It’s Not How Good You Are

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~Ephesians 2:4-9

“Have you been good this year?” “Are you on Santa’s nice list?” “What’s Santa going to bring you?” Words spoken with kindness but layered with threat and repercussion. The questions rang out with a fierceness, and my heart wanted to stop that moment and run. My little 4 year old turned to me, eyes wide open, searching my face, and I quickly covered the moment with assurances to all involved that presents would be under her tree.

We walked away from the exchange, and the moment we were quietly alone, I kneeled down and looked into her precious eyes and asked her, “What do you think about those questions? Are you good this year?” Her answer tore at my heart, exposed her doubts, and opened the door for the truth of the Gospel. She quietly replied, “Maybe. But I don’t really know.” And so for a little while, sitting in a parking lot, we talked about the truth of Christmas in a language that she can understand and that I pray plant seeds of truth to combat the wicked evil that seeps out of every part of those questions.

Caraline, I want you to understand something very important and foundational. It doesn’t matter What you have done; it matters Whose you are. You see, sweetie, we celebrate Christmas why? because Jesus came as a baby with one purpose in mind – to die on the cross for your sins and mine. He was our special present that day because He would make a way for you to have a relationship with God, have peace in your life, and have hope for when you die that you will live with Him forever. That is why we celebrate Christmas. But do you have to do anything for Jesus to be your Savior? Do you have to be good for Him? Ever? No, baby girl. There is no performing needed, you get to mess up and sin. He will lead you to repentance and forgiveness every single time. So we may be sad that we have sinned, but we never have to be afraid or worry that God will not forgive us or take us off his list. Because you are His, and He loves you no matter what. It is by grace you have been saved.

So at Christmas, we celebrate this great gift of Jesus by learning about His birth, learning about his names, singing songs that celebrate Him. And we give gifts to one another. But you will have gifts under the Christmas tree whether you have been good or naughty. Even if you have had many days of getting in trouble, you will still have all your presents under the tree. Why? Because you are my child, and I love you no matter what. Your presents on Christmas Day are because you belong to our family and you will be richly blessed with gifts given in great grace.

As believers we cannot just sit by and let culture dictate and pervert one of our holy days. And we certainly cannot allow our young children to be taken captive by a belief system utterly in opposition to the true meaning of Christmas. Yet we do. We allow these questions of goodness, performance, behavior to be asked of our children as if they are benign questions when really they have the fire of hell steaming off of them. We welcome a performance mentality for our little ones who believe as if that may provide some relief and keep them in line in a time full of excitement and craziness. There is no performance needed for the greatest gift ever given, the reason for Christmas. Jesus Christ came while we were all completely lost, sinful, full of all wickedness, and He came to freely give salvation to all who believe.

So while in our household we may decorate with Santa Claus, he doesn’t wield any power. We love the Christmas movies about elves, Santa’s workshop, reindeer, and snowmen. But he is never exalted as the giver of our gifts. There are no lists made, no hopeful yearnings in letters to the north pole. He certainly is not omniscient or omnipresent. His elves do not live in our house to check on behavior because again behavior is simply a symptom of a heart that needs the truth of the Gospel applied. So we purpose to direct the hearts of our children to the One who can and does save and work change in their lives because He loves them unconditionally and calls them to Himself.

I will do battle on this point against an enemy that wants nothing less than to convince my children that their performance factors into the equation. Because if he can convince them of that condemning thought, then grace is lost and bondage results around a day that is full of God’s rich, redeeming grace. I want my children’s hearts to sing that God’s gift of Jesus is their greatest gift.

Learning

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  ~Romans 8:15

I have had a week like no other – the kind of week that you wished never happened. The kind of week where everything seems to be going wrong, and it is all tied to you. No, it hasn’t been full of devastating news or horrific circumstances. Just enough hardship in circumstances to become discouraging and overwhelming. Most of the issues have centered around glass and more specifically, it breaking. The first thing I broke was my entire back glass in my vehicle backing into my own garage door. Yeah, that was a good move. On my way to Bible study with my precious littles in the back seat, I just backed right into the bottom panel of the garage door, shattering the entire back glass, messing up the top portion of my car, and for good measure denting my garage door. God has a way of getting my attention! I then experienced the frustration of having a package inexplicably lost on its way to Texas for my son’s birthday. The shipping company had no idea where the package was and could not even trace it as they had made some error in their initial intake of it. They were very sorry but not very helpful. Plus according to them, I had also not insured the package to its value, so replacement wasn’t really an option either. I cried. I quietly cried in that package store. Not really because the package was lost, but because I knew the cost of my day, and I had caused most of it.

My week went on – I got estimates (they were huge!) on replacing car and window parts, the package finally showed up in another state and was rerouted. And I stabilized for a moment. But then over the weekend I asked Troy to take down a light fixture for me so that I could clean it. And I shattered it. It slipped out of my hands into the sink and shattered into countless pieces. And again I was faced with my actions costing greatly and once again having to confess failure. The next morning as I washed the morning dishes, (you’ve probably guessed by now) 2 different glasses drop into the sink and shatter. Now I’m not sure I have ever shattered one glass in my sink before but certainly not two back to back. By this point I just mutely shook my head and began my glass cleanup routine.

As I cleaned, the Lord and I had a great conversation. It began with me whining, but as it should, it ended with truth and beauty. I’m not interested in your glass, Bethany, not in your care of things or driving ability, I am solely interested in you. And I want you to see in the destruction and subsequent confessions and replacements the picture of my grace. I want you to have such security as my daughter that all your failures are simply places where my strength and my provision and my glory can shine. These are all earthly things, but when their destruction defines you, paints stories in your mind of your worthlessness, discourages you in other parts of life then they highlight the value you place on your abilities and actions. 

My identity is not defined by my actions. Not by my successes nor by my failures. It is not shaped by my hands at all. God and God alone shapes my identity as his daughter, wholly and dearly loved, one precious in His sight, fully accepted because of Jesus Christ’s work on my behalf. And God works on this area with me over and over again. Because like a dog returns to his vomit, I will return to this death sourced idea that somehow I shape my identity in God’s sight. That my actions and reactions are part of the equation for His pleasure in me. That the way I successfully navigate this life can somehow help Him in the work He has, and therefore my missteps can also mess His plan.

When in reality, the more I recognize my desperate need for His help every day, in planning and executing the mundane things in life as well as the exciting, when I am surrendered to His Spirit, the easier it is to walk through these difficult moments. Because my eyes aren’t on me. They are on Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of my faith.(Heb. 12:2)  And He uses these glass shattering weeks to highlight my ever increasing need for Him.