Maybe you forgot or you got distracted with all the running around and shopping and whatnot, and it plain snuck up on you. Before long even the corner gas station will be all but picked clean and you’ll be scrambling for just the right gift, lest you hit the party both late and empty-handed.
Rest easy. I’m here to help.
Here’s a bunch of last-minute gift suggestions sure to please the loving God on your list:
1. Compassion—For All People. God has placed you smack dab in the middle of hurting, hopeless, wounded people, and you’re probably largely oblivious to them. The idea of being a disciple of Jesus is to follow in his footsteps; to live as he lived, to love and sacrifice and heal, to see and respond to the deep needs around you in a way that beautifully alters them. If your heart doesn’t break for the suffering you see every day, pray for one that does. You are only as faithful as your ability to care for someone else proves you to be.
Be moved by the pain in your path.
2. More Than An Hour On Sunday. Church attendance is nice and all but it really doesn’t change anything unless it changes you. The singing, the clever videos, the thought-provoking messages, the great conversations, and every prayer, promise, and passionate vow that you make when you’re there are certainly fine things, but they’re not exactly the point. The point, is to live a life that changes the temperature of the places you step into once you leave the campus. A church building is the easiest place in the world to believe, so stop giving Jesus chintzy religion and a little dig deeper.
Take your faith out of the building.
3. Less Hypocrisy. Religious words come easy but they’re also fairly cheap. It doesn’t really cost you much simply to speak them. Sure, those words can do lots of really good things and they can point to God in extremely powerful ways, but they can also easily ring quite hollow. Worse than that, those words can actually horribly damage people. They can pollute the faithless population watching when they’re connected to a life that looks nothing at all like Jesus. Sure, you’re always going to fall short, but you should always fall short while in the middle of striving desperately to fly.
Let your life be the best sermon you ever give.
4. Real Love For Your Enemies. Jesus likes it when you do what he asks you to do, especially when you find yourself on the business end of some real jerks. Whether it’s a loose-talking gossip gunning for you in the next cubicle, the lazy next door neighbor whose dog regularly makes a steaming mockery of your flowerbeds, the anonymous, foul-mouthed troll on your Twitter feed, or some far away group of foreign people you’ve decided are really what’s wrong with the world—Jesus is telling you that they’re worthy of love and decency and gentleness, and that you need to provide it to them. He is crystal clear about how he wants you to respond to difficult, harmful, hateful people, and none of it involves giving back to them what they give you.
The face that resembles Jesus, turns its cheek.
5. A Firsthand Faith. Figure out why you believe what you believe. Religious convictions are marvelous things, unless they’re the product of a lazy pursuit. This spiritual life is too important to live vicariously. Don’t just settle for the words of your pastors or pundits or politicians or parents. Don’t regurgitate the words of authors you admire or people you follow on social media. Don’t say what you think you’re supposed to say or believe what you imagine your supposed to believe, without testing all of it. Put in the time to learn and reflect and listen, and let that personal spiritual investment yield a set of beliefs that you fully own; an intimate relationship with God that needs no middle man.
Do the work and stop borrowing your beliefs.
6. Dignity In The Face of Diversity. It’s good to remember that not all people believe what you believe. Not everyone thinks the way you think, looks the way you look, worships the way you worship, loves the way you love. How you respond to these differences is one of the loudest testimonies you will ever give. In fact, every person you will ever encounter has arrived at their beliefs and their choices in the same way that you have. Everyone is a product of their own story. As deeply as you hold your convictions, they hold theirs. They’ve done all the seeking and questioning and living that you have, and so they may have something that you can learn from.
Respect the stories of others when they differ from your own.
7. A Grace-Giving Heart. The way you deal with the flaws of other people says a lot about your understanding of God and about your honesty with your own imperfections. Are you generous with judgment and stingy with love? That’s a bad place to live. One of the greatest signs of a truly mature faith is one that understands that you can’t do anything spiritual in another person—only God can. When you reach the place where you simply want to reflect the goodness of God toward someone else; when you find you desire to love people instead of fixing them, you’re doing what you’re designed, equipped, and qualified to do.
Most people are doing the best they can to figure it all out, so give ’em a break.
8. Honest Questions. God is really big. Just how big? Well, God is so big that He isn’t intimidated by anyone, including you. God isn’t threatened when you question His plans or ways or even His very existence. When you face a crisis of faith God isn’t taken aback. When life sucker punches you with tragedy, God is not surprised. When you doubt the whole flippin’ thing and want to cancel your membership, God is not shaken. An authentic religion is one that allows itself to be tested in the crucible of real questions, so welcome them all and sit it them fully.
Don’t be afraid to be afraid.
9. Forgiveness. For your former friends, your ex-business partners, your ex-spouse, your old boss, your kids, the person who hurt you deeply and begged for forgiveness; maybe even the one who hurt you deeply and didn’t seem to care at all. Your ability to “let people off the hook” shows that you trust God to make everything right, even if it doesn’t seem right to your eyes in the moment. When you forgive someone else, regardless of whether or not you think they deserve it, you’re being obedient in faith, you’re reflecting the heart of Jesus to them, and you’re letting God be God. Revenge, payback, even getting what you deserve, all take a backseat when you let forgiveness drive.
Put down the stones you’d really like to throw.
10. Not Needing to Be Right. I know you’re passionate about your religious convictions, and that you want your faith to be the faith of everyone because you love it dearly. I know you feel totally justified in your arguments and completely correct in your conclusions, but often that assurance can yield a self-righteousness that tramples on other people. In the heat of conflict, in your urgency to share what means so much to you, and in the desire to please God, it can be easy to do incredible damage in the process. Sometimes you can be fighting for really beautiful things and do it in a very ugly way.
It’s sometimes better to be loving than right.
So those are some ideas on what you might give the baby Jesus for his big blowout this year. All of them are pretty costly, but they’re also worth everything you might give-up to secure them. That’s what sacrificial love is all about—losing something as you give.
Yeah it’s a birthday party for Jesus alright, but it’s as much about what you give to the other party guests as it is the guest of honor.
As He would go on to say as adult, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”
So Christian, Christmas is coming.
What are you bringing to the party?