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 phenomenons.
So I was more than a little surprised to find that God has rocked my world through a ministry I knew little about just a few months ago. Their books and materials have not become an entire section at your local Christian superstore. And that is a shame. Because they have a message that needs to be heard by most of us.
The organization is called Leadership Catalyst and they have an incredible book called TrueFaced. I don’t think I have ever had a book (not included in the original 66) impact me as much as this one. Here is how strongly I feel about this book and ministry. I have written two books. I have a son who attends Baylor University and I can tell you the good Baptists at Baylor are very proud of their education. So selling a few books would be awesome as spring semester tution looms. But if you only have the budget to buy one book in the near future I would tell you to buy TrueFaced. (That gives you a hint as to why I rarely am asked to do marketing seminars).
I am borrowing one little bit of content that is very timely during this month. John Lynch is one of the authors of the book and in this section he addresses how we are programmed from childhood to default to performance theology. He calls it the “Santa Claus is Coming to Town theology.”
You better watch out
Better not cry
Better not pout
I am telling you why
Santa Claus 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 Claus 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 Claus 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 Claus is coming to town (
He is exactly right. We learn that we get good things and receive love only when we are good. 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.
Ask any child this 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.”
Nope. What you hear is the lie that we learn early and too often keep handy in our arsenal for a lifetime.
“Oh yeah. I am being really good!”
I remember (vaguely) the tension of the Santa Claus years. I knew I hadn’t really changed much. I tried to modify my behavior for a week or two leading up to Christmas but I knew I had failed to really be 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 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.
Isn’t that too often how we view God? We had better not cry. 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. What God sees is Jesus in Dave Burchett when I 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” 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.
Don’t let the Santa Claus theology live into the New Year. 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.
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.