Today’s message is about invitations and the opportunities they create. I know many of our church members invited friends and family to today’s service on this “National Back to Church Sunday.” If you are a guest here today, I suspect for most of you it has been in response to someone’s personal invitation, and being here today has given you several opportunities. You have been offered a free cup of coffee! J First-time guests will receive a gift at the end of the service. You have been exposed to the worship ministry of TVCOG. And isn’t that a wonderful opportunity? You have been in the midst of a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Maybe you have reconnected with people you haven’t seen in years. If you have engaged with the presence of God you have received encouragement, clarity or a challenge for your life which are all for your benefit. All good stuff. All because you accepted an invitation to worship with us.
Invitations create opportunities. Invitations open doors. Invitations change our destinies. My husband and I met and married not as a result of a personal ad that I placed in the newspaper as he would love to lead people to believe, but as the result of an invitation! Thom was on staff at a church about a half hour away from mine. In addition to leading worship, I led a ministry for single adults. I placed an ad in a Christian newspaper on behalf of our single’s ministry to get the word out about our group. Thom saw the ad and having been asked to start a single’s ministry in his church, he called me to inquire about ours in order to get some ideas for his soon-to-be group. I invited him to “come and see” what we did. He came. He saw, and I conquered. Well, not really. He pursued, and I caved and have been caving every day since! (And all the church said, “gag!”)
How different my life is today and how different his life is today because he accepted my invitation! Invitations create opportunities, open doors, and change our destinies when we accept them. Something else I would suggest to you about invitations is that they cause us to feel special, wanted, and accepted. Even if you can’t go to something when asked it makes you feel special to have been thought of and included. Unfortunately there are times when we have all experienced the exact opposite. We have been overlooked or passed by. We haven’t received the same invitation someone else has, and it has caused us to doubt our worth and value.
To me, the invitation of the Gospel is what makes it so special because no one is excluded from the love and forgiveness of God. In fact, if someone was to ask me to summarize what the Gospel was all about I could sum it up in two words. I would simply say here is the Gospel in a nutshell, “Y’all come.” Everyone is wanted and welcome. I hope today you can hear Jesus Christ Himself saying, “The honor of your presence is requested. Please RSVP!” I want to explore four invitations with you briefly as we move through the message.
First, God invites us to salvation. Why would that be? What kind of opportunity is salvation? Why would we need to accept it? The Bible tells us we are all born sinners, imperfect and unholy. So what is the big deal? Don’t we sort of “grow out” of some of that as we grow up? We may become less self-centered and impulsive as we mature. Maybe. (Don’t look at the person sitting next to you.) We may practice kindness and good works that help others and make us feel a bit better about ourselves. We might even be commended by others for the good things we do.
But growing up or becoming kinder doesn’t deal with an internal problem we have. We aren’t just physical beings. We are spiritual beings. We have an eternal soul. We aren’t holy on the inside. Our souls aren’t holy. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, we are all born sinners on the inside. Our outward selves may become polished, but our souls on the inside won’t come clean through any amount of maturing or self-effort. So what is the big deal about that? Why do our souls have to be changed and made clean and holy?
Our sinful nature is offensive to God. It’s not just that He chooses to be offended by us, but it’s that His holy nature isn’t compatible with our sin nature. You know when you have old software on your computer, and you try to send a document to someone who has a different, updated version and they open your document and it looks like it is in a foreign language? Has that ever happened? That happened because the two systems weren’t compatible. You couldn’t communicate effectively and relate effectively because of a flaw in your operating system. Our human, flawed, sinful system isn’t compatible with the holiness of God. In order for us to be in a right relationship with God, our sin problem would have to be taken care of, and that was going to require blood, sweat, and tears.
Blood, sweat, and tears? Who wants to sign up for that? If that is the case many people might conclude that the relationship was just too hard to make it work, that it wasn’t worth the effort and sacrifice. That’s not the way our God rolls. He signed Himself up for the blood, sweat and tears. We are the ones with the problem, but He was the One who did what it took to fix the problem.
God allowed Jesus, His Son, to become the sacrifice, the payment for sin so that our offensive nature could be removed from us forever. We are incompatible with God due to sin, but He created us and loves us perfectly and won’t let a malfunction in our software keep us from Him. He doesn’t just offer to upgrade us and make us a better version of ourselves, but He offers to completely remake us and remove our sin nature or to use computer lingo, He offers to eradicate the virus from us and replace it with the sinless nature of Jesus Christ.
Is anyone getting this? Jesus was and is perfect. We are not. When we accept the salvation God offers, He removes our sinful nature and puts the spotless, perfect nature of Jesus on the inside of us. He completely changes our operating system! When that happens, we are in a perfect relationship with God. He is no longer offended, and we are viewed by Him as if we were perfect. And all we have to do is say “yes” to the invitation for the overhaul. How cool is that?
So the opportunity to be made clean and new on the inside is ours when we accept the invitation to salvation, and in addition, when we accept the invite and RSVP for salvation, we will have made a reservation for a place in heaven for all eternity. Pretty cool opportunity don’t you think? And it is available to anyone here who wants to accept the invitation. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that WHOEVER believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Come one and come all is the message of the Gospel and salvation!
Second, God invites us to rest. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”-Matthew 11:28
Is there anyone here who doesn’t need a little more rest in their lives? Anyone who doesn’t need more breathing room? Anyone who wouldn’t look forward to the opportunity to unload some of the burdens they are carrying? Are you tired of the treadmill of life? Are you weary from the drama in some of your relationships? Are you “over” the red tape and hoops to jump through? Are you tired of performing, trying to measure up, trying to keep up, and having to jump up to respond to so many tangled, complicated circumstances? Is the pace of life wearing you out? Anyone willing to admit some rest would be a good thing? I think everyone in this room could welcome this invitation and embrace this opportunity.
What is it that God invites us to unload? How does God allow us to rest? This is a personal invitation. God doesn’t say, “Try as hard as you can to work things out on your own first, and then I will help you.” No. He says, “Come to Me first.” “Bring your burdens to Me.” He didn’t qualify what burdens He will accept, so they are all game. Financial burdens, physical burdens, mental and emotional burdens, relational burdens, burdens of our own making and burdens placed on us by others. What He is saying is that He can help us through every situation we are facing. There is nothing outside His scope of influence or ability. He will walk us through things, and when necessary He will carry us, and because of His presence, our burden will become lighter. We will have a sense of empowering peace that will enable us to make it.
Coming to Him means we come to His Word, the Bible. Inside its pages are words that will change your life. If you read the Bible with the desire to hear from God, you will read words that will transform you and your circumstances. You will read words that will become like medicine to your soul. You will read words that will cause peace and rest to flow in your life in the middle of turbulent times. I can’t explain how it happens. I can only testify that it does. It is supernatural and is the opportunity we have when we come to Jesus with our burdens.
Coming to God means we come to Him in prayer. I Peter 5:7 tells us to “Cast all our cares on God because He cares for us.” When we do, there is a transfer of our burden to His shoulders. There is an offloading of the weight of our cares onto Jesus. There is a relief and release that comes to us that I can’t explain. I can only testify that it happens. “O what peace we often forfeit. O what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
Fear, depression, anxiety, uncertainty, doubt, restlessness—they are all offloaded when we seek God in His Word and prayer.
After we come to God with our burdens by coming to His Word and by coming to Him in prayer we read that He invites us to “learn of Him.” (Matthew 11:29) Learning of Him means learning to handle life’s circumstances the way He would. He changes our perspective. He instills His wisdom so we know how best to carry the stuff we have to bear. We are all going to have to carry some things in life, but God can teach us how to carry things with grace, patience, and a sense of peace.
Have you ever tried to carry a bunch of stuff, heavy stuff, and you struggled and suffered and sweated and wore yourself out only to have someone come along and say, “Why didn’t you do it this way? It would have been a lot easier.” While you wanted to clobber them, you knew they were right. Sometimes we do things the hard way. For some of the stuff we are dealing with there is an easier way of handling it than we have chosen. We need God to teach us the easy way, the better way. We may still have to carry some stuff, but wouldn’t you rather be able to “whistle while you work” and have peace and joy than be grumbling, groaning, complaining, and angry by the time you were able to dump your load somewhere? Some people’s lives are hard because they haven’t sought the Lord for a better way.
Maybe there are things we are carrying that we aren’t even needed to carry, and we are loading ourselves down unnecessarily. Sometimes we are supposed to help someone else with their burden, but sometimes God wants to teach them how to carry it for themselves and we need to leave it alone! God can teach us what is our stuff to carry, and what is someone else’s stuff that we aren’t meant to pick up. It’s time for someone to rest this morning. And the beautiful thing is that just like the call to salvation, God invites “all who are weary and burdened” to come rest. It’s an open invitation to any who will come.
Third, God invites us to satisfaction. John 7:37-38–Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
Let me explain what Jesus meant by these “streams of living water” that flow from inside a person. The very next part of this passage explains it as we read that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit. You see, there is an experience known as salvation when we ask for Jesus to forgive and save us and to become our Lord. That happens in an instant.
There is a different experience however, that is a progressive one. It is called “sanctification” through which the Spirit of God lives inside of us and begins to move us, compel us, anchor us, lead us, and teach us how to live our best possible life. I can say for certain that God wants you to be content in your life with Him, both your spiritual life in Him and your physical existence as He empowers you.
The Holy Spirit is the “streams of living water” that provides not only ongoing cleansing in our lives, but ongoing understanding of what it means to be connected to Christ. And here is the big “aha.” The closer we are to Christ, the more satisfied we will live life. We won’t look to the applause of people for satisfaction. We won’t have to seek out an escape or a high from drugs or alcohol. We won’t have to have a significant other, a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband or wife in order to feel like we are “ok” or complete. We won’t need to have the best or newest of anything in order to feel contentment and peace. I can’t explain how it happens with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I can simply tell you I have found it to be true.
What happens is that knowing Jesus and growing in Him becomes a satisfaction that surpasses sensual pleasure, being popular, or having a large bank account. I love how the Apostle Paul put it in Philippians 4:11-13: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”
For Christians, satisfaction is an ongoing experience no matter what our circumstance because of Christ’s Spirit in us which gives us strength. Let me put it this way. If you have money, but have not Christ, you aren’t content but comfortable. If you have money AND have Christ, you are content AND comfortable. If you have Christ, but no money, even though uncomfortable you will still be content.
Money will come and go. Friends will come and go. Jobs will come and go. Health will come and go. But Christ in us through the Holy Spirit is a permanent power which will keep us from going crazy and into despair when life gets hard. You can be satisfied in Jesus. He is MORE THAN ENOUGH. And here is the open, universal appeal again from John 7:38: “WHOEVER believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” “You can get some satisfaction!” It’s found in a Spirit-filled relationship with Jesus.
Lastly, God invites us to change the world.
Matthew 4:18-20 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Who does that? Who drops everything to follow a man they just recently met? Who risks the security and success of what they have always known to place their lives into the hands of another? Who leaves what is comfortable when it is working? Who accepts such a bold challenge to become a world changer? Why did they even believe they could change the world? What was it about the fact that Jesus was the One who issued the invitation that led them to believe something significant and supernatural was possible? What a sense of adventure! What a display of faith! What an incredible opportunity.
Jesus may not have been their BFF yet, but He wasn’t unknown to them. Simon Peter and Andrew had already heard some stuff about Jesus from John the Baptist. Before they became disciples of Jesus, they were disciples of John. John had even told Andrew and some other man whose name the Scripture doesn’t record that Jesus was the “Lamb of God.”
Listen to the account from John’s Gospel: 1:35-42 35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. . .40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).
Ah, the power of invitation. Remember that first meeting with my husband? I invited him to “come and see.” It was through his willingness to get to know me that we learned we were a good match for each other. It was through the opportunities the invitation presented that we quickly found out we would be better off together than without each other. In fact, we asked my parents if we could get married after just dating for four weeks. There was something very powerful, engaging, and transforming about our growing partnership, and we knew that God had a plan to use us as life and ministry partners.
As a result of John the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and as a result of the open invitation of Jesus to come close to Him, to go to where He was staying and to spend time with Him that Andrew was convinced He was the Messiah. Andrew went right to Peter, his brother, to declare it so.
And maybe in those first few weeks and months Peter and Andrew couldn’t comprehend how they would ever become the kind of people who could change the world as Jesus was doing before their very eyes. But little by little, they were taught, they were led, they were empowered, they were given authority, they were given responsibility, they tried, they failed, they tried again, they failed again, and by the time Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, they knew what they needed to get started on their mission. They had the know-how. They just needed the power.
When the Holy Spirit descended on the Day of Pentecost and filled the disciples that “Living Water” started spilling out into the streets of Jerusalem as all of the disciples were empowered to be world changes for Christ, and Peter began to preach. The Church of the Living God went from a small group of disciples and other followers to a mega church with 3000 people in ONE day. What a world changer Peter had become.
Invitations create opportunities. Invitations open doors. Invitations change our destinies.
You are cordially invited to receive Christ as Savior.
You are cordially invited to unload your burdens.
You are cordially invited to receive Living Water.
You are cordially invited to change the world.
You can accept one, two, three or all four of these invitations. Will you accept the invitations and explore the endless opportunities not only for yourself but for the world?