MAR 29, 2017 Devotional: “Teeing Up the Back Nine of Life: Birdie, Bogey or Par??”

If you’re a sports fan, like me, then this time of year is arguably one of the highlights.  We’ve had two exciting weeks of the NCAA basketball tournament, leading up until this coming weekend’s Final Four.  Adding to the basketball drama this year is the fact that we have a team from North Carolina and South Carolina both playing this weekend.  What will the Carolina’s do if we have an all-Carolina final game?  If could happen, some say!

Then, before we get time to catch our breath, the following weekend brings us the Masters golf tournament from one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world:  Augusta National.

Then, to further prove that God has a hand in all that we do, the Masters wraps up this year nicely enough on the Sunday before Holy Week.  Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Holy Week brings special meaning to me this year, however.  Personally, I’ll hit a major milestone on Good Friday, April 14th, when I’ll celebrate my 50th birthday!  Now for some of you doing WAWA today, you might be saying to yourself, “Been there … done that…”.  And for that group, I hope to still be doing runs like today for years to come.  And for others, the younger ones in the group, you’re probably saying, “Man…50 years old….that explains why he was running slower than the rest of us today!”

Regardless of what peanut gallery you fall into, 50 years gives me time to pause, think about my life, and ask “what am I doing now that I’m on the back nine of my life?  Am I slowing down and scoring bogey?  Am I just coasting along and settling for par?  Or am I living life to the fullest, picking up birdies along the way?”

Well, I can’t exactly answer that just yet.  According to some studies, the current life expectancy for an American white male in the United States is just under 77 years old.  So, if you take that into consideration, I guess I should have written this devotional 10 years ago when I was, figuratively speaking, finishing up the 10th hole.  I actually did the math last night…and at 50 years old, I’m getting ready to putt on the 12th green!

If you’re entering or have already entered the back nine of your life, I want you to ask yourself today, “Is God finished with me yet?”  Here’s a few people you might not know where God said, “I’ve got something big coming down the pipe for you still.”

If I told you the name, “Harland Sanders“, you probably would say “Who’s he?”.  Sanders had a pretty successful restaurant and hotel business in rural Kentucky off highway US 25.  When Interstate 75 opened up just a few miles from his establishments, his business began to dwindle.  No one was stopping or needing to sleepover anymore.

Sanders was nearly 65 when he started envisioning that he would go broke.  He began to work on perfecting his spice blend and quick-cooking technique for making fried chicken in 1952.  “The Colonel”, as his friends would call him, then began touring the country selling Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, and by the time he sold the business for $2 million in 1964, there were over 900 of them.

Now do you recognize the name?

Next, I’m sure we’ll all recognize the name “Ronald Reagan“, who never held public office until he was elected governor of California at age 55.  In fact, he won that governor’s race by over a million votes.  Later, no one would have ever imagined that Reagan’s political resume would amount to much, including winning two terms as president of the United States.

One more example?  Okay, one of my favorite stories of a Biblical elder is that of Noah.

In a world taken over by evil, violence and corruption, Noah was a righteous man. However, Noah wasn’t just a righteous man; he was the only follower of God left on the earth. The Bible says he was blameless among the people of his time. It also says he walked with God.

Living in a society saturated with sin and rebellion against God, Noah was the only man alive that pleased God.

It’s hard to imagine such unwavering faithfulness in the midst of total godlessness. Over and over again, in the account of Noah’s life, we read, “Noah did everything just as God commanded.” His life of 950 years, exemplified obedience.  That’s certainly a lengthy back nine golf course!

Finally, and closer to home for many of us here in Charlotte, is the story of Edgar Blanton Hamilton, who sadly passed away last weekend.  I was honored to attend the funeral for this great man, who I had never met, but am very fond of his son, Blanton Hamilton, who lives in Charlotte.  The church was filled to the gills.  Every possible seat in the wooden pews in the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby, North Carolina was taken.  Folding chairs were brought out and eventually when every last seat was taken, still others stood along the back of the church to hear a fitting tribute to the man his family simply called “Dat”.  When it came time for family members to share thoughts of remembrance on Dat, our friend Blanton took to the podium first.  His eulogy of his father was a fitting tribute.  Blanton was stoic and genuine in his remarks, something I discovered was one of the many important lessons Dat had taught generations of family members over the years.  I really want to get the list of “Dat-isms” that Blanton referred to during his speech.  If you see Blanton, be sure to ask him about them.  I think he said the family had written down close to ninety Dat-isms at a recent family gathering.

What was most striking to me about Mr. Hamilton’s legacy was not so much that he had worked for the same bank for over 50 years….which is quite remarkable.  No….what I’ll remember most was when Blanton talked about his father turning down an opportunity to move his family to the northeast when his company offered him a promotion.  Instead, Mr. Hamilton opted to raise his family in the small North Carolina town of Shelby…where he knew the best values could be taught and preached to his children and, in later years, grand children.  Dat took a job at the local bank without having any banking experience.  Eventually, Hamilton became the president and board chairman of that bank….something probably unheard of by today’s corporate standards.

It became very clear to me through many comments shared that this man never put his life into “coasting” mode.  Rather, he used his years at the bank and his presence in the Shelby community to continue to influence others in the most positive ways imaginable.

Blanton’s eulogy left most in the congregation thinking, “That was a life well lived“….and it is certainly the case.  As for me, when I jumped back in my car for the drive back to Charlotte, I realized too that this man had tackled the back nine of his life in the most spectacular way.  He remained focused on his family, instilling wisdom across many generations, sharing his love of church and God without hesitation.

At one point during the service, a comment was shared that Ed, a former starting quarterback at Georgia Tech, excelled at most sports, minus one, however:  The game of golf.  Well, while that may be true, the wonderful man who was honored on Tuesday, might not have done well in the game of golf, but his focus on the “back nine of his life“, are testament of how well he birdied the game of life.

Rest in peace, faithful one….