This weekend, the New York Giants upset the defending champion Green Bay Packers while the Tim Tebow–led Denver Broncos fell to the New England Patriots.
The Giants might make it to the Super Bowl, but Tebow will not, so that means that Tim Tebow is not facing the Giants.
But not just on the football field, but in a much more profoundly theological way.
A few weeks ago, my family sat down for movie night and watched Facing the Giants. Here is the trailer:
It is an emotional story of a high school football coach, Grant Taylor (compellingly acted by Alex Kendrick, who also directed and co-wrote the movie), as he is facing the difficulties of his life (the metaphorical “giants”). He is on the verge of losing his job as coach of the Shiloh Eagles because they keep losing. He and his wife are heart-broken by their inability to have a baby. The couple are scraping by on his small salary and cannot afford to buy a new car.
But then he prays.
And his attitude changes. He decides that instead of worrying about all that’s going wrong in his life, he will live whole-heartedly to glorify God in everything he does.
He tells the team that he is initiating a new team philosophy: “We need to give God our best in every area. And if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.”
It is at this stage in the story that miracles begin to happen: Somebody anonymously gives Grant a brand new pickup truck. The Eagles begin to win. And his wife discovers she’s pregnant.
And they did indeed lose! The sad coach says to his wife, “I thought for sure we’d win that game!”
But wait a minute! The other team cheated by having an ineligible player on their team, so the Eagles get to advance in the playoffs due to the forfeit! What a miracle!
Extraordinarily, the Eagles make it all the way to the State Championship against the big, ominous Giants, who are dressed in all black, and have a fat mean-spirited man as their head coach. Against all odds, the Eagles win on a field goal by the kid who also facing his “giant” of feeling inadequate to play on the football team. Wow!
As the credits began to scroll, one of my kids said, “That was amazing! If this really didn’t happen, I wouldn’t believe it!”
”What?” This caused me to stop everyone from going up to bed. “This didn’t really happen,” I said, “This is a fictional movie.”
That’s when the anger and crying began. They were so upset that this movie was not true. They felt that it was wrong, down-right lying, to tell such a story if it did not really happen.
The movie’s premise was that if you prayed and gave your all to God, life will turn out wonderful and all the hardships in life will be overcome by miracles from God. You will win the big game. My kids wanted to believe that.
And when I told my kids “This movie is fiction,” they understood that to mean “This movie is a lie.”
Which it is.
God never promises that if we give him our best in every area of our lives that all our trials will be overcome by miracles and that our lives will become wonderful. Exactly the opposite is taught:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Coach Grant Taylor told his team, “We need to give God our best in every area. And if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.” That is exactly right. The Apostle Peter was willing to praise God no matter what because he knew that the ultimate reward for faith in Christ is an inheritance that is yet to come. Jesus suffered and died, but overcame that with resurrection. We have that same hope in our trials. He wrote,
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
Now to Tim Tebow.
Tim Tebow and his faith in Jesus Christ has been a lightning rod of contention as his Broncos unexpectedly made the NFL playoffs and then won last week against the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow’s dramatic overtime win (on the first play from scrimmage in OT, Tebow completed an 80 yard touchdown to win it) had people all aflutter. In that win, he threw for 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per completion. (Isn’t the Bible’s “most famous verse” John 3:16? And hey- Isn’t the coach of the Broncos named John? Whoa!) Facebook and Twitter were filled with people saying that Tim Tebow’s Christian faith must be the reason they won that game. He must be going all the way to win the Super Bowl.
That’s the way Alex Kendrick would have wrote it: The Broncos would have faced the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI and won it in dramatic fashion.
But this is reality. This is Tim Tebow living a real, authentic Christian life: one that truly says, “We need to give God our best in every area, and if we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him.”
Tebow works hard at what he does (playing football) and because of that, he has experienced success. But Tebow knows that there is more to life than winning football games.
Legendary sports writer Rick Reilly recently wrote an article at ESPN.com titled “I Believe in Tim Tebow.” It is worth clicking over to read. In it, he explains what kind of person Tebow is.
“Who among us is this selfless?
Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured. He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster's), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.
Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat.”
There is a difference between the fictional story of “Facing the Giants” and the real-life story of Tim Tebow. Christians who want to use athletes’ or celebrities’ success as “proof” for the goodness of Christianity had better hear this.
For the first time in seven days, each of which I spent in Denver because of Tim Tebow's polarizing impact on the NFL, the Broncos' quarterback and I finally had the chance to exchange more than the daily salutations I'd come to expect from the overbearing nature of Tebowmania.
We walked toward the exit -- among the last to leave the locker room after a 41-23 loss to the Patriots on Sunday -- as I began to ask the first of what I hoped would be a series of questions.
"How is the strength of your faith impacted after a loss?" I started.
"It puts things in perspective," Tebow said. "God is still God. I still have a relationship with Christ, and a loss doesn't change anything. Win or lose, everything is still the same. What matters is the girl I'm about to see, Kelly Faughnan. If I can inspire hope in someone, then it's still a good day."
And just like that, with a transition smooth enough to make a movie producer proud, Tebow crossed through the threshold of a doorway to the glowing face of a 22-year-old survivor of a brain tumor. After one question, the interview was over. A more important priority awaited him.
That’s the kind of movie “Facing the Giants” could have been.