CUMMING, Ga. (BP)–With dozens of kids toting Florida Gator signable footballs or miniature orange football helmets, or decked out in blue jerseys with “15” on the back — and grown-ups wearing their game-day Gator shirts — it could have been October in Gainesville, Fla.
Instead, the site was First Redeemer Church, a sprawling, 4,000-member SBC church in Cumming, Ga., right in the middle of Georgia Bulldog and Georgia Tech country. The draw was Tim Tebow.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound former University of Florida Gator, Heisman Trophy winner and new Denver Bronco quarterback spoke to 4,800 in two packed worship services and at a breakfast on Sunday, July 4 as part of the church’s annual “God and Country Day.”
Tebow, who turns 23 in August, was nattily dressed in a pink tie and gray pin-striped suit that failed to hide the bulging left arm that helped lead Florida to two national championships and two SEC championships. But Tebow, a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., didn’t come to talk about football.
“I was recently doing an interview with a nationally known sports reporter,” Tebow said. “She said, ‘Now that you’ve graduated from college, are going to the NFL, will make a lot of money, everybody will know your name and want your autograph … because of all that, do you count your life as a success?’
“I told her, yes, I count my life as successful,” Tebow said. “But not because I’m famous or won two national championships or the Heisman or going to the NFL, it’s because I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
It’s common knowledge that Tebow has spent the offseason altering his southpaw, side-armed throwing motion to gain a quicker release for the NFL, where he knows the linemen, linebackers and defensive backs will be bigger and faster. He’ll have to get rid of the football quicker, with a much smaller margin for error.
While by all accounts, Tebow had a tough but “educational” mini-camp in June in Englewood, Colo., he said in a Baptist Press interview July 4 he’s excited about reporting to camp later this month.
Tebow’s daily regimen at the recently concluded mini-camp included days that began at the crack of dawn with weightlifting, running and conditioning. There was a new offensive playbook for the NFL rookie to master, so much of his time was spent in the classroom. Practice followed and Tebow’s long day did not end until 7 or 8 p.m. Such is life in the NFL.
Tebow told the First Redeemer crowd that the nationally known sports reporter also asked, “How will you handle the NFL? Some say you’ll make it, some say you won’t.”
“I told her I don’t know what the future holds,” said Tebow, “but I know who holds the future.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams with people who are successful in the world’s eyes,” he said. “They’ve made a lot of money. They’ve been first-round picks. They should be extremely happy but they’re not because they’re missing something. They’re missing what’s most important — Jesus Christ.”
In 1993, on his knees with his mom, Pam, Tebow accepted Christ when he was only 6 years old. Born in the Philippines, the son of missionary evangelist Bob Tebow, young Tebow was blessed with two Christian role models. Indeed, “Timmy” — as his parents still call him — is just blessed to be here. His mother suffered from amoebic dysentery while pregnant and the doctors advised her to have an abortion. She bravely told the doctor “no.”
Tebow is especially close to and proud of his dad.
“The examples a dad sets for his sons don’t always come from his mouth,” Tebow says, “but from what they do. A dad should be the greatest role model in the world for his sons. I learned from just watching my dad — not what he said but what he did. He believes in making the biggest impact he can in the world for Jesus Christ. That’s why I’m so proud of him.”
Tebow told the crowds that it was his dad who first instilled passion in him by showing him and his brothers the film “Braveheart.” The elder Tebow told “Timmy” he wanted him to have the same kind of passion depicted in the movie.
“If you’re passionate and enthusiastic about something, you’re going to influence other people. You’re going to make a difference in other people’s lives,” Tebow told the audience.
“Shouldn’t we be as passionate about the greatest gift of all — Jesus — as we are about football? God gave us His Son, an abundant life and if you can’t be passionate about that, I don’t know what you can be passionate about.
“But we are not passionate about sharing it and that’s pretty disappointing. We talk about football or the movies we see. Why wouldn’t you talk about the love of Jesus Christ?”
Tebow said early on, his goals at Florida were to play football with passion, live with passion and be unashamed of the Gospel. “Every day, I wanted to set myself apart as a person, as a Christian and as a player.”
One way Tebow displayed his passion and set himself apart for Christ during his four-year career at Florida was his trademark “eye-black” strips — always inscribed with a Bible verse — he wore for every game. At the beginning, the strips cited Philippians 4:13. But when he decided to change to John 3:16 for the 2009 BCS National Championship Game against Oklahoma, Tebow caused a panic among his fellow Gator players, especially Urban Meyer, his typically intense and highly superstitious head coach.
“Coach Meyer said, ‘No, no, no. What’s wrong with Philippians 4:13? We’ve won a lot of games with that one.'” The players also asked Tebow: “You’re doing what?” But Tebow made the change to John 3:16 anyway and the Gators chalked up another win.
A few days later, it would be Meyer himself who would inform Tebow that only 24 hours after that Florida game, 94 million people had “Googled” John 3:16 to see what it says.
Tebow wound up his 20-minute remarks at the First Redeemer breakfast by advising his listeners to “finish strong.”
“In football, you have to finish strong,” he said. “You finish strong in the weight room, on the practice field, and running sprints. Even if it’s hard, you pretend it’s not. You fake it until you make it. You don’t train for the first quarter but for the fourth quarter. You win games in the offseason. You win them in April, May, June and July.”
Tebow recounted the time in January 2009 when the last seconds ticked down in Florida’s national championship victory over Oklahoma and Meyer welcomed him to the sideline with a big grin and a hug.
“Coach hugs me and tells me ‘Great job, you finished strong. I’m so proud of you.’ That memory means more to me than any national championship ring or Heisman Trophy,” Tebow said. “We also have to finish strong in life. My goal in life is that when I die and am standing before Jesus, His arms are going to be open wide. He’ll hug me and say, ‘Timmy, great job. Thataboy. You finished strong. I’m so proud of you.’ That’s what I’m looking forward to. That’s something to live and die for.”
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.