05 Apr 2013

A Meal With Jesus

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Although each person is unique, life often serves up the same challenges. There’s an overwhelming number of resources to help you understand God’s Word and application for almost every topic, but, through full shelves of literature, occasionally one sticks out from the rest. Here, members of our church offer up recommendations for Christian books and resources in the hopes that we would all be encouraged to seek Christ in every part of life. 

A Meal With Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table

Written by Tim Chester. Recommended by Richard Lin.

I love to eat. People who know me, know that I eat a lot. Many people I know take great enjoyment in the intricacies of cooking and eating food, so much so that our culture today even has a label for them—“foodies.” With the onset of social media, it seems like our culture has taken food even more seriously than before.

I remember the good ole’ days in high school when deciding where to eat on a Saturday night meant choosing between, well, Applebee’s and Applebee’s. Of course there were other places, but we basically had 4-5 go-tos. But today, I don’t think any of these places would get a thumbs-up approval from an entire group of people as a place to go on a weekend. (Admittedly though, who can pass up endless steak fries or late-night happy hour wings and quesadillas?)

By now you may be thinking, “I thought I was going to be reading a review on a book about meals with Jesus…” So here’s the reason why I bring all of this up: I think we have allowed our culture to dictate too much our attitude towards meals and eating. It’s no longer about who we eat with, but what. What’s become important is how good the food is, whether it’s organic, farm-fresh, if the workers are being paid fair wages, and the list goes on and on. I am not saying that these things are trivial, (in fact, in the book, Tim Chester actually makes a point to say that these things can, and should, be important on some level) but in the book, A Meal with Jesus, Chester proposes that a meal can be more than just something we eat. A meal can be an opportunity for grace, community, and mission. Rather than focusing on what we eat, Chester wants us to think about why we eat, and who we eat with.

While there are so many great points that I’d love to share from the book, I’ll keep it to just a few personal takeaways and encourage you to read the rest! For me, reading this book has made a few lasting impressions, but especially on: 1) my attitude towards food, 2) my attitude towards hosting, and 3) my attitude towards fasting.

IMG_6802My attitude towards food.

“And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”- Genesis 2:9

I would have never thought that we could be sinful in our attitudes towards the way we view food. While I do have an appreciation for good food, convenience and consensus is usually the driving factor for me when it comes to deciding where to eat with a group. And I think this thinking, at times, had led me to a mentality of thinking of food as merely fuel for the body. In the book, Chester makes it a point to say that food isn’t just fuel for the body:

“Think of your favorite food. Steak perhaps. Or Thai green curry. Or ice cream. Or homemade apple pie. God could have just made fuel. He could have made us to be sustained by some kind of savory biscuit. Instead he gave a vast and wonderful array of foods.”

There were numerous evenings during the weekdays in the past, and even sometimes now, where I find myself eating and cooking at the same time, all while poking around on my computer; all in an effort to save time. No, not even eating in front of the computer was enough of a time-saver or enough multi-tasking for me. I had to eat, cook, and e-communicate with the world while I was cooking in order to maximize my time.

Since, I’ve stopped eating while standing up in the kitchen, and on occasion will sit down at my dining table and eat there, alone. While it may seem very lonely (because it is), I have learned to appreciate and enjoy those times where I can take a breath, allow things to slow down, and enjoy the food that God has given to me. Imagine how boring and awful our lives would be if we had no Taiwanese niu rou mian (beef noodle soup), Korean sundubu jjigae (soft tofu stew), or Big Mama’s chicken and waffles (this is actually what Chester is talking about when he talks about “divine goodness and generosity”), and instead God only gave us fuel as food. Gross.

My attitude towards hosting.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:9-10

I had a deep-rooted attitude towards hosting where the only way to properly host people was for them to be seated at the table the entire time, indulging in my brilliant creations, engaging in chorus laughter with one another, all the while with me in the background running back and forth and serving them. I thought this was grace. I thought this was the proper way to serve. And at the core of my heart, I thought I was acting out of love. In fact, it was a sinful desire to impress. In the book, Chester calls this “fear of man.”

“The Bible’s antidote is the “fear of the Lord.” When God’s opinion is what matters most—the God who smiles on us in his grace—then we’re liberated to serve others out of love, rather than to gain their good opinion.”

Grace is something that is so wonderful yet so hard to properly reflect at times. My attempt to show grace to them in serving them, was actually a show for them to see how well I was serving them. It was pride. Chester continues:

“Jesus himself was the recipient of hospitality more often than he provided it. Letting others serve us creates a relationship of equality and intimacy.”

One of the things that I have noticed is that when others offer to help in preparations, cooking, or cleaning, it starts to break down the walls of separation between host and guest – it truly is the great equalizer and helps to strengthen friendships and bonds. This is how meals can be an act of community. Sharing a meal and hosting people often times will inconvenient us – we will have to spend more money on food, we will have to take time to plan for and prepare the food, and at the end of it all, we may even have to clean up! But in doing so, we are saying to our guests that they are important to us, and because God has been hospitable and gracious to us, I can be hospitable and gracious to you, serving you in love and not to impress.

My attitude towards fasting.

“Give us each day our daily bread” – Luke 11:3

For the longest time I was a staunch opponent of fasting. Maybe not an opponent, but someone that didn’t believe that fasting was ever necessary, and perhaps even against the Gospel. My perception of fasting was that it was just a religious thing to do, for religious people to do. After reading this book, I began to see how and why fasting can and should be a part of a healthy Christian life. As the Bible says, there’s a time and season for everything.

It all goes back to having the proper view of and relationship with food. Chester points to the very beginning of creation where obedience and disobedience was displayed in the way Adam and Eve viewed food:

“Before the fall, food was the way we expressed our obedience and trust in God. We obeyed God by eating from any tree except the tree of knowledge of good and evil… At the fall, food was the way we expressed our disobedience and mistrust of God. It was an attempt to live life without God.”

I began to see that food is not merely fuel for us (although it is), nor is it simply something given to us to enjoy (although it is). Food ultimately, as Chester notes, is an expression of our dependence on God. And when we begin to have that proper view of food, we can then begin to see why fasting is necessary at times. Fasting allows us to experience that deep dependence on God. Although I haven’t experienced fasting yet, it is at least something that I am now open to.

“Fasting reminds us that we’re creatures. We’re not self-existent. As the hunger pains bite, we recognize with gratitude and prayer our dependence on creation, on community, and on God.”

Your attitude towards change.

Wait, what? Yes, I just turned the tables on you. In A Meal with Jesus, Chester lays out many different ways we use food in sinful ways: using food for control to express our independence from God; using food for image to have a body figure that others will envy and praise; using food for refuge to seek comfort; or using food for identity to prove that you’re enlightened and politically-aware. How is your view of food and your relationship with food? Do you value what you eat above who you eat with? Do you see food as just a box you need to check-off three times a day, or do you see food as an opportunity to enact grace, foster community, and do missions?

What I love about this book is that it’s both practical and heaven-looking. It not only lays out the reasons why we stumble when it comes to food, but it also details the significance of food in the Bible – the Passover, the Last Supper, and most importantly for us going forward, the Messianic Banquet (Isaiah 25:6-9).

Chester mentions that many of the important events in our life occur at the dining table. Looking back, I can certainly think of many times where there have been significant decisions made, occasions celebrated, friendships fostered, and contagious laughter spread around a meal. And when I look at our church, our community, and see all the different people with different backgrounds and personalities that are seated at the dining table, it’s a miracle and a testament of God that we are sharing a meal together. Our meals together on this earth can, and should, be a foretaste of what heaven and the Messianic Banquet will be like. I hope through reading this book, you too can start to think about food in a new light and that it will challenge you to think about “why” and “who” we invite to the dining table, rather than the “what”.

“The Christian community often wears me out, winds me up, and drives me crazy. But I also have moments when I look at my brothers and sisters and know the presence of the risen Christ. It’s not that my community is anything special. Yet there are moments when I see Christ incognito among the rag-tag people sitting in my front room—and then it seems he’s gone again. You see it in our diversity—a diversity that has no explanation except the work of God. You see it when people’s hearts burn as God’s Word is interpreted. You see it in the love people show to one another.”

Read an excerpt or purchase a copy of this book at Crossway.org or Amazon.com

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