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Jesus’ Table 5: Table of Dis-Likes

I like to sit at a table with people who are like me.

  • Show me a tennis player and we can talk forehands and backhands while the meal is served.
  • Seat me with a group of would-be-writers and I can ask questions and offer insights until it’s dessert time.
  • Invite me to a plate of pasta and the right Pino and I’ll talk Italy all evening.
  • Put me at a table of pastors and…well, don’t put me at a table of pastors. Why? Is that where you want to be? (To all my pastor friends: I’m just joking! Kind of.)

It’s easy to be at a table with people who have the same sports interests, hobbies, tastes, and even occupations that we have. It’s familiar. And it’s comfortable.

It is so comfortable, in fact, that the Church Growth Movement of the 20th Century was based on what is called the “homogenous unit principle.” Donald McGavran—the “father of the church growth movement—wrote:

People like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.  This principle states an undeniable fact. Human beings do build barriers around their own societies. More exactly we may say that the ways in which each society lives and speaks, dresses and works, of necessity set it off from other societies. The world’s population is a mosaic, and each piece has a separate life of its own that seems strange and often unlovely to men and women in other pieces.[1]

Behavioral psychology and marketing principles found their way into the church. And, if we’re honest, we liked it. Churches can be made up of people who have similar backgrounds, ethnicity, economic status in return for more growth.

It sounds like a good principle. Until we look at Jesus. In contrast to building a table full of “likes” Jesus surrounded himself a bunch of “dis-likes”: (see John Ortberg I’d Like You More if You Were More Like Me for these)

  • Simon, whom Jesus nicknamed Cephas. We call him Peter from the Greek word petra which means “rock.” Early on he was hard-headed. Later he stood like a rock for the church.
  • James and John, the “sons of thunder.” Peter may have been hard-headed. His cousins were hot-headed.
  • Andrew and Philip. They were from Bethsaida as were Peter, James and John. Five of the Twelve were from the same hometown. There might have been a tendency to be a clique within the group. And then Andrew, who was the first to meet Jesus, became labeled as “Peter’s brother.” As John Ortberg says, “If the disciples were the Brady Bunch, he was Jan to Peter’s Marcia.”[2]
  • Thomas, who was called Didymus which means “twin.” We celebrate twins today. In the ancient world they were seen as a bad omen. Maybe it was destined he would doubt.
  • Simon the Zealot. Zealots hated the fact that Rome was in charge. They really hated tax collectors who were Jewish but worked with the Romans.
  • Matthew was a tax collector. Jesus no doubt would have set his table place-card next to Simon the Zealot’s just to watch the sparks fly.
  • There was a James that was the brother of Jesus. This is not that James. This one is known as “James the Lesser.” Any takers for that nickname?
  • We don’t know much about Thaddaeus. We do know he did not understand that Jesus was going to go to the cross, even though Jesus told the disciples on at least three occasions. Thaddaeus was not a candidate for valedictorian of the class.
  • Bartholomew’s name could mean “son of the Furrows.” He was a worker of the fields. When Jesus talked of people leaving fields to follow him, it may have been a nod to Bartholomew who may have needed some encouragement.
  • Judas Iscariot. You know his story. And you probably won’t name your son Judas.

This was the table that Jesus initially set. They were all Jewish, but that is about as far as their homogeneity went. Different towns. Competing political views. Varied work backgrounds. The only thing that brought them together was Jesus.

He brought a table of dis-likes together so the gospel could reach everyone. These Twelve were trained by Jesus to get used to diversity, not homogeneity. When we turn to Acts 2 and the birth of the church, guess what we find? Diverse people—dis-likes—who, because of the gospel, become unified.

Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts), Cretans and Arabs. (Acts 2:9-11)

They learned quickly to follow the model of Jesus. “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46). Some were Jewish. Some were new converts. From different lands, different languages, different customs. All at the same table scattered throughout Jerusalem. This is how the church began.

From day one the church resisted the idea of the homogenous unit principle. They would be tested, though. As the church moved the gospel outward to the Gentiles, things weren’t always as smooth. Gentiles had an anti-Semitic view of the Jewish people. And the Jewish people referred to Gentiles simply as “sinners.”

Some Jewish believers wanted Gentile converts to take on their Jewish customs. A council decided that the Gentiles need only “abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:20,29). They were working hard at unity that allowed for diversity.

The Roman world did not help. It separated people by status. The wealthy would get the best of everything. Those further down the social ladder would get worse. Pliny the Younger gives this snapshot of a dinner he attended:

It would be a long story—and it is of no importance—to tell you how I came to be dining—for I am no particular friend of his—with a man who thought he combined elegance with economy, but who appeared to me to be both mean and lavish, for he set the best dishes before himself and a few others and treated the rest to cheap and scrappy food.

            He had apportioned the wine in small decanters of three different kinds, not in order to give his guests their choice but so that they might not refuse. He had one kind for himself and us, another for his less distinguished friends—for he is a man who classifies his acquaintances—and a third for his own freedmen and those of his guests.[3]

Imagine what it was like as part of the Roman world for someone to enter a church gathering. They would walk into someone’s home and the time would come for a meal. There he would see a slave sitting next to his master. They might see a Jew sitting next to a Gentile. Women at the table with men. A rich person sharing bread with a poor person. A room full of dis-likes at table together.

Sometimes the church would get it wrong. The Apostle Paul gets upset at the church in Corinth for continuing this status separation. Paul writes: “…at the meal, each one eats his own supper. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk! Don’t you have homes in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you in this matter!” (1 Corinthians 11:21-22).

Paul is teaching about the Lord’s Supper. His point is that they are supposed to be coming together to eat the Lord’s Supper together and remember Jesus. But they aren’t remembering the Jesus who brought diverse people together and treated them all the same. Instead, they are reverting to their Roman ways instead of Jesus’ way.

Jesus’ way is to love the stranger or the person who is different than us. There is a Greek word in the New Testament—philoxenos. It’s a compound word made up of philos, or brotherly or sibling love, and xenos, or stranger. Put together we get “love of stranger.” It’s the Greek word for hospitality.

When Jesus sent out the Twelve he told them to look for a “worthy person” and stay in their house. They were looking for hospitality. Jesus taught hospitality: “I was a stranger [xenos] and you took me in…” (Matthew 25:35).

Paul later instructs the church to “pursue hospitality” (Romans 12:13). In English, we understand hospitality as opening your home to host a meal and entertain others, especially our friends. But when we understand the Greek word that Paul uses, we find a deeper meaning. Our English “on the surface” understanding of Paul’s commandment would tell us to practice hosting our friends for dinner. The Greek “below the surface” understanding would tell us to pursue or practice or go out of the way to love strangers and immigrants as if they were our own siblings.

Instead of xenophobia—a fear of those who are different than us—the church is to adopt philoxenos—a love of those who are different from us. We are to be hospitable.

Historically, this word has also meant “enemy.” When we remember Jesus’ words to “love our enemies” we understand he is calling us to hospitality, or loving our enemy in the same way we would love a sibling of ours.

Following Jesus is not always easy. I’d rather just love those who look and think and act more like me. But the church is called to something different. That’s why one of the major marks of an elder in the church is that of hospitality.

An overseer…must be above reproach…hospitable. 1 Timothy 3:2

As an overseer of God’s household, he must be blameless: not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not an excessive drinker, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable … Titus 1:7-9

Leaders set the example for the table of dis-likes. Then the church follows. The church “pursues hospitality.” To those who would whine, “Do I have to?” Peter would write: “Be hospitable to one another without complaining” (1 Peter 4:9).

Jesus was bent on bending the rules. He was counter-cultural. His culture said to avoid the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. He invited them to his table. The Roman world said different status levels should stay separated. The church invited all to Jesus’ table.

Do you think Jesus might want us to do the same? Who is the stranger he is calling you to love like a sibling? The poor? The hungry? The immigrant? The one of a different faith? A Republican? A Democrat? A former friend you need to mend a fence with?

Make a list. Then put your feet under the same table with them. Listen to their story. Learn something about their life. You don’t have to agree with them. Just seek to understand them. Pursue a love of the one who is dis-like you.

The writer of Hebrews said there might be a big dividend to your people investment. “Let brotherly love [philadelphia] continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality (or entertain strangers) [philoxenia], for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:1-2).

It may be easier to table with those who are like you. But it is when you table with a dis-like you might have an angelic evening.

[1] Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), 163.

[2] John Ortberg, I’d Like You More if You Were More Like Me (Carol Stream Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017), 38.

[3] McKnight, 99.

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Jesus’ Table 4: Table Settings

I don’t remember his name. But I remember his hospitality. Along with about 20 West Texans, I was a stranger in a strange land. It was my second trip to Cap Haitian, Haiti. A youth minister friend of mine and I brought our wives and a few teenagers from our youth groups to Haiti for a short term mission week.

We were the strangers. Everywhere we went we heard, “Blan! Blan!” Our whiteness stood out. It also helped draw a crowd to the church for an evening revival. We wanted them to hear about Jesus’ love at the church meetings at night. During the day, we wanted to be examples of Jesus’ love. Our group divided into three teams and we would rotate through working at a clinic, digging a water well, and going out to visit Haitians with our interpreter. On that particular day my group was visiting the locals.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, so you realize we were not visiting 3,000 square foot homes with a pool and hot tub. One house we passed was maybe 7’x10’ with a makeshift roof extended over the front door. It had a tall stick that held it up. Tied to the stick was a cat.

I’d never seen a cat leashed to a stick before so I asked our guide about it. “Oh, that is their supper tonight. They do not want it to run away.” I told him that, in case they asked, we would not be able to stay for supper.

But the next person we visited did want us to stay. He was a certain man from the church and made a great deal about us being there and how it was such an honor for him to have us in his house. There were so many of us that we sat outside and he had his children arrange chairs for us. Then he sent them to bring us bottled Cokes. One of the sons started handing the bottles to me to pass along to the group. As the leader, I of course did not take one until everyone had a Coke.

The host then got a look of embarrassment on his face. There were no drinks left so he sent his son running to get something for me. When he returned he handed me a Malta India. Malta India is known as black brewed beer because of its dark color. Like beer, it is brewed from hops, but it is non-alcoholic. (You can relax now.) I opened it while our host looked at me with delight. Obviously, he had given me something he thought was better than the Coke.

I thought it wasn’t. It had a molasses like flavor. One sip was all I wanted. But my host was watching. Somehow I gagged it all down into my body. The next day it all came back out of my body. That’s another story.

Even though the Malta India did not stay with me for long, the lesson did. As a stranger in a foreign land our group was shown hospitality from a great host who made us feel welcome and took care of our needs. And whether or not the man had learned his hospitality lessons from Jesus, he may as well have.

You can too. As we’ve seen, we are called to practice the art of hospitality. And yet we live in a world where hospitality is a dying art. Especially when we define hospitality as a “love of strangers.” We don’t know how to be with people that are different from us and so we just disregard the admonitions we find in scripture. Romans 12:13 simply states “contribute to the needs of the saints, and seek to show hospitality.” “Seek” means to “seek after eagerly.”

How can we do that? We follow Jesus. And Jesus was a great host. Sometimes we find him at a table in someone else’s home. But the most well-known table we find him around is the last one before he endured the cross. We call it the Lord’s Table or Lord’s Supper.

That time around table hospitality began with preparations. Good hosts prepare for their guests. In this case, Jesus sent his disciples into town to get things ready for the Passover. “Go into the city to a certain man,” he said, “and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time is near; I am celebrating the Passover at your place with my disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover” (Matthew 26:18-19).

The Passover had specific preparations that had to be made to keep the tradition alive. One thing that holds many people back today from having guests is the preparation. But think about this: preparing for your guests is one way you show your love for them. Is it worth some extra cleaning around the house, planning a menu, and preparing the food for an opportunity to share your life with a few others? Of course it is! When we view preparation of the house and meal as a preparation for making a moment with friends, we “seek” or “seek eagerly” to show hospitality.

Another thing that holds us back is we have too many things on our schedules and on our minds. Think about what was going on in Jesus’ mind at this time: about to be betrayed, tried, beaten, and hung on a cross. And yet he prepared a special meal for his disciples. If Jesus could do so under his circumstances, maybe we could do so under ours.

Good hosts bring guests together around one table. It’s safe to say many people imagine a scene like that of Leonardo DaVinci’s the Last Supper. Jesus is sitting at a table and sitting in the center. But that scene does not fit with what we read in Scripture and it doesn’t fit with the custom at the time. The Passover Meal was held in the upper room of a “certain man.”

The most prominent feature of the room would have been a low table in the shape of a “U” called a triclinium. A triclinium was a Roman styled table, of various sizes and styles, that had been adopted by the Jews of the first century. The table had large couches, or cushions, placed on each of the three sides, allowing the middle to be open for entertainment and servers.[1]

The seating arrangement was this: the host would take the middle position of the three places on the left side of the triclinium. This is where Jesus would have sat at the Last Supper. John would have been on his right—the place for a trusted friend—allowing him to be “reclining close beside Jesus” (John 13:23).

Judas would have been to Jesus’ left, the seat of honor. Jesus loved Judas and, although he knew Judas was his enemy, was practicing his own preaching of loving your enemy. And it has been suggested that Peter would have taken the servant’s position at the end of the triclinium. Scripture tells us that an argument about who was the greatest arose between the disciples. Peter, in the least favored seat, finds out in Jesus’ upside down Kingdom he is really one of the greatest.

Now, before you go and hack off the legs of your table and set up a triclinium in your house, take this point from Jesus’ example: something happens around one table where people see each other’s faces that does not happen at our church gatherings where we look at the back of each other’s heads. The table is important.

And whenever possible, one table is important. We have, at times, needed more room for people and added a card table or our breakfast table to the end of our main table. Or, we have at times formed a triclinium-like arrangement to make more space. People sitting at one table sends a message of unity.

Good hosts prefer family style over buffet style. The Passover Meal was already prepared and the various dishes would have been on the table in the middle of the triclinium. Things were passed between the disciples until everyone had the food they needed.

At times we’ve gone buffet style rather than family-style and what happens is this: the first ones through the lines are nearly finished with their meal before the last ones—usually Karen and me—ever sit down. Family style allows everyone to be seated at the same time. Then, dishes are passed around the table until each person has what they need. This style of dining together makes the meal a team sport rather than an individual sport.

Good hosts become the servers of the meal. Jesus became the servant at the Last Supper. When everyone had taken their places at the tables, Jesus “got up from supper, laid aside his outer clothing, took a towel, and tied it around himself. Next, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around him” (John 13:4-5).

The servant of the house would have normally taken care of the washing of the disciples’ feet. As you can see from the way a triclinium was arranged, it would be easy for the servant to perform this task as the guests were reclining at table. And Peter, occupying the seat of the servant, should have been the one taking on this role. He didn’t. But Jesus did. And in doing so he modeled for us the role we take when we seek hospitality with others.

When we have guests to our house we have one seat reserved for Karen and one for me. She sits at the end of our table because, well, because her “Queen B” chair is there. But also because it is the easiest access to the kitchen in case she is watching something that is still in the oven or needs to be brought to the table at a later time. I like to sit somewhere in the middle if possible so that I can make sure we keep the dishes going around the table.

Jesus shows us that the host can teach a great lesson on who is the greatest by the way we behave differently from the world. You don’t have to actually wash your guests’ feet. But you can take care of them and their needs in a way that you refresh them after a long day or week.

You may be thinking, “Well, it would be nice to have Jesus at the table leading the way. I’m not that confident in these situations.” Then include Jesus at your table. Good hosts invite Jesus to the table. Jesus told us that where two or three were gathered in his name, he was there too.

So invite him. Invite him before your guests arrive. Ask him to lead the evening and help create moments for the people who arrive. Invite him when your guests are at the table. Another benefit of the family-style meal is that you can offer a prayer while everyone is at the table. Keep it short. This is a prayer, not a sermon. And if your guests are not Christians, just do what you normally do: thank God for the food, thank him for your friends, and ask him to bless your evening. Even if your friends do not believe about Jesus what you do, they probably will not turn down a blessing.

Good hosts guide the group into one conversation. Jesus said many things around that table of the Last Supper. And everyone heard what everyone said. At one point Jesus told the group that one of them would betray him. Peter, at the furthest point from Jesus, heard what he said and “motioned to him [John] to find out who it was he was talking about” (John 13:24). The thirteen people around the table were all part of the same conversation.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in this situation: you are in the middle of a long table. The person on either side of you gets engaged in a conversation with the people on their other side. Suddenly you are in no-man’s land with no one to talk to. That makes for a moment, but not the kind you want your guest to have.

As a host you can guide one conversation. Tell your table guests that you want to go around the table and get to know each other better. Have people tell their stories in a short version if it’s the first time you are together. You could have them share how their day has gone, or their week, and then give the group a rating. Tell them to be authentic. If it was a bad week the rating might be a 2. If it was a great week, an 8 or 9 might be appropriate. Do your best to keep everyone on the same conversation so that everyone is included.

Good hosts give their guests a parting blessing. Jesus knew his disciples were troubled so he spoke words to their situation to encourage them. We can do the same. Based on what people share around the table you can give them a parting word that is appropriate to what they have shared as they leave. You might want to jot some notes down after they leave so you can follow up with them later in the week to see how the week is going.

Hosting people. Seeking hospitality. Setting the table. Call it what you like. But much good can happen when we recover the art of gathering people in our homes to sit around a table. Start with your own family. Then find at least one night a month to have a Supper night.

I don’t know the name of the “certain man” I met in Haiti. Neither do we know the name of the “certain man” that offered his place to Jesus. But we can be like them and learn what they did: Setting the table sets up opportunities for memorable moments to happen.

Try a supper gathering once this month. Then don’t make it your last.


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Jesus’ Table 3: Jesus’ Table Strategy

Not all defenses are created equal. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles. They may have found the key to their Super Bowl success around a table.

Every Thursday night during the 2017-2018 football season the members of the defensive unit got together for a meal. One thing served up at the meal was a “no-phones” policy. There are times the phones are placed in a pile. Other times the players can keep their phones. But the first one to pick theirs up has to pay a fine.

Disconnecting with their phones has helped the team connect. “You get that unity, you get that brotherhood, that trust off the field,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “Talk to guys outside of football, talk to them about life, maybe a situation that you have going on or had going on or upcoming, when you drop that barrier as a man, to drop it to a guy you’re playing with all four quarters, all season, that really helps on the field.”[1]

Malcolm Jenkins saw how the policy worked when he was with the New Orleans Saints. When he came to Philadelphia he wanted to implement it there too. Throughout the season the team gelled. Practice helped. Coaching made them better at their positions.

But it was what happened around a table that forged a winning team.

I’m not sure how much Jesus cares about football, but I think he likes their approach. In fact, I think the idea is a stolen one. Jesus spent many meals around a table with his disciples, with religious leaders, and with “tax collectors and sinners.”

And just as Malcolm Jenkins learned from the Saints and imitated the practice in Philadelphia, Jesus’ disciples followed his example too. They did in the first century. And we can now.

We need to now. We have become an impersonal society. “The use of texting and Facebook and Twitter and other sites as a form of communication is eroding people’s ability to write sentences that communicate real meaning and inhibit the art of dialogue,” [psychologist] Saunders Medlock says. “It also allows people to communicate without ever seeing each other or hearing a voice, and this has a huge impact in that much communication is done nonverbally or in inflection and tone of voice. We will have a generation that has no clue how to read any of these cues.”[2]

They had no cell phone distractions in the early church. They did have tables. And apparently they met around them often. “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46). “Every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42).

Later in Acts we find Paul’s strategy when he entered a new town: “You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house.” You can find this verse in Acts 20:20. Just call it a 20/20 vision for the church.

As we read through the New Testament we find that the first churches met in homes. Romans 16 is a list of greetings from Paul to various people in Rome. He greets Priscilla and Aquila and “… also the church that meets in their home” (Acts 16:5). Some scholars believe that all the people being greeted are part of house churches scattered throughout Rome. As the church grew they did not build buildings. They just set more tables in homes.

The “certain man” did in Matthew 26:18. “Go into the city to a certain man,” he said, “and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time is near; I am celebrating the Passover at your place with my disciples.’” Whoever that “certain man” was he was certainly honored to be the one in whose house and at whose table Jesus would eat his final meal before the cross.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be the “certain man” and have Jesus in your house at your table? Imagine no more. When we invite others to our table we invite Jesus to our table. Did he not say “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40)?

It’s one thing to invite someone to your church. That’s a good thing to do. But it’s another thing to invite them to your home and sit at your table. When you share a meal you send a message. That message is “you matter.” That message is “you are valuable.” That message is “you belong.”

The early church did not have Bibles like we do. They did not have the internet where biblical information could be researched. They did not have video teaching series to help share their faith. What they had were tables.

And they used them to the glory of God. How? I wish we had the details. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone had written down a “How the church used their tables 101” and passed it down? We don’t have the details. But we do have an idea.

We do know they had watched Jesus. Whatever Jesus did with them around a table they did for others. The first thing Jesus did was he would offer an invitation. “Follow me.” “Come and see.” Jesus started inviting those who seemed to be hanging around him. It’s a safe guess that the disciples did the same.

Great things can happen when you invite. One of our favorite Thanksgivings was one we observed when we lived in Denver. We were not able to be with our family that year so we just created a new one. Todd, a young single guy who had nowhere to go was on our list. Lila Freeman, an older widow lady was another. There were a few others I don’t even remember now, but we became more than just people who saw each other at church on that day. A group of displaced, divergent people became family. Todd helped carve the turkey and Lila told stories. But it would not have happened without an invitation.

Then greet your table guests well. Remember what Jesus said about the Passover meal? “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering.” What a greeting!

Nobody wants to be invited to a house and enter with the hosts looking glum and lethargic. Be watching for them. Be ready to open your door as they approach it.

In South Africa, “Sawubana” is the Zulu word for “hello.” It carries with it the meaning of: “I see you, and by seeing you, I bring you into being.”[3] How would you like to be greeted like that? It might be strange in America, but take the idea and make it your own. When we are greeted well—like Jesus greeted his disciples at that last table meal—we are noticed and in a sense, brought into being.

Then unplug and connect. Have you ever been at a restaurant and observed a table where its occupants were all on their cell phones? Was that table yours? The Philadelphia players have a custom worth emulating. Put your cell phone away and connect with the people you invited over.

Jesus had a way of listening deeply to others. He was attentive to them. The woman at the well is just one example of someone that, when she left Jesus, said to her friends “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” I think she meant that he heard her and understood her and paid attention to her.

He also washed feet. The first-century custom would see the host providing a basin and a towel for guests to wash the dust off of their feet. At the Passover meal, no one else took care of this basic act of hospitality. So Jesus did.

We can do the same. We wash feet by listening well, taking care of our guests’ needs and passing the food around the table. It can speak volumes that you are more concerned about them than you are yourself.

One of my mentors mentioned in a sermon I heard in college that he played a game at his house or when he was at someone else’s house for a meal. He would watch to see who stopped passing dishes around the table. He said there is usually someone who, once they get what they need, puts the dish down. After a few moments the vegetables, bread, main dish, etc. are all piled up in front of that person’s place setting. Don’t be that person.

You can learn to ask good questions too. Get people to tell their stories. Help move the conversation around. If someone is quiet, ask them something not too intrusive but that will help them join in the conversation.

Then, as your guests leave, make a moment. The people in Jesus’ culture were experts in blessings. Read the Old Testament book of Genesis and you will find many blessings where a father blesses his child by speaking a positive future over them. You may not be comfortable with that, but we can bless people telling them again how glad you were to spend time with them, say a prayer for their week, or give them a word of encouragement.

Chip and Dan Heath have written a book called The Power of Moments. One of the premises of their work is this: Defining moments shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be the author of them.

One element of a powerful moment is “connection.” The moments we remember are often something we shared with someone else. Weddings, concerts, sporting events and even a time at someone’s house around a table. We can make a moment for us and others around our tables.

One way to do that is to make sure you end the evening with a “moment.” Can you imagine Jesus parting with a group of people unintentionally? Neither can I. The final words he would share before he left them or they left him would be purposeful. Yours can be too.

The table was the strategy of the early church. So invite. Did you know one of the top differences between growing churches and stagnant or declining churches is that people in growing churches…invite.

So invite. Some people will decline your invitations. And when they do, you can either give up and close down your table. Or you can offer invitations to those who are eager to receive one. A young couple who is far from their families. A single person who eats alone. An elderly person who spends much of their day by themselves. There are people ready to join you at your table. You just need to invite them.

That’s what the early church was taught to do. The early disciples invited their family and friends. That is how the gospel tends to spread first. But they also obeyed the words of Jesus and invited others. Remember Jesus’ parable about the king who invited people to his banquet? Those on the invitation list refused to come.

So the King instructed: “Go then to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ So those servants went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good” (Matthew 22:9-10).

So that’s what the parable said the servants did. And that’s what the church did. We are to do the same. When we do, the result may be like the one in the parable: “The wedding banquet was filled with guests” (Matthew 22:10).

The Philadelphia Eagles found community around a table. The early church used it to start a movement. We can too. All that’s needed is for us to put down the phones and pick up a fork.

[1] Eagles’ no cellphone policy at team dinner helped forge defense into family, Shalise Manza Young at



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Jesus’ Table 2: Everyone’s Invited

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

A man arrives at the gates of heaven. St. Peter asks, “Denomination?” The man says, “Methodist.” St. Peter looks down his list, and says, “Go to room 24, but be very quiet as you pass room 8.”

Another man arrives at the gates of heaven. “Denomination?” “Lutheran.” “Go to room 18, but be very quiet as you pass room 8.”

A third man arrives at the gates. “Denomination?” “Presbyterian.” “Go to room 11, but be very quiet as you pass room 8.”

The man says, “I can understand there being different rooms for different denominations, but why must I be quiet when I pass room 8?”

St. Peter tells him, “Well the Baptists are in room 8, and they think they’re the only ones here.”

Before any of you with a Baptist background pick up stones, that joke has been told on a number of different groups including the one I grew up in. We laugh at the scenario. But we laugh nervously because every group you encounter in some way thinks they have the right approach to church. That’s why we have so many different kinds of churches. We have different ideas of how church should be. That’s why we see new church plants in areas where there are many churches already established. They think they have a new or better way of doing church. In the New Testament, a church plant happened in areas where there were no established churches.

It’s easy for us to begin to think we have this “following Jesus” figured out a little better than others. And it’s easy to move from that thinking to a thinking that maybe we’re the only ones who were invited to the table. We can be surprised when we find out others have been invited to the table as well.

I was. A number of years ago I had been serving as the Associate Minister of a church and preparing to move into a preaching role. During that time, I had reconnected with a family that had known me when I was young. They were part of the leadership group in their church, and their church was looking for its next preaching minister and they wanted to introduce us to their church. They invited me and Karen to come to a big weekend celebration they were having.

And it was big! They had rented out the conference center of a high-end hotel in the Dallas area. We were part of a big banquet where they were giving away door prizes. Things like $500 gift cards and weekend getaways paid in full.

One of the men at our table started visiting with me. We were casual acquaintances and in the conversation he asked how we came to be there. I told him we knew this family and that they had brought us there to talk about the open preaching position at the church.

His look said it all. Apparently he was part of the search committee and did not know we were coming. Our friends had stepped ahead of the process and invited us to something they should not have. Aside from feeling very awkward, we learned a few things from that experience.

  • We learned that it is good to know if you are the one inviting or not. Our friends had invited us to a process that it was not their place to invite.
  • We learned how it feels to be at a table where others are surprised you are there. That feeling turned quickly into feeling like we did not belong.
  • And we learned what it feels like to think you are the only one invited only to find out others were too. We thought they were just going to talk to us about the position. We found out others were being interviewed too.

Maybe you have been on one or the other side of that kind of table. Maybe you’ve been on the side where you find out someone else has shown up that you did not think should be there. Or maybe you’ve been on the side of getting invited only to find others who do not think you should be there.

Jesus spent time with both of those people. Jesus invited everyone to his table. And it got him in trouble. The first people invited were his disciples. Look at the diversity. He had fishermen—they were the middle class of Palestine. He had a tax collector—tax collectors were considered outcasts because they collected taxes from their fellow Jews to give to Rome. They would overcharge and made their living—a nice one—off the proceeds.

And then there was Simon the Zealot. He might have been part of a group wanting to overthrow the Romans. If so, he had to share a table with Matthew who had been working for the Romans. At the least, he was zealous in his religion and might have been a little overbearing for the fishermen to hang with.

You know when this mix of followers got together they had to have some questions as to why the others were invited.

But the invitations did not stop with the Twelve. Jesus called Matthew the tax collector to follow him and the very next story finds Jesus at a banquet at Matthew’s house. Here’s what we read: “While he [Jesus] was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matthew 9:10-11).

The Pharisees asked because they did not think that Jesus should be mixing with these outcasts. He had not made them “clean up their act” before they ate with him. He had not expected a radical change in their lives before he would eat with them. It surprised the Pharisees that they were at the same table as Jesus. By welcoming them to the table Jesus was accepting them just as they were. The Pharisees thought they should be at the table. But not the “tax collectors and sinners.”

Jesus kept the surprises coming. In Mark 14 we find the story of Jesus at the home of Simon the leper. Imagine being known as “the leper”! Lepers would have to sit outside the city, cover their mouths, and yell “Unclean!” to anyone passing by. Needless to say they didn’t have many friends. Most likely Simon was a leper who had been healed by Jesus or else no one would have wanted to be around him. Jesus is again at a table with an outcast.

And then a “woman” comes in and breaks an alabaster jar of ointment and anoints his head. She is unnamed. But she too is an outcast and Jesus receives her while the “men” in the story chastise her for wasting what would amount to an annual salary for a rural day-laborer.

The men were the included people of the day. A woman was not. And yet Jesus praises her. She and Simon are invited to the table.

Another surprise comes at yet another table with another man named Simon. At least some think this is a second story with a second Simon. This one—a  Pharisee—invites Jesus over to eat with him. While he was reclining at that table with Simon…

…a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume and stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the perfume. Luke 7:37-38

Simon is indignant that Jesus would let her touch him. Jesus teaches Simon a lesson about love and how the one who is forgiven much will love much. Where Simon could only see a big scarlet label of “sinner” on the woman, Jesus saw someone to invite into his world. In this story both the self-righteous and the sinner find a seat at the same table.

The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus at the table with people. He ate with the Pharisees who thought they were the only ones invited. He ate with the “tax collectors and sinners” who would not have dreamed to get an invitation to the table. But Jesus included both wherever he went.

He wants his disciples to do the same. In John 10 Jesus teaches his disciples that he is the Good Shepherd. Then he says, “But I have other sheep that are not from this sheep pen; I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).

“This sheep pen” refers to the Jewish people. “Other sheep” refers to Gentiles, those outside the Jewish race. Jesus wanted to bring them in too. That would be the task of his disciples as they went out into the world.

And they did. Most of the time. But early on in the development of the church, Peter and Paul—the two pillars of the movement—had a disagreement. It had to do with the table and who you would eat with. Peter had been eating with Gentiles. This was a good thing. He had been given a vision and told that he was to associate with the Gentile Cornelius and others at his house (Acts 10). So Peter, a Jew, learned to be like Jesus by eating with Gentiles.

That is, until a party of Jews from Jerusalem arrived. Then Peter quit eating with the Gentiles.[1] He suddenly treated them as if they were outcasts. Paul reprimanded him in front of everyone so that everyone would get the point.

And the point? Jesus’ table is open to everyone. You are invited. But you are not the only one invited. There is no one that is not invited to his table. His desire is that at his table everyone would accept his invitation. Peter eventually “got it.” In 2 Peter 3:9 he writes to those wondering why Jesus had not yet returned: “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”

Jesus’ table is better than the one we have at our house. We have two extensions we can put in it to enlarge it and create more space. Jesus’ table can extend to infinity. Every time someone accepts his invitation another place is readied.

When we follow the pattern of Jesus, we will offer invitations for people to gather around a table. The danger we face is this: we have our place at the table. Who is it we think should not be there?

Can you name a group? Let me help you. Listen to one list of possible marginalized “not invited” people: Immigrants, Refugees, and Migrants, Women and Girls, Victims of Human Trafficking, Mentally Ill, Children and Youth, People of Differing Sexual Orientation, People of Differing Religions, Developmentally Delayed, Physically Disabled, or Mentally Ill People, Incarcerated People (and their Families), People Released from Incarceration, People of Low Socioeconomic Status, Unemployed People, People of a Particular Ethnicity/Country of Origin, and People with a Differing Political Orientation.

That’s a long list. But you may know someone on that list that needs an invitation. You can’t invite everyone. But you can invite someone.

Don’t you think the church would grow if we would simply do what Jesus did: sit at a table and invite someone to sit with us? We can spread the gospel by spreading invitations. Imagine what could happen just this year if, one time a month, we sent out invitations and had an evening where we shared a meal with a neighbor, a co-worker, a gym friend? If you’re not good at doing this alone, team up with another Jesus follower and work together.

As stories are shared the good news can be shared. And some will hear their invitation into the life of Jesus through your invitation to a meal.

We might as well practice now. We’ll be part of a big wedding banquet party in heaven.[2] You don’t want to miss the celebration just because you think your group is the only one there.

[1] Galatians 2:14-21

[2] Revelation 19:6-9

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Jesus’ Table 1: You’re Invited

Not too long ago we got a new dining room table. That means not too long ago we gave our old dining room table away. For some this would be an easy process.

Not so for us. On that old table were memories. For much of our sons’ growing up years we sat around this table. When they came home from school Karen would have cookies ready for them and they’d sit in their chairs and talk about the day. When I got home we’d all sit around the table for supper and, many nights, play “high/low.” We’d tell the “high” point of our day and then share the “low” point of the day (which for teenage boys often was playing “high/low”.)

The table was scarred from use. One time Taylor, our youngest son, took an old game board we used that had been handed down to me from my grandfather and decided to use it to surf on the table. He went almost the entire length. We knew he did because there was a deep scratch left behind. We asked him what he had done. He told us. Then we gave him a high five. That day the surfing incident was a “high” he shared.

The table was home to many game nights. Marks covered it made by rolling dice. Other marks showed up from the kids doing their homework there. Then there are the unseen marks left by conversations when their days, and ours, were not going so well.

We loved that table. Around that table we shared life with extended family and church family. We invited guests and neighbors over so that we could connect. And that was the reason we decided it was time to let the old table go and get a new one.

The reason was that we needed more space. We needed a table that could be extended. Six was the limit on the old table. But our new table can expand to include places for 8 and even 12 if we all sit close and put people at the corners.

The table has been important to us over the years. The table was important to Jesus, too. Tables bookend his life and ministry. We find him in John 2 at a wedding banquet where tables were present but wine was not. He turned water into wine there and we got his first miracle.

At the end of his ministry he gathers around the Passover meal with his disciples. Another table was there. Luke writes: “When the hour came, he reclined at the table, and the apostles with him. Then he said to them, ‘I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’” (Luke 22:14). Eugene Peterson translates this verse in The Message like this: “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering.”

When was the last time someone invited you to their house and began the conversation around the table with words similar to those? “Hey everybody, I just want you to know how much I have been looking forward to having you all here to share some time and a meal with you!” That would make you feel wanted, wouldn’t it? It would make you feel included.

That’s what tables did in Jesus’ time. Tables were a symbol of belonging then and are now. If you don’t believe me, watch for the next time you can’t find a place at a table and have to look elsewhere.

I saw this socially uncomfortable situation happen often when I was a youth minister. Believe it or not, I had Jr. High kids who wanted me to come sit with them during their lunch times. Even though I was the adult—all 23 years old at the time—their invitation made me feel like I belonged. And so I went.

Even though I had gone through Jr. High, High School and college already, walking into a Jr. High cafeteria brought back memories of how, when you are that age, it is important to know you have a place to sit at the table with friends. If you ever got to the cafeteria and could not find a friend to sit with, you’d have to quickly analyze the situation, find a seat off by yourself, and pull out some homework so you could appear to be sitting by yourself because you need to study but really you are just trying to save face. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

As my visits to the Jr. High cafeterias became routine our table began to grow. My kids would invite their friends to the table. Eventually they’d invite them to our youth group. At some point I realized our table could be a place of ministry. We would look around and see a kid by themselves and we’d invite them to come over to our table. The transformation that would come just because of a table invitation was incredible.

I learned the art of inviting from Jesus. Jesus’ table was a place of belonging. Eating a meal around a table with someone in the first century was a big deal. Marcus Borg writes:

“Table fellowship”—sharing a meal with somebody – had a significance in Jesus’ social world that is difficult for us to imagine. It was not a casual act, as it can be in the modern world. In a general way, sharing a meal represented mutual acceptance. … Pharisees (and others) would not eat with somebody who was impure, and no decent person would share a meal with an outcast. The meal was a microcosm of the social system, table fellowship an embodiment of social vision.[1]

When Jesus told his disciples how much he had looked forward to being with them at the Passover table he was telling them in a big way that they were welcome at his table. He wanted them there. He accepted them as they were.

This event would have been like a President inviting you to his table. In the current case, you’d probably expect a McDonalds dinner. But regardless of the food, it would be somewhat impressive to receive an invitation from the President. You might wonder if the invitation was a mistake. You take it out and look at it over and over again. You ask your family and closest friends if they are pranking you. But when a limousine pulls up to pick you up and you are flown across the country to the White House, you realize it is true. You were welcome at the table.

The disciples had to feel something similar. They believed Jesus was the Messiah and he was going to be the King of Israel. To sit at his table with him was a great honor. The table was important to Jesus. Around it he developed intimacy with his friends. He accepted people into his life. He let people know they belonged.

The table bookended Jesus’ ministry. And it was everywhere in-between. Luke records this scene for us: “When one of those who reclined at the table with him heard these things, he said to him, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then he [Jesus] told him: ‘A man was giving a large banquet and invited many…’” (Luke 14:15-16).  Jesus was at table talking about banquets.

In Mathew we read: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to summon those invited to the banquet…” (Matt. 22:2-3). Jesus tells us the kingdom is like a banquet. Sharing meals around a table is kingdom-like. Spread the kingdom by inviting people to a spread around your table.

In Psalm 23 we have a picture from the Old Testament of Jesus as our shepherd. One line tells us: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). The picture is that of the Lord setting a table for us, even in the presence of our enemies, where he can bring reconciliation. It is a scene of protection and care and reconciliation.

But there’s something else in the scene. Remember how Jesus told his disciples how much he had looked forward to eating the Passover meal with them? Something similar happens here. David, the psalm writer, says “my cup overflows.” One interpretation of this phrase goes back to a custom in the ancient East.

The overflowing cup was a powerful symbol in the days of David. Hosts in the ancient East used it to send a message to the guest. As long as the cup was kept full, the guest knew he was welcome. But when the cup sat empty, the host was hinting that the hour was late. On those occasions, however, when the host really enjoyed the company of the person, he filled the cup to overflowing. He didn’t stop when the wine reached the rim; he kept pouring until the liquid ran over the edge of the cup and down on the table.[2]

In the modern West we’d think someone had maybe too much to drink themselves if they filled our cup and didn’t stop and suddenly not only the table was wet but we were too. But this interpretation tells us that Jesus really enjoys our company.

And because he does, he invites. The “kingdom is like a banquet” parable involves the King having his servants go call those who were invited to the table. Funny thing, though, is that they did not come. “But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business…” (Matt. 22:5).

Maybe they were busy. They weren’t bad people. Just busy. Or they had work to do. They had their business to attend to. Maybe a kids’ after-rabbinical-school activity to go to. Maybe they thought they’d get another invitation down the road.

Or maybe they had grown lukewarm. That’s what happened to the people in the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3. Jesus sends a message to the church that they have become lukewarm. He would rather them be hot or cold. They think they are rich and well-clothed and don’t need anything. They don’t see that they do need something. They need an invitation.

That’s what Jesus gives them then and gives us now: an invitation. “See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). The knock on the door is the invitation. When we open the door, Jesus does what he looks forward to doing. He comes in and eats with us. Jesus extends an invitation to his table today.

One more thing about tables. People have their place at the table. At our new table our places have been set. We have the queen chair where Karen sits. It’s at the end of the table. I had a chair just like hers but at the other end it was too far away so I sit at her right hand. Kris has found his place on her left. Taylor is a wandering spirit and moves around between the other three chairs. Our dog Baylee sits wherever she pleases. But we all have our place. That’s the main thing.

And according to Jesus, you have a place at his table. You don’t have to wonder if you show up whether or not there will be a seat reserved for you. There is.

It’s Jesus’ table. And it’s his invitation. You have no idea how much he has looked forward to sharing a meal with you.

All you need to do is respond.

[1] Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (HarperCollins: New York, NY, 1994), 55.

[2] Max Lucado, Traveling Light (Word Publishing: Nashville, 2001), 139.

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Resolved 5: Living a Healthier Life

“Hi. My name is Rick. And I’m a gym-judge-aholic.” Never heard of one? I’m the guy that every January watches as new people show up at the gym. They look like they’ve indulged in too much holiday feasting and spent too much time on the couch watching football games. They are being escorted around the machines and treadmills by a staff person who tells them the benefits of each.

But I know what they know but won’t admit. It won’t be long before I won’t be seeing them anymore. For example, 80 percent who joined a gym in January 2012 quit within five months.[1] The gyms know this. Gyms are an interesting business. They succeed when you and I fail. They want to attract the perfect customer: people who make a resolution to work out, but don’t. Lack of exercise is a problem we face in America where 80% of us do not get the recommended amount of aerobic exercise we need each week.[2]

The other big problem we face is found in what we eat. Some would say: “Too much and too little. We consume too much salt, fat, sugar and calories and too little nutrients from fresh whole fruits and vegetables. Three-quarters of Americans don’t eat the recommend five to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. More than half exceed the recommendations for protein and grain consumption, but this is made up of red meat, high-fat dairy and refined carbohydrates, not the low saturated fat proteins like nuts and legumes, and the whole grains that are recommended.”[3]

More than half of what we eat is “ultra-processed” foods and we consume 500 more calories daily than we did 40 years ago. In the time Tom Brady, who is 40, has lived, we have decreased in exercise and increased in calories. In contrast he has perfected his exercise and diet, won five Super Bowls, and been to eight.

Exercise has always been a part of my life. But it wasn’t until my father had triple by-pass surgery in 1999 that diet and the kinds of food I was eating caught my attention. My cholesterol was borderline high and I did not want to wind up on an operating table with my rib cage cracked open if I could avoid it at all.

I wondered if the Bible had anything to say about health and I found out it did. I discovered that Jesus cares quite a bit about our health. One example is found in John 5. One day Jesus was near the pool of Bethesda. Those who were invalids—the sick, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed—would come there. They believed that an angel would stir the waters and the first one in the pool would be healed.

A man is there who has been lame for 38 years and he’s lying by the pool. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get well?” The Greek words used for “get well” are ὑγιὴς γενέσθαι/hygios genesthai. Genesthai is connected to the word “genesis,” as in the name of the first book of the Bible. It means “be made,” “come into existence,” or “begin.” The other word—hygios—means “sound” or “whole,” or “to be restored to health.”

Jesus is asking the man if he wants to be healthy, if he wants a new beginning. In the Greek you can’t help but think back to the Beginning. It was a time without sickness. It was a time without death. It was a time without processed foods and Captain Crunch, Starbucks and Krispy Kreme. And there was health. There was wholeness.

Anything that was eaten was natural. Not everything we eat today is. One bag of blueberry bagels caught my eye once. I looked at the ingredients and found that there were no real blueberries in the bagels. There were just “blue and purple colored chips.” They did not come from a blueberry bush in the Garden.

Disease and sickness were not intended for our world. That’s why Jesus “healed many who were sick with various diseases…” (Mark 1:34). That’s why he gave the Twelve “power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases” (Luke 9:1). Jesus’ ministry was about restoration of health or wholeness to people.

On more than one occasion he would connect a person’s faith in him to health by saying, “Your faith has made you well” (cf. Luke 17:19; Mark 5:34). The word used for “well” is the word “sozo.” It is also translated “save.” Salvation to Jesus has to do with forgiveness of sins. But it also has to do with the person becoming healthy—physically and emotionally. We tend to disconnect the soul and spirit from the body.

Later, the Apostle Paul would talk about the importance of the body in our life with God. “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). If you knew the Holy Spirit was going to come and live at your house, my guess is you’d get the place in as good a shape as you could. How about your body? Our bodies are a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. Our bodies are not ours. They are God’s. We are to steward them as well as we can for him.

Paul did not see a disconnect between the spirit, soul, and body. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). Your body is important. There is nothing your soul or spirit can do except through the body to which it is attached.[4]

One more from Paul: “… train yourself in godliness. For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul says there is benefit to training our bodies, but not at the expense of training in godliness.

Jesus did both. As far as I know Jesus did not say anything specifically about exercise or diets. But Jesus exercised. He walked every day. He lived in a day and time where he walked everywhere and walked a lot. He walked from Jerusalem to Capernaum, which would be like you and me walking from Chicago to Milwaukee.  It is estimated he walked in his lifetime 21,525 miles (20 miles per day).[5]

And Jesus worked his body through his work. He didn’t have Planet Fitness or CrossFit, but he didn’t need it. Until he was about thirty he worked with his father as a “craftsman” or “builder” (Matthew 13:55). For Jesus, this word tekton probably had more to do with stonemasonry than woodworking. Most homes were made of stone and lumber was scarce near Nazareth. Interestingly, King Herod instigated a major rebuilding project of Sepphoris, about 3 miles from Nazareth. Halfway between the cities was a rock quarry. It’s highly likely Joseph and Jesus worked on this project which would later be called “the jewel of all Galilee.”[6]

Here’s the point: people in Jesus’ time walked and they worked hard. Jesus’ hands would be calloused, his back would be strong, and his legs would be fit.

Jesus also ate well. We know that Jesus was not brought up in a rich family. And we know that the poor basically ate fruit, lean meats, and whole grains. These would be a staple in his diet. “These foods are known to protect your heart against many diseases and cancers. Not to mention they are dense in vitamins and minerals that are going to support a long and healthy life.”[7]

The difference between then and now and Jesus and us is his world supported a healthy lifestyle while ours does not. In fact, it is said the global weight gain is “fueled by urbanization, poor diets, and reduced physical activity.”[8]

There are cultures today that still have similar settings as Jesus’ day. Italy has an obesity rate that is less than 10%. If you were to move there today you would find yourself, in many instances, walking more and eating fresher “farm to table” foods. Just by living there we’d get in better shape.

But we don’t live there. We drive. And even if we wanted to walk we might be taking a serious life risk to do so. Karen and I have observed that when we have had the opportunity to go to Rome we walk around Rome. Literally. One day we logged 27,168 steps. (June 5, 2016). And we thought nothing of it. But we would never consider walking the same distances here because our cities are not designed for it.

It’s a problem. But we can do something about it. If our bodies are connected to our spirituality, and if they are not ours but God’s, then part of following Jesus will be to learn to take care of them the best we can. Jesus reminded us that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:26).

The word for “strength” in the Hebrew—the passage Jesus quotes—has to do with “ability.” It refers to things we do. Hebrews would use it to talk about the physical actions that made up their lives. Things like farming and travel and even war. They lived hard, physical lives and needed strength to do what God had called them to do. It was second nature to love God with their strength.[9]

We need strength to do what God has called us to do. How do we gain this kind of “strength”? It starts with motivation. And I would suggest we rethink our motivation. In our society our motivation to exercise has to do with looking good or to excel in a sport. That may not be enough, especially if your significant other—like God—loves you no matter what.

But when our motivation is to be healthy for God whose Spirit indwells us so that we can give our best for him, things happen. As with anything, the change starts in our mind. Change your motivation to getting healthy for God.

Then change your eating habits. Eat like Jesus did. More fruit, lean meats, and whole grains is a good place to start. There is plenty of information online for you today that you can learn how to eat better. We all know that an apple is better for you than McDonalds.

Jack LaLanne has been called the “Godfather of Fitness.” He once said, “If God didn’t make it, I won’t eat it.” Ben Lerner, a Christian fitness expert, says that the further something is from nature it is food by man and not food by God.[10] He points out there are 3,000 chemicals added to our food supply and 10,000 chemicals are used in food processing,  preserving and storage.[11]Start by making better choices, even for one meal a day. As you eat more “food by God” you will start feeling the positive effects of those choices.

Then plan your physical exercise. As we’ve noted, our society and our daily rhythms do not support physical health. We sit at desks and look at computer screens and drive to our destinations. If we were to follow Jesus to learn from him we would have to be in better shape to keep up with him.

Today exercise has to be planned. You don’t have to spend hours at a gym. Just 12 minutes a day can make a difference in how you feel and look.[12] Plan physical exercise into your day. Put it on your schedule. Schedule it early before other things squeeze it out. You will find yourself gaining strength. And you’ll find yourself fulfilling the Greatest Commandment.

Love him or hate him, Tom Brady is an example of focused training. He says, “What are you willing to do and what are you willing to give up to be the best you can be? You only have so much energy. And the clock’s ticking on all of us. When you say ‘yes’ to something you have to say ‘no’ to something else. In the end my life focuses around football. It always has been and always will be as long as I’m playing.”[13] He trains “…in order to win.”

As followers of Jesus, our motivation is different. But we are training to win too, in life. You don’t need a resolution. You need to only answer one question that Jesus asks: “Do you want to be made well?”



[3] What’s wrong with the American diet?

[4] See Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, pg. 82.






[10] Ben Lerner’s books Body by God and The Genesis Factor are valuable in learning what foods to eat and what exercises can help you.

[11] Lerner, The Genesis Factor, 185 Kindle and

[12] For example see where for $9.99 you can find 12 minute routines

[13] Tom vs. Time, S1:E1 The Physical Game on Facebook

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Resolved 4: Getting a Grip on Your Money

“Your system is designed perfectly to give you the results you are getting. If you don’t like the results you are getting, you need to change your system.”

That statement is a basic teaching when you study Systems Theory. It’s helpful in life where pretty much every place you find yourself you find yourself in a system of some sort. And so, if you don’t like what you are seeing you have to change the system.

According to surveys that ask people what their top resolutions for the New Year are, a perennial favorite has something to do with “getting their finances in order.” It’s a good resolution because, according to financial statistics, personal financial “systems” are not giving a good result. Consider these statistics:[1]

  • 76% of people live paycheck to paycheck.
  • 24% of take home pay goes to paying off debt
  • 64% of Americans can’t cover $1000 for an emergency
  • The average cost per household per year paying credit card interest is $2630.
  • 70% of couples do not budget on a consistent basis

Need some more?

  • Among adults who have combined finances in current or previous relationships, 2 out of 5 fess up to committing financial infidelity.[2]
  • Just 46 percent of Americans have a rainy day fund. (See emergency above)
  • Nearly one-third of Americans pay the minimum due on their credit card each month. (see credit card debt above)
  • About 31% of non-retired adults have no retirement savings or pension at all.[3]
  • The average American gross household income is $71,258 while the average American household with debt owes $132,529.[4]

You might have cringed a bit as you listened to these statistics of the average American household because you and I are most likely average Americans. Financial issues are always one of the top two issues in marriages. The other is communication. So when we communicate in a relationship about finances, it’s no wonder 31% of all couple clash over their finances at least once a month.

Anyone need a system reboot? The problem with the resolution to get a grip on your money is that most people do not have a plan. Fortunately, Jesus gave you one. Did you know of the 38 parables he told, 16 have to do with money? He talked about finances more than he talked about heaven and hell: there are 500 passages on prayer and 2000 devoted to money and possessions.

Could it be that Jesus knew one of the greatest struggles we would have would be in our relationship with money and that money could come between us and our relationship with God?

I think so. And so Jesus succinctly says: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). The first system reboot when it comes to money is that we need to Believe. We need to believe what Jesus says. And what Jesus says is that we have to make a choice that we will serve God and not money.

A person who serves another is called a steward. The concept of stewardship found in the Bible is that we manage the things of God. All the way back to the beginning this is what humankind was to do. “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The first humans were to take care of the things that God had created.

We take care of God’s stuff. It is his. Not ours. That is the definition of stewardship. Stewardship is managing the things of God in the way he would want them managed. Psalm 24:1 declares “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord.” Believing what Jesus says about money leads us to thinking differently about money and belongings. They belong not to us but to the Lord.

One parable that Jesus tells is about a man leaving three servants with different amounts of money. We call it the parable of the talents. A talent is a measure of money. At the end of the story the master comes back to see how they have managed what he left them. He’s happy with two of the men who handled the money wisely. The third, who had done nothing with the master’s money … let’s just say the master is not too happy with him.

A principle Jesus gives in another parable about managing someone else’s money is this: “Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much. So if you have not been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with what is genuine? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12).

You change your money system by first looking at what you believe about it. Once you and I understand that the money we have is not ours but God’s we will begin to handle it better.

We begin to handle money better with a Budget. Did someone just cringe? “According to a recent study by U.S. Bank, only 41% of Americans use a budget.”[5] It may be that a definition of “budget” is needed.

A budget is a plan for your money. You do not have a budget if you merely say you have money in the bank at the end of the month. You do not have a budget if you can pay your bills. Those are good things, but you do not have a budget if you do not plan where your money will be saved, spent, or given before you spend it.

Jesus did not mention the word budget but he did speak to the wisdom of planning. In speaking about understanding what the cost will be for following him he says: “For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28). The expected answer is a no-brainer. “Of course that’s what you do.”

It’s a wisdom principle that applies to other areas of life too, especially our money. Most people do not budget and one of the common reasons they don’t is they are afraid of what they will find. We know we are spending too much money but we don’t want to face the facts. And a budget is facts.

Karen and I have had a budget since our first year of marriage. When we signed up for a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace class we didn’t think we would learn much. But what we learned was we had not zeroed out our budget. A “zero budget” means you know how much money is coming in and when you subtract the outgoing money and plan where each penny is going, the result is zero. We found that we still had money unaccounted for.

That was a great discovery. With it we began a vacation fund and we found an emergency fund. We put money in those accounts before we needed them so when we did plan a vacation or found ourselves in an emergency, we had the money already set aside for it. Jesus says to “count the cost.” It’s something that applies to following him in the way we manage our money too.

Believe differently about your money. Budget your money. Then Be-satisfied with what you have. Jesus taught: “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:31-34).

Jesus says to get a grip on your money by letting go of your money. We will only do that when we are satisfied with what we have because we are satisfied with God. Later, the writer of Hebrews gives us this admonition: “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).

According to scripture there is a problem and that problem is the “love of money.” Not that we have money. Not the abundance of money. It’s the “love” of money that is the concern. It’s the one love God wants you to hate. Greed is birthed in the lie that the more we have the more we are worth. But Jesus says our life is much more than our stuff.

Bob Russell learned that lesson the hard way.

A few years ago our family got involved in a game of Monopoly. I was on a roll. First time around I stopped on Illinois Avenue and Park Place and bought them both. Then I added Indiana Avenue and Board walk. Let anyone come down that street and I had them dead. I bought all four railroads. I had houses and hotels: I couldn’t keep from smirking. I had so much money; I had to set some on the side. Everyone else was counting their little dollar bills and I had hundreds and thousands!

Finally, about 1:00 a.m., they all went bankrupt and I won! They got up from the table with no word of congratulations and headed for bed. “Wait a minute, now!” I said. “Someone needs to put the game away.” They replied: “That’s your reward for winning. Good night!”

And there I sat, alone.  All my hotels, all my deeds, all my money, and I realized, it doesn’t amount to a thing. And I had to put them back in that box. Fold it up and put it on the shelf. And I went upstairs to a cold bed. My wife did not say, “You know I’m so proud of you. You are such an impressive investor. We can never beat you. You are Mr. Monopoly.” She just gave me a perfunctory kiss and turned over.[6]

The “love of money” keeps us in a perpetual state of dissatisfied. Owning Park Place and Boardwalk is not enough. Owning one Railroad leads to two, then three and then you have to have all four.  Satisfaction in life is not found there.

Instead, it is found in Jesus. Notice the writer warns us of the “love of money” and tells us to be satisfied. Immediately he adds, “for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.” Jesus is with you. When you have a love of Jesus you have all you need.

He will not leave you. He will not abandon. Not even in your money issues. But he also will not wave a magic wand to fix the problems you may have created by not following biblical counsel. He will show you those things not as a condemnation but as a way for you to learn and be transformed.

He’ll show you them as a way to reboot your financial system. Believe differently about money. Budget a plan for your money. And be-satisfied with what you have.

It was not yours to begin with. And you can’t take it with you. Your current system will continue to give you the same results. If those results are like the normal American household, it needs to change. As Dave Ramsey says, “If normal is broke then we need to be weird.”

This year instead of a love of money cultivate a love of God. You’ll be richer than you ever imagined.

[1] Given by Jimmy Pruitt in a sermon at





[6] Told in Max Lucado, Fearless, page 111.

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Resolved 3: Finding the Parenting Formula

Jelena Fu is an ESL and Chinese language teacher and corporate trainer.[1]She teaches all ages, but her work with children led her to looking for a formula that might help parents raise better kids.

She paid attention to children and their parents. But it was when she asked her own daughter what she and her friends thought they needed most from their parents that she found her formula. She shares it in her TEDx Talk.[2] You’d probably like to know the formula she discovered, wouldn’t you?

You would because it would be nice to have a formula for parenting. When you took that first child home with you he or she did not come with a User’s Manual. So you turned to innumerable books. But you read one set of suggestions that were countered by the next.

You turned to your parents, but then you looked at your spouse or looked in the mirror and thought, “Surely we can do better than that.” And does the generation before you really tell you how to raise your children in the midst of the issues you are facing today? Stress, anxiety, social media, divorce, blended families, dual income families, latchkey children. The list can go on and on.

Even psychologists haven’t cracked the code. I was visiting with one years ago looking for some advice. We were friends and in the course of the conversation I asked her about her daughter and found that she was stumped as to what to do with her. I listened, dispensed some advice, and sent her a bill for the hour.

For those who are followers of Jesus you might wish he had something to say about parenting. But he wasn’t a parent. He was never married. And he didn’t, as far as we know, say much of anything about parenting.

Or did he? Consider the scene we find in John 5. Jesus upsets the religious establishment by healing a lame man by the pool. For thirty-eight years, people who went to the pool of Bethesda had seen this man lying there hoping to get in the pool when it was stirred by an angel as they believed the first one in would be healed. He didn’t get the angel. He got Jesus. And so Jesus got reprimanded.

Jesus replied to the uptight religious crew, “Truly I tell you, the Son is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son likewise does these things. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing…” (John 5:19-20).

Jesus explains that the reason he did what he did is that it is what the Father would do. He’s talking about the healing. But he also explains every other action we see him doing. See the connection? If Jesus does what the Father would do, then Jesus is doing what a father would do. We need only watch him to learn how to parent well.

There are many parenting skills we can find in Jesus but for our purposes here we will narrow them to four. Maybe the first and best thing Jesus shows us is that a parent gives their children time. From the outset of Jesus’ ministry, he calls disciples to “follow” him (Mark 1:17).

As the story unfolds we come to understand that “following” Jesus meant they would spend time with him. They would walk. They would talk. They would sit down and eat together. They would do ministry together. They would deal with crisis together.

Parenting is like that. Great parents spend time with their kids. When our boys were young we decided that the idea of scheduling “quality time” was a good idea. We would block out one evening in a week and plan that time to be quality time. We would imagine how we would enjoy a meal together as a family, share how our days went, and play a game together full of talk and laughter.

The hope was that “quality” would show up. Instead what showed up without fail was a bad mood, a dislike of what was for dinner, and impatience while playing the game. And that was just me. Sometimes the kids did not bring their quality to the experience either.

We learned that to experience “quality” time we had to have “quantity” time. Jesus modeled this for us with his disciples. And because he had quantity amounts of time with them, quality happened.

A parent needs to provide teaching to their children. In John’s gospel, the first two disciples to follow Jesus call him “Rabbi.” John translates Rabbi for his audience as “Teacher.” Jesus was addressed 90 times directly in the gospels and 60 of those times he was called “Teacher.”[3] Jesus accepted the designation as a teacher himself. In John 13 before he washed his disciples’ feet he says, “You call me Teacher and Lord ​— ​and you are speaking rightly, since that is what I am” (John 13:13).

To parent like Jesus a parent today needs to view themselves as the primary teacher for their children. And what is it they need to be taught? How to play a sport? How to succeed academically? How to look their best? How to achieve financial wealth?

All those may be skills they need to learn in our day, but if Jesus teaches us anything about what a parent teaches it would be this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

You may not be able to teach Algebra II by the time your child gets to it. You may not remember any Spanish. Your football arm may not be what it once was. You may not know how to cheer or help with a science project.

That’s OK. Give it your best try. But what you want to teach your child more than anything and what they need more than anything is to know God and what his life is about. And that is a responsibility you signed up for when you signed on to follow Jesus. It is not anyone else’s duty. It is yours.

Now you are not alone in this. Jesus placed himself and his disciples in a spiritual family. He grew up in one. His parents were part of a Jewish circle that helped each other learn about God. They traveled together to Jerusalem where his parents lost him in the temple. And what was he doing there? Discussing the things of God.

Teach your children the ways of God’s kingdom. And teach them to pray. How? Pray with them. Jesus did with his disciples. They saw something in his prayer life that they wanted so they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). And the way he did it was he prayed. He didn’t give them a book. He didn’t send them to someone else. He prayed.

As a parent you will struggle at times knowing what to do. You will not know how to help your child. But you can pray. The Gospels give us stories of people like Jairus who asked—no, begged—Jesus to come to his house. Or the woman who had a daughter that had an unclean spirit fell at his feet. Those parents did the one thing they needed to do.

You are always just one prayer away from Jesus entering your situation. Some issues take more than techniques. Some take prayer. Some problems are not of this earth. Some are battles taking place in a spiritual realm. You and I can read every book we can find and go to one workshop after another when what needs to happen is for us to pray. Our children need to learn from us to pray.

We have a friend whose son was behaving badly. Capital “B.” She prays. I know she prays because when she was out of the room for a period of time her son prayed. He told God he knew he was not behaving well at home or at school and he needed help. He asked him to send him an angel. An elementary age boy only knows to do that because he’s learned it from a parent.

When he opened his eyes he had a visitor. An angel was sitting on the couch next to him. They conversed about the behavior and they talked about his homework and how he just needed to study more. The angel said he was from Jerusalem and so is now affectionately known as “Mr. Jerusalem.” When he left so did the bad behavior.

You may not get an angel every time you pray. But you will get the Father’s ear. You are never alone as a parent. And, if you teach your children to pray, they will never be alone either.

A parent corrects. We live in a time where parents want to be their children’s buddies more than their parent. I loved the fun times (and still do) with my sons. But I knew there were moments when they needed to be corrected and if I did not step up to the plate the consequences down the road could be tremendous.

Jesus loved his disciples. He loved them enough to lay down his life for them (John 13:1). But he also corrected them. Peter had to be surprised when he thought he would correct his “Lord” by telling him he could not go to the cross. Jesus immediately said, “Get behind me Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns” (Mark 8:33).

Within that statement is a guide for parents. No, not to call your child “Satan.” (Although you may be tempted to from time to time.) When your child is not thinking, speaking, or acting within God’s concerns, you have a moment for correction. You can correct gently. You don’t need to be their buddy but you don’t have to be a bully either. Some moments may call for some sternness. But it is your responsibility to guide them in the ways of God.

A parent corrects. But a parent celebrates with their children too. Jesus did. John says at the end of his writing that there are many more stories about Jesus that could have been told. Among them would be stories of celebrations.

Stories like the one we find in Luke 10. He had sent the disciples out to minister in the villages and towns. When they returned they “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name’” (Luke 10:17). Jesus shares this exciting moment with them saying he had seen “Satan fall like lightning.” Then he reminds them something else to be even more joyful about: that their names were written in heaven.

Jesus celebrated with his disciples at weddings and at banquets. He celebrated their successes and accomplishments. What can we learn from his parenting style? That we need to have homes full of celebrations. And that mixed in with birthdays and Christmas, good report cards and tournament trophies, we also find ways to celebrate the things that matter most: baptism anniversaries, Easter and Advent. We can celebrate on a whim what God has done for us.

But we especially need to celebrate that we are followers of Jesus. Even in our parenting.

Jelena Fu thinks she found her parenting formula. After consulting with her friends, Jelena’s daughter offered this five-word-formula: “We want you to listen.”

That’s not bad advice. Fathers and mothers, the good ones, listen to their children. Jesus’ father did. Remember that prayer that he modeled for his disciples? It began with “Abba, Father…” the expectation was that this Father is one who wants more than anything to hear the voice of his children.

And so when you, parent, need help in knowing how to be one, remember you have a Father who will listen to you. There is a parenting formula. It’s not five words but five letters: Jesus.

Master Jesus and you will master parenting.




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