Tim Tebow, if you have not heard by now (primarily girls under the age of 14 and single grandmothers over the age of 65), is a National Football League quarterback for the Denver Broncos, whose improbable success on the field flies in the face of reality, statistics and conventional wisdom. (Quick summary: Denver Broncos before Tebow – 1 win, 4 losses; after Tebow – 6 wins, 1 loss. His team would make the playoffs if the season ended today. End summary.)
He throws worse than a high school cheerleader. His team scores less points than an average baseball team and routinely enters the ending minutes of games with a near insurmountable deficit. However, improbably, he just wins games. Two weeks ago, the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective submitted an article to the Boston Herald describing the “Tebow Miracle”. Their conclusion? It’s impossible to statistically account for Tebow’s performance and it’s impossible that it will continue.
He’s won the two games played since the article was published.
If this was all there was to it, America would be intrigued, then ultimately toss this feel-good story aside for the next chapter of the Kardashians.
But Tim Tebow is a Christian athlete. And not just an average Christian athlete either. Tebow is a Christian athlete who not only believes in Christ, but lives out his belief in Christ. After every score, he kneels in prayer. He thanks Jesus, his Lord and Savior prior to every press conference. He evangelizes to his teammates constantly. And perhaps most infuriatingly to some, he attributes his wins not to his skills, but to the work of God.
The response from non-Christians has been interesting. The sports establishment started out almost entirely anti-Tebow. Some, like Merril Hoge of ESPN, have gone from “He can’t play” to “He can’t win” to “He can’t win consistently” to “He can’t win a shootout” to “He can’t win a Superbowl”. Others have changed their tune, acknowledging the possibility of something greater taking place than what they can see.
What does this remind you of?
The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.
-1st Corinthians 1:18-20
For the non-Christian, there are two ways to respond to an undeniable work of God: A softening of heart and a willingness to rethink beliefs or a hardening of heart that sets him more in his ways. The difference between the two responses lies in the state of his soil:
Listen. What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams.
It’s interesting that God worked ten major miracles to change Pharoah’s mind, yet his heart grew harder after every one of them. For Paul, God worked one, and his heart changed completely in a moment.
Both Pharaoh and Paul had idols in their heart before God worked his miracles. Pharaoh’s idol was his own glory and he gripped it tightly. When God challenged this, Pharaoh relented for a second, before pursuing the Israelites to the Red Sea. Paul’s idol was religion. It was loosened once by the martyrdom of Stephen before it was completely ripped away on the road to Damascus. On that day, Paul let go of his idol and gave his life completely to Christ.
The role of the farmer is more than just sowing seeds. He is also responsible for the tilling the ground as well, making “good earth” for seeds to take root. Sometimes this is easy, most of the time hard, but the importance of this cannot be overstated. From the Sermon on the Mount (idol of religiosity) to the woman at the well (idol of lust and insecurity), most of Jesus’s work came before the gospel message. In fact, in the case of the rich young ruler, Jesus was never able to loosen the idol of money enough to even present the good news.
So how do we till the land? How do we loosen the iron grip our unbelieving friends have on their idols? Two ways: 1) Show them the futility of their idolatry and 2) show them a better way. A mixture of both is always required to loosen the soil enough for the gospel to take root. To use either requires the following:
- Identification of idols - What are your friends always worried about? Where do they run to when they feel threatened? (This might take the form of money, popularity, pride, intellect, etc.)
- Honest conversations - Why do they run to their idols? What are the reasons for their fears?
- Prayer - The death-grip most people have on their idols will likely never be loosened by one person. Pray that the Spirit would lead them to whoever and whatever is required to continue tilling.
Imagine, you are a man (or woman) who has only known and eaten top ramen your entire life. You suffer from occasional gas and bouts with indigestion, but otherwise are perfectly normal, at least in comparison with the rest of your family (who are also top ramen eaters).
Bob, your next door neighbor, is a little strange. He refuses to eat top ramen and instead feeds his family strange things like carrots and meatloaf with the occasional delectable pumpkin pie. He likes sports, just like you do, and understands why you like top ramen. It’s delicious!
He also knows that you and your family will die if you continue eating ramen.
What would you like Bob to do?
A. Be friendly, talk sports, and hope you notice how joyful he is.
B. Expound on how much he loves his pumpkin pie and offer to give you as much as you can handle.
C. Explain how top ramen will kill you and then not let his kids play with yours for fear that they will enjoy and consequently eat top ramen. Also, he himself might catch some kind of MSG disease, so please don’t get too close! He offers the number of his dietitian instead.
D. Introduce you to his family, explain your symptoms and sympathize with your desire for top ramen. However, he does not relent in telling you that continuing to eat top ramen will eventually kill you. Over time, gently, he shares his diet with you, going over each food item in detail and patiently answering your inevitable questions.
Three of these are easy. The last one, however, is extremely difficult, actually impossible, without the Holy Spirit.
Seeds are sown everywhere. John 3:16 is shouted at confused passerbys in cities across the world. The miracle of Tim Tebow is entering America’s collective consciousness. But the ground is harder than ever. These seeds are falling by the wayside, countless millions of well-meaning dollars wasted hardening the already rocky soil in the hearts of unbelievers. We need to stop relying on works of God to save this generation.
It’s time for us to put on our gloves and start loving.