Good Enough For God
The angry ones is what Eleanor Armstrong called the elementary school children in the poverty stricken area of Appalachia. She had gone there to set up an art program in the school, and was given classes totaling 600 children. She knew that the children were poor, but she gradually came to learn what poor means:
Poor are children who put on winter clothes in October and don't take them off until April.
Poor are children who fight each other for old car seats that served as beds in their house.
Poor is the girl who told her proudly, "I get the blanket when Ma don't come home."
She knew the children were poor; she was surprised how angry they were. They were belligerent, restless, and seething with anger. She couldn't keep their attention very long at one time. The anger wasn't directed at her personally; it usually turned on one another with scuffles, kicks, stealing, destructiveness, and foul language.
Through her art work with them, she got an insight into their situation. Once she assigned them to draw pictures called My Family. Most pictures showed only one parent; some had no parents at all. When there were two parents, usually the father was a tiny figure at the bottom of the page. She gradually came to realize what the cold statistics on their cards meant: father unknown, mother in jail, mother an alcoholic, etc. And, she discovered, "Inevitably, the child artist had drawn him/herself standing alone, as far away from the other figures as the little piece of paper would allow."
These angry Appalachian children illustrate the biblical description of the human situation, what the Bible calls sin: separation from God, separation from one another, separation from one's true self. In our lesson today, Paul wrote to the Colossians, 1:21, And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. But, we do not have to remain in the human situation. We do not have to remain estranged and separated. God reaches out to us in Jesus Christ. 1:21-22
How to find a sense of belonging, how to overcome sin--alienation, estrangement and separation, how to be good enough for God is the good news of the gospel. The good news Paul wrote to the Colossians, which is still relevant today, is: You do not make yourself good enough. You are good enough as you are because God loves you. Because of God's amazing grace, not your own doing, you are good enough for God, good enough to be accepted, good enough to belong to God. It is not your doing, it is God's doing.
Why is it so difficult for church people to understand the gospel? Why is it so difficult for religious folk to accept the love of God? Some religious folk make themselves miserable, and everyone around them miserable, by trying so hard to be good enough, to be righteous enough to be loved by God. I remember calling on a dear old lady of the church years ago. She had recently been told by the doctor that she had a malignant tumor, and that she was terminally ill. We talked about her husband and son who had preceded her in death and how much she missed them. So I asked her, "And are you ready to go? Are you ready to die? Are you ready for heaven?" She replied, "Oh yes; I've tried to live a good life; I've not hurt people." Have you heard people say, "Oh, I'm sure he will go to heaven; he lived such a good life."
My heart ached for her as I told her, "It's not a matter of trying. It's not a matter of trying to live a good life. Eternal life is a gift from God. It's matter of God's grace, of God's love for you, not a matter of trying to live a good life." Oh, the anxiety of constantly wondering of you are good enough. The woman had lived her entire life in the church, and still had not heard the gospel. She had not grasped the gospel. Redemption is God's act, not ours.
William Barclay in his commentary on Colossians wrote, The New Testament never talks of God being reconciled to people, but of people being reconciled to God. It is not a matter of trying to prove you are good enough for God. It is not a matter of meeting God with the results of your life in your hands, pleading, "Oh God, is my life good enough to be rewarded?" Can you imagine having to ask your mother, "Mommy, I've made my bed; now may I live in the family?" "Mommy, I cleaned my room; now will you love me?" A mother's love is not, or it should not be, conditional; on condition if the child is good enough. A mother loves her child unconditionally. So God loves you. Love is a gift. Heaven is a gift. You do not make yourself presentable to God.
Jesus built the bridge that unites us with God. The chasm has been bridged. The barrier has been overcome. How? Not by changing God, but by changing us. Not by appeasing an angry, wrathful God. God has always been love. God was always like Jesus. It was God who sent Jesus. It is God's love that initiated the process of redemption. The death of Jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus of his life on the cross is the means of reconciliation, changing not God, but us. Through the death of Jesus, God is saying to you and me, "I love you so much I let my Son suffer and die for you. I love you enough to bear the agony and pain of the cross on my heart." The cross is the proof that there is no length to which God will refuse to go in order to convince you of your separation, your sin, and cause you to turn to God to receive the gift of belonging.
When you stop trying to be good enough, turn to God and receive the gift of his amazing grace, then God works in your life, remaking you into the likeness for which you were created, namely, Jesus Christ. Verse 22, ..to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before God. The goal of reconciliation is holiness, to live as Christ taught us.
How God God's heart aches with grief over separation which exists between God and people, the alienation between people, the estrangement inside you separating you from your best self. God yearns for us to belong to him, yearns for the separation to be overcome. You are good enough for God, not in your own doing, but because God loves you. Relax. Trust. Enjoy what God has done for you.
Eleanor Armstrong, working with the angry children in Appalachia, discovered the power of the gospel. One classroom in particular was hostile, with an undercurrent of jeering anger. One day she prayed in earnest for God to help her reach the children, and God answered her by telling her, "Look for me in the classroom; look into the children's eyes and you will see me. And when you see me, call me by name. Talk about me."
The next day she went into the classroom with trepidation, but with faith. The children were more restless than usual. She had with her a set of prints that cost her an entire week's salary. A tall boy named Johnny grabbed them and with a ruler slashed the first picture in half She wondered if she could see Jesus in Johnny. She looked into Johnny's eyes and she saw strength. Nobody picked on Johnny. She felt that in his strength, Johnny was strong like Jesus. As she looked into Johnny's eyes, Johnny lay down his ruler and walked to his seat.
She walked the aisles, just looking at the children. She looked at one girl whose mother had taught her to steal. While the mother pretended to faint, the children would fill sacks with merchandise. The girl had been put into a county home where she had been whipped, lectured, and locked up; but she had never changed, and she had never cried. The teacher, Eleanor, thought as she looked at the girl, "Why, she is like Jesus who also could not be frightened and who would not give up."
By the time she had walked around the room, it was as still as a church. She had not yet said a word. Then she softly said, "Jesus is here." And she whispered, "Jesus loves you. Jesus cares for you." In the stillness, the shoplifter who never cried began to weep. The tall, strong Johnny began to sob. Eleanor Armstrong found that the children did change. Her teaching took on new meaning as it never had before. The children settled down, and found the love of Christ, reconciliation with God.
That is the gospel. May I say it again. As we begin this ministry together here in Merced, let us build on the gospel. Hear it again. Listen as you have rarely listened. Clear out the cobwebs. Clear away the misconceptions. Clear way the apprehension. Jesus loves you. Jesus is here.
© 1993 Douglas I. Norris
© 1993 Douglas I. Norris