Popular Southern writer Pat Convoy suggests that “A recipe is a story that ends in a good meal.” Jesus used mealtime not just for a good story but the Good News. Mealtime provides a power base to foster fellowship, and indeed the hospitality ministry of servant-minded believers can build the kingdom of God.
Signal events in my own life (and I dare to imagine in yours too) unfolded at or near a mealtime. For example, after a Thanksgiving meal with friends, I took my college sweetheart for a stroll and surprised her with a diamond engagement ring (the ring was the “surprise” – the engagement settled earlier!). When our daughter turned twelve, Nancy and I hosted a dinner party in her honor, an evangelical adaptation of the Jewish bat mitzvah to honor Meredith’s coming of age. Teachers from her school and Sunday school and a Hebrew scholar were guests, each presenting her a challenge from God’s Word to shape her life. Decades later, even my ministry opportunity with World Reach unfolded over a restaurant table. And a counter or table, in my home or a public place, more than once became a holy spot as I led someone to Christ or counseled from God’s Word.
Our Lord modeled agape by sharing a meal where He served the bread of life. What a great way to connect! An open table can open hearts. Jesus used seemingly mundane mealtimes as the setting for miraculous moments: witnessing to Zaccheus’ friends, delighting wedding guests as a surprise wine Steward, annoying the Pharisees when accepting sinners’ dinner and party invitations…. Believers need to mimic not only the Lord’s spirit and intent but also His method. Table side evangelism or coffee cup discipleship can change lives one morsel, one sip at a time.
In this devotional text (John 21: 4-14), Jesus is cooking breakfast on a beach, ready to serve hot fish and the bread of life to erring disciples. The Lord welcomed them not with a hot temper but a hot meal.
The last time Peter and Jesus enjoyed a meal was perhaps the Last Supper, and even there Jesus, the ultimate Guest of Honor, chose to serve rather than be served, taking on the garb of the lowliest servant, assuming the lowliest task as He washed the disciples’ feet. His aim was soul hygiene, His plan teaching by example.
A great and lingering lesson there in the Upper Room was Leadership Training, as Jesus revealed a paradigm shift which focused on serving rather than being served, giving rather than receiving. In the closing hours of His life he modeled His message rather than preach it (and used a mealtime setting to do it). Why, I wonder? Perhaps the answer is His disciples were too dull of hearing to perceive, arguing as they were at that very moment over “Who’s the greatest among us?!” By His actions they saw a message they could not hear.
Now in this gripping scene in John 21, as Jesus prepares His disciples for life without Him, the Lord demonstrates the spirit and methods of ministry He expected: Be humble, be forgiving, and be a servant! But note the classroom is a picnic.
Days after the Crucifixion and Emptied Tomb are past and the Ascension imminent, this beachside campfire scene unfolds. The Lord is re-gathering and restoring the too human disciples, shattered and scattered in the soul and social chaos ensuing the death of the Son of God. In the too familiar and too pathetic routine of human nature, in the aftermath of human failure, the disciples tried to “go back.” Forget the call of God! Forsaking their duty as well as their Lord, they determined to be fishermen once more…and nothing more. Just fishermen. But here again failure hooks them. They catch nothing. Then a familiar voice from the shore commands them…once again. They do His bidding. And the haul is immense, straining the fishermen’s nets and imagination.
What follows from God is not another command but an invitation, once more to the Lord’s table, this time set on a rocky beach: “Come and eat breakfast” (John 21:12/NKJV). Jesus serves…no chiding, no denying, no withholding. His answer to cold, hungry, fainthearted fishermen is a hot meal. And the promise of peace, the offer of forgiveness and restoration. Again the Master teaches by actions: the Triumphant One serving the failing ones, the Creator the created ones, the Faultless the sinning ones.
As the New Year debuts, 2016 comes with a call to believers to follow the Holy One in a life of Christian leadership which is translated best not in a spirit of entitlement but one of persistent forgiveness and servanthood. Do you (and I) want to “be like Jesus?” The answer to that question is made not with words but – as Jesus did in an Upper Room and at a beachside picnic – with our actions. As Christian leaders (in our homes, churches or wherever God plants us) we can recuse ourselves, equip ourselves, restore ourselves by putting on the mind of Christ and the apron of a Servant as we fulfill our calling and live our lives one day at a time.
Leadership in God’s vineyard means working hand in hand in a lifestyle as well as lifetime dedicated to reconciliation and servanthood not only from behind a pulpit but sometimes over a dinner table. Want to reach an unsaved neighbor? Fire-up the grill and set an extra plate and fork at the kitchen table. Trying to pierce the darkness congested in a hardened heart? Meet at a coffee house not your office.
My international missions travels continue to widen my world view. In America, it seems, the strategy in business and ministry alike dictates “let’s work first, then break for coffee.” In other cultures, especially Europe and South America, the mood is more “let’s have coffee [and build a relationship] and then we will work together.” I think my international friends are thinking more like Jesus.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “There is only one difference between a long life and a good dinner; that in the dinner, the sweets come last.” It can seem that way, in life’s failing moments. But for the Believer, the best is yet to be – and it is another meal prepared by the Almighty Himself, one already two millennia in the making. But the venue will be out-of-this-world…literally. Not an upper room, not a beach, but heaven itself. The Church of Jesus Christ will sit down to a very special meal – the Bible calls it the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev.19:7-10). ~ Bruce Peters