If Luke Wrote About Your Church

In our small group leadership training plan, we ask the question, if Luke were alive today to write about the impact and effects of the Gospel in your community, what would he say?

Some Context

When Luke wrote the second chapter of the book of Acts, he began it with the spectacular inauguration of his new family. The Holy Spirit of God, full of divine delight, was freed to accomplish what he had ached to do for millennia past — to fall upon us and sweep us up into wedded bliss and power and union with Jesus. The church was consummated and what a celebration it was; complete with heavenly wind, fire, and good news proclamation in all languages. In fact, it was such a powerful and joyous occasion, some hardened onlookers thought Jesus’ bride was drunk!

Then, Luke writes in Acts 2:42-47 about the happiness of the bride and her honeymoon as it were in those first weeks of her union with Christ. Look at how filled-up she is with the mission and heartbeat of Jesus and look at some of the things Luke celebrates:

  • They eagerly devoted themselves to hearing and learning more about their groom with the apostles’ teaching.
  • They shared all that they could with each other and invested their earthly resources in each other.
  • They spent time together and invited others to join them.
  • They were in the marketplace telling the Good News message through selling items of value and property for the benefit of others. (quite possibly at inopportune times to sell their goods for the “highest value” for themselves just to be able to benefit others.)
  • They praised and adored God both publicly and privately. Worship became integral and contagious.
  • They ate meals together in Jesus’ name.
  • They were socially winsome and found favor among all the people.
  • They were welcoming in whatever they did in their homes (house-to-house). So, their homes became centers for community and moved away from being personal castles.
  • They saw answers to their prayers abounding as the Holy Spirit delighted to shower them with love through his special signs and wonders.
  • There was no line or barrier between “my church life” and “my regular life”.

Did you notice how different these things were from the first part of chapter 2? Married couples don’t have a wedding ceremony every day. Luke is highlighting how ordinary life with Jesus was filled-up with purpose and power that stretched into the spiritual and the eternal. The church is not dating Jesus in a paramour relationship. No, He is her everything.

Back to the Question

Now, how much do we recognize the integral and united nature we have with Christ while living in our communities? You see, our goal is not to replicate what the early church experienced in Luke’s list. If we do that, we turn our marriage relationship with Jesus into something mechanical and heavy by thinking that if we can just copy what they did, “church will work!”

Instead, Jesus will orchestrate all kinds of new gospel gestures, sacrifices, activities, and rewards to impact your community right where you are. So, imagine if Luke was walking around your church this month.

• How would he celebrate the gospel happening among you?

What might he write in his list to show how Jesus is orchestrating the impact of the gospel in YOUR everyday lives?

This is a great exercise to do right now personally and/or in a group of friends. If you sense that Luke wouldn’t have much to say, then you might be experiencing more of a cultural Christianity than a vibrant, communal, gospel-fueled Christianity. At that point, it would be wise to evaluate if you really understand the gospel and especially the Ascension of Jesus. And, it would be wise to deeply ask what has been radically transformed in your life and the lives of your church community. What can we celebrate as evidence of the gospel in action?

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We took a Love Quiz

ImageWe hold a regular, missonal lunch gathering with our ministry partners called Converge. At one of our recent gatherings, we took a ministry-evaluation quiz based on the theme of Love: being other-centered. Our results were stellar! – mixed. And I think we have a very loving and serving group of people. Yet, when we sat down and just asked ourselves questions about how we take on the responsibility for others on a daily basis, there was a sense of disappointment.

The quiz had 8 questions. All of them dealt with every day rhythms like eating, repairing, helping, feeling responsible for others, discussing time and money, making decisions, and sharing resources. And a few of the responses were simply, “Our Gospel community just doesn’t want to engage with each other, what do we do?” And we talked all about it even though I could sense the frustration, disappointment, and confusion of what to do next.

I know that many who minister with people in community will face this same struggle, so it makes for a great minestrone. Here are 2 fundamental things to keep in mind and heart that will bring delight into your ministry of love toward others:

  1. Model It — A loving gospel community is only loving because its servant-leaders have already known the love of Jesus deeply in their own hearts. There is no. possible. way. that the true Gospel doesn’t get into our hearts and leave us indifferent toward others around us at the same time. Here’s a touch of spice for the minestrone: Christians with no urgency or affection for others are selfish and wasting time. Therefore, a loving gospel community begins with you channeling the love of Jesus for you — right into the lives and families where you live. See Philippians 2:1-4
  2. Intentionalize It — I’m “verbing a noun” here. Intentionalize isn’t in the dictionary but good preachers regularly make up new words and infuse them with meaning, right? (but first, you have to be a good preacher  ;-). I mentioned earlier that the “love questions” on the quiz covered daily life things. And I think that understanding reflects Jesus so much. He walked in towns, sat at meals, built stuff, touched the sick, hugged kids, washed feet, caught fish, and made breakfast for the night crew. God showed us the way to love — ordinary people doing every day things with Gospel intentionality. Jesus said to his often-selfish community, “As I have loved you (washed your feet and all the other daily things for the last 3 years), love one another in the same way.” (John 13). So, intentionalize Jesus right into the middle of your ordinary, daily activity for others.

Warning:  Others will catch this because it’s highly contagious.

Food and Ministry: Problem 3

Ghanaian_food

I don’t even know how to spell it, but it sounds like “watch-it” and our Ghanaian church family members were excited about it. I’ve had Fufu, tasted red-red, and enjoyed plantanes & rice but watch-it was new. For weeks, we had been talking about our inter-cultural meal (read: awesome potluck) that we were planning and they wanted me to try their favorite dish. The day came. Their enthusiasm was high along with my anticipation — and the first bite…. well … ya …  I had to watch-it. It was completely foreign to me; an acquired taste in the making.

As I was working my way through that first bite, one of the brothers said, “Pastor, I like it with piccante sauce.” My eyes lit up as I mumbled through my watch-it, “Hmm…ya… div-me-thum-o-that … hmm… lots…ya… kee-it-comin.” Then, our dear sisters asked me, “Pa-pa, do you like it?” To which we westerners all respond, “It’s different, a bit unexpected.” And then they had a good laugh. 

So, would I eat watch-it again? Yes, because I like my brothers and sisters much more than I like the dishes that appeal to me. You might be saying, “But, it didn’t appeal to you!?” And you’re right. The dish appealed to them, and so it is part of their joy and identity. If I don’t watch-it, I’ll miss the ministry to the Africans because I’m only comfortable with the food of the Italians. 

Problem #3: Culture Comfort

Culture comfort with our food basically says that I’m not willing to try food that isn’t what I’m used to. The point is not just to try different, international foods but to see who those foods are connected to. A good bit of a person’s identity is wrapped up in their food. It is like a chain of links. If you reject someone’s food or type of food, you reject their culture. If you reject their culture, then you reject a part of them. 

Ministry Impact

Over the years of eating and ministry, we have noticed that more of our African brethren struggle with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on eating only the foods that are comfortable to us is that we communicate that we are just fine with keeping exclusively to ourselves. We actually begin to close down our thinking toward other groups of people and we strive to maintain our own cultural identity even more. Through the different “tastes” of food that we don’t like, we start to think of the people in this way too. We will say things like, “I don’t understand them” and we will seek to avoid the awkward experiences again. Therefore, even how we eat and share our food will stop being missional. Once we build our comfort zone, we will see others as invaders in our lives and not included. Then, to protect our comfort zone and identity, we will have to sneer at the intrusions or sneak away from them. 

Recommended Solution:

Try different foods that people make and offer you. Try the plates for the people. Go missional with food and see those tastes as gateways into people groups. Train yourself to be open to others and their cultures through food. Watch-it on purpose.

Food and Ministry: Problem 2

Jesus_feet_house_of_simon

“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet…You gave me no kiss…You did not anoint my head with oil…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Jesus (Luke 7:44-47)

How we conduct our meals and share our food does reflect on how we practice and give the Gospel. The passage above is from the account where Jesus is invited to Simon’s house. In the end, Simon does not have the good news of forgiveness (his meal conduct illustrated that), and Jesus does have the good news of love and forgiveness (his meal character revealed that). Both how we eat and who we eat with are ministry practices of grace.

Problem #2: Food-Pride

What’s the last meal that you sat down to that left you saying, “Hmm, that just wasn’t all that good?” The last meal like that which I can remember had chicken involved — I think it was chicken (kind of tasted like chicken). Now, I can whip up a great bowl of cereal or a tasty bag of chips, but cooking isn’t my forte. Eating is my forte. I’ve studied and practiced it for many hours over the course of many years. And, living in Italy is like eating in the big leagues. 

However, one hindrance in utilizing our food for ministry that I’ve encountered is that of a certain food-snobbery. The Italian kitchen does have bragging rights. Each region merits an appreciation for how it takes every-day ingredients to a whole new level. But when it is made evident at a meal that the pasta wasn’t cooked to the optimum consistency or a certain sauce lacks an ingredient or the after dinner coffee just doesn’t have the taste like mamma mia’s coffee — we are entering the realm of personal acceptance and gracelessness

Ministry Impact

Through the years of ministry, we have noticed that more of our Italian brethren have struggled with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on the standard of the food is we are communicating that we are just there for the superiority of our culture. Often, the message is subtle but it is there that you are not one of us. Anybody can practice this when they take too much pride in the food they have prepared and how they have prepared it. A meal that shares the ministry is one of inclusion. As Christians, we need to communicate that our table is open. Grace shows favor, welcome, appreciation, and forgiveness (pretty much like Jesus). Using food as an instrument of pride shows exclusivity, superiority, and how to be a jerk (pretty much like Simon).

Recommended Solution:

We should humble ourselves before others — through food. This means allowing the food to be what it is. If food becomes the focus, then simpler is better here or we will really close the doors on future opportunities to bring friends to Jesus because we want them to praise us first.

See the meal as a means of acceptance and of being equals at a table. The Christian church is greater than any one culture and our tables can model that. Talk more about the qualities of the persons at the meal than the qualities of the recipes and ingredients of the meal. Enjoy the people God has made more than the food or how it has been prepared.

 

Food and Ministry: Problem 1

Continuing on with this small series of food & grace

How we practice our meals, eat together, and share our food are all reflective of how we are striving to reach out to others and to cross-over to different cultures with the Gospel. Quite often, these efforts will also reveal where we are missing something in our understanding or lacking in a certain area of grace.

Problem #1: Slowing Down

I’ve had a breakthrough! Through the years, I’ve been criticized for being a slow-eater. But now! Now, I’ve realized that I’m a normal-eater being chided by hyper-fast eaters. It turns out, my eating pace is just right for where I live — viva l’Italia! Not only do I feel better; I feel vindicated. Food-justice has been served.

Four hours of cooking and fourteen minutes of eating. Ever experienced that? And, when there’s not time to cook, four minutes of cooking for the same fourteen minutes of eating. It’s called fast-food for a reason. Seriously, you can’t take or have communion in a drive-through. We might as well call it fast-fuel because that’s how we’re using it.

Ministry Impact

Through the years of ministry, we have noticed that more of our American brethren have struggled with this problem. What happens when we eat quickly is we are communicating that we are just there for the food. Relationships take time, and relationships can be forged through mealtimes. However, if we don’t utilize our food as a means of grace to bless others, we are communicating that we’re at the table for our own agenda and we need food to get that done. Slowing down will naturally keep us at the table for others.

When food is a gracious ministry tool, we strive to share in an experience with one another and to practice Christian community. If our habit is to eat-and-run (done with our shared experience within 30 minutes), we really miss out on a great deal of ministry opportunity that comes from spending more than an hour together.

Recommended Solution:

I highly recommend sharing meals together in courses. Italia has a great model for this: start with appetizers (antipasti), then firsts (i primi), seconds (i secondi), sides (contorni), and sweets (i dolci — don’t ever forget this one!). Variations are fine. Remember, it’s not about the quantity of food more than it is the quantity of time. Courses help to slow things down which will provide more opportunities to nurture things that last — our souls.

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Two more problems to come…I’ll try to spill the beans on cultural tendencies only and not mention anyone by name — maybe.

Spill_the_beans

3 Uses of Food for Ministry

We recently completed a three-week series at Serenissima entitled Major Ministry Tools. We looked at how our food, homes, and families are things we live with every day that can share the great story of the Gospel.

Here were 3 insights from the message on Food as a Major Ministry Tool.

  1. Food is not just fuel; it’s faith:  If I only regard food as fuel, then what I’m really doing is using food to fuel my own agenda instead of being nourished by it to follow the Lord’s will. Physical hunger takes me back to the table where I remember (repeatedly) that I am a dependent being. The very act of eating shows that I have to trust in provisions beyond myself. We give thanks to the Lord to recognize that He is the source of all of these provisions. Eating is our act appreciation and trust for our lives. It gives us a window on faith.

  2. Food is not just good; it’s grace: By God sharing his bounty with me to meet my need (common grace), I can share with others to point them to God through Jesus (special grace). I wrote about how food is an image of grace in our last post. In previous centuries, food was much harder to come by so it was easily hoarded. But God desires a righteous and generous people who live like He thinks. Both the act of sharing your food and the people with who you share your food is telling a story of grace. Could it be that food and hunger were both created to give us the ways to understand and re-tell this Good News?

  3. Food is not just for consumption; it’s for communion:  Jesus compared himself to food (bread & water of life). When you invite someone in to your home to share a meal, you are sitting down with them as a peer. You’re looking eye-to-eye with them and sharing in each other’s lives by allowing them to have a seat — where you are. That’s how God offered the most precious meal of Jesus, the Paschal Lamb. God invited his enemies to come through the Door of his home and sit at his lavish banquet feast and commune with him. The table of the Lord is offered to those who will turn to Jesus (ie. consume & assimilate) and commune with him.
    Multiplying_loaves

Food and Grace

The Son of Man came eating and drinking but they called him a glutton and a drunk (Luke 7:34). I think they called Jesus a glutton partly because he enjoyed eating so much and the other part because they weren’t enjoying eating so much due to their frustrating fasting rites and limited mealtime company. The Pharisees had turned their food — ungracious.

Have you ever thought, “Why did God make it so that we have to sit down 2-3 (maybe 4) times a day to replenish?” One simple, primary reason is to remind us each time that we are dependent and God is gracious. Jesus created both hunger and the food that relieves hunger. As our created hunger grows, we return to a dependent state for food time and again.

Therefore, our mealtime can be called “grace-time” because the image of dependency & favor is continuously repeated. The best way to share a meal is to share both your food as grace and the One who is Grace.

We “say grace” at mealtime when we are really receiving it. Our privilege comes not just when we say grace but when we share grace.

 

Food__grace