Stephen Chen is head pastor of the English-language ministry at Redeemer Bible Fellowship in Mountain View, Calif. Among the longtime members of his 300-person, largely Chinese American immigrant church is basketball’s latter-day wunderkind, the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin.
Chen has known Lin since the basketball phenom was 13, when Chen worked with him as a youth counselor at their church. Chen never played basketball until Jeremy and his brother, Josh, taught him. “They said, ‘we’ll listen to what you have to say about the Bible and you have to listen to what we have to say about basketball.’”
On Faith: What is Jeremy like as a person and as a Christian?
Stephen Chen: As a person, maybe a side that the media does not often get to see is that he’s playful and that he’s down to earth. He’s funny.
In terms of Christian character, he’s always been faithful, if he says he’s going to do something he not only does it but he does it well. He’s always been very winsome. He’s very compassionate.
There is something within him where he’s always trying to learn more about God and grow in his relationship with God. 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. I think we’d all agree that we need to be working on humility. That’s one of those things that he’s able to keep in check because he remembers where he came from and the work that God has already done in his life.”
On Faith: What is the reaction from the congregants in your church?
Stephen Chen: There’s a buzz in the church, obviously. He’s a son of the church and a longtime member and congregant here and in that sense we’re happy for him. We’re very thankful for him and we’ve very thankful to God for what he has done in Jeremy’s life. We’re praying for him. We feel that now more than ever is not the time for us to relax in prayer. We know that with success there are a lot of different things that will be thrown his way and so we are certainly praying for him.
On Faith: What can other Christians learn from Lin?
Stephen Chen: 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. He knows he is a child of God and so in that sense he struggles, yes. He’s not perfect, he struggles to consistently hold onto and grip onto what God has said in his word rather than just letting his emotions take control of him. So I think that’s an example to other people.
On Faith: Do you, or does Lin, see his basketball career as a spiritual mission?
Stephen Chen: It would depend on what we mean by spiritual mission. . . 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. I think he would say yes. I think any Christian would probably say yes.
On Faith: What advice do you have for Jeremy who has gone from relatively unknown to the front page of newspapers within a week?
Stephen Chen: My advice wouldn’t change too much [given the circumstances]. I would say ‘Preach the Gospel to yourself every day.’ It means remember what you were saved from. Remember your savior. Remember your God. If you have your vision set on Christ, if he fills your vision, then all the other planets of your solar system are all in the right orbit if you’re revolving around the right thing. It is to keep Christ central and the Gospel central.
On Faith: What do you make of all of these comparisons to Tim Tebow?
Stephen Chen: The comparisons are apt if we’re talking about his faith. If we’re just talking about who he is as a Christian and what makes up his identity. They’re brothers in Christ. That’s what I would say. They are definitely linked in that sense.
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