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.

Fight Night – Manny Pacquiao – Boxer – Philippines

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Pacquiao vs Mayweather – the biggest fight in boxing in years.

Tonight is the biggest night in many years for the sport of boxing.  In today’s sports tapestry that is so strongly focused on health and safety, concussions and injury, boxing is kind of caught in the middle.  But tonight, the sporting world is focused on the boxing ring again, with a battle between Floyd Mayweather, a perfect 47-0 in his career and Manny Pacquiao who has been a title holder at 8 different weights.  And while the boxers have both known great success in the ring, their public personas are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Mayweather has a history of run-ins with the law over domestic abuse and battery.  Pacquiao, on the other hand, is beloved by his native Philippines.  He has been voted into public office as a congressman and serves as a reservist in the Filipino Military.

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Pacquiao is a congressman in his native Philippines

But Pacquiao’s clean public image has not always been his lot.  As you can read in this article from The Guardian,  Pacquiao was a partier.  He was “determined to squeeze as much fun from life as was available to someone who was born into grinding poverty.” But a few years ago things changed.  Despite being raised Catholic – the predominant religion of the Philippines, when his fame and success lifted him from the grips of poverty, it also blurred the lines between godly and being worldly.  But a few years ago, Pacquiao dedicated his life to Jesus and decided to use his platform to share about Christ’s love with others.  He says ”

I love my boxing, but I realize now that is not what my life is all about. I just want to encourage all those who are a Christian, to share their salvation experience to others.”
Check out this interview that Pacquiao did with Matt Crouch of TBN

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Pacquiao’s life has found purpose when he turned it over to Christ

Here are my takeaways from Pacquiao’s story.

1- Go into the World – The great commission given by Jesus to his followers was to go into all the world and make disciples of all people (Matthew 28.16-20).  In Acts 1.8, Jesus sends his disciples to be his witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.  Now Samaria was the place of where the “enemy” lived.  Jews and Samaritans did not get along.  They had a strong dislike for each other, but still Jesus was sending his followers to share His love with their enemies, because He created them and loves them, too.  Boxing is the most mano a mano sport that exists.  It is a battle and it’s goal is to hurt your opponent more than they hurt you.  But Pacquiao sees his mission and understands it.  This following interview talks about how after the fight, he hopes for a chance to talk to Mayweather and “share his faith with him.” Even when talking about his enemy, he sees his mission to share God’s love with his opponent.  Check it out.

Manny Pacquiao

Pacquiao has known success in the ring, will tonight be his top achievement? Win on Lose, count on Manny giving glory to God.

2- Only God Satisfies–  What I heard in the above interview is Manny Pacquiao’s story has some similarities to what Paul wrote in Philippians 4.12.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Pair that thought together with Paul’s words from a chapter earlier (Phil 3. 7-.8) Paul writes “ But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ“.

Manny has known poverty that I will likely never know, and he has also known riches that I will likely never know.  But he talks about the emptiness that he felt in his life.  That is something that we all know if we have lived life without Christ.  He is all that satisfies.  He is our purpose and our passion.  He has given us the task of sharing His love with the world.  He has given us our story and our platform to share Him with others.  It is our choice to obey or not.  Pacquiao has chosen to share his faith in God every chance he gets.  I pray for courage and boldness to do the same.

 

A World of Faith – Faith in God at the World Cup – Team U.S.A.

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U.S. Captain Clint Dempsey

imgresWhile I am not an American citizen, I am a green card holding resident and as such, I am hoping for a great showing for the Yanks at the World Cup in Brazil.  It brings me great joy to share the stories of a few members of the USNMT and their faith in God.

Here we go:

Clint Dempsey:

You can read in this feature on him by Sports Spectrum Magazine that Dempsey has lived a life affected by tragedy.  At the age of 12, his older sister (aged 16) died of a brain aneurysm.  In college two of his teammates were involved in a car accident – one killed and the other would never play soccer again.  But through all that he has faced, his faith in God – instilled in him by his grand-mother, has become very important to Him.  This article from Christiantoday.com talks about the role that faith plays in his life even now on the biggest soccer stage in the world

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U.S. Goal Keeper Tim Howard

Like Dempsey (and all of us, too), Tim Howard has also faced some challenges in this life.  As you can read in this article from Athletes in Action, his parents divorced when he was 3.  At the age of 12 he was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome.  And also like Dempsey, his faith in God was greatly influenced by his grandmother.  Now he enjoys using soccer as a platform to share his faith with others, encouraging them to trust God, no matter what their struggles are, and to understand that winning, losing, playing time – all those things are pretty insignificant compared to knowing God!

Here is a video of him talking about his faith

 

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U.S. Goal Keeper Brad Guzan

Beyond the Ultimate did this feature on US Goal Keeper Brad Guzan.  In it we learn about Guzan’s faith that his parents instilled in him at an early age, and how it has helped guide his life since that young age.  He knows that God has been with him all along.  In the article, Guzan gives a great reminder that “when things are going well – great – I give praise to Him; and when things are not going well, I ask for His guidance and His help to keep me going in the right path.” He goes on to say that he knows that soccer and all it has provided for him can be taken away in the blink of an eye and that following God is all that really matters.  Check out the video below.

 

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U.S. midfielder turned defender DaMarcus Beasley

DaMarcus Beasley :

I also want to draw your attention to Beasley.  U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann asked him to change position from mid-fielder to left back (defender). This is a pretty drastic change.  He had been one of the top scoring threats for U.S. for a decade,  but with the change Beasley said

“the goal was now to stop strikers from doing to him what he’d been trying to do to others for so long“.

He had been one of the U.S.’ top scoring threats for the past decade and now, his focus would be on defending his own end.  He agreed and finds himself playing in his 4th World Cup.  When asked why he made this big change without hesitation of complaint when, he said

Even if I thought things were not going the way they were supposed to go, I have always had faith that God would open that next door for me to walk through. A lot of what I do is based on the grounding I have with faith. 

There is a lot to learn from the example of these men.  Depend on God in hard times.  Trust Him at all times.  Be willing to follow where He leads and understand He is more important than anything else.

 

World Cup Special – David Luiz – Brazil

imgresThe World Cup kicks off tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  And while soccer is not a huge blip on the radar of most North American sports fans, it is the most popular sport in the rest of the world.  And much like the Olympics showcases the best of hockey around the world, the World Cup puts on display the best soccer players in the world playing the best soccer one can see.

Some of the star footballers that will be playing are using their celebrity and the world wide attention that the World Cup brings to shine a light on the problem of sexually exploited children.  Check of the video from itsapenalty.com.

Sexual exploitation and human trafficking are big problems, everyday, worldwide.  My wife has become an activist against human trafficking and is working to raise awareness of the issue so those caught up in this terrible world can get the help they need.  Check out what she has going on at Stories Cafe.

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David Luiz praying for his Chelsea teammate.

luizFor the purposes of this blog, I also want to share a little about Brazilian defender David Luiz.

He first appeared for Brazil in 2007, and went on to captain them in 2012.  He has been playing in Europe since 2007 – most recently with Chelsea in the Premier League.  He is a fan favorite in Chelsea and can often be seen sporting his “God is Faithful” t-shirt under his jersey.

Luiz is very outspoken about his faith in God.  As you can read in this post on Sports Almighty, He likes to talk about football but enjoys talking about his relationship with God as well.

Over the coming weeks, as the World Cup is played out, I will feature a few more soccer/futbol players from around the world and high light their faith in God as well.

Enjoy the great soccer to come and keep checking back for more stories of the Christians at the World Cup.

 

Sochi Special – Kelly Clark – U.S.A. Snowboard half-pipe

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3 time Olympian and 2 time medalist Kelly Clark

sochiI love the Olympics – summer or winter – doesn’t matter.  Every 2 years, I again get to enjoy the spectacle of many of the best athletes in the world coming together and showcasing their talents.  I was born just as an Olympiad was starting, and I wonder if that contributes to my enjoyment of each Games.  So with my fondness for Olympics and with this medium to put my thoughts and share stories with you, I will be taking the next couple of weeks to share the stories of some of the athletes who will compete representing their home countries, but will also compete representing their faith in Christ as well.

Kelly Clark won an Olympic gold medal at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City.  It would be amazing to be an Olympian, more amazing still to do so in your own country and maybe as good as it gets in the sporting world to win a Gold medal in your own country.  That is part of Clark’s story.  She was on top of the world, and as a snowboarding half-piper, she was actually soaring up in the air above the top of the world.  Here is a video that talks about Clark and her gold medal run.

And yet, despite the fanfare and the congratulations and fame that now surrounded her.  You can read in her story that there was an emptiness that was not filled by her successes.  And it was weighing on her.  She was still competing well, but inside, she was trying to find a purpose to her life.  Then, at a competition, she overheard a comment made to a competitor that did not qualify for the next round.  A supporting friend told this competitor that “God still loves you”.  That comment sat with Clark, to the point where later on, Kelly would go and seek this girl out and ask her about God, and from that start, Clark spend some time getting to know God, reading His word and discovering the meaning to life  that to that point had been eluding her.

Check out this video of Clark sharing her story:

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Her Snowboard reads: Jesus I can not hide my love

She continues to be at a great competitor in the snowboarding world.  She won a bronze in Vancouver in 2010.  She is in Sochi this year, competing again and ready to do her best and share her purpose with others.

Here are my takeaways from Kelly’s story

1- You never know who’s listening, so be ready – Kelly was not having a conversation with this Christian on the slopes, but the words that were spoken stirred in her heart a yearning desire to know God.   There is a challenge in this to not shy away from speaking about God and sharing His love wherever you go.  Deuteronomy 6, in talking about God’s commands, tells us…

6 Take to heart these words that I give you today.7 Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re at home or away, when you lie down or get up. 8 Write them down, and tie them around your wrist, and wear them as headbands as a reminder. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

We are to let what God has done in our lives be evident in our thoughts, words and actions.  And how cool is it that a passing remark made to encourage one who needed it, would go to encourage another who needed it that wasn’t in on the conversation in the first place.

2- Never stop seeking God! – Clark heard those words about God’s love and it stirred her heart to take action.  She sought out this God whose love was so expansive and continued to search for answers until she was convinced that God was the answer she had been looking for.  Do we search with that same intensity once we know God or do we settle in to complacency and laziness settling on the God we think we know and losing the awe that drew us to Him in the first place.  I know that I am challenged to continue to be fervent in my desire to know God more.  He is faithful and will continue to reveal himself to us as we seek Him  Jeremiah 29.13 tells us that when we seek God we will find Him when we seek Him with our whole heart.  Nothing halfway.  He persistently pursues us to show us His love.  Let’s keep seeking Him so we can experience that love and be equipped to share it with others.