Why should I reach the world of sport for Christ?
Why should I reach the world of sport for Christ?

Graham Daniels and Jonny Reid look at why Christians in Sport exists - to reach the world of sport for Jesus, and what encouragement Jesus gives as we go and do it!


Jonny Reid:

Hey, welcome back. Welcome to the Christian Sport Podcast. Great to be with you. My name's Jonny Reid. Brilliant to have you with us again, Christian Sport Podcast. All we're trying to do, we're trying to speak about how the Bible, how the good use of Jesus applies to a sports person. So whether you just love sport and you're wondering what on earth does this faith have to do with it, or whether you are a Christian who loves Jesus and also loves sport, we're really glad to have you with us as we dive into different topics, different issues, as we interview people, as we hear stories, and as we journey together. We look in our tagline. We're going to discuss in a minute to reach the world of sport for Christ. So it's great to have you with us. Right at the start. I just want to say we'd love you to get in touch with us. We'd love you to send in your questions. We're going to deal with some of the ones which we think you have, but we'd love for you to send it to your own. Your own questions about sport and the Christian faith. Not quite sure how regularly we'll answer them at the moment, but we'll probably do every few months. Record a podcast, answering some of your questions so do get in touch, do email podcast@christiansinsport.org.uk use #AskCIS, or just find us on social media. Get in touch. It'll get to us eventually. And so it's great to have you with you. Danno, how you're doing. I've got Danno, Graham Daniels at the end of the line. How are you?

Graham Daniels:

How goes it Reidy? I'm in good form. Thank you very much. Decent form.

Jonny Reid:

Very, very good. Thanks for being with us again. Right, as I've said, Christian in Sport, it's got a tagline. Why we exist. Christian in Sport exists to reach the world of sport for Jesus. You are a sports person. You're in the world of sport. You are a Christian now, but that obviously hasn't always been the case. So take me back. What's been your story of when you first heard about Jesus?

Graham Daniels:

Well, I think the reason that I'm still in the room in my fifties involved in Christians in Sport whilst being involved in professional football, is because I was a kid who was sports mad. It's pretty much everyone's story, isn't it. You're a sports mad kid. You just cannot wait to go and play at the very first opportunity until as late as possible at night. All day, summer holidays time, all day play. So, that was my life as a kid.

Actually, there was a tipping point, I think, when I was in what's now called Year 10, 15 years of age in the summer term at school. On one particular day, I was pulled out of a class just before lunch at school, captain of cricket team, so in their sixth form, a couple or three years older than me, comes to get me. I don't know him, he says to the teacher, "Could Graham Daniels come so he's picked for the cricket team this afternoon?" I was thrilled, of course, I can't believe my luck. I think I'm playing for the big boys here. The sixth form. Now, it transpires that somebody had cried off sick about half an hour earlier.

So they're thinking, which kid can we get, who's keen, who can get his stuff quickly and jump on the bus? It was me. So off I go. Now, the tipping point really in the day was, as a 15 year old kid where you don't know anybody, and they're all a lot older than you. You're on the bus. It's a 50 mile trip. The guy who was the captain sat next to me, which was kind because I didn't know anyone. A quiet guy.

We went to the game, I hardly did a thing, fielded third man, didn't bat, didn't bowl. We won the game. He was the star actor that came, and then it was Gwion Jenkins, and on the way back, quite a long journey, 50 miles for a kid, and he sits next to me. He's had a great game on. He says, what did I do at the weekend? I said, "On Saturday I played cricket." On Sunday, this is the 70s I said I didn't do anything because it's boring. There's nothing to do because all the shops were shuttered, and there's no sport in those days. I said, "So what do you do?" He said, "Well I play cricket Saturday, and on Sunday I went to church."

And I couldn't believe it. I'd been brought up a child going to church. But even in the 70s, the cool kids and their team never went near center place. And I said, "Why do you still go to church?" Because he's the king of school. He paused for moment, and he said, "Well I go to church because I follow Jesus." And you know this story really. But I then found myself thinking, "Oh my word, 45 miles to go!"

So that was my first brush with somebody who was unashamedly Christian and a really good sports person. So my story really begins, my personal story in that sense, begins with Christianity and sport mixing at around the age of 15, and then knowing other Christians involved in sport through to the age of about 21. And as a young footballer myself some years later thinking, I want to follow Jesus, too. So it was the influence, partly the influence of a really good sportsman, whose world I got. I couldn't work out why he'd be in my thoughts, religious, because sports people weren't. And to this day, of course, I come across people all the time who cannot even begin to think that you could be a follower of Jesus and a really competitive sports person. So the same issue faces us today and that's why Christians in Sport exists.

Jonny Reid:

Why do you think... So Gwion sitting in that bus, sort of 17, 18, quite rare, probably even today to be willing to, "Oh, I went to church on a Sunday." Why do you think he was willing and he wanted to say something of what he'd done on his Sunday as he spoke with you?

Graham Daniels:

Yeah, it's interesting, that. Because I've got the story on it, but I don't know if it answers it. So a few years later when I knew I wanted to be a Christian, personally, in my early twenties, he had married the girl who was his girlfriend when he's in the sixth form. So I said to them once, "Why did you do that?" I asked that question, and he's a modest guy, so he never shows off. And the only part that answer he gave was, she said. "From that day onwards, he prayed for me every day for about two or three years. And then he lost a little bit of heart, and he used to pray on Saturdays for me, which was match day. And he said it triggered his mind."

She said that about him. But he wouldn't have said that he would have prayed for me because he felt he was showing off, I suppose. But, but he said that he went home from the game that night, and his mom and dad Christians, and they said, "How was the game?" Obviously, it'd gone very well for him and they said, well you look a bit disappointed. And he said, "Well I tried to tell a boy on the bus about Jesus, and I really blew it." And he then said that was the first time he's likely ever try and telling anybody about Jesus.

I don't know that you can answer why he felt that he'd do it that day, but perhaps something in his conscience said, "Be vulnerable. Look after this younger guy. Help him to think about the Christian message." Who knows why? All I do know Reidy, is the thrill as a 15 year old kid, I met one of the best sports people at school who opened my eyes to the possibility of somebody bigger than me. God was involved somehow in my sport or could be. Of course, it's been a revolution for my life 40 years effectively.

Jonny Reid:

Yeah. Great. So, let's help unpack this. So, we've talked about Christians in sport. We love sport. We love playing sport. We love being involved in sport. We love those coaches or just sport. It's in our bones. It's in our blood. We just love it. But then we've got this tagline, we want to reach the world of sport for Christ. We don't just love sport. We also want to tell the world of sport about Jesus. We get these words of Jesus, final words at this time.

I'd love us to look at these as we unpack why we want to go and reach the world of sports for Christ. Jesus says this, he says, in Matthew 28, to the end of his time on earth, he says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And teaching them to obey everything I've commanded you. And surely I'm with you always to the very end of the age." Help us unpack this. Why did Jesus say this at this point of his ministry?

Graham Daniels:

Well, there are four accounts of the life of Jesus. Matthew writes one of them. In regard that Matthew is an eye witness to the whole thing. He saw it all, he was there present, and he watered up, and Jesus had died. So the fact that the climax, I mean these are literally the last lines in the story. Or the fact that Matthew has captured what Jesus said, or made it the last thing he says as he writes the book, because he could have put it in a different position, put it last, must mean that it's really important both to Jesus and to the guy who captures what Jesus said. I think it's an understanding of what Christianity is really, and sometimes we miss it, whether we go to church, and certainly if we've never been near Christianity.

I think it goes something like this, at the beginning of his life in the accounts of his life, and Matthew captures one of them. When he first meets people who aren't his followers, and they're getting to know him. He kind of gives them a warning, almost a benchmark. He says to them in the fourth chapter of the account of Matthew about the life of Jesus, he says, "If you follow me, I will make you fishers of men in the original language, fishers of people."

Now he's speaking to fisher men in this context. And so what he's actually saying, of course, if it was coaches, I'm sure he would have said coaches of men, of teachers, teachers of men. What he's really saying is, "If you follow me, you're going to take the skills that you have, and you're going to use them in part to influence others to understand who I am. I will make you fishers of people." So Jesus unashamedly, before any of these people follow him, says, "If you become one of my followers, you will influence other people to see who I am." And therefore the climax of the whole story is what you've just read.

Jesus says to them all as he's going to heaven, having beaten death, all authorities, he's proved it now, all authority of heaven and earth has been given to me. I am the boss. I really am God's son. So you, when he says, therefore, he's told them before, therefore make disciples. You go and do what I've done to you. Now. You're in charge. Go do it. I told you at the beginning this is how it would work if you follow me. Time to get on it. And 2000 years later, here we are saying, Gwion Jenkins helped me to become a follower of Jesus by pointing me to him, by teaching me a bit about him. My job is simply to crack on with my sport, love the gifts that God has given me, and give people a chance to hear about Jesus so that they can think about what it means to follow him. That's what we do.

Jonny Reid:

Correct. This is a bit of... Just trying to unpack Jesus' last words here, there's a bit of jargon, maybe. Maybe a term, if you're listening in, if you don't currently follow Jesus, and you go, "What on earth is a disciple? What does that mean?" And then we're told to go make disciples. So what does it mean to make disciples then?

Graham Daniels:

Well, good Reidy. That's right, isn't it? "Go and make disciples," he says. And it's a word, of course, which we don't use very much now, but was used at the time. So for them it was slang, vernacular. I think we might say for disciple, apprentice, that you're in an apprentice in the craft. You learn to be a carpenter, you learn to be an engineer, you craft something. So I think it's a learner. It's an apprentice. What it definitely isn't, is a kind of show up with a bunch of lectures for a year, listen to the lecturer, put it in your brain, but don't change your life by it. You know when you learn a craft, an apprenticeship, apprentice footballers, it's not theory, apprentice athletes. You watch all the players doing it, you join in with them, you feel how they feel, you cast victory in defeat.

You see the cost of doing the wrong thing, not going with your runner, for example. So you learn the craft intimately with people. So I think if our listeners are thinking, "What actually is a disciple of Jesus." It's pretty straightforward. It's a person who says, "He is the great master, he's the great craftsman, he's the great coach, he's the great leader. I'm going to join in with him and learn with him and from him how to follow him in this world. How does it work?" So that's what a disciple is. It's a lifelong apprenticeship, actually. I don't think you ever stop learning from Jesus, how to know him better, and how to serve him in the world of sport, in our case.

Jonny Reid:

Great. Well help explain the next bit then because it says, "Go and make disciples of all nations." And I think, maybe listening in, we often hear some of that missionaries in foreign places, we'll have heard about centuries of people going out to other people. Giving up maybe everything to go to different places, different countries, different people, different languages. Why wouldn't you just say, when read this verse, and I'm kind of understanding that you wouldn't say that. So you're saying this applies to us now.

Why wouldn't you just say, when we read this first, "Okay Christian, find out whether the need in a foreign country, find out where there's an unreached people group, people who have never heard about Jesus, who maybe don't even speak a language under the Bible." And why don't we just head out there? Why would we be saying that reaching sports people is a priority?

Graham Daniels:

Well, the clues in the words, which is why, when we do the podcast, we lift words from the Bible and try and talk about them and the principles and apply them. So the word makes the sense of all this. The word is nations. So, "Go and make disciples of all nations," he says. Well, nations we use in English, anyway, ethnic. And the word ethnic is about a people group. It's not necessarily a country, and the language used by Jesus as it's translated from Greek, it's ethne, which we get ethnic. So actually what Jesus... And we hear him saying, "Go to France or Japan or go to South Africa." We think nation states, but that's a 16th century invention, really. What he's saying is, go to ethnics, go to groups, go to people, cultures, subcultures. Go to sociological groupings. Go to societies where people have so much in common: language, culture, history, tradition, emotions. Go to there, and help that culture in their way of thinking and learning to learn how to follow Jesus.

So, of course, therefore, you and I and all our listeners, almost certainly, a part of the ethne of a sport. But we know that the common ground of the ethne of sport covers competitiveness and disappointment and injury and having to quit playing and joy and victory. How to live socially when you have a night out. All these things are common to sport and then, maybe you're hockey player, primarily, cricket and hockey and football, primarily. In our own sports, there are more distinctive things about our subculture.

And then, in my football club there are different ways that my little football club operates. So all Jesus is really saying is, if you are somebody who understands me and is my apprentice and are learning how to live with me and your life, do that in your own ethnic. Do that in your own ethnic. Hang out where God has given you talents and passion and gifts and friends and mates and opponents to hang out with. And be my representative. Let them see what it looks like to be my follower and an entirely committed member of that ethnic of sports club. It's not sophisticated. It's pretty uncomplicated. Because, you know, generally I have to go somewhere and hang out somewhere- and I generally hang out where I love to be, mostly.

Jonny Reid:

Yeah. Well, help us then understand, there's that, you've talked about that culture of sports, that ethne of sport then. Let's dive into that a bit more. I spent some time in the Middle East, I spent time amongst people who were Muslims, not Christians, and so I learned about how best to maybe speak about Jesus in a way which made them really consider who he was. What is that in the life of the sports people? How do we learn about the culture of sports people, and what is it like then to go to them?

Graham Daniels:

Well, in one sense there's a bit of a difference between you. You grew up in India and then in England, in your case. And then you went to spend time in the Middle East, and learned the language and some. In some ways you can do that with sport. That will be almost like somebody who's an outsider, but for most of us it's not like that. We don't have to try and understand. I've never had to try and understand how rugby culture works or how soccer culture works or cricket culture works because they're the sports I've played. I guess then, I am that culture. I think that's the brilliant thing about Christians in Sport for me. You see, you're not trying to persuade somebody to belong to that ethnic, that culture, that people.

We know young people, thousands of teenagers, people in their twenties, and right through the ages then, who say, "Oh, I love it. I love the bat and ball striking in perfect harmony. I love swinging the club. I love the movement of my body as I take the hurdle." It's people like that who get to meet Jesus, who don't have to change to be in a sports group. They belong in it. The harder bit is sometimes to work out, how will you explain who Jesus is and find the words to do it in the culture. That's the harder bit, generally.

What we say is, you know, we've got this wonderful little three or four word thing that we've used for generations now. If you're going to be in the sports culture because you love it and the team, there's three things you do. You pray, you talk to God about your sport, your friends, your opponents, your officials. Just pray that you might be a good apprentice of Jesus. And you may be a great person as a member of that club.

Secondly, play on the field at training, off the pitch, play in a way that Jesus is changing you and making you more like him. Be the kind of teammate whose class to be around. And finally say something, pray, play, and say something. As my friend said to me, "Well, I follow Jesus." But you are a really good player. How does that work in your cricket? How are you such a good guy? Can you be a Christian then? What does that mean? He said something which opened up the whole possibility that I could be a follower of Jesus somehow. So we say pray, play, and say, but always do it together is our fourth word. Always find friends at church. Most Christians go to church, and all Christians should belong to a church. That we should because that's where you meet with people who are trying to follow Jesus like you.

The great thing about church is that there's old and young. It has rich and poor. The different races and backgrounds and ethnicities and cultures and hobbies. We keep each other going, but when we leave the church on a Sunday, we go to our own ethnics, our own people groups to hang out. So it's that group of church, which is, you're together. Your weekly get together to think about what this looks like. So that's really how we go about that. We say, "Pray, pray, say, together." Because that's your world, that's your ethnic, that's your group.

Jonny Reid:

That distinction, as well, is really helpful. The majority of people listening, they just get it. They know the culture, they live and breathe sports, which doesn't stop. People are maybe listening and going, "Oh, I can just see around me. I know of 50, 60, 70 sports clubs, and, actually, I think there's an amazing opportunity to go and hang out with people, spend time with..." We often say this to people, I might decide to go, "Hey, if you're not sure how to meet people who don't know Jesus, just go and join a sports club because you'll love it. You'll love spending time with people. You'll love using your bodies, exercising, and then you get to hang out with people. And then that starts to become your culture, as well, as you learn that, as well.

But if people are listening in now, pray, play, say, together. Probably you maybe go, "Pray, yeah, fine." We'll unpack all of these things a lot more over our time on podcast. We'll unpack some these more, but you're pray, I can probably do that. I need to learn more about that. I can do that. Play, tricky sometimes to know how to play in a way which honors God. We'll spend time thinking of that. How do we deal with opponents who rub us up the wrong way? What does it look like to deal and cope with injury really well so that, the people, when they look at us, they go, "There's something different about you."

But there's this thing of say, of speaking of Jesus, and again, we'll unpack this more broadly in our podcast, but they may be going, "That just scares me, sort of speaking maybe particularly in today's culture where we're tolerance is everything, where you can have your own view, as long as your view doesn't offend me." They may just go, "My friends just don't want to listen to me. They've decided Christianity irrelevant, and I'm worried what they might think." How can these words from Jesus in Matthew 28, how can they be an encouragement to us? These are his final words to his disciples, I'm assuming as well as the challenges, there's encouragement in that.

Graham Daniels:

Yeah, of course there is, and remember now where we came into this conversation.We talked about the disciple as an apprentice learning a craft. It's a lifelong work. It's a lifelong learning experience. So it's really stupid for me to think, "Well, I'll never be able to do this, this, or this." Because if you're going to have the master coach with you all your life, He will help you. He will facilitate the things that we're worried about. He does. He just does.On the brilliantly assurance that you're asking me about, Reidy, in the words that we've read from the end of Matthew's account, Chapter 28 last few lines, listen to the word all. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." This is Jesus speaking. He's gone to the cross. He's beaten death. They've seen him alive. No one's ever done this. No one's done it since. He's alive.

And he just looks them in the eye. The last line he says to them is, "I've got all authority everywhere. It's my world, my friend. I made the universe. I am the creator of it all, and I am the savior of it all. And I have saved you by dying and rising. So I've got all the authority." So the first thing you ever have to do when your knees knock are you wonder, like an 18 year old boy saying to a 15 year old boy, "Well, I follow Jesus." Well if there were 15 people on that bus with the teachers and all that, you know what if all the other 14 had said he was a fool. He's in the majority. He is in the majority with one with God. It's always a majority because God rules the world, and he knows what he's doing.

So he had the authority of Jesus, not his own brilliance or eloquence. And I would say to friends, "It's not your authority. You didn't make the galaxies. You didn't make the word, He did. He will build a church." The new Testament says, Jesus will build a church and nothing will stop him. You have no idea when you pray and play and say, you have no idea what that 18 year old's words to a 15 year old boy will have. And thousands of people have understood that you can become an apprentice, a craft learner from Jesus in sport. Because over the years of Christians in Sport, people have done what that 18 year old boy did. All authority is God. All of it. And then the last possible line in the whole account, the last line of the 28th chapter, Matthew's account of the life of these of Jesus says, "And surely I am with you always. Until the very end of the age." All of authority is his, and he will be with you always. The great teacher by his spirit, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God is three in one. When you turn to Jesus and ask him to be your savior and Lord, when you become his learning apprentice, he by his spirit comes to live in you, and he's with you until you die or Jesus returns. So the promise is that, when you're in the changing room, on the bus, in the pub, at the bar, walking to the game, off injured, being transferred to somebody else, lose your place and you're on the bench, win the cup final, score the winning goal, He has the authority. He is always with you. And He just says to you, "This is your passion, isn't it? Sport. This is your passion. I put you here. I give you the gift. Pray, play, say. Do it together with others. Get the support of others and get amongst it. And by the way, my friend, I'm in charge, not you, and I'm here. So get on with it.

Now you'll never, ever, ever get away from thinking that's a pain line to cross. But my friend said to me, "I follow Jesus." That was the first time he'd ever tried saying something, and he said he'd gone horribly wrong. Well, he didn't get it horribly wrong for me because the one who had all the authority and was with him said to me, somewhere deep in my conscience, "He's got something you've never seen before. What is this?" "I follow Jesus." So that's what I'd say. Cross the pain line because you're not in charge.

Sports people have to be bold. Be bold. And if you're not a follower of Jesus yet, I'm speaking all of these things in a way, in the hope that the way Jesus spoke to people who had no belief in him at the beginning. If you follow me, I will make you fishers of men. I would say to you, if you follow Jesus, he is the one who dies. He beats death. He is the one who with the authority. He's the one who'll come to live with you always. He will give you a new life, but He will say to you, "Go on man. Go on and be my apprentice in sport and pass me on. See what I do with it. And enjoy your sport while you do it, my friend. Enjoy your friends." So what a brilliant thing it is to be a Christian in sport. I couldn't swap it for the whole world Reidy. I bet you couldn't either.

Jonny Reid:

No, you're right. Definitely couldn't. Ah Danno. That's so helpful isn't it. As you said, we're going to dive into some of these issues more, but we're really looking for some more chats on some of maybe the nitty gritty. What does it look like? How do we play in a way which honours God, how do we say something? And as you've said, if you're listening and you don't call yourself a Christian, do listen in. Do see why thousands of people who love sport and love Jesus every day are waking up going, "Right. I want to pray, pray, say. I want to speak of Jesus to my teammates because I think it's so important. It's the greatest news in the world. I want to pass it on."

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