Though I haven’t played any real competitive golf in 30 years, I’m still a member of the United States Golf Association—for a good reason. They give me a hat.
Yes, when I renew my membership by forking over $10 or $15 each year, they send me a commemorative U.S. Open hat. I think that’s cool, because I’m a nerd when it comes to golf. I like golf hats, so I am an established, dues-paying member of the USGA.
A U.S. Open hat can carry residual benefits. While traveling through Georgia a few years ago, a guy at a fast-food joint saw my hat and asked, “Did you play in The Open?!”
Friends, I was tempted. The PGA Tour was playing just a few miles away and he probably thought I was one of the pros, just out for a quick bite before heading out to make my millions. My opportunity was in front of me; how hard would it be to cook up a quick story and walk away as a celeb, at least to one guy?
I couldn’t pull it off.
“Nah,” I told him. “Tried to qualify for the Open when I was much younger but never made it (this is true); now I just buy the hats (also true).” He was slightly deflated; no autographs or stories to tell his friends of meeting a tour pro at Burger King.
He mumbled something nice; I did, too. In a moment, he was out the door. My potential shining moment was over.
Today, I’m wearing my latest hat (commemorating the recent 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills), and thinking, “This has something to do with a 1st Faith.”
And then it hit me: In a sense, we “wear the hat” of a 1st Faith. We talk about emulating those first apostles, and wonder what it might be like to live a life of abandon, following Jesus no matter the cost.
As a golfer, I didn’t make it to the U.S. Open. I tried, no doubt about that. I would hit practice balls early in the morning, play golf all day, then finish by hitting more balls until dark on an ROTC drill field.
To make it to the U.S. Open, that much practice wasn’t enough—at least for a player of my limited abilities.
But there were those who practiced more than I. I remember at a college tournament, seeing a fellow contestant hit ball after ball in a driving rainstorm, alone on the driving range while the rest of us watched from inside the dry confines of our condo, just steps from the practice facility.
What did that get him? He played in a lot of U.S. Opens. He never won one; but he came close, and won more than $19 million on the PGA Tour in his day. He is now retired, and is a golf analyst for a major TV network.
That’s what it takes.
When it comes to faith, and truly finding the 1st Faith of those who first followed Jesus, it may take that same determination. In our case however, it is not necessarily about more study (though this may be involved) or more effort, but about letting go of the distractions.
The player I watched hit balls in the rain made a choice. He let go of watching Saturday afternoon football on that fall day, instead choosing practice.
In the 21st century, distractions to a 1st Faith can be those things we’ve come to believe and do which just aren’t—for lack of a better phrase—“1st Faithy.” We’ve got to let them go.
I’m not going to make a list here, but what are those things we came to believe over time which, if I simply read the New Testament, simply aren’t found?
Here is a test for any doctrine or belief I’ve embraced over the years: If someone read the New Testament in a serious manner two or three times, would this doctrine or belief jump off the page at them? In other words, is the belief clear and understandable to the average person?
The gospels, Paul’s and other letters; were all written for regular people. There should be little in those letters (though admittedly, translations from Greek to other languages can get complicated) that average, good-hearted people with open hearts cannot grasp.
We wear the 1st Faith “hat,” but we’ve created a rainstorm of doctrines we argue about, then have difficulty going outside and practicing our faith.
My thinking? A First Faith mentality ignores the storm of distraction and goes about its business, telling others the great news that God wants us back as His own. He gave us Jesus to make it happen.
I want to wear that hat, as one who truly participates in a 1st Faith by believing in what they believed in, without the extras we debate so extensively. If I eliminate the distractions as they did, I might even win.