Today is National Signing Day for college football. All of the highly touted prospects sign their paper work and officially commit to play football at good old Whatsamatta U. (No wait, that was Bullwinkle. And where did they find the helmet that fit around his antlers? But I digress). At any rate, hundreds of young men with dreams of gridiron glory celebrate this day. Overwrought fans compare their list of “commits” to Rival U. to see if their school “won” the recruiting battle. Part of the process is a number of websites that evaluate prospects and assign stars to each player based on their perceived talent. A five star prospect is deemed a “can’t miss”. I wonder about the wisdom of giving stars to assign value to young athletes. Yet I confess that I get caught up in the recruiting drama and hope that some big-time players will be wearing the colors of my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes or my adopted Baylor Bears.
Every year they run a story about how the players highly rated four years ago actually panned out. The results are always mixed. Some four and even five star recruits flame out or have very average careers on the field. Sadly, we never check to see if they are good students or citizens. Some lightly regarded players become stars. Some transfer to another school or even drop out of college entirely. The number of stars by their name was no guarantee that football success would follow. It is a football parallel of the parable that Jesus told about the seed that falls on different types of soil. But that would be another blog.
I thought about how performance standards permeate our culture and our self-image. When we reduce young men to performance stars is it any wonder that we cannot wrap our minds around the concept that better performance is not how we produce holiness in our Christian journey? And don’t most of us do exactly what the recruiting geeks do when we evaluate and judge people in the church? It plays out something like this.
That person is bright, funny and talented. A four star Christian. Make sure they are on the board. Over there is a woman who can sing like an angel. Five stars. Keep her happy. That man is a very successful businessman and he is making tons of money. We need to recruit more five stars like him if we are going to finish the building project. New Testament agitator James would have hated the star system in recruiting and especially in the body of Christ.
My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if someone comes into your assembly wearing a gold ring and fine clothing, and a poor person enters in filthy clothes, do you pay attention to the one who is finely dressed and say, “You sit here in a good place,”and to the poor person, “You stand over there,” or “Sit on the floor”? If so, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? (James 2, NET Bible)
The rating stars are even more pernicious in the living out of our faith. I suspect I am like most Christians who understood that I did not have enough talent to overcome my sin before a Holy God. I needed grace for that. But once I was on the team I began to see the need for, well, me. I had some gifts that God could use. I was at least a three star and with God’s help I might be a four. Yet for some reason I kept feeling frustrated and tired. No matter how much I tried it seemed like my obvious gifts (to me) made little or no difference. And then I shifted my rating system. Sure I had some gifts to use for God but they were gifts of His grace. He was not impressed that I was really proud of what He had graciously given me. I suspect He was particularly unimpressed that I wanted others to see that I was doin’ stuff for Jesus. I finally began to understand that my service was not to impress, please, gain favor or store up frequent server points for a heavenly upgrade. My service was out of gratitude for his grace that forgave my sins past, current and future. Thank you Jesus that you use the unrated prospect as much (and often more because they can actually spell humility) as the prospects that we sinfully think are five stars and more important than the others. In fact, the five star prospects struggle with dependence on Christ because of their self-sufficiency. Humility and talent are an odd but powerful combo platter.
When Jesus said that we should come to Him as little children He did not mean that we should be get small and not share our toys. He was talking about how a child completely depends on their parents to provide, nurture and protect them. Jesus wants that humble dependence from me. When I acknowledge that my talent is truly on loan from God as a gift of grace then I find joy in service. When I humbly submit my meager ability for God’s to use for His glory I find freedom. And when I trust Him for the results I find peace.
Today I praise God that I don’t have to be a five star or even a one star to earn God’s love. It is done. It is a gift of grace. Unmerited. And offered freely even to badly injured and unrated Jesus followers like me. I am so grateful that I verbally committed thirty-nine years ago and then made it official on baptism day a few months later. I hope the young men find success that signed today. But more importantly I hope they find the unconditional love of Christ that is not based on performance or arbitrary stars.