Wednesday, April 11, 2007

From The Masters to The Master

This past weekend, Zach Johnson won The Masters, arguably the most prestigious golf event of the year. He was an unsuspected upstart, having won only one previous tournament in his PGA career. His best finish in a major before Sunday was 17th place.

Now major golf tournaments have often brought me to tears. The wet laundry list includes Payne Stewart defeating father-to-be Phil Mickelson at Pinehurst in 1999; steely-eyed victor Jim Furyk walking up the final fairway weeping at the 2003 U.S. Open with his father shadowing him stride for stride; Ben Curtis trying, and failing, to keep it together in order to thank his girlfriend for her support after his surprise win at the 2003 British Open; and Phil Mickelson calling out a legion of monkeys from his back by winning his first major on Augusta's 18th green in 2004.

The accomplishment of victory and the achievement of a dream moves me. Golf exists as particularly striking in this respect because it is an individual sport. These golfers spend lives working on their games, practicing and practicing in the pursuit of perfection. Avid golf fans know the famous story of Vijay Singh hitting range balls on Christmas day. What's more than this though, these golfers dream. They desire something great regardless of the outcome's probability. They risk failure for their dream. This, dear reader, is rare.

So here we have Zach Johnson, whose golf career has been defined by "not's". Not the best golfer on his high school team. Not the best golfer on his college team. Not good enough for the PGA Tour. Not good enough to win a major. And on Sunday, his hard work paid off. He was number one. He was the best.

His response in his first interview to CBS behind the 18th green:

"I was not alone out there. Jesus was with me every step of the way."

His voice broke, and he cried as he moved seamlessly from The Masters to The Master.

What's most amazing about Johnson’s comment is that it was in no way coerced. The CBS reporter did not ask him, "So Zach, what divine being do you give credit to for your victory today?" or "Would you like to give mad props to Jesus Christ on live television right now?" In fact, Johnson avoided the safe route in committing cultural blasphemy and dropping the J-Bomb, as evidenced by the discussion his comments created on the inside of Tuesday's "USA Today" sports section.

It seemed that Johnson diverted the glory for his victory towards Jesus because it never crossed his mind not to. In the midst of great personal accomplishment, of work ethic’s satisfying fruit, of the achieved American dream, Johnson refused to feed his pride because he knew of his own inadequacy. What's more, he knew of the perfect sufficiency of the one he called Lord.

What a lesson in humility for me. I shelve books for a living. Upon completion of a cart, I often suppress the desire to thump my chest, give a fiercely intense look to the nearest customer, and release a primordial scream followed by the question that is a proclamation, "Who's the man!" I suppress this urge not out of humility, mind you, but because I do not want to look silly.

How can I claim prideful accomplish in the face of overwhelming grace? May God forgive me and forbid it.

What's more, living this life of relationship with Christ meant that Zach could not help but share the Gospel with the watching world. On Sunday, he told the truth, that the strength for his victory came from the presence of his Jesus. Certainly this ruffled some feathers, as Jesus told us it would when he said to the disciples in John 15:19, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.” CBS refused to ask a follow-up question concerning Zach's faith, and many of the aforementioned "USA Today" readers responded negatively. For Zach, no other way seemed possible. He answered the question honestly, and in doing so, tactfully told the world about the goodness of God in his life. To use a word that is tantamount to cursing these days, he evangelized.

How I often try to hide Christ's glory when I refuse to articulate his work in my life. How I often say that I am "lucky" when God's grace, and certainly not luck, sustains me. How I often hinder people from seeing how great God is when I balk at giving the deserving credit to him.

I thanked God Sunday for the example of humility and faith that Zach set for me. Here's to moving from The Masters to The Master as fluidly as Zach Johnson did. In reality, no movement is required because the two are inseparable.


Matt said...

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Heidi Dunn (Elvin) said...

wow, that article was eye opening! glad to know you are still around and on fire for Jesus:)