“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” (Eric Liddell in “Chariots of Fire”)

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Stories abound in the press about pro celebrity athletes gone bad.

Stories like a football star implicated in a killing, club shootings, innumerable driving under the influence arrests, spousal abuse cases galore, adultery, and even a team bullying incident so bad, a player walks out on his professional football team.

And these are supposed to be our role models?

To be fair, many players from all teams gather to pray on the field, do charitable works, visit sick children in hospitals and are nice to their moms.

But let’s give credit to some real role models, Christian athletes who don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk and evangelize the Gospel of Christ in their everyday lives.

So, what is it deep inside an athlete that truly makes a mighty man or woman of God?

It is not found in powerful muscles or strong sinew, not in the beefy brawn or the super smart brain, not even in great writing or great speaking or doing great charitable works in and of themselves.

What makes a great man of God can be found in the heart and in the legs of man.

For a man who gives his whole heart to God and runs after Him will find the Almighty lifting him up to a new level of purpose that creates a mighty man of God.

So, why are we talking about sports athletes? Because they are BIG role models, especially among youths.

This column will briefly introduce you to some great men of God. I ran across an interesting website, beliefnet.com, listing several Christian athletes, and I have added my own as well.

Some of Today’s Mighty Men of God in the World of Sports

Let’s start with Clayton Kershaw, the ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers, since he just won the 2013 Cy Young Award as best National League pitcher of the year. 

1.  Clayton Kershaw: If you attend Calvary Chapel South Bay, then you may have heard Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, speak about their charity, Kershaw’s Challenge, and their ongoing mission work in Africa.

Kershaw donated $500 for every one of his 232 strikeouts he threw in 2013 to charity work ($116,000).

Check out his website video for a complete total and an introduction to their great work.

2.  R.A. Dickey: Another of baseball’s Cy Young award winners (2012), Robert Allen Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays has an amazing story to tell as a born-again Christian:  Molested at the age of 8, early failure as a ball player, a suicide attempt. (See the spellbinding video of his testimony as he explains how God prevented his suicide).

His first game in 2001 with the Texas Rangers was a nightmare. He tied a modern league record of giving up the most home runs in a game (6).

It wasn’t until he almost drowned in a river that he completely surrendered his life to God, and from that point on has never looked back.

Today he dedicates off-season time to Bombay Teen Challenge, a group involved with ending human trafficking, and he helps run the Ocala, Florida-based Honoring the Father Ministries which provides medical supplies to the impoverished in Latin America.

You can read more about this role model in his book, “Wherever I Wind Up.”

3.  Eric Liddell (1902-1945): For me, there is no higher example of an athlete running after God and dedicating his whole life to Him than the Flying Scotsman. He 100 percent exemplifies 1 Samuel 2:30 where the Lord says, “…Those who honor me I will honor…”

This Olympic runner is immortalized in the superb true-life movie “Chariots of Fire,” and his heart for God is legendary. And he literally ran after Him, giving up the chance to win a 1924 gold medal in his best race, the 100-meter, because it meant racing on a Sunday.

There is a quote in the film that cements Liddell’s relationship with God when he says, “… I believe God made me for a purpose … He also made me fast. When I run I can feel His pleasure.”

Who isn’t humbled by this mighty man of God?

Liddell was the son of missionary parents in China and used the publicity he garnered in racing to promote the Gospel of Christ. He died as a POW in Japanese controlled China in 1945.

4.  Jackie Robinson
(1919-1972): The UCLA and Brooklyn Dodgers great (1947 to 1956) was chosen by Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey to break the country’s baseball color barrier because of Robinson’s devotion to God.

Although abused by other players for being black in a white man’s game, he didn’t fight back.

It’s noted that Robinson kept his reliance on God and prayed every night for strength. The rest, as they say, is history.

5.  Mariano Rivera: Keeping with the baseball theme, the recently retired Rivera was an outstanding pitcher with the New York Yankees.

He glorified God in an interview, noting: “Everything I have and everything I became is because of the strength of the Lord, and through him I have accomplished everything. Not because of my strength. Only by His love, his mercy, and his strength.”

Today, he is establishing a church in New Rochelle, N.Y., called Refugio de Esperanza, where his wife, Clara, is serving as pastor.

6.  Derek Fisher: The former Los Angeles Lakers star guard and four-time NBA champion is quoted as saying, “I just totally put everything on my faith in God. If I concentrate on something and work hard at it, something good will come out of it.”

In an interview with the 700 Club, Fisher says, “God blessed me with an ability to play this game very well.  So then, in response to that, to show Him that I appreciate that blessing, I’m supposed to try to be the best at playing the game of basketball. I know all of it is because of Him. There’s no question about it. The source of my power and strength is God, and I know it, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Now that’s a role model. You can read about Derek and his faith in his book, “Character Driven.”

7.  Allyson Felix: This gold-medal Olympic runner and daughter of an ordained minister uses sports as a platform to promote the gospel.

One of the fastest women in the world, Allyson has won a 2012 Olympic gold medal, two Olympic silver medals and three world championship golds.

Felix describes her running ability as a gift from God, “For me, my faith is the reason I run. I definitely feel I have this amazing gift that God has blessed me with, and it’s all about using it to the best of my ability.”

Who’s your role model? Miley Cyrus smoking a joint on the televised MTV Awards or Allyson Felix running after the heart of God? 

8.  Tim Tebow: Without a doubt, the most maligned Christian athlete in modern times. The 2007 college Heisman Trophy winner has had a checkered career as a pro football player with the Denver Broncos and New York Jets.

He is known (and predictably ridiculed by many in the media) for his outspoken Christian faith and his unwavering devotion to God. He would bend a knee to pray on the field before a game so much it gave rise to the term Tebowing.

Read more about this mighty man of God in Through My Eyes.”

9.  Manny Pacquiao: Totally idolized in his native Philippines, “Pacman” is called “the greatest pound for pound fighter in the world.” 

The recent 2012 convert to Christianity was asked in an ESPN interview if his becoming a Christian would hurt his boxing instincts.

The champ replied, “If God be for you, who can be against you?” (Watch his Pacman Bible Study in Las Vegas video).

After years of sinful living, Pacquiao was convinced God was talking to him in his dreams, and turned his life around.

Converting to Christianity in and of itself doesn’t make Pacquiao a mighty man of God. But his potential to be a wonderful role model for young and old around the world is great.

His love for his people is legendary, and it is not unusual to see him go out of his way to aid those in distress and hand out money to those in need.

He recently won a unanimous decision against Brandon Rios.

That’s Not All

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list as there are many other athletes of valor. But the handful mentioned here are great examples of how God lifts up those who have a heart for Him and run after Him.

    “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)

Want to have a life of purpose in Jesus? Want to make a difference in someone’s life?

Then have a heart for God and run after Him so that you, too, as Eric Liddell so wonderfully put it,  feel His pleasure.

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