I can't claim to be a football fan, but this season is the closest I've come to being one. This Saturday I'll be glued to the playoff game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, rooting for Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
Last month, three Long Island students were suspended for "Tebowing"—mimicking Tebow's signature one-knee kneel—in the school hallways. According to the school, the sheer number of students who would mimic the move created "a safety hazard." This says a lot about Tebow's status in pop culture, as does the fact that name-checking Tebow has become a common practice in contexts as diverse as GOP presidential debates to progressive talk radio.
But Tebow's name is synonymous with more than just football (and stunning fourth-quarter wins). His signature move started as a bow to God. Tebow himself defines "Tebowing" as "to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different."
As Tebowing and Tebow himself have exploded into a nearly ubiquitous pop culture reference, he has attracted plenty of criticism, ranging from the ignorant to the outrageous, with conclusions about the larger meaning of the phenomenon ranging from bullying to unwise to maddening to sacrilegious.
I had a totally different reaction to the Tebow phenomenon: conviction.
Christians who aren't in the public spotlight might be tempted to dismiss Tebow as an exaggerated witness: maybe he is among the few in the kingdom "called" to start an Internet meme or command the attention of a football stadium.
But it's not true. In fact, it's every Christian's job to witness to the grace that saves, while gaining attention for that witness is no more our job than bestowing that salvation.
At the end of the day, Tebow is a guy doing his job while also going out of his way to make it clear that he is a Christian. And that is something all Christians can and should emulate.
Tebow is brave. Although he's not the only Christian in the NFL, it is not a workplace known for incorporating Jesus. Tebow created that space, and made it a place of praise. And he started long before he played for the NFL or the Broncos reached the playoffs.
Often, it takes courage and conviction to demonstrate Christ in the workplace. I can't imagine "Tebowing" every time I score a professional achievement in my office, but I can imagine blessing my food in public, refusing to make a decision without praying first, and talking to coworkers about my faith when the timing is appropriate.
Like Tebow's, most jobs, whether in a secular or Christian workplace, involve the daily taking or giving of credit. Almost every job provides the chance to graciously interact with fellow human beings.
And if you're crediting yourself, as I did, for being a fairly conscientious coworker, next ask yourself: Who ultimately gets the credit for that? Do observers see that you are motivated by love of the God who created work in the first place? Or do they just see you?
There are very few jobs that require face paint as a matter of routine, but there are many that offer the chance for pins or jewelry or prints on the desk. (Get creative—God is!) It is so much easier to allow others to attribute goodness where they may, but to direct attention back to Christ—even attention we may not know we receive—might mean making a conscious effort not to "pass" for a non-Christian.
That kind of witness is transformational and expansive. It can mobilize an entire team and inspire someone like me to break out of nearly three decades of happy sports ignorance and turn on the TV. Or it can simply inspire someone to ask a question, pick up a dusty Bible, or reconsider those "religious freaks."
True, just because everybody's talking about something (or someone like Tebow) doesn't mean it's having an impact. But I believe the very presence of God, in pop culture and elsewhere, brings unplanned benefits. For example, John 3:16 became the top Google search following Sunday night's surprise overtime win. As Tebow said of the Tebowing phenomenon, "It's not my job to see people's reasons behind it …. At least it's being talked about, and that's a cool thing."
There's a lot to respect about a Christian unafraid to make everything about him represent Christ, so that whether there is one eye on him or a thousand, not one can fail to notice, whether they react with hatred or adulation or interest.
That's the kind of impact I want to have on my workplace, but probably don't.
Our culture places football in a dangerous place of idolatry, but even if Tebow stumbles in the future (because he is, after all, human), he has done a good thing by using his pedestal to point up toward Jesus. And you know what? Jesus can complete that pass, once someone throws a witness out there. I don't make any claims—that's not my job anymore than Tebow's—but no human could have planned the fact that on Sunday, Tebow threw for 316 yards and set a postseason record averaging 31.6 yards per completion.
There is something that the Bible indicates God is more interested in than helping win a football game: calling his people back to himself.
So welcome to popular culture, Mr. Tebow. I'm glad we both play for God's team.
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