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Tim Tebow and matters of faith

"Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart."
-- Psalm 37:4

Believe. Have faith. Trust.

I've heard those words a lot lately, and not just in church or at Bible study. Now, they're as much a part of the discourse of sports as "cover 2," "helmet-to-helmet" and "boo-yah!"

Thanks, Tim Tebow.

As a sports journalist and a Christian, I can appreciate the dual meaning of three phrases that are at the core of the bona fide cultural phenomenon that the Denver Broncos' second-year quarterback has become.

In a season that should be dominated by the excellence of the Green Bay Packers and their quest for perfection, Tebow has snatched the spotlight and become a lightning rod for opinions -- about his skills, and even more, about his faith.

The latter has been largely spurred by his PDFs (public displays of faith), especially the Tebow Bow, in which he drops to one knee in prayer following a touchdown. Of course, now everyone knows it as Tebowing.

By whatever name, it has inspired a full chorus of hallelujahs, hand-wringing and even hatred and ridicule.

From the onset of training camp, when he was the Broncos' fourth-string quarterback, Tebow was almost universally derided by NFL purists (snobs?) who labeled the run-first signal-caller as unfit to play the position. After he finally forced his way past the competitors on the roster, some called him the worst starting quarterback in NFL history.

And yet, Tebow has engineered one of the most extraordinary runs I've ever witnessed. He has guided the once-lame Broncos to seven wins in eight starts, and executed so many dramatic, unlikely late-game finishes that by now even your grandmother pretty much describes the fourth quarter of Broncos games as "Tebow Time." (Has Pat Riley trademarked that phrase yet?)

Before Tebow took over, the Broncos were 1-4 and threatening to join the Andrew Luck Derby. Now they're 8-5, leaders of the AFC West, all but a Stone Cold Lead Pipe Lock to make the playoffs, and must-see television.

Much of the discussion of the Broncos' transformation credits how Tebow has inspired his teammates to pull together for one another and achieve beyond their physical gifts.

In other words, they now believe in each other, have faith in each other, and trust each other -- and are simply playing better because of it.

Christianity teaches us to believe and have faith in God, and to trust that He will not only provide for our needs but also bless us in ways our minds cannot fathom.

And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

Tebow has essentially embodied these tenets, steadfastly, even in the midst of public scorn and mockery.

Sunday, just after Broncos kicker Matt Prater converted a 51-yard field goal in overtime to defeat the Chicago Bears 13-10 and complete yet another Tebow Time comeback, the quarterback pointed toward the sky from the sideline and said with a smile, "Thank you, Lord" before hugging teammates and coaches.

Moments later he began his postgame interview as he always does, by thanking "my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." And he ended it just as he always does, as well, telling the reporter: "God Bless."

Clearly, Tebow's public testimonies make many people uncomfortable and some have lashed out.

Former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer recently expressed admiration for Tebow's success but also disdain for Tebow's PDFs. "Regardless of whether I wish he'd just shut up after a game and go hug his teammates, I think he a winner," Plummer said. "I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I'll like him a little better."

In two widely seen displays of immaturity and disrespect during Detroit's 45-10 rout over Tebow and the Broncos in Week 8, Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch and tight end Tony Scheffler made light of Tebowing. In the first half, Tulloch struck the pose after sacking Tebow, and Scheffler mimicked it after catching a touchdown pass.

Just as he has done throughout the storm of criticism, Tebow did not stoop to their level, saying only that he didn't even see either player and that their actions do not bother him.

Well, I was incensed, though not at all surprised.

Despite the fact that America is widely considered a "Christian" nation that believes in religious freedom and respect for all faiths, attacks on and mockery of religions are as old as the Constitution codifying their protection. But to see it done on such a stage, and in such a fashion, was an embarrassment to Tulloch and Scheffler, the Lions and the league.

Other players were annoyed as well, especially other Christian players.

Larry Fitzgerald, the gifted Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, is one of about 35 teammates who participate in Bible study each week. "It was sad to see," he told me this week. "It was a bit disrespectful. [Tebowing] is a quiet tribute to the Lord and should not be mocked."

Fitzgerald is open about his own faith, though he is not as demonstrative as Tebow. That said, he has no dispute with the quarterback's PDFs.

"From the first time I heard about him at Florida, I never had a problem with him," Fitzgerald said. "I don't wear [my Christianity] on my sleeve but I don't have a problem with anyone who does. I respect him for his boldness and his ability to do that."

Christianity also implores its adherents to "walk" in a way that pleases God so that others may see Him in us.

Tebow's success has indeed transformed many into believers -- if not to his faith, then at least to his abilities as a quarterback. Once "the worst there ever was," he has become the "Mile-High Messiah."

ESPN colleague Merril Hoge, who had long been extremely critical of Tebow's skills, said this week on "Mike & Mike in the Morning" that he had finally come around to believing Tebow was indeed a bona fide, if not unique, quarterback. "I've been wrong on a lot of levels with him," he said during the show. "I've lost the ability, or the opportunity, I should say ... to shed light on what an amazing story -- how he has worked, persevered, changed, his diligence, all those things that you try to teach young people [that] sports are really about. Now I'm a huge fan. [He is showing] what you can do with what you've been given."

Later that same morning, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, who had derided Tebow for weeks, was now, in his own words, "officially humbled."

"Something about this kid makes special things happen," he conceded. "He got it done [against the Bears] like an NFL quarterback. I sit before you here today a very humble man. I am officially humbled. It's as if he's been touched by a force that says bad things happen to those who go against him. ... The boy has clearly been touched."

Many of us have felt that all along.

"I'm happy for him," Fitzgerald said. "He's had success doing it the right way. He's setting a good example for kids by demonstrating that whatever your religion, if you believe strongly in it, live your life the way you want to live it, don't let society dictate how you live your faith."

Make no mistake: There are still Tebow naysayers, including those who want to "stop the madness" (the newest phrase to crop up when the discussion centers on Tebow). Charles Barkley used it last week during a radio show when he implored the Bears to defeat the Broncos. This week, according to NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson, "some teams" have called players on the New England Patriots, the Broncos' opponents Sunday, and invoked the phrase as well.

I'm not sure what "madness" they're referring to -- other than working hard to improve, being a leader, winning football games and being a man of faith.

Even should the Patriots, or any team, defeat the Broncos, it won't stop the "madness," if you're referring to the people -- Christians or not -- who are proud of and inspired by Tebow's belief, faith and trust in himself, his teammates, and his God.

Roy S. Johnson is a veteran sports journalist and media consultant. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.

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