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The Last Laugh
Life, death, eternity and victory connect in the swing of a golf club.

"A ball that rolls into an open grave may be removed without penalty."
—A sign on a golf course with a nearby graveyard.

Of all the bad habits I've ever acquired, golf is not the worst, but it's close. Golf is a marvellous and maddening game that combines three favourite pastimes from my childhood: doing poorly at mathematics, taking long walks to get away from people, and hitting things with a stick. Not everyone loves golf. John Wayne gave it up out of frustration, I'm told. It's amazing that a man who drew a six-shooter with lightning speed, won the battle of Iwo Jima almost single-handedly, and recaptured Bataan, could be defeated by a four-inch hole in the ground. But he was.

I was robbed once on a golf course. Not by a masked man on a golf cart, but by a more unusual suspect.

Columnist Westbrook Pegler once dubbed golf "the most useless game ever devised to waste the time and try the spirit of man." Once, after shanking five balls into a murky creek, I tended to agree with him. Mostly I've found the opposite to be true—golf is a useful game that teaches us more about life and faith than we think, if only we will listen.

Paul Steinhauser is a golfing buddy of mine. Almost every time I take a swing I think of my Californian friend. It's impossible not to. Paul gave me my clubs—a gorgeous set that provides great pleasure, but leaves me with few excuses. Paul has given me far more than those clubs though. The last time we golfed together, we left the scorecard in the clubhouse. A week earlier, Paul and his wife Judy laid their only child to rest in a grave on the windswept prairies. At 16 years of age, Janella was the victim of a car crash. Paul just wanted to walk that day. The golf course seemed the ideal place for it. I didn't say much; I just listened.

"I don't know how I can go on," he told me as he stood over a ball, holding a six iron. "Janella would want me to keep going, I guess. To shoot again. Then walk toward the flagstick. You can't play all 18 holes at once." After a dreadful shot, Paul turned to me with a grin. "She would also want me to give you these clubs."

I told him I couldn't take them. He said I had no choice. "I've never really liked them. I just ordered a better set," he said. For some reason we stood there laughing in the face of the worst tragedy we'd ever known.

I was robbed once on a golf course. Not by a masked man on a golf cart, but by a more unusual suspect. My son and I were out with one of my best buddies, James Enns. James and I both hit the green with our third shots, but as we walked toward the hole with birdies on our minds, a large raven descended from the sky and landed on the green. Then, as you've already guessed, the bird took flight with James' golf ball in its beak. It flapped out of sight, then retuned for mine. Neither of us knew the rules for such a predicament. We knew only that life is not fair—and sometimes golf isn't either.

A few months later, reality hit much harder. After a basketball game at Faith Academy in the Philippines, James' nephew Stephen collapsed and died of heart failure. He and my son were friends. He was 17.

Whenever I reflect on tragedy, I remember the sleepy Sunday afternoon when my own boy Stephen was five years old. We drove past our town's little golf course, then past the graveyard where Janella and Stephen Enns would be buried many years later. Noticing a large pile of dirt beside a newly excavated tomb, Stephen pointed and said a most amazing and hilarious thing: "Look, Dad! One got out!"

I laughed at the time, but the more I thought about those words the more I began to hang onto them. You see, every time I pass a graveyard now, every time I see a cross at the front of the church, I am reminded of the reason that nothing can rob us of our joy and hope: "One got out!" Death could not keep our Saviour in the ground. Jesus Christ, the one exception to all the rules, broke the chains of death, shattered our fears, and promised us eternity with Him.

Most churches in which I am privileged to minister have a cross. Some are carved into the pulpit, some hang on a wall, and others are relegated to a foyer. In Old Greenwich, Connecticut, there is a cross like no other. It is a sturdy ten-foot wooden cross like a thousand others, but it is bolted into the concrete floor in the centre of the sanctuary. The preacher can't walk in front of the pulpit without stepping over it. The congregation can't listen to him without seeing it. In the same way the cross must be at the centre of our lives. It is the central point of human history, and the central focus of all who embrace the Saviour who hung there one awful day 2,000 years ago. There was nothing good about that Friday. It left 11 men in agony. Perhaps they locked themselves away, asking questions none of them could answer until that glorious Sunday when "One got out."

Let that thought change the way we live, the way we laugh, and—yes—even the way we golf.

Phil Callaway, editor of Servant magazine, is a popular speaker and author of a dozen books including Who Put the World on Fast Forward and I Used To Have Answers, Now I Have Kids (Harvest House). His web site is: For details about Phil's first novel Growing Up On the Edge of the World click here:

Originally published in Testimony, March 2005.




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