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Jan. 15, 2009

Tim Tebow, Jason Hanson, and Kurt Warner: Faith and Football

Tim TebowNanci is more football-crazy than I am, but we both really enjoy football season, and sort of hate to see it winding down as the Superbowl approaches. The national college championship game was played a week ago. Congratulations to the Florida Gators and quarterback Tim Tebow, named Most Valuable Player. If you would have told us three years ago that Nanci and I would become Gators fans we'd have said "no way." Nothing against the Gators, but Florida and Oregon, land of Beavers and Ducks, are geographical opposites, and in the past we haven't followed closely what happens in Florida at the college level.

Tim Tebow, in his three years of college, has won the national championship twice, as well as last year's Heisman trophy for the best football player in the country, and then was one of the three Heisman finalists this year. But what's really remarkable is his outspoken devotion to the Lord, who he always publicly thanks as "my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (which is much more specific and controversial than thanking "God").

Alcorns,  Webers, Tebows

But Tim Tebow and his family changed all that. Tim's parents, Bob and Pam Tebow, invited us to spend a weekend with them and attend a Gator game in November. They lived in Oregon 35 years ago while Bob attended Western Seminary, where I went after Multnomah Bible College (now Multnomah University). Bob graduated from Western with our old friend and pastor Stu Weber, who I served with in the first thirteen years of Good Shepherd Community Church, which Nanci and I are still part of. We went to the Tebow home for a fun weekend, with much talk of the past, the present and God's faithfulness. The Tebows have a great family, and a great ministry in the Philippines.

Heisman trophy

Timmy, as his family calls him, and as he signs his autographs (including on several jerseys for our grandsons), is utterly serious in his commitment to Christ. I have only been around one public figure who receives the amount of attention Timmy does, which is way more than most of us are built for. We were sitting with Timmy for an hour in a private post-game tailgate event, where we were able to talk and pray with him and watch him interact with others. Then he jumped in his parents car with us to go hang out at his apartment with some of his friends. (That's where the picture with Webers and Tebows was taken; then Nanci and I posed with Timmy's Heisman trophy, and a Heisman ball signed by winners of the trophy, at the Tebow home; to clarify, I was not actually a Heisman finalist myself.)

Naturally, because Timmy has been so explicit in his faith in Christ, and commitment to purity, he has a target on his chest. Pray for this young man. Fortunately he has a truly wonderful Christ-centered, kingdom-minded family. His parents, brothers and sisters are the real deal. So is Tim Tebow.

Jason HansonTim Tebow isn't the only great football player with faith in God. Speaking in NFL chapels over the years, we've had the opportunity to get to know a number of them. One who had a great year is our friend Jason Hanson, who ranks number eight in total points scored in NFL history, and is still going strong.

Jason kicked for Washington State, setting NCAA records that stand to this day. He was teammates with retired quarterback Drew Bledsoe. He holds the all-time college record for most field goals from 50 yards and more (20), and 40 yards and more (39).

As of this season Jason also holds the all-time NFL record for field goals 50 yards and greater—41 of them. Jason kicked eight field goals over fifty yards this year, tying the NFL record set by Morton Anderson, and surpassing Anderson's lifetime record. It was a rough year for the Detroit Lions, but an incredible year for Jason, who missed only one field goal from any distance (it was blocked). He's a pro-bowl alternate. And at age 38, having played with the Lions sixteen years, he's been with the same team longer than any other active NFL player. Most importantly, Jason is not only a great competitor, but a humble follower of Christ, who uses his gifts for God's glory. He loves his wonderful wife and children and is a real role model, a man to be admired off the field even more than on. Read Jason's thoughtful words. The way he's kicking, Jason could have another five years or more as a pro. When he finally does retire, in my opinion (which counts for nothing, since I don't get a vote) Jason will have had a hall of fame career. And speaking of the Hall of Fame, Jason is already there, as of last month, because the uniform he wore and the football he kicked to break that NFL career record for 50-yard-plus field goals were officially handed over to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Congratulations, brother.

Isn't it fun to know that God has his people everywhere, in grocery stores and tire shops, in offices, at colleges and in professional sports?

Kurt WarnerAnd what about Kurt Warner? Nine years after he won the Superbowl with the Rams, and about five years after everyone thought his career was over, this year he led the underdog Arizona Cardinals to their second straight playoff win, so that in a few days they play for the NFC championship. And for Warner, it's all about Christ.

My friend C.J. Mahaney preached a great message on sports recently called "Don't Waste Your Sports" which you can listen to online at Sovereign Grace's website. C.J. also blogged about a book that helps readers form a biblical worldview of sports. It's called Game Day for the Glory of God: A Guide for Athletes, Fans, & Wannabes and it was written by Stephen Altrogge.

Athletes in Action and Fellowship of Christian Athletes are two great ministries for young Christian athletes.

Well, consider that the official end of the blog, unless you want to read some of what I said in my big Heaven book about sports on the New Earth:

Just as we can look forward to cultural activities such as art, drama, and music on the New Earth, I also think we can assume that we’ll also enjoy sports there.

According to the principle of continuity, we should expect the New Earth to be characterized by familiar, earthly (though uncorrupted) things. Scripture compares the Christian life to athletic competitions (1 Corinthians 9:24, 27; 2 Timothy 2:5).

Because sports aren’t inherently sinful, we have every reason to believe that the same activities, games, skills, and interests we enjoy here will be available on the New Earth, with many new ones we haven’t thought of. (Your favorite sport in Heaven may be one you’ve never heard of or one that hasn’t yet been invented.) Sports and our enjoyment of them aren’t a result of the Fall. I have no doubt that sinless people would have invented athletics, with probably more variations than we have today. Sports suit our minds and our bodies. They’re an expression of our God-designed humanity.

What kinds of new sports and activities might we engage in on the New Earth? The possibilities are limitless. Perhaps we’ll participate in sports that were once too risky. And just as we might have stimulating conversations with theologians and writers in Heaven, we might also have the opportunity to play our favorite sports with some of our favorite sports heroes. How would you like to, in your resurrection body, play golf with Payne Stewart or play basketball with David Robinson? How would you like to play catch with Andy Pettitte or go for a run with Jesse Owens or Eric Liddell?

Eric LiddellEric Liddell understood that glorifying God extends to every part of our lives. Explaining that God had called him not only to missions work in China but also to compete in the Olympics, Liddell said to his sister, “He made me fast, and when I run I feel God’s pleasure. . . . To give up running would be to hold him in contempt.”

In a tennis tournament, I once played a five-hour singles match in which each of the three sets went to a tiebreaker. I came away exhausted, lost two toenails, and limped for two weeks. But did I regret a single minute of that five-hour match? Not one. There’s joy in testing the limits of our bodies. Furthermore, those exhilarating five hours created a permanent bond with my opponent, who became my friend.

As we expend energy in our new bodies, it’s possible we’ll tire and need refreshment. After playing for hours, we may eat and drink to replenish our bodies, laughing about what happened on the field, enjoying each other’s company, and praising God for the sheer pleasure of it all.

People have told me, “But there can’t be athletics in Heaven because competition brings out the worst in people.” It’s true that some people’s sin spills over during athletic competition. But in Heaven, there will be no worst in us to bring out. People further object: “But in sports, someone has to lose. And in Heaven no one could lose.” Who says so? I’ve thoroughly enjoyed many tennis matches and ten-kilometer races that I’ve lost. Losing a game isn’t evil. It’s not part of the Curse. To say that “everyone would have to win in Heaven” underestimates the nature of resurrected humanity.

Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do—including playing sports and watching them—may we do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Randy's signature

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