One of the best memories I have in recent years was a party we threw on our front lawn. We had hosted a small group for several years — more like an extended family on mission — but we decided that we needed to do more to invite people to join in the good things God was doing through us.

We planned a cookout and invited all of our neighbors. It was at the beginning of summer, so we thought, “Why don’t we do a big water balloon toss?” I imagined people pairing up and throwing water balloons to one another, taking a step back with every successful toss. The ones who kept their balloon from bursting the longest would win a prize.

I asked someone to get the water balloons and have them ready. But she had another idea.

She bought over 400 water balloons and filled them with water. Two gigantic buckets held the balloons. When she said, “Go!,” the kids grabbed the balloons and started throwing them at whoever they could.

Pandemonium ensued. Balloons were flying everywhere. The adults decided to jump in, chasing one another. Everyone was laughing and soaked before it was over, including me.

The kingdom of God is like that. It’s a party! God is a great host and invites us to enjoy our relationships and share what we have.

Jesus often went to parties and told stories about parties.

The prodigal son squanders his father’s wealth. Half of the father’s income is blown as this kid is out there living a wild life. He runs out of money and he takes a job feeding pigs. That was unthinkable — a Jewish kid feeding pigs.

The kid says to himself, “What am I doing here? I should go back to my dad’s farm and become a hired hand — at least they eat well. I can tell my father what a mess I have made of my life and see if he takes me back.”

All the way home he’s preparing his speech: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants.”

Jesus says that in the story, the father sees the son while he’s still a far way off. He runs out and throws his arms around him. The son starts to give his speech, but the father cuts him off. He tells his servants, “Quick — get a ring and put it on his finger! Get some sandals for this boy’s feet! Get a robe — look at these rags! And go kill the fatted calf — we’re going to have a party!”

The people of God should have the best parties. We have the best host — God Himself. We have been set free from having to control and manipulate others or our circumstances. We have been given grace upon grace upon grace. None of us deserve to be invited to God’s party, but we have nevertheless been welcomed to the table. Even in the suffering and pain of life, we still have something to celebrate.

Remember the story of Zacchaeus? He was a wee little man up in a tree. But when Jesus walked by, He noticed Zacchaeus and said, “Zacchaues! You come down. I’m coming to your house today!”

The party was on.

Remember how Jesus went to a wedding once? The host ran out of wine — a big faux pas. Jesus’ mom said, “Jesus, they have run out of wine.” In other words, you can do something about this.

Jesus said, “Woman, why do you trouble me? My time has not yet come.” If you’re going to call your mother woman, you better be the Son of God.

Mary was undaunted. She said to the servants, “Do what He says.” All of a sudden, Jesus transformed several huge containers of water into the best wine the family had ever tasted. The party was on.

That’s the kind of Savior we have in Jesus. He gives us a spirit of rejoicing.

One day, you and I will sit at the great feast of the kingdom of God. Abraham and Moses will be there. Peter and James and John, Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot. Lydia, Mary Magdalene, and Esther. Those who have gone on in the Lord before you and me will be there. It’s going to be amazing.

But we don’t have to wait until heaven to rejoice. The kingdom of God is “soon” but it is also “now.” That’s what Jesus said: “The time promised by God has come at last! The kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, NLT)

Jesus said our response to the kingdom is to repent. Turn from your old ways. Enough bitterness. Enough envy. Enough withholding forgiveness from those who have wronged you. Life is too short for that. The kingdom is here and now. Enough negativity and joyless Christianity. Enough demanding your own way. Turn from all of that and turn toward Jesus.

Repent, He said, and believe the good news. There’s plenty of bad news in the world. There’s crime and poverty and greed and war. If someone says to you, “I’ve got some bad news,” you can believe it.

On the other hand, you can choose to believe the good news. The Bible is a story of good news. God is on the move, redeeming humanity and restoring all of creation. Jesus gave His life for you. You’re forgiven — that’s good news. You’re loved. Nothing can ever change that. A new world is being born, one with no more tears, sorrow, pain, or death. Death will be swallowed up in victory one day.

Believe it. Make it the foundation of your life and your reason for living.

The truth is that the only thing really keeping you from the party is you. God has done everything He can to invite you to the greatest party in heaven and on earth. God has everything prepared. The question is: will you accept the invitation? Will you receive forgiveness? Will you take your place in the celebration and start today to live with joy?

I heard about a woman in Vermont who died at the age of 94. She was born in New York, but moved to Vermont at the age of 4. She never moved back to New York and never even left the state for a vacation.

The newspaper obituary headline read, “New York woman died in Vermont at 94.”

That’s strange. She had been in Vermont for 90 years, but still was described as being from New York.

I wish I knew what kept her from becoming someone “from Vermont.” Maybe others kept her from becoming that. Even though she lived in Vermont for nine decades, she wasn’t born there. She’s not really one of us.

It could also be that she kept herself from entering. Maybe she was constantly pining for New York — always talking about how New York was better than Vermont. Maybe she refused to really become a part of New England.

The point is that for whatever reason, she didn’t cross that threshold. She would be remembered as someone who came from somewhere else.

You have a place at God’s great table. The party is on, and God wants you there. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24, NIV).

Be glad today!

With love,

Pastor Brent McDougal