A new song to the iPod rotation set up today’s iPod Devotional and (full disclosure) a chance to give a sneak preview from a brand new chapter in the new release of  When Bad Christians Happen to Good People.  

The song is by a group called Rush of Fools. First of all, their name sounds like a group of guys that a random “bad Christian” might fit in with comfortably. The song “Your Grace Found Me” perfectly reflects my journey over the past decade. I have to be honest and report that I wasn’t looking for grace. I was looking for an exit to get far, far away from most Christians.

The chorus describes my story.

I'm covered over, I'm so wrapped up, it's all your love it's all your love,
Your grace found me, when I wasn't breathing, grace found me

That chorus sets up nicely an excerpt from the book that tells part of the story about how His grace “found” me.

Our culture sets up false images that misrepresent Jesus. I call them Jesus Decoys. Decoys are lifeless imitations of the real thing. Decoys are designed to lure unsuspecting prey into a trap. And I believe that, sadly, we have placed Jesus decoys to lure people into a faith that is not real Christianity.

One of my most difficult decoys was my dogged pursuit of righteousness. Doesn’t seem like such a bad goal to pursue but my approach was deadly. I had replaced dependence with self-effort and confused righteousness with my own determined right behavior. I was failing miserably. I had just about resigned myself to simply hanging on till I got to glory. What I didn’t know is that God had me right where He wanted me.

In the summer of 2007 Joni and I received an invitation to something called Bo’s Café. It was a seminar hosted by a rather unique (okay, weird) group of guys from an organization called Truefaced. What caught my attention was that Bo’s Café was going to be held at a Five-Star resort in San Diego. As long as they didn’t ask us to shave our heads or get hooked up to electronic meters it would be worth the risk to get a little resort time. When I arrived in San Diego my faith was pretty much flat-lined. I was tired of trying so hard with such mixed results. I was sad that it appeared I would have to accept a brand of Christianity that seemed so much less than what I had dreamed about as a new believer. I wondered if the church was still relevant and debated whether a Bible Study with some friends might not be a better use of my time than dragging to church every week.

We went to San Diego to have a relaxing weekend. Now I can’t even remember what the resort looked like. What I remember is what God did in my heart that weekend. I have been a Christian for nearly forty years. I am a little too old and lot too cynical to be swept away by the latest fad in Christendom. I have sat on the sidelines while Jabez prayed, millions were purpose driven and others found their best life. I guess I was just left behind. Others were incredibly excited by one or all of these phenomena.

At the conference speaker John Lynch addressed how we are programmed from childhood to default to performance theology. He calls it the “Santa Clause is Coming to Town theology”. You know the song well.

You better watch out
Better not cry

Better not pout
I am telling you why

Santa Clause is comin’ to town

He's making a list….checking it twice…three times…every day
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice

Santa Clause is comin’ to town
He sees you when your sleeping, nows when your awake, he knows when you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.

Oh, he's watching. Waiting for you to screw up so you will get coal instead of a bicycle. You had better please him. And we teach our kids to put on the mask and be something they are not. Because Santa Clause is comin’ to town. This omniscient being who is judging our every deed is coming to town…and we learn to do the dance early. Buck up…be good. Don't cry. Don't pout. Santa Clause is coming to town.  (©Copyright 2003, William Thrall, Bruce McNicol, John Lynch. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.)

He is exactly right. We learn that we get good things and receive love only when we are good and do good things. Santa is pleased (and we later substitute God) when we obey. So we learn early. We had better be good. Or least fool everyone around us to think that we are being good. So we learn to lie and hide and cover-up our sin or doggedly attack sin with only self-effort.

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 by living a lie. I learned that that he would bring me presents in spite of my failures. I did not learn about grace. That maybe Santa gave me gifts because of who I was and maybe he came to my house because I was lovable instead of rewarding me for what I had done to please him. 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. Hiddenness worked. Or at least it seemed to work.

Isn’t that too often how we view God? We had better not pout. Better not sin. I’m telling you why. Jesus is coming to town. He’s making a list and He is checking it not once or twice but every moment of every day. God knows if you’ve been bad or good so if you want to be healed or happy or prosperous you had better be good for goodness sake. If I do mess up I am scared to death that I will get a bad life or miss all that God has for me. 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.

But God and Santa are very different in their approach. God does not keep a list. He is not impressed by our hernia inducing straining to control sin. God is honored when we trust Him.

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” for goodness sake. 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.

(Excerpt from When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, Waterbrook Publishing, 2011)

Paul wrote to the church at Galatia and reminded them of these truths.

My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.  (Galatians 2, NLT)