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Gift With Strings



For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from your-

selves, it is the gift of God— —Ephesians 2:8 NIV

Christmas 2014 was the year we pulled the trigger. I had been so strong for so long—a mighty oak that could not be toppled—until years of begging wore me down.

In 2012 my husband suggested it.

“No,” I quickly snapped. “They’re far too young!”

The following year he hesitatingly tried again.

“Not a chance,” I shot back.

In 2014 I changed my mind, mainly because I was tired.

I was tired of the fights, the whining, the begging; the it’s my turn’s and the that’s no fair’s! I was tired of wiping sticky fingerprints off my iPad® and I suspected that my sweet husband, who has a much lower threshold for messy than I do, was tired of the same for his Kindle.

So in late November I approached Mike with my tail between my legs and a defeated sigh.

“It’s time,” I said.

“It is?” He asked.

“It is,” I sighed.

Can you guess what the kids found under the tree? It’s black and smooth and rhymes with “spindle.”

Christmas of 2014 was the year the kids each got a Kindle.

Tucking them in on Christmas Eve, I wondered who was more excited, them or me. I remember the feeling as a little girl, lying awake for hours, ears straining to hear the sound of hooves on rooftops, desperately hoping I’d been good enough to warrant Santa’s favor. My eyes always popped open long before the house was awake. I would carefully extract myself from bed, tiptoe down the hall, avoid the creaky stair, and then gaze in wonder- ment at the piles of presents under the tree.

Although part of me was wary of giving them a tablet, another part could scarcely wait to see them tear off the paper and squeal with delight.

On Christmas morning they did just that.

“Mo-om,” my daughter screamed, draw- ing an extra syllable out of a one-syllable word, “Mo-om! You said you weren’t gonna get us one! You said not til we were ten!”

What can I say? I’m weak.

My son nearly barreled me over with his full-body bear hug.

“Worth it,” I silently mouthed to my beaming husband.

They tore through the rest of the gifts quickly. I refilled my coffee, started the cinnamon rolls, and smiled, watching Mike set up their tablets.

Then came the strings.

“Okay you two, sit down,” my husband said in his best you’re-not-in-trouble-but- I-mean-business voice. “We have some rules to establish.”

“Number one,” I said, “we are going to let you play on them as much as you want today. But after today, thirty minutes a day, just like when you play with mine or Daddy’s.”

“Mo-om,” Caitlyn whined.

I quickly cut her off.

“Number two. You have to maintain a B average in school. If you can’t keep your grades up, they go back to us until the next report card.”

At this Caitlyn smirked. “I have an A average,” she stated proudly.

“Yes, you do,” I replied, “and I’m very proud of you. Number three,” I contin- ued, “your Kindle never goes in your bed- room with the door shut. You play with it in the living room or the study where we can see you.”

Mike and I went over the rest of the rules, explaining to them as we went: all devices charge overnight in our bedroom, extra time earned for good behavior, and on and on.

Later, once the house had quieted down, I thought about the many strings attached to their presents.

The tablets were a free gift to my chil- dren. They had done nothing to earn them; they had spent nothing on them. Had my husband and I added up all of their good deeds and all of their mischief, I fear mischief might have won. No, the Kindle had not been earned. But Mike and I love our children, wanted to do something to delight them, and chose to set our favor upon them.

The gift in and of itself was free. Keeping it, however, was not.

We make a grave error when we live as though God gives as we do.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. —Romans 3:22-24 NIV

Did you skip over the Scripture? Go back and read it. Now read it again, slowly. Savor every sentence and digest every word. Say it out loud and own it, because your peace of mind just might hinge on this: Your salvation was free.

It was free. You did not deserve it. God did not look upon you, weigh your good deeds against the bad, and deem you worthy. Think about the state you were in when He saved you. The Bible doesn’t say you were bad, good, getting better, or great; the Bible says you were dead.

As for you, you were dead in your trans- gressions and sins... —Ephesians 2:1

Last time I checked, dead people don’t do much.

Now before you get depressed, think about the implications here. If you did nothing to earn the favor of God, then you can’t lose it, either.

I have to say it again because it’s huge. Since you did nothing to earn the favor of God, there is nothing you can do to lose it. This means you can stop.

You can step off the spiritual treadmill and rest. Nothing exhausts the Christ-fol- lower more than trying to be good enough. You’re not good enough, and neither am I. Neither is anybody else.

As it is written: “There is no one righ- teous, not even one.” —Romans 3:10

You can stop trying to do more or be more. You could never do enough to earn your salvation, never be good enough to make it on your own merit. As one of my favorite pastors likes to say, “The only thing we bring to our salvation is the sin that makes it necessary.”

It didn’t take long after receiving their tablets that Caitlyn and Nick got in trou- ble for fighting and had them taken away. You see, while the Kindle was given to them freely, they had to work to keep it.

How many times have you or I felt com- pelled to continue earning the salvation that was freely given to us?

There are no strings on God’s grace. His grace is promiscuous, lavishing the adulteress, the thief, and the tax collector with a love that won’t let go. It snakes its way into the deepest, darkest pits and extracts the heinous, the outcast, and the uttermost dregs of society. His grace is completely and utterly unfair.

The grace of God pays the hard worker and the latecomer the same wages. It shares bread with those who betray Him and drinks wine with the one who denies Him. It gives the fattened calf to the prod- igal and forsakes the ninety-nine to bring back the one.

God’s grace knows no bounds.

It is God’s grace that saved you. Not your past. Not your potential. Not your pedigree.

You can stop sucking in your sin and trying to impress. You can slowly exhale and rest.

Not rest on your laurels, though. Does the grace of God free you up to screw things up? No. And if that is the attitude one takes then they haven’t tasted grace.

When we come face-to-face with who we are – not who people think we are but who we really are – when we come face to face with the reality of our depravity, and the beautiful truth that God saved us anyway, we will be freed up to joyfully serve Him who freed us.

He was perfectly sinless. We are perfectly sinful. We deserve the worst. He stepped off the throne, into flesh, and took the punishment for our crimes. He stands between our accuser and the Father.

He takes our worst and exchanges it with righteousness, perfection, and salvation. No strings. No tricks. No games.

Only the promise of forever in the Pres- ence of our Savior.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in trans- gressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incom- parable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handi- work, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. —Ephesians 2:4-10 NIV

IPAD® IS A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF APPLE, INC.

KINDLETM IS A TRADEMARK OF AMAZON.COM, INC. OR ITS AFFILIATES.

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