God and Santa Claus

Posted: December 23, 2011 in Christian Discipleship

I remember when I was a kid and Santa was real.  He came to my house one time.  He really did.  My dad got some guy to dress up as Santa and he came over.  So did his wife, Mrs. Claus.  My sister and I were delightfully stunned.  Did Santa go to every child’s house like this?  What was going on here?

My parents would also leave cookies for Santa by the chimney and each year Santa took a few nibbles when he dropped off our presents.  I also recall sitting on Santa’s lap at the local mall, where he would give me a Dum-Dum and ask if I’ve been a good boy (My Mom was always relieved when this was over).  Heck, I even recall an elementary classmate who talked about Santa being real with such convincing passion.  He said he saw him swooping through his backyard on the sleigh.

All that to say, the facts were lining up.  Santa came to my house, ate our cookies, and apparently was seen with Rudolph in my classmate’s backyard.  It was all beginning to make sense.

Plus, I believed in God and the Bible as a child too.  And in Sunday school they taught us these wild stories, like a guy getting swallowed by a whale and living through it, and animals gathering on an ark because the earth flooded.  There were also a whole bunch of crazy stories about Jesus — walking on water, feeding thousands of people, and even rising from the dead.  He was Jesus/Superman.

These crazy Bible stories had trained me to grasp the unthinkable.  Therefore, since God and the incredible stories of the Bible were all true, then Santa’s exploits must be too!  How else would the logic of my elementary school mind track with all of this?

Then came that daunting day.  Santa’s not real!  That’s what they said.  Potty-mouthed classmates reeked of the awful news and I then asked Mom if she could verify the despicable, alleged rumor.  With tenderness and grace, she revealed/consoled my curious heart.  Santa’s not real, Mom said.  And Mom never lies.  What about the people who came to our house?  They were disguised family friends, Mom informed.  What?!  You tricked me like that?!  Mom!!!  So what are you going to tell me now, that Dad’s been eating the cookies all these years?!  Yes, it was just for fun while you were young, honey.  But what about Mikey (my elementary school classmate’s name) seeing Santa on a sleigh, Mom?!  Honey, I’m sorry (She apparently doesn’t respond to such inane queries).

Santa disappeared just like that.  He melted faster than a snowman in the Sahara.  It was just a big Christmas ploy to get kids like me excited.  And suddenly Santa was gone and the best thing I could now do with him is not tell my younger cousins that’s he fake.

Anyways, back to God.  Sooo, if Santa is a ploy, what does that make God?  I mean, Santa dropping presents through a chimney is wild, but God is much wilder.  Those Sunday school stories are insane!  God can’t be real if Santa isn’t.  But Mom said He was!  And so did Dad!  And Dad never lies either.  Thus, the facts were lining up in God’s favor.  But what was the catch to this?  How did Santa come toppling down so quickly while God kept standing?

Faith, in the mind of a 6-year old, suddenly became an insecure thought.  Faith in Santa, faith in God, and faith that Michael Jordan would lead the Bulls to another championship were what I held to.  And suddenly, two of the three remained while I would never look at Santa the same.

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Now comes the point where I have to wrap up this blog with some profound message.  It’s time to connect the dots and make you say, “Ahhh, so that’s where he’s been going this whole time.”  Welp, I got nothing.  These are just my random God and Santa Claus thoughts that I’ve been waiting to get out for years.  It feels so good to release them.

At the end of the day, let’s just thank God He’s real and delight in the gift of Jesus Christ’s birth, a holiday we celebrate but a meaning that’s so often hazy.  The way children are indoctrinated to the holiday season is quite comical if you take a step back and examine it, especially when you picture the logic of an analytical 6-year old like me.

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Have We Gone Mum on the MVP?

Posted: December 21, 2011 in Sports

Prior to last season, Derrick Rose asked the media, “Why can’t I be MVP?”  People chuckled at this remark.  Surely Rose dazzled in his first two NBA seasons, but this audacious question seemed to be a bit premature.  In a league featuring the likes of Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Howard, such a question seemed like a good individual goal, but not an attainable reality.

Then, D-Rose backed up his words and deservedly took home the league MVP after guiding the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins.  He poured in 25 points a game while also dishing out nearly 8 assists an outing. The wins and the numbers speak for themselves.  And when the Bulls came up short against the loaded Heat, it was obvious that Rose’s play was not the Bulls’ shortcoming.  It was their lack of another adept scoring option to help keep pace with the Big Three in Miami.  Despite this, Rose still humbly took the blame for the loss to Miami, evidencing a superstar with all the skills and the responsibility to handle the NBA limelight.

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The strides Rose has made in his first three NBA seasons is remarkable, but it seems as if entering the 2011-2012 season, hype towards the reigning MVP has gone rather mum.  In the wake of the NBA lockout, most NBA talk has been focused upon Chris Paul and Dwight Howard trade rumors.  Paul’s name has specifically been buzzing in the news and he’s finally landed in Los Angeles as a Clipper.  People have “ooed” and “aaed” about Paul teaming up with NBA Jam-esque forward Blake Griffin.

There have also been rumors about Howard landing with the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets, where he would partner with playmaking point guard Deron Williams.  Moreover, there have been a bevy of discussions about the current Lakers situation (i.e. the failed attempt to get Paul and the subsequent Lamar Odom fallout), and the return of the Heat and if they can reach the NBA pinnacle this season.  These are all worthwhile stories that should be covered, but amidst all of this noise, the reigning MVP is a rather mum topic entering the lockout-shortened season.  But maybe that’s just how D-Rose likes it.

In addressing the media prior to this season, Rose once again posed a question laden with audacity, hinting at, “Why can’t we win a championship?”  Once again, most NBA analysts aren’t thinking much of this. In a conference with the star-studded Heat, veteran Celtics, and surging Knicks, many view the Bulls as a team that lacks firepower.  They don’t have much punch besides D-Rose.  The addition of Rip Hamilton may help a little, but can he put them over the top?

In all of these doubts, people are forgetting the work ethic and utter determination that is the core of Derrick Rose.  Last year, nobody considered the Bulls a team that could contend but Rose and company proved that wrong.  Despite what Rose proved last season, there is currently little hoopla concerning if he can lead the Bulls to take the next step and gather a championship this season.

Frankly, it was mind-boggling to witness ESPN.com’s player rankings that they ran in the offseason, in which Rose came in at #8.  Excuse me?!  The reigning MVP and the man who essentially single-handedly drove the Bulls comes in at #8?  There’s something wrong with this.  Call it a flagrant foul.

It could be understood that Rose may not be the #1 selection.  Perhaps after Dirk’s heralded playoff performance, he deserves #1 (Although ESPN.com strangely gave it to Lebron).  But to slide D-Rose all the way down to #8 is shameful.  Downright inexplicable.

Interestingly, Chris Paul was listed as the #4 player in their rankings.  Explain how Paul, who averaged 15.9 PPG (a career low) and 8.9 APG last season while guiding the Hornets to 46 wins and a first round exit in the playoffs, comes in ahead of Rose.  Don’t get me wrong, Paul is quite the floor general.  This is no knock on him, but his numbers, wins, and overall ability to dominate a game are not at the same level of D-Rose.  It simply appears that despite Rose’s game speaking for itself, people are still questioning how good he really is.

Derrick Rose is not the kind of person or player to go quiet on.  He uses it as motivation.  He is not another flashy point guard like Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, or Gilbert Arenas, who each had impressive years in the early stages of their careers but faded over time.  No, Rose has the fire and tenacity to not just win the MVP, but to win a championship.  Whether or not that happens this year is irrelevant, because he is a name to be talked about, feared, and consistently regarded.  There is no limit on what he can do but people don’t appear to believe this.

It’s obvious there have been other stories (i.e. CP3 to L.A., Dwight rumors) to focus on as the season nears, but going silent on the MVP is bewildering.  Guys like Lebron, D-Wade, and Kobe always garner attention, as there have been features and interviews with them as usual.  But it’s obvious that D-Rose has not received that type of respect yet.  And it’s not because he hasn’t earned it.

Lance Berkman on God and Sports

Posted: December 19, 2011 in Sports

Because of Tim Tebow’s recent success, there has been a great deal of talk about God and sports, and the interplay between the two.  Does God tweak outcomes of games?  Has he been “siding” with Tim Tebow because Tebow’s a Christian?  Can Christian athletes attain success in ways that non-Christians cannot?

Frankly, I believe such questions to be quite silly.  God doesn’t pick favorites.  Moreover, his way of working is much grander than intervening in sporting events.  Surely God works through sports and uses the pedestal that Christian athletes possess, but the way this looks comes in various forms of success and adversity.  Listen to this recent message (link below) from Lance Berkman, who just won the World Series title with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Berkman, a professing Christian, humorously reflects on his veteran career, which up until this year has featured some steady heartbreaks.  He shares thoughts concerning God’s activity amidst it all.

Click here and then scroll down to the bottom, where Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 of Berkman’s speech are posted.  The message is a total of about 20 minutes.

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Despite knowing doctrines about God and professing to be a Christian for the majority of my life, I’ve spent years seeking to “beautify” myself in an effort to please God.  I sew fig leaves, like Adam and Eve, hoping to cover myself desirably so I can feel worthy before a holy God.

This tendency to please God is engrained in the way most of us think.  Almost everything in life is earned–jobs, spots on sports teams, money, success, fame, etc.  Therefore, a worthy status before God must feature some sense of beautifying or seeking to dazzle God with attempts at spirituality, right?

We might reason that God sprinkles some grace here and there and overlooks some foolishness.  But overall, we tend to assume that God approves of the people who’ve embellished themselves with impressive fig leaves.  Thus, we strive for ways to decorate ourselves so when we one day stand before God, he’ll give us a complimentary nod, like a 14 year-old boy gives to his friend who just got a new pair of Jordan’s.

It’s truthfully silly that we seek to sew fig leaves over our shame in an effort to please God.  The sin of humanity is so flagrant.  No spiritual performance is going to fully cover our sin and shame.  God is not looking for a heart that seeks to adorn oneself through moral effort.  No matter how decorative one is able to ornament oneself, a perfect, holy God still sees the underlying disease, which is blatant sin.

So, why do we sew fig leaves?  If this is so silly, why do we keep doing it?  We do it because we’re aware of our guilt.  We know we’ve messed up.  Thus, we must do something to purify ourselves.  So we get busy thinking of ways to make ourselves look good before God.  We act like God is going to soon give us a report card and we better get our grades up. We don’t want to fail his big test (whatever it is).

Underneath all of this is the fact that we attempt to deal with our guilt without grace.  We deny, ignore, or doubt the redemption of Jesus Christ, who makes us beautiful because of His atoning work on the Cross.  This is where the good news of the gospel is drastically different from what the world perceives, or what many religions preach.  God doesn’t want our silly fig leaves that are honestly like filthy rags.  He wants our broken hearts, which acknowledge our messiness and claim His redemption.  Psalm 51:17 states, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Acclaimed pastor and author Timothy Keller wrote in his book The Reason for God, “Religion operates on the principle, “I obey–therefore I am accepted by God.”  But the operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through Christ–therefore I obey.”  You can see the radical shift in the gospel and the subsequent change in the way one lives as a result.  Living to obey and beautify ourselves with fig leaves is not the gospel.  The gospel reshapes our identity as a child of God, and our hearts are thus broken and thankful before Him.  The interesting thing is that when the gospel is truly embraced in this manner, then a redemptive lifestyle out of gratitude will follow.  There will be freedom, peace, and hope.  But seeking to please God through spiritual performances, through “designer” fig leaves, and through stern-minded obedience will only end up draining us.  This is obedience without Christ.  It is obedience without grace.

I’ve been dwelling on this recently because of a counseling book I’ve been perusing.  I mentioned it in a previous post, as its intention is to teach me the proper tools to biblically counsel people in the future.  But it has actually been counseling me.  I need constant reminders of God’s grace and the wondrous reality of the gospel.  I’m being alerted, more and more, to how so many Christians (including myself) so easily forget the crux of the gospel.  Despite knowing of God’s redemption, we still seek to find fig leaves that supposedly fit us.  But such efforts are far from brokenness, far from grace, and far from knowing a God who truly changes us from the inside out.

When I first heard the Bulls were after 33-year old veteran Rip Hamilton, I was somewhat indifferent.  I thought he’s past his prime, is too skinny, and can’t create his shot as well as other potential options.  But such thoughts were premature.  Here are four reasons why Rip to the Bulls is not just a good idea, but could be the missing link to a championship.

1. People have been quick to point out that Rip put up some of his worst career numbers last season, hinting that the twilight of his career has arrived.  But Rip didn’t receive the minutes he’s been accustomed to receiving last season, and even developed a tension-filled relationship with his coach (which is not customary of Rip).  It appears his lack of production was more a result of a clogged Detroit backcourt and a young, impulsive coach.  Therefore, Rip’s decline in numbers last season is exagerrated, and I don’t believe him to be far from the stable two-guard he’s been for years.

2. Rip’s body and playing style are conducive to succeed for a long time.  He’s never relied on athleticism or played “above the rim.”  He’s not like some of the other options the Bulls could have pursued, like Vince Carter or Tracy McGrady, whose careers are quickly fading with every inch you take off their vertical leap.  Hamilton has produced because of his endurance and ability to read screens and defenses.  These are things that won’t fade with age.

3. Hamilton’s strength is running off continuous screens and draining energy from whoever is guarding him.  This could end up being crucial, especially against the Miami Heat.  Dwayne Wade, who will most likely guard Rip, virtually got a “night off” defensively last year against the Bulls, as he guarded the offensively lacking Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer.  Now, Wade will have to chase Hamilton all over the floor like he’s chasing Reggie Miller.  This will surely wear on Wade and zap worthwhile energy from all opposing shooting guards.

4. The last main reason is that Rip’s a winner.  He’s won a collegiate and NBA title.  Plus, his stint in Detroit featured competitive, championship-caliber teams for the most part, besides the past couple of seasons.  His experience and competitiveness will undoubtedly mesh well with a Bulls team that is not far from a championship.

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While landing Rip may not be as endearing as guys like Eric Gordon, Joe Johnson, or Monta Ellis (none of which were realistic options), his signing is much more valuable than we may think.  He can still produce a very efficient 15 PPG while supplying veteran tutelage and underrated defense (with his long wing-span).  Give him a couple months to learn his niche with the Bulls and he could soon be the final piece that has Chicago on the verge of a title.

Is God “Rewarding” Tim Tebow?

Posted: December 12, 2011 in Sports

Let’s be honest, if you watched yesterday’s Bears vs. Broncos game, you couldn’t help but think it ended supernaturally.  Midway through the fourth quarter, it appeared Tim Tebow’s improbable run of comeback victories would come to a screeching halt.  The Bears had owned him all day.  The legend of Tim Tebow simply did not look alive.

Then, somehow another Tebow-led miracle occurred.  We suddenly witnessed a transformed Tebow in the waning moments of the game.  This transformation coupled with a handful of bad decisions and miscues by the Bears quickly turned the game on its heels.  Before long, it felt as if the Broncos were “supposed” to win.  Almost like God was on their side.  Sure enough, they did, much to the chagrin of my diehard Chicago Bears heart.

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I’m a Christian and I believe my worldview lines up very similarly, if not identically, to Tim Tebow.  I admire him for his willingness to proclaim his identity as a Christian.  Interestingly, what is coming to the surface amidst all of Tebow’s success is that perhaps God is on his side, “rewarding” him with victories because of his faith.  People see him thank God and it can almost seem like: “Become a Christian and find prosperity!”  In Tebow’s case, this seems to be working.

While I do believe God has uniquely gifted Tebow with a skill set and a fiery competitiveness, I do not subscribe to a view of God that portrays Him as a big, cosmic rewarder.  There are numerous problems to such a view.

Chuck Klosterman, a writer for ESPN’s Grantland, noted this whole idea of God rewarding Tebow in a recent column. If we look at Tebow and believe God is “rewarding” him for his faith, we validate (in Klosterman’s words) “the idea that believing in something abstract is more important than understanding something real.”  Therefore, this view of God becomes an abstract idea to uphold and its motivation is to obtain worthwhile success upon earth.  Thus, Who cares if God’s real?  If my life is better and a Higher Power finds ways to “reward” me, then I’m on board!  

This is blatantly opposed to what the story of the Bible presents.  Faith in God is understood because of its reality, not because of some “feel-good” inspiration that creates potential success on earth.

Another problem in seeing God as a cosmic rewarder is that things simply don’t always work out in favor of Christians.  That’s part of life.  God doesn’t put a hedge over Christians and throw down failures and nuisances towards everybody else.  No, His goodness is bestowed on us all.  At the same time, our world is broken and we cannot escape failures, disappointments, and wounds.  That’s the nature of this planet.

We’ve witnessed such disappointments many times in the careers of Christian athletes.  For instance, a couple years ago former Texas Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy had the opportunity to play for the National Championship.  He’s a professing Christian and a close friend of Tebow.  Early in the National title game, he got hurt and couldn’t play for the remainder of the game.  It altered the entire scope of the game and Texas lost.  Everybody felt so badly for McCoy.  It was almost as if you wanted to say, “Really, God?” (For the record, McCoy’s postgame interview was an intriguing testimony towards God being at work during difficulties.  To view it, click here.)

Another interesting instance just occurred in the recent World Series.  Josh Hamilton, another professing Christian, hit what would’ve been the World Series-winning home run in extra innings, but the Cardinals rallied for a remarkable comeback in the bottom half of the inning.  When Hamilton hit the home run, Christians ’round the nation thought this was perfect!  Hamilton hit the game-winner and will now praise God on the championship podium!  Welp, guess not.

I point out these instances (and there are many more) to allude to the fact that God doesn’t always pull the strings in the way one might think.  Christian athletes aren’t consistently “rewarded” because they are “God’s.”  There isn’t a history of this consistently happening.  Yes, Tim Tebow’s recent surge is quite compelling, but let’s be careful in chalking this up to God’s intervention.  I mean, there are most likely numerous current Chicago Bears who are professing Christians…so why wasn’t God on their side yesterday?  I don’t think God is picking favorites here.

To ramble a bit further, I must also say that non-Christians certainly cannot stand the idea that the Christian God is somehow “rewarding” Tim Tebow.  When we advocate this, we come across as prideful and condescending.  Like, “Take that, all you nay-saying non-Christians.  Look at what our God is doing through Tim Tebow!”  This is not only annoying, but also wildly off-based.  God has moved in an immense amount of ways throughout history, and many, many, many of those ways have led people to lives of surrender, suffering, and weakness, where they were forced to depend on God.  Life often brings about hurts and Christians aren’t shielded from this.  Thus, a view of God that elevates Him as a cosmic rewarder who tugs the strings in favor of Christians is not only silly, but also quite impractical.

Lastly, I will say that Tebow is maximizing the gifts God has given him.  He is glorifying God through the way he plays.  He works wholeheartedly and is the definition of leadership.  He’s a true role model.  Frankly, I believe God has placed him in this unique position to magnify the name of Jesus Christ and to display God’s beauty.  I also believe we can’t run to conclusions that entertain God as Tim Tebow’s cosmic rewarder, who suddenly shows up (as if someone entered “cheat codes”) to provide supernatural miracles at the end of games.  This appears to be quite a stretch.

The reality is that if God is granting Tebow success, it isn’t about a “reward” for Tim Tebow.  It’s about exalting the name of Jesus Christ through Tim Tebow.  And maybe God’s way of doing that right now is by using Tebow’s success.  But God’s way of bringing glory through Tebow could very well change in the coming weeks.  God’s not a cosmic rewarder who picks sides, nor is He is a “cheat code” entity whom we should access for our own personal, worldly “prize.”  Such a view of God is not in line with the grandiose manifestation of His glory, which truly occurs through a vast array of successes, failures, joys, pains, and more.

When I graduated from high school, I was as moldable as a wet chunk of clay.  I professed to be a Christian but interest in seeking out what that really means was wavering.  I could talk like a Christian but no roots in that identity had been dug.  I entered college searching for purpose and in a place where my peers had an overwhelming amount of influence.  They had the opportunity, knowingly or not, to impact and mold me in deeply formative ways.

At that stage of my life, I could have been sculpted in a handful of ways, but thanks to God, I was blessed to land at Cedarville University and soon become a member of the Men’s Basketball team.  I was soon surrounded by men who did not just profess to be Christians, but were enriched in this identity and were embodying it towards others.  Cedarville was incredibly unique in this regard.  This type of godly fellowship is rare in this day and age and its value cannot be underestimated.

I remember arriving as a freshman and soon rubbing shoulders with senior teammates who seemed more like theologians, such as Tyler Yoder.  I was called up to the varsity team a few weeks into the season, which meant that the varsity players had already received lockers and everyone already had their niche on the team.  I didn’t know how I, the newcoming freshman straggler, would be received.

They gave me a locker sandwiched right next to Yoder, which blatantly eliminated space for him to dress his 6-4, 250 pound body for practice.  This was undoubtedly inconvenient for him.  Moreover, my addition to the team hiked the total of freshman players to around half of the team.  We were immature and thought we were pretty sweet.  For the upperclassmen, the thought of having yet another freshman saying stupid, incoherent things in the locker room was not necessarily appealing.

Despite such obstacles, Yoder welcomed me with a consistency I will never forget.  Truthfully, he probably doesn’t remember much of this.  But little did he know how influential it was at the time.  I listened to him and the other upperclassmen have conversations and latched onto every word like a little boy listens to his daddy.  They could have talked about putting pickles on ice cream and I probably would’ve done it in the campus cafeteria that night.

This was why it was a major blessing that I was surrounded by godly fellowship at Cedarville, because the camaraderie of the team drove me towards pursuing Christian identity myself.  There was an “iron-sharpening-iron” feel to the team, where everybody was spurred on by one another.  The fellowship of the team molded me in ways that would’ve otherwise gone untouched.  Truthfully, if I would’ve been surrounded by a team that had no family like feel and no godly trajectory to it, I could have easily lost sight of my faith as a Christian and never critically engaged what Christian identity really means.

I will never forget my freshman year at Cedarville because of how formative it was.  It was more than a timely blessing.  It was the type of fellowship I needed to instill God’s goodness in me.  I will be forever grateful.

During my sophomore, junior, and senior years, this fellowship continued.  I graduated with a class of teammates who are like brothers to me and I consider them the reason God led me to Cedarville (Oh, and I also met my wife ;)).  The refining, the fun, the conversations, the laughter, and the unfading fellowship was the story of my time as a Cedarville basketball player.  On paper, I was a backup point guard, but in my heart, I was a story whose script was desperately longing to be written.  And the fellowship of the team at Cedarville helped guide my story towards a grander story–towards Christ.

I hope the fellowship that has been seen at Cedarville can infuse more athletic teams.  Being a part of a team is such a joy and it can be handled in different ways.  This is why when I now give a piece of advice to a high school kid who wants to play in college, I tell him to look at the players on the team and try to get a feel for their character. Is it going to be a godly, maturing environment, or is it going to build immaturity, impurity, and prompt one to make decisions that will just end up being regrets?

We need more Tyler Yoder’s out there, who set an example and help shape teammates in life-changing ways.  Guys like him light a spark of fellowship, a torch that gets passed down to the next class, and then the next… The interesting thing is that by the time I was a senior, I hardly realized I could be another Tyler Yoder.  When you’re a senior, it doesn’t feel as if the younger guys really look up to you.  But they do.  How you handle adversity, competition, relationships, and life in general are things that are constantly taken note of.

I hope that professing Christians will seek to wear their identity on teams more and more, because it is such a unique arena that comes and goes.  Yet in the time this fellowship is present, godly character can be nourished and radiated towards others.  This establishment of godly character should be the real reason to play sports, because what it leaves athletes with is far more valuable than putting a ball in a hoop, hitting a home run, or catching a touchdown pass.

Josh Hamilton and Tim Tebow are two of the most well-known Christian athletes.  Both have boldly declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ and seek to exemplify Christian character.  What’s interesting about these two athletes is sports culture has received them in different ways.  While Hamilton has garnerned some attention, Tebow has virtually become a national icon.  He has quickly become one of the most scrutinized athletes in history.  People are coming at him full speed with every move he makes and no one appears ready to put on the brakes.

Why do we treat these two successful, Christian athletes differently?

Hamilton and Tebow possess drastically different Christian testimonies.  Hamilton was known as a “wild man” for years, specifically dabbling in drugs.  He was once a top draft pick, but because of his voluptuous lifestyle he appeared to be forfeiting much of his potential.  It seemed as if his baseball career would be defined as a bust.

Then came his redemption.  He sought help for his addictions and put his faith in Jesus Christ, longing for restoration–both spiritually and physically.  This happened in a remarkable way.  Hamilton soon found his niche as an All-Star caliber hitter in the Texas Rangers’ lineup.  He has now anchored their lineup to two consecutive World Series trips.  This year, he even hit what would’ve been the World Series-winning home run in game 6, but the Cardinals manufactured an improbable comeback.

Hamilton’s story has been inspiring because it consists of a 180-degree turn.  He cast away his old life for a new life.  His life is a living redemption that we can relate with.  We see it.  We grasp it.  We respect it.

(Watch this powerful video of Hamilton describing his redemption.  Seriously, watch it.)

Tebow’s journey has been much different.  To the eyes of the public, it appears that Tebow has never sinned. He grew up as a missionary kid and arrived at the University of Florida rooted in his Christian identity.  He never “dabbled.”  He even claims to be a virgin and that he’s saving himself for marriage.  In this day and age, this is not only unusual, but this is something that unfortunately causes laughter.

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Therefore, when it comes to Tebow, we aren’t prone to look and see redemption and hope.  Despite his consistency in his faith and conduct, Tebow has not received wide-ranging respect.  Some surely do respect him, but many view him as someone to question, someone to search for any flaws to be found, someone whose life should be distinctly examined.  He is too good to be true and many voices in culture simply do not like this.

The stark difference between Hamilton and Tebow is that Hamilton is relateable.  He is easier to handle because he has a bad past.  We connect more with Hamilton because his flaws have been exposed.  He was lost, but now he’s found.

In the world’s eyes, Tebow has never appeared lost.  Tebow’s life seems like a living miracle.  It’s what we dream of our kids being like one day but we know they never will be.  Thus, we’re almost jealous of Tebow.  We essentially want him to fail so we can at least relate to him.  We can identify with Hamilton and his redemption story, but Tebow is tougher to handle.

I must say that at the core of the Christian faith is that we’re all in need of redemption.  Everyone falls under the umbrella of sinful humanity and needs redemption through the Savior Jesus Christ.  This is the lens in which God sees the world.  Hamilton, Tebow, you, and me are all lost and can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

But our humanly eyes often distort this perspective and it is seen in how Josh Hamilton and Tim Tebow are viewed.  Hamilton is esteemed and respected because of his faith and the way his character has changed.  Tebow, on the hand, often receives the brunt of unwarranted criticism.  Truthfully, we can call this criticism, but at the core appears to be a society that is skeptical, perhaps even jealous, of Tebow.  There’s always “a catch” to things that are too good to be true.  But what is “the catch” to Tim Tebow?

Frankly, it is quite silly that there is currently more talk centered around Tim Tebow than Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers is having the best season a quarterback has had in NFL history.  The numbers and wins don’t lie.  And yet Tebow is the story of the 2011 NFL season.  He’s the story because there are so many stories about him, whether it’s praise for his team leadership and grit, criticism of his throwing mechanics, praise for his faith in Jesus Christ, or criticism of his overly zealous admonitions of faith.  Praise and criticism are raining, check that, downpouring on Tebow.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone is voicing it.  We’re now overly hyper over him.  Tim Tebow literally has us going bonkers and we don’t know whether to praise or criticize.

Maybe we should just calm down and let Tebow live, both as a player and a person.  He’s 24 years old and a second year NFL quarterback, but we’re treating him like a presidential candidate.  Truthfully, we should be thankful for a man like him in professional sports.  The reality is that both Hamilton and Tebow instill hope, and they do this in different and similar ways.  Hamilton gives hope to the blatant rebel and his life reveals the loving forgiveness and transformation found in Jesus Christ.  Tebow shows the steadfastness of a godly man’s character, a person who presents the next generation with a true role model.  And they both ultimately hold the keys to life that is rooted in their faith.  Above all else, this is what should be examined.  There is something about both of these athletes that is compelling, and it should warrant our intrigue rather than our skepticism.

     

I like Caleb Hanie and I feel for him because of the bad breaks he has endured in his first two NFL starts.  The bonehead throwback screen call by Mike Martz against the Raiders (intercepted and returned 80+ yards in a game changing play) was a sucker-punch to a young QB’s confidence.  And against the Chiefs, the potential TD dropped by Roy Williams that bobbled into the arms of a defender was beyond momentum killing.  Shoot, even throw in Hanie’s last pass against Kansas City, a Hail Mary which inconveniently got intercepted–stretching his interception tally in his first two starts to six.

Hanie has surely not found any positive breaks that young QB’s need.  But overall, he’s shown he’s capable of remaining a backup QB in this league, especially when you consider that he was sacked seven times yesterday and it appears the Bears O-Line has remembered their old ways.  The truth is that barring a couple unfortunate mishaps, the Bears could be 2-0 with Hanie at the helm and his confidence on the rise.  But they aren’t, and we’re now looking at an inevitably insecure Hanie leading a Bears train that is on the brink of derailing.

The reality is that as long as Jay Cutler is out, the Bears are a team whose script is limited.  Perhaps the Hanie-led Bears could squeak into the playoffs, but even if they do, they will get manhandled by the Saints (who would most likely be their first round matchup).  Looking at the Bears, it would be absolutely foolish to think that they could pull a miracle and somehow make the playoffs and rattle off 3-road wins against the Saints, 49ers, and Packers.  The Cubs have a better chance at winning the World Series next season than us witnessing that type of Bears miracle run.

Because the Bears script appears already written this season, and it seems that a Jay Cutler return is doubtful, why not fiddle with the roster?  Why not have some fun?  Why not gamble on Brett Favre?  What’s the worst that could happen?

Truthfully, I like the Bears chances with Favre more than I do with Hanie.  Favre at least has an abundance of experience and would surely be driven to uplift the sinking Bears.  Moreover, this Bears team needs change.  It is a team whose confidence and hope is bleak.  Lovie Smith may remain optimistic.  Brian Urlacher is always loyal.  And Jay Cutler may voice approval of Hanie.  But we all know the Bears are a sinking ship who needs a breath of fresh air from anywhere.

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In signing Brett Favre, the worst case scenario is that he plays like a 42-year old and the Bears miss the playoffs, which is the likely path they’re going to take anyways.  The best case scenario with Favre is he plays how he did two years ago with the Vikings (33 TD’s, 7 Int) and sparks new life and directs the Bears to the playoffs (And who knows, a streaky Favre could perhaps lead the Bears to some unexpected playoff success).  That best-case scenario with Favre at the helm is something that is unreasonable with Hanie.  Nothing against Hanie, but his lack of experience places him in a position where the Bears potential is limited.  Crazier things have happened, but I think the best case scenario with Hanie under center is the Bears simply making the playoffs.  I don’t foresee anything extraordinary happening with Hanie, but with Favre, you never know.

Surely there are questions about Favre arriving in a Bears uniform.  Could he learn the Martz offense quickly?  How would his fumble prone hands handle getting sacked frequently?  Would the pressure from defenses cause his gunslinger mentality to throw interceptions left and right?  There are obviously concerns, but the Bears are a team full of concerns right now.  If there is ever a time to take a risk, now is that time.  What do they have to lose?

All of us would admit that we’d much rather watch a Christmas day Bears vs. Packers showdown in which Favre once again returns to Lambeau Field in a division rivals uniform.  If anything, Favre in a Bears uniform creates excitement.  It gives us reason to want to watch the Bears for the rest of the season (Sunday against the Chiefs, on the other hand, was painful to watch).  And you never know what the ole’ Wrangler Jeans wearin’, gunslingin’ QB still has up his sleeve.  In my opinion, it’s worth finding out.

Being a seminary student, people often assume that I’ve carved a lofty, pristine view of God into my mind and that this view is perfect.  Not the case.  If anything, seminary has exposed the overwhelming amount of blind spots I’ve had towards the grandiosity of God.  It’s made me aware, time and time again, that: 1) God is real, and 2) God is way bigger, way more loving, way more forgiving, and way more beautiful than we can begin to fathom.  Truthfully, seminary’s debunked my view of God that is so often shallow, unrefined, and stagnant.  It’s revealed that my view constantly needs to be broadened and sharpened.

Recently, I’ve been bogged down by the academic rigor of seminary.  I study Greek, Hebrew, and Apologetics in a continual cycle each week.  Amidst that, sometimes I forget that I’m learning about God.  I add to my stash of knowledge about God but it doesn’t cause my view of Him to expand.

This is the most challenging part of seminary.  I dread these dry spells where everything is so “heady.”  These times make me yearn for a breath of fresh air–something that recharges my battery and gets my gaze back on God and not on facts I read in books.

I thankfully have had one of those “recharge the battery” times in the past week, interestingly coming from a counseling book that I’ve been reading for an upcoming class.  The book (entitled “Soul Physicians” by Robert Kellemen) exhorts one towards biblically-shaped counseling.  It’s intended to prepare a seminary student like me to counsel people in the future.  Ironically, this book has been counseling me, bringing me back to the simplicity of faith and the goodness of God’s character.

This book by Kellemen unpacks how things once began prior to when God created.  He talks about the intimacy between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the Trinity) and how they experienced constant, intimate relationship and were in harmony–giving, sharing, relating, and loving (Kellemen, pg. 62).  The essence of our view of God should flow from this, from the steadfastness of His heart that longs to give, share, and love.  He delights in us and wants us to know it.  He desires that our obedience to Him stems from this intimacy and relational harmony.  Despite what culture may say about God, or what our inward doubts preach to us, God is actively yearning for people to view Him rightly–as the magnanimous lover that He is.

It’s so easy to adopt a view of God that is wildly off-base, even for seminary students like me who should supposedly have a perfect view of God etched into the mind.  Despite all the knowledge I attain, I still often realize ways that my view of God isn’t clear.  I can know information about Him but I’m not viewing Him how He intends.  I need times like these when my view of God is stretched and I’m reminded of His pure love and character.

The late theologian A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (The Knowledge of the Holy).  Life is a war and culture constantly beckons for us to behold a shallow view of God.  Our hearts are tugged by doubts that cause us to lack faith.  After awhile, we settle for a view of God that is minimal and out of touch with the love that is at the core of who He is.  We ultimately need our batteries frequently recharged by His goodness, and eyes to see through the haze that blurs His wondrous beauty.