Monday, January 31, 2011

No Pain, No Gain

Chris Byrd is a former Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Although he lives in Las Vegas, NV, aka “Sin City,” he doesn’t allow the sinfulness of his city to consume him.

He says, “For me, I put Christ first. I still do the same things I’ve always done. I stay home when I’m training so I can be in church and not in some secluded place. I want to live my life like I live every day. I’m a boring guy. I don’t do anything. I don’t know what happens in Vegas. I don’t know anything about this city.”

Boxers are among the most disciplined athletes, and Byrd is certainly no exception. Even though he lives in Vegas, he has somehow managed to shield himself from the worldly distractions. His ability to stay focused has been a work in progress that dates back to his early days growing up in Flint, Michigan.

Byrd’s parents are part of his boxing team. His father is his trainer, and his mother is often seen in his corner on fight night. He began amateur boxing at the age of 10, and by the age of 23 he had racked up 275 amateur wins and had claimed three US amateur titles. As a middleweight, he won the silver medal a the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and won the gold medal at the 1992 Canada Cup.

Everything seemed perfect in his life at that time. He was married to his high-school sweetheart, and was a proud father. But the one key ingredient that he lacked was a relationship with God. When his wife began taking their daughter to church, Byrd began to take notice. Then, when his wife later gave her heart to Christ, his interest was really piqued – although not necessarily in a positive way.

He says, “She got saved and I was like, ‘Wow, what’s that? I’m not going in that direction because I don’t want to be like that.’ My brother and sister-in-law had gotten saved five years earlier, and I thought they were strange, so I didn’t want to be like that.”

As his wife and daughter continued their spiritual walk, Byrd quickly started to feel left out. Finally, he started to tag along with them and eventually had a miraculous change of heart. He says, “I went a few weeks and really wasn’t listening. But one week I listened, and God just convicted my heart so bad. I truly understood why Christ died for me. I walked that aisle [of the church, to talk with one of the pastors], and someone led me to the Lord.”

By then, Byrd was embarking on his professional boxing career, and he desired to compete in the heavyweight division. He was so convinced that this move was part of God’s plan, the prayed for supernatural intervention. He told the Lord in prayer, “If I can be a heavyweight, I will be a witness for You. I won’t forget about You. It’s going to be all about You.”

God answered his prayer, and in April 2000 he defeated Vitali Klitschko in Berlin, Germany for the WBO title. He lost that title six months later, but in December 2002 he claimed the IBF title by defeating Evander Holyfield.

But the Lord taught him a lesson in humility vs pride in a fight in September 2003. He was battling Fres Oquendo, and although he won the fight by a decision of the judges, it was very controversial. Many people thought he lost the fight. He was embarrassed, humbled, and put into his place. He said he learned the hard truth found in Proverbs 16:18.

Later, he eventually lost his IBF title. But he still found ways to use his platform as a heavyweight boxer to share God’s love with others. Even through his losses, his demeanor and strong moral character made a lasting impression on the fans and the boxing world.

Read Proverbs 16:18 (HCSB)
18 Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.

  • What do you learn from this verse?
  • How would you apply this verse to your life?

Read 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 (HCSB)
25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. 26 Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

  • What does v 26 mean?
  • How do you think purpose works together with discipline?
  • Is it possible for your discipline to ultimately have little meaning? Why do you say so?

Read Romans 6:12-13 (HCSB)
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. 13 And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness.

  • What are some things that challenge your physical discipline?
  • What methods do you use to overcome those challenges?
  • What are some things that challenge your spiritual discipline?

Read Luke 12:48 (HCSB)
48 … Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.

  • What are some things that are required of you as an athlete, and/or in every other area of responsibility that you have?
  • As your level of responsibility increases, how does that impact the decisions you make?

Prayer: “Lord, help me to remember that you have given me the abilities that I have. Help me to be disciplined in every area of my life. And help me to use the platform you have given me to be a witness for you every day of my life.”


Adapted from Excellence: True Champions Pursue Greatness In All Areas Of Life, Chapter 9, “No Pain, No Gain,” produced by Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Monday, January 24, 2011

Going the Distance

Olympic Marathon Runner Ryan Hall grew up in Christian home, but even though his parents did his best to instill godly values into his life, Ryan admits that he was heading the wrong way spiritually. As a teenager while pursuing sports such as baseball, basketball and football, he was involved in a lifestyle that found him in the middle of the cool crowd and an increasingly active party scene.

He says, “We were young, so we weren’t into drinking and drugs, but it was heading that direction. But when I started [long distance] running, my lifestyle changed a lot. I lost a lot of those friends. So I was around a whole different group of people. That put me out of the cool group. I remember just feeling a void at that point and a little bit lonely. Socially I wasn’t fitting in anymore. I was kind of struggling with that. Jesus really became my best friend at that point. When I was feeling that void, I would go to Him for that relationship that I was looking for and that was the real beginning of my walk with Christ – and it’s been growing ever since.”

Hall excelled through the years in long-distance running. He won championships at the high school and college levels. He made the Olympic Team and finished in tenth place in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics, a remarkable accomplishment.

Throughout his career, Hall has found inspiration in a friendship with legendary runner Jim Ryun and his family. He is also a big fan of Scottish Olympian Eric Liddell, whose story was told in the film Chariots of Fire. Some of Hall’s favorite verses are listed below.

Read 2 Chronicles 16:9 (HCSB)
9 For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His. You have been foolish in this matter. Therefore, you will have wars from now on.”

  • When God’s eyes fall on you, what do you think He sees in your heart?
  • How would finding your identity in Christ change your motives for excellence?

Read Philippians 4:12-13 (HCSB)
12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret ⌊of being content⌋—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

  • How does an attitude of contentment give strength to those striving for excellence?
  • How do you think verse 12 relates to the inspirational truth found in verse 13?

Read Leviticus 25:2-4 (HCSB)
2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to the Lord. 3 You may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. 4 But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the Lord: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard.

  • How can this passage in Leviticus apply to both our physical and spiritual training?
  • When did a time of rest allow you to push forward and be successful in competition?

Read Proverbs 24:16 (HCSB)
16 Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin.

  • Hall believes that the key to endurance is not getting emotionally down after making a mistake. How does this passage in Proverbs inspire you to never give up?
  • Describe a time when you stumbled or failed but chose to continue. Where did you find the courage to do so?

Hall says, “Before all of my big races, I like to watch the movie The Passion of the Christ, because that’s the amazing picture of how Christ endured so much for us. I think about His motivation and what it must have been like for Him to endure the type of pain for that long of a time. It makes me feel that what I do isn’t that big of a deal in comparison. I think about His motivation and how He was thinking about other people. Sometimes I can be a very selfish runner, so I try to think about others more when I’m running. That helps me to endure more than I could endure if I was just doing it for myself. So obviously I think about the Lord when I’m out there running. I think about Him taking that cross up to Calvary. I think about other people who I love. I think about my wife when I’m out there running. I think about the kids in Africa who we’re helping through World Vision. Thinking about doing things for others rather than making a selfish endeavor really brings so much more meaning to my running and helps me to endure through those tough times. The Bible says that Christ endured the cross for the joy set before Him. There’s a prize waiting for us at the end that we can fix our eyes on. It will allow us to endure things that we never thought we could possibly go through.”

  • Take a few moments to think about Hall’s words.
  • What do you think about what he says?

Prayer: “Lord, help me to endure. Help me to remember that you are always watching over me. Help me to stay focused on your path for my life, and even when I fall, help me to get back up and continue to walk – even run – with you!”


Adapted from Excellence: True Champions Pursue Greatness In All Areas Of Life, Chapter 8, “Going the Distance,” produced by Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lasting Legacies

NASCAR legend Richard Petty and his son Kyle have been racing cars for decades. And Richard’s father, Lee Petty, was one of the pioneers in the sport.

Richard is know as The King by his colleagues because of his accomplishments on the racetrack. In his 35-year career, he ran 1184 races and claimed a record 200 wins, seven Daytona 500 victories and seven NASCAR Cup titles, a feat that only the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. managed to equal.

Richard’s commitment to excellence is demonstrated by his straightforward and simple philosophy of life. He says, “When you get up in the morning, you ask, ‘Can I do a little better than I did yesterday?’ That’s the challenge of not just staying the same. Can we make our business a little better? Can we help somebody today who we didn’t help yesterday? It’s just life.”

Richard and Kyle Petty are big supporters of Motor Racing Outreach, which provides a weekly chapel service each Sunday morning at the site of each race, plus other chaplaincy ministries throughout the week.

Kyle Petty has wisely taken the advice found in Job 8:8-9.

Read Job 8:8-9 (HCSB)
8 For ask the previous generation, and pay attention to what their fathers discovered, 9 since we were ⌊born only⌋ yesterday and know nothing. Our days on earth are but a shadow.

  • How often do you ask for advice from others?
  • As you strive for excellence, what can you gain by following the admonition found in Job 8:8-9?
  • How has paying attention to the “previous generation” taught you valuable lessons about athletics or life in general?

Read Proverbs 13:22 (HCSB)
22 A good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren, but the sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.

  • What are some examples of “an inheritance” that someone could leave to his or her children and grandchildren?
  • What kind of inheritance or treasure (whether physical or spiritual) do you hope to leave those who follow in your footsteps?

Read Psalm 61:5-8 (HCSB)

5 God, You have heard my vows; You have given a heritage to those who fear Your name. 6 Add days to the king’s life; may his years span many generations.7 May he sit enthroned before God forever; appoint faithful love and truth to guard him. 8 Then I will continually sing of Your name, fulfilling my vows day by day.

  • What does David suggest are some key elements to a godly legacy?
  • What are some of the blessings that accompany that kind of lifestyle?
  • How does having the wrong focus (worrying about what others think of you) hinder your legacy?

PRAYER: “Heavenly Father, thank you for the godly example of friends and family that I have. Help me to pass along that legacy to those who come behind me by my example of faith in Jesus Christ daily.”


Adapted from Excellence: True Champions Pursue Greatness In All Areas Of Life, Chapter 7, “Lasting Legacies,” produced by Fellowship of Christian Athletes