Everybody is doing it.  Well, maybe not everybody.  But a lot of people are copying the prayerful pose of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow who can be seen on bended knee thanking God many times on the football field.  Some copy him to mock him; some are showing their support as fans; and some are as sincere as he is.  But this simple act coupled with his uncompromising faith in Jesus Christ makes him probably the most polarizing athlete in the news today.  Some love him; some hate him.

From his comments in a January 16, 2012, article entitled Would Jesus Condemn Tim Tebow To Hell Not the NFL?, I would gather sportswriter Robert Paul Reyes falls in the latter group.  Reyes believes Tim’s public petitions are the equivalent of the ostentatious piety condemned by Christ in Matthew the sixth chapter.  Jesus does indeed condemn giving to the poor, fasting and praying to “be seen by men.”  Reyes wrote “Jesus Christ blasted the Pharisees for making a Hollywood production out of praying” and “that Jesus would have the same harsh condemnation for Tim Tebow and his sanctimonious antics on the NFL gridiron.”

Let’s take a closer look at what this sportswriter-turned-biblical-scholar-and-commentator had to say.  First, Jesus is not addressing Pharisees.  They are not even mentioned anywhere in the whole sixth chapter of Matthew.  He is addressing a broader set of do-badders called hypocrites.  Of course, the oft criticized Pharisees are called hypocrites by Christ later in this gospel and can be accurately considered a subset of the hypocrites mentioned here.

Next, Jesus is not condemning public prayer in this passage as Reyes would have you believe.  Had Reyes removed his biased bifocals and taken the time to read all of what the gospels have to say, he would have discovered Jesus praying publicly himself on many occasions.  A notable example would be His prayer at the tomb of Lazarus.  A prayer that was answered, as I am sure Lazarus would agree, with remarkable effect.  Jesus was condemning public prayer that has the sole purpose of bringing attention to the one praying.

Of course, Reyes claims this is what Tebow is doing.  Reyes opines “is Tebow famous for praying for world peace or a cure for cancer?  No, he is notorious for praying (tebowing) when he scores a touchdown.”  I guess Reyes has missed those times when at the end of a game the Broncos lost, Tebow meets with believing players from both sides of the field for a time of prayer.  It would appear Tebow prays whether he wins or loses.  That must be maddening for Reyes.

Here is another point so many seem to miss.  Tim is not the one shining the spotlight on his actions.  He gives every appearance as being raised in a Christian home where Christian beliefs were practiced.  His actions in public are merely a reflection of deeply held convictions he has practiced all his life which are now seen in the limelight of the professional sports arena.  I am not aware of a single time that Tim Tebow has called attention to himself, or his praying.  But having succeeded in a role coveted by so many, he has not shirked from maintaining his testimony of Christ.  Unlike the hypocrites, Tebow is scrutinized for who he is and where he is at, not because he said look at me.

In a previous article I said I am not a fan of Time Tebow quarterback for the Denver Broncos, because I believe God has a higher calling and purpose for him.  But I am a fan of Tim Tebow the Christian.  I am a fan of this young man who is a moral role model to those who would emulate him.  I am a fan of this young man who uses his income to support ministries to those less fortunate and not lavish it on himself.  I am a fan of this young man who amidst the bitterest criticism of his actions, serenely maintains his faith without a word of condemnation for his accusers.  I am a fan of this champion for Christ.

Reyes asks, “Tebow, how can you escape the damnation of hell if you don’t stop acting like a selfish religious moron?”  I have some advice for Reyes.  Read the whole Bible and not just those parts you think you understand.  Don’t worry where Tebow will spend eternity and worry about where you will spend eternity.  And instead of criticizing Tebow, why don’t you pursue world peace or a cure for cancer?


Clemency and Forgiveness

One of the powers of executive office is clemency.  The President of the United States has the authority to commute the sentence of any prisoner who has committed a federal crime.  This same authority is vested in the various governors of the fifty states.  The governor of a state typically has the authority to change the penalty of a felon convicted under his or her respective state statutes ranging from a reduction in sentence to a full pardon.  When it is invoked, it should be for sound reasons and furthers the interest of justice.

Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour made headlines across the nation when in the closing days of his administration he commuted the sentences of 215 convicted felons 17 of which were murderers.  This surprised many of his constituents and was questioned by the Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.  Governor Barbour may have committed some legal missteps on 21 of those pardoned.  Hood being a Democrat was not willing to pardon these missteps of Barbour a Republican.  Judging from the ensuing outcry, the public may not pardon Barbour either.

In his defense Barbour said that “most Mississippians profess to be Christians” and “the historical power of clemency by the governor to pardon felons is rooted in the Christian idea of second chances.”  He goes on to say Christianity “teaches us forgiveness and second chances.  I believe in second chances.  And I try hard to be forgiving.”  Former Governor Barbour’s actions and subsequent statements bring into specific relief the issue of the biblical doctrine of forgiveness and its bearing on criminal sanctions.

When Noah and his three sons and their wives emerged from the ark, they stood on the brink of the rebirth of civilization.  Civilization requires an ordering of society, laws to govern the interaction of relationships.  After commanding these eight souls to “be fruitful and multiply”, He gives them the first law, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:6).”  While this passage directly addresses the crime of murder, it also contains the formula for justice.  When one member of society commits a crime against another member of society, society must impose a just penalty.  This is the foundation for all of our laws and the criminal justice system.  Society has a responsibility to administer justice.  Clemency is a tool to further the cause of justice not to circumvent it.

Consider the man who is imprisoned for stealing a car and while serving his sentence a riot breaks out where he is incarcerated.  In the ensuing chaos this inmate defends a correctional officer from the assault of other inmates sparing the officer harm or maybe saving his life.  Who would deny such a man liberty?  Or the man on death row who is the victim of prosecutorial misconduct and the withholding of evidence, or is later exonerated by the discovery of new evidence.

Clemency should be imposed to recognize exemplary conduct, or to right a wrong.  It should not be invoked on a whim, but employed in the furtherance of justice.  Clemency is predicated on the biblical principle of justice.

Forgiveness addresses different issues and has a different purpose.  Jesus tells us to forgive so we will be free of the bitterness and vengeance that can consume us, thwarting His purpose for each of us.  Forgiveness emulates the example of our Lord who on the cross died for all.  Forgiving those who have wronged us frees us to follow Him and to do His bidding.

Justice is enjoined upon society; forgiveness is enjoined upon the individual.  The Scriptures exhort us to forgive those who have wronged us, not those who have wronged someone else.  Wrongs done to another are subject to the principle of justice.  Like any other Christian former Governor Barbour should forgive those who wrong him, in his capacity as an elected representative of society he bears the responsibility to administer justice.  The two should not be confused because they do not conflict.

I cannot comment on the individual cases of the 215 felons pardoned by former Governor Barbour.  I am ignorant of the specific facts of each case, and the time and diligence Governor Barbour gave to each.  I cannot at this remove comment on whether his judgment in each case was good or bad.  But I do know he should have made his decisions based upon what was just in each case, and not on whom he subjectively thought should have been forgiven for crimes committed on someone else.  Because clemency is not predicated on the doctrine of forgiveness, it is predicated on the biblical principle of justice.

Religion and Politics

It is still a long way from November 2012, but in the race for the Whitehouse we are rounding the curve in the final stretch.  President Obama is sure to be the Democratic presidential nominee, but the Republican nominee is yet to be decided.  In the current field of GOP candidates the leader of the pack has bounced from one to the other more than the ball in a pinball machine.

Herman Cain who once held the lead has dropped out amid past claims of sexual harassment.  Michele Bachmann ended her candidacy for the GOP nomination after a poor showing in Iowa.  Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty bowed out over poor ratings before the Iowa caucus.  So the field of nine has narrowed to six, in alphabetical order they are: Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum.

Mitt Romney has been at or near the top of the GOP field in a most polls throughout the race for the Republican nomination.  Barely winning in Iowa, but a win nonetheless, he headed into the New Hampshire primary a favorite and did indeed win by a handy margin.  It appears the leaders of the Republican Party are beginning to coalesce behind the Romney candidacy as they head into the South Carolina primary.

The prospect of a Mormon candidate as the Republican nominee leaves some conservative evangelical leaders a little antsy.  One attempt to gather conservative evangelical leaders behind a common other-than-Romney candidate has already been attempted, but with little success.  Conservative evangelical endorsements are beginning to hit the news with increasing frequency in what appears to be an attempt to thwart a Romney nomination.

Newt Gingrich has recently received the endorsement of Tim LaHaye, the well-known author of the Left Behind series of books about the tribulation period described in the book of Revelation.  But Gingrich placed fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Unless he does well in the South Carolina primary he may get “left behind.”

Jon Huntsman has garnered some political and newspaper endorsements, but as far as I know he has not received a single conservative evangelical endorsement.  Being a Mormon, he is unlikely to get any.  A no-show in Iowa and third place in New Hampshire may take him out of the hunt if he falls short in South Carolina.

Ron Paul was third in Iowa and a distant second in New Hampshire, but has received a strong endorsement headed into the South Carolina primary.  Dr. James Linzey, retired military chaplain and president and founder of the Military Bible Association, has given his hearty support to Ron Paul.  Linzey said that after examining Paul’s political philosophy and record he believes Paul to be “100% in line with the Constitution of the United States” and after studying Paul’s statement of faith and faith experience Paul “is 100% compatible with Evangelical Christianity and Orthodox Christianity.”  Right now Paul needs all the evangelical help he can get.

Rick Perry finished fifth in Iowa and was a no-show in New Hampshire.  Dr. Robert Jeffress who is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, Perry’s home state, has endorsed him.  But Perry almost threw in the towel after Iowa, and despite the endorsement of Jeffress, a poor showing in South Carolina will probably send him back to Texas.

Rick Santorum finished second in Iowa, just eight votes behind Romney, but was a dismal fifth in New Hampshire.  Santorum had received the support of Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent evangelical leader in Iowa.  But that endorsement has come under fire.  There seems to be some controversy as to whether or not Plaats’ endorsement was for sale.

Billy Graham had been an ardent supporter of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.  He believed Nixon, who said in a televised statement “I’m not a crook.”  But as the events unfolded it became increasingly apparent that Nixon had lied.  When Nixon resigned the Presidency his guilt was clear.  After that experience, Graham’s support consisted in giving requested advice and prayer.

I do not make political endorsements and think it is foolhardy for any Christian leader to do so.  Politicians cannot be trusted nor can they save us.  That is why religion and politics do not and should not mix.  In the final analysis “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1).”  Government does not have the last say.  It is not who occupies the Whitehouse that matters, but He who sits on the throne.

Not a Spectator Sport

The story is told of a man who walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope and back again, while pushing a wheelbarrow.  Upon his successful return the crowd cheered his amazing death-defying act.  The daredevil then asked the spectators if they believed he could do it again.  With one voice they bellowed their confidence in his ability.  He then asked, “Who will get in the wheelbarrow?”  The group of onlookers fell silent.

I do not know if this story is true or is merely told for effect, but its point is clear.  It is easy to say we believe in something, but it is a very much different thing from acting upon what we say we believe.  We have all heard the age old adage “well done is better than well said,” but this link between words and deeds, belief and practice, is a recurring theme in the Bible.

In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus addresses this disconnect between what is said and what is done.  “Many will say to me on that day [of Judgment], Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles (Matthew 7:22)?”  Jesus replies, “I never knew you, depart from Me,…”  The casual reader may ask how Jesus can declare He never knew these who did such wonderful things, but a closer look clarifies the point.  They have not done these things; they merely “say” they have done these things.  Many on that day who are confronted with the consequences of their actions will try to lie their way into heaven.

You may think it is inconceivable that someone would attempt to lie to God, but people do that very thing every day when they pretend to be something they are not.  Surveys claim forty percent of Americans regularly attend religious services.  This is because most of those surveyed have a very high opinion of themselves.  No one wants to admit to being irreligious, especially in a phone survey when it is so easy to “say” you attend regularly.

The current population of the United States is over 300 million and forty percent of this number is a 120 million.  I do not think the churches of America could accommodate 120 million attendees this Sunday, if this Sunday was the one they chose to be “regular.”   Of course there are the CEOs (i.e., Christmas and Easter only) who think regular attendance is twice a year.  Our church cannot handle the whole 120 million, but we do have some room for more.

Then there are those who will say you do not need to attend church to be a Christian.  This raises another issue; the appalling lack of biblical literacy among those who “say” they are Christians.  Just yesterday I spoke with a woman who claimed to have read through the Bible “ten times” and she made some of the most outrageous claims about what the Bible teaches that I have ever heard.  I know because I read through my Bible every year and knew her claims to be false.  Many who claim to be Christians only know what they are spoon fed from the pulpit each Sunday.

You may be asking yourself where is this article going and what is the point?  Poor church attendance, biblical illiteracy, and the accompanying hypocrisy are not the problems; they are symptoms.  I am not here to whine; I’m here to warn.  Don’t lie to yourself and don’t lie to God.

In his book Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman addresses the difference between a fan of Christ and a follower of Christ.  There is a difference in cheering from the sideline and being in the game on the playing field.  Christianity is more than a religion; it is a relationship with the God of the universe made possible by the sacrifice of His Son.  And like any relationship each one in the relationship bears a responsibility in maintaining the relationship.

A mature Christian does not go to church to see what the church can do for him, but to contribute to the cause of Christ and get involved.  He does not read the Scriptures to become more knowledgeable, but to be transformed by its truths.  He does not pray for his own wants, but prays for the needs of others.  He knows a Christian leads by serving.

Are you a fan or a follower?  Are you fooling yourself by saying you are something you are not?  Are you content with sitting in the grandstand or do you yearn to be on the playing field?  Do you merely admire Christ or do you wish to serve Christ?  Are you only an observer, a spectator?  Because, Christianity is not a spectator sport.