Friday, October 23, 2020

The Day Lockett Broke The Record

Sunday 6th June 1999 was the day that Tony Lockett was expected to kick the three goals that would make him the highest-scoring Australian footballer of all time. The strange thing is that when it was all over, I wondered what all the fuss had been about. Let me tell you what happened.
I had accepted an invitation to speak that morning at the Wesley International Congregation in Sydney – a great congregation of hundreds of enthusiastic people from many nations. The senior pastor, Rev Dr Tony Chi, was an awe-inspiring preacher whose authoritative presentation of Scripture rarely failed to stir the heart. He did not often share his pulpit, but this day he did – and I was appreciative of the honour.
That afternoon, I had planned to go to the footy to see Lockett break the record. Would I still make it? No problem. By the time the service finished, I would have plenty of time.
But just before we began, Tony said, ‘By the way, Barry, I wonder if you could help us with a ministry issue. There is a young woman here who seems to be in need of deliverance. Would you be able to pray with her after church?’
I had long since resolved I would never allow football to come before the Lord’s work. So I agreed immediately. But confess I did experience a few qualms. What if we finished up praying for an excessively long time? What if I missed seeing the great man break the record? I dismissed the thought and concentrated on my first priority – preaching the Word of God.
It was a marvellous service. The singing was uplifting. There was a palpable sense of God’s presence. People were deeply moved, many with tears running down their cheeks. Some responded to the invitation to go deeper with God and came to the front of the theatre so we could pray with them. It was a sacred time.
Afterwards, Tony led me to a small room to meet the young woman. ‘Barry, this is Vera,’ he said, indicating an attractive Pacific Island woman of about 20 years of age.
‘Nice to meet you, Vera,’ I responded. ‘I’m Barry.’
But Vera was not alone. There seated around a long table were Pat and Ruth, two women from the church, together with Vera’s parents, her brother, and about three other family friends. Some of these were not even believers in Christ.
Unwittingly, I found myself humming the old song –
She brings her father, her mother, her sister and her brother.
Oh, I never see Maggie alone.
She brings her uncles and cousins, she’s got ’em by the dozens.
I never see Maggie alone.
With resolution, I dismissed this as unworthy of the moment and concentrated on the issue at hand.
With his usual charm and authority, Tony introduced everyone. Then he disappeared. He simply walked off and left me! I did not see him again that day. I guess he had other pressing tasks to pursue. I began to talk to Vera. It was not easy because I was not used to counselling someone with an audience present, especially when some of them had little idea of what we were actually trying to do.
Vera told me that in an Alpha course, she had been praying to be baptized in the Holy Spirit when it seemed like evil spirits were rising up within her. She thought some had been driven out but she did not feel really free. There was still fear and trauma and self-hatred and she would hear tormenting voices in her head.
‘Vera,’ I said, ‘the best way to get rid of darkness is to turn on the light. And that is what we are going to do now. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority of God’s word.’ I asked her what Bible verses she knew and she was able to quote a couple.
I took her hands in mine across the table and we started to pray. Almost immediately she began to groan and babble nonsense. Her body stiffened. I told her to sit back and relax. For a moment she seemed unwilling to cooperate, but then she did.
As we persevered, she continued to groan and mutter. She dry-retched as if trying to get rid of something unwanted. Then there were strange voices. In a high-pitched tone she snarled, ‘She’s mine! She’s mine!’ And then, ‘No Holy Spirit! No Holy Spirit!’ She writhed and twisted and suddenly, with a clamorous thud, threw her body across the table.
I was watching her closely and I could sense the wide-eyed wonder of the family and friends around the table as they observed this bizarre behaviour. Some were staring unblinking, shocked – puzzled – bewildered by what was happening. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one woman sitting bolt upright and clinging tightly to the arms of her chair as if she was ready to flee at any moment. Ruth and Pat were praying earnestly.
I calmed Vera and managed to get her to sit back again. I told her I was not interested in debating with demons and would not do it. ‘I don’t want to hear that voice,’ I said. ‘I want to hear you.’ Immediately she reverted to her normal tones. But again she writhed and groaned and threw herself about. And again I calmed her. This continued for a long while.
After 45 minutes, I reminded Vera how she had been able to regain control of herself when I asked her to do so. I said, ‘Vera, you have shown me, and shown yourself, that you can control what is happening in your body. You don’t have to give in to these demonic powers and influences. You can use the Scriptures to take a stand.’
She nodded quietly.
I continued, ‘The battle is not over yet, but you need to realise that God has promised you victory over all the powers of the devil and there is only one acceptable outcome for you, and that is one hundred per cent freedom.’
She smiled slightly. There was a tiny spark of hope in her eyes.
On the other hand, I could see that she was looking weary and drained. I wondered if we had done enough for one day. Or was this just an excuse for me to get away to the footy? I did a quick audit of my conscience. There didn’t seem to be any black marks there.
‘I think we have gone about as far as we can go today,’ I said. ‘Vera looks exhausted.’
To my relief, everyone readily agreed. After the Alpha meeting, she had needed to rest and to take a day off work. They did not want her to be so drained again. They felt she had had enough. I had a suspicion that it had also been enough for some of them, too!
I urged Vera to continue seeking God and I arranged to see her the following Tuesday. I closed the gathering and we all shook hands as they departed one by one. Slowly and in dignified fashion I gathered up my Bible and brief case. With measured tread, I walked sedately through the foyer, up the long flight of stairs to Pitt Street and along the footpath until I was a respectable distance from Wesley Mission. Then I ran as fast as I could to the nearest taxi stand.
‘Sydney Cricket Ground!’ I blurted out breathlessly to the driver.
He sensed my urgency and cut into the traffic with expedition and skill. But the roads were crowded and progress was slow. The game had now started and we were still crawling. The driver was experienced and used every manoeuvre he knew but it was impossible to beat the meandering Sunday traffic.
The minutes ticked by. I was going to be at least ten minutes late. I pictured Tony Lockett at the goal front. He was a big man with thighs like tree trunks. He had hands that could grip a football like tiger’s claws. I had seen a photo of him soaring into the air to take a mark with his knees resting on his opponent’s shoulders and I imagined him doing it now, grabbing the oval ball and kicking the record goal. And I would be stuck in a taxi on Oxford Street missing it all. But even Lockett probably wouldn’t kick three goals in ten minutes. At least, I hoped not.
The road was still clogged. Maybe, we would arrive within fifteen minutes. I watched the traffic, my teeth gritted, as if that would somehow help. We were not going to be there in fifteen minutes either. Twenty perhaps? I drummed my fingers on my briefcase. Would we ever arrive? Finally, the taxi pulled in at the stadium entrance. I paid the driver, scampered to the gate, inserted my pass in the ticket machine, dodged past officials and stragglers, eventually found my seat and plonked myself down, struggling to regain my breath. Had I arrived too late?
‘You’re just in time,’ said my friend Mal. ‘He’s kicked two already.’
I heaved a sigh of relief. So Tony Lockett now had 1299 goals to his credit, an equal record. One more and he would be the first player in history to have kicked 1300 goals.
I sat back in relief. It was a bright, sunny June day. The Sydney Swans were playing Collingwood. Their bright red and white guernseys stood out in brilliant contrast to the green of the oval and the blue of the sky – and also to the joyless black and white of the opposition.
It was a classic play. Sydney’s captain, Paul Kelly, took the ball from the centre bounce. Lockett led strongly and Kelly passed it brilliantly right on to his chest. The crowd was hushed as they waited in heart-stopping expectation. Lockett lined up the goals, ran in slowly and dropped the ball on to his foot with practised precision.
We were sitting in a direct line behind him. It was an almost perfect view. We watched as the ball flew from his boot, turning over and over through the air. It was a great drop punt. To use a biblical expression, it turned neither to the right nor to the left. It rose higher and further until I lost it against the backdrop of the crowded grandstand. Then there it was again, revolving smoothly towards the goal. A murmur began to rise from the crowd. The ball was not deviating from its course. It was on track. Surely it could not miss. The murmur became a rumbling cry and the cry became a triumphant shout as the football levelled out, arced down again and rocketed with uncanny accuracy right through the centre of the goal.
People shouted and clapped and embraced and jumped up and down and slapped each other on the back. There had been earlier announcements that the public were forbidden to enter the arena but hundreds of fans jumped the fence regardless and ran to where Lockett stood. They would have smothered him with hugs and shakes had not other players surrounded him to protect him. After a while order was restored, people drifted back to their seats and the game resumed.
And I sat there thinking to myself, ‘So, it is done. A man has kicked a ball between two posts. What now?’
And I thought back over the morning service and the life-changing moments we had experienced there. I recalled one of the songs and how a sense of emotion had welled up within me as people sang to the Lord with faith and fervour, and a couple of tears had escaped from my eyes and shyly found their way down my cheeks. I remembered the feeling of joy I had experienced as people had responded to the challenge of God’s Word and reached out to him in faith. I thought of the satisfaction I had known in seeing God’s power enabling people to face life without fear and to serve him with love and goodness. I remembered how we had encountered the living God in a fresh and vital way. How we had learned a little more about loving one another and demonstrating the love of Christ to the world. How we had left feeling uplifted and encouraged.
I thought of Vera and the prayers we had offered for her. No shouting crowds, no wildly cheering fans, no television coverage. Yet at the end of the day, perhaps an action of even greater significance than breaking a sixty-year-old goal-kicking record.
Of course I enjoyed the experience of seeing Tony Lockett kick that magical 1300th goal. And I am glad I made it. But if I hadn’t?
Ask Vera.
By the way, we did meet again, Ruth, Pat, Vanessa, Vera and I. Again there was snarling and dry-retching and voices shouting at me, ‘I don’t like you!’ and ‘I don’t want to leave!’ Again, I refused to deal with them and talked only to Vera. Again we declared the authority of the Word of God and the name of Jesus Christ.
And as we talked and prayed, I realised there was something going on behind the scenes that needed to be brought out into the light. I urged Vera to pray and confess any sins that should be dealt with. And out it all came – failure to respect her parents, hatred, unforgiveness and – finally – two abortions.
And so, eventually, through repentance and prayer and faith in the power of almighty God through the name of Jesus, Vera was set free. The last I knew she was faithfully attending a local church and peacefully enjoying life.
Not a world record perhaps. But it did have eternal implications.

Barry Chant

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Barry Chant is a regular speaker at church services, seminars, conferences and conventions. Hundreds of thousands of his books have been sold around the world. He has degrees in arts, theology and ministry, a diploma in education and a PhD in history. He was the co-founder and former president of Tabor College, Australia.

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