Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas Banquet

“The Christmas Banquet”

Pastor Tom Millner

December 19, 2010

Isaiah 25:6, Luke 14:15-17


Each Sunday, promptly at 10:00AM, we begin a process of worship here at this place known as the SpiritSong Worship Center. We notify, we advertise, we list, and you who are here found your way despite those things that might have lured you away. Christmas shopping; recovery from a late Saturday night; any number of excuses could have kept you from the invitation to feast at God’s table of grace this day.  Last week we talked briefly about living out our faith, rather than our unbelief. The source of the healing and the nourishment of our souls is here (in the Bible) for the taking. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

Let’s read the Gospel of Luke, chapter 14 verse 15. “When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

In our scripture reading today we see that Jesus has just been visiting in the home of a Pharisee, one of the spiritual leaders of the Jewish community.  Jesus had instructed them on protocol of not placing self in the seat of honor lest we be uprooted from that seat by someone of greater stature. He had even gone so far as to assert that the honored among them should not be on the preferred list, but rather the lowly, the outcast and the shunned. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, we are called here to not “think less of ourselves, but to think of ourselves less”!

This guy at the table didn’t get it. He was associating what was a commonly held notion that at the coming of the Messianic Kingdom, there would be a great feast of celebration for all the pious and righteous.  Jesus replied here with a different message.

Luke 14:17 “At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.”

Jesus is speaking here in a parable. Now a parable is a rather succinct story that has a setting, describes an action, and a subsequent result.  Parables can be prose or poetry. Within them, as Jesus used them, there is a lesson that is both moral and spiritual.

The Jews had been given the promise of the Kingdom since the time of Abraham. All of their history had been a part of the birthing pains for the Kingdom to come. John the Baptist had proclaimed the coming of the One whose truth provides the substance upon which we may spiritually feast. Jesus is here telling those who hear that the banquet is set for those for whom the feast was prepared.

The folks of that day were busy with the things of life and so the response to the invitation was less than stellar. Luke 14:18-19 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.  Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'” Now in Jesus’ parable, He’s pegging those who were so about their own agendas that they missed the invitation of eternity. The first – bought a field – a piece of property sight unseen? It was dark by the time the banquet was being held… how could he see his field?  Could there have been something else going on? The other bought oxen (new machine for the business)… have to try it out. The last just got married and the sensual pleasures that await me are far more important to me now than this invitation. What was the master’s response? Anger! We don’t often like to think of an angry God, but here we see the illustration – anger with just cause. Scripture tells us to be angry and sin not! (Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26) What was the Master’s response here? Anger is a normal response; it’s what we do with it that matters!

Luke 14: 21-24 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'  'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "

The Master then invited all those who were “sinners” in the eyes of the pious…  Those deemed not worthy by the standards of the day. The result of the master’s anger was loving inclusion for all except those who chose not to participate in the feast.

In what ways are we like the ones on the invitation list and in what ways are we like the others who were invited in for the feast?

In today’s world, even with the economic downturn and worldwide economic distress, we are among the most affluent and privileged people in the world. Even our homeless brothers and sisters here have it better than those living on the streets of Ahmadabad, India, or Nairobi, Kenya. What do we hold to be so important in our fast paced world today? If there’s one thing we share in common, it’s the quest for significance at the core of our being. Where do we go for significance? Sometimes it’s about whatever strikes our fancy – whether it’s rational or not – buying the lie that this that or the other will satisfy the longing – so we go to check it out and ignore the invitation to the greatest opportunity of a lifetime. Or, we’re so engaged with the work we have to do, the tasks we have at hand, that we seem not to have the time to participate in the feast that is the source of our significance. Or we get so excited about satisfying our sensual pleasures (as the newlywed) that we exclude the possibility of something more substantive!  Sounds to me like the American way! Self, self, and self – and if there’s any of self left over, well, God can have it! The moral of the parable is that God can’t have it (self) because it’s already consumed. Therefore, it can’t be included in the broader banquet. Excluded not by God’s exclusionary action, but by our lack of response that consequently excludes us! To feast, one has to come to the table!

What about those on the outside, as described in this scripture? How might that apply to us? Have any of you felt excluded from the “acceptable” place in other churches? Have any of us been labeled “sinners” for being who God created us to be? Jesus ate, associated with, and was entertained by the “sinner” of His day. If you haven’t identified with any of these scenarios, please have someone check your pulse. We can call 911 immediately!


What we need to remember about God’s banquet invitation:

  1. The most convenient time to feast is when the invitation arrives! God’s grace is always available, but we often trade second fiddle for first string. What’s the difference in a life with or without Christ? Many people look at us and say, “Exactly”! That’s not intended to be a club over your head, just a gentle buzz of the alarm clock to say “it’s time to wake up.” The true difference between a life with Christ or without Christ is the living hope that is eternal and the knowledge that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:38)
  2. You don’t have to dress up for the best meal. You can’t get a better meal wearing your metaphorical tux, tails, or gown. So many people make the assumption that they will only truly be welcomed at God’s table when they’ve cleaned up their act. That’s a major misconception! Cleaning up your act simply makes it easier for other folks to be around you, but God’s desire is that you come to Him as you are. He’s got a great bubble bath waiting just for you and a fancy new outfit that fits perfectly with His grace and mercy. He’s already tailor made your outfit and He’s even tried it on for you. The absolute perfect model was Jesus Himself! The best outfit you can wear to the banquet is nothing…that’s just how He made you.
  3. The fight for first place is won by surrendering the position. In our rule book the winner of the first place position has to beat out all the others to receive it. In God’s rule book, surrender is the key to getting first prize. That’s one of the reasons folks find it so hard to come to Christ; they can’t believe it’s as easy as just plain surrender. Perhaps that’s why surrender isn’t so easy! We build a lifetime into being competitive and we’re asked to drop it at the foot of the cross. The more competitive you are, the greater the challenge! Not to worry, however, the victory is winnable by the presence of a really big sidekick – His Holy Spirit! The competitor is not your neighbor, nor is it your enemy – the competitor is yourself. You win the prize by letting go all that you have grown to prize in yourself. That includes all your excuses, all your defenses, all your moments of glory, all your wounds of defeat, all your prized memories of pity parties past – all that you think constitutes the deepest and truest YOU! Lay it down and step into the banquet hall! Christ has the table set.


The banquet is prepared every day. The Word of God is here for us to feast upon. The table is set for us to fellowship with the Master (prayer). What will be your response today, tomorrow, the day after? Will you respond to the love that invited you in though not worthy, or are you too busy with “to do’s” of your own self significance that you choose to not feast at the only table that can ever give you significance?


Isn’t it time to feast at the table of Grace?














Saturday, December 11, 2010

Help My Unbelief

“Yes, I Believe”

Pastor Tom Millner

August 24, 2008

Isaiah 7:9b; Mark 9:21-24; Romans 4:1-5


Henry Ford once said: “If you believe you can or if you believe you can’t, you’re right.”

Our core beliefs drive us!  Many of our core beliefs come from our experience. Because we have experienced the sunrise each day, we believe it will rise tomorrow. We believe that the sky is above and the earth is below – that’s our experience. What shall we say then about our Christian beliefs? How are our beliefs and our faith intertwined?

John 3:16 states: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Now this is foundational to our Christian faith. The fundamental truth here is that God, being love, acted in love toward those whom He loved, in a way that benefits the beloved forever, if the beloved sees its way clear to believe that the gift is for real. Believing it or not believing it does not change the fundamental truth of the gift or the Giver. What it changes is the life of the one who believes!

If you recall a couple of years ago we attended the musical Les Miserable.  In the play Jean Val Jean was being chased by the determined and non-sympathetic Inspector Javier. Val jean was the recipient of grace through a priest who saved him from the arms of certain imprisonment. Grateful, Val jean, under an assumed name from that day forward, went about multiplying the grace he had freely received. This grace ultimately found its way to the determined Javier. Javier, in an attempt to entrap Val jean, portrayed himself sympathetic to the cause of the revolution. Upon discovery, Javier was sentenced to death by the resistance. Val jean volunteered to be the executioner. In a moving scene, Val jean shot into the air and charged Javier to depart and cease his quest for revenge and his view of justice. Javier departs, but cannot accept that his life has been spared by the one whom he had been so ardently seeking to destroy. Fraught with anguish, Javier throws himself from the bridge into the river, ending his life in the tragic rejection of grace for himself. When faced with the reality of grace, Val jean accepted the goodness thereof and went about multiplying it for others. Javier, unable to accept grace from one above whom he placed himself, bitterly and remorsefully orchestrated his own demise.

What about us. Are we a Val jean or a Javier? Are we living out our faith in gratitude, multiplying for others the grace that has been given us, or are we engaging the internal struggle that says “I cannot accept that I have been saved by one above whom I have placed myself?”

Oh, well I know which one I am – I don’t place myself above Christ! Oh yeah? When was the last time you spent more than 3 minutes in prayer? When was the last time you genuinely listened to another person? When was the last time you looked lustfully at another human? When was the last time you felt less than? When the last time you felt like all was worthless? When was the last time you feared that giving of your tithe would seriously hamper you lifestyle? When was the last time you felt left out or slighted?  Any one of these represents an attitude that places self above Christ; above His grace that is sufficient in all things, in all ways. His grace calls us to commune with Him, to be the whole person He has restored us to by grace – who is secure enough to listen to another sister or brother in need – to be fulfilled enough to recognize the face of Christ in the one for whom we might otherwise lust – to be secure enough in His promise to care for us that we can give generously to His work – that I am secure enough in His promise that I don’t have to read someone else’s short coming as a direct reflection of me.

In today’s scripture reading from the Gospel of Mark, we heard the story of a father bringing a demon possessed child to Jesus for healing. The father approaches with the belief that this man, Jesus, might be able to help his son. “Help him, if you can,” the father says to Jesus. “If I can,” Jesus responds! “Everything is possible for him who believes” says Jesus – to whom the father of the possessed child responds; “I do believe – help my unbelief.” From that moment forward, that father and child were forever changed. This man’s faith was tested by being challenged on his belief. Honestly stating his belief and the sincere request to have his belief strengthened, demonstrated an act of faith in the man, Jesus.  So often we don’t even ask for what we desire because we think we don’t deserve it; or are worthy of it; or have enough faith to see it fulfill. We often have the faith that God CAN answer our prayers, but for some reason He won’t answer MY prayer. What is holding us back?

Hebrews 11:1 states: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” By faith, Abraham believed God’s promise and birthed a great nation. By faith Abraham obeyed God and offered his son as a sacrifice to the living God – his son, his most prized possession, his heir, his flesh and blood, his hope for generations to come, yet by faith he surrendered all to  God’s calling on him – and that was considered to be Abraham’s righteousness. It was not the sacrifice (Isaac), but the very heart of Abraham who acted in faith and believed the God who had promised to provide that was counted as his righteousness.

What is it you hope for this Christmas season? If we believe what scripture says then we need to exercise some faith in the certainty of that for which we hope. And even though we may not see the material evidence of that for which we hope, we have no less faith in its substance!  Hope is an expectation and is integrally wound in faith. I hope to see tomorrow (expectation) so I close my eyes for sleep (faith that I will wake to a new tomorrow). On what is your hope based? If you’re experiencing anxiety and or fear that something dire or negative might happen today or tomorrow, your hope is being dashed toward the doom and your anxious actions amount to your faith focus toward the doom as well. Psychologically, spiritually, and physically, we suffer great loss when our faith and hope are bound in the bosom of doubt and worry. As often as we’ve said here that fortune telling is not one of the spiritual gifts, we see the evidence of anxiety and depression often. God calls us to a different reality in the light of His grace. He calls us to a place of hope that is founded and bound tightly in His Word.

Romans 12:1-2 tells us “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Paul wrote this without a concordance to reference Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:34 where He states: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And that statement followed a very significant (understatement) assertion by Jesus in verse 33; “But seeks first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” What shall we place first, then? His kingdom and His righteousness: could that be the key to better mental, physical and spiritual health? When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi he urged them; “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."(Philippians 4:8) Let me share some true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things to think about and act in faith toward,


  1. God loves you so much He gave His Son to die for you. Yes, even in your worst moments, Jesus died for you. He didn’t die for you because you’re perfect. He didn’t die to make you better than anyone else. He didn’t die for you to prove that your orientation is OK. He didn’t die for you to give you financial blessings. He didn’t die for you to be justified to your parents or neighbors. He died because He loves you! He loves you as though you were the only one and he loves your neighbor as if she or he were the only one.
  2. Jesus lived and died for you so that you might have life to the fullest extent. You don’t have to worry about that job, just do the best job you can with that job or with finding the next one, trusting that God is in control.
  3. Putting God first in your thoughts and actions all day in everything you do, in everything you say is not only your “spiritual act of worship” but also an exercise of love in action that will facilitate an outpouring of love on others.
  4. The next time you look at another person with lust, or possessive thoughts, or in anger, or in judgment, remember that God loves that person so much that Christ died for that person.

Do we believe that Jesus Christ died once for all? Do we believe that Love gave of itself unto death so that we do not have to experience eternal death and separation from Love? Do we believe that God’s love is sufficient to meet all our needs? Do we believe that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called for His purpose? If we do, then it’s time to come home to Him. Home where He dwells, home where he takes us to a deeper place – within! Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all other things will be added. First His Kingdom – that which is within – his righteousness – living out our faith – all other things – the promise of the joy of our salvation. When we do believe and ask that He help our unbelief, we place our trust in Him who is the author and finisher of our faith!


If you believe – come home!