A story we heard from some dear friends keeps weighing on my mind. This couple had left Valentine gifts for their grandchild at his home. When asked after Valentines how he liked his gift my friend got a blank look from the grandchild. He said he had not received a gift. Hoping that he had forgotten or misunderstood the couple contacted the boy's parents.
"Did you receive the gifts?"
"Did you give them to Billy?"
"No, he has not been good enough to get any gifts."
My friend's hearts were broken. The gift to their grandchild was given in love with no behavioral strings attached. They did not care if he had been good or bad. The gift was given simply because they loved him. The message sent to this boy is damaging both emotionally and spiritually. You must earn good gifts. If you don't do right things you will not get good gifts.
My heart hurt for my friends and for this little boy. And I wondered if I don't hurt the heart of Jesus by similarly selfish views of His grace. His forgiveness, acceptance and love is a gift. I don't have to be "good enough" to open His gifts of grace. I have learned that I get good things and receive love only when I am good and do good things. My parents and pastor were pleased (and I later substituted God) when I was good. So I learned to do the dance early. I had better be good. Or least fool everyone around me to think that I was being good.
Ask any child around Christmas if they are being good and I will wager you will never hear this response.
"Well, to be honest, I am really struggling with the whole being nice thing. I have actually been pouty and I cried yesterday. It just isn't working out this Christmas so I suspect the video game system will have to wait until I can act better."
Nope. What you hear is the lie that I learned early and too often keep handy in my arsenal decades later.
"Oh yeah. I am being really good!"
I learned a couple of things early. I learned how hard it is to change behavior by sheer willpower and I learned that I could fool Santa and others by living a lie. I figured I had fooled him and to get the good stuff I would have to continue to hide the little boy who broke an ornament and then hid it. That little boy was not worthy of good things. So I hid the truth about who I was because if they knew who I really was I wouldn't get good gifts.
Isn't that too often how we view God? So I put on the mask and try to be really good for Jesus. If I can fool those around me maybe, just maybe, I can fool God too. Satan sells the lie so convincingly. And we buy it for months and years and even decades. The little boy who was not good enough to receive his Valentine gift of love is learning the lie. You have to shape up to receive God's love and the love of others.
But God does not keep a list of what we have done wrong. He is not impressed by our hernia inducing straining to control sin. In fact He is saddened by that self-effort because we neglect the power that we have over sin.
Jesus offers us so many gifts. But the one we seem to have the hardest time unwrapping is the gift of grace. The gift that allows us to become who God desires us to become as we simply trust Him and quit trying to be "good" so we can earn His favor and gifts. We are saved by grace and faith in Christ. We become like Him by the same radical strategy. Faith that He has changed us into a new creation. And understanding the grace that gives us good gifts even when we don't deserve them.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you have to get better to open His gifts of grace. Go straight to the gift of grace that Jesus left under the Cross. Open it. And clothe yourself in His salvation, acceptance and love. It may be the best gift you have ever given yourself. But not if the gift stays unopened.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.