Tebow sermon no joke, but hometown hero recalls humorous beginnings
Jan 31, 2014
By JONI B. HANNIGAN
Managing Editor

JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—Tim Tebow, Jacksonville’s hometown hero and University of Florida Heisman Trophy winner, is in the spotlight this weekend with the announcement he will appear in two T-Mobile Super Bowl XLVIII ads.

The ads feature the former NFL quarterback expressing the same kind of humor he displayed just last Sunday (Jan. 26) when he preached the closing sermon at the Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference.

Photo by Joni B. Hannigan
Tebow, a longtime member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, returned to his home church to deliver the final sermon at its 28th annual conference which gathers thousands of pastors and other Christian leaders—and their wives—for preaching, teaching and music.

In the T-Mobile ads set to air on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb 2, Tebow, a one-time Denver Bronco and former quarterback for the New York Jets, made light of the fact he is without an NFL contract and jokingly takes on roles such as a bull rider, a rock star, and a fire-fighter.

At the Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference, Tebow lightheartedly engaged the preachers—and hundreds of teens—while poking fun at memories of his childhood performances at First Baptist when he was Superman, Goliath, and the butt of a camel.

What he didn’t joke around about was his invitation, as the son of a missionary, and a Christian leader in his own right, to speak in one of the most influential pulpits in America.

Thanking Senior Pastor Mac Brunson, and the others who have influenced his life throughout the years—and pointing to the aisle he walked as a child in making a decision to live for God, and to the baptistery where his father baptized him, Tebow said he is often stopped and told by fathers how much their sons look up to him.

“That’s a huge responsibility, that’s a huge obligation,” Tebow said, clutching a well-worn Bible and notes, while standing firm at the podium for a few minutes. Uncapping a bottle of water to take a sip, he continued, “I’m not really that big of a role model.

“The role models and the heroes are you pastors who are out here tonight,” Tebow smiled. “You’re the heroes and you’re the role models. … I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what you’re going to do because you are making a difference.”

Glancing around at the huge auditorium where the 15,000-member historic church represents just one of Florida Baptist’s 3,000 affiliated churches, Tebow, who has played football for record crowds and has drawn millions of televisions viewers, noted: “And it might be in a big church like this or it might be in a church where there’s only 30 people in your congregation, that doesn’t matter. What matters is your heart. What matters is that God can use you. I pray that I will be an encouragement to you tonight.”

Preaching from Luke 10:38-42, Tebow referenced the biblical account of sisters Mary and Martha and said like Martha, who was distracted by Jesus’ visit to their home, many get “stuck in the hustle and bustle” of life, but forget “it’s all about Jesus.”

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU

“It’s not about you. A life that’s all about Jesus is not about you,” Tebow said in the first point of a four-part sermon that continued with “your identity is in Christ,” “you’re a servant,” and “finish strong,” the characteristics he said that reflect a God-pleasing life.

The 26-year-old free agent, who recently joined the ESPN network as a TV commentator, said the point of the Christian life is to be like Christ.

“So many times we want to make it about us. So many times I want to make it about me, about a game, or about a trophy, or about a win, and it’s become about me. But it can’t be about us,” Tebow said. “But it’s got to be about loving God and loving people and that’s what we are called to do. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.”

Telling the story of his junior year in college when undefeated Florida lost the SEC Championship to Alabama, Tebow said he was so heartbroken, “I might have cried.” In a bad mood, he went to a banquet and was shaken from his attitude by meeting Kelly Faughnan, a young woman with a brain tumor. Looking at her situation, Tebow recalled, “all of the bitterness and anger” left.  

Asking Kelly to be his date to a red carpet ceremony the next day, Tebow said he had a good time watching her enjoy herself, until once again he focused on himself when he realized his name wasn’t being called to receive awards. 

In a moment of dissatisfaction, he told his mom he probably hadn’t won any awards. Leaning in, he heard his mom, Pam Tebow, say: “Timmy, you already won an award tonight, but you just don’t get to receive it until Heaven.”

Quieting before the thunderous applause and loud shouts of “amen” in the auditorium, Tebow said his mother’s comment resonated.

“Immediately I was so humble because I realized what an idiot I had been the whole time because I was always making it about me,” he said.

Urging pastors to think back to the first time they shared the Gospel with someone, he cautioned them to not let the monotony of “doing it over and over again steal your joy.”

Focusing on others brings perspective, Tebow said. Instead of being tired about a “need to go” and do, the focus is on others.

“God can give us peace and give us the energy and give us the determination to keep going,” Tebow said. “We can’t make it about us.”

YOUR IDENTITY NEVER CHANGES

In describing how “your identity never changes,” Tebow recalled the two times he was voted the most popular athlete in America and also the “two years in a row” he was let go by NFL teams. 

“I was cut, told … ‘You can’t play in this league, you’re not good enough,’” he remembered. “I am so thankful I don’t have to live the roller coaster that the world lives of my life because my identity never changes. I am a child of God. He loves me. He died for me. He has a plan for me. That’s it!”

Warning pastors there are good and bad times and they are going to be criticized, Tebow grinned, “trust me, I’ve had all of them!”

“It’s OK. Jesus put up with a lot, too. If people are criticizing you—good. That means you stood up for something once in your life. And that’s a good thing; your identity never changes,” he said.

YOU’RE A SERVANT

Photo by Joni B. Hannigan
On being a servant, Tebow said he was preparing to speak at an event years ago and asked himself what could he, as a 20-year-old college football player who just won the Heisman Award, possibly tell missionaries “who are putting their life on the line for the Gospel every single day.”

He decided to share Matthew 23:11, a verse his mother made his memorize when he was playing T-ball and bragging too much. “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

At the end of his talk, Tebow said, “I told them if the world could see them through God’s eyes, they would be the ones winning the Heisman, not me.”

“And that’s what I want to echo to you pastors here tonight,” Tebow said. “You might not get a lot of pats on the back. You might not get a lot of people saying, great job, and you might not be in a stadium where people are giving a round of applause, or cheering for you when you score, but I’ll tell you this, God is—God’s  cheering for you.”

Painting a picture of what the life of Christ looks like, Tebow repeated: “It’s not about you. Your identity never changes. You’re a servant.” 

FINISH STRONG

Finally, Tebow encouraged pastors to “finish strong.” 

Noting UF Coach Urban Meyer had urged the team to finish strong during his junior year, Tebow said he reminded players gathered in the locker room at half time during the SEC National Championship game what a win would mean.

Afterwards, as the coach walked toward him, Tebow said he got emotional when Meyer gave him a hug and told him he loved him and was proud of him. “You finished strong,” Tebow remembers Meyer telling him.

“When a father figure, a coach, gives you a command and asks you to do it, and you do it, and they tell you that they love you, that they’re proud of you, that you finished strong—it means the world to you and it meant the world to me,” Tebow said. “You see what Coach Meyer did for me that night it was so amazing. But my ultimate goal is when I get to Heaven. I want my heavenly Father to pull his headsets off of running this world and say to me, Timmy, I just want you to know, I love you, I’m proud of you, you finished strong.”

Jesus Christ asked us to “finish strong,” Tebow said, reminding pastors that Jesus didn’t change, his identity didn’t change based on whether he was “loved, praised, booed,” or beaten. “He was here to serve, and ultimately he came to finish strong.”

Tebow concluded his 25-minute sermon by explaining how God offered salvation to all through Jesus Christ and asked those who were interested to join in a prayer to accept God’s gift of salvation. 

“It’s not the prayer that saves you, but the belief in your heart,” he offered before bowing his head to pray and then slipping from the platform with his Bible and sheaf of notes.

Brunson stepped to the front of the auditorium to lead in an altar call. He had earlier reminded the audience it was a pastors’ conference and there would be no autographs from possibly the youngest man ever to pack the auditorium to bring the Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference to a close.

And for Tebow, being a preacher isn’t a role in a commercial. Bringing the Gospel message is a part and parcel of what he has been doing for years—in and out of season—off and on the field.

And for those who are watching the Super Bowl commercials this year, it’s not the first to feature Tebow. In 2010 Tim and his mom, Pam Tebow created a firestorm of controversy with a pro-life commercial made by Focus on the Family. In it, true to form, Tim humorously tackled his petite mom.

At the conclusion of the service Brunson asked the congregation to specifically pray for Tebow and others like him who live in a different world where they are constantly in the spotlight.

“They need our prayers,” Brunson said.

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