These thoughts are to help and inspire people like you and me to reach higher and strive for greater things, to stand for a cause more noble than self serving, seeing the good in others and seeking it for their sake. I unashamedly weave my faith, biblical insight and life experiences into a sporting context to illustrate my personal journey to this point - I hope in a small way, I can help you on your journey to being all you were intended to be....

There are now over 50 posts to check out, tweet, link to facebook or google+ Please feel free to share a link BUT If you use any of the illustrations please acknowledge the source as Phil Manchester, Bradford, England. You can follow me on twitter @philmanchester

Friday, 30 September 2011

The 16th Man

It was a hard game. We were up against a tough team from South Wales. I took the ball into contact and we set up a rolling maul. Noticing we were close to the touchline, I looked down through the mass of legs to locate the whitewash. To my amazement, I saw a pair of brown, highly polished, reinforced toe-cap combat boots, on the end of legs wearing jeans!

Eventually, the maul was dragged into touch and as we broke away to form the lineout, I could see the boots belonged to one of our lads, sidelined by injury. He had got so fired up with our drive up field, that he couldn't help himself and piled into the maul to add his weight to our forward momentum.

Looking back it was very funny, especially as the referee was totally unaware of where our extra power had come from.

I'm sure we've all experienced situations in life sometimes, when a bit of momentum would be really helpful, an added bit of strength from somewhere or someone. But the reality is, often we have to face things or tough them out alone.

Sometimes, players will say the encouragement of a big crowd can be like having an extra man. I heard a seasonsed international player recently talknig about how they had a special call when an injection of momentum was required or spirits where flagging. On the call, everyone had to sprint everwhere for the next 5 mins. Whilst I'm not advocating running around workshops, offices, school rooms or shopping malls - if it works for you...go for it. However, there is another dimension worth considering when you feel the need for an injection of momentum or need some impetus to keep you going. Remember, God is for you. God is on your side.

The bible has some interesting advice: "draw near to God and he will draw near to you" - if we are prepared to accept the possibility that God is for us, then just as my injured team mate couldn't help but get involved in our forward drive, God wants to encourage you and get involved in helping you make headway.

Who knows how he will show up; maybe through a pair of highly polished, brown boots or through a helping hand, perhaps through a word of encouragement, or a "keep going", from someone already on the journey. Perhaps through a reminder of the strength and resolve you have within you. I don't know. But I do know, if we are ready, so is he.

Blessed are the Referees for they shall be called...

Who would be a referee? My uncle Jim was a football (soccer) referee. Even when he wasn't on a pitch, he was still a referee. We once found him in the middle of town directing traffic. Oh yes. Raised hand to halt the flow, whilst waving drive on (play on, play on) with the other. If we hadn't rescued him, he may have booked a driver and a cyclist following a touchline, sorry roadside altercation.

There was something in him that just kicked in when he saw that order was required where there was chaos. He was like it in life. When he saw someone in need, he didn't stop, then ask for permission to help; he just helped.

By all accounts uncle Jim was one of a rare breed; a players referee. He knew the rules, understood the game, could assess the spirit in which any game was being played and adapt his approach to the game to keep it flowing.

The best games to play in and the best games to watch are the ones that flow. They can be tough physically and emotionally draining, but it takes great skill to judge the mood and interpret the laws of the game to keep a match at a great tempo.

Not all games are like that and certainly not all referees are like Jim. I don't think I'm the only one who has been walked back 10 metres in a rugby match,for questioning a referee, or has been carded for dissent. Equally, I don't think I'm the only one who has stood on a touchline or in a stand or been sat in front of a TV and questioned a referee's sight, parentage, intake of pies or asked whose side he was on. Referees the world over seem to have a knack for generating emotion in players and spectators alike.

As a man of faith, I am intrigued by the words of Jesus, recorded by a man called Matthew. He wroted that Jesus said "blessed are the peacemakers". I have often thought about what this means. Do I have to go around stepping in wherever I can see there is a problem so that I can bring peace? Do I have to be like a one man United Nations mission? Do I have to deliberately look for trouble so I can bring peace?

I know there are times when unless we intervene nothing will change. But the more I've thought about this in the daily context of my own life, I've concluded that the best peacemakers are like the best referees - they create the conditions in which peace thrives, rather than intervening, blowing a whistle to stop play because something has happened. The greatest referees and the greatest peacemakers are those who help things to flow: with a quiet word here or there, a supportive comment, a word to the wise...

As a husband, a dad, a friend or a colleague am I someone who has to be constantly blowing the whistle because I need to make peace break out, or, am I a peace maker who knows how to create and maintain the conditions to keep life flowing. I wonder which one Jesus was thinking about..