Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A lesson from the Links

Reading the blogs from our team in South Africa has brought back a flood of memories. The adage we heard over and over again was that "once Africa gets into you, it will never leave" is true. My heart and mind are continually drifting back to the people and places we have experienced in Zambia and South Africa. Bustling cities with people walking, biking, crowding on small buses; wide open vistas dotted with small villages; beautiful smiling children reaching out for a handshake or a hug; warm friendly men and women opening their hearts and their homes to us; semi-arid bush country to tropical jungle; exotic foods (read caterpillars, crocodile, pasty corn meal and antelope; wooden doors with skeleton keys; the Apartheid museum; gated upper-middle class estates next to sprawling settlements and townships; wild animals.... it all is part of my life that I can never forget or put aside.

I am so happy that 18 people from Calvary - some of them for the first time - get to experience the primal, beautiful, rich place that is Africa. Part of me is jealous because I am not with them. Part of me is counting the days (and money) before I can return. Part of me is living their experience with them. But here I am blogging when I should be writing a sermon. At least I have my afternoon pick-me-up of an Iced Americano at my side.

I guess I can't complain. Tuesday I got away from a little bit to play golf with some church guys. Beautiful blue sky! lush green grass. All varieties of birds. gently blowing breezes! The sounds of golf balls clunking off trees. Teasing comments from friends like "Nice putt Alice!" Traipsing through dense woods and slashing through reeds at the edge of ponds looking for a little white orb.... All part of the experience of golf - especially when one hasn't played in over a year.

Had I been by myself, I might not have counted every stroke or I might have been prone to use my "toe mashie" to kick the ball further ahead. Since I was with impressionable church members, I needed to play by the rules. So my score was less than stellar to say the least. Or to put it another way, my score was much more than I wished it had been.

Playing by the rules, keeping score, taking your proper turn, making sure you follow golf etiquette - it's all part of the game. For those who really take it seriously, any violation of the rules can have serious consequences. For the pros it could mean the difference of several thousands of dollars in prize money.

There are a certain set of mechanics of a golf swing that need to be religiously observed as well. Keep your knees bent. Head down. Right elbow in tight. Take the club back slowly. Follow through to the target...on and on it goes.

Playing as seldom as I do, obeying all these rules and remembering all those steps for a good swing remind me that I need lessons and practice. I am painfully reminded that there are others much better than me. I will probably never excel at the game, especially if I can't just relax and play for fun.

I need something more. That is, in a slight comparison, the dilemma facing the Galatian Christians. There were those who were insisting that, as new Christians, these believers should keep the Old Testament Laws. Along came Paul who preached a gospel of grace through simple faith in Christ. That left a big question: What was the purpose of the law then?

The purpose of the law served (still serves today)as a reminder - a teacher if you will - of a greater need. It leads the believer to a place of readiness to meet Christ. Since no one could ever really keep the law, God put in charge of us to bring us to grace.

This week, I am preaching from Chapter 3 of Galatians. It is all about Grace through faith in Christ. And it is a reminder to me, that all my attempts to live by a legalistic set of rules in life only reminds me that I am - to use St. Paul's words - the "chief sinner." I sometimes feel I am about as good at living the Christian life as I am at swinging a golf club. I need help. I need Jesus. I need grace.

A friend of mine just posted a quote on her website from Ann LaMott's book "GRACE (Eventually):Thoughts on Faith. I like it because it speaks to me about this amazing thing called grace and my utter need:
“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

Ann LaMott knows what she is talking about. Her life's experience has not been the sheltered, rosy, prosperous, smooth-sailing life we sometimes associate with Christianity and with Grace. It has been messy, difficult, and rocky at times. When she met Christ, she was at the low part of her life and she wandered into the back of a church, curious and seeking anonymity and what she found was redemption. In her book "TRAVELING MERCIES" she recounts that her view of religion; of Christianity; had been one of negativity and legalism. Yet Jesus met her where she was at and didn't leave her where he found her.

Law only takes us so far. Yet it has a purpose. It leads us to the place where Christ meets us with this mysterious thing called grace and there, he begins to transform us.

So whether you are in Africa, on a golf course, stuck in a drab office, sitting anxiously at the bed of a loved one in the hospital, reeling from economic strain or broken relationship, "grace will meet you where you are at and won't leave you where it found you." Hard times, legalism, rules, life - they are all ways God uses to lead us to his grace.

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