Throughout the fall ESPN and virtually all other sports media outlets went absolutely crazy with "Tebowmania." More recently they're losing their minds with "Linsanity." The media's fawning over Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos and Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks is predictable and precarious. It's predictable because sports media is more interested in stories than in people. It's precarious because the more strongly they shine the spotlight and the higher they build a player's platform, the farther players fall when they're exposed as human and fallible. They will find as much joy in reporting a player's fall after a moral failing, a foolish relationship or a slip of the tongue as they will in building him up following a last minute victory or a prime time interview.
One aspect of these athletes' lives that the media find both mysterious and controversial is their faith in Christ Jesus. They focus multiple cameras on Tebow every moment of the game, hoping to catch him "Tebowing" and reading his lips as he utters a prayer. They discuss ad nauseum Jeremy Lin's Asian heritage, his faith and his Ivy League education as they marvel at his appearance from nowhere to energize the Knicks to several wins across a couple of weeks. For both players, their faith seems to be integral to their lives. This is a total anomaly for the media and for many fans who live tightly compartmentalized lives with faith totally segregated from other matters of life. They insist on having public lives and private lives. They want their private choices of lifestyle and religion to stay separate from their public image. They simply apply the wares of celebrity culture to the sports world and these players' expressions of faith. Instead of Lindsey Lohan or Kim Kardashian, they're inspecting the lives of Tebow and Lin under the microscope of national media.
Sadly, the integrity being modeled by both Tebow and Lin is also enigmatic to most Christian sports fans. They too seem to cheer these players as being emblematic of "Christian athletes" because they are winning football games and making last second shots to win basketball games, and then speaking openly about their faith in Jesus in post-game interviews. To the players it's not unusual because faith permeates all they do, including sport. The fans go nuts about their speech and are ready to have these two replace Billy Graham and the Pope as spokesmen for Christianity. The fans miss the simple principle employed by these two and countless others who compete in sport at every level. Colossians 3:23 challenges the Christian athlete or anyone in any occupation, to work for his or her employer as if working for the Lord Himself, rather than simply for a man, a team or a corporation. All of one’s life is under Jesus’ lordship and his work is thereby consecrated to Christ. The work of Christian athletes happens to be sport and for these two and it happens to be in the glaring spotlight of national and international media.
Let’s be clear about some matters of faith and sport. 1) The Lord Jesus does not care who wins a particular sporting contest. He does not favor Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin and their respective teams over others and thereby influence the outcome of games. Shall we pretend there are not Christian athletes on the opposing teams? Do we really believe that the Lord simply counts how many Christian players are on team A vs. the number on team B and then favors team A in today’s game? Maybe team A’s Christian players are simply holier or spent more time in prayer this week and thereby gain God’s favor over team B. All such thoughts are ridiculous. 2) Being a Christian athlete can give one real advantages. In so far as the Christian athlete grows in Christ-honoring character traits such as those listed in Galatians 5:22-23, he or she has an advantage in competition. As the Christian athlete competes in a way which honors God; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control enhance one’s ability to perform highly and to be the best possible teammate. 3) We who know personally or watch Christian athletes can be wise or foolish toward them. We can do as most and either treat them as flawless heroes and icons or simply criticize them as fools who drag their religion into public. We can also choose to hold a more mature and healthy view of them as simple people, redeemed by a loving God, and subject to the same weaknesses of humanity as we are.
Tim Tebow and Jeremy Linn are not God and are not worthy of worship. Jesus is God, worship Him. Tim and Jeremy are men, respect them. Do not confuse these relationships.