Tim Tebow and Idolatry

Dirk Hayhurst is a professional baseball player and a writer with a depth and maturity of insight that I admire. His comments here on the “Tim Tebow Affair” (Tim Tebow: Are His Celebrity and Football Success False Idols?) are full of insight. Speaking neither for nor against Tebow, he rather challenges our temptation to wrap truth in the success of others. Odd it is that we who follow a savior who died in obscurity can be so caught up in celebrity.

The piece is so full of quotable wisdom that I simply must plop the final couple sentences here and encourage you to read the whole.

“…let us not continue some temporal media spectacle focused on production and sports celebrity. These things can evaporate like dew on morning grass.

“Instead, let’s focus on the same boring, consistent, and yet oh-so-exciting promises that have always been in front of us—that God sent his only Son into this world to die for our sins so that through his death we might have peace with God and new life. If that doesn’t get you pumped up, nothing any sports star can do will.”

I’m rooting for Tebow. I’m impressed by Tebow. But I’m once again reminded of how easily we create and then unwisely rest in idols.

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Garfoose promo1By the way, Hayhurst is, uh, a character. His alter-ego is a ‘garfoose‘ – a half giraffe and half moose creation which I find wonderfully appealing. Nothing at all somber and dull about this guy. That’s why I like him.

Both his books are on my Amazon wish list. *wink, wink*

Sports and God

As I get ready to travel to St. Petersburg to attend the first game of the American League Division Series between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays (look for me in right field with my three sons), I was struck by this excellent post by my good friend and former colleague and all-around wise guy (in the BEST sense of that) Geoff Henderson. If you like sports, this is a must read. A snippet here:

If I love Cade more than football, I’ll not neglect playing with Cade, and at times have to press pause and watch the game later or not at all. If I love football more than Cade, I’ll let him see the lingering frustration of a tough loss, even if it is more subtle than flipping a bird, because my lifeline has been cut. If I love Cade more than football, I’ll teach him how it can be a fun hobby which helps connect me with both Christians and non-Christians. If I love football more than Cade, football will be all I talk about or think about during the week.

Oddly, shortly after reading Geoff’s post, I ran across this from the religion editor of the Orlando Sentinel.

I’m beginning to think that God is trying to tell me something.

That led then to what looks like a fascinating book, of interest to some reading this blog:

God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC

Okay. Enough of that. Off to the game.

As Olive Sees It

“Sometimes, like now, Olive had a sense of just how desperately hard every person in the world was working to get what they needed. For most, it was a sense of safety, in the sea of terror that life increasingly became. People thought love would do it, and maybe it did. But even if, thinking of the smoking Ann, it took three different kids with three different fathers, it was never enough, was it?”

(from Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge, page 211)

But there is another way.

“In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”

(Psalm 71:1-3)

To understand these two worlds and to bring them together is why I preach.

I’m with My Daddy

With my mind, I eschew the so-called prosperity ‘gospel’, that system of thought teaching that God wants his people to expect good health and financial prosperity, and that the sign of God’s blessing is fitness and riches.

But with my heart, I find I am a card carrying believer. When the script of my life goes contrary to my desires for comfort and safety, I am taken aback. I wonder about God’s love and question his goodness. In the darkness of my heart my assessment of the NORM for the Christian life is prosperity. When it does not come, it can only be that God has failed me.

Such thinking shows that I am a true blue believer in the prosperity ‘gospel’, not in that part of my mind which forms the words I speak and the convictions I articulate, but in that part that feeds my heart and my emotions and my desires and my faith.

This morning I was reading about Peter in Acts 12. Peter is imprisoned, and yet the church prays for him. As a result, an angel comes, leads him through miraculously swinging gates, and into the still night a free man. This is the kind of thing my prosperity trained faith would expect. It is a wonderful thing, and we praise God for it, and we look for similar experiences in our own lives.

Too bad that James did not get to see any of this.

James, the apostle, the brother of John, did not get to see or celebrate Peter’s miraculous release. Herod did not bother imprisoning James. He just flat out killed him.

So, Peter lived out a miracle, and James just died. Both faithful men. Both among Jesus’ inner circle. Both leaders in the church. Both according to my ‘prosperity’ thinking deserving of God’s best. One is simply slaughtered, the other delivered.

James, though, not Peter, is the norm. The norm in a world Jesus described as a place where his people ‘will have tribulation’ is not Peter being rescued, but rather the saints in Hebrews 11 losing meals, body parts, and loved ones. The norm is James.

When I make Peter’s deliverance the norm, then I grumble and question God over every problem in my life (currently: broken timing belt on daughter’s car) and am blind to the plethora of blessings around me (currently: I slept in a comfortable bed last night, with a full tummy, in reasonable health, with a loving family, and a wonderful church, and…).

When, on the other hand, I take Jesus seriously and believe that the world he has overcome is a world in which tribulation is the norm, I am not shocked by James’ death, though saddened, and I am thrilled by not only Peter’s deliverance, but deeply thankful for the smaller and seemingly mundane blessings of food on my plate and daughters who still call me ‘Daddy’.

When I retrieved my daughter from along I-4 on Tuesday as a tow truck hooked on to her dead car, she was talking with a friend on her phone telling her what had happened. “It’s okay now,” she said, “I’m with my daddy.”

That is the gospel we are to embrace, the gospel of a Father’s love displayed in the faithfulness of the cross. In this world there will be tribulation.

But it’s okay, now. We’re with our ‘Daddy’.

Barriers to Belief

This, if true, explains a lot, about me, and about those to whom we speak (in reference to John 5:43-44):

“If a man is not thoroughly honest in his professed desire to find out the truth in religion, – if he secretly cherishes any idol which he is resolved not to give up, – if he privately cares for anything more than God’s praise, – he will go on to the end of his days doubting, perplexed, dissatisfied, and restless, and will never find the way to peace. His insincerity of heart is an insuperable barrier in the way of his believing.”

(J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, quoted by Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, page 334)