This past week I participated in a four-day golf trip to Northern Minnesota. I went with fifteen other Christian men who have ties to Southeast Christian Church. We have taken this trip to Giant’s Ridge Resort, near the Canadian line, for several years because not only are the two golf courses great, the weather in mid-July is much cooler and less humid than the Ohio Valley.
The thing that makes this annual trip really special is not just the golf but the Christian fellowship and spiritual encouragement that takes place. There is a lot of laughter and good-natured ribbing that occurs as these men have the opportunity to get to know each other and get close to each other over a period of several days.
After dinner each evening we gather to distribute prizes for the day and then have a devotional service with a Bible lesson and a personal testimony. I have led the Bible study on occasion but it’s usually led by Bob Dabney, who originated this trip. It’s a time to get serious and study and pray together. That creates an atmosphere for the bearing of burdens and confessing of needs that produces a healthy transparency and sometimes moves us to tears. There is a mutual bonding that takes place in that setting that is deeper than what occurs in the average worship service.
But, as is often the case, the best and funniest things happen spontaneously. The most significant memories in life aren’t usually the result of planned events but from things that pop up unexpectedly. One such moment is captured in the video at the end of this post. Let me explain. After playing eighteen holes Wednesday morning we had two hours to wait before a nine-hole scramble in the afternoon. Bob Dabney had been boasting to the guys about a tough game he played as a boy that was similar to stick ball. But he insisted this game was more difficult than stick ball because it involved a half rubber ball that sailed, dove and curved like a nervous bumble bee. Only the most skillful (like him) could hit it.
Bob, age 70, challenged Chris Burke, a 33-year-old former major league baseball player, (just a couple years away from professional competition) that even he could never hit the mean pitches Bob could serve up with that half rubber ball. Chris insisted there was nothing pitched he couldn’t hit, even if the bat was as thin as a broom handle…especially if the ball was thrown by a, “fat old man” (or something endearing like that!). Understand this is the kind of “trash talk” that often takes place among men and is a strange way of communicating that we care about each other.
Since we had time to spare, Bob brought out the ball and bat he’d been talking about and the guys gathered around to watch. I sat on a bank at an angle that could be compared to the third base coaching box in a little league baseball game.
Chris impressively connected on several booming hits and the guys were harassing Dabney that his best stuff wasn’t good enough to get by Chris Burke. Then, without warning, Chris pulled a fast ball right at me like it was shot out of a canon. It came straight for my head but caromed harmlessly off my arm. Realizing no one knew if it hit me in the nose or not, I faked a severe injury for a moment and then bounded back up laughing. Just for a second Chris Burke thought he had wounded his old preacher. His concern, however, lasted about three seconds at most.
The next few minutes of hilarity and razzing was followed by an argument about whether I was quick enough to deflect the line drive or whether my arm had already been up in front of my face. Bob Dabney, who I’ve known and competed against for 45 years, insisted I wasn’t quick or athletic enough to get my hand up – it was just coincidental that my arm was in the way of my nose.
However, it just so happened that David Wilson was taping the competition on his cell phone. The odds of that happening are pretty slim! Joel Ross then downloaded a link that could play the video in slow motion and within a few minutes we had video proof that Bob Russell has the quickest hands north of Duluth, Minnesota. Is this a great age to be alive or not?
Here’s the spiritual lesson from our experience (and there does need to be one to justify this blog)! The Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpen another” (Proverbs 27:17). Most women find it much easier to open up and be transparent than men. Maybe it’s our pride, or insecurity, but whatever the reason, even Christian men often have a difficult time being transparent and getting close enough to be a source of encouragement to one another.
That’s why Christian men need to get away for a period with other men. Maybe it’s a golfing, fishing or hunting trip. Maybe it’s a spiritual retreat or a camping experience. But some time needs to be spent with other guys who share our faith and reinforce our values. Without that it’s tough to remain faithful to Christ in a pressure-packed world that is filled with alluring but lethal temptations.
Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!…Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,10 & 12).
You might be reading this blog and think, “Wow! I’d like to be invited on a trip like that.” But I would prefer you think, “If Bob Dabney can organize a trip with a bunch of guys I can do it too.” Pick out 3-4 men who you want to encourage and who will enhance your spiritual walk and take an inexpensive two-day trip to a state park and hang out for a couple of days. Maybe that will expand over the years to an annual event of increasing significance.
Even Jesus needed friends. The gospel says, “He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach (Mark 3:14). From among those twelve He chose three, Peter, James and John who became His closest friends. Hours before He was crucified, in His moment of most intense need, Jesus took Peter, James and John deep into the Garden of Gethsemane and asked them to pray with Him because He was, “…deeply distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33). Men, if Jesus, who was perfect, needed friends to stand by Him and pray for Him in His weakest hour, how much more do we?