Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Power of Weakness...and the Delusion of Strength

When everything is going well and there's no trial, this is the most dangerous trial of all; for then we are tempted to forget God." Martin Luther

I pray always that God will keep me conscious of my weakness. I do this because it's only when I'm honest about my limitations that I'm open to God pouring His strength into me and making of my willingness to show up wherever He sends me something that's good and useful. As the apostle Paul writes, "When I am weak, then I am strong" and "God's power is perfected in (our) weakness."

Be True to Your School

Devin and Jason McCourty, twins who play in the NFL and played at Rutgers, are predicting that their alma mater's Scarlet Knights will upset thirteenth ranked Ohio State in their game today. My Buckeyes have definite issues and play a weak schedule, but, as good as I think the Knights are, I don't see a Buckeye loss. But I loved reading about their enthusiasm for their school.

Sometimes though, team loyalty can fog our vision.

Just this past week, one-time Ohio State QB Stanley Jackson, who does a great job as a Big Ten Network football analyst, put the Buckeyes at #4 nationally. That spot, if it came to be, would put Ohio State in the national championship playoffs at the end of the season. I suppose the Buckeyes could get to number four. But I definitely find it hard to rank them that high right now.

The big challenge for the Buckeyes right now is to continue to take care of business every week and not be lulled into complacency from looking ahead to their November 8 game with Michigan State. Michigan State is still the best team in the Big Ten, however disturbing the Spartans' penchant for making games they should be winning handily interesting in the fourth quarter.

But I'm true to my school.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Outsiders by Lecrae

Absolutely love this, the opening track on Lecrae's latest CD, Anomaly.

"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles [in this world], to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Could This Be Part of the Cure for Obesity?

The Washington Post reports on a study done at Johns Hopkins University in which researchers posted signs at grocery stores about the effects of sugary drinks on their bodies. The most effective of the signs asked, “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 5 miles of walking?"

The article says:
Results published online Oct. 16 in the American Journal of Public Health showed teens chose healthier options, bought lower calorie drinks or opted for a smaller size of the sugary beverage after seeing the signs.

The impact was lasting. The teens continued to make healthy choices during the six weeks purchases were monitored after the signs were removed.
Read the whole thing. And get a drink of water!

T-Cell Therapy Apparently Successful in Bringing Remission to Some Leukemia Patients

Praying that this new therapy proves successful.

Reluctant Witnesses

Today's installment of Our Daily Bread is based on Jonah 1:1-2:2. It's good and I recommend reading and thinking and praying it over.

Jonah, whose story is told in the Old Testament, is the means by which God conveys lots of truths. Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh (situated in what is these days, Iraq) to be God's witness.

He hated the people in that city and, as he tells God later in the short book that bears his name, he was afraid that if he told the Ninevites that God was angry with them, they would repent, God would forgive them, and they would walk with God.

Jonah didn't want that. He was, to say the least, a reluctant witness.

Jonah was a bigoted believer. That shouldn't shock us. All believers are recovering sinners, helpless beggars wanting to be free of their sin, who find it difficult to daily subject their sins to the crucifixions God uses to build our characters and prepare us for eternity. One of Jonah's prominent sins, clearly, was bigotry.

But it isn't just bigoted believers who show reluctance to be witnesses for the God ultimately revealed to all the world in Jesus Christ. Other sins can cause this reluctance.

One may be a fear of others and their reactions to our witness that's greater than our fear--our holy awe and respect--of God. This can leave believers cowering in the shadows, unwilling to share words of life, love, and counsel from God that may help the people they're with to have a close relationship with God. Fear has the been the greatest source of reluctance on my part and I have to pray all the time that God will help me to "be prepared at all times to give an account for the hope that is in" me and that I'll do so with boldness and humility.

When we fear others more than we fear God, we violate the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me." We allow others to have more power over our lives than we give to God. They become our gods.

Another source for reluctance may be personal insecurity. We may think that we're not good enough or knowledgeable enough. But Jesus once made a blanket statement about all believers, no matter their age, their knowledge, or how long they've been believers: "You will be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8). (This is said of believers who receive the power of God's Spirit in their lives, which is exactly what happens in Holy Baptism. See John 3:5-8.)

God will never make witnesses accountable for how little they know, only for whether they trust Him enough to share what they do know of Him and His grace and love in their lives.

In John 4, we're told about a woman, a notorious sinner, who is so moved by her encounter with Jesus and His grace for her despite her sins that she runs into the village that had long ostracized her to tell them about Jesus. She told people just what she knew about Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did," she told everyone she could find. "Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:1-42)

That's it. On the strength of the witness of this seemingly disqualified, questionable person, the entire village came to learn about Jesus for themselves. And they came to faith in Him.

You may deem your faith in Christ and your knowledge about God negligible. But no matter how small your faith and your knowledge base, God can use you and your understanding of Him to help others experience repentance and forgiveness and new and everlasting life in Jesus' Name.

Another name for reluctance born of personal insecurity is sin. That's because it evidences a secret belief that God isn't bigger than your ignorance or that you are the only person in the world that God can't use. (I know what I'm talking about. Personal insecurity has been a source of my failure to be a witness sometimes. And I repent for it almost daily.)

Having said all of that, there's one more point to be made on this subject: Reluctant witnesses may be the most authentic and effective witnesses that God has.

Another person like Jonah, for example, who hated the Ninevites, might have relished doing what God wanted Jonah to do in Nineveh. He was to announce that God was about to destroy the city and the people for their sinfulness. A hater might really want to speak a word like that to some people, lording things over people, acting arrogantly, enjoying the prospect of God condemning people. 

A person with no fear of God might also want to be a "witness" in a bid to steal the authority and respect owed to God alone for themselves. Many cult leaders and pastors and laypeople have done just that.

And a person with big insecurities might want to be a "witness" for God to make themselves feel more important.

There may be lots of reasons for believers being reluctant to give witness for the God they know in Christ. But often it's the reluctant witnesses who tell the truest stories and touch the most hearts.

If you're a reluctant witness, ask God to help you give your witness for Christ in your own way, at the places and times He creates for you. You don't have to be someone you're not, just the child of God you are when you trust in Christ.

"When I went to the game, I got to play catch with Scott Downs"

"Sure you did. And Santa Claus was probably there too."


Very, very cool! Kudos to Downs!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"All the diseases you should worry about at least as much as Ebola"

Here. Compared to other public health threats, Ebola is relatively minor, though admittedly a stubborn virus.

Love this advice:
If you are worried about contracting Ebola, there are two things you need to do:

1) Stay away from people with Ebola.

2) Keep doing No. 1.

Pretty simple, really.

Be sure to check out the charts here.



By the way, as one who has been trying to follow the God made known in Jesus Christ for nearly forty years, let me say it can be hard. That's because God asks us to do things we don't want to do.

Even centuries before Jesus was born on earth, Abraham was asked to crucify his old comfortable life, going to a land he didn't know, to fulfill the purposes of God.

Today, Jesus calls us to follow Him in lives of daily trust, repentance, and renewal, submitting to the crucifixion of the old self, including our own preferences, so that our new selves--our God selves, the selves God designed us to be--can rise and live, today and in eternity.

The risen Jesus, in a sense, warned us all about how He might lead us into circumstances and to places over which we have no control, surrounded by people who, on this earth, may control or even harm us, when He told Peter (foretelling Peter's later imprisonment and death for his faith in Christ): "Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (John 21:18)

Praying, meaning, and accepting it when we pray, "Thy will be done" is the hardest part of the Christian life. At least it has been for me.

And it's harder today than it's ever been since the Holy Spirit transformed this atheist into a believer.

Trust--what's also called faith--is foreign to my nature, foreign to human nature, and anyone who enrolls in the school of trust in Christ will, if they take their studies seriously, endure difficulties they wouldn't otherwise experience in life. But they will also experience great joys and the knowledge that, even when we don't feel it, the risen Christ is with us always.

I identify with Peter from an earlier point in John's gospel, well before Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. There, Jesus has just been rejected with cutting, violent words, by people who had believed in Him. (They had followed Jesus for utilitarian motives, not for new lives with God, but to get a few goodies on this earth. Jesus had made clear that He is no perfectly coiffed televangelist, promising smooth and happy lives to people who follow the rules of cheerfulness and positive thinking. Jesus came into the world not to give us what we want, but what we need, life with God. And that only comes to those willing to share in Christ's cross, the crucifixion of the old self with all its sin and sinful desires, and His resurrection, confessing their sin and turning away from dependence on anything other than Jesus Christ, true God and true man, alone.) Jesus turned to the twelve who had followed Him from the beginning and asked them if they too didn't want to abandon Him. Peter responded: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:6)

Jesus is still God in the flesh. No matter the detours, imagined or real. No matter what He calls on us to pick up or leave behind. But as an old praise song, its lyrics firmly rooted in the Bible's witness about Jesus, puts it:
There's no other way
No price that I could pay
Simply to the cross I cling
This is all I need
This is all I plead That His blood was shed for me Lead me to the cross of Jesus
The Jesus of cross and empty tomb is the One I seek to and often fitfully, sometimes half-heartedly trust, sometimes with a heart shattered from disappointment that God's ways are not my ways, sometimes with a heart uplifted because His grace receives me and keeps loving me even when I'm most conscious of my unworthiness, often with resounding and sin-filled failure on my part.

Despite the detours, the Holy Spirit helps me to trust the God Who is faithful even when I'm not.

Help me to trust more, Lord. Help me to follow even when I don't understand. There is nowhere else to go. Amen and amen.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

[Love the slightly out of tune upright piano, the percussive effect that punctuates the song, and the quick, screechy guitar riff. Memories of growing up in a troubled land from some Irish kids, now fifty-somethings.]

Who Are Big Impact People?

Philip Yancey nails it again!

The problem with most Christian "evangelism" is that it tends to look for people who we think can help us in the mission of the Church. We look for the "qualified" or the "able."

Those aren't the people to whom Jesus reached. He reached those about whom no one would observe, "She/he has so much to offer."

Instead, Jesus offered these outcasts, marginals, and notorious sinners new lives through repentance and belief in Him.

He made of them the only kind of people who ever give God or humanity anything of lasting value: People of humble spirit who know that they're nothing without Christ, but who also know that--in good times and bad, surfeit and surplus, they can do all things through Christ Who strengthens them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?"

From today's installment of the C.S. Lewis Daily:

C.S. Lewis Daily

Today's Reading
I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, ‘because it must have been so easy for Him’. Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher; and only because it is easier for him can he help the child. If it rejected him because ‘it’s easy for grown-ups’ and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write itself (and so had no ‘unfair’ advantage), it would not get on very quickly. If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) ‘No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank’? That advantage—call it ‘unfair’ if you like—is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?

From Mere Christianity
Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity. Copyright © 1952, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1980, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Of course, it's also true that suffering and death were made more difficult for Jesus than it is for us because, from the evidence of the Gospels, He knew far in advance of the events just how horrible His death was going to be and exactly when it would happen. It was by His deity that Jesus knew these things and it was this fate He prayed to be spared and then accepted in His prayer in Gethsemane.

He forged ahead to the cross (Luke 9:51), despite. As God, He was, as Lewis says, armed with the foreknowledge that if He fulfilled His mission, dying and rising, He could offer new life to all who repent and believe in Him. Only God could save us from sin and death. We should be glad to accept this help from the one who is stronger than us.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What to Say, When to Say It, When to Shut Up

My French instructor at Ohio State once told me, diplomatically, that I was "loquacious." That was his kind way of saying that I needed to shut up and listen during class. I always appreciated the graciousness with which he phrased his criticism.

"Running off the head," as my friends in northwest Ohio style it, has long been one of my deficiencies, though I hope through the years, that I've learned to listen more. This ability--the ability to speak less and listen more, to speak the right word at the right time and nothing more or less--is an especially important attribute for a pastor. After all, we are allowed to "hold forth" for twenty minutes every week when we preach and to do so also for long stretches if we teach classes, as I do. It's only fair to give others more than equal time when we encounter them in hospitals, nursing homes, the grocery store, church hallways, at sporting events, during shared meals, or at the park during other times of the week.

Listening and knowing when to speak the right words are skills some people possess by inclination or patient application or both. I envy them. More than a few of my friends are "naturals" in these ways.

For others of us, those two abilities, if they ever come to us at all, are gifts of the Holy Spirit, acquired by experience, prayer, repentance, and renewal.

I'm not inclined to be silent and when I was younger, I sometimes set off bombardments of words when I was nervous, scared, or ignorant of what to say. It was as though I was trying to build a fortress of words that wouldn't allow the things I feared to touch me. Or, I confess, I wanted to show others how knowledgeable and informed I was.

Not a good strategy for either end.

And not particularly conducive to building relationships or to helping people who could use a listening ear more than they need word bombs. This is why I often pray, "Lord, give me the right words and the right silences."

I still can get in God's way, saying things I shouldn't, neglecting to say words that might be helpful, or forgetting to simply listen. But now, I usually know it when I do so. (More often than I like, this knowledge comes after the fact. But at least now I do see it.) The connection between my brain and my mouth is getting a bit stronger, though not as strong as I want it to be.

In today's installment of Our Daily Bread, based on Solomon's book of Proverbs, there are thoughts on saying the right things at the right times by being attentive to the promptings of God's Spirit. It's worth reading.

I especially like this part:
The Bible says that there is an appropriate time to speak (Eccl. 3:7). Solomon compared properly timed and well-spoken words with golden apples in a silver setting—beautiful, valuable, and carefully crafted (Prov. 25:11-12). Knowing the right time to speak is beneficial for both the speaker and hearer, whether they are words of love, encouragement, or rebuke. Keeping silent also has its place and time. When tempted to deride, belittle, or slander a neighbor, Solomon said that it is wise to hold our tongue, recognizing the appropriate time for silence (11:12-13). When talkativeness or anger tempts us to sin against God or another human being, resistance comes by being slow to speak (10:19; James 1:19).
That passage from James is particularly important for me to remember, I think:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...
Lord, have mercy. 


The Post-Season Continues in the NL

Looks like neither the Cardinals or the Giants are going to run away with the National League crown and berth in the World Series. They're both digging in for what is proving an intriguing National League Championship Series (NLCS).

At this point, I'm pulling for another I-70 World Series, pitting the Kansas City Royals, already up two games to none over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series (ALCS), against the Cardinals. The two teams met in 1985, winning the World Series four games to three.

Pulling for the Cardinals doesn't exactly set right with me. As a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, I view the Cards as kind of the death star of the National League's Central Division. I like the graphic my son posted on Facebook earlier this baseball season that carried the simple message, "Friends don't let friends root for the Cardinals."

But just as I would love to see an all-Ohio Reds versus Cleveland Indians (with a new team name, one would hope) World Series and just as a Mississippi State-Ole Miss college football championship sort of appeals to me (if Ohio State can't make the playoff), I'd like to see an all-Missouri World Series this year.

And even though I'm a dyed-in-the-wool National League fan, always rooting for the NL squad in the All Star Game and almost always pulling for the NL entrant in the World Series, I'd have to make an exception this year if the Royals win the AL crown. It would be a great feel-good story if they won the World Series after the franchise's twenty-nine year absence from post-season play.

Who are you rooting for?

Thomas Jefferson's Recommended Reading List

From George Washington, my favorite founder, we turn to Thomas Jefferson, my least favorite. A recent post in the sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes interesting, The Art of Manliness, contained the third president's recommended reading list.

While Jefferson was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a backstabber, manipulator, hypocrite, and weasel, he was well-read, with an admirable commitment to learning. His personal library was the original Library of Congress, after all. (I wonder if Jefferson underlined passages in his books or talked back to the authors in the books' margins like I do. I would love to know.)

The post points out that: 1819, at the ripe age of 76 years old, he founded the University of Virginia as a secular institute. At the center of this undertaking — quite literally — was the library. Traditionally, the chapel would be at the center of campus. At UVA, though, Jefferson put the library in the center of campus, thereby signaling his belief that books were central to one’s education.
This last sentence is true as far as it goes. But I also think that the library at the center of the Jefferson-designed campus was meant to say that, in Jefferson's world view, human beings are at the center of the universe, masters of their own fates, with no need of God. This perspective shouldn't surprise coming from the intellectual gadfly who decided that the miracles recorded in the Bible couldn't have happened, he needed to produce a more accurate account of things. (And you thought that Bill O'Reilly and the Jesus Seminar were the first people to pull that crap.) (By the way, I mention Jefferson's belief in a human-centered universe, very popular today, here.) Jefferson's philosophy is what some today would call, secular humanism, which is a fairly accurate and non-pejorative label, I think.

I have to confess that Jefferson's reading list is daunting. I haven't read most of the books, though I have read lengthy excerpts from some, have read Canterbury Tales, The Bible (many times), and lots of the plays of William Shakespeare. (But like Dylan in Idiot Wind--the second mention of that song in recent days here, I have to tell Jefferson across the mists of time, "I can't even touch the books you've read.")

It's a good list though, worth exploring by some ambitious readers with some time on their hands. So, get to it and report back here sometime next week on your progress. (I'll gladly grant extensions, if you feel the need.)


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Speaking of George Washington

Here's a collection of posts I've written about the first president over the years.

Another Book Goes Onto the Amazon Wish List

It's this one. George Washington is one of my heroes and the story of his coming out of his "retirement" from public life in order to preside over the Philadelphia convention that hammered out the U.S. Constitution is a story worth telling. I'll have to wait awhile before reading it though.

(Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for mentioning that he had just ordered the book. That's not an endorsement of Reynolds' quirky politics, by the way. I read a bit of everything when I have the chance. Reynolds has been kind in linking to some of my blog posts in the past.)

"Car Stops In North Columbus After Striking Pedestrian"

That's the headline for this story appearing on the web site of Columbus station, WBNS 10TV. Has the headline writer seen so many hit-skip incidents that the notion of a driver who actually stops after hitting a pedestrian seems novel? That's sort of a chilling idea.

Invitation to Life

[This was shared during the morning worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, earlier today.]

Matthew 22:1-14
As Christians, we cherish what's called the grace of God.

And we should! Grace is God’s charitable offer of new and everlasting life for everyone who repents for sin and follows Jesus.

In fact, in the original Greek in which the New Testament was written, the word we translate as grace is charitas, which we’ve carried over into English as charity.

Charity, like grace, can be given. It can be received. It can be rejected and thrown away. But grace, like charity, cannot be earned.

Romans 5:8 says: “...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In the Person of Jesus Christ, God the Son, God gave up everything for us in order to bring us God’s invitation of new life, a life free of sin and free of death. That’s grace. And it's worth cherishing!

But grace is not and never has been everything you and I need to know about God. According to the Bible, grace brings God's gift of new life to all with faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other way to receive God’s saving grace but through faith in Christ. And faith in Jesus Christ entails trusting Him enough to turn from our sins—that is, to repent—and to turn to Him alone for life.

Believing in Christ means being committed day-in and day-out to laying aside our sin and trusting our whole lives to Christ.

You can accept God’s invitation to His heavenly party that never ends or you can turn it down. You can grasp Christ's hand of grace or you can pass it by.

All of this is what Jesus is talking about today in the Gospel lesson. Please go to the Gospel lesson, Matthew 22:1-14 (page 691 in the sanctuary Bibles) and let’s consider it verse-by-verse.

Jesus is once more telling a parable. The word, parabolos, the Greek New Testament word from which we get our word, parable, literally means to throw or roll along side. In His parables, Jesus told stories. But rolling alongside the stories were other stories, of deeper significance.

In this parable, like others that Jesus tells, Jesus describes what the kingdom of God, the reign of God, is like.

Jesus says in verses 1, 2, and 3, that a king, a stand-in for God the Father, decides to throw a party for his son, who is getting married. In the parable, Jesus is the bridegroom and the banquet is the Kingdom of God.

Now, it's no accident that Jesus here portrays Himself as the groom. You'll remember that in the Old Testament, the prophets often portrayed God as the husband to His chosen people, Israel, and Israel was portrayed as the adulterous bride who was unfaithful to her husband, worshiping false deities. In the Gospels, Jesus portrays Himself as the groom and John the Baptist as His best man. In Revelation, Jesus is once more portrayed as the groom and the Church, His redeemed people, are seen as the Bride of Christ.

By the custom of those days, the invitation that the king in Jesus' parable issues at the beginning would actually have been the second invitation the guests received. A first would have been issued simply informing the guests that a wedding was in the offing and to be prepared when the second invitation, issued just as the ceremonies and celebration were to begin, would arrive.

Guests, under these customs, had to be ready to drop everything as soon as they were summoned to a wedding, especially, you would think, when the king was asking them to his son’s wedding banquet.

As Christians, you and I are called to be willing to drop everything--all our sins, the worldly props we hold onto to prove our significance, even to make our livings, and all our own priorities in order to follow Jesus. To grasp God’s grace necessitates dropping everything that keeps us from living the life to which He’s called us. Otherwise, His amazing grace is lost to us.

In casting Himself as the bridegroom, Jesus was also clearly laying His claim to be the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed king, the One appointed to bring God’s grace to the nations. God the Father had already confirmed this about Jesus, first at Jesus’ baptism and later at His transfiguration. “This is My Son, the Beloved,” God’s voice had called out from heaven then.

But the leaders of God’s people, as we’ve seen before, wanted nothing to do with Jesus. That would mean signing over their power and influence to God. That’s why the invitees in the parable “refused to come” to the wedding banquet. They refused the invitation to the banquet just as, within the week of Jesus telling this parable, Jerusalem and Rome would refuse to heed Jesus’ invitation to repent and believe in Him. Instead, they would put Him to death.

Yet the king, like God, was “compassionate and gracious...slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” He wanted His invitees to be part of the banquet for his son.

For centuries, God had used His prophets to call His people to repent and believe in Him. God wants everyone at His banquet.

But the prophets and messengers God has sent to issue His invitation to people, in Old Testament times and today, have often been ignored and worse.

In verse 4, the king in Jesus’ parable sent out servants who told his invited guests to come to the party. Everything was ready!

Look at verse 5, though: “But they paid no attention and went off--one to his field, another to his business.” Another translation says that the invitees “made light” of their invitation. These two takes at the passage translate the Biblical Greek word, amaleo, which means to treat with apathy or indifference.

These invitees didn’t care about the invitation. And they didn’t care about the king who issued it. Their world revolved around themselves, their paychecks, their desires.

People can be that way toward the invitation of God to follow Jesus today. They think--we may often think--that God isn’t needed.

This isn't a new attitude. And God's Word repeatedly warns us against the sort of apathy and indifference toward God rooted in the belief that we don’t really need God.

In Deuteronomy 8:17-18, God tells His people through Moses: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth...”

And in Acts 17:28, the apostle Paul, preaching in first century Athens, quotes one of the Greek poets that in God, “we live and move and have our being.”

Everybody needs God, whether they know it or not.

In verse 6, we’re told that some invited to the banquet went beyond ridiculing the slaves and the king they served. They seized, mistreated, and killed the slaves.

Verse 7 says that the king was “enraged” by this behavior. He sent soldiers to destroy that city that had chosen to ignore His invitation.

God allows everyone the freedom to turn down the invitation to join Him in the kingdom. And that means God will also let those who pay no heed to him to live eternally with the consequences of their refusal to follow Him. In John 3:18, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Whoever believes in him [that is, whoever accepts the invitation and follows Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

In verses 8 and 9, Jesus says that the king in His parable does a stunning thing. He sends more slaves into the streets to “invite everyone to the wedding banquet.” He wanted to invite people who had never been invited before! Even today, God invites all the riff-raff of the world, including you and me, to be part of His kingdom.

For Jesus’ original hearers, arrogant in their spiritual pride, these words would have been scandalous! But God nonetheless invites everyone to His kingdom. God wants everyone to experience His grace. Everyone. No exceptions.

Our commission as Christians and church members is to share God’s incredible invitation to His kingdom with everyone, no exceptions, so that they can be part of God’s kingdom too.

The last part of Jesus’ parable, beginning at verse 11, should have special meaning for those of us who are part of His Church today. The king in Jesus’ parable sees a man at the wedding banquet not dressed in wedding clothes. The king is offended.

Now, Jesus isn’t saying that we’ve got to wear our Sunday best to be in His kingdom. Those in tattered jeans and those in three-piece suits have an equal place at His table.

And, you should know that in the first century world, there was no specific article of clothing for weddings.

The guests at such a feast were simply expected to wear clean clothes. Similarly, in the heavenly banquet enjoyed by God’s people in eternity, only those made clean by Christ will be in the presence of God the King.

While on earth, as Jesus points out in His parable of The Wheat and the Weeds, God will allow the weeds to live among the wheat in His Church. The weeds are the fake Christians, the go-through-the-motions Christians, the ones who talk a good game on Sunday but don’t even get suited up on Monday.

Galatians 3:27 says that, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

And in Romans 13:14, Paul urges believers to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

To clothe ourselves in Christ, to follow Christ, is to seek to do His will and not our own, even when everything in us wants to do things our way.

If we willfully soil ourselves in the dirt and sin of the world--selfishness, greed, lust, envy, gossip--we choose those idols over Christ and we refuse to be part of God’s kingdom! This is why daily repentance and renewal was identified by Martin Luther as the ongoing theme of the Christian's life.

The man in Jesus’ parable not clothed in his wedding garb was thrown “into the outer darkness, where there [was] weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The same fate awaits those who think they deserve to be in God’s kingdom just for having their name in a church directory.

This isn't said enough in the Church these days, nor certainly as much as Jesus Himself said it. But hell is the fate of all who reject the grace of God in Christ by refusing to turn from their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. These are people who faked living for Christ, while holding onto death, instead of the saving, sensible grace of God given in Christ.

In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis writes: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy [the joy of belonging to God through Christ] will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

This is why clothing ourselves in Christ is so important.

In James 4:10, we’re told: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

We seem to spend so much time in this life trying to lift ourselves up. “Pull yourself by your own bootstraps,” we’re told. We're told that, even though it's physically impossible!

But God invites us to let Him pull us out of the slime of sin and death and fear and futility into His kingdom, the heavenly banquet, which we can just start to taste now in His Word, the sacraments, and the fellowship of the Church. His kingdom is a place where we will know forgiveness, life, peace, and purpose for all eternity. But it isn't just about the sweet by-and-by: God lifts us up every time we choose to follow Jesus and only Jesus and lay everything else aside. May God give us the grace to do just that. Amen