Chuck E. Cheese is a casino for kids. Debate me if you want, but I firmly believe the trail of ownership for this gambling franchise masquerading as a pizza place will lead you straight to Caesar’s Palace, The Mirage, and MGM Grand.

The bright flashing lights.

The incessantly ringing bells.

The endless clang of the token machines.

The promise of untold riches.

Nothing can turn $50 into a plastic dinosaur, six rub-on tattoos, and 3 pieces of Dubble Bubble faster than an hour at Chuck E. Cheese. It’s a training ground for the craps tables and slot machines, and my kids buy into the hype hook, line, and sinker.

“It doesn’t even cost money dad! All we need are these little tokens!”

We adults are much more shrewd, right? We rack up those credit card points that give us access to big payouts like digital cameras, restaurant gift cards, and cinema certificates. All we have to do to earn our free gift is spend more money! Lots more. A no-brainer. (No I mean it, literally no brains).

Let’s face it, regardless of age we’re all a little prone to buying the hype. We’re suckers (and deep down we’re aware). Even “free gifts” have a cost, right? We know this. So when the excitement of the chase wears off, we’re left counting just how much we spent to get something that claimed to cost nothing. And we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Left to our own instincts, transactional living rules the day. Come on, nobody’s really getting anything for free. And how we think about God is by no means exempt.

Our default mode (and a majority of our life experience) screams that affection must be earned. Especially Divine affection. As long as our good deeds outweigh the bad, the scales will tip in our favor. Spend enough tokens and you’ll get back some acceptance. Put enough transactions on your card and you’re sure to get back some heavenly brownie points. It just makes logical sense.

That’s why the message of the Gospel is both offensive and exhilarating. Regardless of what the credit card and pizza industries are trying to sell us, you don’t earn a free gift. But a free gift is exactly what Jesus is offering.

“If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it – you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked – well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.”

–Romans 4:4-5 MSG

There’s a reason that the message of Jesus life, death, and resurrection is known as “Good News.” There really is hope for you and me. Not earn-it hope. Not transactional hope. A free gift of hope, of new life and a place in a new Kingdom. And that changes everything.

Don’t fall for some impostor trying to sell you a free gift. Jesus really gave you one. Reach out and take it.