Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Tim Tebow – Denver Broncos

This is the 10th installment in my series on Christ-followers in the NFL.  Today we will look into the story of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

I chose to write this article today in recognition of Tebow’s play yesterday – It wasn’t statistically among the greatest games ever played,  it wasn’t even statistically one of the best games in week 5 of the NFL, but it was good enough to make the last play matter in the Broncos/Chargers game, and it was likely good enough to bring this Broncos quarterback controversy back into the spotlight for some feisty discussion.

Yesterday, Tebow came in for the second half andby the end of the game,  the Broncos were a play away (albeit a miracle play away) from completing the comeback and stealing the win.  The fans are chanting for him, calling for him. He is a fan favorite in the Mile High city, just like he was in the Florida Swamp.  Fans love him, and critics sound off against him.  Again and  again, controversy stirs around the name Tim Tebow.

Controversy has been a part of Tebow’s NFL experience from before it actually began.  He was a star college player, known for some raw ability but more for passion, heart and work ethic.  He would carry these latter attributes to the NFL, but would they be able to cover up some of the shortfall of his skill set? Some pundits said, and still say no!

Here are some of the things that have come up.
There was a stir surrounding a pro-life Super Bowl commercial.  Sponsored by Focus on the Family, the commercial itself was not at all preachy, didn’t mention God, didn’t mention abortion, and still managed to stir controversy.  Pro Choice organizations were calling for the ad to be pulled.  See  the commercial itself below, as well as a link the story behind the troubled pregnancy that his mom, Pam, went through with him.

Others bring  up his faith.  Some writers have made some disturbing ideas about the way that Tebow’s faith works.  Questioning his faith, and relationship with God, questioning his abilities to play at the NFL level, criticism about his family and his association with the Pro Life movement – there is so much adversity that he has had to face, it is a remarkable load for a man who is only 24 years old.  If you google the name Tim Tebow, the search turns up story after story about his faith, yes, but also criticism about being so open about his faith.

Here are some lessons that I am taking from what I have read about this story.
1- Following God brings LOTS of adversity. When you take a stand for anything, you tie yourself to the stand you take, and those that do not share your views have lots of ammunition to attack the stand that you take.
In some parts of the world, taking a stand for your faith in God puts your life at risk.  Here, it isn’t quite that severe, but a lot can be said about you, your family, your beliefs and the stands that you take.  It can be very mean spirited, full of insults, conclusion jumping and outright misrepresentations of the truth.  It can make life very hard.
 It is also hard not to get defensive when these attacks are made.  We instantly want to defend our words that are taken out of context, or others words are put in our mouth that we didn’t say.  It is easier to simply keep quiet, keep our views to ourselves and let the critics find someone else to attack.  But if these attacks quiet us down, then our witness may be compromised.  We need to be bold in our faith, and not doubt that God will work through the hard things to accomplish His perfect plan. The enemy of God will do anything to keep us wishy-washy in our faith. 
Tebow, based on the story I read above (disturbing ideas)  did not say what he was reported as saying.  He does not believe that his faith in God entitles him to a starting job, based on what I read in the article.  It is quite a conclusion to jump to.  But Tebow didn’t return attack that I have seen.  He just continues to speak the truth about what he believes and let God remain the center of focus in his life.

2- God can work in mysterious ways – I really like that there is no doubt where Tebow stands in relation to belief in God.  He is always ready to proclaim it to whoever will give him a chance.  Again, this speaks to his boldness.  One of my favorite ways that God works is when He chooses to use even the little things to expand his kingdom.  Check out this statistic that I found in this Christian Post article

At college in Florida, Tebow frequently wore biblical verses on his eye black. In the 2009 Bowl Championship Series, he wore “John 3:16” on his eye paint, reportedly causing 92 million people to search the verse on Google. Later, Tebow switched to “Proverbs 3:5-6,” again causing 3.43 million searches of the verse together with “Tim Tebow.”

 I have an interesting story about how God uses little things to draw others to Him.  I collect sports jerseys.  One of the jerseys I have in my collection is a Texas Rangers #32 jersey – Josh Hamilton.  One day, I was wearing it on a walk around the neighborhood when I passed a man that was walking the other direction on the sidewalk.  I had never met this man before, and didn’t think much of it as we passed.  I stopped to tie my shoe, and when I stood back up, the man had turned around and came back to me to tell me that he liked my jersey.  I told him that I was a fan of Hamilton, and proceeded to talk to him about Hamilton’s book and how God is really working in him and through him.  This man was not aware that Hamilton had written a book about his life and struggles with, and eventual victory over addiction, and his walk with God.  The man was going to go to the library and borrow the book to read for himself.  I don’t know what this man thought about the book, or if he did actually get to read it, but I know that it is possible that God used my jersey to let this man read and know more about Him, through Hamilton’s jersey.  There have been countless times when I am wearing a random jersey and it leads to a conversation with a stranger, and more than once, our conversation has turned to God.  It is necessary to use our words to tell people about Jesus, but sometimes the avenues that lead to these conversations come from a common bond – like a team or player.  It is so amazing to see the different ways God works.

3- God is able to be glorified in all situations. – We don’t know yet if Tebow will ever become a star quarterback in the NFL.  It may happen, or he may be a perpetual second stringer throughout his career.  The one thing that seems fairly certain is that, regardless of Tebow’s status, He will be pointing others to know who Jesus is and how they can be in relationship with Him.  I am grateful that Tebow doesn’t get defensive to these attacks.  It would be very easy to do so, but by being careful, he is reducing the ammunition that they can get from his words.

We are all able to, and expected to let God be evident in our lives.  We are to be salt and light, serving others in God’s name so they can be drawn to Him.  We  can expect challenges, adversity, and all sorts of attacks from the enemy.  If we are not being effective witnesses for God, then Satan has no reason to attack us.  But at the end of the day,  I would like my life to echo the words I heard attributed to Coach John Wooden.  “If you were ever arrested for being a Christian,  is there enough evidence to convict you?”  Let that thought always challenge us to live a bold life alive in Christ

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Ryan Succop – Kansas City Chiefs

This is the 9th installment in my blog series on Christ-followers in professional football. My lessons for the day come from Ryan Succop, kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Last Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings (my hometown team) lost their 4th straight game to start the season.  The Vikings were supposed to beat the Chiefs, but couldn’t get it done.  A large reason for that was the work of Chiefs kicker, Ryan Succop.  He hit 5 field goals in the game, including 2 from over 50 yards.  Not bad for a guy that was once considered “Mr. Irrelevant“.
You see, each year, that is the name that is given to the last person taken in the college draft.  The reason is that the likelihood of the last person drafted having a significant impact on the team or in the league is minuscule.  Only a handful of people who share this distinction with him have had any success to speak of.

And Succop had been struggling this year, too,  hitting just 2 of his first 5 field goal attempts this year.
But he knows that football is not what gives him his significance.  It does however, give him his platform, and there is a certain irony in the fact that the “notoriety” that his “Mr. Irrelevant” status brought to him allows him opportunities to share his faith in God with people in many settings, including as an FCA event speaker.  FCA’s also has an article on Succop, punter Dustin Colquitt, and long snapper Thomas Gafford on their website right now.

Here are some thoughts that came to mind from Ryan Succop’s story.
1- Being Relevant
By definition, Relevant means

Having a bearing on or connection with the matter at hand.
How can we keep from being “Mr. Irrelevant” in the world we live in.  Sometimes, it is easier to keep away from people that don’t share our beliefs instead of intersecting our lives with theirs.  Paul wrote in

1 Corinthians 9.22b  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 

This is written in the context of helping others know who Jesus is.  We serve God be being relevant in the lives of other people.  That allows us to share in God’s work in the world around us.  We see an example of this is the Succop story.  He spoke at a Fields of Faith event, and in an effort to really connect his message with the people that were there, he even helped lead a small discussion group.  He saw the need of the people there, and sought how to meet the need however he could.

2- Remaining Humble 
“the Lowsman Trophy”
Humility is a hard thing to learn, and even harder to remain when you know success of any sort.  As soon as we see things going well, we start to think that we are pretty good at something.  I know that I love affirmation for what I am doing, whatever it happens to be, but when I receive affirmation, I need to be careful, because I then start to believe that I am able to do things on my own, without the help of God, who in reality is the only way that anything positive is accomplished through my life.  The title of “Mr. Irrelevant” and being the last person picked is a huge slice of humble pie to start with.  There is a lot of fun made of you.  Succop received a jersey with #256 on it, and Mr Irrelevant on the back.  He received the “Lowsman Trophy” (opposite of the Heisman Trophy), He is the brunt of jokes, and he takes it all in good fun.  It is important to remain humble, and not take ourselves too seriously.  When we are serious about our relationship with God and working for Him, we will constantly be reminded that:
“Apart from God, we can do nothing” we read in John 15.  But with God anything is possible. (Matthew 19.26)


Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Jared Allen – Minnesota Vikings

This is the 8th post in my series of Chrisian professional football players.  This time around, we take a look at the Minneota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

Jared Allen is what comes to mind when I hear the term “fierce competitor”.  He has an amazing skill set that terrorizes opposing quarterbacks.  He has a non-stop engine that keeps him going full speed against blockers, double teams, and whatever else the opponent may try to do to stop him.  When he successfully gets through to the quarterback, he rarely misses a chance for a sack.  He is normally among the league leaders in that category.  He has 87.5 sacks in his 7+ season career. Living here in Minnesota, I can attest to his immense popularity and his fan base continues to grow by the day.

Check out  this article about Jared Allen sharing his faith story at a Straight Talk Breakfast that Search Ministries was putting on.  The breakfast was hosted by Search Ministries Minnesota division director and former Minnesota Viking Jeff Siemon.

The story of Allen shows great honesty about a guy who has struggled to live out his faith against what the world offers but has come to realize that he needed Jesus as a savior and desires to build his relationship with God daily.

Here are some thoughts that came to mind from Allen’s story.

1- First it is confession time.  I had heard that Jared Allen was a Christ-follower, but for some reason I was skeptical.  It wasn’t until I was looking into some articles about Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell that I read these stories and decided that what I heard/read must be true.  Why do we do that?  Why do we accept grace given to us that pulls us from the sin and mess that we are in, then turn around and doubt that the same could happen to other people.  I am hoping that God and Jared both forgive me of this attitude and that I remember that forgiveness is a gift offered to all.

2- Jared gives some credit in turning his life around to follow God to the people that are in his life.  His parents, grandfather, and teammates.  We are influenced by others and we influence others, whether we want to or not.  It isn’t our choice whether we will influence people or not, it is our choice on how we will influence them.  Will we live our lives in a way that demonstrates the importance of God working in us, or will we hide our faith and keep it to ourselves?  God calls us to be a light shining so others are drawn to Him.  He calls us to be salt, effecting the world around us.  He calls us to go into all the world and make disciples.  Let’s intentionally be influencers for God in the world he has placed us in.

3- Jared Allen is a relentless pursuer.  He pursues opposing quarterbacks every week in the NFL season. He also is a hunter.  Relentless Pursuit is the name of his hunting show on FoxSportsNorth each Sunday morning. He also has a cookbook out. We can find an object lesson in this.  From the moment the ball is snapped, no matter how many people get in his way, Allen is 100% all in after the quarterback.  Are we pursuing God the same way.  If we were to truly put God first and passionately chase after the things of God, imagine the things we would see him do.
3b- God pursues us relentlessly too.  Even before we know God, he pursued us.  He loved us so much that Jesus died for us.  And he did this before we even knew who He was.  Hearing that God loved me so much to do that, I should be willing to put lots of effort to get to know God more and pursue Him whole heartedly.

The story of Jared Allen is another story that has helps me look at my own life and thoughts and realize that I am still a work in progress myself.  God made himself known to me, and I chose to follow Him, but the journey doesn’t end there.  He continues to refine me.  I am so very thankful for God’s relentless pursuit of me, and desire to pursue him with passion for the rest of my life.

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Donald Driver Green Bay Packers

I live in Minnesota, and they take their football pretty seriously here.  One of the first questions that I was asked by the man who would become my father-in-law during our first ever conversation was about where my pro football allegiences rested.
 I learned quickly, that while my answer, (The New Orleans Saints) was not the best answer I could give, that it was better than being a Packers fan.  Over the years, I have gained acceptance (or at least tolerance) from my in-laws, with regards to favorite sports teams but one truth remains.  “The Packers are the enemy, and are never to be talked about in a positive light.” 

Well, at the risk of alienating my in-laws, and my entire home state, lets spend some time talking about one of the stars of the Packers in recent years.  Here is the story of Wide Receiver Donald Driver, and some truths his story brought to mind as I read it.

First of all, Check out this video from CBN.  It is from Super Bowl Media Day last Winter.  There are several interviews with players from both the Steelers and Packers who share what God means to them and how important a role their faith in God plays in their life and career.

The segment on Donald Driver, tells us he is the longest tenured member of the Packers team.  He is a star receiver with very impressive career numbers.  And reading his story, it is kind of amazing that we have even heard of him.  Amazing, because, with all he had been through and the bad choices he had made, his life could have gone a very different and more destructive path.

As you can read in this article (its actually a sermon), Driver was leading a troubled childhood.  drugs, felonies like stealing cars, homelessness, skipping school.  Lots of trouble, not much direction. On a path that had a much better chance of leading to prison or death then to the NFL.  An act of kindness after an accident went a long way to leading him to God.  He ran his stolen car into the car of an older woman.  She chose to show kindness and reach out to this troubles young man and from this event, Driver’s life began to turn around.

He focused on school work, earned a scholarship for college, and was drafted by the Packers in the 7th round of the 1999 draft.  That is also amazing – playing at the level He plays at, being one of the top receivers in the NFL for over a decade, and he began it all and the 213th person picked in the draft.

Now, normally, seventh rounders are long shots to make the roster, maybe practice squad players who work their way into role players.  Driver is now a 3 time pro bowler, and the Packers all time leader in receptions and receiving yards.  All told, it is a remarkable story for a 7th rounder, and an amazing story of a life doomed for trouble, redeemed for great things.

Some lessons that I take from the story.
1- From the woman that he literally ran into.  She showed true grace and (except the part where she lied to the police) Christlike character.  I attended a conference a month ago and a couple of the speakers talked about making sure that as Christians, our lives intersect with non-believers.  Because rubbing shoulders with non-believers is the only way that we can share God’s light with them.   That means, though, that we need to be careful with how we interact with them.  Would the lady in the story have been wrong to turn Driver in to the police when they arrived?  No! but had she done that she wouldn’t have had a chance to talk to him and start the process that turned his life around.  I am reminded stories in the Bible where a “sinner’s” life was changed by an encounter with Jesus.  He didn’t teach them a “lesson for their own good” or “make an example of them”.  Instead, he loved them, an offered them forgiveness and a second chance to change how they were living (Matthew, Zaccheus, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the thief on the cross that stood up for Jesus).  Instead of condemning people for their behaviors, we need to take opportunities to be a beacon, guiding them to God, where they can experience love and forgiveness.  There are consequences for our actions, and there is a need to allow our lives to be changed.  But conviction comes from God working in them, and not from us trying to impose our beliefs on people who don’t yet share them.

2- When given a second chance, a life that God redeems can do amazing things for Him.  Donald Driver  has chosen to give back to people who find themselves in the same situation that he did when he was younger.  The Donald Driver Foundation offers help to people who are having financial difficulty and need a hand getting back on their feet.  He also has written a couple of children’s books about trying hard and not giving up, even through set backs.

That sums up Driver.  Trying hard and not giving up.  It also sums up our God.  He never gives up on us.  He us always awaiting us to turn to Him and choose to let Him be Lord of our life.  Sometimes, when life throws hard things at us (either by our own doing, or not) He is there to walk through it with us.  And ultimately the plan that He has for us is the best option.  He teaches us through our life events to prepare us to share God with others who are going through hard times.

I never get tired of reading these stories of lives turned around by God.  And even though it risks a good relationship with my in-laws 😉 I will be glad whenever Donald Driver’s successes lead him to an opportunity to tell others about the difference God has made in his life. (I joke with them – I think they would appreciate his story, too)

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions

Sea Turtles.  That is what came to mind as I looked into the story of Calvin Johnson, elite wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.  I would wager that it may be the first time the Pro Bowl wide receiver has ever brought up images of the aquatic amphibian.  How did i get from point A to point B you ask.  Let me tell you a story.

Calvin Johnson was the 2nd overall draft pick in the 2007 NFL draft after 3 years of outstanding play at Georgia Tech.  He is a top 5 receiver (despite what Cris Carter may say ;0). He makes catches that are hard to believe, and has quietly become a star on a team that has not been very good during his time with them.

In this blog post from Another Day Another Opportunity, Johnson tells his own story.  In it,  I read about Johnson’s quiet demeanor, allowing the skills that he has to speak for him.  I also read about his decision to live his life for Christ, as he joined teammates at chapel services and a retreat, where he was able to get away from practice, football, weight rooms, playbooks, drills, etc. and focus on who God is and what God was saying – Perspective!

The Lions has struggled for years, and continued to do so, even with Johnson on their team.  They became the first team in NFL history to go winless throughout an entire season.  What a discouraging thing.  Anyone who plays competitive sports hates to lose,  that’s why they call them competitive.
He wrote
 “Many times when a team is struggling, the last thing players want to hear is someone with an upbeat, positive message. But it was during those tough times that our faith and actions served as a powerful witness.”  
Now if anyone can speak about a team struggling, it is a member of a winless team.  What could someone on a winless team possibly be upbeat about?  Here is where we start to get into the sea turtles.

Let me tell you about a trying time in my life.  It was the summer of 2005.  I was a base director for a missions organization, leading church groups on mission trips in Freeport, Bahamas.  We were having some issues with staff, there was a crabby group that was complaining about lots of things from travel issues getting to our site, to plan changes, to issues with staff etc.  I was the base director, so all of the issues were mine to resolve and deal with.  It was weighing on me.
Every week, we took our groups to a reef for some snorkeling.  And on our snorkeling day, I took all the weight from these issues with me out in the ocean.  I broke the rules, and went off by myself.  I put my mask and snorkel on and went swimming, thinking about all of the things that were going on.  I was upset, praying for guidance but not really listening to any answer.  Soon, I found myself swimming around, stalking a green and yellow turtle that I had spotted, swimming through the beautiful, clear blue water, and it dawned on me.  All the issues that I was holding on to had blocked my perspective.  I was in a beautiful setting, surrounded by God’s amazing creation that I am blessed enough to experience on a weekly basis.  It is hard to stay in a bad mood when you are watching the life on the reef and seeing God’s creativity on display.  I repented for my bad attitude, rejoiced at the fact that part of my “job” was snorkeling in Bahamas, and getting to work with lots of amazing groups to share God’s truth to a world that needs it.  PERSPECTIVE!

Calvin Johnson played football on a team that didn’t win a game all year.  He got left off a list of top 5 receivers when he likely should have been on it.  Are these reasons to get upset and get down.  No!  And he doesn’t seem to have let it affect him.

I am reminded about Luke 10.20.
It says “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

The disciples were excited about what was going on in their lives.  Jesus reminded them to keep it in perspective, and to know the real reason for celebration and rejoicing.   I think this is true in good times and in bad.  When things are going great,  be happiest about your relationship with God.  When things are going bad, remember that you have hope in your relationship with God.  In all things, remember that the only reason we have to rejoice and celebrate is if we have a relationship with God.  

I needed perspective when things were going bad – God is in control, and he is bigger than the issues that try to weigh us down.  He cares most about the state of our hearts and that our hearts long and desire to worship Him and praise Him.  If you know God, boast only in that, and if you do not know God, may your heart’s ache lead you to encounter Him and know he is the cure.