If you are a parent of children old enough to play sports, chances are they have experienced some kind of athletic competition, even if it is only in the living room with dad: wrestling, tossing the orange sphere into an over-sized hoop, conducting reenactments from the latest football game, or perfecting their swing with a big red bat and round white ball. And, if you are hoping to turn athletic engagement into an opportunity to instruct your children about hard work, humility, respect, selflessness, and what the gospel teaches us about sports (and, for that matter, what sports teach us about the gospel—which is, incidentally, quite a lot), then you probably have your ears and eyes trained to recognize moments when the professional sporting community is blessed with athletic talent that is—get this—equaled and even surpassed by one’s commitment to Christ.
Over the past two weeks, the world has been introduced to Jeremy Lin—the undrafted, previously-unheard- of, unlikely guard for the New York Knicks. Having initially come into the league without a full contract, Lin’s last six performances have at least a few general managers on the phone with their scouts wondering why they didn’t snag this kid when they had the chance. Last night’s performance was the apex in a series of games in which Lin has shown tremendous skill and maturity, tallying stats like a 5-year marquee veteran—and with requisite poise. In last evening’s contest between New York and Toronto, with only ten seconds remaining and score tied at 87—and with an unhurried posture that made you think it was normal for him to sink game-winners—Lin pulled up and busted a long-range three from atop of the key, securing the win over a stunned Raptors squad.
But who is Jeremy Lin? If we began his biography by noting that he is a Christian, some of us, jaded by years of observing professing Christian athletes smear the name of Christ with grossly materialistic and immoral lifestyles, might ignore or even despise such a designation. But like his cross-sport counterpart, Tim Tebow, Lin appears to be the genuine article. His Christianity—that is, his unswerving commitment to Christ—supersedes his commitment to sports. But such an arrangement of priorities doesn’t dampen Lin’s ability to lead and serve his team: the stats, of course, speak for themselves, and when asked about his current place in the spotlight, Lin replies,
It’s not because of me, it’s because we’re coming together as a team,”…”We started making these steps earlier but we were still losing close games and so obviously it wasn’t fun. But when you win, that solves a lot of problems. We’ve been winning and we’ve been playing together. (Quote taken here from USA Today)
Lin’s testimony is also encouraging. In an online video, Lin, commenting on the apostle Paul’s pursuit of the heavenly prize in Philippians 3:15, remarks that he eventually learned to end his quest for personal glory. Instead, Lin now seeks to play hard, submit his desires and dreams to God’s will, and entrust the outcome to the Lord’s sovereign hand. Encouraging testimony from one who has persevered through significant uncertainty pertaining to his career as a professional basketball player. (Click here for more on Lin’s testimony.)
We can be thankful God’s work in men like Jeremy Lin. And when, in God’s providence, genuine Christian athletes encounter great success, we can also use such opportunities to point our children toward Christ. Granted, the earthly success of public Christians does not constitute the only—or even primary—moments for teaching our children about Jesus. But when they occur, we should be ready to guide our kids toward heroes whom they can truly admire, and whose lives adorn the gospel both on and off the court.
But we would be remiss if we allowed the lessons to end here—to let our children think that public Christians like Jeremy Lin are immune to failure and sin. Competing in professional sports while maintaining an uncompromising stance against the world and its values is anything but easy. Athletes who have taken an open stand for Christ are in desperate need of our prayer, and our children are in desperate need to hear that public success does not guarantee faithfulness to God, nor does it propel a Christian beyond the need for God’s sustaining grace. If we are careful to teach both lessons to our children, they might begin to not only admire great Christian athletes, but intercede for them as well.