“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17[i]
Gifts, gifts, gifts! Who does not like to get a present? I’ll tell you who… many people! Buying the right gift for the right person is not easy! And the prospect of getting it wrong can be the highest of all social dilemmas. What if they don’t like it? What if they take it back? What if they re-gift it?
I remember my wife and I had just gotten married around the same time as a co-worker, at a group home I was working in.[ii] Someone had the idea that because we were both newlyweds, we should get together and celebrate. I recall they brought us a gift, and we felt awkward right away because we had not done the same! Ugh. Is there anything more awkward than not having a gift to give to someone at a social engagement when they give you a gift? Yes, there is… hold on! We will get there! As we unwrapped that gift, feeling ever so guilty, even though the gifts were, in every practical sense, just the run of the mill, minor kitchen appliance token wedding gift. We could have quietly suffered the social embarrassment of the one-sided exchange when suddenly everything in the room shifted as my wife pulled the card from the bottom of the box.
“Ryan[iii], did you put a card in there?” nervously his new wife asked. But much too late as my wife opened the card, on which was written ‘To: Ryan and his wife,’ from someone we did not know. His wife flew into panic mode, helplessly and hopelessly, tripping frantically over her own words, trying to suggest one of their cards must have fallen into our gift. Then suddenly much to her horror, Ryan just upped and admitted it, they had, “re-gifted.” I thought his wife was going to utterly die on our couch of sheer humiliation. I am pretty certain the drive home was not quite newly wedded bliss.
The point is, gifting is hard. Do you get people something old or new? Do you get people what they want or need? Giving gifts can get stressful! Yet, nothing can be more affirming that you are understood, loved, and valued than getting just the right gift that shows that the giver “gets” you!
James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his epistle to the church, that we can be certain that in this broken and fallen world that there will be trials, struggles, problems that we will need perseverance to finish. He urges us in the first chapter of the book to stop letting the obstacles of life blow us around like the wind. And he somehow hints that, sometimes, our struggles tempt us so much because we are double-minded and still too immature to even understand what we want![iv] Yet, God, in gifting, does not just slide a gift card into an envelope and trust us to get what we want with it. Why? God’s knows what we often do not, which is, rarely does fallen mankind know, nor want, what it is that they really need, nor what will really make them happy!
Think about it. I know I have! I have spent most of my life chasing shiny objects, that I was certain that if I just had them, they’d somehow make me complete. They have not quenched the thirst. They have not hit the spot. They have not stifled my hunger, my yearning, nor even began to make known to me my own hidden heart desires. How about you? Have you found anything in this world that truly completed you? Oh, I love my wife, but despite what the movie Jerry Maguire[v] claims, completeness is not in romance. Oh, I love my child, but completeness is not even in a family; for life must go on even if romance and family leave us. Furthermore, nothing will kill and destroy both love and family more than putting the unrealistic expectation on them that they can fix all the brokenness of your life; your problems, struggles, and perplexities. Money is grand, and yet empty; just ask Hollywood. Taste, intoxication, and sensuality . . . fleeting. Thought, poetry, philosophy, and music are all exhilarating, yet still somewhat like vapors that we never can ever quite hold onto; hence their attraction and dis-attraction to us! What, what, what, is it, then, that will really make me happy, no matter the tribulations and trials of this world that I must face?!
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
Jesus is that gift. He is the perfect gift, the full deal, that one and only thing that finally fully satisfies the core of your soul! Jesus is that perfect gift, that brings the fullness of meaning to our romantic love, family love, and earthly pursuits. Jesus brings virtual reality level connectivity to the pathos of poetry, song, and intellectual escapades. Jesus ignites the mind in ways that can entertain you for hours on end, alone with your thoughts, just contemplating, dreaming, and wondering, even about the joys found amidst all the struggles no one escapes in a darkened world!
I tried to find meaning outside of Jesus! I tried to get lost in intellectual pursuits, artistic endeavors, the materialism of greed, not to mention the gluttony of self and others idolatry. Not only do they leave the soul lacking, empty, and after a time, dull; but I found in them no power whatsoever to even maintain the joys of even the aesthetic life, much less grasp an ethical existence for more than a cursory fading moment. Life has no beauty outside of Christ! Life has no rules worth perpetrating that do not lead to moral futility, outside our Lord. All religion is but philosophy, without the spark of divinity that is the perfect gift from above. It is dead, dull and futile if it is not bathed in the eternal existence of purpose expressed in the God-Man Incarnate.
What good is a passion if it burns brightly but is doomed to become mere embers that fade into the night? What good is a moral code if it can only be upheld by monastic compulsion, which leaves you gritting your very teeth during the act of forced adherence. And what good is even worship, yes worship, if you cannot hear the very “Father of all time and space,” leaning in to speak His will into your own existence, worth, purpose, and execution of deeds?
I am reminded of a quote I read in my younger years of Faith that still holds true to this day;
“Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ. His grace alone can quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul, and attract it to God, to holiness.”[vi]
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” James 1:16-18
I am alive. Oh, I am so much more than alive! I am a pulse! Oh, so much more than the pulse of my heart! I am a pulse of His heart! I am the recipient of the “Gift.” I have been birthed, a second time, into this more than dead world, by the perfect gift of the Word of Truth, that came down, from Heaven to Bethlehem[vii], that I may be fed with the Hidden Manna of Life that is absurdity to all who have yet to taste and see that it is good!
How can I exclaim the certainty of the eternal,never-endingJoy of this perfect gift from above, to those who have yet to leap?[viii]This is one gift, unlike any kitchen appliance wedding gift, that is best given as a re-gifting! Come examine my gift to you! Look long enough at its complex wrappings and perfect ribbons. Glare into the name on its tag, and you, too, will soon have unwrapped it, like me, into the certainty of eternity. It will become your very reason to exist, now and forever, into the never-ending Kingdom that has come down from the Father of the heavenly lights into you to dwell.
[i] This was the engagement verse of Søren Kierkegaard and Regine Olsen. And I’d like to dedicate this blog to Kierkegaardians everywhere.
[ii] Prior to Pastoring I was a Mental Health Worker and a Community Developer.
[v] Jerry’s famous line in that movie to his romantic interest is, “You complete me!” Despite some inappropriate nudity, it is a great movie with a great message and I am not making light of romantic love, nor the function of romantic love in life. Romance is the pathos of poets. It gives intensity to life, and bonds families. It unites together in ways that give belonging and purpose, and deepest levels of human connection and loyalty. Yet, divorce still happen, some people never marry, and spouses pass away, and we still need meaning. In fact, to define self, by your spouse or lover, is by definition, an unhealthy co-dependent existence.