)

Webb Simpson won the 2012 US Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Simpson shot 68–68 on the weekend and waited in the clubhouse with his wife, Dowd, as veteran  Jim Furyk bogeyed sixteen and eighteen to lose by one shot. The win was especially sweet for Webb, a former recipient of the Arnold Palmer scholarship at Wake Forest University, because Olympic was the site of Arnold Palmer’s most heartbreaking loss in the 1966 US Open. Billy Casper, who was the golfer that beat Palmer in the 1966 playoff, was present for the awards ceremony on the eighteenth green that evening. How is that for irony!

A few fun facts about Webb, who was probably an unknown to all but the most avid golf fans. He won two PGA Tour tournaments in 2011 and led the tour in All-Around statistics, which reflects his consistent play. Webb bears a startling resemblance to a young Matthew Perry, the actor from Friends. He is a father of two young children, and his wife Dowd was seven months pregnant as she followed him for all seventy-two holes at Olympic. Last but not least, Simpson is a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, believers swept the first two majors of 2012, Bubba Watson being the Masters winner.

Webb has been known to tweet Bible verses to his followers on Twitter. Earlier in 2012 at New Orleans, he sported a Titleist cap with Isaiah 63 sewn in the back. At  Augusta, he  wrote down verses from 1 Corinthians to help him stay focused. He commented after the Sunday US Open round that “I’ve never prayed as much as I did over the last three holes.” Webb prayed that he would remain calm under pressure. The calm that he received from praying helped  him  handle  the  pressure  down the stretch, particularly when he got up and down from a very difficult lie near the eighteenth green.

What do you think about Webb, praying down the stretch? Did Simpson have an advantage over other players who didn’t pray? Did God help him win his first major because he prayed? Let’s see what the Bible says about prayer. Luke 18:1 says that “men ought to pray and not to lose heart.” It would have been easy to lose heart on that tough course where not one golfer shot even par for seventy-two holes! Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Simpson was not praying to win or to not make bogeys, but he prayed to stay calm and receive help in handling the intense pressure. The passage, Romans 12:12 (TLB), says, “Be patient in trouble and prayerful always.” The US Open is the ultimate test of patience in golf. Certainly, there was plenty of trouble to contend with. Simpson even said he was so amped up that he could not feel his legs at times.

How do you feel about praying before and during a competition? I say go for it because it pleases God when we involve him in all aspects of our lives. If we only go to him after we’ve just made a mess of things or suffered a defeat, he isn’t nearly as pleased. God loves it when we involve him in the little stuff and when things are going well. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are to “pray without ceasing.”

Prayer: Most  wonderful  Holy  Father,  it  is  so  great  and so reassuring that you are always there for me, regardless of circumstance. Thank you for your mercies that are new every day. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

HOGAN’S ONE IRON

Psalm 139, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Hebrews 13:5

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

—Psalm 139:14

I was on business in New Jersey and had a couple of free hours before dinner, so I drove to the USGA Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey. What an amazing place with so many historical golf artifacts, pieces of memorabilia, and books. I wished that I could get snowed in there for a weekend!

As I came around a corner, there was Ben Hogan’s one iron enclosed in a glass case! Sure enough, there was a worn spot about the size of a quarter in the middle of the clubface, just as I had heard.

This one iron is significant because Hogan used it to strike a memorable shot on the 72nd hole of the 1950 US Open at Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia. He made an amazing comeback even to play golf again after a horrific car accident in February 1949. Hogan came to the final hole tied for the lead at the end of a grueling 36-hole final that had taken its toll on his weary and painful legs. His tee shot was 220 yards from the green, and he needed a par to force a playoff. Hogan struck a perfect one-iron to the middle of the green as the gallery collectively gasped at the beauty of the shot played with the most difficult club in the bag. He got down in 2 putts and won the US Open in a playoff the following day.

The one iron shot is memorable because of the black-and-white photo that was taken from behind Hogan. His balance is perfect as he poses at the top of his follow through. Hundreds of people are seen lining each side of the fairway and several thousand encircle the back of the eighteenth green. The photo remains one of the most instantly  recognizable  pictures  in golf history.

The amazing story behind Hogan’s one iron is that the club disappeared for many years. The one iron was discovered in a used club barrel at a pro shop. Apparently someone saw the club and thought, Only Hogan could have worn that spot in the face of a one iron. Upon further inspection, the club was determined to be authentic and found its resting place in the USGA Museum. How incredible that a club of such value and significance would have been found in the midst of used clubs with very little value and subsequently restored to prominence.

Perhaps you feel like one of the used clubs in the barrel. Society has given you message after message that you are no longer of great value. Perhaps you feel unwanted. You’ve just been beaten down by the lies of the enemy, job layoffs, sickness, bad financial decisions, misfortune, illness, divorce, peer pressure, rejection, or financial pressure. Your self-esteem has been worn down and you feel that you aren’t worth much.

Be comforted that God still believes you are of infinite value. The psalmist assures you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that God knew you long before he made you in the womb. God considers you to be so valuable that even if you were the only person on earth, he would have allowed Jesus to be crucified so that you could spend eternity with him. Our God is the God of second chances, and he will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). God will never stop tracking down his lost sheep.

More than anything, he wants a personal relationship with you through his Son, Jesus Christ. That relationship requires repentance in godly sorrow of any sins that have separated you from God. You must believe and receive. If you truly believe that Christ died for your sins, you can receive Christ as your Savior and Lord, and God will give you a new life. “When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a new person inside; he is not the same anymore, a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB). Won’t you give him your life, as he reminds you that you are of great value to him?

Prayer: Most Holy God, I praise you that no matter how badly I may have failed in my eyes, you still love me the same, unconditionally and infinitely. I am so grateful that you are and always will be there for me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

 

“RORS” LIKE A LION

Psalm 51:1–10, Romans 7:18–19, 1 Peter 5:8–10

My sin is ever before me.

—Psalm 51:3

The world of golf celebrated the brilliant play of 22-year-old Irishman Rory “Rors” McIlroy, who dismantled the strongest field of the year at the 2011 US Open played just outside the nation’s capital at Congressional Country Club. Rory played almost perfect golf for 72 holes and broke the Open scoring record by 4 shots with a scintillating 16-under total of 268. He was serenaded on the back nine with a Big East basketball style cheer of “Let’s go, Ror-ee!” His bushy hairdo, his boyish, upbeat personality, the confident hop in his stride, and his stellar performance endeared him to Open fans all week. But it was this startling performance on the heels of his 2011 Masters back nine disaster, when he shot 43 and blew a 4-stroke lead in the final round, that caused golf fans to cheer the loudest. On Sunday night, many people believed that they had just seen the next golf superstar that comes along once a decade.

Rors set a US Open record for most greens in regulation (sixty-one), and his ball-striking was unparalleled in Open history. The only flaw that surfaced in his game was a tendency to hit pull hooks, which meant that occasionally his tee shots would finish in the heavy rough well left of the fairway or green. On Friday, he made double bogey on eighteen after pulling his drive left and hooking his approach shot into the water left of the green.

No matter how good the best players in golf history have been, they have all fought a fundamental flaw in their games. For some players, it’s a bad temper ( Jones), putting (Watson), chipping (Nicklaus), hooked tee shots (Hogan and McIlroy), blocked tee shots (Woods) or sliced tee shots (Mickelson). For others it has been the mental side of the game (Norman and Weiskopf ).

Each person has at least one primary flaw or sin such as pride, anger, greed, lust, or judging others that he or she constantly fights. Satan prowls like a lion (1 Peter 5:8), and he constantly “roars” at us, especially during our weakest moments. No matter how well things are going, our ugly self will pop up from time to time, even when we just sensed that we were close to God. King David acknowledged in Psalm 51:3, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” Paul penned in Romans 7:18–19, “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”

No matter how much Rory practices to keep from hitting a pull hook, he is destined to do it again, and sometimes it will happen at the worst possible moment. The same thing is true with  sinful  flaws. But  you  can  keep  the  monster  in  check  by striving daily to be obedient to the Lord through prayer, Bible study, and  being  accountable  to  other  Christians. Know  your limitations and when the evil one applies the pressure, ask the Lord to help you resist him (1 Peter 5:9), and to strengthen and settle you (1 Peter 5:10). Because you know it’s coming sooner or later! Righteousness comes only through Jesus Christ, not from anything you can ever do. When you do slip up, ask God for forgiveness and pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).”

Prayer: Father God, when I fall short and make a double bogey, please forgive me and assure me that you are the God of perfect love, forgiveness, and the giver of more second chances than I can ever deserve. In the precious name of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

Aside

It’s a Slow Fade

IT’S A SLOW FADE

1 John 3:4

For sin is the transgression of the Law. (KJV)

In May at open gym before school lets out for the summer, I like to share a message with the boys to guard their hearts against foolish decisions by using some of their free time to stay in the Bible. You have likely seen the news stories about the trial of a man in Minnesota who killed two teenagers who invaded his house. There is a good chance that John Wall, the rising star of the Washington Wizards, cringed when he read the news reports. Here’s why from the archives of Final Score! Volume II.

In the spring of 2010 I shared a random story at open gym about a highly touted high school prospect from Durham, North Carolina, named John Wall. John was rated the number-one point guard nationally. Apparently, John and his friends entered a vacant home without permission. Fortunately, no one was harmed. John received a misdemeanor and began his college career as planned.

I told the boys that it is important to walk with Christ each day because the further you get separated from God the worse your choices are likely to be. The worse your choices are the worse your consequences will be. The teenagers had no business being in that house. One choice can lead to another choice and then another until one day you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Casting Crowns offered a stirring song called “Slow Fade” that I played for the boys. “It’s a slow fade, when you give yourself away … People never crumble in a day.” I shared with the boys that I wanted them to be really careful over the summer and not do foolish stuff. You usually don’t just do something really foolish unless you’ve done some less foolish stuff and gotten away with it. “Thoughts invade, choices made, a price will be paid when you give yourself away … ” It can happen to anyone when he or she lets his or her guard down.

John Wall was very fortunate. He could have been shot for being an intruder. His rise to fame made the story much more memorable. Wall signed with the University of Kentucky, arguably the most storied program in the history of college basketball. Immediately, he triggered a wave of enthusiasm and optimism in the Big Blue Nation that had not been seen since the 1997-98 season. A few overzealous Kentucky fans called him Blue Jesus, a takeoff on former New York Knicks star Earl “The Pearl” Monroe’s playground nickname of Black Jesus. Wall’s explosive speed to the basket with the ball is unparalleled, and he was the number one pick in the 2010 NBA draft. He led the Wildcats to an SEC championship, an Elite Eight appearance, and a 35-3 record. During the season, Wall endeared himself to UK fans by handling himself with poise, humility, and teamwork and played extremely hard at both ends of the floor. During the first semester, John had the highest GPA on the team and made the Freshman Academic All-SEC team during second semester.

But it could have all been for naught for John if the circumstances in that house had been different.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the mercy that you have shown me many times when I’ve done foolish stuff and I didn’t receive what I deserved. I thank you for your patience with me and your guiding hand that gives me a chance to convert for you. In Jesus’s name, amen.

How do you feel about God’s guiding hand of protection in our lives even when we don’t realize it?

Discover Your Stash!

Discover Your StashI

1 Chronicles 4:9–10, Matthew 7:7, John 10:10

 Ask, and you will receive…—Matthew 7:7

When I was a kid, the local Coca-Cola bottler sponsored a giveaway, placing pictures of NFL players on the inside of bottle caps. There was nothing but bottles in those days, so that meant that a lot of caps were out there. My mother taught first grade and was great friends with the principal, so I could get all the bottle caps I wanted. About twice a week, Mom would get Mrs. Bedingfield to open the drink box so that I could empty the bottle caps from the container and take them home. That container of bottle caps was like a gold mine. I spent hours sorting through the caps and pasting them to sheets that contained room for fifty or sixty different caps. I filled twenty-three sheets when I only needed five sheets for a helmet or football. When Mom and I took twenty-three sheets to the Dublin Coca-Cola bottler, the Coca-Cola employee was stunned. At first, she only wanted to give me one prize, but Mom had my back. She knew that she and I had put a lot of effort into filling up those sheets. I think I walked away with one helmet and three “official” NFL footballs.

The spiritual message of this story is that when you have special connections in life, you can get some things that you normally wouldn’t get. If I had to rely on only two or three bottle caps per day, I would have never filled up those sheets. In life, we come to God with only one or two blessings in mind. He wants to give us so much more if we will only ask. I am weak in this area, and I need to push the envelope more often because I know God wants to give me the very best.

From his abundant love, God wants to give us the entire bottle cap collection of blessings. In 1 Chronicles there is a great example of God’s abundant blessing. There was a man named Jabez, who was more honorable than his brothers. Jabez offered a prayer to God, asking him to “…bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your Hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” (1 Chronicles 4:10) When Jabez added the word indeed, he asked God for blessings that would be overflowing, and he received tremendous blessings from God.

God sent Jesus to us so that we could not only enjoy life but enjoy it abundantly. But we need to live for God through love and obedience, and then we just need to ask him like Mom asked Mrs. Bedingfield for the stash of bottle caps. God wants us to ask, seek, and knock so that we can receive the riches of his blessings, including the eternal gifts of salvation, joy, peace, and love. Let God shower you with a plethora of blessings each day. When you know Christ, you become eligible for the supernatural benefits of eternal life now and forevermore.

Prayer: : Dear Father God, thank you for the bountiful abundance that you want to give me each day. Help me know that you want me to have so much more than I’m asking for. May I stay in loving obedience to you so that when I ask, I will receive. When I seek, I will find. When I knock, the door will be opened. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Lacey Holsworth and Adreian Payne (A College Basketball Love Story)

 
I hope you enjoy this love story about Lacey Holsworth, the 8-year-old who captured the hearts of Michigan State, Big Ten, and college basketball fans, and her hero, Adreian Payne, the Michigan State star.  Her impact on people was nothing start of amazing.

Aside

Coach Farr’s Home-Going Weekend

Coach Farr’s Home-Going Weekend

John 14:1-4

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

My father, Mr. Lester E. Farr Sr.  (aka Coach Farr) passed away on Wednesday, April 16 at the age of 101. Here is a recap of his glorious “home-going” weekend.

At the end of visitation for my dad on a rainy Friday evening in Dublin, Georgia, Mrs. Townsend, the 89-year-old matriarch of the Townsend Brothers Funeral Home, slowly shuffled into the visitation room. She said that she came to see “what all the fuss was about” because it was “very unusual for that many people to show up” to honor a 101-year-old. To me it was a great compliment and demonstrated the impact that a teacher / coach can have on the lives of their students. As we stood by Daddy’s coffin, my sister Regina and I shared a few stories that helped her understand his legacy.

I shared this remembrance at Dad’s Saturday celebration service.

Good afternoon!  Regina, L.E. and I are so pleased that you joined us today to celebrate our father’s amazing life of 101 years. Some of you called him Mr. Farr, but most people knew him as Coach Farr. He taught history, bookkeeping and math and coached high school basketball, baseball, track and field and golf during his storied 36 year career. Regina and Bennie, L.E. and Gail, and I were fortunate enough to play for him, as were many of you today.

Coach Farr is most remembered for his basketball success. His boys and girls teams won eight hundred one game from the 1930s through the 1970s. Dad’s boys and girls teams captured thirteen region championships, one girls state championship in 1951 and one girls state runner-up in 1971.  The underdog 1971 team upset three teams with a total of five losses, sort of like the 8 seed Kentucky defeated the 1 and 2 seeds in this year’s tournament.  Most important were the positive ways that he helped shape the lives and careers of hundreds of young men and women with his integrity, strong Christian character, determination, coaching skill, and strong sense of fair play. Those attributes are why so many of you came to honor Coach Farr.

Dad’s sense of fair play was most evident in the 1952 state tournament in Macon. His Cedar Grove girls’ team had a great opportunity to repeat as champions and trailed by one point in the final seconds when a bizarre play occurred. Following a timeout, the official incorrectly awarded the ball to the opponent.The Cedar Grove forward drove to the basket and scored to put her team ahead.  Only then did the officials realize that something was wrong.

Somewhat confused, the officials walked over to my dad and asked him what they should do, likely out of respect for him.In the heat of the battle, Coach Farr surely must have thought,You figure out the mess you made! There was no correctable error rule in 1952 that would have reversed the points on the board.But Dad told the officials that it would be all right to take the points off the board as long as the clock was reset with the same amount of time. The opponent inbounded the ball and ran out the clock to win the game, ending Cedar Grove’s chance for a repeat.

The following morning, Macon Telegraph sportswriter Sam Glickman wrote that Coach Farr’s willingness to do the right thing, especially considering the circumstances and what was at stake for his team, was one of the finest acts of sportsmanship he had ever witnessed. It was an act of sportsmanship that surely carried over into the lives of his players and their friends and families who watched that evening.

Coach Farr coached over 1,200 ball games and received only three technical fouls.That’s one every 400 games,which is pretty doggone amazing. Once, he was convinced that the officials were calling too many fouls on his team.Dad called a time-out and told his player in the huddle loud enough for the official to hear,“Virginia, when that girl comes near you,I want you to run up in the stands so that you can’t foul her.” (Laughter)  I believe that was one of the three technicals. (More laughter)

Most scoreboards only went to 99 back in the day. On the rare occasion that a team scored 100, the score would show double zero. The students called that busting the clock. You can say that Coach Farr busted the clock on February 10, 2013, when he turned 100 years old. It was a very special birthday celebration that an estimated 250 former students, ballplayers, friends and family members attended.  Dad was very handsome in his navy pinstripe suit as he greeted well-wishers for three hours on a warm Sunday afternoon.  It was an incredible day that we will always cherish.

John Chapter 14 says that Jesus prepares a place for us in heaven, and Jesus led Daddy to his special place on Wednesday evening. Let’s envision his new “home court.” First, consider the excitement as he was welcomed by our friends and loved ones, including hundreds of players and students who preceded him, enough of them to create a state tournament! I see a beautifully stained hardwood basketball floor just like the oak floor in the Cedar Grove gym. The teams play with new orange Wilson Jet basketballs and have plenty of cans of Cramer Firm Grip for a sure handle. The open air court is bathed in the brilliant light of the glory of God. The stands are filled with husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and classmates and friends who cheer enthusiastically for their teams. The talented teams are full of fight and determination, just like their coach, and expertly run the fast break that he taught them. Coach Farr gives the players sticks of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum for quick energy and keeps one stick for himself. He wears a new suit, and his new body is energetic and pain free. Mrs. Farr is at the scorer’s table, holding up three fingers to notify him of any player in foul trouble. What a blessed arrival it was in heaven during Holy Week!  

Daddy, we love you so much and look forward to seeing you and Mom again.

Rev. Tim Paulk of Cadwell-Rentz UMC closed the memorial service on Holy Saturday by sharing an emotional tribute to Coach Farr. He told us how he had known Mr. Farr for five years, and that Mr. Farr would be in church at 9 am on Sunday morning whenever he was physically able.  When he heard Dad’s walker scraping the front porch of the church, he would open the door and greet Dad with, “Good to see you, Mr. Farr!” Dad would reply, “It’s good to hear you.”  Brother Tim thought long and hard about the one thing that Mr. Farr would want you to know, and said with emotion that he would “want you to put your trust and faith in Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Farr’s death leaves Cadwell-Rentz UMC with only one member, so the church will close after over 100 years. But Rev. Paulk offered to hold one final service on Easter morning.  Twenty-one of us gathered, mostly from Dad’s family, to praise God for the risen Christ.

In his later years whenever Dad celebrated a birthday, all he wanted for his birthday was for his family to go to church with him.  He would ask us, “How many did we have this morning?” I believe Dad counted the crowd with glee from heaven on Easter morning.  What a home-going weekend it was!

Aside

                          Home Court

John 14:1-4

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Father, prepare a great place for Coach Lester Farr….

…..a brand new, stained hardwood court, 84×50 feet to be exact, with freshly painted lines
….a new orange Wilson Jet fresh out of the box with a can of Cramer Firm Grip
…an arena bathed in Light
….two worthy teams for competition, Dad’s team slightly less talented but great listeners, full of fight and determination like their coach, with a penchant for the fast break
….plenty of sticks of wrigley’s spearmint gum for energy
….the pleasant aroma of boiling hot dogs and freshly brewed coffee
…a new suit with a print tie for his new body, which is free from pain and full of energy
… his wife Allene at the scorers table, three fingers in the air when a player gets in foul trouble
….new eyeglasses, that he doesn’t need, but to push up his nose against his forehead after his well-scouted opponent scores an infrequent field goal
…..two officials that he would take at home or on the road
….a lively contingent of fans backing and encouraging his team

I am going there to prepare a place for you. John 14:2

Father, Prepare a place this wonderful and more for Coach Farr, your good and faithful servant, who touched so many young people in his life.

Aside

Five Favorite Final Score! Masters Golf Devotions

A TRIBUTE TO CORA, JACK’S BIGGEST FAN

Psalm 119:105, Jeremiah 6:16

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. —Psalm 119:105 (KJV)

I remember the first time that I saw my dear friend, Cora. I was at my first Masters in 1973 when I was seventeen when I found out what a thrill it was to watch Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear, play golf for eighteen holes at Augusta. I decided to follow Jack on Saturday, but I didn’t know the best way to get around the course. As Jack approached the green on the third hole to enthusiastic applause, I heard a high-pitched woman’s voice. “Go get ’em, Jack!” Jack waved his hand in acknowledgment, and that’s when I saw Cora. She was about five feet tall and was wearing a gold Jack’s Pack pendant in the shape of a bear. Her beautiful silver hair was in a bun, and she wore sunglasses and a visor to shield her face from the sun. She also seemed to know everybody around her.

As I walked the course, I found out it was tough to get close to Jack. On some holes, I would fall behind no matter how fast I walked to keep up. I would miss the timing for the crosswalk and be forced to wait for the group behind Jack to come through. Then I would hurry (without running, of course) to the next hole.

I kept noticing how this charming little woman was always in the right place. She didn’t seem to be out of breath and chatted away until the next shot. So I got smart. I will follow her, and then I’ll be in the right place. On the back nine, I introduced myself to Cora because I was a huge Jack fan, and she sort of adopted me from that point forward.

Cora walked almost every round with Jack for almost forty years beginning in 1963. She would pick his group up on number one fairway and follow him through his final putt on eighteen. Cora would record his putts for each hole on her program, and she never sat in the bleachers. After Jack completed his round, she walked home to nearby Cherry Lane.

In 1986, I remember standing with her on seventeen when Seve Ballesteros hit his second shot in the water on fifteen, opening the door for Jack to win with a back nine thirty for his sixth green jacket. On seventeen came the putt when Jack lifts his putter in the air and Verne Lundquist screams, “Yes, sir!” I never saw anybody else at the Masters support Jack as loyally as Cora. She was indeed Jack’s biggest fan at Augusta.

That sun-kissed Saturday afternoon at Augusta National began a wonderful friendship of about thirty-five years. After Cora could no longer walk the course, our family would still park in her yard on Cherry Lane and visit with her husband, affectionately known as “her Jack,” and their daughter, Christy. When Cora passed away, Jack and Christy received a wonderful note from Barbara and Jack Nicklaus.

Cora had a specific path that she followed round after round (see Jeremiah 6:16) that put her in the best place to see the action. I wasted a lot of steps and energy trying to see the same action because of my lack of knowledge and experience. Psalm 119:105 says that the Word is a Lamp unto our feet and a Light unto our path. When we don’t follow the teachings of the Word, we cost ourselves a lot of steps and energy. But if we learn the Scriptures and follow the guidance provided there by God, we will be in the right place much more often. We will waste less energy in addressing the consequences that inevitably occur when we make bad decisions. Let’s study his Word so that we will know the path of righteousness. When we stay on the right path, God blesses us with untold riches.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the wonderful people we meet and the eternal relationships that we develop through sports. May I realize that sports are a wonderful gift that can be used to help people experience your mighty love. In the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Footnote: Cora never wanted anyone to tie Jack’s record of six Masters victories. When Tiger Woods came close to winning his fifth Masters one year, I found out why he lost when I got back to Cora’s house. When Tiger would putt, Cora would put her thumb over the hole on TV so that the ball wouldn’t go in.

USE THAT FIFTEENTH CLUB IN YOUR BAG

Romans 8:26; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 4:30, 6:10

Be strong in the Lord, and in his great power! —Ephesians 6:10

From 1992 through 1994, Ben Crenshaw’s game had been deteriorating as he slipped farther down the money list. To list him as a serious contender for the Masters green jacket in 1995 would have been purely a sentimental choice, even for his most ardent supporters. On Monday night of Masters week, Ben received distressing news that his longtime coach, Harvey Penick, had passed away in Austin, Texas. Crenshaw and his close friend, Tom Kite, who was another Penick student, flew from Augusta to Austin for Harvey’s memorial service. Ben arrived back in Augusta on Wednesday night, obviously feeling a deep sense of loss.

Working with his veteran caddie, Carl Jackson, Ben found a swing key on the range before his Thursday round. After three days of driving the ball consistently and making his usual bushel basket of putts, Ben found himself in contention on Sunday. He so desperately wanted to win the tournament in memory of Harvey Penick that he could have allowed his emotions to get the best of him.

However, Gentle Ben fired a great final round and left himself the luxury of being able to make bogey on the last hole. After cleaning up a one-foot putt, he buried his face in his hands and wept uncontrollably as Carl gave him a hug.

After the green jacket ceremony, Ben spoke of the peace that he felt during the madness of a frantic Augusta back nine finish. Crenshaw was quoted that he felt like Harvey was there with him during the round and how that memory gave him strength, almost like having a fifteenth club in his bag. Perhaps the spirit of Harvey Penick was right there with Ben, whispering in Ben’s ear to take dead aim. It was one of the great final round finishes in Masters history.

You and I have a fifteenth club in our bags that we rarely use, and that is the power of the Holy Spirit. Recall that Jesus said to the disciples just before he ascended into heaven that you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit and that you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit resides within us to help us with our daily problems, just as Harvey’s memory kept Ben focused. Let’s take advantage of the power of the Holy Spirit, which God sealed us with at our redemption (Ephesians 4:30). In times of turmoil and stress, let’s be strong in the Lord and in his great power (Ephesians 6:10).

Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, may I remember that I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me to do great things for your kingdom. May you receive every bit of the glory. In Jesus’s name, amen.

GOT AN AMEN CORNER?

Matthew 26:34-49

Sit here while I go and pray over there. —Matthew 26:36

Even at ninety-eight years old, my dad could still recount stories from his youth in north Alabama. It is amazing to think that he knew people who lived during the Civil War, and yet here he is, living in the age of blogs and Twitter in the twenty-first century. One of my favorite stories is to hear him describe the amen corner of his boyhood church. He told me that the women and children would sit in the center pews in front of the preacher, and the men folk would sit on the side pews. When the preacher made a good point as judged by one of the men, the man would say, “Amen.” Dad said that the louder the men said, “Amen,” the louder the preacher would get, feeding off the congregation.

Another type of amen corner was named in 1958 by Herbert Warren Wind, the famous golf historian and writer. Amen Corner at the Augusta National Golf Club consisted of the dangerous second shot to the eleventh green, the par-3 twelfth, and the daring drive on thirteen with Rae’s Creek lurking to the left. Seeking to capture the excitement of Palmer’s first Masters win in 1958 where Amen Corner played such a huge role, Wind made reference in his Masters article to “Shouting in the Amen Corner,” a popular big band jazz tune.

According to masters.org, Palmer embedded his tee shot in mud on the twelfth hole in the final round. He was allowed by the rules official to play two balls, the original ball with which he made a double bogey, and a second ball as a free drop with which he made a par. Palmer eagled the thirteenth hole, and when he was on the fifteenth hole, word came that his free drop had been honored. Immediately, he took the lead and held on for his green jacket.

There is another type of amen corner that each of us needs. It is that quiet corner or place that each believer should go to start each day with God. My time consists of a couple of devotionals, including My Utmost for His Highest, prayer time, and meditation. In the solitude of the early morning, so often God speaks to us through quiet utterances in our minds. My amen corner has varied from place to place, but my recent amen corner is the corner of our sofa in the living room.

It is with even more certainty that you can meet God in your amen corner compared to seeing the top golfers in the world at Augusta National’s Amen Corner each April. How can I be so sure? Because Augusta National became a pasture for four years during World War II. God didn’t take days off from anyone’s amen corner during that time.

Prayer: Father God, most precious Lord, may I realize that the precious time that I spend with you each day in my amen corner keeps me from making bogeys and double bogeys during my day. Thank you for the blessing and the privilege to make a tee time with you any time that I wish. In Jesus’s name, amen.

BUBBA GOLF

1 Thessalonians 5:11, Romans 12:10

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. —1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

America discovered a new golf hero in 2012. His name is Bubba Watson, and he hails from the little town of Bagdad, Florida. Prior to his Masters win, he was best known as a left-handed, lanky, long-ball hitting, and flamboyant golfer. After he won the 2012 Masters on Easter Sunday, he tearfully thanked his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at the green jacket ceremony on the putting green.

The Masters patrons and all of America were cheering for this new hero. He made just enough putts to win, and he blasted 350-yard tee shots and carved unbelievable slices and hooks. Bubba is the American version of the great Spanish golfer, the late Severiano Ballesteros.

Often thwarted by being too hard on himself, Bubba kept his composure throughout the back
nine and birdied four consecutive holes. On the second playoff hole, he played the most amazing shot after he drove into the trees to the right of the tenth fairway. Through a small opening Bubba hooked his fifty-two-degree wedge forty yards to the right and wound up ten feet from the hole. The gallery lining the entire right side of the fairway went crazy. Bubba two-putted for the win and tearfully hugged his mother on the tenth green as they remembered Bubba’s father, who passed away in 2011.

What was especially touching to me was how Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane, and Aaron Baddeley congratulated their brother in Christ with hugs on the tenth green! My wife, Becca, asked me if it was unusual for other players to follow their peers during a playoff. I responded that it was much more common for the European players to do so, and I pointed out that those were Bubba’s brothers in Christ.

Not only did Bubba win on Easter Sunday, but he won just two weeks after he and his wife Angie adopted a baby boy!

As Christian brothers and sisters we are supposed to support each other in good times and
bad. We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV) that we are “to encourage one another and build each other up.” Receiving support from Christian brothers or sisters is one of the tremendous blessings of being a Christian.

Update: Rickie Fowler notched his first PGA Tour victory in Charlotte just four weeks after the Masters by making birdie on the first playoff hole. Surely, the encouragement that Rickie received from his tour brothers in Christ helped him down the stretch.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for every brother or sister in Christ who ever gave me encouragement when I needed it most. May I return the same support to them and always look for ways to build them up as the evil one seeks to tear them down. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, amen.

THE MARKER

Acts 20:24, Romans 8:28

But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus. —Acts 20:24

Every Masters participant is hopeful of winning when he enters the fabled grounds on Monday morning. The first three days of practice are full of anticipation as the players hone their games before the first big tee shot on Thursday. Reality quickly sets in when the golfer makes his first bogey or two. When a golfer is three or four over par, the elation goes from visions of the green jacket to surviving to play on the weekend.

On Friday afternoon, there is one person who has a perspective different from any player in the field. That person is the marker. A marker is a non-competing golfer who plays with a Masters participant on Saturday and Sunday if the number of players who make the cut is an odd number. The marker is hoping for an odd number! The marker helps the participant, who otherwise would have played alone, maintain a normal pace of play.

For instance, in the 2011 Masters, fifty-one players made the cut. A marker went out with Ernie Els early Saturday morning. Undoubtedly, the marker was thrilled to play and had probably practiced for weeks with the hope that he would play. The marker probably felt a sense of elation getting to tee off on a beautiful Saturday morning and Sunday morning. Many patrons may not have realized the marker was not a participant. He enjoyed the applause of the patrons for his birdies and pars. He didn’t even play out the hole if he messed up, because he didn’t want to slow down the player whose score in the tournament counts. The marker has no risk. He enjoys the play, but in the end, he’s not really in the game.

Bobby Clampett was a rising young star in golf. Early in his career, he played in the 1979 US Open but missed the cut after the first two days. On Saturday morning, he went out to play as a marker with another competitor. He entertained the fans by hitting a couple of tee shots off his knees. The fans loved it! However, the news filtered back to
USGA chairman P.J. Boatwright, who yanked Bobby off the course.

A good marker does not call attention to himself. He quietly goes about his business and allows his playing partner to have the best conditions under which to play. The marker allows his playing partner to receive the glory and always puts the other player ahead of himself.

Christians need to prepare like the marker. Be where we are supposed to be and do what we are supposed to do by following God’s plan for our lives (see Romans 8:28). Practice daily with the hope that there will be an opportunity to play in the field for God. Stay ready to perform. Enjoy and appreciate the opportunity. Follow God’s lead and don’t draw attention to ourselves because it’s not about us. Put others first, and give God the glory.

I wouldn’t call Jesus a marker, but his work for his Father had some parallels. He was all about doing his Father’s work, and doing it in a humble way that would not draw undue attention to himself. Often he performed miracles for people and told them not to say anything. He followed his Father’s pace of play and his plan. Jesus allowed his Father to receive the glory, and he was present solely to fulfill the mission for which his Father sent him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, may I be true to you and perform my deeds in a way that draws attention to you, my Savior and Lord, and gives our Father the glory. In Jesus’s name, amen.

One and Done? Won, Not Done! (UK’s Final Four Run)

                                                                 ONE AND DONE? WON, NOT DONE!

                                                                   2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24

For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made in the righteousness of God in Him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            –2 Corinthians 5:21

The expression “one and done” is a popular basketball term that has different meanings. First, when the offense shoots and misses and the defense gets the rebound, that’s the end of the possession for the offense, which had one shot and only one shot. Too many “one and done” possessions will ultimately end a team’s chance of winning the game.

“One and done” also describes an aspiring team’s chances in a season-ending tournament such as NCAA March Madness. Some teams are “one and done” by early Thursday afternoon. It’s as if they weren’t even in the tournament.

The term “one and done” also refers to a college freshman who is so outstanding that he is drafted by the NBA after his first season. Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Andrew Wiggins, John Wall, Jabari Parker, and Kyrie Irving come to mind.

The Fial Four achievement by Coach John Calipari’s young Kentucky Wildcats has stirred incredibly high interest across the college basketball community and fan base. The primary reason is that during the tournament, almost 90% of Kentucky’s points have been scored by the newest Fab Five freshmen, who are Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and James Young.  All five have been starters since February.

Despite a disappointing regular season which led to an eight seed, Kentucky’s teamwork improved dramatically during the SEC tournament, which helped them defeat three 2013 Final Four teams, senior-laden, undefeated one seed Wichita State, sharpshooting two seed Michigan, and archrival four seed Louisville. Each game was a classic battle between a team of probable “one and done” freshmen against a traditional veteran squad with March Madness experience. Many experts who had been critical of Calipari and his “one and done” philosophy are now praising this team for their poise and ability to execute under pressure during the last five minutes.

The games have been so exciting that they have actually stirred appreciation for both approaches.  Perhaps there is no one right answer to the “one and done” debate. Regardless of which side of the “one and done” debate you are on, all would agree that these games and the usual slew of upsets have made for thrilling competition in what may regard as the best sporting event in the world.  Next Monday’s championship game could match Kentucky’s Fab Five freshmen against Florida’s Fab Four senior class.  Now that game would be be one for the ages!

The ultimate “one and done” occurred when Jesus took the sins of the world from the garden of Gethsemane, dragged the cross on the Via Dolorosa, and ultimately was nailed to that cross. After Jesus rose from the grave, the animal sacrifices that had been made for hundreds of years came to a screeching halt for thousands of Jews weeks after Jesus ascended to heaven.

The old covenant of animal sacrifices had been replaced by the new covenant. The blood sacrifices and the sprinkling of the doorposts would never have to be followed again because Jesus shed his own blood as the sign of God’s new covenant with the people, first the Jews and later the Gentiles. Jesus Christ, who knew no sin but became sin for us so that we might become his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), had delivered the ultimate “one and done.”

After Kentucky defeated Michigan, Ms. Tyler Thompson, a writer for kentuckysportsradio.com, posted this catchy phrase, “Won, Not Done.” Yes, the Wildcats had won this game, but they were not done because there were two more games to win in order to be crowned NCAA champions.

As Christians “Won, Not Done” means that Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave, and Jesus made it possible for us to win the eternal battles for our souls.  However, as followers of Christ, we are not done by any means. God expects us to live out our daily lives and shine our lights in ways that draw others to his kingdom. He is never done working within us to help us become more Christlike.

Prayer: Most wonderful Father, I am so grateful that Jesus had the courage as the Son of Man and Son of God to deliver on a “one and done” for me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Post your favorite moments from 2014 March Madness!