On Saturdays, I’m going writing my thoughts on sermons I hear. Today’s entry was inspired by Mark Matlock’s sermon given at Irving Bible Church-kicking off a new series, “Whatever.” This one is titled “How We Live Matters.”
My guess is that my dad couldn’t have been more excited. A 1975 Saturday morning in Alabama. Driving a couple of hours to a friend’s property leased especially for hunting. A new .410 shotgun purchased in hopes of many more years of Saturdays sitting in leased fields together. But this was the first time he took me hunting.
“See them? Aim. That’s it. Now do what we talked about. You gotta lead ’em. Whenever you’re ready, Brent.”
A loud bang. The recoil on my shoulder pushed me off the swivel-stool (which also held extra shells) and flat on my back. I was looking up at the beautiful blue morning sky visible from north-central Alabama. Shotgun in the tall grass with a puff of smoke coming out of the chamber. A lot more loud bangs going off around me.
“Did I get ’em?” I asked.
[after a small smile and muffled laugh] “Well, the rest of us got some. You missed ’em all by about 40 feet. You okay? [dusting me off and getting me settled back on the swivel stool] Now, let’s see what we can do better next time because that was really awful and if it were up to you all the dove would be safe forever. Let me show you a few things.”
My guess is the reason for my dad’s excitement in taking me hunting that first time was based on a Saturday afternoon about six months earlier. A 1974 afternoon in suburbia, before the subdivision expanded and we had tons of trees behind the chain-link back fence. Tin cans were perched on top of the fence about 50 feet away. Newly purchased pellet gun with an Altoid can full of pellets at the ready. Pumped about 20 times. Exhale. Trigger pulled. 6 shots and all 5 cans felled.
“Pretty good, kid. How about a real test now? Between those trees. See the ring made by the handle on the garbage can in the far corner of the yard? Tell you what. You put a pellet in that ring and I’ll give you 10 bucks…or you can get a Saturday off from mowing.”
Both were like a million bucks in Alabama-kid currency.
Pump (20 x), grunting on the last two. Aim. Very long look. Exhale. Pull the trigger. Loud ping. Very loud ping.
“Brent, I think you hit it! Let’s take a look. Hell, yeah, you did it! Great shot!” He patted my back and let me see for myself.
I took the $10. He said, “I was hoping you’d take the cash,” he said as he handed it to me.
The reason I peel back the curtain on a slice of my childhood was because it reinforced the idea that Mark Matlock gave to us in his sermon last Sunday. He used an example of a story about how some archers missed the targets and asked the congregation what they did wrong. After giving some examples of what possibly went wrong he said:
The thing the archers did wrong is they failed to do what they had been created to do. They failed to deliver on what their whole life had prepared them for: to hit the bullsye…we have to make sure that we keep the most important thing the most important thing. That there’s a lot of area around the bullseye to consider. And we can get so lost in all the area around the bullseye and all the places that we can miss that we forget that the only thing that’s really of concern is that we hit the bullseye. A very very small and specific target for our lives…one of the worda in the Greek language for sin–hamartano–means ‘to miss the mark.’…that ultimately is what sin is: To fail to hit the bullseye.
I look back at how my dad handled two times with the targets. See, he was all outdoorsy and into hunting and deep-sea fishing and all that. Unfortunately I wasn’t the Esau he probably hoped for. I was much more Jacob. But that didn’t seem to matter much. When he discovered I wasn’t into hunting, fishing, or good at basketball, he grabbed the “H” encyclopedia and wrote NHL teams for practice drills when I took up hockey. But back to the targets.
When I missed the mark in that field when we were dove hunting, there were some consequences. A loss of confidence. A sore shoulder. Embarrassment to both him and me. Those were just short-term. The long-term ones were more along the lines of seeing a potential time together as a colossal waste of time…which would’ve robbed us of a lot of potential time together if one of us didn’t make some changes in what we chose to do on the weekends.
When I hit the mark from my back porch, there were some consequences. A belief I could do it. High fives and laughs. Pride in the accomplishment for both of us. I got 10 bucks. Those were just short-term. The long-term ones were along the lines of the memory I have of that moment or the moment that the two of us knew we could do this together and enjoy hanging out.
And that’s where my thought went hearing Mark’s sermon. The idea of what happens when we miss or hit the marks of the spiritual life as Scripture defines them. The idea of God’s grace to us when we miss our targets by 40 feet or more. To be sure, there can be consequences of varying degrees. I mean, I have a friend that uses the example of standing on the roof (symbolizing living God’s way) of a building. While we’re on the roof we are in control of all our steps. But once we choose sin (by stepping off the ledge) we lose control of the rest of our steps.
I fell on my back to be sure. But I admitted I needed help getting off the ground. I kind of humbled myself by admitting that I needed a little more instruction. When I did, my dad responded by dusting me off a little bit and instructing me in how to shift my weight on the swivel-stool to brace for the recoil. He helped me get past that 40-foot miss to the point where I could eventually fire his weapon well enough to hit about 80% when we shot skeet a couple of years later. He had the grace to get me past the early mistakes and move on.
But I also experienced the peace and joy of what it’s like when you hit the target. It’s obvious to me that when we follow God’s bullseyes we experience the peace and joy that others who miss by 40-feet miss out on. When we follow what God says in Scripture we don’t deal with the loss of the rest of our steps. We’re free to move about the rooftop to the beat of our own drummers unencumbered by the pull of sin’s gravity. It isn’t always as tangible as $10…but it’s there and real.
So as we walk through our days today, what are some times you’ve missed the bullseye, seen the consequences and seen God’s grace restore you? What are some times you’ve hit it and experienced the peace & fullness of walking in harmony with God?