Women’s Day Special – Margaret Court – Tennis Champ

Women’s Tennis’ most decorated Champion ever is Australian Margaret Court

Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.”  And while I have shared posts about some women in the history of this blog space, the content does tend to be more about men than women simply due to the nature of availability of resources (i.e. articles I can find about the athletes). But there are many women athletes who have accomplished amazing things and demonstrated a strong faith both on and off the fields of play.  And so on this International Women’s Day, I would like to draw attention to the story of Margaret Court.

In the 60’s, when Court was coming up in the Pro Tennis world, she trained in a way that tended to be reserved for Men’s training.

Margaret Court (nee Smith) was born in Albury, New South Wales, Australia on 16 July 1942.  She began playing professionally in 1960 and quickly found success. Her career numbers are staggering.

From her Wikipedia page:

Her  career winning percentage of 91.68% (1180–107) is one of the best of all time according to the Sporteology website.[1] Her open era singles career winning percentage of 91.37% (593–56) is unequalled, as is her open era winning percentage of 91.7% (11–1) in Grand Slam finals.[2] Her win-loss performance in all Grand Slam singles tournaments was 90.12% (210–23).

When she retired in 1977, she had won 192 career titles including 11 Australian Opens, 5 French Opens, 3 Wimbledon Titles and 5 U.S. Opens. She also competed and excelled in doubles and mixed doubles.

Court with the Wimbledon trophy. She has won more Tennis Grand Slams (3) than any other tennis player in history – men’s or women’s.

As you can read in this article from the Goal, success didn’t translate into contentment or happiness. In fact, she decided to retire.  She says ” I achieved every goal I had set but then I lost my desire to continue competing at the top level.”  She got married and then found her competitive fire again, returning to tennis and to her winning ways.  She had grown up in a Roman Catholic family and says “I praised God for this success, for I had always seen my tennis ability as a gift from God. However, in 1973, during a tournament in Paris, I realized that something was missing in my life – a closer relationship with God. I knew God was there and thought I must be able to know Him in a deeper way.

A short time later a friend gave me a book on becoming a Christian. I read it and soon after, I made the decision to become a Christian, accepting Jesus Christ as the Lord of my life.” She continued in tennis, but her new passion and desire was to know God more. So in 1976, she again retired from pro tennis.  She continues “At the end of 1976, I decided to retire from tennis and devote myself to looking after my family and getting to know more of Jesus. The next few years were a real struggle for me dealing with a heart condition, depression and insomnia but what got me through was total devotion to God and His word, the Bible. It gave me inner strength and brought healing to my body and mind. A verse that really kept me going is Galatians 2:20, “I have died but Christ now lives in me. And now I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave His life for me.”
In 1982, I went to Bible College and since then my goal has been to go out and share God’s Word with as many people as possible. I love to tell them how they can renew their lives and how they can overcome fear by really focusing on the Word of God” 

These days, Court is a Pastor at Victory Life Centre in Australia.  Here is a video of her sharing the importance of a life of faith and some parallels we can learn from the world of Sport to the guide our spiritual life.

Here are my takeaways from Court’s story:

Today, Rev. Dr. Margaret Court is the Pastor of Victory Life Centre in Australia. She d

1- Training the Mind

She talks about training the mind. Not focusing on losses in the past, but thinking about the current match and thinking about victory at the end of the match.  This has been a struggle for me in my life.  I find it so easy to focus on the negative and the defeats and failures that I have known.  But that is not how Christ sees us.  He doesn’t see us as failures, He sees us as he loved children and knows that the potential is in us to carry out the mission that He has called us to.  And with Him on our side, Victory is ours. He sets us free from the hard things that life brings our way, not by removing those hard things, but by showing that he is bigger than those things are, and that if we are with Him, we will know ultimate victory, too.

2 – Anonymous Champion

In one article I read,  Margaret Court referred to herself as an “Anonymous Champion”.  I will admit that I am a casual tennis fan – I don’t pay regular attention to tennis, but I tend to be aware of the top ranked players at any time  over the  course of my life.  And while Court played before my life began, with statistics and history like she has, as one of the best ever, I should have known about her – but  I had not heard of her until today.  To me she was anonymous. She had accomplished much, but so many people are not aware of what she had done.  The same is true about Jesus. He accomplished much – he came and lived a perfect life, he died in our place to pay for our sins. He did this for all people, and yet, many don’t know Him. It is our task to tell others about his exploits and the difference He has made in our life. Let’s share His love with the world.

Faith at Super Bowl LI

Well, the Big Game is almost upon us. The media days are done, the game plans in place and the half-time show rehearsed. The commercials are ready to entertain and amaze us and the spectacle of Super Bowl Sunday has arrived. 12 hours from now, we will likely know the winner, the MVP, the funniest commercial and the buzz around the half-time extravaganza. For many of the players involved, playing in the Super Bowl is a dream come true. Some have realized that dream over and over again – the Patriots are making their 7th appearance over the past 15 years.

I have written blog posts about some of the players who will appear in the game.  If you are interested in checkin those out, here is the list – simply click on their names.

From the Patriots…

Devin McCourty, Marcus Cannon, Matthew Slater, Duron Harmon and Nate Solder at Super Bowl XLIX and Slater again from Super Bowl XLVI

From the Falcons…

Jacob Tamme (injured this time around)

And CBN does a great job each season of sharing stories and quotes from several of the Christian players on both teams. Here is their feature for Super Bowl 51. This year’s video features: from the Falcons: rb Davonte Freeman; DT Grady Jarrett; LB Vic Beasley; WR Taylor Gabriel; G Ben Garland

from the Patriots: G Nate Solder; S Devin McCourty; DB Duron Harmon; DE Rob Ninkovich; WR Matthew Slater

I will be sharing a couple more stories about players involved in the Super Bowl tomorrow on my facebook page  so be sure to check those stories out, too.

As for the game itself – well, it is a tough one. I know a lot have people I have talked to are hoping for the upset and that the Falcons can pull it out.  For some reason, I am not with them though. I think the Patriots will raise the trophy at the end of the Night. let’s say 27-21 Patriots. Enjoy the game everyone!

 

Modern Monday Season Finale – Tress Way (P) Washington Redskins, Matt Barkley (QB) Chicago Bears, Zach Zenner (RB) Detroit Lions and Quintin Demps (DB) Houston Texans

Bears QB Matt Barkley catches a TD pass in a wild final weekend of the NFL season.

The Season is over and as the playoff scenarios fall into place and we all begin to digest the results of the season and the varying level of success that our favorite team had, it is time for me to be finish up my season by sharing some short stories of players that I wanted to share during the regular season. Here we go:

Redskins 3rd year Punter Tress Way

Tress Way – P – Washington Redskins

Tress Way has been the Washington Redskins punter for the past 3 seasons

What caught my attention about Way’s story, which you can read here in this FCA article. Tress was ready to give up on the NFL dreams that he had when the Chicago Bears cut him after his training camp tryout. Bears kicker Robbie Gould encouraged him to keep at it and he would get his chance. He was invited to come back to Chicago the following year and try out again. And again he was cut, but this time, Washington had noticed his skills and came calling. Way earned the Redskins job and rewarded them with the top punting yard average in the NFL that season. The next year, they named him a special team captain and before this season, he signed a five year contract extension. Way was very active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) through high school and college. He has since returned to the FCA world as a speaker, sharing how his faith and life go together in the NFL and challenging the FCA attendees to be genuine in their faith. He said “I knew what I was supposed to do, what I was supposed to say, how to act, but I was just faking it. I was that guy who could walk up and be the center of attention and make everybody laugh, and I didn’t know how to be all about God and still do that.”

Here is a clip that includes Way challenging the group at Southern Nazarene University.

Injuries provided an opportunity for Matt Barkley to get some time as the Bears QB this season

Matt Barkley QB Chicago Bears

Matt Barkley is in his 4th season in the NFL. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles as their 3rd string QB for his first 2 seasons (amounting to 4 appearances and 50 pass attempts – 0 TDs 4 INT). He was traded to Arizona and stayed on their roster for a full season, but did not appear in a game. He signed with the Bears before this season started and when injuries took out the 2 quarterbacks ahead of him, he was thrust into action. He played in 6 games, starting 5. He threw for 8 TDs and caught another one on a trick play. The Bears underachieved this season so it will be interesting to keep a watch on the changes they make this off season.

Barkley is also outspoken about his faith in God. Even in high school, he talked about the importance of Jesus in his life. Check out the I am second video he did while he was QB at USC.

Barkley speaks candidly about the disarray that USC was going through when he was there. They had been sanctioned for policy violations, their coach left and went to the NFL. People wondered why he stayed there. But in the midst of all he was going through, he has seen the importance of prayer.

Lions RB Zach Zenner scores his first career TD.

Zach Zenner – RB Detroit Lions

It is easy to come across stories of NHL players from the Twin Cities of Minnesota where I live. This is after all the self proclaimed “State of Hockey”. Stories of locals who play in the NFL are more rare, but there are a few. In fact, I’ve blogged about local boys James Laurinitis, and Matt Birk. Add Zach Zenner to that list now, too. Zenner is from Eagan, MN. He played college ball at the South Dakota State where he ran himself into the Jackrabbits record books. You can read about his accomplishments in this article from Life 96.5’s web site. His coach said about him “Zach walks hand-in-hand with the Lord, not saying he is Zach’s lead blocker, but Zach’s relationship he has with his Savior and how he shares it, makes him so important to the FCA here on campus.” Also in that article there are some sound bytes where Zenner talks about how he came to a relationship with God and the role it plays for him now. And while the Lions are rivals of the hometown Vikings, I hope that Zenner and the Lions have a successful run in the playoffs this year. He is pretty easy to cheer for.

Quintin Demps – DB – Houston Texans

I enjoy writing this blog. It is a chance for me to be encouraged in these stories as I see God at work in amazing ways and in difficult circumstances. It also allows me to reflect on whatever it is that is going on in my life and see what God is teaching me through both my life and the articles that I am sharing. For Quintin Demps, when it comes time to process what is happening in his life, he often turns to writing lyrics. In fact, his interest in music has grown beyond simple a means of processing. As you can read in this Christian Post article he has founded his own record label and hopes to offer music that shows another side to life – A life that is centered on living for God and following His purposes. Read more in this Q&A session.

Here is Demps sharing his testimony at Piedmont Church

And how is his music? I found this song of his and I think it is amazing. Check it out for yourself:

Quintin Demps celebrates a defensive TD

My takeaways from these stories:

1- No Struggle No Progress – I really find this to be an honest representation of the battle we all go through in this life. We follow God and expect things to go smooth. When they don’t , when we stumble we look for someone to blame and more often than not, that blame falls to God. What I really appreciate about this song is the authenticity of the search, and the hope that comes when that search reveals that Christ is real and has held true to the promise that He will not leave us to figure things out on our own. And the more we go through, the more we realize that we need to depend on Him alone, the closer we get and the stronger our faith becomes. No struggle No progress? I get it! This is my story too.

2- Set yourself up for success – We all have our own path from God that we need to follow and as we do, we will see many times when we feel alone, but God is with us, and He also often allows us to have others around us that are going through similar life struggles that can encourage us or that we can encourage. Zenner, Demps and Way all shared the important role that FCA and bible studies played in their life. Not that going to FCA, or Bible study or church saves you – it is only believing that Jesus died and rose again for you because you needed Him to – that is the only thing that saves you. But surrounding ourselves with others that are on a journey to the same destination seems like a better choice than trying to go it alone.

3- Recognize your Blessings – In each of these stories, the players are motivated to persevere through hard times, cuts, releases, trades, waives. They all know that all they have in their NFL career is because God has opened doors for them and guided their steps. That recognition makes it easier for them to point to Him as their provider and motivation for life. What blessings are evident in your life? What struggle or hardship resulted in these blessings being part of your life? Where do blessings come from? How can you share them with others so they see the amazing God you serve and the perfect plan He has for you?

TBT Three Pack- Alexander (Seahawks), Garrard (Jaguars) and Wisniewski (Raiders) –

Throwback Three Pack – Shawn Alexander, David Garrard and Steve Wisniewski share some words of challenge and encouragement as they live on purpose for God’s purposes.

It is the last week of the football season, and if you’ve been keeping score, you will know that there are still 7 teams that i have not yet featured in blog posts this season. So for my final Throwback Thursday post, I will share stories of former players from 3 of those teams. Then on Monday, I will give quick glances at stories of current players from the final 4 teams.

To start things off, I will draw your attention to the story of former Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. He played for 8 seasons with the Seahawks after they made him the 19th overall pick in the 2000 draft. Twice he led the NFL in rushing TDs, in 2005 he lead the NFL with 1,880 rushing yards. This earned him the league MVP award. He was named to 3 Pro Bowls and 2 All-Pro teams. He finished his career with the Washington Redskins. He has been very outspoken about his faith in God over the years. Check out this video from CBN.

My takeaway from Alexander’s story:
1- Know your opponent – Alexander talks about studying the opponent and getting an advantage over them because of it. This was modeled for him by a defensive teammate. Alexander took the idea to heart and learned everything he could about his opponent, knowing that it would help him defeat the adversary. The Bible teaches us the same lesson. There are lots of things that we can learn about Jesus and about how all He did to show God’s love to all mankind. One of the things that he models over and over, that doesn’t get a lot of attention is how He handled attacks from the enemy, Satan. We see in Matthew 4, Satan comes to tempt Jesus in several different ways – offering him necessities, power and fame. At each challenge, Jesus counters with scripture and doesn’t give in. Jesus later (John 8) gives us insight into the devil’s tricks calling him a liar and the father of lies. And throughout the letters and the rest of the Bible, we read strategies for us to stand against the enemy: Putting on the Armor of God (Ephesians 6); drawing near to God and resisting Satan (James 4);  Learning scriptures (Psalm 119.11). Satan is real, but we need not be afraid. God has been victorious over Satan, and gives us insight to the tricks he will come at us with, and how to resist those temptations. Study the Bible. Ask God to show you the lies of the enemy and draw near to Him.

Next up is David Garrard, former quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars

Garrard was drafted in the 4th round of the 2002 draft. He would start a few games here and there as an injury replacement, but mostly spent his time as a backup behind Mark Brunell and then Byron Leftwich. Adding to the challenges of making it as and NFL quarterback, Garrard was diagnosed in Crohn’s Disease in 2004. The diagnosis was met with surgery to remove a portion of his intestines.  Check out the story of his career shared also with CBN as he shares about the search to fill the void in his life without God and his battle with Crohn’s Disease.

Garrard would be the starter in Jacksonville for 5 seasons.  He made an appearance in the Pro Bowl in 2009.

Here is my takeaway from Garrard’s story:

No Longer Needed – Garrard had been in place as the starter for 5 seasons in Jacksonville. in 2010He had just put up one of his better years statistically. But the Jaguars had drafted a quarterback in the first round and that normally means they will be the new starter and sooner rather than later. For Garrard, the arrival of Blaine Gabbert meant the end of the run in Jacksonville for him. He tells the story in the video of being announced at a team luncheon and then, 2 hours later, being told that he had been cut. It is a hard thing to deal with when you are replaced. It doesn’t matter if it is in a job, in a relationship, in the celebrity news cycle, when that moment comes, there is an emptiness that can derail people. For Garrard, he said “How can you just throw me away? It really did feel like that. Like I said, if I didn’t have the Lord, it would have been rock bottom. That’s rock bottom for a lot of people. But I knew there was more for me.” Again in this story, we see the fallacy of living for other people – to do their bidding or to earn their approval. Garrard also talked about something he imagined his mom saying when he was filling empty and without purpose. He said “‘Well, Mom I’m trying to live for you, and trying to be a good person for you.’ And I started hearing her voice saying, ‘Don’t live for me, live for Jesus. Live for Jesus, because He is the Way.’”

That thought carried him through this cut and no doubt continues to sustain him in his post-football career. When we strive to win people over and live for them to fulfill us and give us purpose, we will often come up empty. Giving that much power to flawed sinners like us will always leave you empty. But God doesn’t leave us empty. He promises in Hebrews 13.5 to never leave or forsake us. He is not looking to move on the the next new believer that can come and take our place. He has a distinct purpose for each of us, and repeatedly offers us the chance to follow that purpose. Let’s live for Him alone and follow that purpose as it leads to a full and complete life.

And finally for today, former Raiders Offensive Lineman Steve Wisniewski. I am excited to share this story partially because I wrote a post about his nephew Stefan  who also played for the Raiders a couple years back. Drafted in the second round of the 1989 draft, “The Wiz” played 13 seasons for the Raiders franchise, moving with them from L.A. to Oakland in 1995. During his tenure with the Raiders, Wisniewski was named to 8 Pro Bowls. He was an 8 time All Pro and was named the the 1990’s All-Decade Team. He has recently released a book called Hand on the Line. Here he is talking about his book and the purpose he sees for his life after football.

 

In the video we hear Wisniewski talk about getting hit by a car when he was 3 years old and how he broke both legs  and grew up walking with a limp. Part of his story is how God helped him overcome this to be a star in the NFL.

Here are my takeaways from Wisniewski’s story.

Seeing, not knowing – He talks about getting recognized out in public when he was playing for the raiders. People would see him and talk to him, they knew about him but they didn’t really know him as a person at all. I agree with what he said about how there are some people like this in our churches today. People who know about God, know what the religion of Christianity believes but have no relationship with God. In Matthew 7, Jesus says “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ 23 Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’” He isn’t talking to those who wanted nothing to do with Him, He was talking to the people who thought they were doing the right thing. But they missed the relationship. 

Lean on each other – In Mark 6, Jesus sends out the disciples in groups of 2. This falls under the category of stuff that I know but have never thought about before. Why did he send them out in pairs? Wisniewski suggests that it was  because we need each other to lean on for strength and encouragement in this life truly lived for Him. Who are your partners in God’s work? How can you encourage someone in following God’s purposes today?

TBT – Finding Your Faith – Justin Tuck – DL – New York Giants

Former Giants D Lineman Justin Tuck

Role models are an important part of growing up. Working with kids as I do, I see it often. The kids will be playing some kind of football game, one will score a touchdown, smile big and dab like Cam Newton. I smile at their efforts, but I also remember similar things that I would do to mimic my heroes. When I would play floor hockey, I would tuck my shirt in on one side like Wayne Gretzky used to do. I would hold up 2 fingers to let teammates know there were 2 outs when I played baseball – like I’d seen countless baseball players do. I don’t think my teammates paid much attention to me, but I felt I was doing my part to inform the team. And my batting stance would change frequently as I tried to copy whoever’s unique stance had caught my eye most recently. And I don’t believe that I am alone. I think that we are all inclined to copy others and strive to be like them.

Tuck is a 2-time Super Bowl Champion

So it makes sense that we can notice similarities in the realm of faith. Growing up in a church-going family, it was easy to take some cues from my parents on how to live a Christian life. Sunday mornings were never a question, we would get up and get ready for church. Supper would not start until we had prayed to thank God for our meal, and for many years, after supper meant time for family devotions. But as I got older, I kept trying to copy them. The piece that I missed out on was building my own relationship with God. It would be years later, after struggling to find purpose for my life, that I learned that the missing piece was making Jesus the Lord of MY life.

Former Giants Defensive Lineman Justin Tuck and I have that in common. Tuck was a 3rd round pick out of Notre Dame in 2005. He played in almost 150 career games in his career.  He was a 2 time Pro Bowl participant, a 2 time All-Pro, and a 2 time Super Bowl Champion. In fact, many thought he should have been the MVP of both Super Bowls for his outstanding defensive play against the Patriots (2 sacks in each game, 1 forced fumble, and the pressure that lead to a safety). Check out this video from “Beyond the Ultimate”

He says “But personally, I didn’t find my relationship with God to be strong until after I left home to go to the University of Notre Dame. I was so accustomed to going to church just because my father and all my family members went to church. But when I got out of my home and learned more about faith for myself, that’s when my relationship with Christ changed and became stronger.”

Tuck is very outspoken about his faith in God. He says pleasing God is more important than pleasing others.

Another thing he talks about is having a good support network to help you battle against temptation. He says (Beyond the Ultimate article) “I’ve always had people to lean on for advice and support, which has helped me keep walking the right way. Temptations are great, but I’ve found that when you have support, it’s easier to make good choices.” Choosing to follow God and make Him top priority doesn’t make life easy. In fact, there are some ways that life becomes so much more challenging, especially if you take a position of leadership. He is very open and outspoken about his faith. He says in this article from Gospel Light Minute “Live your life the way that you know you’re supposed to, which is living for God. Don’t worry about what people might say or think…You’re not going to make everyone happy so you might as well do what you know is right.” Tuck talks about being in front of teammates, leading a team Bible study. He talks about the importance of studying the Bible and having something helpful to say. I have been learning that the best things to use for teaching others is what God has been teaching you. It is important though to put in the effort to letting God teach you from His Word first.

Here are my takeaways from Tuck’s story

Tuck was a standout in the 2 SuperBowls he has played in. He wants to stand out for God on the field and off

1- Finding Your Faith – This was a lesson that learned in my life. My parents faith was not enough to save me. I needed to meet Him for myself and spend time getting to know Him. I now try to encourage the youth that I work with to do the same. I would love to choose to follow God for them, and for my own kids too. But the best that I can do is model an authentic faith for them to see, give them opportunities to encounter God on their own and pray that they choose on their own to follow Him with their lives. I love to tell them the stories of the Bible and share with them what God has been teaching me. I have seen them take interest in the things of God. I even had the joy of putting together a  coloring book/poem with my oldest daughter talking about the true meaning of Christmas. Click here for more info.

2- The Choice is Yours but a Good Network Helps – Tuck talks about his family and about teammates that have helped encourage Tuck in his Christian walk and his battles against temptation.  We have to choose for ourself to follow God, but He does give us other people to encourage us, to teach us, to call us out when we are straying from God and to lovingly go through this life with us. Who is your network? Are the people you turn to for advice people who are on the same journey as you?

3- Who should we Mimic – I started this post talking about the people I used to copy. The problem with mimicking people is that they often turn out to be flawed humans. Looking to them and copying them can lead to troubles because they are not perfect people or perfect examples. There is only one example that is  truly worth emulating. That is Jesus. Over and over again we read in the Bible the invitation to be like Jesus. The best way to know the example He set is to read and study His Word. He did some remarkable and radical things. He calls us to a radical life. Let’s set our eyes on Him and choose Him each and every day.