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The Journey to Experiencing Amazing Grace

When I was five-years-old, I first fully understood the message of these words:

He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows if you're awake,
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness' sake!

Until that moment, I had lived in this childhood bliss, in which Christmas was the best day of the year. I had always believed that the gifts at Christmastime were there because Christmas always came with gifts. You could count on them. But now I painfully understood that if I wanted any gifts at Christmas, I had to be good. It was all riding on me. There was this all-seeing, all-knowing Santa, and if there was going to be any gifts, I had better shape up.

But then I thought, How good is "good"? Can a person be "pretty good"? Does Santa understand that I have a twin brother, so I have more reasons to be provoked than other kids? It was all so worrisome to me.

I grew up a little more and went on to elementary school. In the fourth grade, when I was 9, I continued to learn that all the good stuff in life depends on my effort. We had a reading program called SRA. Here's how it worked: There was a giant box of color-coded cards on the side of the classroom. You went and got one of the cards in the front of the box, read what was on it, and then answered questions about what you'd read. If you got most of the answers right, you moved up to the next highest color—red, yellow, blue, and if you were good enough and worked hard enough, you reached exotic colors, like magenta.

Moving up in SRA was all we cared about, because if you were still on one of the lower-level colors—red or yellow—you were a loser. Everybody's goal was to move up—to work really hard and reach the ultimate pinnacle of fourth-grade glory: aquamarine. But if you wanted the glory, you had to hustle. We would literally run from our desks to the box. No pain, no gain! You had to be good enough, to work hard enough.

I grew up a little more. I was 14-years-old, and a friend invited me to a meeting after school called Campus Life. There was a guy there who had a beard, which automatically made him cool. He also had a guitar, which made him even cooler. He started saying stuff I'd never heard before. He said that if you wanted the good stuff from God—stuff like peace and forgiveness and the Holy Spirit—it didn't work like Santa, where you had to be good or you got nothing but coal in your Christmas stocking. He pointed out that it didn't work like SRA, where it all depended on your being smart enough and good enough and hustling enough. He said there was a thing called grace. God had decided to take all my sin, all my screw-ups, and forgive me. Grace had something to do with Jesus dying on the cross for me, and all I had to do was believe.

This man read from the Bible, which I hadn't really ever read. He read that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him, will not perish, but have everlasting life." This message was different from anything I'd heard before. It was not what I expected. It wasn't all on me. It was all on him—on Jesus. That message was so freeing, that as I took it in, I almost started to cry. But I was a 14-year-old guy, and we didn't do stuff like that. The next week, I thought, I better not go to that meeting again, because I almost started to cry last week, and I cannot be humiliated by breaking down in front of my friends. But I did go. And I did hear the message. And I did believe. And I experienced "amazing grace."

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