by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

May, 2007

It’s time once again for my thirteenth annual column about the balloons that decorate our church each Easter Sunday! This year, I heard someone comment about having to “settle” for the “ugly” balloons that no one else wanted. Afterward, from my vantage point in the choir, I looked out over the balloons in all their different colors. It was true that there were some—root beer brown, dirty off-white, and an unusual dark red—that weren’t as “pretty” as the rest. But they were all very nice and went a long way toward making the church look bright and “springy.” Festive even. And when all the balloons were together, they made a beautiful rainbow of color. Later, when we released the balloons, they looked lovely against the bright, clear, blue sky. In all their colors, they were simply balloons.

In the same way, when God looks at us, God doesn’t see “pretty ones ”and “ugly ones” but beloved children—God’s creations—in need. When Jesus was on Earth, he didn’t choose perfect people as followers but ordinary people: fishermen, tax collectors, sinful women and men. The “heroes” of Jesus’ parables were frequently social outcasts: publicans, Samaritans, beggars, and the like.

When Peter realized that God’s grace and salvation are available to Gentiles as well as Jews, he said, “‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’” (Acts10:34b-35 ESV). God is impartial; God doesn’t care who we are or what we have or how we look, only whether we are faithful servants. And in his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28 ESV). There is no such thing as “status” where God is concerned (Gal. 2:6). When God looks at us, God doesn’t see “pretty” ones and “ugly” ones, important ones and ordinary ones. God looks for “. . . those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality,” (Rom. 2:7a ESV).

Paul realized that “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23 ESV). And yet, God loves us anyway. It doesn’t matter how good or bad we are, how “pretty” or “ugly,” we’re still sinners. I’m sure we’ve all been told at one time or another that “God cannot bear to look upon sin.” I know I’ve heard it many times. For a long time, I couldn’t find it in the Bible but finally I heard the legendary Billy Graham refer to Habakkuk 1:13a: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity:” (Hab.1:13 KJV). It’s also implied by Jesus’ words on the cross: “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt. 27:46b ESV). But that’s not what it means; it means the writer doesn’t understand how God apparently allows bad people to prosper. And even if it did mean God can’t look upon sin we have the assurance of knowing that when God looks at us God doesn’t see the ugliness of our sin but the beauty of Jesus’ sinless perfection, and that God loves and forgives us (Eph. 1:7).

What Peter and Paul realized so long ago is still true today. Paul quoted the prophet Joel to the Romans when he wrote, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Joel 2:32a; Rom. 10:12-13 ESV). He didn’t say “everyone the Lord likes” or “everyone who is good enough” or “everyone who is ‘pretty’ enough.” Instead, he said “everyone who calls.” Everyone who recognizes his or her need and calls on the Lord will be saved.

When we accept others—“pretty” ones and “ugly” ones, “saints” and “sinners,”—we demonstrate Christ’s own love and acceptance. Instead of our sinfulness, others will see God’s love shining through us. They will know the reality of our salvation and they will know whom to call on for their own.

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Pet. 1:17-19 ESV.)

Copyright © 2007 by David Phelps