So, I am by far and away not a golf expert. In fact, aside from my only PE credit in college and the occasional round of putt-putt (at which I am a total disaster) I’ve never played the game. It’s not that I don’t like the game of golf. I actually do. I’ve been know to watch whole tournaments on television… something even die hard golfers won’t necessarily do… it’s just it takes a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of patience… none of which I have.
But one thing I have learned about golf is that of all the dozens of clubs in a golfer’s bag, they can get by as long as they just three: a putter, a wedge, and some sort of middle iron. When I found this out, I was dumbfounded! I mean they why do you have all those clubs, that expensive bag, and that guy that carries all that around for you… yes, I know he’s called a caddy. But, as the Florida Southern golf coach told us on the first day of our PE class, “You can learn and master all the fundamentals of golf with just three sticks.” He later explained that the other clubs were for nuance, and specialization, and to add to the fundamentals.
So, I was running through Lake Ashton, a golfing community (in Florida they have whole villages and towns built around the sport, and no I am not kidding…) watching men and women out on the course with their carts, and all-leather golf bags… some of them were decent golfers, others… not so much, but the lousy ones still had a bag full of sticks. Anyway, I was running and watching, and I got to thinking about fundamentals and our Christian walk. What are the three sticks of Christianity? I mean, what are the base things that we need to get straight before we can expect any real Christian fruit? Well, I know every teacher or preacher will give you lists of three things or five things or 1 thing or 50 things depending on his or her lesson that week, but I know one Scripture that is pretty clear about the progression of Christian growth.
3 By his [God’s] divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. 1 Peter 1:3-7 (NLT)
Here Peter tells us that we have everything we need through God’s power to live a godly life, and he tells us the very first stick to the Christian life is “coming to know him” or faith itself. It is a fundamental, non-negotiable. Without faith, moral excellence is just looking good without being good. Without faith, knowledge is just intellectualism without understanding. Without faith, self-control is just asceticism without direction… and on and on. Faith in Christ is the first and most important fundamental. But here’s the caveat: faith isn’t really faith unless it produces the rest. If you say, “I have faith” but are a pretty shady business person or unfair to your kids or don’t make time for the Lord or family, then guess what… it ain’t faith. The cool thing here in this passage is that it shows the Christian life for what it is: a progression toward godliness that takes time.
There are two problems that crop up though, with golfers and with Christians. First, some spend all their time on the fundamentals and never try to take the next steps. For golfers all they do is go to the putting greens or driving ranges to work on their skills but never hit the course to see how those skills work on an actual hole. For Christians, some spend all their time going to worship services, reading their Bibles, or in prayer developing their faith but don’t do anything to express that faith in action. They aren’t necessarily good, because they use faith just to feel better or think better but nothing else. On the other side, some golfers never work on the fundamentals. They never practice putting, chipping, or driving a ball; they just hit the course. The result is often disaster. I’ve seen the same thing with Christians. They don’t make the fundamentals a priority, but instead avoid worship services, studying the Bible, time in prayer and just want to serve. Their desire is to serve or go on mission trips and just “do their faith” without “developing their faith”. And the results? Often disaster.
Success in golf and in the Christian life is knowing how to balance both. The fundamentals are important but that is not all there is to playing the game. Develop faith. Then add to that faith.