Christmanship : Kingdom of God played out in sports

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Christmanship KINGDOM OF GOD PLAYED OUT IN SPORTS

PE T E R JU N G & JU N G WO N S U H FOREWORD BY ROSS GEORGIOU



Christmanship KINGDOM OF GOD PLAYED OUT IN SPORTS

PE T E R JU N G & JU N G WO N S U H FOREWORD BY ROSS GEORGIOU


Christmanship – Kingdom of God Played Out in Sports Copyright © 2019 Peter Jung & Jung Won Suh Printed in Hong Kong All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without prior written consent of the author. Short extracts may be used for review purposes. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Published by International Christian Assembly of God Limited 1/F, Workingberg Commercial Building 41-47 Marble Road North Point, Hong Kong ISBN: 978-988-12604-5-1 Editor – Marienne Felisilda Designers – Teresa Tan and Petrina Lin


Dedicated to my pastor, Edmound Teo who has sparked me to write this book. Thank you for being the greatest pastoral coach for our family.



C ON T EN TS FOREWORD .....................................................................................

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PROLOGUE .........................................................................................

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GAMESMANSHIP: Th e Tre e ...............................................................................

Th e Th e Th e Th e

22 27 38 43 48

Wi n ................................................................................ G l o r y ............................................................................ Pa ss io n ....................................................................... C h am p i o n .................................................................

SPORTSMANSHIP: Th e Te a m .............................................................................

Th e Th e Th e Th e

58 66 72 76 82

S e c re t .......................................................................... D re a m .......................................................................... Re a li t y ......................................................................... I d en t i t y .......................................................................

CHRISTMANSHIP: Th e I nc ar n at i o n ..............................................................

94 Th e Te st i mo ny ................................................................. 1 01 Th e Fa n ................................................................................. 112

THE GRAND FINALE: Le t t he G a m e s B e gi n ................................................ 124


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F o reword

I love sport. I have always loved sport. I remember being passionate about it for as far as I can remember. On Sundays, I would race home from church and turn on our black and white TV, agonising over the eternity it seemed to take for the TV to warm up and produce a picture. It would kill me to miss important seconds of the Premier League Football ‘match of the day’. Football was my passion and these were the best teams I could ever see!

By the time I was a young teenager, my passion, com-

mitment and hours of training saw me selected as a representative player in football for my region. I was a starter in my club and the regional team! I was valued. Happy. Fulfilled. I was doing what I loved and was good at it. But I was different. The only person in the team who was a Christian was ME.


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Football and Church were two ‘worlds’. My young

mind struggled to reconcile these worlds and their trajectories, which rarely aligned. In some ways, these words were similar. But, more often than not, these worlds collided, at least for me.

My church-going parents supported me in church

and in sport. They were happy hearing me recite Bible verses and it seemed they were just as happy watching one of my big football games. They endeavoured to help me reconcile these two worlds in my life. “When it comes to church and football, church wins!” they asserted. It may sound simple in theory, but in practice, it was quite another thing.

I remember the embarrassment of turning up be-

fore football games in my ‘Sunday best’, feeling as though I looked odd and out of place. I remember turning up too late for pre-game warm ups after a church service and having to start on the bench, or arriving so late that I wouldn’t even make kick-off. The worst was away games whereby we had to travel. I remember missing those games altogether.

I was embarrassed that I was different. I was embar-

rassed that I let down my friends, the coach, and the team. But most of all I remember how ashamed I was that I was


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embarrassed. How could I feel embarrassment when I was a Christian who took following Christ seriously?

In my inability to adequately process faith and sport,

I buried the tension of my embarrassment and shame. My subconscious mind was struggling to reconcile issues such as: ‘If church wins, football loses’ and ‘If God is for church, God is against sport’. Therefore I reasoned, God must hate sport! I loved both. Could this really be wrong?

The issue of sport on Sundays surfaces issues that

have been around from the early Church times; times when major sporting events were as huge as they are today. How does one glorify or worship God as a sportsperson? Or more importantly, should we?

I wish I had read Peter’s book 40 years ago. I wish my

parents had read his book. I wish the pastor and the youth pastor of my church at the time had read his book. I think by reading it, even my coach may have understood me and others like me a lot better.

Peter takes Scripture, life experiences in sport and

mission, the itch of dissatisfaction and the pain of discomfort to pass on his knowledge. He reveals how Christians can


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glorify God and approach sport using their God-given talents. If you are a sportsperson, a parent of a sportsperson, a coach, a pastor, a youth leader, a member of the Church, this book is an important read for you. I am grateful to Peter for taking time to share his open, honest and raw experiences and learnings with us.

Christmanship – Kingdom of God Played out in

Sports is an easy read. It touches on Gamesmanship, which analyses three diverse athletes’ actions, asking if they are right or wrong, ethical or unethical, legal or illegal. These conundrums are compared with the ethical challenges in God’s created world. In Sportsmanship, Peter uncovers how various individuals and teams have impressed and achieved various degrees of success in sportsmanship, such as the New Zealand All Blacks in rugby. He puts them through a theological framework, revealing how ‘sportsman-like’ they go, but despite this esteemed achievement, how they fall short of the ultimate.

Christmanship, Peter’s final theme, might be a foreign

concept to you as it was to me. In essence, Peter compares and contrasts the incarnational or the physical and experiential


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life of Jesus on earth with the experiential nature of sport. It is in practicing that one truly experiences, learns and grows.

Who is Peter Jung? I experienced Peter in his own

environment in Hong Kong and have been impressed by his deep insights that have come through academic and theological study, learning from others and life’s experiences. I have worked on international boards and have learned from making the mistake of not inviting enough of Peter’s ‘pearls of wisdom’. Peter is ‘multi-culti’, having lived in Hong Kong, UK and Mongolia. He is proficient in Korean and English and also speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, and ‘rusty’ Mongolian, as he calls it. It is with a voice of reason that Peter speaks to people of all cultures, an array of Christian backgrounds and diverse sporting abilities and experiences. Thank you Peter Jung!

— Ross Georgiou Global Sports Chaplaincy Association Operational Chairperson



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Prolo gue

“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” – Matthew 6:10

When I was a kid growing up in Sunday school, it wasn’t unusual for me to sing different children’s songs about the after-life, about being in a beautiful place, or even about walking with Jesus down streets made of gold. I can still recall one Sunday, when one of the other children asked if there would be animals in heaven. The answer from our teacher was an emphatic, “Of course not!” – which caused noticeable distress to the child who had raised the question. I’m not a big animal-lover, so this episode had little effect on me. But it did get


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me thinking more about heaven, beyond the streets of gold and pearly gates, and it wasn’t long before my young mind began to wonder what we would do once we got there.

I grew up playing sports. It didn’t matter what, as long

as it involved friends or neighbours, an element of competition and, more often than not, some kind of ball (it wouldn’t have been an unusual sight to see me kicking around wads of paper that had been rolled up into a loosely spherical form). Playing sports was my passion and in many ways it still is. So for me, the pertinent question about heaven wasn’t about the presence or absence of animals. For me, the question was, “Will we get to play sports in heaven?”

Before we get into a discussion on the appropriate

hobbies we can undertake in heaven, I believe it would benefit us to try and get to a basic understanding of how God thinks about sports, and how sports – at least as we know it – fits into his will (if it fits in at all).

I think it’s important to point out up front that the

concept of sports does not get much airtime in the Bible, which is to say that, other than a few mentions by Paul of analogies to athletes in the context of our journey of faith, Scripture is


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fairly silent on this topic. There is no mention of sporting events, world records, playing matches home or away, or much of anything that we would typically associate with sports as we think of it today. However, the Bible does talk about winning and losing: it mentions the idea of competing and battling. Scripture is also rife with discussions of the concept of glory. So while there is little explicit discussion of ‘sports’ in the Bible, many of the themes that go with sports are indeed present.

To try and better understand, then, how sports fits

into God’s overarching design, I want to take us back to the beginning – the beginning of the creation of the universe, when God looked at all that He had made and proclaimed that, “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). This was God’s realm, His pulpit, His perfect platform. This was, in a manner of speaking, God’s Kingdom where His presence dwelt with His creation.

God then created Eve to be a partner for Adam, and

in that moment, the world was in perfect harmony – perfect harmony between God and His creation, and perfect harmony between Adam and Eve. It was the picture of a perfect


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relationship. God, as ultimate authority and Lord of the Kingdom, also gave His instructions – His rule – to Adam and Eve, about working and keeping the garden in good shape, and about being fruitful and multiplying. He also gave directions about what not to do. Specifically, they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which sounds like it would have to be one of the longest names of a plant. Adam and Eve were to follow His rules; after all, God is the King of everything. Had they done so, the subsequent events would have unfolded a bit differently.

However, we all know what happened next: Adam

and Eve disobeyed God’s explicit rule and ate the forbidden fruit. Christians often call this moment “The Fall”, which I guess is appropriate since that really was the beginning of the end. Everything that God had intended – His perfect realm, His perfect relationship and His perfect rule – was tarnished by that singular act of disobedience.

But thankfully, it didn’t completely end there. God

in His mercy, eventually sent His Son Jesus to redeem this fallen world, the now-broken kingdom of this domain, with its fallen people. Jesus Christ came to us and gave this broken


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world a new lifeline of love, peace and hope to restore the perfect realm, perfect relationship and perfect rule. Jesus, the incarnation of the perfect Kingdom of God, brought Heaven down to restore and reconcile us back to Him.

The passage from Matthew 6:10 at the beginning of

this chapter is part of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. In this verse, He teaches us that we should pray that His will would be done on earth, as it has already been done in heaven. In other words, as Christians, we are called to make earth a bit more like heaven every day. Jesus did not ask only some of us to pray and conduct ourselves in this way; He intended this for everyone, including sportspeople like me.

I believe sports is a microcosm of this fallen kingdom

of the world. In the same way that the world around us reflects an imperfect form of God’s realm, relationship and rule, sports is riddled with similar kinds of brokenness, which I will further delve into later in the book. As Christian athletes, our call as stated in Matthew 6:10 is to make this broken sports world a bit more like heaven.

All of this got me thinking: The Bible clearly says that

the Lord knew me even when I was in my mother’s womb.


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The psalmist in Psalm 139 writes,

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, my soul knows it very well.”

God knew me even before He formed me. And when

the Lord formed me, I believe He placed the love of sports in me, and I believe He wove it into the fabric of my identity. In the same way that He gives different talents and gifts to people so that they can use those talents and gifts for His glory, I believe He gave me this passion for sports and the ability to play it at a high level so that I could honour and glorify Him, and do my part through sports to bring about His will on earth.

So the way I see it, sports is simply an avenue through

which we pursue our ultimate objective, which is to demonstrate the power of the Kingdom of God. I believe God placed the love of sports in me to use as a platform, a point of access to reach out to those around me. Whether I am able to compete


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at a high level or a low level (and as I get older, I am increasingly playing at a lower level!), sports is merely the means through which I am trying my best to reflect the character of Jesus Christ and to restore God’s realm, relationship and rule in my community.

One of my favourite “legendary” spiritual fathers is

Eric Liddell, who always honoured God before anything else. Born in China to Scottish missionary parents, Liddell represented Scotland in rugby and was a gold medalist runner for Great Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics. The following year, he returned to China and began serving as a missionary teacher. He died in 1945 in a Japanese civilian internment camp. This is one of his famous quotes of serving God through His gifting:

“God made me for the mission field, but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure. Not to run would be to hold Him in contempt.”

I suspect Eric Liddell had a pretty good grasp of how to use his giftings in sports for the Kingdom of God.


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This book is the culmination of my ongoing journey

in this discovery process, on this path of figuring out the answer to the question, “How do I take my God-given passion for sports and use it, really use it, for His Kingdom?” In the pages that follow, I will walk you through three concepts: gamesmanship, sportsmanship and Christmanship. The first two terms may be familiar to you, the last one may be less so. The desire of my heart is that as we go through these concepts in this book, you will get a sense of my views on how a sportsperson who is also a child of God should set his or her goals. I will share a little bit about my journey as a Christian athlete who often struggled to extricate myself from the desire to win no matter the cost. And finally, I hope to show that sports can be an incredibly powerful and effective way to exhibit Christ’s realm on Earth.


G am e sm a n s hip


LOVE “We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19


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The Tree

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” – Genesis 2:15-17

I want to make it clear before we get into any ideas and examples of gamesmanship, sportsmanship or Christmanship that the very first infraction committed by the very first man was to eat something that enabled him to judge others; Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If we go back to the passage in Genesis 2:16-17, God’s instructions to Adam


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were crystal clear: he was free to eat anything in the Garden of Eden, but he was not to touch the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was God’s Kingdom, and this was His rule.

By taking the forbidden fruit, Adam did something

that essentially empowered him to do what was intended only for God to do – to make calls on what is good and what is not. In other words, man had usurped God’s rule and authority.

It was never our place to discern between good and

evil. That was intended to be purely God’s responsibility. God is the sole authority over all matters, not us.

It is meaningful that the first emotion Adam and Eve

sensed after taking the forbidden fruit was shame. There was clearly an awareness of something bad – followed by an intense desire to avoid getting caught. Very shortly afterwards, we see Adam defending his action, trying to justify what he did, by blaming Eve, who then attempts to deflect the blame onto the serpent. We see Adam and Eve doing whatever they can to ‘win’ – or at least not to lose.

It wasn’t long after our eyes were opened to knowing

good and evil that we were starting to make decisions on what


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was valued and what was not, chasing personal gain at the expense of other people’s welfare, and placing worth on personal glory. Shortly after the Fall, Cain murdered his own brother, Abel, because of the anger in his heart that came about as he felt God had valued Abel’s offering more highly than his own. Joseph was sold to slave-traders by his own brothers who were filled with jealousy and resentment at the preferential treatment Joseph received from their father. Joseph wasn’t exactly an innocent victim in this narrative either. While the passage in Genesis 37 doesn’t go into great detail, one can clearly get a sense that Joseph was a rather insufferable young man who seemed to take some pleasure in lording over his brothers. Scripture, along with human history, is filled with stories of war and murder, betrayal and deceit, and pretty much every imaginable unpleasantness that is ultimately rooted in humanity’s desire to be better than others.

I believe our disobedience of God’s rule also had a

profound effect on sports, resulting in what we see today with the intense desire to win at all costs and the pursuit of personal victory and glory. Sports, and all of society really, has now become about being the best. Moreover, it is not sufficient to


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just be the best that you can be, but you have to be the best compared to everyone else. It isn’t good enough to be the fastest kid in your school; you have to be the fastest kid in your state. You can’t just settle for being the best basketball player in your district; you have to make sure you travel far and wide to play games against other high-flying talents to demonstrate once and for all that you are the best player in your country. And increasingly, it isn’t sufficient to be ranked number one in your country; you had best have wealthy parents or be backed by some other sponsor, because you’ll need to fly internationally to compete against others around the world. After all, if you’re not the absolute best, then you’re nothing, right?

This ultra-competitive, win-at-all-costs mentality is

pervasive not just in sports, but also in business, music, education, and pretty much everything else in between. It is what compels people like Dale Earnhardt, the famous American NASCAR driver, to say, “Second place is just the first loser”. I have no doubt that coaches, mentors and parents all around the globe in a myriad of different fields have used that phrase or something similar to hammer home the message about the significance of being better than everyone else.


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The Olympic motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ may

have been coined by a priest and may have been intended to represent a kind of moral ideal, but it is just another example of humanity’s pursuit of personal glory. In fact, with the way athletes have pushed the envelope over the years, the motto may as well be rewritten as, ‘Faster than him, Higher than her, Stronger than everyone else; no matter what’.


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The W in

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” – Vince Lombardi

My friend was recently watching an English Premier League soccer match between Watford and Crystal Palace. He had no vested interest in either team, which is to say, he wasn’t a supporter of either club. He did not grow up in or near Watford or Crystal Palace; in fact, he did not grow up in England at all, although the Premier League is now such a big, global brand that one could quite conceivably find supporters of Premier League clubs all across the globe. That being said, it would still be far more common to find global fans of the larger teams, like Arsenal or Manchester United or Liverpool, rather


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than supporters of the more humble clubs such as Watford or Crystal Palace.

But there he was, watching Watford play against

Crystal Palace and groaning when shots went awry and complaining about the performance of the referee. You might very well have confused him for a die-hard Crystal Palace fan, but in truth, his only interest in this club or this match was that Wilfried Zaha, a speedy Crystal Palace winger, was on his fantasy Premier League team.

In the end, Zaha had scored a consolation goal in a

losing 2-1 effort – and more importantly for my friend, he had gotten five points for his fantasy premier league team! It might have been more, had Watford actually played soccer for the last five minutes of the match instead of engaging in their time-wasting shenanigans. One episode was particularly memorable: with about three minutes of playing time remaining, Watford decided to make a substitution. The sideline official raised his electronic board, displaying the number of the player being substituted; it turned out to be Troy Deeney, the muscular Watford captain who is built more like an American football linebacker than a soccer player. Deeney, after seeing


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his number being called, ambled over to his Watford teammate on the pitch who was furthest away from the sideline. Deeney then proceeded to very fastidiously place the captain’s armband on his teammate. The care with which he did this was reminiscent of a dentist meticulously placing anesthetic in a patient’s gum. Once the captain’s armband was satisfactorily attached on his teammate’s arm, Deeney slowly half-jogged, half-walked over to the sideline to allow his substitute to come onto the pitch. The entire production probably lasted close to two minutes, which ate up most of the remaining playing time.

Nothing about that substitution was what any im-

partial soccer fan would consider “good sportsmanship”. The substitution by Watford at that particular moment almost surely had nothing to do with Deeney’s fatigue or the coaches’ belief that the player replacing Deeney would do a superior job on the pitch. Similarly, Deeney’s choice of his replacement as captain had far more to do with his teammate’s location on the pitch than his leadership. Neither did Deeney care one iota about how the armband fit on his teammate’s arm. Deeney could have removed himself from the pitch more quickly, certainly the pace could have been quicker than what it was,


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which was akin to maple syrup coming out of a near-empty jar.

I bring this up not because I think Watford did any-

thing illegal, nor did they do anything that any other Premier League club (or any other soccer club at any reasonably high level) would not have done. I don’t believe that Deeney is a bad captain; in fact, by all accounts, he seems like an excellent captain: leading by example; throwing himself into challenges; barking at his opponents; and constantly exhorting his teammates to greater efforts. And to be completely honest, had I been a Watford supporter, I would have happily applauded what commentators somewhat generously characterized as the team’s nous and acumen, and been thrilled that the players had done whatever it took to eke out the win, even if the final few minutes on the pitch was truly an awful spectacle.

Some of you may think that my pointing out the

time-wasting in the last few minutes of a soccer match demonstrates a naivety of sorts. Perhaps I’m being too idealistic to expect that in a soccer match that lasts 90 minutes, we should, you know, actually get soccer for 90 minutes. Perhaps, as in love and war, at the highest levels of professional soccer,


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everything that is allowable is fair game – as long as the referee doesn’t blow his whistle, and in some cases, even if he does, as long as we win, it’s all worth it. That is certainly what most clubs and players seem to believe, and it’s hard to blame them. In this day and age, sports is big business, and success in the sporting arena – success naturally being measured in wins and losses – is paramount.

But let’s consider another example from the annals

of soccer history. Let us go back to 1986, when Argentina was playing against England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Mexico. Diego Maradona scored both goals for Argentina that day in leading his country to a 2-1 victory. However, there was much controversy about his first goal – which was later proven to have been scored with his hand (in case you were unsure, other than the goalkeeper, soccer players are not allowed to handle the ball with their hands). Despite the protests of the England players, led emphatically by Peter Shilton, the England goalkeeper who had a clear view of Maradona’s infraction, the referee was unmoved and allowed the goal to stand. Maradona would later go on to say that his goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with


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the hand of God”. Understandably deflated, England proceeded to concede another goal very soon after, and went on to get eliminated from the World Cup.

I remember this match vividly. I remember watching

the replays over and over on our extremely non-HD television and being of two minds: did he use his head or did he use his hand? In the grainy image from only one camera angle (this was 1986 after all), it was impossible to tell. In fact, it was unclear to the world until a few days later, when a photograph taken by a cameraman sitting on the sideline was published, that captured what has come to be known as the ‘Hand of God’ in all of its inglorious splendour. It turned out that Maradona’s goal was scored not at all with his head but entirely with his hand. Of course, by then the match had already been consigned to history, and England couldn’t do much more than say, “See, I told you so!”

History, as she is wont to do, has been kind to Mara-

dona and to Argentina. I don’t think many would dispute that on balance, Argentina was at least not an unworthy World Cup winner in 1986. Maradona himself is considered by many to be the greatest soccer player of all time. Indeed, the


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second goal he scored in that quarter-final match against England demonstrated his outrageous skills with the ball. The goal itself was voted ‘Goal of the Century’ in a 2002 poll conducted by FIFA, the governing body of global soccer. But there is no denying that Maradona basically cheated to score his first goal against England in that match, and unfortunately was able to get away with it.

The proliferation of technology and the abundance

of high-definition cameras have all but eliminated the possibility of another episode like this. For some of our younger readers, it’s impossible to fathom a time when we didn’t have dozens of cameras all around the stadium beaming images from every imaginable angle across the globe in real-time. Sure, it’s unfortunate that Maradona was able to get away with his gamesmanship in 1986, but in this day and age, he would never be able to replicate that, is what you might say. And that’s right – in a sense. Yet it was only several years ago in 2010, when there was another blatant use of a hand in a World Cup soccer game – this one was witnessed in real-time and then again, repeatedly, from multiple angles in slow motion by all who watched on television.


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Gamesmanship again reared its rather unattractive head, and unjustly rewarded the perpetrator.

In the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa, Uru-

guay was playing against Ghana in a quarter-final match. With the game tied 1-1 after 90 minutes, the teams headed into an additional half an hour of extra time. For about 29 minutes of the extra time, nothing particularly noteworthy happened on the pitch. Legs were getting tired and minds were probably thinking of the penalty shootout that would have to take place to break the deadlock. Then right as the extra period was drawing to a close, Ghana won a free kick. The ball was lofted into the Uruguay penalty area, and a frantic goal mouth scramble ensued. In the subsequent confusion, Uruguay’s goalkeeper was drawn out of position, and Dominic Adiyiah, a substitute striker for Ghana, had the chance to claim a famous victory for his country. And he would have – his powerful header was heading straight towards the Uruguay goal – had a gentleman by the name of Luis Suarez not intervened. Luis Suarez was the striker for Uruguay. He was, and still is today, a wonderfully talented soccer player, and he was standing on the goal line desperately defending the Uruguay goal as


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Adiyiah’s headed ball came flying towards him. As we have established, only a goalkeeper can use his hands in soccer. Suarez is not a goalkeeper. But with the game on the line, Suarez blocked Adiyiah’s goal-bound header by using his hands. There was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Suarez had broken the rules. He was shown a red card and tossed out of the game. While his actions had prevented Adiyiah from scoring, his handball meant Ghana was awarded a penalty kick, which, statistically speaking, gave Ghana an overwhelming chance to score the winning goal they surely deserved. Unfortunately for Ghana, Asamoah Gyan, who had played heroically all night for his country, missed the ensuing penalty kick and the match had to be settled by a penalty shootout. Uruguay would go onto beat Ghana in the penalty shootout and advance to the semi-finals.

There is something about this match that is unsettling

for many people. It is unquestionable that Suarez broke the rules. However, there are many who acknowledge that he was only doing whatever he could in the pursuit of victory or, to be more precise in this case, to avoid defeat. Indeed, Suarez was expelled from the game as part of the consequences for his


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actions, and Ghana was awarded the penalty. You could argue that he committed his crime and paid the price. It wasn’t his fault or his problem that Ghana failed to score from the ensuing penalty kick. There are also those who feel that they would have done the exact same thing in that situation. If you’ve worked so hard to get into this position of potentially getting to the World Cup semi-finals, shouldn’t you do whatever it takes to grab that opportunity?

I understand this point of view. Perhaps if I had been

in Suarez’s shoes, I too would have blocked the ball with my hands (Suarez later claimed he acted out of instinct). But there is something painfully sad when you consider Adiyiah’s header would have given not only Ghana, but the entire continent of Africa, its greatest moment in soccer history as it would have marked the first time any African nation had advanced to the semi-finals of a World Cup. Luis Suarez’s handball essentially robbed Africa of this historic moment. The image of Suarez wildly celebrating when Gyan missed the subsequent penalty only intensified the sense of injustice.

Troy Deeney, Diego Maradona, Luis Suarez. De-

pending on who you ask, they are either three heroes or three


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cheats. The seriousness of their infractions may vary, and they may have been operating in very different areas within the shades of gray, but all three of them were doing whatever it took to ensure their team won, rules be damned.


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The G lo ry

“Show me a gracious loser and I’ll show you a failure.” – Knute Rockne

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gamesmanship as ‘the art or practice of winning games by questionable expedients without actually violating the rules’. Its secondary definition is ‘the use of ethically dubious methods to gain an objective’. Troy Deeney’s actions in the previous chapter would seem to fit the first definition reasonably well. Maradona’s and Suarez’s handballs probably fit more squarely into the second definition.

My definition of gamesmanship encompasses the

Merriam-Webster definition; I would add a few nuances


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though. The essence of gamesmanship is that it is ‘all about me’. It seeks to direct the spotlight onto me, my victory, my glory, my medal. Gamesmanship is about the insatiable need to win. It seeks to achieve the objective through whatever means necessary – even if it means cheating. This desire to win overshadows everything and victory can justify anything. Gamesmanship is driven by ego; by what we think we deserve. I believe every sportsperson is like this to a degree: we desire to win; we want to taste the sweet nectar of victory. Moreover, we think that because we have trained so hard, we deserve to win – or at the very least, we deserve to put our best foot forward to try to seek victory. What’s the point of working so hard and training so hard if you aren’t going to position yourself to win the prize?

For me, there was an added element of pseudo-spirit-

uality. Surely, I would tell myself, I can glorify God more effectively if I am a winner! I felt that I had to win, not only to taste the sweet satisfaction of victory, but also to be a more ‘credible’ witness. When TV reporters interview athletes immediately after a match, the athletes selected to be interviewed are usually the winners.


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“I’d like to thank my God, all glory to Him,” or something along those lines is quite often what you might hear from a Christian athlete being interviewed. Well-known Christian athletes like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin would routinely start their interviews by acknowledging and thanking God. Serena Williams, the all-conquering tennis player who is also a Jehovah’s witness, would often start her interviews by thanking her Jehovah. Not that there were hordes of reporters seeking an interview with anyone after my rugby matches, but my underlying belief was that I had to win to speak more effectively into the lives of my teammates.

When I played rugby, I was so consumed with trying

to win that I would lather up my hands with Deep Heat before games. Deep Heat, which is more or less the same thing as Bengay or Tiger Balm, is a cream that provides relief to muscle aches and pains and has that distinctive smell of camphor and menthol. The reason I would apply generous amounts of Deep Heat onto my hands was because in addition to providing pain relief, these ointments had the added benefit of causing a painful, burning sensation especially if it went into your eyes. So as soon as my rugby match began, I would be on a mission


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to smear my opponents’ eyes or faces with my Deep Heat-ed hands.

It was questionable what impact my Deep Heat an-

tics had on the outcome of any of my matches. And if I am completely honest, my attempts to gain whatever edge I could did not just stop at that. My desire for victory meant that I often ‘accidentally’ stepped on my opponents or ‘unintentionally’ poked them in the eyes. And if I was ever stepped on or poked, I would engage in no-holds-barred, Oscar award-worthy play-acting in an attempt to get the referee to penalise the other team.

Clearly, there is not a whole lot that is honourable

about any of this. Looking back, I am certainly not proud of my behaviour, but I wanted to win so badly. I was one of the captains of the team and I believed it was my responsibility to bring home the W. In my mind, I had to do whatever it took to be victorious, because I believed that if I could just deliver the win, any post-match conversation with my teammates about Christ would be that much more effective.

If you think about that for a second, you will realise

that what I was really saying was: God needs me. God needs


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me to manage His PR. The Gospel message on its own is not sufficient. He needs my help.

It was all about me.

Me, me, me.


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The Pass ion

“The person that said winning isn’t everything, never won anything.” – Mia Hamm

You may have heard of a man named Lance Armstrong. Armstrong is a retired cyclist. He is also a cancer survivor. In 1996, at the age of 25, Armstrong was diagnosed with advanced metastatic testicular cancer. While he ultimately recovered from the condition, it is not an exaggeration to say that he very nearly died, which made his subsequent accomplishments that much more amazing. In 1999, not even three years removed from his stage 3 cancer diagnosis and treatment, Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France.


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The Tour de France is the world’s marquee cycling

competition. For those of you who are not cycling enthusiasts, you have to understand that it is not just any cycling race. The Tour de France takes place over a period of 23 days and requires cyclists to ride 3,500 kilometers through the Pyrenees and the Alps. And if the degree of difficulty is not challenging enough, the event is played out in the grueling July heat.

This is the race that Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor,

won in 1999. In fact, Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, in a display of strength, courage and perseverance that is virtually unmatched anywhere else. His story was so amazing, so inspiring, that it spawned a movement of sorts. In 1997, Armstrong founded his Livestrong foundation, which raises cancer awareness and has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to support cancer survivors. For a number of years, the bright yellow rubber bracelet with the word “Livestrong” could be found on many people’s wrists.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Lance Armstrong’s

inspiring story was a little too amazing to be true. For years, Armstrong had to deal with allegations about him taking


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performance-enhancing drugs. For years, he categorically denied the allegations – until an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) concluded that Armstrong had indeed used banned substances throughout his cycling career. In 2012, he was stripped of his achievements from 1998 onwards, which included his seven Tour de France titles. Armstrong has since admitted that some of the allegations were true.

If you pause for a few minutes and mull over what

Lance Armstrong did, it’s actually quite spectacular – and I don’t mean that in a good way, but at the same time I don’t mean that necessarily in a bad way. It is almost unbelievable that someone could go to such great lengths to try to win. He fought to win against cancer. He did the same as a cancer-beating cyclist. And he did the same when the accusations started coming, and he sought to defend his legacy.

Armstrong himself used the word ‘scary’ to describe

his actions and his mindset when he was coming clean and explaining himself to Oprah Winfrey in 2013. And it truly was. It was scary that he could be so brazen and so arrogant in his cheating. It was scary how far he went in to try to discredit,


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bully and destroy those around him, people who used to be his friends, in an attempt to defend his name. He was so scarily malicious that it seemed almost evil.

I’m sure some have questioned the sanity of a man

who could undertake such a dastardly plan. I wonder that too, but in some strange way, I feel like I can understand his mindset.

Now to be clear, I’ve never met Lance Armstrong.

Everything I’m saying about him here is based on nothing more than my personal speculation and the Internet. However, I imagine there was a part of him that probably felt like he deserved all the accolades. Sure I cheated and took substances that weren’t technically allowed, but everyone else was doing it. I still trained hard. I still had to ride my bicycle up and down all those mountains. I still beat cancer. I still lost a testicle. Could these thoughts have been whirling around in Lance Armstrong’s mind as the accusations against him started to fly? I suspect they were.

And if we can allow ourselves to be completely real

for a moment, I would imagine that this mentality or some similar variation of it, which really captures the ‘whatever it


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takes, it’s all about me’ spirit of gamesmanship, has been our own mentality at times as well.

Is rubbing Deep Heat on my hands on the same level

as taking Human Growth Hormones and testosterone? Maybe not. But is the underlying principle, that misguided belief that I need to do this because I simply have to win, rooted in the same spirit of gamesmanship? I believe so.

One thing I have to hand to Lance Armstrong is that

he gave everything he had all the way to the end. He was relentless. Relentless in his pursuit of victory, relentless in his pursuit of glory, relentless in his pursuit of funding for cancer survivors, relentless in the defense of his name; just breathtakingly, impressively relentless. Only when the walls started completely crumbling around him did he come clean.

Do you know who else was breathtakingly, impres-

sively relentless in the pursuit of victory? Jesus Christ.  


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The Champ ion

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

Jesus Christ was, and still is, the ultimate competitor and winner. He is the undisputed Champion of all ages and generations. When we talk about individuals who were breathtakingly, relentlessly focused on the pursuit of victory, Jesus Christ is the clear gold standard. He may have only physically walked the earth for 33 years, but during that time, He accomplished and won more for mankind than anyone ever has or ever will. In the battle for the souls of every single one of His children,


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He gave everything. He sacrificed His own life in the most excruciating way so that we could live.

What makes Jesus’ pursuit so incredible is that He

went the distance for what is, by any impartial measure, a lousy prize – our souls. The prophet Isaiah captures the craziness of Jesus’ pursuit so eloquently. He writes:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” – Isaiah 53:5-6

If I may just reiterate and loosely paraphrase what

Isaiah said in the verses above, the prize that Jesus went the distance for was a bunch of dumb sheep that had gone astray. And we sheep are still wandering astray, still turning our own way, even to this day! Nothing about us screams “Grand prize!” or anything remotely worth fighting for. Scripture is clear that we were tarnished goods.


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Paul writes in Romans 5:8,

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

He pursued us and died for us even while we were still sinners; while we were just a bunch of dumb, wandering sheep.

The other piece of this that is so incredible is the actual

distance Jesus went. ‘Going the distance’ is commonly used in sports to describe an athlete who has finished what he or she has begun. We often think about a boxer going twelve rounds or a baseball pitcher who pitches the entire game without anyone coming on to relieve him or her. Jesus, however, wasn’t just in it for twelve rounds or nine innings. Jesus went all the way to the finish line at the cost of His own life. He didn’t die peacefully either. He died as violent and as humiliating a death as one can possibly die.

Obviously, none of us were there 2,000 odd years ago

to witness the event first-hand, but the gospel writers were. We know through their accounts of the physical suffering Jesus had to endure on the cross. For those of us who watched


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Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, the grisly scenes of Jesus’ crucifixion are probably a reasonably good representation of the realities Jesus faced. Let there be no doubt that Jesus Christ went the distance.

Can you imagine someone – anyone – pursuing

something so relentlessly? So recklessly? How many competitions do we know in which the grand prize for the winner so overwhelmingly appears to not be worth the candle, and the only way to win is to sacrifice your life? Who would participate in something like this?

This is what makes Jesus Christ the ultimate compet-

itor and winner. Jesus did not pursue us because by winning our souls He would receive glory or monetary benefit or endorsements from sponsors. He didn’t come after us because we provided God with any kind of ‘value.’ He pursued us, simply because He loved us. He went after us with relentless, reckless abandon even though what He was going to ‘win’ was broken. The beauty of this, of course, is that because Jesus pursued us in this manner, and because He suffered in this way, what was broken is now redeemed – as Isaiah wrote, “by His wounds we are healed”.


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His tarnished prize – us – can be restored because of what He did; because the story didn’t just end with His excruciating death and His burial (although if it had, it still would have made for quite the narrative). What elevates the story to truly epic status is that three days later, Jesus conquers death and resurrects Himself to activate a new life for us to experience His perfect Kingdom in this broken world. 2 Corinthians 5:17 states,

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”

I want to be clear about something here. Any loving

mother and father would die for their children. Jesus Christ is God, but He is also our Father, and as such there is a certain rationality to what Christ did. However, no matter how much a parent loves their children, no mother or father’s sacrifice for their children will amount to eternal victory. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was a demonstration of His amazing, relentless and reckless love for His children, but it was His subsequent resurrection and defiance of death that meant the world could have eternal life and be granted access to


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the Kingdom of God. It was His resurrection that solidified Jesus’ undisputed place as the eternal Champion.

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5,

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”

This act of great love means we can now have a relationship with Jesus, the incarnation of the perfect Kingdom of God, that we can be transformed and redeemed through repentance. Jesus Himself preached that we need to:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 4:17

And having the Kingdom of God means a restoration of His perfect realm, His perfect relationship and His perfect rule.

There is something so satisfying and compelling to

me that the mistakes made by the first Adam at the beginning were subsequently and completely redeemed by the


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last Adam. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul writes,

“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

Paul is, of course, referring to Jesus Christ when he

speaks of the last Adam. There is an unmistakable symmetry here. Adam may have failed to obey God, thereby triggering the Fall; however, the full obedience of Jesus, the last Adam, means we can be reconciled to the Father through His love.

There is so much we can learn from Jesus Christ, the

ultimate and forever Champion, about the relentless pursuit. His pursuit was not only relentless, but it was also reckless and crazy. It is clear, however, that for a cause that is truly worthy, we must be willing to do whatever it takes.


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Lock er Room M om en t Take some time to reflect.

1. What is Gamesmanship to you? 2. How does Jesus’ reckless love impact you today?

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IDENTITY Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. – Ruth 1:16


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The Team “I think sportsmanship is knowing that it is a game, that we are only as good as our opponents, and whether you win or lose to always give 100 percent.” – Sue Wicks

Anyone who has played any sport as a child will know about sportsmanship. Most, if not all, of us were taught to shake hands with our opponents after the match. My own children are well versed in this; it has been ingrained in them by their coaches over the years that they must shake hands with the kids on the other team and say, “Good game!” irrespective of who won or lost. “Don’t be a sore loser,” we are told, “be gracious winners.” Even the Olympics have a variation of this theme; in addition to the aforementioned ‘Faster, higher,


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stronger’, one of the other more informal Olympic mottos coined by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, is, “The most important thing is not to win but to take part”.

We find this brand of sportsmanship on display at the

highest levels of sports. Whether you are watching the Olympics, the World Cup, the Superbowl, the UEFA Champions League, or any other sporting event of the highest caliber, you will witness this kind of sportsmanship. Soccer players shake hands and swap jerseys after matches; rugby players organise guards of honour and applaud their opponents as they walk off the field; tennis players meet at the net. Even MMA fighters and boxers who have just spent the past several rounds literally pummeling each other to a pulp acknowledge their opponents and their opponents’ managers in the corner after the bout.

Conventional sportsmanship takes the fundamental

principle of the pursuit of victory found in gamesmanship but removes the ‘no matter what’ from the equation. Sportsmanship does not allow room for cheating. It is rule-based; it pushes athletes to compete as hard as they can to pursue


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victory, but does not condone the crossing of the line. So at the end of the contest, there is a mutual respect and recognition of your opponent. Even if you lost, you know you lost because your opponent beat you fair and square and was simply better than you on the day. And that’s why we see the hand-shaking and hugs and whispered words of encouragement after sporting matches.

Sportsmanship is also merit-based. It is based on the

principle of “May the best man win”. It assumes the competitors are all on a level playing field, and it crowns and honours the victor within the framework of all participants having adhered to the same set of rules.

In this book, we take all of those ideas of sportsman-

ship, and add a few more nuances. To me, sportsmanship is all about the team. It is about building one another up and working together towards a shared vision. I often make references to family and community when I think about sportsmanship, because that is what healthy families and communities do: they build each other up and work together. Sportsmanship is about everyone collaborating and working towards an objective and having everyone know, understand and execute their


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roles. There is no room for ego, nor personal agendas (and lest you think I am suggesting only teams can embody sportsmanship, let me say that even what we typically think are individual sports, like tennis or golf, involve a small army of supporting personnel including coaches, caddies, advisors, managers, trainers, chefs, etc. And they all have to work together for a common goal).

I have spoken to many people who feel that a success-

ful American football team is one of the best examples of this concept of sportsmanship. There are so many people on an American football team – you have the offense, the defense and the special teams; there are numerous coaches; and there are dozens of players on the practice squad. In fact, there are so many people involved that if a team wins the Superbowl – the ultimate prize in the sport – it is inconceivable that the team did not demonstrate a tremendous amount of sportsmanship. Without an ‘all about the team’ mentality and culture, it is virtually impossible to have on-field success when you’re dealing with so many people.

My personal view is that a rugby team might be an

even more compelling example. A rugby squad is truly one


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team, with the same fifteen players on offense and defense, who have to work together for 80 minutes. There are no timeouts and no commercial breaks. Players generally do not have their names embroidered on the backs of their jerseys. They could be, for all intents and purposes, nameless, faceless cogs all working together in concert to keep the machine humming.

The New Zealand rugby team, better known as the All

Blacks, is a particularly interesting case. Even the most casual of sports fans will probably be aware of the All Blacks, even if their superficial knowledge comes only from having watched Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in Invictus, the 2009 movie based on the true story of the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Although that movie shows the South African rugby

team overcoming the odds to defeat New Zealand in the final match, such a result is, and historically has been, a major anomaly. Over the past many decades, New Zealand has been the undisputed standard bearer when it comes to rugby excellence.

The All Blacks are the only international team with

a winning record against every opponent. Back when New


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Zealand would compete against Australia and South Africa in a competition known as the Tri-Nations, the All Blacks would routinely beat their opponents – the All Blacks won 10 Tri-Nations titles; South Africa and Australia are only at three apiece. Since 2012, when Argentina entered the competition (and caused the Tri-Nations to be rather uncreatively renamed the Rugby Championship), the All Blacks have won six of the seven titles. The All Blacks have won the Rugby World Cup three times. In fact, other than in 2007, when they fell to the host nation France in the quarter finals, the All Blacks have reached at least the semi-final stage of every Rugby World Cup competition. Since the introduction of the Rugby World Rankings in 2003, New Zealand has held the number one ranking longer than every other nation combined.

The truly mind-boggling part of it is how a country

with a population of only about five million people – which is roughly the same size as Melbourne – can consistently, and over a period of several generations, produce a rugby team of world beaters. This all begs the question:

How on earth do they do it?


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Obviously there is a sheer genetic freak factor. (Have

you seen these Kiwis? They’re massive human beings! Just ridiculously gigantic!) But you have genetic freaks in other countries too. And I would argue that as the global popularity of rugby has grown over the past 15 to 20 years, the game has attracted more talent, more funding, and better training and conditioning to the point that most national rugby squads today are composed of players who look more like small trucks than human beings.

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union certainly

takes the sport seriously and presumably receives ample funding and support from the government. But I am sure the governing bodies for rugby in other countries around the world – at least, in countries that traditionally have played the sport – are similarly supportive of their own rugby programs.

I suppose there is something to be said about the

importance of rugby to New Zealand, notably that rugby likely attracts the elite athletic talent in the country. When my American friends tell me that if the U.S. could take their genetically blessed American football players and train them in rugby, that hypothetical team could beat everybody else.


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Perhaps there is some hyperbole in that sentiment, but there is probably some truth to that. If NFL players like J.J. Watt or Antonio Brown played rugby, they would absolutely do some serious damage. But even so, I don’t believe that takes anything away from the impressiveness of what the All Blacks have managed to build from a population pool of only five million people.

So what is the secret?


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The Secret

“We scrum for possession, run for the try zone, bleed for the team and live for the game.” – Unknown

I believe the All Blacks’ ‘secret’, which isn’t really a secret at all, is the culture they have established. They have managed to instill a deep sense of the collective being greater than the sum of their individual parts. There is a genuine sense of belonging that each All Black feels; a belief that, when you put on that New Zealand jersey, you are part of something bigger and greater.

Gilbert Enoka is the mental skills specialist for the

New Zealand rugby team. In the same way that a conditioning


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coach will work on an athlete’s muscles to ensure he or she is in top physical shape, a mental skills coach works on an athlete’s mindset and mental strength.

The first thing Enoka addresses when he talks about

being an All Black is character. Specifically, being an All Black means putting the team first and subjugating your ego. A lot of organisations talk about this; they may have pretty PowerPoint presentations and pithy vision statements dedicated to this very idea. However, I have encountered very few that have been able to execute this as successfully as the New Zealand rugby team. The All Blacks, to a man, all seem to be genuinely grateful that they are part of the team. The picture I envision in my mind is that every single generation of New Zealand rugby players has the mindset of a Rudy-type athlete. If you ever watched the movie Rudy, you would know that it is the story of an undersized, underdog college American football player named Rudy, who goes through a million hoops to try to make it onto his university team. When he overcomes the odds and finally makes it, he is overjoyed and eternally grateful for the opportunity. That is the picture I have of the All Blacks: they are a group of athletes who are overjoyed


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and eternally grateful for the opportunity to wear that jersey, just like Rudy was. Except that, unlike Rudy who was essentially a bit of a runt, the All Blacks are massive physical freaks with a long history of success in their craft.

The other thing that Enoka stresses is identity. The

All Blacks have cultivated a distinct identity and a sense of belonging. Every New Zealand rugby player seems to understand that they are a part of a greater system, and that individual success comes only as part of the success of the team. Again, these concepts aren’t original. Many organisations preach this; they have signs on their walls that say things like, “There’s no ‘I’ in Team”, and they emphasise the idea of the whole being greater than the sum of its part, that 1+1 equals 3. However, I am amazed at how successfully the All Blacks have managed to implement this. It is so ingrained in these athletes, as though they literally live and breathe it.

In an interview with GamePlan A, Adidas Group’s

digital content hub, Enoka shares an interesting anecdote about the All Blacks having a strict ‘No Knuckleheads’ policy (it’s actually not ‘knucklehead’, it’s something else, but the real policy is not that suitable for a book of this nature and the


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word ‘knucklehead’ pretty much captures the essence of what the All Blacks are trying to prohibit). His definition of a knucklehead is someone who makes everything about him- or herself or someone who has a sense of entitlement. I’m not sure how widely applicable this ‘No Knuckleheads’ policy might be in other arenas of life, but I have to admit that having a system where we can expel people like this sounds quite attractive! In fact, the All Blacks have also adopted a motto that goes, “If you can’t change the people, change the people”, which basically indicates that if someone isn’t willing to change, then maybe the solution is to replace that person.

This all sounds pretty good and sensible. And clearly,

it has worked extremely well for the New Zealand rugby program.

But let’s take a step back and carefully consider what

this is saying: If someone won’t accept the prevailing culture of the organisation, if someone doesn’t see eye to eye with the rest of the group on the group’s objectives, if someone isn’t willing to play nice in the sandbox, then let’s ship him or her out. That is effectively what this is saying. Which, if you think about it, sounds a little exclusive and almost snooty.


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Therein lies the fatal flaw with true sportsmanship.

Yes, it is fair. Yes, it is merit-based. Yes, it encourages teamwork and cooperation and collaboration and all those nice buzzwords that indicate some level of morality. However, sportsmanship still seeks to achieve a goal – the pursuit of victory – by doing things a certain way. To be more precise, genuine sportsmanship is about pursuing victory not by any means necessary (which is the method employed in gamesmanship), but in a very prescribed and particular manner. The way that victory is pursued may appear healthy and equitable and noble; but there is, at its core, a whiff of religiosity, a hint of – dare I say it? – arrogance.

Sportsmanship, at its very heart, demands that the

individuals subjugate their egos for the good of the group. Unfortunately, when individual egos are sufficiently and comprehensively stamped out, could it be that the result is an elevation of the collective, so much so that if someone doesn’t quite fit in, he or she is no longer welcome?

Now, I need to be absolutely clear here: I am not

suggesting in any way, shape or form that the culture the All Blacks have fostered is bad or deserving of censure. On the


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contrary, I believe their culture, their brand of teamwork, and their focus on the collective rather than the individual are all extremely praiseworthy and incredibly honourable. In fact, I was so enamoured by the All Blacks and what they have been able to accomplish that I tried to model the culture and identity of the rugby team that I played for in a similar vein, as you will read about in the following chapters.

But with all that being said, what I am suggesting is

that true sportsmanship, while noble and meritorious and exceedingly difficult to attain, is not the perfect end-all and be-all for a Christian athlete.


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The Dream “We are the boys from Causeway Bay, we’ll drink your beer and wine.” – Unknown (from Causeway Bay RFC’s victory chant)

Nearly every Saturday during the Hong Kong rugby season, I played competitive rugby in a league of mostly amateur players. The club I played for was called Causeway Bay RFC.

While other rugby teams in the Hong Kong league were

backed by deep-pocketed clubs or well-established organisations and primarily represented by large, expatriate players, Causeway Bay was different. We were a motley crew of mostly Asian, blue collar workers. We had one or two investment banker-types, but most of us lived pretty modestly. Some of


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us worked in construction, others drove buses, and we had several younger players who were still in school. However, we were all united with the goal of trying to compete against, and beat, the ‘big boys’, the big boys being the aforementioned deep-pocketed clubs and well-established organisations.

Unfortunately, and somewhat unsurprisingly, Cause-

way Bay did not win too many games. We tried hard, but when your opponents are bigger, stronger and more experienced – and sometimes our opponents would trot out recently retired ex-professional players – the task became rather challenging.

However, once in a while, and often when we played

in 7-a-side tournaments that fit the strengths of our smaller, nimbler group of speedsters a little better, our team of blue collar workers and young students would win. When the whistle blew and the match came to an end, everyone on the team, including the substitute players and team managers, gathered on the pitch, and we would sing our victory song, a full-throated, guttural chant, the words of which really didn’t make a whole lot of sense. “We are the boys from Causeway Bay!” we would scream, “We’ll drink your beer and wine!” and while we


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were singing, we would all hold one another in a tight, sweaty embrace. For a few of my Chinese teammates, this song was pretty much the full extent of their English knowledge, and for many of them, the only words coming out of their mouths that they understood were the choice cuss words and F-bombs that littered the rest of the chant (needless to say, the two lines at the beginning of this chapter are the only lyrics of the song that are suitable for print in a Christian book).

The entire team would then head to the local pub,

which also happened to be Causeway Bay’s primary sponsor, for celebratory drinks, and we would celebrate whether we won or lost. After every match on Saturday, the entire team showed up, including the women’s team, the squad members, and anyone else associated with the club. Win or lose, everybody congregated at the pub.

This unity, this tight-knitted togetherness, was a

source of great joy for me. As one of the captains and leaders of the club, I had made a concerted effort to try and instill a distinct culture of sportsmanship. Over the course of several seasons, I can honestly say that the Causeway Bay rugby team had embraced this culture, and we had become


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a truly special group.

We were more than just teammates; we were a

community. There was a real sense of camaraderie. Nobody thought he was better than anyone else, and nobody had egos. There was a genuine spirit of teamwork. Clearly we were not a team of world-beaters – we were not even a team of overweight, expat-beaters – but we were a true team. This is more than I can say about some other clubs I have played for. Week in week out, the team would come together to train and compete. With every training session and every rugby match, I felt the team draw closer together.

Or at least, that is what I believed.


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The Re al it y

“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’” – Genesis 11:4

The idea first came to me when I saw the Fijian rugby team play one year at the Hong Kong Sevens, a sevena-side rugby tournament held every year in Hong Kong, which has become a truly global sports event. On the front of the Fijian players’ jerseys was, ‘Phil. 4:13’, a reference to the Bible verse in Philippians that says that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.


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Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought when I saw the Fijians, if the jerseys of my rugby team also had a Bible verse on it? That would be so honouring of the Lord. And what better way to honour Him than for a group of selfless, collaborative teammates to advertise the Bible, market Jesus, with a verse on their jerseys?

At this point, I had become the chairman of Cause-

way Bay RFC. Consequently, I had much more influence and decision-making power than I previously had. I floated this concept with my Christian friends who all thought it was a fantastic idea. That was how it came to be that during the following season, the Causeway Bay rugby team had ‘John 3:16’ on the front of the jerseys. And just to make it absolutely clear and leave no observer with any doubt about what I was trying to advertise, I had the words ‘Way’, ‘Truth’ and ‘Life’ embroidered on various areas of the jersey as well.

The season itself played out as they had in most pri-

or seasons, which is to say, we lost a lot. However, I was still happy. I knew it wasn’t just about winning. Sure, I wanted to win, but I was building something much more important. I was building a culture of teamwork and selflessness and


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collaboration; I was building a culture of genuine sportsmanship, of doing things the right way. The days of rubbing Deep Heat onto my hands and stepping on opponents were behind me. And I believed that if I built the culture, everything else, including the victories, would take care of itself. It felt like the famous scene in the movie Field of Dreams where the character played by Kevin Costner hears a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come”, which then compels him to construct a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield. In much the same way, I believed that if I could just stamp my sense of the perfect culture onto Causeway Bay RFC, the perfect realm, the perfect relationship and the perfect rule would come.

Sadly, things didn’t work out that way at all. As the

losses started piling up, cracks began to form and fingers started to point – namely, at me. People began to grumble that I was using the club’s funds inappropriately. I was accused of pushing my own personal agenda rather than the looking out for the best interests of the rugby club. “Conflict of interest!” some of them complained.

As the cracks started to become full-fledged schisms,

I felt a deep sense of hurt. I was stunned that these people,


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my own teammates, players with whom I had gone to the trenches, could accuse me of having anything other than their interests at heart. Didn’t they know that I was doing all of this because I loved them? How could they not see that all I wanted was for them to have a better understanding of who Jesus was and what He did for them on the cross? How could they think that having a Bible verse on the front of their jerseys could be a misappropriation of funds?

Increasingly, I began to feel isolated, not just from

my teammates at Causeway Bay, but also from God. I couldn’t understand why this was happening. I couldn’t understand why, when I was doing all of this for God’s glory, He was not coming through for me.

I eventually ended up leaving Causeway Bay RFC

when I felt called to go to Mongolia as a missionary for a few years. I left feeling a sense of relief that I no longer had to deal with the politics at Causeway Bay. Relief, though, is not the same as closure, and for a long time afterwards, I still struggled with the sting of how the ‘perfect’ culture that I was building had turned on me. While I didn’t realise it was happening at the time, this deep hurt permeated and affected my


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relationships with my loved ones, colleagues and other friends outside of my rugby community. Over time, the bitterness and emptiness in my soul increasingly got worse. The joy I used to have seemed to have disappeared, and I became very confused about what was happening to me and in me.

The only thing I could do was cry out to Jesus.

It was only after several years, as I was reflecting on

the passage in Genesis about the Tower of Babel (which is also at the beginning of this chapter), that the Holy Spirit led me to the understanding that the perfect culture I had been trying to build at Causeway Bay RFC was not actually for His glory at all. I had believed it was, but I had gotten so wrapped up in the tinkering and the building, essentially getting enslaved by this mission of creating the perfect sports team, that I had forgotten about who I was doing all of this for. In short, this initiative to build the right culture had almost become my reason for being, my idol before whom I was a slave. My identity had become so woven into Causeway Bay RFC that I couldn’t separate what I viewed as my call from the One who had called me.


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The Lord revealed to me that what I had actually been

doing, without realising it, was trying to recreate my version of the perfect realm, my version of the perfect relationship and my version of the perfect rule. And no matter how hard we try or how good our intentions may be, anything we as humans try to build will be imperfect.


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The Ide n t it y

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!” – Romans 8:15

It is noteworthy that the first thing that Jesus did when He began His ministry on Earth was to get baptised. Just as it is when we get baptised today, Jesus’ baptism was His public declaration of His personal relationship with and identity in God. As soon as Jesus came out of the water, it is written in Mark 1:10-11 that the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and Father God expressed His love for and pleasure with His Son.


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Jesus Christ, as the perfect Son of God (who is really

also God Himself), demonstrated what it meant to live as a child of God in the Kingdom, and we are to follow in His example on a daily basis.

When I tried to mimic the All Blacks culture of sports-

manship with Causeway Bay RFC, it was wonderful for a little while – until it wasn’t. Because my identity was rooted in the club and in the team I was building rather than in Jesus, I was left feeling shattered when things fell apart.

I think about Paul writing to the Thessalonians, tell-

ing them in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to “Rejoice always”.

We might think it was easy for Paul to write this; may-

be he was having a good day that day. But in Philippians 4:4, Paul wrote something similar, urging the Philippians to

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Paul wrote that letter to the Philippians when he

was in prison! Yet he was able to exhort his fellow brothers and sisters to continue to be joyful. He even goes on to tell them not to worry about anything and to give thanks to


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God in every situation. All that, while the man was sitting in a jail cell.

It is clear that Paul knew who he was in Christ. Only

someone whose identity is firmly rooted in the Lord would be able to rejoice no matter what.

Similarly, King David was another whose identity was

firmly rooted in God. Even when David faced his darkest hour, he was able to praise his God and proclaim in Psalm 23 that he feared no evil because he knew that God, the good Shepherd, was with him.

For long-time Christians, much of this may not be

new. Truthfully, it is also not new to me either – at least, it is not new in my head. However, I am learning that adopting and embracing it in my heart is something very different altogether. It took me quite a long time to figure this out. In many ways, I am still trying to navigate what it really means to have my identity rooted in Christ, and it has not always been easy to muster up the required faith to live this out.

But I know that who I am in Christ is the key.

As I have experienced glimpses of the joy that Paul


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speaks about, and come face to face with little obstacles and been unafraid as David was unafraid, my faith has slowly grown and my identity in Christ has become clearer. The process has been a long one, and it is still not complete, but the Holy Spirit has been gentle and extremely patient with me. He led me to put my trust in Him, to trust that having my identity in Jesus is the only way to be free. As I began to put my trust in Him, I was able to slowly let go of the hurts and negative mindset in my life. I was on the road to supernatural healing. I rediscovered the joy that I thought had disappeared, and my desire to see His realm, relationship and rule restored was reignited.

It brings me no small amount of satisfaction that

my relationship with Causeway Bay RFC has been rebuilt. When I returned to Hong Kong from Mongolia, I went to see my former teammates and board members at Causeway Bay RFC. We had a few heart-to-heart talks that eventually led to hugs, and I felt a renewed joy in our relationships. As soon as I had a clearer picture of who I was in God, I was able to be freed from the deep-seated hurt and feelings of betrayal I had experienced. Moreover, I was able to reconcile with,


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and have genuine love for, the people whom I had previously felt such anger towards. My relationships with my non-rugby friends and loved ones, some of which had formerly grown cold and distant, were also restored. Former MLB pitcher Victor Black sums it up quite nicely:

“I’m not saying earthly possessions are evil. I’m saying our focus ought to be on the Giver of the gifts. If our reverence is on God the Father, we have joy – joy in Jesus’ sacrifice and in His faithfulness.”

As a follower of Christ, my identity must be rooted in

Christ. Everything I do must be rooted in Christ. Everything about me, every fibre of my being, must be rooted in Christ. In Colossians 2:6-7, Paul writes, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Thus, as a Christian athlete, my ultimate mandate is

not to be a winner on the field or to create a fabulous team


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culture of genuine sportsmanship or to pursue championships in an equitable or honourable fashion. My mandate as a Christian athlete is to first know my identity in Christ as a child of God. Then, with that identity and the accompanying privilege of building His Kingdom, make the world around me more like heaven in whatever way I can. Only then will we start to see His perfect realm, His perfect relationship and His perfect rule here in the world.

In Galatians 3:26, Paul writes: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 4:7 goes on to say,

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son and if a son, then an heir through God.”

As we receive Christ’s reckless love, and we repent

and put our faith in Jesus, we inherit His Kingdom activated through our lives. Furthermore, we also alter who we are: we are no longer slaves, but rather, we are adopted into the


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perfect Kingdom of God, as sons and daughters, and we are liberated from the bondage of worry that may come from difficult circumstances. And instead of getting influenced by the world around us, His perfect Kingdom starts to transform our surroundings into His perfect realm, relationship and rule for His glory.

If we cast our thoughts back to the New Zealand rug-

by team again, we have to acknowledge that they have built a fantastic rugby program over the years. The All Blacks are unparalleled when it comes to rugby. They have built a culture of excellence that has lasted decades, and I would imagine most of us would not bet against it lasting many more. However, would anyone be willing to wager that the All Blacks culture will stand the test of time to the tune of, say, 2,000 years?

The most amazing organisation that I can think of –

in terms of its culture, teamwork and longevity – is the early church in the book of Acts. After Jesus ascended into heaven, His disciples and followers gathered together in what would become the foundations of the Church as we know it today. In Acts 4:33-35, Luke writes,


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“And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

If we take a minute to think about this, it is actually

mind-blowing. These people were filled by His Holy Spirit, meaning that Christ – the manifestation of the perfect Kingdom of God – ruled in every person’s life. Everyone was united by a common vision. Everyone was together and on the same page. They all lived out their identity as sons and daughters in the Kingdom of God. Everyone gave of themselves in a display of selflessness for the group that is unheard of today. Many of the disciples and fathers of this early church would go on to sacrifice their lives for the cause. And what they died for all those years ago still lives on today, over 2,000 years later, in the form of the modern day church.


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To me, the early church in the book of Acts is the ul-

timate example of a powerful culture and the most definitive demonstration that unless a culture is built around the Kingdom of God, it will not last forever and it cannot be perfect.


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Lock er Room M om en t Take some time to reflect.

1. Do you have an identity crisis? 2. How does being a son or daughter of God change the way you live?

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WITNESS “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” – Acts 9:5


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The Inca r nat ion

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

The concept of Christmanship came to me during a conference held in Hong Kong in November of 2016 for Christian school teachers across Asia. At the time, I was taking a year off from my ministry work at International Christian Assembly, where I was an executive pastor, and I had been serving as a chaplain for a Christian school. Nearly 1,000 teachers attended the conference to listen to various speakers present on the usual teaching-related topics such as pedagogy, classroom


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engagement and curriculum development. There were a number of different key note speakers at the main sessions, and then there were breakout sessions for certain speakers to share more specifically about their respective specialised subjects. One of the sessions being offered was on Physical Education. Even though I wasn’t a P.E. teacher at the time, the athlete in me couldn’t help but be drawn to this particular session. So I sat and listened to the speaker talk about how we can design our Physical Education activities to instill Christian values more effectively into the students. It was an interesting presentation, and I definitely learned some practical tools to introduce to the students some Biblical principles in the learning experience through sports.

However, as I walked out of that breakout session,

there was this feeling of dissatisfaction within me that would not go away. It wasn’t a deep level of dissatisfaction; it was more like an itch, but this itch stubbornly remained lodged in my spirit. As I mulled over what the speaker had shared, I was not fully convinced. To be more precise, I felt there was far more to being a Christian in the field of sports, and the impact Christian athletes should have, than a few soundbites


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and practical methodologies. Surely, I thought, there must be a better way to present the power of God’s words, the amazing gospel message, through sports.

At around the same time, Edmound Teo, my senior

pastor at International Christian Assembly, began preaching a series about the Kingdom of God, which later became the foundation of a Kingdom movement, a new mandate call for our church. In a nutshell, what his series of messages taught was that the Kingdom of God is for today. His Kingdom is not an intangible place that can only be accessed after we die; it can be here now, at this very moment. As I noodled on this idea of the Kingdom of God and how it might intertwine with sports and P.E., a verse came to me: “For the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20), which got me thinking. No P.E. teacher or sports coach that I know spends chunks of time explaining theory or the physics of ball movement. Usually, the kids are given a ball or a racket or whatever else they need to play the sport and then are asked to try. Of course, there is some teaching and explaining and coaching, but it is within the context of the actual playing of the game. In fact, this has been the trend for a while for all


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subjects as far as I can tell. The days of students learning by reading or being read the instructions in a textbook are over, or at the very least, they are moving behind us. It is now all about experiential learning, whether it is P.E. or Mathematics or English or History. Regardless of the subject, our students learn by doing. They are asked to engage not just the mind but all of their senses.

I started to wonder, shouldn’t the dispensing of the

Word of God also follow a similar vein of engagement of all of our senses? Then as I dug into the Bible, it struck me that this is exactly how Jesus taught us.

Let us consider the verse at the beginning of this

chapter. John writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In other words, Jesus came to earth and hung out with His people, if you can call healing the sick, feeding thousands, and generally doing some supernatural and miraculous things ‘hanging out’. He was with us, in the flesh, doing life with His disciples and ministering to the thousands of people at the time who were looking for hope. You can imagine that His Presence must have been so powerful and almost intoxicating. Every one of our five senses would have been engaged


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as Jesus loved on His children and demonstrated the way, the truth and the life.

It is imperative that we are able to wrap our brain

around this fact: the Word was not just print on a page or text on a scroll – it was a living, breathing, walking being. He ate with us, drank with us, rejoiced with us, wept with us. He did and experienced everything that a loving father would with his children.

In Jesus’ three ministry years, He was with us and He

enabled the people at the time to experience everything. If you think about the omnipotence of our Lord, He could very well have done His ministry and performed all of His miracles with a snap of His fingers. But He didn’t.

In Matthew 14:13-21, we read about Jesus feeding

5,000 men (and if you include the women and children, that number is probably significantly higher). He could easily have just caused food to magically appear in front of each person. He could have, if He had really wanted to, just caused everyone’s hunger to simply vanish! But He didn’t. In John 11, when Lazarus was sick, Jesus could have easily eliminated the illness. Or if He just wanted to prove His power over the


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natural, He could have instantly resurrected Lazarus with a minimum of fuss. But He didn’t. In John 11:35, it says that, “Jesus wept” before He proceeded to bring Lazarus back from the dead. Jesus experienced everything with us, and He allowed us to experience everything with Him.

It was obviously important for Him that He became

flesh and dwelt with us, spent time with us and hung out with us. He allowed us to experience all of Him, go through all of our emotions, and have the time and space we needed to process it all. We had the power of His Presence while also enjoying a personal and intimate relationship. This was the Kingdom of God in the flesh.

As I reflect on this, it has become clear that, for me as

a sportsperson who is also a follower of Christ, it is not about winning at all costs or winning the right way or being part of an awesome sports team. Some of those things are great, but those things cannot be the focus or the primary objective. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:8,

“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value


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in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.�

Equally, being a Christian athlete is not about striving

for or creating my realm or my relationship or my rule, no matter how noble or spiritual my intentions may be.

It may sound highly unoriginal, but being a Christian

athlete is really all about Christ. After all of these years of learning and figuring out who God is, understanding who I am in Him, and truly developing a relationship with Christ, I have discovered that God placed in me the passion for sports and the giftings in this area so that I could do my part to demonstrate the power of His Kingdom to those around me, here in the world, today, through this powerful yet personal relationship. This is what I call Christmanship.


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The Test im on y “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” – 1 John 3:16

Four years after I had left Causeway Bay RFC, after God had mercifully restored me and my relationships with Causeway Bay, I found myself yearning to get involved in the local rugby scene again. At this point, my prime playing days were clearly in the past, but there was still a desire in me to give back to the sport that has been such a huge part of my life. When I engaged in discussions with the Hong Kong Rugby Union, they informed me that they had a project for which they were looking for someone to take the lead. As part of the Union’s mission in Hong Kong, developing the game of rugby at the


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grassroots level was an important priority. This project was one of these initiatives.

The project entailed working with a small group of

mainly teenaged boys who had been affiliated with another rugby club to establish a new, independent club. The work involved managing all the administrative work associated with setting up a rugby club infrastructure virtually from scratch, in addition to actually finding and recruiting local talent as well as developing players who would eventually be competitive enough to play against the ‘big boys’. It was a long-term venture and would require a ton of work, but it sounded extremely exciting.

The one catch was that the project would be based in

a town called Tin Shui Wai. I can almost guarantee that if you ask a local Hong Kong person if they know where Tin Shui Wai is, he or she will have no clue. Tin Shui Wai is close to the border of Hong Kong and China. When my friend, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, came to Tin Shui Wai for the first time in his life (naturally with the help of Google maps), he was struck by the signs on the road that said, “This Lane to China”. Tin Shui Wai was literally close enough to China that


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it wasn’t completely inconceivable that one could accidentally take a wrong turn and drive right into China (or at least to border control).

I should note that Hong Kong is, in and of itself, not a

very large place. So, to say that a town is close to the border of China really means that it would be about an hour’s drive from the city center. I recognise that in some countries, people have to drive over an hour every day just to get to work. However, for many people in Hong Kong, including my friend, driving on a highway for an hour might as well be considered driving to the ends of the earth.

All to say, Tin Shui Wai is a relatively out-of-the-way

place that many in Hong Kong would deem too far away to deal with. For me, though, the Tin Shui Wai project was exactly what I wanted. I had total peace as I sought the Lord for counsel, which made it a lot easier for me to move my wife and three kids from the convenience of the centre of Hong Kong to the outskirts of the city.

As one of the founders of the club, I had a lot of dif-

ferent roles. I had to guide and empower the boys with respect to the administrative details; I was the head coach; and I also


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tried my best to minister to the players and the community. Gradually over the years, as more players joined the team, we set up a proper governing board and the requisite bylaws, and adopted an official team mascot, the Panda, hence, establishing Tin Shui Wai RFC as an official rugby club in Hong Kong. However, despite the fact that I was building relationships with my players and the local community, much of our regular dialogue was centred around the logistics of the club and the team’s performance in the weekly matches. There was minimal pastoral care that I could undertake as a coach or an administrator due to the fact that the relationship between myself and the players was only at the level of our roles.

This dynamic continued until I met a pastor named

Sam who loved rugby and wanted to join the club. Sam started out as just a member of the community, and he built natural relationships with his teammates and other members of the club. The Tin Shui Wai players were able to open up more easily to Sam as he didn’t have this ‘title’ of being the coach or the founder of the club hanging over him. Eventually, he started to minister to them with no agenda or strings attached. He was simply being available and building trust. After a few years,


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the players started truly opening up to Sam about their personal issues, their family problems, and really seeking counsel from him. Our club members could feel genuine love and care from him, and even though they were not Christians, they asked for prayer regarding their personal lives, their injuries, and everything else under the sun. It wasn’t long before they were inviting Sam to their homes.

As Sam and I continued to love on and minister to

Tin Shu Wai, we began to see miraculous breakthroughs. The chairman of Tin Shui Wai RFC, a fiercely independent man named Hong, was not a Christian. Actually, to say he wasn’t a Christian hugely understates the level of his initial resistance and opposition to Christianity and, more broadly, to religion. But after spending some time with Sam and me, Hong gave his life to Christ. We didn’t try to force the Gospel down his throat nor did we engage in the proverbial ‘Bible-bashing’. All we tried to do was love him the way Jesus loved His children.

Such was Hong’s enthusiasm about his new lease on

life that he insisted on getting baptised. And it wasn’t sufficient for him to get baptised at a church. For Hong, the rugby club was where he had met Jesus, and so it had to be that the


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public declaration of his faith and relationship with Christ take place on the rugby pitch in front of the community that he loved. And so it was that after one of our rugby matches, we got a large green rubbish bin that was typically used as our ice bucket, we filled it with water, and we baptised the chairman of Tin Shui Wai RFC in front of his community. Nothing about the baptism was conventional; it was messy and sloppy and the people surrounding us at that moment were mostly non-Christians, many of whom had already begun drinking their post-game cans of beer. It is certainly not the picture we have when we think about a baptism service in the church today, and I admit that I have never had another baptism experience like that. However, isn’t this the kind of thing that Jesus did? When Jesus hung out with His community, He didn’t just spend his days with the religious leaders or His disciples. He made it a point to spend time with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the lepers and the marginalised of that time.

During my time with Tin Shui Wai, Sam and I were

introduced to Sports Chaplaincy UK and Australia. As part of their training, we understood with more clarity the importance of sports chaplaincy in the context of pastoral care. We


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learned the intentional nature of fully focusing on peoples’ well-being and not mixing with other destiny roles or diluting and complicating the various ministries and functions. In addition, there were 5 principles that we learned through sports chaplaincy: Prince, Presence, Priest, Pastor and Prophet. In essence, our identity needs to be firmly rooted as a prince or a child of God our King; we need to be intentional about our physical presence in our community; and only then can we be effective in our calling to be a priest (an intercessor), a pastor (a carer), and a prophet (a speaker of God’s truth).

I knew I wanted to be an intercessor and a pastor

and someone who would deliver His words of truth and encouragement to the members of Tin Shui Wai RFC – indeed, I knew some form of this previously when I was at Causeway Bay – but it is only when I am confident as His child, His prince, and I am intentional about being available to my community that God can activate the gifts for me to dispense His word of knowledge, encouragement and healing. I wasn’t being available to my players just so that I could make them better at rugby or teach them the nuances of their positions or instill in them the values of teamwork and sportsmanship


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that might enable us to be victorious on the rugby pitch. I was learning to make myself available simply to have a real and genuine relationship with them, just to be there in the flesh, to experience them and to have them experience me.

As Sam and I continued to apply these principles in

Tin Shui Wai, we have been so blessed to see glimpses of the Kingdom of God within our community. During one of our recent Christmas parties, Sam and I were asked by the club’s executives to share for a few minutes. After all, it was Christmas and our club knew that we were Christians. Since this was a party organised by a rugby club, it goes without saying that the booze was free flowing. In fact, it is quite likely that when we went up to share, many of the people in the room were approaching the higher extremes of drunkenness. But Sam and I got up and shared a short message about the true meaning of Christmas anyway, and then we felt empowered to pray for healing. We asked people to come up if they were hurting or injured and offered to pray for healing over them. One by one, players came up and told us their knees were hurting or that they still had headaches from prior concussions they had suffered; and we ministered. I don’t know if anyone got


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healed that night – even if they had, they were likely far too inebriated to be able to articulate it – but it was a joy and a blessing to be able to demonstrate the love of God in a tangible, personal and powerful way.

There was another occasion when one of the club’s

best players was unable to play in a league match. While the rest of the team were warming up and getting ready for the game, he was standing on the sideline wearing sunglasses. When I asked him why he wasn’t dressed, he informed me that he had some type of eye infection, and when he took off his sunglasses I could see some kind of rash in and around his right eye. I took that opportunity to ask if I could pray for healing over his eye. He looked a little taken aback, but he agreed. So I prayed. That night, I received a text message from him; the rash had disappeared and his eye had gotten better! Praise God!

There are so many stories of breakthroughs and mir-

acles. Through the grace of God, the members of Tin Shui Wai could sense a powerful yet personal aura of Christ’s love in and around us. There are players at Tin Shui Wai who had never in the past thought about Jesus but now ask us for


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advice and share their prayer requests. Some of our recently-saved club members have been taking it upon themselves to disciple their non-believing teammates. None of this was planned. We didn’t have an agenda or key performance indicators. Every single one of these breakthroughs we attribute to God.

We didn’t need to advertise the Gospel by putting a

verse on the jersey. I didn’t need to use Deep Heat to gain an unfair advantage over my opponent. We didn’t need to preach to the players to subjugate their egos for the betterment of the team. All we did was be available and allow the Kingdom of God to be made manifest here in our community. All we did was try our best to exercise Christmanship.

I should note here, in case it wasn’t clear, that Tin

Shui Wai was and still is a rugby community. Consequently, rugby played a very prominent role at the club – as it should – and every one of us exerted great effort in training hard, being prepared for matches and striving for success on the pitch. In addition, anytime you have people, you will have politics, and so Tin Shui Wai was not immune from that. However, unlike at Causeway Bay, this time around I was able to


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relinquish the reliance on my own strength, my own experience, my own abilities, and surrender more fully to God. It wasn’t easy to depend on Jesus all the time, and if I’m honest, I had to really wrestle with my own flesh at times. But after constant reminders to myself of who Jesus is, and who I am in Him, I was gradually able to look to Him first. As Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”


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The Fan

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

I have a deep appreciation for fanbases that truly love their teams. It is particularly impressive when the teams these fans root for have had a long track record of futility. In the United States, there are a handful of fans of teams that are renowned for their die-hard loyalty. Fans of the Buffalo Bills, an American football team, come to mind. The Bills have never won a Superbowl and the city and the stadium get freezing cold pretty early in the year, but the fan support is consistently immense.


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The people of Cleveland are also well known for be-

ing fiercely loyal to their teams across the major American sports, despite the fact that Cleveland has had a long tradition of failure – at least, until LeBron James finally delivered an NBA championship in 2016, Cleveland’s first champion in any sport since 1964.

In England, it is well understood that the true fans of

any soccer club are the ones who travel to watch their team play in away games. Anyone can get a ticket to watch their team play at home, but the real fans, the truly dedicated fans are the ones who will spend their hard-earned income on airfare or train tickets or fuel for their cars to go to the opposing team’s stadium. These are the people who will brave the weather conditions, endure the taunts from the home fans, who usually make up the vast majority of the spectators, take time off work if needed just to watch their team play. And given their team is playing away from home, it is probably more likely than not that these fans are going through all of this hassle so that they can witness their team lose. These fans, die-hard fans as I would call them, really deserve some type of recognition from the teams they support!


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So sports fandom is clearly irrational. Why go through

all that trouble, all that additional cost, just to witness your team lose? That is definitely a reasonable question that a sensible person might ask. However, as a rather irrational fan of certain teams myself, I can completely sympathise with these die-hard fans. There is something to be said about being there in the flesh to witness your team. Whether your team wins or loses, to say that you were there to see it, to experience it, and then to be able to report what you had witnessed to those who weren’t there in person? Some might call that a great honour and privilege! A fan like that is not just a fan – he or she could even be designated as an ambassador!

Some of these die-hard fans may even go so far as to

claim they would actually die for their teams. Certainly, I have heard many fans say that they would be happy to die after the team they supported finally won an elusive championship, although that’s not quite the same as dying for your team. There are innumerable stories of people, especially those who were getting older, who dissolved into tears upon witnessing their team finally win the whole thing and then declared that they could immediately die in peace. I’m sure the city of Cleveland


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has more than its fair share of such fans. Such loyal support, this kind of allegiance, is commendable. But when these fans hold onto that mantle of ‘die-hardedness’ (if you will kindly indulge me and let me make up a new word), they are ‘dying’ for their own pleasure. They are ‘dying’ for their own satisfaction. They are ‘dying’ for the miniscule chance to be able to proudly say that they were there in person, rooting for their team, when their team won the ultimate prize. And odds are, they aren’t literally willing to lay down their lives in the name of the team they support, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, when I think of a true die-hard fan, I can’t

help but think about the apostles of Christ. The apostles were also fans. They also traveled, often enduring taunts where they went and skipping work to do so, in order to be a witness. They then reported what they had experienced and witnessed to anyone who would listen. And as we now know, nearly all of them went on to die for the Kingdom of God, in the name of Christ. That is what I would call a serious dedication to being a witness!

What we need to understand is that for the apostles,

death as a result of being a witness for Jesus was perfectly


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reasonable and rational. The apostles had a real relationship with Jesus; they experienced Him and received His love. They witnessed Jesus sacrifice His own life for them. Once the apostles knew without a shadow of a doubt that their Lord would go the full distance for them, even unto death, wouldn’t it have been rational for them to feel some willingness within them to reciprocate? I would think that it would have been somewhat unreasonable and irrational if the apostles didn’t feel that way! Likewise, if we consider that no sports team or franchise has ever done anything similarly sacrificial for their fans, or done anything remotely close to being sacrificial, then it is no wonder that there are probably very few “die-hard” sports fans willing to lay their lives for the teams they support.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I want to make it

clear that the apostles were not striving for death. It was not their goal or objective to die for the Kingdom of God. Romans 14:17 states, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”


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What Paul is writing here is that when the Kingdom

of God is in us, and when it is activated by the Holy Spirit, there is a supernatural peace and joy that is released in us – so much so that even if we face death, we will do so with a peace and joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, and His righteousness will prevail.

The thing about being a follower of Jesus is that we

are also then called to be His witnesses, which Luke writes in Acts 1:8. And the thing about being a witness, especially in the days of the early church as we just established, was that by and large they all got martyred! In fact, the word ‘martyr’ comes from the Greek word martur, which was originally translated as ‘witness.’ So when Christ asks us to be His witnesses, He is basically telling us that we are to be His martyrs.

Now, some of you might be asking, “Does this mean

I need to die? Does following Jesus necessitate death?” My short answer would be an unequivocal, “Yes!” Scripture is full of passages that talk about our own death. Jesus Himself said in Luke 9:23-24,


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“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20 Paul also writes in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

There is an unmistakable theme here of death, spe-

cifically our own death, so that Jesus Christ can be glorified. Oswald Chambers states it extremely effectively: We have a tendency to look for wonder in our experience, and we mistake heroic actions for real heroes. It’s one thing to go


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through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. If we are not looking for halos, we at least want something that will make people say, “What a wonderful man of prayer he is!” or, “What a great woman of devotion she is!” If you are properly devoted to the Lord Jesus, you have reached the lofty height where no one would ever notice you personally. All that is noticed is the power of God coming through you all the time. We want to be able to say, “Oh, I have had a wonderful call from God!” But to do even the most humbling tasks to the glory of God takes the Almighty God Incarnate working in us. To be utterly unnoticeable requires God’s Spirit in us making us absolutely humanly His. The true test of a saint’s life is not successfulness but faithfulness on the human level of life. We tend to set up success in Christian work as our purpose, but our purpose should be to display the glory of God in human life, to live a life “hidden with Christ in God” in our everyday human conditions (Colossians 3:3). Our human relationships are the very conditions in which the ideal life of God should be exhibited.

Chambers is speaking of a type of death to our own

self, to our own ego. For a people such as us, who are so


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inward-focused and self-centred that we feel the need to post pictures of the food we eat and broadcast our daily activities on social media, dying to ourselves is no easy feat. However, we must do this. We must lower and humble ourselves so that the power of God, and God alone, can be revealed.

I do want to make something clear here. I believe

that, while we are undeniably called to die to ourselves, it is also entirely possible that we may, one day on our journey, face our own physical death in the same way the apostles did for the sake of His righteousness. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

That is a sobering message to hear; but as has been

mentioned in this book already, for a cause that is truly worthy, we must be willing to do whatever it takes.


CHR ISTM A N SHIP

Lo cker Room M om en t Take some time to reflect.

1. What is your understanding of a die-hard fan? 2. What does a lifestyle of Christmanship look like in you?

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Th e G ran d F inal e


NEXT “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:14


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l et the g am es b egin “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” – Matthew 22:37-40

As part of the Kingdom of God series at our church, Pastor Edmound once shared the following message: “Salvation is heaven in me today and me in heaven tomorrow. It is less about the life later and more about the life here and now.”


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Pastor Edmound then went on to explain that it is not

so much what we ourselves do for God’s glory, but rather it is because of what Jesus has done for us that we can’t help but give our everything, and through which God is glorified.

Yes, the ultimate and perfect Kingdom of God will be

established permanently on the day of judgment. However, as we confess and repent of our old ways and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, the fullness of the Kingdom of God will be activated in us here and now. And when the Kingdom of God is activated in us, what inevitably results is that Christmanship can be made manifest in the midst of our current spheres of influence and beyond.

I believe that what we will see in Heaven can be wit-

nessed today here on earth – relationships can be restored; the sick can be healed; the broken can be made whole; untainted joy, peace and righteousness can be experienced in the Holy Spirit.

I believe that as more and more sportspeople who are

followers of Christ adopt and embrace Christmanship, we will witness our sporting communities encounter Jesus, the incarnation of the Kingdom of God, in a powerful way.


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I don’t know exactly how God will use me and my

family in the second half of my life, but the one thing I am certain of is that I will absolutely choose Christmanship. I want to witness the full extent of the power of His Kingdom. I want to be available for Christ to activate His Kingdom in me. I want to experience the Kingdom of God here in the world, regardless of where the Lord wants us to be, whether it be Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria or the ends of the earth!

So will we get to play sports in Heaven? I don’t know.

The sportsperson in me would like to think that Jesus would enjoy kicking a soccer ball around or shooting a basketball every now and then. I’d like to believe that when I eventually go to Heaven and stand face to face with my God, He will not be displeased in the least if I ask Him to throw a ball around (and if you’re spending eternity together, it’s not as though there won’t be enough time). And if I extrapolate that thought a little further, I can easily envision getting a group of heavenly bodies together, finding an open space, and worshipping Jesus – through sports.

But even if all of that is true, one thing I am pret-

ty sure of is that sports in Heaven will probably look a lot


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different from the sports we know here in the world.

It won’t be about winning and losing, because God

will have already secured the victory.

It won’t be about personal accolades, because all glory

will belong to Jesus.

It won’t be about who is faster or stronger or better,

because none of that will matter to the Creator of the universe.

I don’t really know what it will look like. But one

thing I do know is we will have a glimpse of what it is like in Heaven here on earth as we live out the Lord’s Prayer here and now!

Let His Kingdom come, let His will be done!