“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet."--Matthew 5:13

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Rebirth of the Christian Athlete

Eric Liddell
Not since the 1924 Paris Olympics has Christianity taken the center stage in athletics. Back then, Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary and runner, refused to run a 100-meter heat that was scheduled on Sunday, the day of worship for Christians. Liddell instead chose to run the 400-meter race. He ended up finishing first and broke the existing Olympic and world records. Liddell credited his win as God's will that he should not run the 100, but the 400.

Now, almost 90 years later, three Christian athletes from three different sports have made a splash in the past month regarding their faith.

Tim Tebow
The first, and most notable, Christian athlete to publicly speak out about his faith this year is Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow took over the Broncos in October after the team suffered a 2-5 start. Since he became the starting quarterback, Tebow led the Broncos to a 6-3 regular season record, earning the team's first trip to the playoffs since 2005, including a playoff win over the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tebow proved that he was a consistent winner, but he also became the butt of much criticism. Criticism regarding his passing statistics, and his inability to score in the first three quarters of games, seemed to be masked attempts at criticizing his faith in Christ. Even before he became an NFL player, Tebow, as a quarterback for the University of Florida, was vocal about his faith.
Given the fact that he is an unconventional quarterback, many draft analysts projected that Tebow would never pan out as an NFL player, despite the fact that he was a Heisman Trophy winner and had helped lead the Gators to two BCS National Championships. The Denver Broncos, regardless of these assessments, drafted Tebow with their first round pick in 2010.

Regarding his fame and popularity, Tebow said, in an interview with Christianity Today magazine, "When people look at me or look up to me, hopefully they see that it's not about me. It's having a relationship with Christ, and it's a lot bigger than me. And that's what I'm living for--it's not the money or the fame. It's having a relationship with Christ, impacting a lot of people and trying to help, encourage, and inspire people." Tebow views his career as a calling to further the name of Christ.

Josh Hamilton is another professional athlete who has been outspoken about his Christian faith. Hamilton, the 2010 American League MVP, had been selected by Tampa Bay as the number one overall pick in 1999. But, due to his drug and alcohol addiction, Hamilton was banned from baseball. After making a profession of faith in Christ, Hamilton's life drastically changed. He turned from his addictions and was reinstated by MLB.
Josh Hamilton
During a game last summer, Hamilton, after catching the third out, threw the ball up into the stands. A fan reached out to grab the ball and fell to his death on the concrete below. Hamilton cited his Christian faith as helping him get through the guilt resulting in the death. Hamilton said, "This is life. There are tragedies, things that happen that you have no control over and you don't understand them. One of them is standing in front of your maker. Maybe I was a little more prepared to handle a situation like this. Still, it doesn't mean it doesn't hurt and affect you. It was just a random act of kindness that turned tragic" (USA Today 7/12/11).

Hamilton has made headlines recently due to a relapse with alcohol. He was seen on a couple of occasions in a bar with friends. Hamilton quickly apologized to the team, the media, and to his fans. He has said that he is receiving accountability and counseling. Hamilton said, "I'm taking steps to get rid of baggage and memories and things I've held onto my entire life that are causing me to act a certain way in my relationship at home with my wife and kids. They are holding me back. The last week and a half, I've looked at my kids differently. I've had more patience. I've wanted to be with them as much as possible" (espn.com 2/16/12). Even though Hamilton did not commit a crime, he realized that he had sinned before God, and that he needed to get more help before anything worse could happen.

The third highly publicized athlete who is unabashed about his Christian faith is the New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin. After star forward Carmelo Anthony went down with an injury, unknown guard Jeremy Lin stepped in to take his place. Lin has scored over twenty points in almost every game in which he has appeared since Anthony's injury.Inspired by Tim Tebow, Lin lead the Knicks to seven straight wins before losing last night against New Orleans.

Jeremy Lin
When Lin's pastor, Stephen Chen, was asked how Lin is able to stay so humble despite his new fame and popularity, he said that Lin understands that he is a sinner. "He understands that he’s a sinner saved by grace. He knows that [because] he came to salvation. He [knows] that what he has is not his and that does keep him grounded. That is part of Christian character that he continues to work on", Chen said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Given Lin's background of rejection, it would seem that he should just laugh in the face of all those who rejected him. After receiving no scholarship offers in high school, Lin walked-on at Harvard University. After a very successful collegiate career, where he was a two-time All-Ivy League First Team selection, Lin was undrafted out of college. Lin signed with his hometown Golden State Warriors at the beginning of last season and appeared in only 29 games. Lin was waived on the first day of Warriors training camp at the start of this season; signed by the Rockets three days later; and then waived by the Rockets twelve days after that. The New York Knicks claimed Lin off of waivers to be a third string back-up guard. And that is when he got his chance to prove himself as a professional basketball player.

When asked by The Christian Post what he is thinking after becoming an NBA superstar, Lin replied, "I'm thinking about how I can trust God more. How can I surrender more? How can I bring him more glory?"
So how can three superstar professional athletes act so humble? Given the fame, popularity, and celebrity, how can these three men remain so positive, even after struggles in their personal lives and professional careers?

Because, just as Jeremy Lin said, they realize that the world does not revolve around them. They know that God has chosen them for a specific purpose: to glorify Him through the mode of professional sports. They also realize that God can choose to bring them down, just as He has chosen to raise them up. That is how these men can remain so humble. And so, with this kind of worldview, the Christian athlete is reborn.

Eric Liddell would be proud.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Book Review of "John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology"

To many people, the name of John Calvin brings forth negative connotations. Some view Calvin as the cold-hearted man behind the theological belief system that bears his name. Others even percieve the doctrines of Calvinism to be dangerous, both spiritually and emotionally. The majority of people who espouse these negative views of Calvin are either ignorant, or seek to slander the name of a man who, according to the authors of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, was a humble servant of God. Most people do not understand the positive effects that Calvin and his writings have had on the world. D.G. Hart, a contributer to the book states, "Calvinism played a crucial role in transforming the West and creating the modern world" (p.52).

The book contains 19 chapters, each written by a leading Reformed thinker. Contributers include Sinclair B. Ferguson, Keith A. Mathison, Michael Horton, and John MacArthur. Each chapter revolves around one aspect of Calvin's minstry and life, including his heart for God, his ability to preach God's Word, and his doctrinal beliefs. The book is edited togather by Burk Parsons, editor of Tabletalk devotional magazine by Ligonier Ministries.

The book promises to be an excellent resource for those who seek to learn more from this man of God. It also helps to quell some of the ignorance regarding his life and doctrines.

  • Hardcover: 246 pages

  • Publisher: Reformation Trust Publishing (November 28, 2008)

  • Price: $19