Preached July 24th, 2011
Pastor Jeff Cloeter
The choosing of dodge ball teams in grade school was always a predictable affair. The captains always choose teams based on past performance. So there was the usual pecking order with occasional shifting among the mediocre players. The first person picked was always Aaron “The Dash” Doyle. And the last person picked was always Wes “The Wide Body” Williams. But occasionally, every once in a while, there was a captain who turned things upside down. Rather than choosing based on skill or performance, he would choose Wes “The Wide Body” Williams first.
This is the way things work in our world. You are chosen based on your performance. Your work, your quality, your achievement, your skill. Employers look for the best resume, and demand one, or two, or three interviews. Teams choose players in the draft based on their college career, their physical skill, their game time performance. The Hall of Fame requires stats, championships, and total body of work in an athlete’s career. Politicians are chosen to their office by the electorate based on their experience, credentials, and stance on issues. This is the way things work in our world. You are chosen based on your performance.
This is what makes the Holy Scriptures so radical. Moses was speaking to the people of God on the cusp of entering the land promised to them. He was exhorting them to be different from all the people groups in the land around them. Destroy their gods so that you won’t be influenced by them. Don’t intermarry with them so that you won’t be pulled away from a first commandment faith. Why? “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for your were the fewest of all the peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers.”
This was the radical, counter-cultural nature of God’s covenant with his people. Rather than being chosen based on performance, they were chosen based on love. They had no resume worth noting. They had not credentials worthy of greatness. No skill that would merit them a place on a team. In fact, their performance included idolatry, disobedience, and a 40 year tour of the desert. Lucky for them, performance was not the reason for their being chosen. They were chosen based on love. Pure, selfless, silly love. A love that was devoted even when they were unlovable. When there was no good reason to love them. When there were only good reasons to abandon them, God chooses them anyway.
My son Joshua asked me yesterday, “Daddy, is God with us?” “Yes,” I replied. “All the time.” He is into the “why” stage, so he asked, “Why?” “Because he loves us.” “Why?” “Just because he loves us.” You see, that’s the end. “Son, not because of your blue eyes or your occasional good behavior. Not because you’re cute or climbing the growth chart. Love is the end of all reasons.”
Choice based on love is so radical, that it’s hard, even for God’s people, to believe it. You find this struggle in the church. It’s the difference between religion and the gospel. Religion says, “I obey, therefore I am chosen.” Or “I am good, therefore I am loved by God.” But the gospel says, “I am chosen, therefore I obey.” “I am loved by God, therefore I serve, worship, witness, work.”
Many Christians are operating with the assumption that “I am chosen based on performance.” Many Christians say “by grace through faith,” but really think “I obey, therefore I am chosen.” Many Christians, maybe even you. And if you operate under this assumption, there are two outcomes: Arrogance and fear.
If you are chosen by performance, you quickly become arrogant because you take pride in your performance – your obedience, your holiness. Those in this category go to church every Sunday, and Bible Study, and read their Portals of Prayer. And they say things like: “What is wrong with those people?” “I thank God I’m not like them.” “Look at what I’ve done for you, God.” “The world is wicked, at least I’m not.” “I’m successful because God is happy with me.”
If you are chosen based on performance, you either become arrogant or fearful. Fearful because you’re afraid you haven’t performed enough. People get crushed by the pressure to perform, to be good enough for God. When things go wrong, they begin to wonder if it’s because of something they did or didn’t do. “What have I done to tick God off? Am I good enough for him? Is he out to get me for what I’ve done? Is he punishing me?” And every time they mess up, they wonder if God will “unchoose” them.
If you have operated under the assumption that you are chosen by performance, if you have been held captive by arrogance or fear, then you need to hear this. “It was not because you were more in number that God chose you” (Duet. 7:7). It was not your performance, your looks, your achievements, your skills, your cuteness or lovability. It is “because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your forefathers.” You are chosen by love, not performance.
In fact, on your worst day – when you were the weakest, the ugliest, and unlovable. On your worst day, with your greatest sin, your darkest moment, your most scandalous secret, THAT’S EXACTLY WHEN GOD LOVED YOU. Paul says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The cross means death, death by love. When you have no defense and no achievements. When all you have is empty hands and a broken spirit. When you’re looking for a reason to be God’s chosen, the reason ends in love. God’s love is the end of all reasons. Simply the unfailing, steadfast, long-suffering, self-sacrificing love found deep in the heart of the Father, shown in Jesus Christ.
That’s the gospel, but I’m not finished yet. When the captain chose Wes “The Wide Body” Williams, it was shock and awe. Silence spread across every third and fourth grader. Wes dropped his Twinkie, and stumbled toward his new captain. In his mind he was thinking, “He chose me. No one has ever picked me first before. No one has even wanted me last. This captain is crazy.” But when they game starts, Wes “The Wide Body” Williams plays like he’s never played before. He plays with more determination than any other player, hustling more than Aaron “The Dash” Doyle. He praises his teammates, and sacrifices his wide body for them. He leaves the game with bloody scrapes on his knees, and bruises on his elbows.
When you realize that God chooses based on love, not performance, it changes your life. You play for keeps. You live humbly, out of gratitude – not out of arrogance. You live courageously, out of confidence – not out of fear. “I am chosen, therefore I obey, I work, I serve, I witness, I love.”
Often, it is converts to the faith that have the most zeal because they have seen the radical nature of God’s love with new eyes. I have a pastor friend who had a recent convert in his congregation who was so floored by this fact, that he was willed to risk scrapes on his knees and bruises on his elbows.
When the congregation got the most recent demographic statistics, it said that their neighborhood had an increasing number of Southeast Asians who practice animism. So a few members suggested that the church form a committee. The new Christian couldn’t wait that long, so he said, “Pastor, what can we do?” And he hit the streets. Played basketball with neighborhood kids. Introduced himself to neighbors. Started eating at the local ethnic restaurants. And he said, “I’m from the church down the street, and we want to get to know you.”
When a tornado hit a local community, he said, “Pastor, what can we do?” And he organized a collection and spent a few days on a clean up crew. When a long time member died of cancer, the man said, “Pastor, what can I do?” The pastor said, “A hug would be a good start.” So when no one else knew what to say, when everyone else was afraid to say the wrong thing, he was the first to the door. He started with the hug, and then said, “God loves you, and so do I.”
When you are chosen by love, you begin to seek God like a hidden treasure, like a pearl of great value, and you risk everything for it. When you are chosen by love, you begin to say, “I am chosen, therefore I obey, I serve, I witness, I work.”