Sports cards and candy at the Nutfield General Store were cheap and easy to accumulate when I was 20 years younger. Mainly, because I was a shrewd young businessman -- often negotiating how many Jolly Ranchers or Topps baseball cards I could buy in exchange for 20 or so minutes of labor.
Later, my brother and I ate candy and picked our favorite sports stars from the packs. I remember that both David Robinson of basketball and Nolan Ryan of baseball were some of my sports heroes.
From Robinson, I remember how well he presented himself as a hard worker and he persistently brought San Antonio into winning territory. From Ryan, I remember learning how showing up game after game and giving your all can make a person well known and successful -- his 27 years in baseball prove this.
Role models are important, and the principles I learned from mine are now a small part of who I picture myself being. I saw passionate players who informed the ethics of my life.
Within the past decade, a sports star has caught a lot of people's attention. I heard about him in St. Augustine, Fla., when he was at Nease High School in Jacksonville and how everyone was amazed by him. I later went to seminary in Massachusetts and even there, I heard people talking about the Gators and how their quarterback was doing.
Since a very young age, Tim Tebow has a role model.
Tebow lives out his faith and is an amazing athlete at the same time. Well known for writing "John 3:16" on his black eye paint, millions saw Scripture on his face and searched the Internet to find out that God loves the world.
Tebow does a lot of good work through his own foundation to help the needy, and his pre-college missionary work served as a good example of Christian care.
He seems to handle all the attention well, though many have been critical of him wearing his faith on his sleeve. Then again, many are wary of faith, in general, probably due to the decades of pastor, evangelist and priest scandals across the globe. Trusting people of faith isn't easy; having been burned so many times, the skeptical voice becomes a loud one.
We want to like Tebow, but what if he messes up? There is a lot of risk involved in being a fan. This is especially true if both hero and fan follow Jesus together.
Conversely, can Tebow, as a person of faith, trust those who tell his story? Can he trust those who follow his career and also call themselves disciples of Jesus? In the gospel of John, chapter 17, Jesus prays: "I in them and you [God the Father] in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
From Tebow we learn a few things. We can openly see boldness of faith much like the echoes the faith of Joshua when he led the Israelites. We can learn to be humble and pray for all people who step up to the stage and speak from their heart to the world. And we can hope for being the kind of community that is ultimately about showing love to this young man rather than idolizing the gifts God has given him.
For myself, sports cards will now be a reminder to pray for blessings to all athletes who may entertain, but who also inspire and teach us lessons we may need to learn.
Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.