Today, I got to live an illustration of God's grace. I didn't extend grace. It was given to me. Some of you might find my use of the word "grace" tenuous but hang with me anyway. I won't tell the whole story but Ellsworth Kalas invited me to lunch today. If there is a more concrete example of "unmerited favor" in my life this week, I can't think of it (though several are close while I'm here at Asbury.) If you don't know who Dr. Kalas is, he is an author, a preacher, a beloved professor of preaching, and a past president of Asbury Seminary who guided the seminary through a tumultuous time like a pastor. I know it sounds like bragging, but I can't help it. He invited me. I experienced that as love and grace. I can't do anything for Dr. Kalas. Having lunch with me is doesn't provide him with anything special. For me, though, it is a thrill. I will benefit. I will remember it. It's a gift that I didn't earn or deserve. Dr. Kalas gave me a very gracious invitation to join him.
In the American church, we often speak of beginning a relationship with Jesus in this way: "I invited Jesus into my heart." There are a lot of reasons I don't like this idea. For one thing, we are called to follow Jesus, not ask him into our lives and forget that he is there. Another reason I don't like the idea of inviting Jesus into our hearts is because there is often an initial thrill associated with that moment that often fades out quickly. This is really different than actually following Jesus who invites us to do just that. Think of it this way, what do we do when we invite another person to join us for a meal or an activity and they agree? There might be a thrill if they say yes, or maybe some stress in getting the house ready or in making restaurant arrangements. After that, what? We might occasionally remember the time spent together. It might even be a fond memory, but does it really make a difference in the grand scheme of our lives?
What about the invited person? From this afternoon, I can tell you it's thrilling, it's humbling, and it comes with the experience of being loved. Think about how you feel when you are invited to participate in something by one or more people. Don't you feel grateful? Don't you feel loved? The reality of the Christian life is that we do not invite Jesus into our hearts. Jesus invites us to follow him. Jesus invites us into his life. Undeserving people who have nothing to offer the Creator King respond to that invitation with gratefulness, humility, and a whole heart. This kind of response is the kind of life I desire. What an invitation!