on May 4, 2011
I will admit I did not know what to expect when I started to read this book. Was not really sure what it would be all about, but since I like to eat, a lot, and I love serving Jesus with my life I was intrigued by the title. After just reading the introduction I was greatly challenged to reconsider some things about how I do ministry. I saw that I had fallen into the trap of the Pharisees at times and was just looking to serve the righteous, not the sinner. Chester shows how significant it was for Christ to come and dine with the worst of sinners very early on in the book. Although I preach and teach about grace on a weekly basis, I was appalled to realize how little like Jesus I am in this area. You see I love to eat, and have dinners with friends, but most of the time it is just with those most like me. The good guys if you will. I rarely, if ever, go outside of my comfort zone in this area. I was hit with all of these thoughts in just the first few pages of the book as I read the introduction.
In chapter 1Chester continues the theme of meals being a form of grace. Chapter two finds him point out the communal aspect of meals, and in chapter 3 he shows the hope that Jesus' meals with others brought. In chapter 4 Chester shows how we can eat missionaly, and let me just say I like this idea a lot! Chapter 5 brings us to a look at the Lord's supper and at how a meal can represent our salvation. Chester closes the book with chapter 6 looking meals as a form of promise.
I do not want to give away all that the author says in the book, because this is definitely one you need to read and re-read for yourself. The author is very faithful to scripture and challenges you to think more intentionally about eating and using it not just as a means to the end of nourishment , but as a way to spread the gospel of Christ.
on November 8, 2011
3 meals a day, 7 days is a week, is 21 meals a week, 84 meals a month, and 1092 meals a year.
The point is not the actual number. The point is we spend a lot of time eating. That's why this book matters.
A Meal with Jesus affirms something we do so often that is essential to our existence on planet Earth, shows how it's integral to God's design, and gives us unconventional paradigms that change the way we live life and do ministry.
Honestly, the sections about hospitality as mission make the book worth buying, reading, and keeping on your shelf to refer back to. Because Chester covers things like how meals help us move from theoretical community to real community, how meals bring mission into the ordinary, and how if you routinely share meals with people and you have a passion for Jesus you'll be doing mission.
You probably haven't heard this stuff anywhere else -- on a topic that matters so much to our daily lives.
A Meal with Jesus is definitely worth reading.
on July 13, 2011
At first glance Tim Chester's new book A Meal With Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table doesn't look like much. The cover is clever, with the plaid pattern reminiscent of the old Betty Crocker cookbook but the book itself is a pretty light 144 pages. The content though? Outstanding.
There are quite a few books I enjoyed reading, many more that I did not. Only a few are really impactful and this is one of them. I reviewed one of Tim Chester's earlier works, Total Church, back in 2010 (see my review here) and really liked it. I liked A Meal With Jesus a lot more.
The basic premise of A Meal With Jesus is that sharing a meal is far more than just getting a bite to eat. By looking throughout the New Testament, Tim shows us example after example of meals that Jesus was involved in and how often the meal was the setting for something profound. That is true even today. Meals shared with others represent times of fellowship, gatherings of the church, community witness and of course opportunity for mission. As Chester walks us through Luke's Gospel account, we see meals as enacted grace, enacted hope, enacted promise, etc. I am not sure if Tim would go this far but I see shared meals as even more crucial to the life and mission of the church than Sunday morning meetings.
I liked that Tim uses real examples of how this works because that helps us to see the practical and not just the theoretical but I really liked that he didn't let anecdotes take over the story. This is not a book about "How we do it and why you should to" but instead "This is how Jesus did it and why He did it and we should all do likewise". Too many books recently are nothing but a string of anecdotes with an occasional Scripture verse tossed in. A Meal With Jesus is (pun intended) a feast of God's Word. These are all stories you have read before, events in the Bible many of us know by heart but Tim manages to tie them together into a cohesiveness that is really outstanding. This is a book that made my head hurt several times, not because it was so wordy and hard to read but because of the really profound ramifications of what he has laid out. When you think about it, the Bible starts off with people eating (the forbidden fruit in the Garden) and ends with people eating (the Wedding Feast of the Lamb) and the pivotal moment in the Bible, the cross, is preceded by an intimate meal that we still remember and commemorate today.
The church lost our understanding of hospitality, fellowship and community long ago. It is even worse today than ever. With constant attention grabbing from electronics, lives stuffed full of rushing around from activity to activity and the church relegated to an hour long performance on Sunday morning, sharing meals and our lives with one another seems both quaint and impractical. Tim is calling the church back to a place where deliberate, intentional sharing of our food, our home and our time takes priority in the life of the church and I believe this can recapture some of what we have lost when it comes to being a particular people of God. I can unreservedly recommend A Meal With Jesus as a book that will open your eyes.
on October 5, 2011
Point: The significance of daily meals has been forgotten. A meal is much more than refueling, rather it is means by which we may worship and share Christ.
Path: Chester works through six passages in the book of Luke explaining how Christ used meals to enact grace, community, hope, mission, salvation, and promise. These passages are wrapped together with seasoned personal stories, tasty facts, and bold encouragement to use meals for God's glory.
Sources: Chester quotes from religious sources such as Tim Keller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Robert Karris. He also references current statistics from a variety of works.
Agreement: Chester challenges the reader to take a second look at Christ's ministry. A majority of his teaching, discipleship and evangelization took place around food. If only we would take one of our 21 meals a week and dedicate it to God's glory through His grace!
Disagreement: Chester's contemporary parallels of the events in Luke were off at times. I also had a difficult time following his train of thought through the Lord's table as he seems to combine the Table with the Love Feast (although they were generally done at the same time, they each had a different focus).
Personal App: Because we like food and love people, my wife and I have sought to bring them together. Chester gave me new ideas and a deeper conviction to do so in a more purposeful and regular fashion.
Update: we have put several of his ideas into practice and have benefited greatly from them. You might also want to look into "Art of Neighboring".
on February 16, 2012
I really enjoyed this book. Such a good call for Christians to open up their homes and lives to one another and to their neighbors. A meal is an amazing way to learn people's stories, show grace and love on people. Sorry I don't write great reviews, but enjoyed this book a lot.
on May 28, 2011
A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester is the latest release by the co-author of Total Church, another release on the Re:Lit imprint of Crossway Books. Whilst Total Church provided an in depth look at the practice of missional living through gospel communities, A Meal With Jesus focusses in on one central aspect of life, and the life of Christ.
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, as the Gospel account of Luke attests. It's a mark of Jesus' humanity, and a central point of operation for his ministry. Likewise, food is something we cannot avoid. From the Golden Arches of highstreet fast-food to the boutique deli's and coffee bars, through to the family dinner table, the church pot luck and the microwave dinners for one, food is a daily occurrence for most people.
But how should we view this most consuming of consumptions? Should it be viewed as a necessary evil, something we do to keep our bodies moving? Or should it be savored in ever grandiose ways? Should we go for quantity? Or quality? Or have we missed the point entirely?
Chester lays out, chapter by chapter, gospel manifestations around meal settings. Though I know Chester is well studied and holds a PhD, I just was not expecting such a rich and rewarding theological treatise around the dinner table! It hadn't really occurred to me how important food is to Kingdom life. Drawing heavily from Luke, and also running from Genesis through Revelation, we see the meal as enacted grace, community, hope, mission, salvation and promise.
Each chapter is solid in its exegesis, profound in its implications and challenging to put this into practice and transform the reader's view of mealtimes. These are not to be solitary, rushed affairs, but instead have the capacity to embody the Kingdom, to offer a taste of what is to come - the feast eternal that we shall enjoy with King Jesus and our good Father.
My wife and I have been longing for more community space and finally got a large enough patio built on the back of our small house. With BBQ season somewhat here, we're embarking on a summer and fall adventure of hosting, welcoming and serving people with a view to encouraging believers and sharing Jesus with those yet to turn to him. This book was a treasure to me, strengthening my resolve, and broadening my view of all that a simple meal can convey.
If you're reading this, you're a human. You eat. You can do better than just eating. Read this book and see how much more a meal with Jesus can be.
A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author's own.
on January 29, 2012
I already hinted around about my review of A Meal with Jesus here ("Missional Living: A Meal for the Sake of the Gospel"). Over the last year the Spirit is really moving my heart into a deeper understanding of the gospel. Three themes have contributed to this growth in my own life: racism, adoption, and food. These three are all connected directly to our understanding of the gospel and how that looks practically. I would argue it looks primarily like a family. A Meal for Jesus is an exposition of shared meals in the ministry of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. Tim Chester (p. 9) starts by saying
Food matters. Meals matter. Meals are full of significance. "Few acts are more expressive of companionship than the shared meal. . . . Someone with whom we share food is likely to be our friend, or well on the way to becoming one."
Not only do meals share significance socially but for the church and in the life of Jesus meals are also "full of significance." It's really eye opening when Chester draws out all the references to eating a meal and all the references to food in the gospel of Luke. Chesters quotes Robert Karris saying: "`In Luke's Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal'" (p. 12). This patter should not be ignored.
Just briefly Chester connects the importance of the meals with the problem of racism in early Judaism. He says,
When Isaiah promised a great banquet, it included "all peoples," "all nations," "all faces," and "all the earth" (Isa. 25:6-8). But in the years before Jesus, the Gentiles had dropped off the guest list in Jewish hopes for the coming banquet. (p. 17)
That's just a brief glimpse into how shared meals and the family matters (like racism) connect. He goes on to attack our propensity to up lift our theological pet peeves to the level of gospel issues. His words are especially piercing when discusses our love for demanding external conformity and draws out "a key theme in Luke's Gospel"--heeding ("hearing" + "doing") the word of God.
He then discusses how meals can be an enactment of community. He begins with a moving description of the scene of Luke 7:36-39 where the prostitute wipes Jesus' feet with her tears and hair. He discusses how Jesus was happy to put his reputation on the line for her just like he does for us (pp. 31-32). Jesus came to save sinners like her and like you and me. He describes how a shared meals help build community:
Hospitality involves welcoming, creating space, listening, paying attention, and providing. Meals slow things down. Some of us don't like that. We like to get things done. But meals force you to be people oriented instead of task oriented. Sharing a meal is not the only way to build relationships, but it is number one on the list.
It's possible to remain at a distance from someone in public gatherings--even in a Bible study. Meals bring you close. You see people in situ, in life, as they are. You connect and communicate. Novelist Barbara Kingsolver describes dinnertime as "the cornerstone of our family's mental health." "If I had to quantify it," she says, "I'd say 75 percent of my crucial parenting effort has taken place during or surrounding the time our family convenes for our evening meal."12 Generous hospitality leads to reconciliation. It expresses forgiveness. Unresolved conflict can't be ignored when we gather round the meal table; you can't eat in silence without realizing there's an issue to address. Paul uses hospitality as a metaphor for reconciliation when he says to the Corinthians: "Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one . . ." (2 Cor. 7:2). Hospitality can be a kind of sacrament of forgiveness. (p. 38)
Chester also regrets that our churches don't more resemble the love and compassion that Jesus showed. We often act like the Pharisees when he reject people by their outward appearance instead loving them and sharing a meal with them.
In the following chapter, "A Meal as Enacted Hope," Chester makes an insightful recognition about the structure of Luke.
In Luke 9:51 the Gospel heads off in a new direction--literally. "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." All the action in chapters 1-9 takes place in Galilee. But now we're heading to Jerusalem and the cross. So the feeding of the five thousand comes at the end of the first half of the Gospel. This open-air, large-scale meal is the climax of part 1: Jesus is the Christ. The rest of the Gospel spells out what it means for Jesus to be the Christ and what it means to follow this Christ. He is the Christ who must die (Luke 9:21-22, 43-45), and to follow him means a life of death to self and service of others (vv. 23-27, 46-48). (p. 52)
He provides a refreshing way to understand the narrative flow of Luke. I'd encourage you to read through the Gospel of Luke while reading A Meal with Jesus. He draws additional significance from the fact that the God incarnate eats with us (p. 53) and then points out that pagan gods demand we feed them while God feeds us (p. 56). He also reminds us that our physical hunger must connect with our spiritual hunger for God. He makes this connection explicit when discussing the importance of fasting as a way to increase hunger for God (pp. 56-57).
His next chapter discusses how meals can be a form of mission. He discusses the contrasted values of the culture of Jesus' day where the sick, sinners, and such were purposely excluded from sharing meals whereas in the ministry of Jesus those were the very people he desired to minister to by sharing a meal.
If you want to see a religious person's vision of life, then show up at one of their meals. There's no restoration on the Sabbath. There's jockeying for position. The poor are excluded. The religious think their meals maintain the purity of Israel. But Jesus says they're the threat to the people of God. It's an ugly vision and not at all inviting. (p. 64)
He argues that too often our ministry's focus on the rich and the movers of our society, while Jesus's ministry focused on the poor. Chester doesn't argue we should preach to the rich but that we show partiality for the rich in our current ministry paradigms.
The next chapter discusses meal as enacted salvation specifically connecting this idea with communion. He says, "The people of God are to be a community in which everyone, however marginal, joins the party" (86). He argues the bread and wine is a reminder that the new creation has begun and that we hope for our final glorification along with the present world. He says,
When we recapture the Lord's Supper as a feast of friends, celebrated as a meal in the presence of the Spirit, then it will become something we earnestly desire. It will become the high point of our life together as the people of God. In this sad and broken world, the Lord's Supper is a moment of joy, because it's a moment of the future. (p. 94)
He then further expounds this idea in the next chapter: "The resurrection of Jesus is the promise and beginning of the renewal of all things, and the future is a physical future on a renewed earth" (99). He discusses the hopelessness the disciples after Jesus died. They felt that their hope of freedom was killed with Jesus's death. However, they failed to realize that the death of Jesus was necessary to begin the process of re-creation. "Creation, redemption, and mission all exist so that this meal can take place" (110). The book ends where our hope begins with the power of the resurrection of Jesus to transform our lives and our communities. A Meal with Jesus is easily on the list of my top books. It will transform your understanding of the simple act of eating together grounding our understanding in the example of Jesus and the early church.
on August 4, 2012
Most of us are aware of the spiritual meaning to the discipline of fasting, but how often do we consider the spiritual meaning to feasting? Chester reminds us of the Jesus who came to seek and save, yes, and also to eat and drink. He posits that this endless feasting of the Messiah is not random, but full of meaning for us as His followers. With only a quick reading of Chester's chapter titles, you'd get a pretty clear idea of his hopes for the book:
Meals as Enacted Grace: Luke 5
Meals as Enacted Community: Luke 7
Meals as Enacted Hope: Luke 9
Meals as Enacted Mission: Luke 14
Meals as Enacted Salvation: Luke 22
Meals as Enacted Promise: Luke 24
Sometimes I feel nervous reading Christian books with as specific subject matter as eating meals; I'm nervous about formulas or extra-biblical theorizing. This does not happen in Chester's book. He manages to write a beautiful blend of biblical narrative, enlarging our imagination for the life and ministry of Christ, while giving us some practical ideas through a vehicle of story and anecdotes.
In short, this is one of those books that will become part of my life and understanding from here forward
on May 23, 2013
People will often say that Gandhi and Jesus had a lot in common. While I'm sure some similarities exist, I think such a view betrays a superficial understanding of both men. Take one example: their diverging attitudes about food. Gandhi appeared to have a rather strained and fickle relationship with food. He held the view that one's taste for food was inextricably linked with one's sexual appetite - and both were inherently vulgar, debased, impure - desires to be squelched. In his mind, the disciplined man lives in a state of perpetual "partial fasting," relying only on scant portions in his "grim fight against the inherited and acquired habit of eating for pleasure" (Gandhi quoted in Joseph Lelyveld's book Great Soul).
"The Son of Man," rather, "came eating and drinking..." (Luke 7:34). This astonishing truth about Christ, along with the Bible's repeated use of food and feast related imagery, is the subject of Tim Chester's fantastic book, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community & Mission around the Table. Chester's main burdens in this book are as follows: to explain the startling significance of Christ's desire to eat with sinners and Pharisees alike; to reveal the deeper spiritual realities that these shared meals with Christ point to; and to encourage us as Christians to make the sharing of meals an integral part of our fellowship with others, so as to regularly enact and reflect upon the grace that Christ so freely gave to us.
This is a neat book because it addresses some of the concerns commonly raised by the emergent church - our lack of connectedness, our desire for authentic community, the need for social justice and equality, the call for the church to reflect people from every tribe, tongue and nation. And yet, it does all this in a completely gospel-centered way, a way that does not depart from historic Protestantism. This is a book about food and fellowship, yes, but, ultimately, this book is unabashedly about the gospel. It's about substitutionary atonement. So, how does Chester connect the topics of food and fellowship with the cross?
Chester demonstrates that hospitality is a recurring theme in God's story. From the forbidden fruit of Genesis to the banquet imagery of Revelation, food and feasting - or lack thereof - is symbolic of our standing before a holy God. In the Old Testament, when Israel enjoyed peace with God, food was abundant. And, conversely, in times of judgment, the reality was famine. But, though we deserve the famine, God demonstrates his faithful love to undeserving people through abundant feasting, made possible only by the free distribution of his grace. Chester cites a rich and beautiful passage in Isaiah that embodies this gospel reality:
"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined..."
But, how can that be, when our sin separates us from God? Here's the best part!
"...And [the Lord] will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth..." (Isa. 25: 6-8)
Chester explains: "No one need ever leave this feast. In Isaiah 25 death itself is on the menu - God himself will swallow it up. So this is a perpetual feast" (59).
How beautiful and coherent the Bible is, that we see substitutionary atonement in the Old Testament, God taking the sin of his people onto himself, so that they can be reconciled to him. We eat good food; God eats death. And all of this points to the cross. Throughout his book, Chester just relishes this fact.
It should, then, come as no surprise to us that Jesus is the host of and a participant in many shared meals, as he prepares a way for us to have fellowship with God. "Jesus is the Passover lamb. His blood is daubed over our lives; the Lord passes over us, and we're redeemed...so we can come to the mountain of God, and eat and drink with God" (113).
Chester, then, charges us to live in light of this gospel reality, inviting others, particularly those we are in the habit of rejecting, to join us around the table. I loved this book. I've been resisting this cheesy cliché, but, what the heck; it truly was "food for the soul."
So, while I appreciate Gandhi's aversion to gluttony and his desire to see hungry people fed, I have to disagree with his assertion that a full meal is "a crime against God and man." For people who put their faith in Christ, a full meal - especially one shared with others - is symbolic of our reconciled relationship with God through Christ, and a pointer to the feast to come.
I didn't mean to read A Meal with Jesus. I receive enough books to review that I cannot possibly read them all. Last week I decided I would grab a selection of them and spend half an hour with each--not enough to read them through, but enough to get a bit of a feel for each. It didn't work too well. A Meal with Jesus was the first book I picked up and once I began reading it I couldn't stop. It turns out that this is a really good book.
According to its subtitle, A Meal With Jesus is a book about "discovering grace, community and mission around the table." Tim Chester seeks to show God's purposes in the sublimely ordinary act of sharing a meal. He shows that this most ordinary of ordinary events offers unique opportunities for grace, community and mission. Can a book about something so ordinary really be compelling and worth the read? Absolutely. And this is particularly true when the book comes from the capable hands of an excellent author.
Chester structures the book around the meals of Jesus as described in the gospel of Luke. It was Luke who quoted Jesus as saying, "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, `Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" Jesus was into eating and drinking and he was into it enough that people accused him of doing it to excess. Meals are a constant theme in this gospel. According to another author, "In Luke's Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal." Chester says that to Jesus meals "represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus' meals are not just symbols; they're also application. They're not just pictures; they're the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff. It's not ideas. It's not theories." Without simplistically reducing all of church and mission to meals, Chester manages to show that meals can and should be an integral part of our shared life.
Each of the book's 6 chapters look at this from a different angle:
Meals as Enacted Grace: Luke 5
Meals as Enacted Community: Luke 7
Meals as Enacted Hope: Luke 9
Meals as Enacted Mission: Luke 14
Meals as Enacted Salvation: Luke 22
Meals as Enacted Promise: Luke 24
Moving from Jesus dining with Levi the tax collector to the post-resurrection Jesus dining with his disciples, Chester shows that meals were absolutely pivotal to Jesus' work in the world. And if they were so important to Jesus, shouldn't they be equally important to us?
One of my concerns as I began reading the book is that it would be difficult to take the subject matter out of the abstract. But as it turns out Chester does that well without resorting to either legalism or just plain silliness. He nicely weaves together theology with practical application.
Overall, this book shares a compact biblical theology of hospitality, focusing on meals. Chester makes a compelling argument that we would do well to view our meals through a biblical lens and to see each one as an opportunity to discover grace, community and mission. And since most of us eat 3 meals per day, we have endless opportunities to put into practice what we discover. So why don't you give this one a read?