How does the World see you – Peter Budaj – Montreal Canadiens

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Habs Goalie – Peter Budaj

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Budaj’s mask featuring Ned Flanders

With the Olympics done and the NHL set to return to the hockey spotlight, I will try to tie to two together with this story of Peter Budaj and his eye-catching mask.  It started off innocently enough.  He was new to the NHL.   He was a back-up goalie for the Colorado Avalanche and was making the important decision of what artwork he would put on his mask.  An equipment manager for the Avalanche, who may not have had the best understanding of what true faith in God looks like, went to the best reference that he could think of.  He suggested Ned Flanders – the do-good, devout Christian neighbor of the Simpsons on the popular tv cartoon.  While Flanders may be a caricature of how the world views Christians, the point is not to be missed.  Even early in his career, Budaj had made his faith known enough that teammates and those associated with the team knew that it was an important part of who he is.

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Budaj was on Team Slovakia in 2014 – his 3rd Olympics

And though Budaj is not a fan of the Simpsons – according to this article from Living Light News, he has only seen about 15 minutes total of the show in his life.

Budaj, a three time Olympian for Slovakia – and the first Slovak goalie to reach 100 career wins was raised in a Christian home.  His dad told Peter just before he left to play hockey in Ontario, Canada at the age of 16 the decision was his – would he like to have a relationship with God or not.  Peter chose to hold tight to his faith and it has helped guide his life and career to this point.  He knows he has not lived a perfect life.  Like all of us, he slips up, but he also sees many opportunities to represent God and to help others know Him, too.  And how does he want to represent Christ?  He hopes that people will stop seeing God as a big bad God looking to strike people down, but instead to focus on God’s love and forgiveness, available to all.

Here are my takeaways from Budaj’s story.

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Budaj and Canadiens Teammate/Fellow Olympian Carey Price

1- Live out Loud – Steven Curtis Chapman sings a song by that name, and the point of it is that people should know us by our actions, by the love we have for each other.  Budaj’s actions spoke loud enough that those around him identified him as a Christian and even in an endearing way. We read in the article that he desires to represent God in a realistic and true way.  God is not the mean evil God looking to punish us the moment we stray.  He is a loving God who wants to know us and show his love for us.    How obvious is our faith to those around us?  Are we living out loud for God?  Do we represent God in such a way that those who do not know Him would be drawn to Him?

2- Our Own Choice – In the article, we read that Budaj’s dad challenged him to make his choice to follow God or not.  He was about to enter a world where depending heavily on faith in God would be important to avoid the trappings that come from success, celebrity, money and the world in general.  So when we read later that Budaj is careful in how he is raising his own son, striving to be a Christlike example so Peter Jr. will also be drawn to follow Christ.

We would love to be able to make the choice for our kids or others in this life that we love.  We can’t.  But the way we are living can help others discover who the true God really is.  That is a challenge worth taking on.

Sochi Special Part 2 – Anne Schleper & Gigi Marvin – U.S. Women’s hockey

sochiIn Canada, while we absolutely celebrate any medal that the Olympians bring home, our national identity lies on the hockey rink.  I do enjoy hockey, and of course would love a Canadian hockey gold medal sweep, but I am even more excited to share with you the story of two of the U.S. women’s hockey players.  Not only are they Christ followers, but both are from my current home state of Minnesota and are former members of the University of Minnesota’s excellent hockey program.  So with the excitement of a “hometown” story, check out the video testimonies of these 2 Olympians.

 

First, Anne Schleper via Beyond the Ultimate

And now Gigi Marvin also via Beyond the Ultimate

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Gigi Marvin

Here are the challenges that I take from their stories

1- Put on Christ – Marvin talks about putting on the USA jersey and being part of the team.  And that the name on the back of her shirt is not the important thing but the team she represents and identifies with.  Paul wrote in Galatians 3 that those who are baptized in Christ (acknowledge Him as Lord) “put on Christ” or “clothe yourself with Christ”   No matter what we have done and how imperfect and sinful we are,  when we are forgiven of our sin it is like we put on His perfection.  He covers our sins through his death and resurrection,  and we are made perfect, not through anything that we have done other than acknowledging our own sinfulness and accepting Him as our Savior.

2-Give 100% to the one that gave 100% for you – Schleper makes the comment in her video about giving 100% for the One that gave 100% for you.  What is it that we are striving for in this life?  What are the goals that we have?  Where are we putting our effort and our energy.  Our one goal and purpose is to keep Christ as the most important part of our life.  Our striving should be only to follow His will, wherever it takes us.  If we have chosen to live for Christ, and we consider what He did to make a way for us to be with Him at all, then we really have no other choice than to give our all, our 100% to serve Him in all we do and to make everything in our lives acts of worship to God.  What a challenge for us!  My prayer for myself is that I would put my all into serving Him!

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Anne Schleper

3 – Audience of One – In a related thought, the only thing, then that we would need to be concerned with is living to honor God.  The Olympics come with a certain amount of scrutiny.  Some Olympians (U.S. women’s hockey team for example) are expected to win a medal, and anything less than a gold would be deemed a failure by some.  We can drive ourselves insane trying to live up to the expectations of others.  We can kill ourselves trying to please others, and our failures can lead to their disappointment and in some cases vicious attacks.  But if we understand that our soul purpose is to live for Christ and that His idea of success tends to be different than the worlds.  He is all about bring us closer to Him – even if, as we hear in the Schleper video, He needs to grab our attention through hard things – like injuries.  He ultimately wants to draw us closer to Him, we ultimately need to learn that anything we do gives us an opportunity to honor Him.

I am greatly challenged by these stories and these thoughts that God brought to my mind through them.  May we all strive to honor God above everything else.

 

The Hero of a Nation and the Biggest day of His Life – Paul Henderson – Team Canada 1972

I live in the USA.  When I talk to people here about big goals, important moments in the world of hockey, the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team’s win over the Soviet Union comes immediately to mind.  And it should.  It was a great moment for US hockey and Al Michael’s “Do you believe in miracles?” call is one of the most well known in sports.  But growing up in Canada, that moment pales in comparison to another one that occurred almost 8 years earlier.

It was the final game of an epic 8 game series between Canada’s best (plus 1 American and 1 Czechoslovakian) against the best in the USSR.  USSR started off well, finishing the first 4 games of the series (all played in Canada) with 2 wins and a tie.  Canada had to go to Moscow and win 3 of the 4 games to win the series.  Then they lost the first game in Moscow.  That meant they needed to win all 3 remaining games to win the series.

Let me introduce to you Paul Henderson.  I heard him speak at my church years ago, but being too young to have experienced the Summit Series, I didn’t really know the whole Henderson story.  A talented winger, Henderson had spent a decade in the NHL.  He had scored 20 or more goals in a season 6 times and gone over 30 twice.  He joined Team Canada for the Summit series and as it would turn out, would become a house hold name from coast to coast with what would transpire.

In game 6, Canada scored 3 goals in less than 90 seconds.  The third, scored by Henderson, turned out to be the winning goal.  Game 7 came and Henderson scored with just over 2 minutes left in the game to break the tie and send Canada to a 4-3 win.  That set the stage for the 8th and final game.  Each team had won 3 and there was 1 tie.  The winner of game 8 would win the series.   The first period ended 2-2,  the USSR scored 3 times with Canada only managing 1 so with 20 minutes left, USSR led 5-3.

Canada got an early goal in the 3rd period, and tied it up with just over 7 minutes to play.  The stage was set for a dramatic finish and it was delivered, again, by Paul Henderson.  Here is the final scene, as it was called by Foster Hewitt.

For those of you keeping score at home,  that is 3 game winning goals in a row in the games that decide the series.  If anyone in hockey-crazy Canada didn’t know who Paul Henderson was before this series – the knew him now.

But something that I have really come to understand from looking into the stories of pro athletes.  The success that they have never fulfills them.  As you can read in this post on Heaven4sure.com, Henderson, despite the success and fame he had as a result of the Summit Series, still felt empty, angry and bitter.  Life was still hard, and his best coping strategy was drinking and partying.

Then came the knock on his door.  It was Mel Stevens, a friend and mentor of Henderson’s that wanted to invite him to help out at a Christian Hockey camp.  That started 2 years of Bible reading, question asking, soul searching time for Henderson that led him, on March 12, 1975 to choose to live his life to honor God.  To this day, Henderson calls that day the most memorable and best day of his life!

Henderson’s hockey career ended in 1981, and from that point on, he has been active in sharing his faith as a motivational speaker, hockey instructor and minister.  You can read his testimony in his own words in this article from Power to Change.  And while he is now battling for his life with cancer, he has peace, in knowing that he is heaven-bound when this life is over.  And as you can read from most articles you can find about him, he wants as many people to be there with him as can be.  Check out his reflection on life and on “the goal” in this article by sportsnet.ca

How many times do we need to hear how the things of this world are unsatisfying and that God is the ONLY thing that satisfies.  May our hearts beat only to attain that which God calls us to.  Let’s not to be distracted by the temptations of this world.  Let’s boldly follow Him, and invite others to do so too.

James Reimer – Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs Goaltender James Reimer

I am on vacation in Canada this week, and so, as a tribute to my Home and Native Land, I am going to share the story of the guy who has one of the most pressure filled jobs in all of sports – Starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are neck and neck for being the team with the combination of craziest fans and tightest media coverage and scrutiny of any of the pro sports.  They have the fans that are the most excited when teams are doing well and most vocal (as in booing) of teams that are doing poorly.  They also have the tightest, most intense media coverage anywhere, and what I believe gives the Maple Leafs the edge at being the most intense place to play is that they have gone longer without a championship – it has been 45 years since they last hoisted the Stanley Cup.

So how do you deal with all that pressure?  James Reimer (aka Optimus Reim)- the current Maple Leafe #1 goalie, leans on his relationship with God.  As you can read in this article from christianweek.org, Reimer chose to follow God at a young age and even in hard times, his faith helped him persevere.  And his rise to fame with the Maple Leafs is an amazing story, too.  Read about it in this article from Chill Magazine.  There is also a great article to check out from thestar.com

Reimer makes a great save

 

I’ve written on this blog about finding a way to express your faith in little ways.  Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays and Matt LaPorta of the Cleveland Indians use Christian music as their walk up songs, Colin Kaepernick shares how his tattoos reflect his faith in God. Reimer has chosen to use his goalie mask to represent his faith in God.  As you can see in the picture below, he has an image of Jesus helping Peter out of the water after Peter had been walking on water and began to sink.

The image from the back of one of Reimer's goalie masks.

Why that image?  Because, as Reimer says,

“It’s my story, in a modern way.  When Peter lost focus on Jesus, things began to go badly for him, but when he focused on the Lord and was confident in his faith then he had the ability to do anything. When Jesus walked on water and asked why did you doubt me, that’s how I feel sometimes. There were a lot of people who did not believe I would ever make it to the NHL but my faith carried me through.”

We can all tend to allow doubt to make us hesitant to act, but like Peter, when we step out in faith into something that seems challenging, unlikely or even impossible, we are amazingly met by the God who can do the impossible.

Christians in the NHL Playoffs – Michael Rupp – New York Rangers

Michael Rupp - New York Rangers

I am not a Rangers fan, but as I search for articles about hockey players to write about, the Rangers keep on surfacing, and so, here we go again.  So far the Devils/Rangers series has been pretty closely contested.  The teams seem to play close game against each other, and it would surprise no one if the series went 7 games.  If it does, one player in particular will have been there before.  In fact,  He has played in 2 game sevens this year, and 6 overall in his career.  Truth be told, the first playoff goal that he ever scored in the NHL was the game-winning goal in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2003.  Michael Rupp is the first player in NHL history to have his first ever playoff goal be the cup-clinching goal.  It was a great moment!

Check out the goal below! and read about game 7 as posted by ESPN here

Michael Rupp as Cup Champion - 2003

Talk about living every kid’s dream (or at least kids that dream about hockey) game 7, game winning goal – the only thing that would make it more dramatic is if it was in OT. The Devils won this game 3-0 with Rupp scoring the first goal, and assisting on the other 2.  What a way to cap a rookie season.  And when you make it all the way to the cup-hoisting ceremony as a rookie, there is a temptation to believe that you will be back often if not every year but as you can read in this article from cleveland.com, it doesn’t take long to realize that that isn’t the case.  Now, half way through round 3, against the Devils,  the team that drafted him and the team with which he won the cup 9 years ago,  the Rangers are closing in on the team’s first final since 1994 and Rupp’s first trip to the finals since that championship night in 2003.

It hasn’t been a breeze for Rupp, There have been some challenges to his career.  There was some time spent in the minor leagues trying to earn a spot in the NHL, some frustration and thoughts of giving up.  Then there was also a heart condition reached it’s most severe shortly after that Game 7 goal.  This condition would boost his heart rate up to around 300 beats per minute.  With health a concern, and a wife and 2 kids (at the time) to consider, heart surgery was the route taken to deal with this issue.  It was a success. His career was able to continue.  You can read his story as told to CBN at this link.

In this story, we also read about his conversion to Christianity.  His wife, Christi helped answer questions that he had about who God is and led him to Christ while they were still dating.  Like so many others that I have written about, the frustration and disappointment that he faced as he battled to the NHL began to diminish when he decided that God’s plan was trustworthy and keeping God ahead of Hockey on the priority list was necessary.  In this article, some of the things we learn about Rupp resonated with me.

Mike Rupp at 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia - He would star in the game, scoring 2 goals and leading the Rangers to victory

1-  We all reach many points in life when we are ready to quit, to give up.  It is amusing that some think that once you choose to live for Christ, everything is easy.  Quite the opposite is true.  Knowing God and understanding something about how He calls us to live well, that is very hard.  In fact, it is impossible to live up to those standards, that’s why we need a savior.  It seems pretty obvious, and is a common theme among many – in the sports world or not.  We all have our ideas of how everything should go.  We all have these notions of how we want God to work.  And we all have experiences when these simply are not the reality we live in.  The onus is on us to stop trying to live for ourselves or to please others, and live in a way that honors God.

2- Do not take opportunities for granted.  Rupp started his career with a victorious trip to the Stanley Cup finals.  He talks about how then it is easy for the expectation to be  to go every year.  But now, 9 years later, he still hasn’t been back (although the Rangers are just 2 wins away from the cup final).  This made me think of how hesitant we can be to boldly share about our faith in God with others that do not know Him.  We think that we’ll get more chances and we can let the current ones go by.  But we don’t know how much time we have here – so it is important to make the most out of every opportunity.  Not for our own success or renown, but for God’s glory and for their eternal destiny.  Don’t put off sharing God with others.  They may need to hear it. Make the most out of each experience, as God leads you.  You never know what opportunities will be presented to you.  Rupp was successful on his first trip to a cup finals, but did that leave him satisfied?  No,  he is still anxious and hopeful to return for another chance.  Sharing our faith is like that, too.  It can be intimidating and scary at first, but when we go through it and share what God is doing in our lives, or we help someone understand the difference that he can make in their life, We get excited and look for more opportunities to share about God again.  Rupp is also taking opportunities to share God’s love and faithfulness with others.  He is also an instructor at the Hockey Ministries International hockey camps that happen all around North America.

The Rangers are up 2-1 against the Devils.  2 more wins will give Rupp another trip to the finals.  After 9 years in the NHL, Rupp may get another chance to hoist the cup.  Keep watching to see if he, and the Rangers prevail.  Also, keep watching and listening, and praying that Rupp will have opportunities to reflect God through his play and the platform of NHL.