I want to start off by telling one of my favorite stories. Years ago when I still had some game I played in the Scripps Ranch Old Pro’s Basketball league. When I played I tried to keep what I did for a living a secret. I will always remember the day that my teammate, Tony, found out that I was a pastor. It was during the last minute of the last game of the season. One of our guys was going for a steal and fell awkwardly and he dislocated his shoulder. You’ve never seen a guy in such pain. His arm was just hanging there and he started yelling to us, “Someone pop it back in! Someone pop it back in!” We all looked at him and took a step back as if to say “No way man.” None of us wanted that responsibility and besides, this guy was a lawyer. None of us were about to take on that liability. I couldn’t pop his shoulder back in place but I wanted to do something to help so I went over to him and put my hand on his shoulder and started to pray for him. When Tony saw this he went over to my friend Vic and said, “What’s Jack doing?” Vic said, “He’s praying for him. Jack’s a pastor.” To which Tony responded, and I’ll have to edit this next phrase for all the kids out there, “Jack’s a bleeping pastor!?” I never thought of myself in those terms but now that I think of it that was probably a pretty accurate assessment. In fact, I’m thinking of putting that on my business card. What do you think?
I love that story, but you are probably wondering why did Jack go a whole basketball season without telling anyone what he does? A couple possibilities may have popped into your mind: (bullet)
Is he ashamed of what he does?
Is the pastor of our church embarrassed to tell people he’s a Christian?
Maybe he’s just so bad at basketball that he didn’t want to ruin God’s reputation. (I assure you, that is not the case.)
Or maybe this was just a one-time thing and he just forgot to tell his teammates.
Actually, none of these are true. In fact, I can tell you that this is my M.O. When I meet people, I don’t lead with the fact that I’m a pastor, or a Christian, or a God follower. I can assure you that this isn’t an oversight. I do it on purpose and here’s why:
I think that there is a misconception in our world about who God is. There is a god out there who you may have met:
- This god is judgmental.
- With him, it’s all about following the rules.
- Mess up and he’ll make your life miserable.
- This god is more concerned about whether or not you smoke or drink or sleep around then he is about being in relationship with you.
- This god protests gay pride parades and bombs abortion clinics and attacks anyone who doesn’t believe the way he does.
- Generally speaking, he’s mad at you.
- He doesn’t like that you’re living with your boyfriend.
- He doesn’t approve of what’s on your DVR.
- He thinks you drink too much.
Have you met that god? Some of you have. That god is the reason why you were hesitant to walk into church here the first time. That god is the reason why you are wary of church people. It’s because of that god that I don’t lead with my beliefs. I want people to get to know me. I want them to know my heart. I want them to learn that I’m not judgmental and angry and filled with hate. Because that god isn’t my God.
- My God loves.
- My God forgives.
- My God believes in you.
- You don’t have to be perfect to be in relationship with my God.
- My God is smart enough to have figured out that you aren’t perfect. Never will be. But he still likes you.
- You don’t have to pretend to be anything other than what you are with my God.
- My God will try to steer you away from decisions and habits that will end up hurting you, but only because he loves you.
This is the God I wish you knew. This is the God whose love and care and forgiveness and belief can transform your life. There is a book in the Bible called Ephesians and it’s a great place to start if you want to get to know this God, my God. In fact, in the first few verses of the first chapter, we learn something very important about God; the God I wish you knew chose you as his own. You were specifically chosen by God.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. Ephesians 1: 3-6
The idea that you were chosen is an important thought, but it’s also a complicated one. I mean, it’s nice to be chosen, but that implies that someone else wasn’t chosen, doesn’t it? This whole idea of choosing brings back bad memories of fourth grade PE class for me and I’m guessing I’m not the only one out there who has negative feelings about picking teams. When we read this verse it gives the impression that some people aren’t chosen at all. You’re in but he’s out. Also, to be chosen gives us the idea that we don’t get a choice. God picks and it doesn’t matter what you do. This sounds like a junior high conversation but this idea has been at the center of controversy in the church for hundreds of years.
This was an important discussion among my fellow students and professors when I went to seminary. There was lots of debate on this subject. But I gave up that debate long ago and let me tell you why: It’s not my job to figure out who is saved or not and besides, it’s a debate that can never be won because who’s the only one who can know who is saved and why? God is, of course, so let’s leave it up to him.
Let me give you my opinion on what Paul was saying in these first opening verses of the book of Ephesians. I don’t believe he’s saying you’re in, you’re out; I’m good, you’re not. What he is saying to these people is that they are chosen. They are important. They are valuable to God.
You see, God’s plan all along was to reach out to people. In the Old Testament he did that through one nation… Israel. They were called his chosen people.
“6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” Dueteronomy 7:6
Now, God didn’t do that to exclude all the other nations. He did that because He knew that the best way to communicate how to live was to teach this one nation what it meant to live for God. He would teach them not to lie, not to sleep around, not to worship other gods, not to kill each other. This nation would be an example to other nations. When they followed the lifestyle he set up for them, they would prosper. They would be blessed and when other nations saw how good life was for Israel, they would want to know God too. God didn’t do this to exclude other nations. In the book of Jonah, God sends Jonah to the Ninivites so they would be saved. His goal wasn’t exclusion; his goal was to reach people and show them how to live.
Unfortunately, we know how that worked out. For a time, they followed God’s commandments and were blessed, but over time they moved away from God. So God decided he would open up an opportunity for all nations to follow him and he sent his son down to earth to die on a cross so that all people could be called his chosen.
I believe that when Paul is saying to the Ephesians, “You’re chosen” what he’s saying is that just as Israel was God’s chosen, so now you are his chosen. It was God’s plan from the beginning to start with a nation, have them turn their back, then finally send his son down to die on a cross. This was his plan. It was predestined. Now not just one nation is chosen. All have been chosen. All are eligible to receive the grace of God.
I want you to notice something else about how Paul uses the phrase chosen. He never says, “I’m chosen. I’m elect.” It’s always “You are chosen. We are elect.” It’s not exclusionary. It’s not used in arrogance. It’s not used to say I’m in, you’re out. I’m good, you’re not. That really is the biggest problem I have with this whole chosen debate because some people will use it in arrogance.
Another danger of saying that God chooses is that there are some people that think the church is just for Christian people. That since God hand picks people we don’t really need to reach out to those who don’t know God because God’s going to pick people or not pick people. It’s really up to Him. I just don’t see that in the Bible. Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost. He wants us to go to the ends of the earth to make disciples.
Not everyone will agree with me on this and that’s fine. But here’s the danger. If I say “I’m chosen. Only God chooses. I don’t have a part in the choosing,” then why reach out to a neighbor? Why go into the world tell people about Jesus? If it’s all up to God, not much I can do about it. I just don’t see that kind of lifestyle lived out by Paul or anyone else in the Bible. Do you?