Saturday, September 25, 2010

Can I Take a Mulligan?

Ok, for those of you who have never played golf, I will attempt to explain this to you. In golf, you have to count every stroke it takes to get the ball into the hole. You may, on a rare occasion after hitting a bad shot, ask for a mulligan. If your playing partners agree to it, you don't count that shot and hit another one to take its place. Everyone understand? Now, when you get as old as I am, it is always good to play with younger players. That way you can claim a senior citizen mulligan for every nine holes. Of course, it is not written in any rule book, but I always seem to get away with it. Then again, maybe that's because my partners usually beat me by eight to ten strokes anyway, so they let me think that I'm two strokes better than I really am.

It may seem silly, but it always feels good, after hitting a terrible shot, to be able to redeem yourself with a better one. It's interesting that the second shot is almost always better than the first one. I wonder why that is? There is actually more pressure on the second try than the first, because you never ask for two mulligans in a row. That would be really bad form.

Right now you are probably wondering why it is, that you are bothering to read the musings of an old football coach, who takes liberties with his golf score? Good question. It's probably because you are fascinated with inner workings of the mind of a person, who has spent almost forty years trying to get teenagers to run one lap. Or, maybe you are just bored because no one has been posting any thrilling news on your facebook wall. You know, like "just went to Starbucks and ordered triple chocolate caffeine free mocha something or other." Don't want to miss that news!

Well, if it's the first reason, here is where I was going. It occurred to me that so often in our lives, we wish we could take a mulligan. Think about it. How often would you like to take back something that you have said or done and then get to try again? Sometimes, we know immediately that something we have said or done was wrong. How we wish it wouldn't have happened. It was not what we wanted to say or do and we would love to do it over right away. Sometimes we get that opportunity, but often we don't

When I was coaching, there were many times I wanted to take a mulligan. Sometimes, I might make a play call and before the play would even start, I knew it was a bad call and the result of the play would not be good. Guess what, no mulligans in football (unless of course the other team got a penalty, but I'm not sure that counts). Usually, you just have to live with the results and try to make up for your mistake by doing better on the next play. There were games where our coaching staff would have liked to have taken a mulligan on our entire game plan. It's kind of like realizing that you should have hit a nine iron instead of your sand wedge. You thought the plan was good, but it came up short. If you have no idea what I was just talking about, please refer to "The Complete Guide to Golf for Idiots" or tune in to the Golf Channel.

On a much more serious note, I have to admit that there were times I would have loved to have taken a mulligan on something I said or how I handled a situation with a player. How you speak and act toward your players has a much more lasting effect on them than the amount of games you win or lose. I always tried to remember this when dealing with my players but I know that sometimes I said or did the wrong thing and there was no mulligan to be taken. You had to live with the consequences of your actions. Those consequences can be very painful. You know this to be true, because all of us have suffered loss of relationships by things we have said or done, have we not? We have had to live with the results of bad decisions that we wished we could have "done over." Oh how we would love to take a mulligan!

Well, I am sure by now that you are trying to figure out what spiritual application there is to this post. It's quite simple really. Do you realize that God gives us a mulligan on life? In spite of all the times we miss the mark (sin), rebel against God, do or say things that would hurt Him; He has granted us a mulligan. God gives us the opportunity to come to Him, receive His love and forgiveness and start life over. He allows us that second chance to get it right. Have you ever thought to yourself, "I just wish I could just start over?" That's what God let's you do. When you come to him in repentance (which means agreeing with him that you have been going the wrong direction and agree to turn toward Him), He will forgive you and bring you into a wonderful relationship with Him.

The purpose of Jesus dying on the cross was to give you life. Not just life, but a much better life than the one that you have been living without Him. John 10:10 says, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." He has suffered the consequences of our sin, so that we don't have to. The theological term for this is called justification. You may think of this as "just as if I never sinned" because that is how God looks at us once we have received Jesus as our Savior. Look at these verses

Ps 103:10-12, "he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."

Heb 10:17 "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more."

Even after we receive Christ, we are going to make mistakes. We will not live perfect lives. But guess what, as far as our relationship with God is concerned, we still get mulligans. God continually forgives us and gives us another chance to do it better. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

This is a continual process. We are continually cleansed and continually forgiven. We are warned however to not take this forgiveness lightly. If we do the Bible declares that we are Godless. Jude 4, "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord." God's grace is a marvelous thing, not to be taken for granted. I can't imagine after my playing partners have granted me a second chance, that I would purposely hit another bad shot, just to see if they would give me another one. We want to be thankful for God's amazing grace and ask Him for the power to do it right the next time!

If you are ready to take a mulligan on your life, to start over and live it God's way rather than your way, follow the game plan.

GAME PLAN: If you have never received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, I pray that today you would make that commitment and begin your new life. If you look to the right side of this blog, you can find the steps on How to Become a Christian. Talk to another believer and share what you have done. Find a church that centers on teaching the Bible and get into fellowship with other Christians. I promise that you will never regret the decision you made.

May God bless you as you walk with Him, Coach

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Decisions, pt 3: The Big Ones

Have you ever had to make a really big decision, I mean the kind that can literally be life changing, and you just don't know which choice to make or which direction to take? I'm sure that most of you have been there. I know I certainly have. What even makes it worse is that we often think that as a Christian, that shouldn't happen. After all, if I am walking with Christ and seeking His will, shouldn't I always know which way He is leading me? I have some Christian friends that tell me that unless they hear clearly and specifically from the Lord, they never move on any big decisions. I don't know if I am just too impatient or spiritually less mature, but that is not how it has always worked in my life. I admit that I would like it better that way.

I think that it always helps to look at people in the Bible to see if it always worked that way for them as well. We see many times in the Old Testament when God spoke clearly to men about doing something that would change their life. Here are a few examples:

1 Noah was told by God to build an Ark which would save him from the destruction of the earth (Gen 6)

2 God told Abram to leave his country and go to a land that He would show him (Gen 12:1)

3. God spoke to Moses and sent him to deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt (Ex3:10)

At first glance, these examples would seem to indicate that God speaks clearly when it comes to the life changing decisions. A closer examination though, might give us a different perspective. In each of these situations you might notice that none of these men were seeking God about decision in their life. God was making a decision that would change their lives forever but it wasn't as though they were asking for that. So, are there examples of people who were praying and got absolute, clear direction from God?

The answer is yes. One beautiful example is found in Genesis. Abraham wanted Isaac to take a wife from his own people, not from the Canaanites that he was living among. He sent his chief steward to accomplish that task. The steward, in approaching the town, prayed for God's guidance in finding the right woman. He asked for specific requirements to be met, so that he would not make a mistake. You can read the story in Genesis 24 and see that God answered his prayer in no uncertain terms. He knew with absolute certainty that he was accomplishing God's will.

Well, those are some great Old Testament examples of how God spoke directly to people, giving them exact directions for their life, but what can we learn in the lives of people in the New Testament? Who could we look to for an example of how to make those big decisions of life? My first response would be to look at the life of Paul. Now he had real guidance is making a decision that would change his life. Basically, Jesus knocked him off his donkey to get his attention. Then He told him exactly what to do next. You can read about it in Acts, chapter 9. Once again, as in the life of the Old Testament examples we saw, Paul was not praying about any big decision. God just forced him to make one. In fact, I can't find an instance recorded in the Bible that says that any of the apostles were seeking to make a big change in their life when Jesus happened to show up and call them. What bigger, radically life changing decision could they have made than to answer the call of Jesus?

Right now you are probably saying, "I thought you promised some help in making big decisions and now I'm more confused than ever." That's OK, so am I. Just kidding. What I really want us to see is that I don't think there is any simple formula when it comes to making those big decisions. I believe that God works differently at different times in our lives. Sometimes He makes His leading unmistakable, but at other times we might just have to take a step of faith. I know that this has been true in my life. I can only share with you the ways that I approach those big decisions and hope that it might give you some help in making yours.

First let's clear up what kind of decisions we are talking about here. I'm talking about things like career changes, whether or not to marry someone, moving to another state, buying or selling a home. How about care decisions for your elderly parents or even your own major health decisions, such as whether or not to have surgery or try a different treatment? Those are really important and often very difficult decisions. How do we go about making the best decision? How do we discern God's leading when it doesn't seem to be obvious, even though we may have spent countless hours in prayer?

I believe we need to consider several things. First, we must look at what the scriptures say about the subject. That may seem like a no brainer, but we often make bad decisions because we fail to apply scriptural principles. One example would be a Christian praying about marrying a non believer. No need to pray about that one, the scripture is clear. The answer is NO! (2 Co 6:14) You will not pray your way into changing God's mind on an issue. Follow the biblical principles. This requires diligence in searching out which scriptures may apply to the decision we are considering but it will be well worth the effort.

Next, we should look at our circumstances and see if there is evidence that God is working. Often times God will arrange a pattern of circumstances that should be getting our attention, demonstrating that He is leading us. Sometimes God even drops something right in our lap and we fail to recognize it as His leading. However, this should never be the only consideration. Circumstances don't always lead us in the right direction. They should be viewed as a piece of the puzzle.

Along those same lines, a good way to discover God's plan is to ask Him to open doors that He wants you to go through and close the ones that might lead you in the wrong direction. A good example of this is found in Acts 16. Paul wanted to take Timothy on a mission trip to begin training him. In verse 6 it says that they traveled throughout Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit kept them from going to Asia. Though we are not told how the Spirit did this, we know it was a closed door. The same thing occurred when they tried to enter Bithynia. They decided to go to Troas. Read what happens next. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:9-10 NIV) Closed doors, open doors!

Personally, when I am faced with making a life changing decision, I tend to emphasize the closed door in my prayers. I ask God to close any door that would allow me to make a choice that He would not want me to make and I trust that He will. Remember, God wants what is best for you and if you are sincerely seeking His will He is not going to lead you in the wrong direction. Jesus said in Matt 7:9-11 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?"

One last thing you should do when making those big decisions. Seek Godly counsel. Don't go to someone who you know will just give you the answer you may want to hear. Go to a mature believer, who will help you to seek God's will. Often times their counsel will confirm what you already know God wants you to do. Prov 11:14 says "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety." NKJV

The key to the whole process is, seek God's will in these decisions, rather than your own. When you ask for His will to be done rather than yours, you can rest assured that He will guide you. Use biblical principles, circumstances, open and closed doors and Godly counsel. Trust Him! Just as He did Paul, the Holy Spirit will guide you. When you know the Holy Spirit is guiding and directing, you can experience His peace.

Game Plan: Read the stories listed above and see what God shows you about the decision making process. See if you can find any other examples that would also apply

God bless you as you seek His will, Coach