I’m an evangelical and I like watching sports. Those worlds very rarely seemed to be in the same galaxy for most of my life. My Christian faith world and my sports love world always seemed to be at odds with each other when I was growing up. Every morning when I would wake up my spiritual battle would be Sportscenter vs. devotions. Sportscenter would win most days during football and basketball season and devotions would win during baseball and church camp season. There was never any real connection between these two worlds when I was growing up. There was a magazine I remember reading a few times called “Sports Spectrum”, which was supposed to be the evangelical version of Sports Illustrated. But there was only so many times you could do an article on Reggie White and Dr. J, and when I saw Sir Charles Barkley grace the cover one month, I think that mag lost a lot of cred for me. Plus it was kind of lame. Christians just don’t seem to own “cool”.
But over the last 6 months though, something truly amazing has happened. The sports world has been taken over by evangelical athletes. First there was Tim Tebow. The young son of missionaries who is a pure as the driven snow and seems as genuine about his faith in private as he is in public. Next, you had Jeremy Lin. The out of nowhere basketball star who broke the mold as to how to make it to the top. He resurrected a falling NBA franchise and seems to have more fans than the All-Star on his team (Carmelo Anthony), and does it all while tweeting his favorite Bible verses. Finally, we have Bubba Watson. Until last night, most people did not know who he was, but he won a little golf tournament called the Masters, and now his face, his story, and his faith are everywhere. It’s not like a Christian athlete is a new thing. There have been lots of them. Many have thanked Jesus at award ceremonies or have shared their faith in interviews. But this new trinity of evangelical sports stars is captivating the hearts of everyone in America, not just the evangelical, middle class. These three are not just evangelical athletes, these men are true sports stars (who just happen to be boldly Christian).
So what is happening here? Does God suddenly like sports? Has he suddenly taken an interest in golf and the NFL and blessed a faithful few to represent Him and the gospel to the masses?
I have a couple of thoughts I wanted to share with you as we live in this phenomena.
1. God elevates and He lowers people for His glory – God raises up leaders and He removes them. God anoints kings and then He replaces them. God uses men for His glory. Daniel 2:20-21 states this perfectly, “Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.” Everyone who is elevated to some kind of popular status will always glorify God. They will either be a billboard for His grace and His gospel or they’ll be a billboard for God’s truth and justice, but everyone will bring glory to their Maker. These three sports stars have been elevated by God. I don’t even think we may know why just yet. Maybe it’s to show the world that Christians are normal in many ways, but that we are different in so many ways. Maybe it’s because Christians are so bad at sharing their faith like they should, so God is raising up some men who will declare the gospel unashamedly to your neighbor who you’ve lived by for 10 years, and have yet to tell them about Jesus. I don’t know, but I would not put too much of your hope in these men, because our hope needs to be all in Jesus. These men will serve their purpose in the Kingdom of God and when their purpose in finished, God will elevate someone else.
2. Christianity will never be cool. I know I’m a party pooper, but I’ve seen this before. A popular Christian celebrity of something hits the scene and we think that this is the church’s moment to shine. But no matter how many times this has happened, a celebrity never makes Christianity in and of itself cool. Everyone got excited when The Passion came out. “This is it!” the evangelical world thought. We finally have a cool movie that is a blockbuster! We’ve had multiple American Idol contests win who claim to be Christians, and yet with every popular move the evangelical church makes, we have to understand that we will never be popular. It’s just not in the world’s DNA or in the church’s DNA. Jesus said that if the world hated him, then they would hate us (John 15:18-20). Jesus didn’t say that we are blessed when we are loved and adored by the masses, but instead said that we are blessed when we are persecuted and reviled (Matthew 5:11-16). It’s time for Christians to realize that the gospel will never be popular, at least by the masses. It’s time we stopped waiting for the popularity train to hit before we hit the streets with our faith. The gospel is offensive because it calls everyone sinners, and most people don’t want to hear that. We need to let the American dream of popularity die within American evangelical church. I’m not saying that the church can’t have an incredible impact that can change our world. I’m just saying that the impact isn’t going to happen through the stream of cultural popularity.
I don’t know how long that Tim, Jeremy, and Bubba will continue to grace the covers of Sports Illustrated and flood the airwaves of ESPN, but when it all stops, it’s important to remember that the story and message of Jesus will just be as important and relevant then as it is today. But as a Christian who just so happens to enjoy sports, I’m going to enjoy these two world colliding as long as it lasts.