Christmas Article: Surprise Party! God's Gracious Invitation

God has personality! And a mysterious personality at that! He has revealed His love for us through His son, but we still cannot intellectually grasp the complete extent of His personality, or character. That is by God's choosing. That is His will. Isn't that imaginative of God! I mean, to have a personality, just like a real person!

But this is not really surprising when you consider the Bible says man was created in God's image. (Gen 1:26) God is like us. Only infinitely better. And pure and holy. (Or should I say we are like God, since God came first.) Our character is like His, although sin tarnishes our character. The more we give in to God's will and accept His authority, the more our character will be like God's. Pure and holy.

God reveals the mystery of His will when this pleases Him. (Eph 1:9-10) Some things could not be understood until after Jesus rose from the dead. Some things a Christian can understand, but only after the Holy Spirit lives in him. (1 Cor 2:6ff) The man of the world cannot understand these mysteries. Some things no man can understand. (Dt 29:29, Job 11:7-8, Job 38:4ff, Rom 11:33-34)

But make no mistake about what I am saying. God is not secretive to deceive us. The Bible tells us all we have a need to know at this time. It tells us how to know and believe that God truly does love us. And each person knows that in his heart, not his head. So it does not matter that our minds do not have the capacity to absorb everything about God. We don't really have any use for that much information.

When you plan a surprise party, you keep some things a secret. The element of surprise adds to the delight of both the party host and the party attendees. God has planned a "surprise party" for us in Heaven. After Jesus' return, we will have new bodies and a new Heaven, although we do not know what they will look like. (1 Cor 15:35ff, Rev 21:1)

There are components of God's will and personality we cannot completely understand. God chooses to conceal some things about His will from us, yet reveals other things. Perhaps these "secret" or unrevealed components of God's will and personality will be the building blocks of our new bodies and the new Heaven. Perhaps God does not reveal everything to us now because that would ruin the "surprise party" He has planned for us in the next life! (Rom 8:18-21) You are invited! RSVP ASAP: You must accept God's invitation in this life. The next life will be too late. (Mt 25:1-13)

I have been taking about God's personality. Let's come back to earth for a moment for a more worldly example. Two men approach each other. They face off, as if to size each other up. The first man thumps the second man gently across the front of his chest. The second man responds by pushing back just a bit harder on the first man's chest, as if to knock him off balance. The first man strikes the second man harder still, as if to knock him down. This escalates until a full scale brawl ensues.

This showdown sounds very physical, like something that could happen only between two people. But don't we sometimes "face off" with God in a similar manner? We start pushing God ever-so-gently, just to see how far we can push him. We try to see what we can get away with. But God does not budge when you try to knock Him off balance. He is as solid as a rock.

We are sometimes disgruntled by our boss. We may question his authority. We may say, "It doesn't seem fair that he got to be boss, just because he started working here before we did. Just because he got here first." We might try using the same argument against God by saying, "It's not fair that God is in authority, just because He was 'born' ahead of us. Just because He got here first."

We can't challenge God physically, so we challenge His authority. We think we could do a better job than God could. We think that God has had his chance at being God and He blew it. The proof is all around us. Just look at how screwed up the world is. We want to be God. (Incidentally, God did not screw up the world; man did. Gen 3)

And we try to challenge God intellectually. We try to figure Him out, just like we size up an opponent. We try to guess how He works and what He will do next in our lives. But we can't. (Isa 40:13, Jer 23:18) We try to find his strengths and His weaknesses so we can avoid His strengths and take advantage of His weaknesses. The only problem is that God doesn't have any weaknesses. But we have weaknesses aplenty, while God is as solid as a rock.

We don't want to give in and let God be in authority, even though we cannot outdo Him. Why not? Because in a world filled with deceit and hate, it is difficult for us to believe anyone could love us. It is difficult to believe God could love sinners like us. And it is even more difficult to believe that God, the rock, the authority figure, can be personable enough to care about us. Rocks are hard, cold, and impersonal. And authority figures wield power to further their own interests, not the interests of their subordinates.

Are you afraid to submit to an authority figure with so much power? That fear is a signal or warning. It should alert you to the misunderstandings in your head and the sin in your heart. (Rom 8:14- 17) God is extending an invitation to all of us to be His children, not the subordinates of an impersonal boss. Accept God's love and forgiveness now. Don't take God's invitation for granted or push His patience. Don't treat God's invitation with arrogance, contempt, or disrespect. For God's invitation will someday be withdrawn and punishment will come to those who reject His gracious invitation. God will not wait forever. (Mt 22:1-14)

We can believe God loves us. (1 Jn 3) When we rebel against Him, defy Him, and take jabs at Him, He does not wipe us out of existence. He allows us to continue making mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. He loves us enough to wait for us. All the while that we are taking jabs at God, He is patiently waiting. Patiently loving and caring for us. Sometimes He disciplines us, but even that is done out of love and concern for us. (Heb 12:5-11, 2 Pet 3:7-13)

We sometimes use Christ's death on the cross as an example of God's love for us. But this may not be a very convincing testimony to someone who does not have a personal relationship with Christ. You see, Christ's death would not be personal to him, until he realizes that Christ's death is the only way he can be free from sin and death; since Jesus bore our sins on the cross, then arose. Christ's death would mean nothing without the resurrection. It would not matter if your sins were taken away, if you did not have the opportunity to start life anew. (Rom 8:1-17, 1 Jn 3:7-10)

God has extended an invitation to us to accept His love and forgiveness. But we must accept that invitation, repent, be baptized, and start a new life of obedience to God's will. (Acts 2:38-41) Submission to God's will is not a one-time or short-term commitment. We must surrender our will to His will on a daily basis. Tomorrow may be too late to accept God's invitation, for tomorrow may not come. No one stays on Earth forever. And someday Jesus will return, whether we are ready or not. If Jesus were to return today, are you ready? Have you accepted God's gracious invitation? (Mt 25:1-13)

I have talked about the gracious invitation God has extended to all of us. I also talked about the "surprise party" God has planned for Christians in the next life. I used the phrase "surprise party" because the word "surprise" is usually used in conjunction with the word "party". But what I really meant was a surprise "celebration".

What do I mean? You may have heard the phrase "party hearty". Many Americans like to get together on the weekends for no other reason than to act like fools and to drink too much. A celebration is much different. At a celebration, you commemorate a day or an event. You honor or praise someone. A celebration has a purpose. A party denies that there is any purpose (or responsibility) in life.

I was considering boycotting traditional Christmas festivities this year. I did not think God would mind, since most of our Christmas traditions are not founded on any events or principles found in the Bible anyway. I thought that instead of putting all the usual effort into the Holiday Season, maybe I should just set aside an hour on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day to pray for our town. I would pray for the people who don't know Christ and for all the people with needs that are not being met. I would pray that some of those people could find their way to our church.

We should pray before doing anything, asking for guidance and direction. We should pray BEFORE taking action, but not INSTEAD of taking action. So I thought I had better ask Jesus how He would like us to celebrate His birthday. Since Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of Christ's birth, Jesus really should be the guest of honor. The Holy Spirit brought the following passages to mind.
Matt 22:34-40 "Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: `Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'"
Luke 14:13-14 "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Matt 25:31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' ..."
John 21:15-17 "When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, `Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?' `Yes, Lord,' he said, `you know that I love you.' Jesus said, `Feed my lambs.' Again Jesus said, `Simon son of John, do you truly love me?' He answered, `Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' Jesus said, `Take care of my sheep.' The third time he said to him, `Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, `Do you love me?' He said, `Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.' Jesus said, `Feed my sheep.'"
In closing, how would Jesus have us celebrate His birthday? Instead of hiding Christmas away in our warm living rooms, we should take the warmth of our Christmas out into a cold and hurting world. And we should invite the cold and hurting world into the warmth of our congregation this Christmas.

May you draw closer to God as you celebrate Christ's birthday

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