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HEART Christian newspaper | April 1, 2020

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Cricket wins many converts

Last updated on December 6th, 2019 at 05:10 pm

So could the gospel if only it was broadcast more widely

By Charles Gardner

LONDON, July 19, 2019 – In the midst of a grave political crisis, it was a welcome respite to have the nation’s spirits so gloriously lifted by our somewhat miraculous triumph in cricket’s World Cup.

Although initially favourites to break our longstanding duck1 in the competition, we ended up having to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at Lord’s. And before the heady champagne effect wears off, I believe we must grasp the vital spiritual lesson it teaches us.

The game that has become part of England’s DNA was beginning to lose its drawing power thanks partly to greedy media moguls determined to milk as much money as possible from TV rights while denying a new generation access to the delights of the sport.

Even for me, Sunday’s sensational final was the first live television cricket I have watched for many years as I do not subscribe to Sky. Now there are hopes of the game’s revival following what is surely the most scintillating thriller of a match ever staged in front of cameras. Yet its long-term future is only guaranteed, in my opinion, by its return to regular terrestrial TV.

At any rate, my hope is that this remarkable contest will help reinstate the game’s place at the centre of our culture – along with other important facets of our national life such as our identity as a Christian nation.

I have written before of cricket’s link with the great 19th century missionary enterprise in China when C T Studd, England’s greatest player in the early 1880s, gave up his fame and fortune for the gospel. And there have been others, like Bishop David Sheppard, who also gave up bat for pulpit.

As much-loved broadcaster Henry Blofeld wrote in the Daily Mail2 – “The dear old sport I love may be about to undergo a revival” – so my prayer is that this will be mirrored by a revival of Christian faith.

A glimpse of such a prospect emerged during a recent stay in a Cotswold village, where I simply drooled over the perfectly-manicured serenity of its cricket pitch, but also took a walk across the fields before stumbling upon a tiny church which two lovely ladies were decorating with flowers. They also waxed lyrical over the evangelical fervour of their vicar who was filling these country chapels with eager new disciples.

As Blofield noted in his report, “people who never watched the game before are now hooked.” I can certainly vouch for that as my wife Linda, who would normally roll her eyes at the mention of cricket, was as excited as I was. We were literally sitting on the edge of our sofa as the game built up to an almost unbearably tense crescendo. What a showpiece for the sport!

Well, the Christian gospel is equally as thrilling – if not more so. It’s just that most of the estimated billion viewers of the cricket spectacle have not yet been truly exposed to it, having neither seen nor heard the true nature of the length and breadth, and of the height and depth, to which God has gone to rescue us from the shame and defeat of sin and degradation. …How Jesus was nailed to a cruel execution stake so we could go free, how he was miraculously raised from the dead and is coming back in power and great glory to restore peace and justice to our broken world.

And just as many have been denied access to the glories of cricket over the past decade, a huge potential audience has been denied access to the real gospel because the ‘movers and shakers’ of our brave new world have chosen to ‘take it off the air’, leaving those desperate for real answers to their many troubles having to feed off the hopeless message of secular-humanism.

Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations and Paul, specifically with his fellow Jews in mind, asked: “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Matt 28.19, Rom 10.14)

When all the cheering is over and the excitement has died down, many cricket fans will still be left feeling empty and unfulfilled, searching for another ‘fix’ that will inevitably fail to offer lasting satisfaction.

But the gospel does. The Apostle Paul, in quoting the prophet Isaiah writing 700 years earlier, declares: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2.9, Isa 64.4)

Few get more excited about a good cricket match than I do. But believe me, there is nothing to compare with what God has prepared for those who love and follow him.

It was ironic indeed that it was New Zealand-born Ben Stokes who played a key role in England’s historic victory over his Kiwi compatriots – and also that England’s triumph was in fact led by its Irish-born captain Eoin Morgan. The Irish border may be something of a sticking point in our Brexit negotiations, but this monumental achievement owes much to our Irish connections.

As for Stokes, he’s had a troubled past, most notably with his involvement in an ugly punch-up a few years back, but with exemplary determination and courage he has been lifted from zero to hero.

In a similar way, our beloved country that helped spread the glorious gospel throughout the globe has fallen into disgrace after turning its back on the very commandments which built up our great civilization.

Only that same gospel can restore us!

 

1A duck is a cricketing term for failing to score – in this case for failing to win

2Daily Mail, 15th January 2019

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