(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Invite People to the Banquet.” The video is also available to you here.)
So for my ten-year anniversary, my wife and I, and our two kids, my mother-in-law, father-in-law, my brother-in-law... we went to Hawaii. Now, I spent a couple years saving up. And I had never been to Hawaii before. But all I wanted... all I wanted was to be in like some condo on a point on a cove where there was good surf and where I could see the ocean.
And I look over, and I start seeing a set of massive waves coming in. And I realize... oh, no, this person can’t swim. And the seas are starting to rise.
And something came over me. I just started running. I hopped a fence into the next condo association. I start taking off. It was like the spirit of David Hasselhoff from Baywatch came over me. And I’m just running as fast as I can. I jump another fence. Jump another fence. And I’m running towards the water. And inside my mind what I’m thinking about is my friends who were life guards in southern California. When they went to their post, they would gather up all of the life guards, and they would kind of have this, this huddle. And they would pray. And the thing that they would say is, “Not on our watch. Nobody dies on our watch.”
And as I entered the waters, that was my prayer. Not on my watch, God. Not on my watch. Not on my watch. And I start to swim as fast as I can. I get to this woman. I put her on my back. And I start coming back, swimming. I’m like, “It’s gonna be okay. Not on my watch. Not on my watch. Not on my watch.” I get to the water. I pick her up. I bring her to the shore. I put her down. I look up, and I see her five-year-old son beginning to cry as he makes his way to his mom. I look up and I see also her daughters, probably eleven or twelve. And she ends up like regaining her breath. And she ends up being fine. Someone next to me high-fives me. And as I start to walk back to my condo association, I look up at the cove. Where all the condos are. Where I had run from.
And you know what I saw? I saw forty to fifty people standing up there with their arms folded, watching.
And as I looked at it, it was as if God whispered to me... impressed something on my heart... and He said, “How often have you been one of those up on the cove? Watching somebody drown. Drown in their finances. Drown in their marriage. Drown in addiction. Drown in their questions about faith. And you didn’t run in to rescue. You stayed up there on the cove, and you watched.”
And in this moment where I felt like a hero... I found myself walking up going, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve done this so often.” And I went back to my room. I grabbed my Bible. And I started flipping through the Gospels. I started coming across these passages where Jesus said, “I came to seek and save the lost. I came to go and not just heal those who were well. But I came to find the sick. I wanted people to have access to the Father. I wanted people to experience grace.” And I, in my journal, wrote down these words... that my mentor used to say all the time:
Rescued people rescue people.
And the truth was there was a season where people I knew who were suffering... and I was one of those people up on the cove. And for some woman I didn’t even know, I didn’t even know her name, she was drowning, and I did whatever I could to save her. And it was as if God was saying, “Aren’t you just a little curious... aren’t you just a little curious why you rescued her but not these friends, or these people, in your life who need Me?”
And so that’s what I wanna go after today, because I believe that every one of you in this room... can live an invitational life. I think every one of you in this room can help someone discover the beauty and the power of grace. And I believe every one of you in this room... can truly... participate in what Christ’s mission was. To seek and save.
Now, you have to understand, Jesus was a rabbi. He’d go around from city to city, and He would teach people about the Kingdom of God. And, whenever He would go into a new city, there were certain kinds of questions that rabbis would always have to answer. It was just standard.
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
It’s a setup! He’s wanting to know what Jesus’ take is gonna be on Isaiah 25. Which just, real quick... have you ever been to a great feast? Like a great banquet. The kind of banquet that’s just filled with just splendid wine. Incredible food.
When I was in high school, I worked at Spanish Hills Country Club. I picked up range balls on the golf course and the driving range. And my hope was to do such a good job there that I could become a caddy, cause that’s where all the tips were.
So, one day, the general manager calls me. He says, “Steve, I wanna promote you.”
And I’m like, “To caddy?”
He goes, “No. I wanna promote you to our banquet facility.”
Now, you have to understand. Spanish Hills had one of the most opulent... banquet facilities in all of southern California. The weddings that they put on had celebrities. It was unbelievable. The best wines. And so this guy, the general manager, this was his baby. He loved it. And he said, “I think you can do this.” He said, “I will give you a raise. You will make tips. But you must learn how to dance.”
And I was like, “What? Like, what do you do in there?”
So this is what we would do. I said yes to it. You get all dressed up. You would stand in the kitchen. All the guests would come. They have their seat. And then the band would start to play “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. Your hand would be like this. And they would put a platter of coconut shrimp—that was our standard starting appetizer. And you would walk. We’d all have certain tables. And we’d walk in circle around the tables of ours, and we would do this dance, where we would serve the exact same seat across all of the room, and we’d go. We’d have like forty of us just doing this. Dancing. Serving. Dancing. Serving.
I’m so glad this was before the days of YouTube. But people would be taking our pictures. And we would come out. We would serve the best wine and serve the best food. And people had such a powerful experience.
And right now, Jesus is setting the table... for this parable, which He’s gonna describe an incredible feast. The kind of feast that you wouldn’t wanna miss. The kind of feast that you would just want to experience. Maybe you’ve had one of those. Maybe it was your wedding. Maybe it was a friend’s wedding. Maybe it was just some invitation, and you’re like, “I, I didn’t deserve to go.” But you went. And it was absolutely stunning
This is what Jesus is gonna say.
He says this, verse 16:
A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.
Now, when you would invite many guests, you would... basically send out a save the date. In three months... I’m gonna throw the greatest banquet you’ve ever seen. Here’s the date. Be ready. And the person, when they got this save the date, they would say, “I got that day free. I’m ready. I’m gonna be there. Just let me know when the food is ready. I will be there.”
Now, when you would serve this invitation, you would first serve it to what I would call a group of insiders. This is the friends and the family. The prominent people in your kind of inner circle. So this is who the save the date went out to. Verse 17:
At the time of the banquet, he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”
The stake. The lamb. The wine. The food. It’s ready. Come!
And so the servant would go out to all of the insiders and say, “It’s time!
Come on! Come on! Be dressed. Be ready. The band is ready. Everything is ready. Now come.”
But look what happens. Verse 18:
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 [a] 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.”
So here this servant goes out and goes, “It’s ready!”
And all the people who had previously said yes now say, “Sorry.”
“I gotta test out my oxen.”
“I gotta go check out my new land.”
“You know what? I decided to get married.”
And, basically, what these three insiders are doing is trying to publicly shame... the master.
Don’t you struggle with... when you invite a friend... and they say that they’re gonna come and then, at the last minute... they deny you? Or they make some excuse? “I, I can’t come tonight.” Maybe you’ve experienced that... when you’ve made an invite for someone to join you to church. And... they’ve thought about. And... or you asked them, and they go, “Sorry, the Cubs are playing.”
And you go, “I get it. I get it.”
And maybe you ask them, “Hey, do you wanna join me for a service?”
And they go, “Ah, no.”
When I planted a church in southern California... I realized that a number of people were struggling in my leadership core with making invitations and getting rejected. And so what I saw was the whole invitational temperature began to drop within our church. And I started to see this. Because people were like, “I, maybe I’m just not good at it. I made the invite. Nobody’s coming.”
And so I instituted something called “invitational fails.” And here’s what it was. At every meeting that we gathered at, we would talk about how we took a risk. And even if someone denied us, we would cheer and celebrate because we took a risk. For instance, one guy said, I said, “Let’s, let’s try this out. Who have you invited?”
Guy raises his hand and goes, “I was sitting in my office, and I was working on Excel.”
And I was like, “Boring.”
And he’s like working on Excel, when, all of a sudden, his manager boss walks by. Sticks his head in. And this guy, who doesn’t seem like the guy who would typically make invites, but he looks at his boss, and he goes, “Hey, what do you do on Sundays?”
The guy goes, “I watch football.”
He goes, “Cool. Do you wanna come to my church?”
The guy goes, “No.” And then he walks off.
And we all go, “Yeah!! You did it!!” The whole room goes nuts.
And then another person. And another person. And another person. And another person.
And we started to normalize this. Because we really believed that rescued people rescue people. And we wanted to be the kind of community that, even in the face of the rejections or the excuses, it was not going to stop us from extending the goodness of God’s grace. And an invitation for people to come to the banquet.
Now, look what happens. Verse 21:
The servant came back and [he] reported this to his master.
All of the excuses.
Then the owner of the house became angry and [he] 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.”
I would call this group of people the... outcasts. They were people that had been pushed to the fringe because of some ailment. Some disease. And they were still Jewish, but they had been pushed out. And you know what? What’s so beautiful to me about this is the master. The owner of the house... is angry. He’s angry at the betrayal. He’s angry at the rejection. He’s angry at the disappointment of people saying no.
But you know what? He channels all of that anger into what? More grace. More grace. He begins to say, “If the insiders don’t want it, I’m gonna go after the outcasts. I’m gonna go after the people who actually want to be here.”
And I think this is such a beautiful picture of the gospel. Because Jesus experienced being denied, being betrayed, being doubted, being beaten, being rejected, being disappointed, being abandoned. And you know what He did? He channeled all of that into more grace on the cross for you and me. And in this parable, He invites us, as the servants, to do the same.
But, for many of us, when we feel the rejection, how many of us channel that into more grace? Into more invitations? Into more opportunities?
Or how many of us go, “Must not be my spiritual gift. It must not be my responsibility. It must not be what I’m supposed to do. And I just stopped.
The gospel is us, “No, rescued people rescue people. And we’re gonna go out and continue to extend that invitation and that grace to the feast.” And the servant comes alive. Look at this. Verse 22.
“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done,”
So the servant goes out, and he begins to invite the outcasts. But then he realizes something:
And here’s the truth, friends. That’s what God desires. That’s what Jesus desires. Every one of us in this room... we’re servants, if we’re followers of Jesus. He’s our master. And the invitation for us is to go out there and to really begin to invite people to experience... the power of His Word, the power of His grace, the beauty of His grace, the truth of His love. And we all believe that with Christ at the center of our lives, our marriages, our jobs, our careers, would be better. And I think that there are so many people on the fringes of our lives that are missing this.
And, sometimes, we say someone’s no for them. Or sometimes, we think, man, I just don’t wanna be rejected, so I don’t wanna invite someone. But the invitation... from the Master... is for us to fill the house. It’s for us to be the servants who go, “Man, the seats, there’s still more room. Who can we invite? Who can we bring in? Whose life could be transformed by the gift and the beauty of grace?”
And you know who was really good at this? Someone who just spoke to me? Was Paul. Paul had this way about him. He understood that this message was for insiders, outcasts, and outsiders. It didn’t matter. And when you start to read 1 Corinthians chapter 9, you see him say certain things. For instance, verse 19:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law, so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law, so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
Look at, he uses that word, all, all, all, all, all. And then he goes, “So that I might win some.” Even Paul was realistic that he probably wasn’t gonna win all of them. But he does “all of this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” When I read this passage, I realize Paul had something. “To the Jews I because like a Jew. To the weak I became like the weak.” I took this deeply. I started to think about, hey, how do I do this in my everyday life? How do I live invitationally? How do I look for those moments—those opportunities—and invite people into the house of God so that they can experience grace?
For me, in these next few moments, I just wanna show you, teach you, what I’ve learned.
For instance, “To the Jew I became a Jew.” Sometimes, I’m at the airport. And I see someone. And they’re wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt. To the Notre Dame fan... I became a Notre Dame fan. It’s hard to say. It’s very hard to say. But... in my mind, if I want someone to experience grace, I’ve gotta be willing to... come under.
And so I walk up to them, and I ask them, “You’ve had a lot of great players who have worn the Notre Dame helmet. Who’s your favorite?”
Someone will say, “Joe Montana. ‘Rocket’ Ismail.” And, all of a sudden, I start asking them questions. And then... I look for the opportunity to start to say, “Do you go to church?” Just in conversation. Simple.
When we find ourselves engaging with people’s interests, we have those moments that God might just use for us. And what I realized with Jesus, with Paul, with other New Testament leaders who lived this invitational life, they did some things that I think every one of us can do.
Number one, they lived... deeply with Jesus. When you live invitationally, man, you gotta live deeply with your Master. You wanna follow what your Master commands you to do. You believe that His way of doing things is the best possible way to orient your life. And when servants get that, they go, “Man, this is what the Great Commission is all about. This is what He’s ordered us. I want to participate in that.”
When you live, number two, you will show up with expectancy. Live. Show up. And you show up believing that every moment is brimming with redemptive potential. Every moment the Spirit of God might want to use you. And when I show up, whether at a Starbucks, whether at a restaurant... whether even here. I know God is there. And I’m looking for two things—who is here? And who is not?
I’ll sit in the weekend service and, sometimes, I’ll just look around in the room. Here. I’ll get up on stage. And I know where many of you tend to sit. And sometimes I won’t see people. And so, after I haven’t seen someone for a couple weeks, sometimes I’ll text them. Or email them. Or call them. “Hey, I haven’t seen you for a couple weeks.”
Sometimes they’ll just say, “Oh, I just moved to a different section. I was there.”
I’m like, “Okay.” It’s like Where’s Waldo? I will find you.
And you know what? There’s power when you say, “Man, I miss you. Come this week. I’d just love to pray with you. Don’t give up on just going to church, man. We need you.”
One of the greatest ways that when you show up with expectancy is realizing who usually sits around you. And if they’re not there, find them. Remind them that they matter. And two, when you are in another environment, show up with expectancy that God wants to use you. There. You live. You show up.
Number three, you build ongoing relationships. It’s about your ability to relate to those around you. When I think about this, when I meet someone, sometimes, many good-minded Christ followers, they go, “I’ve got the gospel. It’s pocket aces. And I’m just gonna play that.” Well, let me tell you. The gospel’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.
But you know what? I wanna know the person first. And I wanna see the person. I wanna see the good. I wanna know their ache. And when I know the person, I have to ask myself, honestly, honestly, what is my position in that person’s life? Do they know me? Do they respect me? Do they respect what I do? Do they not have any idea who I am? Am I just some guy who’s sitting next to them on a plane? What’s my position? And, connected to my position, what level of influence or chips do I have in that person’s life?
And when you begin to be aware of this, you get to actually come alongside that person, guided by the Spirit of God, and helping them take a next step. And hopefully it’s a step into the church.
Number two. The I. When I share that invitation, it’s probably gonna lead to an invitational fail. It’s just gonna happen. But I gotta celebrate the taking the risk.
My son and I, last summer, we were serving in the Care Center on Tuesday mornings. And it was amazing because, if you’ve ever served in the Care Center, you get this amazing opportunity to kind of bag up groceries, if you’ve got that position for the day, and then take the groceries out and load them into the car of our Care Center guest. Now, on the card, it will say their name, and it will say the car. And then there’s a few questions. And one of the questions is: “Do you go to church?”
And they have a box they can check, Yes or No. And my son, who was eight at the time, saw this and said, “Hey dad, look at this card. They don’t go to church. You should invite them.”
And I was like, “You should do it.”
He goes, “No, no, no, you go first.”
I said, “Okay.”
I was like, “Alright. Alright.” Bag up the next bag of groceries. And I look at it, and he goes, “They don’t go to church.” And he goes, “I got this.”
He walks up. I’m loading the groceries in. And he goes, “Hi. I’m Emerson. I’m eight years old. I’m a part of this church. And we’re just a big family. And I just want you to know on Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings, we gather as a family just to learn about grace and God’s Word. And I’d love for you to join us. I don’t go to the main room. I go to a kid’s room. You probably can’t come there. But, like, I’d love for you to come check it out.”
And the woman leans down and goes, “Okay.”
And so she gets in the car and drives away. Six months ago, I’m walking in the lobby. And just talking to some people in Dr. B’s. Walking. And this woman stops me, and she goes, “Hey, hey, do you remember me?”
And I was like, “Um, no, I’m so sorry.” That’s like the worst question to ask me, cause I always feel so bad: “Do you remember me?” I’m like, “I want to lie. I want to lie. But I shouldn’t lie.”
And so she said, “Hey, I was at the Care Center.” And then, all of a sudden, it started to dawn on me. “And your son invited me. And... I... took a risk. And I came. And this place has changed my life. And so tell your son, ‘Thank you.’”
And I was like, oh my goodness! Like, guys, it’s not that hard, yeah!
You know the first person I met when we moved to the Northwest Suburbs five years ago? It was at Egg Harbor because, when I moved here, someone told me, “You’ve gotta go to Egg Harbor.”
And I was like, “Alright. I love breakfast. I’m gonna do it.”
So I drive to downtown Barrington. I go to this Egg Harbor. And we’re, it was at this old house at the time. And so we’re up at the second story, eating. And I look over across the table, and I see this woman, and she’s... she’s just down. Here’s the thing. If you ever wanna know what someone’s going through, look at their eyes. A lot of us can cover everything else up. But if you see someone’s eyes, eyes don’t lie. Shoulders don’t either. But I look for eyes and shoulders.
And I saw this woman. And I could just see something... was going on in her life. And in me, I wanted to like leave my table and just go talk to her. But I felt that that was just going to be awkward. And I just kept leaning over to my wife going, “Man, we gotta pray. I need a conversation with that woman.”
She’s like, “Okay, okay.”
So we just start praying. It happened that our checks came at the same time. And we’re walking. And then as we walk out to the parking lot. Our cars are parked right next to each other. And I’m like, only God. This is awesome. And so then I look at her license plate, and her license plate says, “SWT LIFE.” The sweet life. And I look at her. So I put my son in. And she’s walking around. And I said, “Hey, I saw your license plate. And I’m praying that that is true—that you would experience the sweet life.”
And she looked at me, and she said, “My life is far from sweet right now.”
And I said, “Well, I’ll be praying. I’ll be praying that you can taste and see God’s sweetness.”
And with a tear coming down her eye, she said, “Thank you.” And she got in her car. And I was like ah! Man! I didn’t invite her. But I’m like, “Uh, please, God, give me more opportunities with this woman.”
I show up at a Jewel-Osco just getting... and she’s down one aisle. Like four, five months later. And I’m like, it’s the sweet life! And so then, like, I try to have like this random conversation with her. Awkward. And then, and then like, a couple months later, I happened to see her again. And then, last baptism, I teach, I go change, I get in the water. Baptizing people. Baptizing people. And then, all of a sudden, she comes in and goes, “Do you remember me?”
And I’m like, it’s the sweet life!
And she’s like, “My life is finally sweet!”
And I’m like, “Yes it is!” You know? And I... yeah.
And you know what? She would say this. She just said, “It started when you just... saw me.”
Friends, you can do this. When you have that prompting and you see someone... you just gotta just try and lift their spirit. Share that invitation. Rescued people rescue people. You’re gonna have some of those invitational fails.
And then S. I’ve said this before. But I believe this. I want to have an Only God story every seven days. I want to challenge myself to that. I’m playing that EP, that Only God EP. I play it over and over again. Because I want that to be true of my life. Every seven days, I want to have this Only God story. I don’t wanna live off the past... seasons where God showed His faithfulness. I believe that God wants to be faithful to you and to me and to us right now. This week.
Do you have that? And when you make those invitations, oh man. You have the greatest chance of experiencing God using you.
Rescued people rescue people. Invitational fails. Every seven days have an Only God story. And then K. Be on your knees in prayer. Every great move of God has started by a people who were dependent and expectant on God through prayer.
And when I know those names, ah, changes everything. It starts praying boldly, begging God for Him to work. And you know what I love about this church? Is even, way back, when we used to meet in the Lakeside Auditorium, and some of you old timers will remember this. I’ve heard this story over and over again, but... there would be people who would just meet in the Lakeside lobby on a bench.
And they would sit down. And they would be looking at somebody else from the church. And they’d say, “Who are you waiting for?”
The person would say, “I’m waiting for my dad. He said he was gonna show up to church for the first time. I’ve been asking and praying for twenty years that he would come.”
It’s ten minutes after the service has started. Dad hasn’t showed up. You could just see this person being down.
That person would say, “Who are you waiting for?”
“Coworker. Been praying for them for four years. They said they were gonna come. They didn’t come.”
And this bench got nicknamed the Fool’s Bench. And it was kind of like invitational fail. Like, “We’re trying. We’re trying.” And people would sit at this bench. Waiting for their friends. Because when their friends showed up, they wanted to usher them into the banquet. So that they could feast on God’s goodness. And that was the spirit of this church. That was what made this church so special in my eyes.
And I believe that God wants to bring that back. God wants us who have been rescued to have that servant-minded heart. To go out and risk it all for what matters most to Him. And that’s people. And I have bought into what Bill has said for years and years and years. It’s that the greatest gift that we can give another human being is an introduction to the God who loves them. And we must get back to that!