The False Gospel of Success

I want to tell you about a God-fearing young man who, after a standout college football career, was drafted by an NFL team and met with enough success to be considered for a starting job in only his second season.

If you think that I’m a little late in joining the party surrounding Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, you’re wrong. I’m actually arriving early for the Colt McCoy party.

It’s as impossible to miss Tim Tebow, and the circus that surrounds him, as it is improbable to take notice of Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy.

It really shouldn’t be this way… but it is.

Tim Tebow is everything that America wants to believe in.  He’s big, courageous, handsome, athletic, and the son of pious missionaries who raised him right.  He’s bold, honest, strong as an ox, doesn’t touch tobacco or alcohol, and looks so good with his shirt off that shirts don’t mind when he doesn’t wear them.

He’s a two-time national champion, a Heisman trophy winner, and spokesperson for everything that James Dobson has ever believed in or dreamed about.  Tim Tebow is a generous champion for everything that is “right” and that appears to be the only wrong with him.

Tim Tebow is a winner, and he’s held up as the image of the kind of life we could lead if we would just “let go and let God.”

Tebow is the paragon of an innumerable multitude of fans, his was the #1 selling NFL jersey before he’d ever played a pro game, who don’t just argue that he’s “doing it the right way”, but who also need to believe that he is, because his success validates everything they believe in.

As a Christian I have a deep respect and appreciation for Tebow’s courage and conviction.  I also harbor significant fears for him.

Tim Tebow is riding the crest of a massive wave of public support like a surfer on Oahu’s north shore.  I don’t fear that he isn’t a good surfer, I fear what will happen when the wave runs out and the jagged edges of the coral reef are exposed.

Colt McCoy knows what that feels like.

Colt McCoy is 3 inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Tim Tebow.  This wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t playing football, but they are.  At around 6 ft tall Colt McCoy was never really considered a top NFL prospect because he wasn’t as big or as strong as say… Tim Tebow.

This isn’t to say that McCoy wasn’t successful at the University of Texas, on the contrary; few passed for as many yards or completions as he did during his collegiate run.  The pundits just didn’t think he’d be able to continue his success at the pro level where he’d be throwing the ball from behind a wall of men who are, on average, 5 inches taller than him.

College was most certainly going to be the pinnacle of McCoy’s football career but unlike Tebow, McCoy’s moment at the top didn’t end successfully.  After leading the Longhorns to an undefeated season in 2009, McCoy suffered a game ending injury 4 offensive plays into the BCS National Championship Game.

Without him Texas lost to Alabama.  McCoy’s college career ended on the sidelines… with a whimper.

That Spring, Tim Tebow was drafted in the 1st round by the Denver Broncos.  60 players later, the Browns took a chance on McCoy.  Tebow arrived in Denver like General Douglas MacArthur reclaiming the Philippines.   Christian America rejoiced at the next opportunity Tebow would have to promote the Gospel with his newfound platform.

Tebow has been faithful, if not successful.

For all of the raw physical material that he possesses, Tim Tebow is fundamentally unsound as a quarterback.  His success comes from his raw athletic ability working in conjunction with his natural durability and work ethic.  The fans want Tebow to start, the critics and the coaches know otherwise.

The fans see Tebow’s successes as the sign of God’s blessing.  Quite truthfully, a starting job for the Broncos in 2011 would be a miraculous gift.

McCoy took the field as a rookie and led the hapless Browns to improbable wins over some powerhouse NFL franchises.  No one stood outside the gates chanting his name, no one wanted to know how he felt about Jesus-  Not that he hasn’t been as vocal or inspiring.

In McCoy’s lowest moment, the press conference after missing the National Championship Game, he stood in front of the national press and said this:

“…I’ve done everything I can to contribute to my team and we made it this far and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to play.  I would have given everything I had to be out there with my team.  Congratulations to Alabama… I always give God the glory, I’d never question why things happen the way they do.  God is in control of my life and if nothing else I know I’m standing on The Rock.”

While intelligence and knowledge can come from playing witness to spectacle, maturity and wisdom only come from experience.  As someone who has experienced a high level of athletic success, while only spectating with high levels of failure, Tim Tebow’s outlook, and that of his fans, isn’t as well-rounded as someone who hasn’t been as richly celebrated.

An inability to win the starting job in Denver isn’t the sign of God abandoning Tebow or Tebow turning faithless, it’s a signal that God knows that we only seem grow as a result of failure.

I’m hoping fans understand this… both God’s and Tebow’s.

This isn’t to say that Tebow is an entitled jerk, it’s to say that he hasn’t yet experienced the colossal, public, letdown that causes us to lean into the only one who can truly save us.

You see, it’s in failure that we become mature enough to recognize that physical success isn’t the sign of God’s blessing, God’s presence in our life is.

When faced with death in the fiery furnace, the Biblical Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to view success as living through their ordeal unscathed.  In fact they said that even if it killed them, they would follow God and not bow down to an idol.

Success as defined by achievement is the actual American idol.

The three Hebrew men defined success as experiencing the presence of God in their lives; a presence that only comes through obedience.

Their definition of success was met when they entered into the furnace and found themselves in the presence of God.  Their victory was not in their ability to emerge from peril unscathed, but in their experience with God in the process.  This became apparent to everyone in the room, even the wicked king.

I have no doubts that Tim Tebow understands this, the question is whether or not he and his fans are willing to experience it together.  Athletic success comes and goes, but the presence of the Lord is available to us forever.

We just have to mature enough to see it.

I’m hoping that sports fans who love Jesus will be able to embrace athletes who also love Jesus regardless of their athletic success, because wins aren’t the arbiter of Godliness that faithfulness is.  Maybe then we’ll see a media circus surrounding Colt McCoy as he starts at quarterback for a team destined to miss the 2011 NFL playoffs.

We don’t celebrate Colt McCoy because he isn’t living the American dream that we desire for ourselves.  Maybe when we are mature enough to desire a Godly dream, and then chase after it, we’ll understand that God is just as present in our failures as he is in our victories.

That’s also when we’ll begin to understand why failure is so important to our spiritual growth.  Until then, join me and Colt in finding Jesus in our failure… because the alternative will be unjustly crucifying Tim Tebow for his.

One Response to “The False Gospel of Success”

  1. Joe August 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    RO 5:3-4

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