I am not a huge football fan. Normally, I don’t even follow football until after the World Series and even then I prefer to watch basketball. Since the basketball season is late getting started this year, I have watched a few more football games than normal. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a big football fan. I kept up with all the major college teams and I knew the foremost players on each NFL team. I’m not sure that I can even name a dozen professional football players now.
My passion for the game changed on Sunday afternoon, January 31, 1999, at the end of Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami. John Elway led the Denver Broncos to their second straight championship and after that game I decided I had everything I wanted from football. I was satisfied. The Broncos, the team I had supported since they were organized in 1960, had given me everything I desired from the game. If you doubt that I was a Bronco fan for so long, look up the names Frank Tripuka, Lionel Taylor, Cookie Gilchrest, or Floyd Little. I can tell you all about those guys without having to look it up.
Since that notable Sunday I have had only a very passing interest in football. I do know the Broncos have done very little since that Super Bowl victory. I don’t know for sure, but it seems that they have gotten successively worse each year. It doesn’t matter though, my football cup is full.
Yet, there has been something about the Denver Broncos this year that has caught my attention. Apparently it has captured the attention of football fans all over the place. They have a young quarterback, Tim Tebow, who football experts claim is not a very good quarterback. To be honest, the Broncos having a not so good quarterback is nothing unusual. Other than John Elway that’s the only kind of quarterback they have ever had.
The interesting thing about this Tebow fellow is that in spite of his football flaws, he leads the team to victory almost every week. To hear the experts talk, if you listed all his weakness in one column and all his strengths in the other, it would be very one-sided. The only thing under strengths would be the fact that for some reason his team wins. It doesn’t look good, the football is sloppy, the score is always close, but at the end of the game, the scoreboard shows that his team has the most points. Go figure!
There is one other thing about Tim Tebow that has caused a great deal of consternation among folks. He is a very outspoken Christian. Not only does he speak openly about his faith, he is frequently seen in a posture of prayer on the sidelines during a game. After he scores a touchdown he bows on one knee and offers a quick prayer of thanksgiving. This is such a remarkable thing that a fad known as “Tebowing” has begun, with people quickly falling to a knee and striking a prayer pose.
As you listen to discussions about Tim Tebow, you notice there are several different camps concerning the proper attitude to this whole “Tebowing” thing. There are a sizable number of Christians who are grateful for the testimony and feel it is nice that the good guys are doing something positive for a change. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect a large number of people are jumping on the Bronco bandwagon, cheering for another victory each week.
There are also a number of Christians who are not as excited about this situation. They speak about inappropriate ways of expressing faith and they talk about cheapening something as significant as prayer. These naysayers are quick to point out that God is not really interested in scoring touchdowns at football games when there are so many other real problems in the world. It might sound trite, but I believe God is big enough to care about world hunger and touchdowns at the same time.
Of course, there are those who ridicule the whole situation. They claim it is just another form of Christian arrogance. Even a couple of players on opposing teams have made mocking gestures during a game. These people not only criticize Tebow for being a poor football player but also dislike him for being a Christian.
Obviously I don’t know Tim Tebow personally, but everything I have read about him indicates that he is the real deal. His faith is genuine and his actions are sincere. He is well liked by teammates. In fact, the consensus seems to be that everyone on his team plays harder because of him. People who know him respect him and that is a very good quality indeed.
I think those who scoff at him because of his expressions of faith are way out of line. It is evidence of being small-minded to resort to public ridicule of someone who believes differently than you do. For a man to offer a visible testimony of his faith does not infringe on anyone else’s space and is not deserving of a derisive response. By the way, the same thing needs to be said to Christians who criticize people of other faiths and the way they dress, live, or worship. We do not need to agree with a person’s beliefs in order to be respectful toward them.
It is disheartening that those who mock the man for being a Christian are allowed to be so vocal. Some have said it is only because they are speaking out against Christianity, that if they were being ugly toward Islam or some other religion they would be publicly flogged. I hope that is not the case. We were told by Jesus that we would be persecuted for our faith and I am sure that adherents of other faiths feel much the same way.
However, there is something about this whole “Tebowing” thing that needs some consideration. I certainly have no complaint about public displays of faith. However, Jesus said “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The light of our faith is to shine bright but it is not to point at us. Instead, it is to shine in such a way that God is glorified. When a quarterback kneels for prayer in the middle of a football game, it seems that all the attention is focused on him, not God.
When we get it right, people see our actions and give glory to God. It is all about getting ourselves out of the way so they can see Him. It is the difference between being a lamp and being a spotlight. A lamp primarily shines light on the lamp. However, with a spotlight, the light does not reveal the source of light but shines on something else. When a football player does a good work in the middle of an arena, it is hard for the light not to shine on him.
Then we have those pesky words by Jesus about prayer – “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6). The synagogues and street corners were not nearly as crowded as a football stadium on a Sunday afternoon.
I confess this is a difficult issue. Like most Christians, I am proud of this young man who is willing to provide a visible testimony of his faith. He seems very genuine and I wish more folks had his courage of convictions. However, I am concerned that most, if not all, of the attention is focused on him, not on God. It would be amazing if the next time he scored a game winning touchdown that he could do something to cause fifty-thousand people to stand up and praise God. It’s not going to happen. In such a situation, the quarterback who has few skills other than being able to win games is the one who will get all the praise.