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tim tebow and christian unity

January 10, 2012

Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He is also an outspoken Christian. He is not a good NFL passer by a long shot. Statistically, he is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league this year. Most football pundits think that he will not succeed in the NFL.

But he keeps winning.  He knows how to lead a team and a locker room. Whatever the “X-factor” is for a winning quarterback, Tebow has it.

On Sunday, he led the Broncos to an overtime playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are the closest thing the NFL has to royalty. It was a huge upset and a big win for Tebow—the guy who isn’t supposed to succeed in the NFL.

What makes him something of a national spectacle, though, is the way he practices his Christian faith both on and off the field. He prays everywhere, verbally praises God in the middle of games, and begins every interview by acknowledging Jesus’ work in his life.

Off the field, his life is a model of Christian consistency. He preaches regularly, is involved in mission work in the Philippines, and spent at least one college spring break working at an orphanage. People who know him best all report that he is the genuine article. The world would be a better place with more people as genuine in their faith as Tim Tebow.

But here’s where it gets somewhat troubling for me. On Sunday, I found myself rooting for the Steelers. Deep down, I wanted Tebow to lose. You have to understand that I loathe the Steelers. I respect them a lot, but I generally can’t stand them. I have never cheered for them to win a game until two days ago when they were playing against Tebow.

Why did I want Tebow to lose? I think it had to do with the way he expresses his faith. I just can’t imagine myself living out my faith the way he does. Don’t get me wrong, I want my “walk” to match my “talk” like his does. But his overly forward Christian posture is problematic for me.

For example, he awkwardly inserts Jesus into conversations that don’t really have anything to do with Jesus. I try to avoid this behavior in my life. He also prays regularly in front of tens of thousands of people. He prays on the bench, on the field and in the end zone. I’m all for prayer and want to pray more in my own life. But didn’t Jesus say something about going into your closet to pray?

Anyway, you get the picture. For me, the bottom line for me is this: I just can’t imagine living out my faith in the way he does. And not only can I not imagine it–I don’t really want to express my faith that way. I have no doubt Tebow is sincere and loves Jesus. But I am just of turned off by the way he expresses his faith. This is why I rooted against him.

Upon further reflection, I think this is a sin and I need to repent. Tebow is a fellow Christian, and this should  mean something to me with respect to how I think of him. I think I am supposed to be significantly more favorably disposed towards him. To put it a different way, I think I need to treat him like a brother.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I have to agree with him or try to emulate the way he expresses his faith. It also doesn’t mean I have to want his team to win. But I do think it means I shouldn’t root against him because of the way he expresses his faith. I need to get over myself.

Here is why I think this is significant. Jesus says that unity in the church is of tremendous importance. In a very important prayer at the end of his life, Jesus prayed that the church would display unity (John 17). This means that even when we disagree about important things, we still act like family. Moreover, the church’s unity is supposed to be one of the ways that the world knows that Jesus is for real. If Christians can’t respect and love one another, why should the world want to hear about Jesus? In other words, living out our familial bond with other Christians is one of the most effective evangelistic strategies we Christians have.

As I think about practicing unity with other Christians, I realize that it is somewhat easier for me to extend grace to Christians who are a bit more “liberal” in their beliefs than I am. It is more of a challenge for me to extend the same kind of grace to Christians like Tebow who are more “conservative” or “mainstream evangelical” in their convictions. However, it doesn’t matter what kind of Christian it’s easier for me to extend grace to. I have to extend grace to them all. It is simply another outworking of the gospel that is supposed to be evident in my life.

So I have learned something from Tim Tebow. I’ve learned more about my ability to be judgmental of other Christians. I’ve also learned a little bit more about practicing unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ even when they don’t see the world exactly the way I do.

Lord have mercy on the church.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Dennis Marceron permalink
    January 10, 2012 7:41 pm

    I too have struggled with Tim Tebow, but find much of the hype is generated by the media. I like what Kurt Warner said a bit ago, suggesting Tebow tone it down. I believe Tim is sincere and much of what we cringe at comes from his youth- and as he matures I believe that will change. Still I think some of what I cringe at comes from the fact I find myself hiding out of fear- so I don’t share my faith as I believe God would want me to. That this young man can share his beliefs with so much conviction despite bashing on SNL, sports critics analyzing his every move, and the pressures of NFL money and fame is pretty amazing to me. He’s a proclaimed virgin showering with NFL players and they respect him when he leads them onto the football field- in a league and sport whose heros are known for their womanizing. In the past 10 years I’ve had many friends who were cheerleaders in my faith suddenly turn to away- now atheists, skeptics, or universalists. Tim is a bit of a light, even though I may want to cringe and squint! And as a Raven’s fan- I am so glad he beat the Steelers- that was the icing on the cake for me! 🙂

  2. Jose permalink
    January 10, 2012 8:12 pm

    I’ve been working in sales with a solar distributor this past year. Everyone knows I’m a minister and lately in a joking way I’ve “Tebowed” it when I have closed a big sale. The guys in my office get a kick out of it and it’s a good laugh. I think it’s funny because none of us would go about our jobs the way Tebow goes about his. I’m more interested in the psychology behind his public acts of faith, and why he feels he has to do this at his job.

  3. January 11, 2012 1:03 am

    As a person who is usually overly careful with my words and reputation, I am gaining more and more respect for socially awkward and clumsy expressions of faith. It’s the awkward, marginalized and “little” people that God frequently uses. These imperfections fuel their humility and deplete their inhibitions. I even envy their freedom.

    No matter how awkward Tebow is, tens of thousands of people are hearing Jesus be glorified.

    With respect to prayer, if we live in a “babylon” where expressions of prayer to God are being rejected and disdained by the public (and made illegal in places), then it might suit us well to take note from Daniel, open our windows and pray in front of all. The bottom line is, “what is promoting Jesus and His Gospel?”

    Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for praying in public because it fueled their pride. Their audience was Jewish people / culture that looked up to these guys. Their hearts were after self-glory.Daniel’s heart was for God’s glory.

    Unfortunately, I fear the humiliation of praying / preaching Jesus in front of a stadium of people and TV audience, but I desire the self-gratification and self-glory that comes with praying well and sounding like a good Christian in front of my believing peers.

  4. January 11, 2012 11:09 pm

    I have only watched Tebow play twice, and both times he was just plain awful. The second time was the second half of the wildcard game against the Steelers. I always want the Steelers to lose so I was sickened by the play of Tebow and the Broncos.

    I find the media’s compelling need to focus on the guy to just be absolutely fascinating. I think what has me pulling for him is that the media has tried so hard to discredit him, only because of his Christian faith. He is easily discredited by his lack of skill, so why the focus on his faith? What is it about a person who declares publicly, without any self consciousness, that he loves Jesus that makes the world despise him and want to root against him? Is it because we have seen so many “public” Christians fall amid shameful scandals? Are we afraid that this guy is going to wind up not being the great Christian example he is made out to be?

    Truth be told, I know how lousy my own Christian walk is, and I wish I could be half the Christian that Tim Tebow is, to have his courage to stand up and announce his faith, to not fire back at his critics and become defensive. When Tebow thanks God for the victories, and points to Jesus doing the work, it is easy to see that he’s not just being modest, but legitimately genuine in giving that credit.

    As I reflect back on the lousy football that I saw played by the Broncos and Tim Tebow this season, I can’t help to think of all the ways I’ve floundered amidst the difficulties in my own circumstances, the bad calls, the blown plays in my own life. Yet the one truth that is so critical to being a Christian is the one I lose sight of all the time, the one I struggle the most to accept and have faith in, and that is that our victory doesn’t come based on how we play the game, but by the miracle of God taking the loss for us and giving us his win.

    Next week, as a football fan, I will expect the Patriots and Tom Brady to win over the Broncos. As a person that loves the sport I always prefer to see the better team win, unless the better team is the Steelers or the Raiders….I always want those teams to lose. But if God chooses to elevate a less than mediocre team and use Tim Tebow to illustrate how his grace works again, well then Praise be to God. As far as Tim Tebow goes, I don’t see why he isn’t allowed the grace of the media or the public, even if people don’t agree with him, whether they be atheists, Muslims, or Presbyterians, the fact of the matter is we all have the right to express our belief system in our own way regardless of what anyone else thinks. As Christians I think we can all learn from Tim Tebow about having the courage to proclaim our love for Jesus and our faith in His promises.

  5. January 12, 2012 9:12 am

    The way he expresses his faith is far different than how the media says he expresses his faith. There is a huge chasm between the two. He isnt preachy. He isn’t in your face. Win or lose, God is God, and Lord of his life. That’s it. Everyone else — including you John — have it wrong.

    However, I appreciate how you bring it around to being supportive of another brother. Tebow is just a kid thrust into a crazy world. He needs our prayers that he won’t stumble, that he’ll use his platform wisely, and that God will be praised in the end.

    Here’s my take on Tebow

  6. John permalink*
    January 12, 2012 2:12 pm

    To everyone who has posted, very good comments. I do believe that Tim is relatively young and he will grow in wisdom over the years. I also applaud who he is and am thankful for him.

    David, I appreciate your push-back, but here’s where I am coming from. There is rude “in your face”, which Tebow is definitely not. Urban Meyer (his coach at Florida) had very high praise for Tim because his public expressions are reflective of who he is.

    Nonetheless, going on one knee to pray in the end zone is a public act that is visible by everyone (as are his interview practices). These things are “in your face” in that they are public and clearly visible. I pray often in public, but when I do it nobody can tell from looking at me.

    I also have no problem believing that the media is misrepresenting him. Big media is a business and controversy sells.

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