talk | 04.01.19
I bumped into a colleague from my football club yesterday. And he looked so low, he was in the coffee shop after training and he looked so down and he's been a Christian, not very long, probably 18 months and he just happens to work in the same club. And I said, man, you look really miserable. He said, well, where were you the other day when we played, weren't you there? I said I was there. He said, you know what's hard? He said "I just don't think, I can't see us getting a good result."
But the thing is, he said, "I can see that I get so low about it and I don't quite know how to, I've got to cheer my teammates up." He says, "How do you do that?" I said, mate, I feel like you, because you know what sport's like, high as a kite or lower than a snakes belly. That's how it works. I said, but we've got one thing in common haven't we mate? I said we both are children of God, won by Christ, so we don't have to do this on our own.
And we will look at Ezekiel tonight and see what God does in his people through Ezekiel. And it's almost a condensed book of the New Testament, this passage. But what I want you to walk out of here tonight, getting from Ezekiel, as sports women and sports men, is that there is no greater school of discipleship for being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, than being a sportsperson.
Don't separate them until you are ancient or die. Whenever that time comes, stay in the world of sport because God made you to do it. He will be a disciple maker of yours as a sportswoman. He will be there and he will transform you and you will learn the Christian life in sport, not as an addendum to learn in the Christian life.
Sport is a place where you can train and think and experience in the tremendous highs of great victory. You've trained for it. You're there. You're in the event, you're off, you do it. Come on. It's so unbelievable. How do you live for the glory of God in that moment of tremendous vanity of your own talent? And when you feel ashamed and embarrassed, you don't want to be seen by anybody, you wish they did know who you were, you want to be anonymous. You're such a failure. How could you possibly have thought you were any good. In those moments? How will we learn the unconditional love of a wonderful God who is entirely for us, whether we're champion or greatest loser, what a school of discipleship sport is.
What a privilege to be gifted by God to be in it. You've seen in the series so far, that the prophet Ezekiel writing in the sixth century BC of the Exile of the nation of Israel, 800 miles northwest in Babylon, simply tells them that God is so angry with this country. They should be a country of God's people. This is a nation based around Jerusalem where every nation around them was meant to see them live wonderfully as the people of God. And it was to be a witness to all who watched, are they're in shambles. They're just a mess. They've ruined their testimony to the nations around them. They're an embarrassment to their God, and God has punished them and sent them away from their nation, away from any kind of political power and they're a laughing stock and their god's a joke.
And God has punished them and you'd have seen last night in Ezekiel 34 that the tide turns, 34 through 37 and God says, I'm going to intervene. I can't bear this anymore. I must intervene and save my nation because my reputation is in tatters. What sort of God have you got? It's a joke. My country is in tatters and I will intervene and I will bring a shepherd to lead my people. And you'll have picked up last night that the shepherd that's promised is the king. David is the great representative of the king and shepherd, but it points forward to the great king who will rescue not just Israel, but the whole world. Jesus Christ.
So flick with me to look at the first of two headings. I'm going to read 24 through 32 if you need to make notes, I like making notes. I'm just going to call this how God changes people. 24 through 32 how God changes people. I'm going to read this bit through twice. Read it twice with me through different lenses. Here's the first set of lenses, if the new testament had never existed, this is how this bit of Ezekiel would sound when God says, "I'm going to rescue you. I'm going to look after you."
You really turned your back on me. I punished you. I'm going to save you. This is how it would have read to the listener in Ezekiel's day. 24, for it will take you out to the nations. You're coming back from Babylon. I will gather you from all the countries and I will bring back to your own land. I'm taking your home, Israel, I'm going to rescue you because I love you despite your awful sin. I will sprinkled clean water on you. When you will be clean, I will cleanse you from your impurities and from all your idols.
They knew what cleansing was. This was a priestly man. They knew the template and the water and a sprinkling of water. He said, you've been filthy, but I'm taking you home. I'm calling you clean. Let's go home. I'm going to rescue you. I'm going to give you 26, a new heart and a new spirit. I'm going to change you. I'm going to change the way you look at the world. I'm going to make you more the person who should be. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh and I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and keep my laws.
My goodness, he's promising these absolute rebels, their land back, a place where God is represented by them and he's going to make them people for the other nations to look at who have a whole new perspective on life. That's what he's promising them, it's marvellous. 28, then you will live in the land I gave to your ancestors. You will be my people and I will be your God. I will save you from your uncleanliness and on he goes.
So if you were only alive at that time and there was no new testament, you'd read this and you'd say, what an incredible God. They've abused him, rubbed his name and the mud, he's out to punish them and he's just gone in there and he says, you're going home and the nations will look at you and they will be no more famine for you. You'll be clean, and I'm going to change you. What a promise for a disgraceful people rubbed his name in the mud.
But we live in 2019 and since Ezekiel wrote this in the sixth century BC, in zero four BCE just coming into AD, Christ is born. It's now 2019, we look back. This is the new testament and zip file format. Follow me on the I wills and think of Christ the king, the shepherd. Think of Christ who has come into the world. Not Israel now, but one man from Israel, Jesus Christ. Think of what he has done. Read it with me, it's unbelievable. The I wills look at the I wills, better looking at them than me. Much nicer view. I will. I will. Here we go. For I will take you out of the nations. I will gather you from all the countries and back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from your impurities and your ideals. Number One, Jesus Christ is going to gather people and make them clean. Oh my friend, you know tonight, however filthy you've been even today.
When God looks at you, because Christ was perfectly clean, he looks at you and he goes, she is gorgeous in sight. I can't see a thing wrong with her. She's the apple of my eye. She beautiful to me. Oh, he's a top guy, he's my son. You see, he's mine. He doesn't see your sin that's wrapped up and thrown into the sea. You have a saviour. It's incredible what's happened to you. It does my head in that I can't see your marvellous it is. It does my head in when you look at me as if you can't see marvellous it is, isn't it crazy? I know it's ridiculous, right? We're such sinners, we can't begin to see this. I can't begin to see it, I am clean before God, and I'm filthy, I know it, but he's mobbed it up and thrown it away.
I stand here certain of heaven, certain, despite everything that I am and that's not the half of it. Here we go. Read with me, 26, I will give you a new heart and I'll put a new spirit in you. The heart is the seat of mind and will and emotion in the Old Testament. God says to me through Jesus Christ, Graham, I'm going to give you a new heart, my friend. I'm going to give you a new perspective on life. I'm going to give you new emotional spirit with a small S. I'm going to give you a new emotional outlook. I am going to transform you. Here's what I'm going to do, 27, I will put my spirit in you, big S.
You will get the Holy Spirit and he will move you to follow my decrees and keep my laws. Do you know, right, when I saw my friend yesterday, both our eyes sprung to life a bit while we sat and we sat for a coffee for ten minutes, we was doing some work. I said, yeah, but you know the thing is God sent his spirit in us, right? He's cleaned us. His spirit lives in us, and he's moving in our hearts now and he's saying to us, come on you two, make this club mine. Come on, you're my people, I cleaned you. I've given you a new heart. I stoned your filthy heart out of the way and I put my spirit in you and I'm going to change you, and I am going to change you when you lose so badly that you want to curl up in a ball and die.
I want you to make you a person who loves the people around you so much, but you'll only do it because I live in you. Do not think of our Lord Jesus Christ as the coach with a stopwatch going, Daniel, faster, better. Come on. Don't think of him as the coach as you're running your race and you cross on your first of your lapse of your racing training runs or something and he's going, you know the face of the coach, not quite good enough, better. Bastard. Stronger.
You make a big mistake. If you think of Christ like that, Christ lives in you. He's running the laps with you. He hurts with you. He cries with you when you're embarrassed and ashamed, he has come to live inside you. This is what a new heart and a new spirit looks like, but for a sports man, for a sportswoman, we must claim Christ in the midst of defeat and victory. He's right there. He's not an outsider watching in. He has bought into you so much that he deeply in love with you. You're the apple of his eye and his spirit is in you. And he's with you.
We are incredible people. And we deserve nothing. Do you see why sport is a brilliant school for discipleship? How would I let the Lord Jesus Christ who's done this to me, live in me, in the tremendous highs and lows of the whole show? Let's read on. 28, then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors. You will be my people and I will be your God, your mine, my friend. Six kneel down, six flipping kneel down.
What does a Christian say to themselves? Run, hide, go home. Pull your hood over your head. Don't put Twitter on you'll get trolled, all that stuff and then the believer in Jesus says, but you love me and you are for me. And I'm a pathetic coward, but I know this. You died for this month and you live in the woman, and however high or low this one feels at the moment she is the apple of your eye and you are with her. And you are the one who is his God. Oh God lives through me in this moment. Draw me into your school of discipleship. Teach me how much you love me when the chips are down. For you are a magnificent friend to me.
29, I will save you from your uncleanliness. Oh my goodness me, do you know that part of you that fights the filth? You don't have to nod at me, that would be very embarrassing. You know the part of you that fights the filthy filth? I don't want to do that. I hate that, but I want to do it, but I hate it. The Holy Spirit isn't there to stand on the side of the track going, loser, you blew it again. He's there to go, come on, come on. Failed that one let's fight on. Come on son. Tomorrow. Better. I'm with you. Tonight better. I'm there. We mustn't think of God as the one who's trying to catch us out. We must think of him as the one who says every instinct you have to fight and cleanliness inside. I gave it to you.
My spirit gave it to you. I'm for you. I love you so much. Stop thinking of me as the coach with the clock trying to hammer you. Think of me as the greatest ally in the universe who died for you and every sport of cleanliness is my spirits' inclination in you, shall we try again? And you go yes, I'll try again. You bet I'll try again. I'm such a loser, aren't I? He goes, well, you are really, but I love you so much that I've done this for you.
I will save you from your own cleanliness. Oh, this is gorgeous, really. I will call the grain 29, and make it plentiful. I will not bring famine on you. I'll increase the fruit of the trees and the crop of the field. You will no longer suffer disgraced among the nations because of your famine, this may be literal in Israel's history, but you know what it is for the Christian today?
He says, I'm going to teach you not to be deeply ashamed amongst people, I'm delivering you in such a way that people will look and they'll say, there's something about her. There's just something about her. When she loses, she gets really down, I've noticed that. I mean, she's really competitive. You know, we're not saying if you're a Christian, you're some sort of happy dandy nonsense bloke, who goes, oh, well I lost, (laughs) Idiot. You didn't last two minutes. Go and play on the wreck with somebody. You know what I'm saying now? That's not nonsense. This is a school of discipleship for women and men who are wounded by failure, ashamed of their losses, can't stand themselves and it doesn't go well full of their own bravado when they win.
This is for you. If you're like that. The Lord Jesus says, listen really closely. My plan is that you will not be ashamed of your lows. Unashamed of the validity of your highs, here's, my plan. I'm going to let people look at you when they won't see famine, they will see something gorgeous, something lovely, something to be admired and respected because I'm going to do it to you. I wonder how many of you would have had somebody say to you, I mean, you're one of the nicest people I know. I mean, I can really trust you. I don't quite know anyone like you and your thinking to yourself, blimey. If I'm the most trustworthy person you know, you are in deep trouble.
You can't see yourself like that, right? You're thinking, not me, mate. Flipping heck, I spent half a day in my life it'll be a shambles. But who do they see? Christ. They see Christ. Because it's not about you. He has entered your life. You are the apple of his eye. He gave his life for yo, he's all over you. He's in you, he prompts every good thought, he's there. He's not the one with the stop watch. He's the one going, let's run. Let's run. Let's go. I love you. You lost, I know. It hurts so bad, I hurt with you too, but come on darling. Let's move on and let's learn what it is to be a disciple together. What can I teach you in this pain? Oh, in the great joy of euphoria. Come on. What can we learn about humility in this, I'm here. I'm not guarding you and touching the stopwatch, I'm here, what should we do son, what should we do?
Oh my word. What a life. And people look on and they see Christ and this is how people get converted. They look at you and they go there's something there. They don't know what it is. You don't know what it is. Well, you do now? It's Christ. It's Christ. They see Christ.
The Christian life isn't what I can do for God is what God can do for me. Do you know hear that? The Christian life isn't what you can do for God? Stupid. It's what God can do through you. That's the promise of the New Testament, and for sportswomen and sportsmen, there is no greater high and low in the world apart from dying. I know it's weird to say, isn't it? But if you really play, it's sort of, you know, I've lost people close to me so I'm not being trivial and you may have lost somebody this year, so I'm really not trivializing it, please hear that.
But you know it's a sort of death, isn't it? Loss in a massive match, the grieving, so hard. The euphoria of the victory so high, and yet in this, Christ is working in you and in fact he's going to use the sport to turn you into his follower with increasing power and strengths. If you will acknowledge that it is him who's come to live in you. Him who has cleansed you, him who died for you, him who sent his spirit in to you and a him who is going to run with you for the rest of your days as an athlete, so that the world looks on and didn't see famine, but plenty because they see a woman of caliber.
And just to prove what losers we are, and how marvelous he is, Look at what he writes in 31 and 32, then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds and you will lord yourselves for the sins and detestable practices. I want you to know I'm not doing this for your sakes, as a sovereign Lord, be ashamed and disgraced of your conduct, people of Israel. That might look like a contradiction, 31 and 32, as if he is going, stop watch, rubbish. Hama. But he's not, he's actually contrasting what they've experienced in Christ, what we experience in Christ.
Because you know sometimes you know this, don't you? You've just got to stop and sit in the chair and say, Oh my word. I remember my evil ways and wicked deeds, I loathe them, I hate my detestable practices I'm ashamed of them. And at that point, the devil goes, condemnation. You're a loser. You don't deserve to go to any church meetings. Don't you dare go to the Christians in sport meeting. Don't you dare tell anyone you're a Christian. You're such a loser, give up now.
That's not how Jesus works. In Romans Eight the Apostle Paul writes his, one of his great lines. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because in Christ Jesus, the law of the spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death. There is no condemnation, there's just a really healthy conviction. You know, when you sit, then you go, flipping heck, my life is such a struggle. I mean, I so easily given to fallibility and nonsense. I so easily give up to habits that I want to get rid of. It's a nightmare. [inaudible 00:22:58] yeah, loser. Give up now, how how dare you go to the Christians in sport group? And at that point you say, no I'm only realizing that because the spirit of Jesus lives in me, because Jesus has died for me and he's cleaned me, and he's come to live in me, he's given me a new heart, he's given me a new passion, he's given me a new spirit, he's given me a way that people looked at me and see Christ, no devil.
What I'm saying to you is I am deeply aware of I lost I am and what a wonderful finder I've got. And he loves me, so I'm not going to sit here moping like an old goat. I'm going to say, yeah, I'm the biggest loser in the universe, but inside me is the greatest winner, Jesus. And I'm alive. That's what this passage is about, that God will change his people. So you have to choose tonight, you're going to choose the truth that's in this passage, because it's who you are, because of who he is.
But before we wrap it, more briefly, there's a bit missing that we haven't touched on and if we don't touch on it, we really will be stuffed. Look with me at the second part, the first part, how God changes people. The second part, more quickly, he changes people so that the watching world will know God's greatness. Look at 32, I am not doing this for your sake. Says the sovereign Lord. Look at the next line. This is what the sovereign Lord says. Look at 36 then the nations around you that we made will know that I, their Lord have rebuilt this country. I the Lord have spoken it. I will do it. 36, 37, this is what the sovereign Lord says. Last line 38, they will know that I am the Lord.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you get the first part, it's really critical. It's called the gospel of grace. But you've got to get the second part, the second part is that you've been given new life. Not for your sake. Do you see it? Not for your sake. 32, it's not for your sake, and this seems weird, right? It's not for your sake. It's for his sake. It's so that the world will look at you and say, who do they believe in? Who does she stand for? Who is this bloke?
The Bible says very clearly, it is by grace you have been saved through faith, it is not works, not of yourselves, so that no person can boast. It is the gift of God, given to you so that you may do the good works prepared in advance for you to do. [inaudible 00:26:11] through eight to ten, synopsis.
Do you know why we were converted? Do you know why he sent Israel back to their land? So they could say, this is about the glory of my master. Any joy I have in my soul, any hope I have that I am saved from my sin. Any heart that beats to be a human being that Jesus is turning me into. Any compassion with people in need at my club or in my team. Any desire to be the most committed trainer, the most well versed athlete in the drills that we work on, any commitment like that, my friend, you may see something in there that seems good to you, but let me tell you, it's not for my sake, because somehow I have come into a relationship with the creator of 100 billion galaxies.
And I want to point to him. I want my friends to know that he made it all. He is awesome. He is magnificent. And here's the weird thing, when you've lost, what can you say to yourself but this? You made me a player. You gave me my talents. You know I'm a sinner. You died on the cross for me. You have saved me from judgment for hell in eternity. You have sent your spirit and given me a new heart. I have a brand new start in life. I have a new vision. I can fight sin like I never fought it before and when I fail, you don't disappear. You just say, let's go again, Graham. Let's go again son. Let's go again. And this is how you treat me, Lord. Now Lord, this isn't for my sake. It's not for my indulgence, I understand that and Ezekiel says this to us, he says it's for his glory.
So let me close with my lovely friend at Costas yesterday morning, he said but the thing is, Jesus has done all this for us. So we can go in to Saturday's game, come what may, pointing to him. In our own minds saying, Oh my word, I want to live for Jesus because Jesus has done everything for me. I want all the power of Jesus to make me his human being. I want to be the best colleague at work. I want to be the best teammate. I want to be the best trainer with him because I want him to get the glory, so I'm not going to pout. It's not about me. Wind your neck in loser, it's not about you, poor me. I lost. I bought a mare. I won, look at the great me, it's not about you, it's about him.
And the school of discipleship says, look up now, he's the leader. He did it all. He gets the glory, and the woman who gets up every day and says, you've done all this for me so that I can do good works as a result of you in my life. Where should I do them Lord? On the track. In the changing room, and the bus, in the initiations. Where can I do them? Where God put me. Was it a mistake that you were given athletic talent? Is it a mistake that you're born in one of the biggest sporting periods in history taking overall? Is it a mistake that you've met Christ and you were at a conference like this?
No. From your mother's womb you knew about this. And then you were born again. And then you've got new life and now you have a new start. And I say, this is also the watching world will know God's greatness. The watching world at your university team. Point to him and the joy comes not from self intelligence and pointing to him and saying, that's how I will live. That's how I will run. That's how I will compete. That's how I will be. So Ladies and gentlemen, how does God change lives? By the transforming gift of grace. Where does he do it? For you, in sport.
What is the point of the school of discipleship? To receive all this from the wonderful savior. For what reason? To give him glory. Next time you feel so high that there could be nobody greater than you when the world at your sport, look up because every ounce of that ability was for his glory and so that the world could see Christ. 'Cause people around you looked at went, there's something about him. Next time you're lower than a python's stomach. Look up, because you've been born again by the spirit of God. In the grace of God, for the glory of God and get your eyes on him, and guess what happens? You trudge out of the depression. Here we go, Lord. Next game, and the world changes.
Let me close with the Lord's prayer because it summarizes the whole point. How does God change people? Why does he change us, so the watching world will know God's greatness. Father, teach us how to pray. Our father in heaven, hallowed be, whose name? Your name isn't it? Your name. Why has he done all this for his glory? Whoa. Did you ever realize you had such a fantastic role in life? He has done this so that he gets glory through your life by living in you in the world of sport. Oh my word. May we never die. Just keep playing.
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Come on say it with me, your kingdom. See, yours, not mine. He gave me all of this for his glory. Where do I get joy in taking all of this that he's given me and given it back. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen, what a savior. What a gospel. A gospel for discipleship in the sports fields, and gyms ,and stadia, and pools of our country and sports people across the world so that his will is done in our generation. Happy? Let's do it. Amen.
Christians in Sport is a UK based charity that aims to reach the world of sport for Christ. We mainly work with sportspeople in competitive and elite sport.
Registered Charity England and Wales 1086570.
Registered Charity Scotland SCO45299.
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