Do you remember getting handwritten invitation cards to birthday parties when you were a child? There wasn't much better than getting that primary colored card with the confetti, balloons, and noisy horn clipart on the front declaring "PARTY TIME!". . .or when you occasionally got the themed birthday party invite. . .perhaps you can remember the accompanying artistic masterpieces with those themes:
HOWDY PARDNER, IT'S A PARTY!
ALL ABOARD FOR PARTY TIME! WE CHOO-CHOOSE YOU!
IT'S GOING TO BE SKATE-TACULAR!
(The answers are: Cowboy, Train, and Skate Party)
I grew up before Power Rangers, Dora, Barney, Pokemon, Spongebob, and the Internet. Our options were severely limited. And sure we did have Scooby Doo. . .but if he showed up at your party, it was going to be the dad of the birthday kid wearing a homemade outfit the wife sewed together with fabric from a Thrift store and Scooby's head would be some lumpy paper mache project they paid the art teacher fifty bucks to make. . .
Regardless, getting those invitations for a party were like little mini-Christmases throughout the year. A party! And I'm invited! (Please, please, please have ice cream caaaaaake!)
The standard invitation packs of yesterday have been obliterated in this era of digital photography and accessible technology. Now we have professional level invites going out with our actual kids on the cards. . .and social networking capabilities to instantaneously send out invites for any party. . .who knew?
With the increase of official invitations, there seems to have been a corresponding increase in the number of parties our society has. . .I get invited to engagement parties, wedding showers, the weddings themselves, baby showers, baby birthdays, cook outs for youth groups six hours away, something called Bubble Safari and Sorority Fundraisers for the Troops that involve kissing them. (Thank you Facebook, and no, I did not make any of those up.)
With the onslaught of invitations, it is easy sometimes to forget the joy of being invited. . .for your presence to be desired at a celebratory event, to belong to a fellowship of joy and laughter. There is power in genuine invitation, a power that makes people feel welcome and loved. Correspondingly, no one likes to feel as if the invitation wasn't genuine or sincere. . .that they were just invited because you hit "send to all" or you were worried about their feelings. . .(Just ask some of the hobbits from Bilbo's big party. . .)
My first thought would be to remember the power of invitation in regards to the people in your life, both those who feel included. . .and especially those who feel excluded. . .
But additionally I wanted to write about God and the way we invite Him to our churches. . .
A common prayer phrase I hear at the beginning of our worship services goes something like this:
"And God, we just want to invite you into this place this morning. . ."
I used to get frustrated by that prayer because I felt we people don't really have the power of invitation. . .He is God and He can show up anywhere He wants to. . .
I pictured it like the young child who kept signs on the bedroom door saying "Keep Out" or "Do Not Enter" and the child then pretentiously allows the parent into the room. . .the same parent who gave them life, raised them, pays for the house, and gives them the square footage for their own bedroom and everything in that bedroom. . .
Let me tell you something you little bugger, I can enter this room any time I want to! Who are you to invite me?!
I no longer get frustrated in that way about the prayer. . .because as a parent I get to experience the joy of those moments. . .Even though I can enter my child's room any time I want. . .it feels great to be truly invited into the room. . .
God literally sent Jesus to die to redeem us back into relationship with Himself. . .I believe to be invited into our "bedrooms" is special for Him too. . .even though He is already there and can manifest Himself any way He chooses anytime He wants to. . .
Now the questions for me are. . .
Do we really want Him to "show up" or is it just a polite invitation we give out of ritual?
If He does "show up", how do we know?
and probably most importantly. . .
If He doesn't come to the party, how do we know?
If there's one thing I learned about parties growing up. . .
Everyone knows it when the stars of the party are there. . .and when they aren't.