Lin-Mania, Romans 8:28 and Even More Fun
By: Dr. John Weldon
|By: Dr. John G. Weldon; ©2012|
|the latest star in basketball is Jeremy Lin, now one of the most popular players in the entire NBA – emerging out of virtually nowhere. In reading about his meteoric rise to success I noted more than one sports writer use the term “miracle.” Things like this just don’t happen in 10 days – unless, well, — perhaps there really is some kind of miracle going on. Literally millions of people are following his career with both sportscasters and fans referring to his “Linderella story.”|
Lin-Mania, Romans 8:28 and Even More Fun (Feeling God’s Pleasure — Jeremy Lin, His Christian Faith and the Move/s of God)
- “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” — Wayne Gretzky
- “I think one of the most rewarding experiences in life is to see people come to Christ…” — Jeremy Lin
- “First and foremost I’ve got to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and my teammates.” Tim Tebow
- 1 Introduction: The ‘Linderella’ Story.
- 2 Lin v. Tebow
- 3 Surprises are fun
- 4 A Miracle
- 5 Jeremy’s Faith
- 6 Even Inspiring Persecuted Christians
- 7 Slow but Sure
- 8 Something Supernatural: Feeling God’s Pleasure
- 9 Sacrifice, Suffering & Preparation: The Top Five & Eric Liddell
- 10 Giving up the Momentary Gold for Infinite Riches
- 11 Echoes of Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow.
- 12 Yet More Glory
- 13 Conclusion
- 14 Notes
Introduction: The ‘Linderella’ Story.
In America, football, baseball and basketball constitute the most watched sports of all time — but this article is specifically about basketball. Basketball was invented in 1891 and became an official Olympic event in 1936. As to its top star, Michael Jordan has scored more points in the playoffs than anyone else – almost 6,000 (5,987).
But the latest star in basketball is Jeremy Lin, now one of the most popular players in the entire NBA – emerging out of virtually nowhere. In reading about his meteoric rise to success I noted more than one sports writer use the term “miracle.” Things like this just don’t happen in 10 days – unless, well, — perhaps there really is some kind of miracle going on. Lin’s outspokenness about his Christian faith and his astounding skills has caused people to compare him to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Literally millions of people are following his career with both sportscasters and fans referring to his “Linderella story.”
Just as Tebomania recently swept the sports and larger worlds, today it’s become “Lin-sanity.” Even President Obama is an ardent fan, and so are many others. US actor, producer, director and writer Spike Lee tweeted, “Jeremy Lin-Point God for the New York Knickerbockers.” “In less than two weeks, the social statistics surrounding Lin has been ‘Linsane.’ According to the site Topsy, “Jeremy Lin” has been mentioned 146,000 times, “Lin” 530,000 times, “Linsantiy” 42,000 times, “Lin for the Win” 7,333 times, “Linferno” 3,580, “Linsane” 2,854, “ThrilLin” 2,020, and “Linderella” 1,350.The list goes on. On YouTube, Lin’s dunk against the Wizard’s John Wall garnered over 2.5 million views. Highlights of Lin’s 38-point career high, in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers has over 1.6 million views.”
In the world of professional boxing, everyone knows Manny Pacquiao. He is a professional boxer and politician in the Philippines; the first eight-division world champion ever — with six world titles under his belt and the first boxer to win the lineal championship in four different weight classes. He was named “Fighter of the Decade” by the Boxing Writers Association of America and has won “Fighter of the Year” award in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He is also a fan of Lin’s, tweeting “God bless Jeremy Lin.”
Another mega-superstar, NBA legend Magic Johnson, the greatest NBA point guard of all time, is an ESPN/ABC sports commentator – and also a born again Christian. During a wrapup game summary of the New York Knicks game he commented before the commercial break, “like Jeremy Lin says, ‘God is good.'” “Johnson says today that he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, according to the Christian publication Connection Magazine.” ‘I thank Him every chance I get – on my knees praying,’ said Johnson, as reported by Connection. Johnson, who leads the Magic Johnson Foundation, is a member of West Angeles Church of God in Christ. He was drawn to the church by his wife, Cookie, according to Connection.”
Jeremy Lin is the first ever Taiwanese American basketball superstar, a 6′ 3″ point guard for the New York Knicks. His parents, unaccountably, are both 5′ 3′, a full foot smaller – it kind of makes you think of Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Lin may be the only basketball player in history who has traveled the almost infinite distance from an unemployed NBA ‘nobody’ to a global sports superstar and household name in literally just a few days – something like that is rare indeed. Lin openly attributes it to God, and gives God all the glory – and it’s difficult to argue the point.
It does seem that God does things like this when He’s up to something.
The Los Angeles Times observed, "In his first four outings, Lin has scored 109 points, the most ever in history for an NBA player. Yes, not even Magic, Bird, Michael [Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever], Kobe or LeBron had matched Jeremy’s "Lincomprehensible" feat in their rookie seasons." In less than two weeks, he’s gone from being a D-League nobody to eighth in the NBA in overall player efficiency rating (PER).
Even after such a short period on the court with the NBA, he has been called one of the finest point guards in the nation, again, a truly meteoritic rise. He is among that select group of people receiving the highest number of votes for the Bob Cousy award given each year to the nations most effective point guard. Articles have been written about him in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Insider, Washington Post, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, ESPN: Magazine, Free Republic, Time magazine, and in hundreds of on and off line sports blogs, magazines and newspapers around the world.
Lin has made the covers of both Time magazine (February 27, 2012), emblazoned with “Linsanity!” with a photo of Lin going for a layup; the Sports Illustrated cover (February 20, 2012) tells the story in white lettering: “The Sudden and Spectacular Ascent of Jeremy Lin: AGAINST ALL ODDS” with “SI Linsanity” written across the title in black. But then Lin made his second consecutive Sports Illustrated cover story, emblazoned with “Jeremy’s World: Big Surprise, Big Money, Big Heart.” Among NBA greats, that honor has only been shared by two other people: the indomitable Michael Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki, who led the Mavericks to 11 consecutive NBA Playoffs, just one of a string of remarkable statistics. (Jordan was actually on the cover of Sports Illustrated three times consecutively twice: in 1991 and 1998 — but I don’t think anyone as new as Jeremy Lin has ever been on the cover of Sports Illustrated two times in a row so quickly.)
One sportswriter observed: “You know you’ve arrived when A) you lead an apparently moribund NBA franchise on a winning streak and upstage the Super Bowl champion, B) you put up numbers that prompt comparisons with legends of the game and C) your heritage is notable enough that a lame reference to it gets an ESPN headline writer fired. And we forgot this one: D) All of the above, which applies to the New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin.” The writer pointed out that “Lin is the greatest national sporting sensation since Tim Tebow.” Time magazine observed that Lynn has “crushed all kinds of conventions.” For example, “How many Harvard grads and how many Asian-Americans were in the current NBA before he arrived? Zero and zero.”
But Lin has not just become an American sensation – he has actually become a global sensation, his appeal crossing national borders. A sports writer for Time magazine observed, “He holds up every Olympic ideal imaginable” and if he keeps up his performance, there will be calls to “draft” him for the Olympics. He has become a sensation in Canada, China and other nations. “English-language news outlet China Dailyhas covered Lin extensively over the past week, publishing 16 articles on his rise, including a piece published Wednesdaycelebrating him as an icon for all of Asia.”
Sales and traffic at the Knicks online store rose 3000% in one week. Forbes magazine estimates that Lin has produced, almost overnight, $170 million in revenues for Madison Square Garden. “Lin-sanity has taken the country by storm and as a result created a spending frenzy that’s benefiting a broad range of companies, tax rolls and even the stock market.” And that’s just the beginning. A Time article concludes, “Maybe the Linsanity has just begun.”
Lin v. Tebow
The comparisons to Tim Tebow were inevitable.
RPM Ministries pointed out that, “In one week and four games Jeremy Lin has become the Tim Tebow of the NBA” observing that “Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow both pursue Christ’s glory in their athletic endeavors.”
Like Tebow’s setting of records, Lin is on the same path. After his starter February 4, in which he scored 25 points, he cornered an NBA record for the most points scored in the first five starts of a career, has second consecutive wins plus six straight games with at least 20 points. And, like Tebow, God gets the glory: “Linn has made it his signature characteristic to thank God and give credit to his teammates whenever receiving accolades for his basketball skills.” Lin has affectionately been termed the “Taiwanese Tebow.”
Both men exhibit a strong Christian faith and desire to glorify God and Jesus Christ in their athletics and to use the incredibly powerful sports platform to reach others with the gospel. Many of the secular articles I read noted his desire to “play basketball to the glory of God” and his personal desire to “glorify Jesus Christ.” As with Tim Tebow, news about Jesus is getting out with Jeremy Lin. At the NBA TV studios he told the interviewer, “I’m just very thankful to Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior for giving me this opportunity… I can’t tell you how many different things had to happen for me to be here.”
As with Tim Tebow, Lin’s is ultimately a “story of strong faith in Jesus Christ, of devotion to Bible study and prayer and commitment to spreading the gospel wherever he gets the opportunity.” Indeed, every Christian can agree with Lin, “I’m just thankful to God for everything. Like the Bible says, ‘God works in all things for the good of those who love him.'” Romans 8:28, is his favorite verse (its influence seen throughout this article), and no wonder: the string of near-impossible events which had to coalesce perfectly (along with numerous setbacks) to get him into the NBA and his current status could only be orchestrated by God, and God persevering him. God perseveres us as part of Romans 8:28 also, and every Christian should take comfort from it – because we have the most formidable enemies in the universe: the world, the flesh and the devil. Without God’s perseverance, we would last a second; but God uses everything the world the flesh and the devil throws at us for our good and His ultimate glory.
Lin, incidentally, has read noted theologian John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life and spends an hour every day with the Lord in prayer and reading Scripture. Every game he plays, he plays for the Lord Jesus Christ and trusts Him with the results.
Lin’s exceptional team spirit even caused Taiwan’s president Ma-ying-Jeou to remark that he wished his own cabinet could demonstrate such spirit.
Not surprisingly, Tebow is a major inspiration for Lin. After pointing out that he gets "a lot of inspiration" from Tebow, he observes, "I think the things he says in interviews [and] his approach to the game is just unbelievable and I respect him so much."
Both athletes not only share a common evangelical faith in Jesus Christ but a willingness to share their faith boldly, publicly and openly. For example, “I know he’s a big fan of Tim Tebow. They’ve connected and are helping each other. I think there’s something about them both being underrated and suddenly thrust into the limelight,” said Adrian Tam, of Brighton, who keeps in touch with Lin, 23, by text and email.”
Lin even has his “Tebow-type” of spiritual routine to glorify God, something fans have mistaken as a “nerdy bookworm handshake” between him and teammate Landry Fields, also a devout Christian. “The handshake involves Lin flipping through pages on a book Fields is holding out, the two pretending to take off reading glasses, and placing them in their pockets. They also point to the sky after the routine.” But it’s not a nerdy ritual. Lin is flipping through the Bible, telling people of its importance, and pointing to the sky at the end as an acknowledgment of God and His glory.
When I was a new Christian (1971) attending Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa during the big tent days, after a praise song, no one would applaud the musicians because neither the audience nor the performers wished for the performers to receive the glory. Instead, thousands of mostly young people would lift their arms high and point one finger heavenward as a sign of praise to God, giving Him all the glory for creating such a talented spiritual family capable of making such wonderful music. Those were wonderful days, and I miss them. (Albums were produced by Maranatha! Music, currently distributed by Warner Music Entertainment’s Word Music.)
Surprises are fun
A few months back I wrote an article on Tebomania during the preceding football season – it was great fun, and I’ve had just as much fun now, if not more, writing this article. I love to see the Lord Jesus Christ receive glory, especially unexpectedly. Thus, the last thing I anticipated was to currently be writing about something even more thrilling during basketball season. I can’t help it; I get excited with stellar athletics, especially bold and godly athletes who place Christ first; it’s in my spiritual blood.
I remember my amazement with Mike Tyson’s early career and how he would probably have become the best world heavyweight ever had he not stumbled. What incredible fights! It reminds me of how we are to fight the Christian faith. When I was in college I swam competitively for San Diego State University in the late 1960s that then had the best team in the nation (college division), and made the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (This is where famous Olympic swimmer and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller decided to retain his memorabilia.) Mark Spitz was my hero back then, setting 33 world records and winning 7 Olympic gold medals in the 1972 games, the first time ever, and only surpassed by Michael Phelps who won an unbelievable eight golds at the 2008 Olympics. (Such things are impossible to know, but I think Phelps may be the greatest Olympian ever and watching his victories will probably be the unmatched highlight of my sports viewing career, with the possible exception of Lance Armstrong’s equally unbelievable seven wins of the Tour de France.) Anyway, Spitz won 9 Olympic gold medals total, plus a silver and a bronze, 5 Pan-American gold medals, 31 US Amateur Athletic Union titles as well as 8 US National Collegiate Athletic Association titles. By general agreement he was the single most successful athlete during the 1972 Summer Olympics and was named world swimmer of the year for three almost consecutive years (1969, 1971-72).
But back to Lin his amazing basketball skills, a gift from God.
Besides similarities to Tebow, there are some notable contrasts. For example, Tebow was a better-known player in his sport prior to “Tebomania” than Lin.
As noted, Lin’s rise to fame was incredibly unlikely – some have argued it was virtually impossible. Lin himself, the one most likely to know the truth, sees it that way – it was a divine miracle: “I could try to take credit for whatever success I’ve had, but honestly I see my basketball career as a miracle.” (Why he sees it this way, we will see later.) I can hardly disagree. Writing in the Wall Street Journal Ben Cohen observed in an understatement, “Jeremy Lin’s story is far more improbable than Tim Tebow. This story is remarkable on all levels.”
Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated goes even further, noting that, somehow, an undrafted guard “is playing as well as almost anybody in the NBA”.
Is there a bookie in the world would have taken odds on that? Not one. Rosenberg continues, “As stories go, Jeremy Lin makes Tim Tebow seem as interesting as a rain delay. Lin is a much better story because he is a much bigger long shot and is playing much better than Tebow did. He is an undrafted Asian-American guard from Harvard who is playing as well as almost anybody in the NBA. How unlikely is this? Unbelievably so.” Further: "If you want to compare [Kurt] Warner to Lin, you’re onto something. But if Lin keeps this up, he can become a more amazing story than Warner. Why? Because it’s much harder to shock us in the NBA than in the NFL.… Jeremy Lin came from nowhere in a league where nobody [i.e., no one] comes from nowhere. He is a better story than Tim Tebow, and that’s not a shot at Tebow. At the moment, Lin is a better story than anybody else in pro sports."
The truth of that last statement is underlies the extraordinary reality of the situation – a “nobody from nowhere” becoming “a better story than anybody else in pro sports.”
In other words, God gets all the glory, as is fitting. After all, God made Jeremy Lin and gave him his talents and sustains his life moment by moment. Yes, Lin added the elbow grease but without God, he wouldn’t even exist, let alone play basketball with the best. That’s why it’s so heartening to see Lin, Tebow and many other athletes give God the glory that is due Him.
Not surprisingly: "… no one in the world of sports—players, coaches or fans—could have seen anything resembling this [coming]. No one in the field of sports media—journalists, sportscasters or bloggers—could have predicted another Tim Tebow-like, or in this case, "Linsane" media frenzy surrounding an undrafted point guard from an academically elite university with an underwhelming basketball pedigree. No one with a prognosticating mind—mathematicians, psychics or Las Vegas oddsmakers—could have "Linvisioned" another Tim Tebow-type media circus … by defying all odds relating to what he has spectacularly accomplished within the past ten days."
Daniel Burke further observed: "But while Lin and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow share similar Christian convictions, Lin’s rise to stardom is even more miraculous." And here we see part of the reason for the miracle: "Very early in his life he decided to pay heed to the call of Christ to take up the cross daily and follow after him," Chen [his pastor] said." "He is really looking forward to using the platform that he has to share the gospel with others," Chen said. Lin already uses his social media platforms to spread the Word."
For example, His twitter account description is “To know him is to want to know him more.” His Twitter page has a picture of Jesus talking to a young man with the message, “No, I’m not talking about Twitter. I literally want you to follow me – Jesus.” He currently has over 500,000 followers on twitter. His wristband reads, “In Jesus name.” His Facebook page sites Colossians 3:23, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,” and also Romans 5:3-5: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Clips of his games have gone viral on YouTube receiving 85 million hits. In addition, Lin’s name became the third most searched term on Baidu.com, China’s top search engine and with continued performance it could easily become number one. The Chinese equivalent to twitter is Sina Weibo, and Lynn already has well over a million followers — not only is his basketball stardom getting out, but also his love for Jesus Christ and the gospel. “Lin’s faith seems to be catching on with Chinese fans…”, a topic we will return to later.
It’s easy to be cynical in today’s world, and some people are cynics about Jeremy Lin. But they can relax. He’s the real deal. Not perfect, but principled and trustworthy and with basketball moves even he can’t explain.
After a thorough as possible background check to find “the real” Jeremy Lin, Gentlemen Quarterly wrote: “The result? Jeremy Lin is, by most accounts, a spotless athlete with a compelling story, a consistent winning record, and a deep commitment to the Christian faith. Kind of reminds you of someone, doesn’t it?”
The Week concluded: “He’s a devout Christian who thanks Jesus after every game.”
Lin muses, “For me to not trust God is crazy,” Lin said, listing all of the ways God had paved his way to the NBA,…”
Not only has he molded basketball, but God has used basketball to mold him, even using it “apologetically” so to speak to affirm his faith: “I’ve learned so many things through basketball, and God has really molded me and tested and affirmed my faith through basketball. Given my experiences, if I look back at everything that’s happened, it’s hard for me not to trust God and know that he has a perfect plan for me.” And, “Since I’ve been given so much through basketball, it’s easier for me to be thankful to God. But at the same time, basketball has humbled me a great deal. The more I play, the more I realize that the outcome is less up to me, and there’s less I can control. But there’s so much more, so many lessons God has taught me through basketball — everything from pride to self-control to worth ethic and love and unselfishness.”
Despite all the fame (he’s turned down interviews with people like David Letterman), despite non-anonymity, increased stress and pressure it’s always the same: “I’m thinking about how can I trust God more. How can I surrender more? How can I bring him more glory?”
Even though Lin started playing basketball as early as age five, "He knows that everything that he has is a gift from God,” [his pastor Stephen] Chen says. “Even the hard times,” — and he’s had plenty of them.
If you look at his sports history, it’s been one setback, disappointment, discouragement and disheartening situation after another. Plus, as anyone who has played basketball knows, it’s a rough game and I can only imagine what professional ball is like in terms of being cutthroat. Regardless, whatever happens to Lin (and don’t think for a moment that, as an outspoken Christian, he doesn’t have his enemies), he just loves them back, illustrating his biblical perspective in other ways as well:
“I’m thankful that I have been given this platform so that I can share my faith with the world! We are also called to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. There are times on the basketball court when people will say things to you, and you just have to bite your tongue and love them. It’s almost as though you have to love then even more, and that love means more if they’re wronged you. Society focuses so much on individual stats and wins and losses. To a certain extent, you can control those things. But to play for God means to leave the records and the statistics up to Him and give your best effort and allow God to figure out whether you win or lose, whether you play or shoot the ball well that game. So I just try to make sure that I work hard and in a godly way. I prepare myself as well as I can, and at every point during the game I try to submit myself to God and let Him use me.”
During one of his major disappointments he recalled, "it was really tough for me at the time but I just tried to hold onto a lot of the stuff in the Bible that God gives [us] to trust, have joy in the sufferings, and trust in his perfect plan. That’s what I tried my best to do and I’m thankful the way things turned out."
Even Inspiring Persecuted Christians
Lin has already had a chance to show the world Christian forgiveness but consider the title of one article, “Jeremy Lin’s Christian Faith Inspires Persecuted Christians in China.” If Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, not strictly Chinese, can inspire persecuted Christians in China, he can inspire persecuted Christians anywhere.
The Chinese government of course wants no part of it and out of 1.4 million messages on mainland Chinese websites that mention Lin, State news media permitted only about 1500 references to his Christian faith. Just as Mao murdered endless numbers of Christians, and destroyed the churches in China, so the current leaders keep an extremely tight clamp on expressions of Christianity. Direct State news media will mention Lin’s basketball stardom – but omits all references to his Christian faith. Only a handful of seminaries are allowed to exist, but they understand how Lin can be utilized to advance the gospel As just one of many examples, “Professor Yan Ronghui of the Zhejiang Theological Seminary in Hangzhou, told The New York Times that she plans to use Lin’s religious faith and basketball success as a model for students in her theological English course. Hu Shubang, 25, a student at the seminary, said that Lin could become a symbol for Christians in China to use in seeking converts. ‘Just by his being a Christian, it is a fantastic way to broadcast the ways of Christ,” Shubang said. Hu believes that only five men out of the 180 student population seminary and hardly any women even know about Jeremy Lin’s faith, due to the Chinese media omitting and censoring religious subjects.”
The Chinese government, typical with Marxist regimes, permits only one state-controlled Protestant seminary per province in an ultimately futile attempt to control Christianity – they may as well be arm wrestling God Himself. Today, there are an estimated 100-130 million Christians in China who need our prayers because of the persecution they suffer. (See my upcoming article on the global persecution of Christians at JAshow.org. Not unexpectedly, the greatest offenders globally are Muslims and Marxists.) If Jeremy Lin can help our persecuted brethren in some way, that’s wonderful news and we should be praying that God will continue to open the doors and inspire Christians in China. Significantly, it was US Protestant missionaries who converted Lin’s great-grandfather to the Christian faith. Without them, there might not even be a Jeremy Lin.
Not surprisingly, his parents are also devout Christians, and his maternal grandfather was a Taiwanese pastor.
Slow but Sure
But as is often the case, his faith is something that grew over time. “Although he went to church every week of his entire life it wasn’t until the end of high school that “I begin to learn what it means to play for the glory of God. My parents had often talked about it and told me that I should play for God’s glory, but I never understood like what that meant.” Aptly, the very concept “was something that really boggled my mind.” That subatomic particle size creatures can actually glorify God in what they do is truly mind-boggling. "I started learning how to trust in Him, not to focus so much on whether I win or lose but to have faith that God has a perfect plan. [I learned] to put more of an emphasis on my attitude and the way that I play, rather than my stats or whether we win a championship. I learned more about a godly work ethic and a godly attitude, in terms of being humble, putting others above yourself, being respectful to refs and opponents. There are really so many ways you can apply your faith to basketball."
Lin became a Christian in high school but saw his faith mature at Harvard University where he became an active member (and Bible study leader) of the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Christian Fellowship, one of many Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship chapters throughout the nation. Again, as with Tebow, sports superstardom has not obstructed his humility or commitment to Christ. According to an IV staff member, “first and foremost, he is a disciple of Christ.” Lin’s personal goal isn’t simply to be the best basketball player possible but “the best Christ-follower he could be” and his purpose for his fame “is to use it to glorify God” and honor him, according to his pastor Stephen Chen of Redeemer Bible Fellowship in Silicon Valley. He points to the truism that in basketball or any other profession, as a Christian “you’re automatically called to be different from everyone else.” From what we have read so far, Lin is setting a pretty good example for other believers in Christ, and if continued, that role model and its cultural influence could make his ultimate spiritual performance metaphorically stellar.
Lin is illustrating what Christian should do – in whatever ministry God has placed them, secular or religious: “Lin plays for God to honor him, glorify him.”
Something Supernatural: Feeling God’s Pleasure
I mentioned earlier Lin’s belief that his success was literally a miracle. He is well aware of God’s plan and part in his basketball abilities. For example consider the following pretty amazing and inspiring comments:
- “There are times when I’m out there on the basketball court and it feels like I’m not even controlling my own body. It’s almost as though someone else is using me as a puppet. There are things I do, that, when I look at them afterwards, I wonder how I did that. In moments like that, I realize that there is something more to what’s happening around me, something supernatural about it.” The comment of a Chinese fan, “This is God playing basketball,” may not be too far off the mark.
- “It’s also humbling in another way. When I won that state championship with Palo Alto High School, well, we would talk about winning the title. Deep down inside, though, you’re not fully expecting the victory because only one team in the entire state can win it. So, to be able to be there at that point in that tournament, to have that opportunity, I was, more than anything, just grateful. There were so many things that had to happen just perfectly. Tiny differences could have taken us out of contention for a championship. The other reason that athletic success can be humbling is because, even after you win a state championship, it’s not as fulfilling as you had thought it would be. That’s humbling, too, and it says something about the way we chase after materialistic and worldly things.”
I know something about tiny differences and the difference they can make: my life is full of them. When I was part of the team that won the state swimming championship against University of California Santa Barbara, the victory came down to literally 1.5 seconds in the final 800-yard freestyle relay. Basically, about one second allowed us to win that meet and therefore the state championships, proceeding to national championship. Before the race, we were down by five points; now we were ahead by two points and it was over. To get that extra second and a half, everything had to be perfect, from people’s health and schedules, to swimming effort and 100 other things. It was one of the sweetest victories in my life, but like all such victories, as Lin mentions, short-lived. Today it’s just a memory. Not knowing the Lord back then, it was entirely a horizontal experience.
Not so for Lin experience of basketball. According to his 10-year pastor, Stephen Chen, "He’s a man of prayer. We spent a lot of time together learning about prayer and praying together. That’s something he always desires to do: to have a wonderful prayer life and to enjoy reading God’s word. When people ask him, ‘How are you going to stay grounded? he says, ‘I understand that I’m a sinner.’ And when he says that, he’s saying that he understands that he’s a sinner saved by grace. He knows that [because] he came to salvation. He [knows] that what he has is not his and that does keep him grounded. That is part of Christian character that he continues to work on."
When asked what other Christians can learn from Jeremy Lin, his pastor responded as follows with the subsequent critical information: “His trust in the promises of God. There is no doubt in his mind that God is a sovereign God and that God controls all things. And yet he knows that in times in his life he’s had a lot of ups and downs in terms of hopes dashed. And he wouldn’t say it’s because God was angry at him but rather he would understand that this — even this — is good because God is good and God is love. Romans 8:28 is just his verse. And he knows that everything is working out for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”
When queried whether or not he saw his career in basketball as a spiritual mission, the pastor replied, “I think he does understand that whatever he does, he wants to do heartily unto the Lord. He understands even in his basketball playing that God did create him a certain way. This is quoted by Christians all the time but Eric Liddell, this wonderful track athlete, talked about how when he runs, ‘he feels God’s pleasure.’ And I think, for Jeremy, when he plays basketball he feels God’s pleasure because he understands how he has been made; how he has been put together by God. And so in that sense, yes, there’s definitely a spiritual, Christian dynamic to his playing. And yet, in another sense . . . does he feel like he wants to take these gifts that God has given him and use it to proclaim Christ? Yes.”
Sacrifice, Suffering & Preparation: The Top Five & Eric Liddell
Lin’s faith, perseverance through discouragement and hard work has paid off. And, because basketball isn’t his idol and he has a biblical perspective on things, they will continue to pay off regardless of his performance.
According to some, Lin is now among the five most popular Christian athletes and celebrities – again, this has occurred in the space of about a week and a half! He is ranked with Super Bowl XXXIV winter Kurt Warner (who commented after that game, “First things first. I have to give praise and glory to my Lord and Savior up above. Thank you Jesus.”); Tim Tebow of “Tebowmania” fame; two-time heavyweight boxing champion and current minister George Foreman, and former NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion AC Green.
Eric Liddell, of course, is one of the most famous athletes of the 20th century for taking gold in the 1924 Olympics 400 meter dash (setting a new world record of 47.6 seconds) – but he is perhaps the most famous Christian athlete in the 20th century for risking everything by actually refusing to run on the Sabbath, the day of the race. He was literally willing to give up great worldly fame and everything that came with it, including all its potential wealth and material trappings, simply to obey God in something that most people would consider insignificant. And then, when the day was changed, after he had won Olympic gold, he chose not to take advantage of it. Like his parents, he devoted the remainder of his life to teaching people in China, with the London Missionary Society –traveling throughout China doing evangelistic work. No doubt, along with the great missionary Hudson Taylor and others, he played a major role in the current spiritual wealth of 100-130 million Christians now living in China today. And speaking of today, where is Eric Liddell now? He is with Jesus in Heaven, in indescribable peace, joy and love. He also has his rewards, rewards that will continue forever, while his Olympic gold is sequestered away somewhere by someone else, destined finally to turn to dust. Thankfully, he had his priorities straight.
Giving up the Momentary Gold for Infinite Riches
Liddell also died to the glory of God in a Japanese internment camp in Weishien, China in 1945. Despite the horrid conditions and tortures, he wasn’t depressed nor did he give up. Like his Savior Jesus, he lived for others, sacrificing himself. As Patheos.com points out (see the caveat on this website at note 52) Liddell even today remains more famous than better athletes who have achieved more Olympic gold –his life has inspired at least two television documentaries, a film, and a dozen biographies. That hasn’t happened for Mark Spitz or Lance Armstrong, two of the greatest athletes in history. In the end, his celebrity wasn’t so much a result of his Olympic gold medal – it was for his stand for the Word of God, his character, his lifelong sacrifice for others, and his being willing to freely give up Olympic gold for personal convictions, by simply not running on the Sabbath, regardless of the cost. He was willing to give up all the glory in the world to please God for a single day. That’s sacrifice; that’s example, that’s spiritual preparation for Heaven. To be sure, “There were many great champions in the 2008 Olympics, but were there any of the integrity and character of Eric Liddell?” Perhaps with Liddell’s inspiration, Jeremy Lin is considering the pastorate after his NBA career.
But, in contrast to Eric Liddell, rhythmic Gymnast Sally Ward actually did have to forgo Olympic gold. At the age of fourteen she became the number one junior rhythmic gymnast in the world. She had been to the Beijing Olympics and the World Championships in Paris. At age 16 she was on the brink of the 1996 Olympics. After what is the equivalent of a lifetime of training for Olympic gold, she just left the profession – and simply because God told her to.
“There is an old joke that asks, ‘Want to make God laugh, make a plan.’ This is something that Sally Ward knows all too well. While at the pinnacle of competitive rhythmic gymnastics, Sally heard a still, small voice that would change her life forever. Unlike most gymnasts, Sally Ward didn’t begin her quest for Olympic gold at age 3 or 4. In fact, Sally didn’t begin gymnastics until she was 8 and took up rhythmic gymnastics at the advanced age of 10. Only one year later, Sally found herself competing at the Nationals…. [Later] She achieved notoriety in her sport and had her sights set on achieving her dream of Olympic Gold. However all of that was about to change. Sally began to feel a tapping on her shoulder as the days went by. It was the partner that had been there with her during her meteoric rise — God. In a still, small voice he whispered in her ear, ‘It is time to leave.’ Following agonizing struggle and prayer, Sally decided to leave the world of competitive rhythmic gymnastics.”
As she recalls, in spite of leaving the Olympics, “God allowed me to use the talent He gave me to glorify Him and lift up His name. I worked my hardest and did my best up until the time I knew, in my heart, that it was over, and God had a different path for me.”
"The negative [later, physical] things that happened to me were not from God, but God turned it all around for the good. I seek to bring him glory in my life, to show how good God is."
“I’m thankful that He enabled me to travel the world and do wonderful things in the sport, and then He fully healed me of all the wounds to body and spirit. Now that I’m healed, I can look back and truly appreciate all the opportunities He gave me. I also believe that everything I did in gymnastics was training for a lifetime of ministry. God was preparing me to travel the world and spread the good news of what He has done for us all.”
And travel the world she did: touring the world with Girls of Grace and giving her testimony before thousands of young people, she remains a motivational speaker even to this day.
And Sally Ward isn’t alone. Timothy Dalrymple was also a gymnast headed for the Olympics. He won the all-around title at the Junior National Championships in 1992; represented the US at the Pan American games in Brazil; won the NCAA title as a member of the Stanford team and engaged in national team camp training at the Olympic Training Center, training for the 1996 Olympics.
Despite the loss of Olympic dreams through breaking his neck, Dr. Dalrymple (Associate Director of Content for the evangelical portal at Patheos.com, see note #67) had the following to say in a multi-part article (incredibly, he had actually continued the competition with a broken neck until pain forced him to the hospital. He is well aware of Lin’s recognition that without God, nothing is possible, even as Jesus declared, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). “If what Christians believe is true, then a life is not wasted if it is lived in suffering. A life is wasted if it is lived in such lavish comfort and superficiality that the deeper needs of the soul are never exposed. As the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, too many men and women waste their lives “buying cakes and sweets,” living lives of distraction and self-gratification. It is better to “buy sufferings,” for when one suffers in fellowship with God then one has made a “purchase for eternity.” In other words, suffering tends to reveal what passing pleasures tend to obscure: the sacred and everlasting need of every man and woman for God…. My own victories always felt more like gifts than accomplishments. “You work hard,” people said, “you deserve this.” I do not deserve anything. An athlete must fail many times before he can win, and I was always conscious of all my mistakes, all the ways in which I was lucky, all the reasons I did not deserve to win. In a thousand and one ways I could have lost every competition I won, and it was only divine grace that gave me the talents and opportunities and victories that I enjoyed.”
Echoes of Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow.
Highly reminiscent of the attitude of 45-year Christian quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada (JoniandFriends.org), he recalls not just being accepting of and content with a broken neck, but actually grateful to God that it happened: “I am grateful even for the broken neck and chronic pain. I praise God not in spite of my injury, but for the injury too. God is not primarily interested in protecting me from hardship; God did not become flesh and suffer crucifixion in order to confer on me a life of ease and self-indulgence. I am inclined by nature to pride and the presumption of self-sufficiency. God gave me a thorn in the flesh in precisely the right spot: a moment-by-moment reminder of my weakness, my emptiness, my absolute and inextinguishable need for Him.” A sentiment that could be repeated a thousand times. As one of Joni Eareckson Tada’s book chapters is titled, “Thank You, God, for this wheelchair.”
What Dr. Dalrymple says below will speak to enough wisdom to readers that we will quote him at length, with a caveat about the spiritual supermarket website termed Patheos: unfortunately, even within its evangelical Christian portal it could use some theological discernment, so caution is advised.
- “I am grateful that God did not wait until the end of my life to show me my powerlessness in the face of misfortune and mortality. I am grateful to be reminded every hour of every day that God’s strength is found in my weakness and God’s life is found in my death. I feel the stabs of pain radiating from my neck as hunger pangs for God, a hunger that would otherwise be all too easy to bury…. After the neurosurgeon informed me that my neck was broken, a strange thing happened. I knew at once that I would not enter the Promised Land of the Olympic Games. Still, I will never forget the wellspring of joy that rushed suddenly up within me.
- “My body was broken, my gymnastics dreams were finished. So why did I feel such joy streaming through me that I began to laugh aloud? More than I ever had before, I experienced a profound assurance of divine presence and love. This persisted throughout my hospital stay, and it cast my circumstances in a different light. If I could know the peace of God even when my health and hopes were stripped away from me, then what did I have to fear? It was a liberating revelation. Since God is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil, for no evil can take God away.” That, of course, is the message of Romans 8:28-39 – if you haven’t read it recently, please consider taking the time now. It’s one of the most encouraging sections for Christians in the entire Bible.
Again, like Joni, Dr. Dalrymple has no regrets because his experience was the very crucial that God used to refine his character and give him a divine perspective. Without breaking his neck, his life could easily have been wasted, as millions, sadly, are (Cf. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life). Indeed, the Promised Land he was searching for in the world of Olympic glory was not the Promised Land at all –the true Promised Land was the “land” of total freedom wherein he realized that he needed God and nothing else:
- “I could have been paralyzed for the remainder of my natural life. I am grateful that I was spared this fate, and grateful that God found me through gymnastics and through suffering. I regret neither my gymnastics career nor the way in which it ended. To regret gymnastics would be to regret the hand of God in my life, to regret how God formed and used me. And to regret the suffering I have endured would be to regret one of the greatest instruments God has used for that purpose, a crucible God has used to refine and reform me. Gymnastics was my school of faith, and the pain with which it left me is my hidden companion, my secret with God, a constant reminder of the one thing I must never forget: that I need God and nothing else. Thank God, thank God, that I was not allowed to waste my life buying sweets” [a reference to Niebuhr and the distraction of materialism and related things]. “The Olympics, it turns out, was never the Promised Land. I found the Promised Land in that hospital room, and God used gymnastics to bring me there.” Something for which God is due all praise, thanksgiving and glory.
Once again we are reminded of Job, Joni Eareckson Tada and thousands of others – despite the pain, suffering trials and travails, they wouldn’t give them up for anything:
- “Yet if an angel stood before me and gave me the opportunity to subtract from my life my gymnastics career and all its consequences, all the damage it has done to my body and all the pain that it causes even now as I write, I would not hesitate. I would say no.”
Yet More Glory
Such individuals have chosen the hard path that leads to even greater eternal glory than they would have otherwise experienced.
Of course, there are many evangelical Christians in professional sports today, and it might be good to mention a few additional examples of the more accomplished, so that, even as with the fallen, we might pray for them and their ministries. Sports may be the biggest single idol in America, stretching to the heavens, and those chipping away at it have important ministries.
Consider track and field Olympic star Allyson Felix, possibly the fastest woman on earth, winner of one gold and two Olympic silver medals in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and a silver medal in 2004. She won three gold medals at the Outdoor World Championships in 2007 in Japan – no one was faster.
“I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior at a very young age. Ever since then, I have continually been striving to grow in my relationship with God…. I try to stay in the Bible and I pray a lot, just talking to God. He provides my strength and wisdom…. I feel so blessed that God has given me the talent of running. My running is an amazing gift from God and I want to use it to the best of my ability to glorify Him…. I know my talent is from God. And that’s my purpose: to run to glorify Him.” “My speed is a gift from God, and I run for his glory,” she told Christianity Today. “Whatever I do, it all comes from him.”
Amanda Borden won a silver medal in gymnastics at the 1994 Olympics but is best known as the captain of the team that won the gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, the “Magnificent Seven.” She and her teammates prayed before every competition. She currently trains the next generation of American gold gymnast Olympians and is a commentator for CBS Sports, Turner Broadcasting, ESPN and Fox Sports. “We had Bible studies at the gym before practice on Mondays. They weren’t required, but they were so refreshing for me…. I had to learn to focus on the things I have control over, and then trust God that everything else would work out the way that He planned, whether or not it was what I wanted.”[7
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