This NFL season has to be one of the most unique I can remember. While not a fan of so much offense (I played defense and actually love a defensive battle over a shootout), the NFL year 2011 has had its share of news: in the Year of the Quarterback you have the Packers going 15-1 with Aaron Rodgers having one of the best years as a QB in history, and Drew Brees is right there with him. Add to that Cam Newton who many thought would be a bust setting all kinds of records as a rookie quarterback. Consider also the drama of the New York Jets lately surrounding anonymous (that is a Greek word for coward) comments regarding their signal caller, the collapse of the Chicago Bears after QB Jay Cutler went down, the run of the Houston Texans and unexpected rookie leader T.J.Yates (hey, he played at UNC and I am a homer), and perhaps the best one of them all, Tom Brady leading the Patriots to win after win with a defense that couldn’t stop a paper cut.
If Tom Brady had a defense like the Crimson Tide’s he would never lose a game.
But all these and other stories pale in comparison to the most unlikely of heroes when the lockout-threatened season of 2011-12 began.
As a follower of Christ I have admired Tebow for years now, although I have never been a fan of the Florida Gators or the Denver Broncos. His second season in the NFL has been nothing short of remarkable. Tebow has been unashamed in talking about Christ. He has lived a life of character that matches his words, a fact that has brought praise even from those outside the faith. His is no pseudofaith of the celebrity who drops the Jesus name when convenient but whose life contradicts the Savior. His boldness in speaking of Christ of course has brought its share of critics, but his character and determination, and at times his play on the field, have all brought praise, even from skeptics. He actually has a term named for his habit of kneeling in brief prayer called “Tebowing” that has entered the American lexicon.
But one of the most striking features about Tebow that I have seen (and I have not followed too closely I admit) has been his unwillingness to claim that his faith has led to the wins. I have seen him not once remark that God is interested in who wins a football game. He simply gives praise to his Lord when they win. And when they do not. The most remarkable feature of the Tebow story from where I sit is this: here is a young man, 24, who simply seeks to live out his faith in the job he has. Okay, the job he has offers huge exposure, and he has been extremely unique and, in the face of critics, successful beyond expectation. But the fact remains that he has not used his Christianity as a platform for anything more than a follower of Christ should in whatever vocation they are in.
My problem with all the hoopla is not with Tim Tebow. It is with some believers, particularly those who also seem to love the Christian subculture. You know, like those who tweeted that his 316 yards last week in his performance against the Steelers was somehow spiritually related to John 3:16.
Tim Tebow is not the Messiah. He gets that. Do we all get it as well?
His play against the Steelers, most notably leading them to a win (honestly, who would have thought in week 6 the Broncos would make the divisional round of the playoffs?) was pretty amazing. But if you are a Christian whose faith is dependent on a football player’s efforts, your faith is badly misplaced. If you are a believer who needs a hero so you do not have to live valiantly for Christ in your lesser-known lot in life, you may misunderstand the gospel’s power and perhaps fail to appreciate the work of grace found in Christ which far surpasses sport or celebrity.
Yes, God uses men like Tim Tebow, and for that I am so grateful. Unlike Charles Barkley I am fine with the attention he gets. But truthfully if more every-day people lived out their faith with the same passion and humility, the gospel would be advanced more than it will be by one sports celebrity.
No doubt there are some that see Tebow vs Tom Brady in the playoffs as the classic David vs Goliath (I did hear someone use that analogy already this week): Christian versus the Lion, in this case the genuine faith of a young man who does mission work contrasted with the roar of materialism from a pop cultural icon and football player who is married to a supermodel (Brady) who makes more money than he does. Never mind that Brady’s story is pretty remarkable, as he was drafted lower and had less expected of him than Tebow when he came into the league. Brady is not a Christ follower to be sure, but he is not our enemy either (in case you missed it, our enemy was defeated on the cross not via football). Or in another scenario, unheralded (by NFL standards) QB vs the best QB of the last decade, and who plays for the Evil Empire of Belichik. Clean guy Tebow versus Playboy Brady.
Not only do I not buy that, it is also a terrible abuse of the David and Goliath story in Scripture which is not at all about us. Sports can teach a lot about life, but let’s not get too carried away here. Let’s not turn Tim Tebow’s story into another really bad Carmen video.
I am not here to defend Tom Brady. I am not a fan of the Patriots either. I hope Denver wins. But I fear that what is missing in all the hysteria over Tebow by Christ-followers is that it is in fact his character he has displayed both in wins AND in losses that displays the gospel far more than the number of yards he has in a game or in the number of wins he racks up in a season. Tebow has not used his success as a platform to promote the Christian subculture. And neither should we.
By the way, some Christians are not the only ones doing this. I understand some witches in New England are casting spells for the Patriots. I am not sure I want to be using their tactics.
Tim Tebow has used his platform to give glory to God. No doubt the wins, many in dramatic form, have given him a greater platform, and he is right to be unashamed in his love for Christ as the spotlight grows brighter. He is by some polls the most popular athlete alive just now, and for that I thank God. I heard Chuck Norris asked Tebow to play him in a movie. Okay not really. He has been a team guy, a football player, a man who seems to believe that he has to earn on the field any credit he should receive for his sport. And he is right about that.
I think the insecurity of many Christians living in an increasingly secular culture shows up whenever a Tebow comes along. If he never wins another game, Jesus will still be Lord. If he rushes for 66 yards it does not stand for the books of the Bible and if he throws for 316 yards it does not mean John 3:16. But if he conducts his life as a genuinely changed-by-the-gospel Christian, you know, just like you and I should be doing, no doubt God will use him for gospel purposes.
And He will use you and me as well. And I think that is in fact the point.
I thank God for Tim Tebow. I pray for him. I cannot imagine the weight on his young shoulders. Let’s face it, the overwhelming majority of Americans have no idea who Tim Keller or Matt Chandler or Johnny Hunt or any other preachers we admire. But they know who Tim Tebow is. For that reason alone we would do well to pray for him. I have friends who grew up with him and have been around his family, and they tell me the Tebows are the real deal when it comes to following Christ. I am grateful for his example. But whether the Broncos make the most unlikely of Super Bowl runs and Tebow wins the MVP, or if the haters are proven true and he quickly washes out as an NFL QB, or (more likely) somewhere in between, I am confident he will continue to focus on Jesus.
Just like we should as well.