"And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." (Luke 14:18-20)
Today, in a sense, I received an invitation from the grave.
I generally try to not keep "saved" e-mails for much more than five or six months. I was going through and deleting some e-mails from January of this year. There was an e-mail from mid-January entitled, "No Excuse Sunday". It was actually not only an e-mail but also a Facebook invitation from Michelle Batista. The invitation was to a special service at Connect Church in Ashland, Massachusetts. That service's name had to have been chosen by their pastor- it's got a pastor kind of title, "No Excuse Sunday". The church had a very special service planned for a Sunday in early February. Generally, a church is going to plan something like a, "No Excuse Sunday" for either a winter Sunday or a summer Sunday. Winter and summer are always the most difficult seasons for church attendance. This past winter, a lot of church services were cancelled on a lot of Sundays! When Connect Church planned that service, they did not know that February of 2015 was going to be probably the snowiest February since the famous blizzard of February 6, 1978! I'd honestly like to know if Pastor Frye was able to hold services on that particular Sunday!
Now, why do I say the invitation was from the grave? It's because Michelle Batista was murdered in mid-March of this year. A number of people that I knew personally have died this year- more than has been the case in a typical year of my adult life. Michelle's death was possibly the most difficult to have learned about and to have tried to "process". I had worked with Michelle at the answering service job I have. Many times, she sat directly to my left at the call center. Michelle was very extroverted and talkative. She had all sorts of conversations with me. In the early days of working with Michelle, circa five years ago, about the last thing I'd have expected from her was an invitation to a church service! I don't want to "speak ill of the dead" as they say, but that's just a fact.
I think it was about a year or a year and a half ago that there was a major change in Michelle Batista's life. She not only embarked on a serious path of "recovery" but she received Jesus Christ as her Personal Savior and Lord. Michelle did not suddenly become a nun or a theologian. Her extroverted and sometimes quite comical personality continued. (She once had the entire call center in stitches because she was convinced that the Fiat rental car she was driving was actually a make known as a "FLAT"!) The conversations Michelle had with me in the year prior to her death were about the Bible, her church, and a discipleship class she was taking. I remember telling her that was all really good stuff.
I'd forgotten that Michelle invited me to that "No Excuse Sunday" service. Now, I didn't go, but before you throw your Bibles at me, I want to make it clear that I didn't plan to go only because I am committed to attending Sunday services at Bread of Life Church where I'm a member. (And, honestly, I think that particularly Sunday in February may have been one of the Sundays in which church services were pretty much snowed out all over Massachusetts!)
It was sobering for me to read that invitation today. Michelle died way too young. She was just a tad older than my son Jon. Her murder was such an evil act! But, today, she's in Heaven with her Lord.
The smartest thing Michelle Batista ever did was giving her heart to Jesus. It made an eternal difference! She won't be at Connect Church next Sunday nor will she be at Bread of Life Church or any other church on earth next Sunday. She's singing with the angelic choirs in the Heavenly realms. I did delete that e-mail of hers- after I read it and got a bit choked up. I decided the best thing I could do is share that invitation from the grave with you today. Summer is another difficult season for church attendance. Every faithful pastor out there knows he or she will hear a myriad of excuses about why people are not in church this month. I wonder: Will you be at church next Sunday? And, even more importantly: Do you know Jesus Christ as your Personal Savior and Lord like Michelle Batista did?