It is not often that a football player’s social influence is felt outside the bounds of the sporting world, but this holiday season, the popularity and notoriety of young Saint Tim have virtually eclipsed those of old Saint Nick.
The fledgling Denver quarterback may have led the struggling Broncos on a six-game winning streak in recent weeks, but that’s not the real story.
[This video is so very worth ten minutes of your time.]
See, Tim Tebow is a Christian. But not just in the way that most other Christian NFL players are Christians. Tim Tebow is actively and openly glorifying God through the platform of professional football. In other words, he’s a Christian who happens to be an NFL player–not the other way around. As a result, he is unabashedly outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ and his commitment to making Him the number one priority in his life.
And not many folks are okay with that.
In recent weeks, Tebow has been pelted, pummeled, and pounded with criticism for his insistence on praising God as the Source of every success and for his refusal to treat his faith as anything less than it is: the single most important and influential factor in his life. Folks in every imaginable media outlet have ridiculed him for his “pretentious” piety and his “quaint” beliefs, and they have taken offense at his displays of religiosity in the “public sphere.” Religion is strictly a private matter, so they claim, and thus it has no right to rear its holier-than-thou head on the football field or on television. Even many Christians–including several current and former NFL players who are self-identified believers–have come out in opposition to the zealot’s rabid fanaticism for Jesus Christ.
The most recent crack at Tebow came from Saturday Night Live, in a scene in the Broncos locker room where even Jesus Himself pokes fun at Tebow for being a religious nutcase. There is certainly no entertainment to be had in the sketch, but for the purpose of illustrating the world’s reaction to Tebow–which the clip does most excellently–you can watch it here.
Of course, there is also a large subset of Christians who praise Tebow’s courage and commitment to the cross of Christ, admiring his testimony and wishing he could meet their daughters.
I myself am also quite glad for the strong witness of my Christian brother. I want to emphasize this, because what I’m about to say about Tebow could perhaps be misinterpreted as an assertion to the contrary. So, to reiterate, I think Tim Tebow is an admirable man of God, and I think his approach to life as a Christian sports celebrity is spot-on.
I just think that Joe Christian could do it too. Being Tim Tebow is easy, because it’s really hard.
By way of roundabout explanation, allow me to tell you about the two times in my life when I was the most obedient, the most humble, the most Christlike I’ve ever been.
The first was during my summer as a counselor at Pine Valley Bible Camp, a ministry dedicated to reaching the youth of inner-city Pittsburgh with the good news of Jesus Christ. Spending 24 hours a day chasing, teaching, entertaining, and loving those profoundly broken children from a profoundly broken culture was the greatest physical and emotional challenge of my life. But in the face of so great a challenge–the task of being completely selfless for days on end–I discovered the immeasurable depth of God’s equipping power. By His grace, I was enabled to sacrifice myself wholeheartedly for the wellbeing of some truly devilish young people. And I experienced the joy of following in the footsteps of Christ, of loving “not in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18).
The second came the following summer when I took a temp job as a laborer in a local warehouse. Due to the unwieldy size and shape of our product, all the laborers worked in pairs; and though there were some lovely folks working in that warehouse, my partner was not one of them. We soon discovered that our work ethics were polar opposites: I wanted to work hard out of respect for the company and for God, and he wanted to do as little work as possible and forge the inventory paperwork so as not to get found out. Well, eventually my honest paperwork naturally exposed his dishonest paperwork, he got yelled at by the bosses, and our relationship went sour. Soon I was working ten hours a day with a man who hated my guts, constantly ridiculed me for doing the job rightly, and actively sought to make my days miserable and cause me to “break character” from my attitude of Christian servanthood and persistent cheerfulness. It was then, when I saw through the darkness’ masquerade as light and realized its true nature–it was then that I shone brightest for God. Every day was a new opportunity to put on Christ–to articulate His truth at every challenge and live out His love at every moment.
Right now, Tim Tebow’s life is like my summer in that warehouse. Everywhere he goes, he can see the world watching and waiting for a chance to mock his God the moment he slips. There is no ambiguity in his situation and no hiding out; he is constantly in the public eye, and people are judging Christ by watching his life. Every day he is slapped in the face with this reality.
Tim Tebow knows what is on the line. And so he rises to the occasion.
“Jordan, my life isn’t like Tim Tebow’s life. I hardly get any outright opposition to my Christianity.” Nor is mine, Joe, and nor do I. If you’re like me, you feel like your world is full of small, gray issues–not big, black-and-white ones like Tebow. But that is not a good thing. In fact, it’s an enormous problem. The armor of God is not for diplomats, and it’s not for spectators. It’s for warriors. I am here to tell you that regardless of your particular circumstances, your personality, or your focus, your life is war. Your calling is to make war on the sin and injustice and evil in your life.
And in order to make war, you have to declare war. (Have you? Really? The battle lines will not be drawn up for you. The enemy thrives on deception and obscurity.)
And in order to declare war, you first have to wake up to the fact that the enemy is real, that it is not small and gray, that everything really is on the line. This is immensely difficult, because it radically alters both the foundation and the trajectory of our lives. As long as we see our lives as full of small gray issues, the Christianity with which we tackle them will be only a small gray Christianity. This kind of Christianity is easy and comfortable because it doesn’t expose the opposition, and thus we don’t have to struggle with our neighbors and our families and our own wretched flesh telling us to shut up and back down and just accept disobedience.
Tim Tebow didn’t step onto the national stage and demand that everyone take notice of his piety. He simply committed to living a life of obedience to Christ, which created opportunities to talk about Christ (and a concurrent desire to talk about Christ), which brought opposition. This is an unbreakable chain of consequence. You cannot be a Christian without embracing the first link, and the others follow naturally from it. So how is it that most of us don’t seem to have those opportunities to witness to Christ and don’t seem to engender much opposition because of Christ? The only real reason can be that we aren’t really committed to obeying Christ.
If you are afraid of everything that obedience might bring–if you don’t feel equal to the task–cheer up; you aren’t. But it doesn’t matter one bit. The Holy Spirit Who strengthens and counsels Tim Tebow is the same Holy Spirit Who will strengthen and counsel you.
You know, Jesus wrote a blog post just like this one once, except he spoke it out loud and it only took him two sentences:
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”