If you want to follow Jesus on the incredible journey of sharing Him while sharing life with others, it’s time to eat with sinners—people just like you . . . and me.
As long as people have been sharing their faith, there have been critics. Even Jesus dealt with naysayers as He spread His gospel: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2, NIV). Sometimes we worry about our reputation when we spend time with non-Christians. But more than that, we worry about the time we spend with non-Christians: Will we understand each other? Will I offend them? Will they offend me? How long will it take before this relationship falls apart?
Every meal Jesus ate, He ate with sinners. And over food and drink, through stories and insights and observations and conversations, people let their guards down, and sinners came to know the love of God and the hope of salvation. Now revised and updated, Eats with Sinners helps you to let your guard down so the love of God can get out across the table to your non-Christian friends.
The author is light-hearted and witty, and the text is well thought out and full of great illustrations, for instance:
"A friend of mine was visiting his mentor, a retired preacher, in the hospital." The author's friend was fumbling for words of comfort to say when the old preacher, "patted his knee, and said, 'It's okay. I haven't been preaching fairy tales all these years.' "
There are also a number of 1-2 page personal stories from other people. I like this because often in books like this the author relies entirely on his own encounters. While that's fine logically, after an entire book of it, it can start to feel a little narcissistic. I appreciate the variety.
Everything is extensively and solidly backed by scripture (mostly hovering around Luke chapter 14-ish).
This book originated as a sermon series which amounted to a mini-revival of sorts, including hundreds of baptisms. Once, 52 people on the same day! They have developed their success into an outreach program available at: www.eatswithsinners.com
I also learned that there is another version available, ISBN 0784723184, which contains "recipes". Whatever that means.
On to the content...
The primary issue is that the author, while glad of the Church institution, realizes the flaw in expecting a stationary building to be able to reach people.
"I want you to know that I don't hate church buildings, but I don't love them either -- because church buildings are just very attractive, functional, but expensive tools."
He gives the analogy,
"I like to fish. I like to catch fish. The best way to catch fish is on a boat, because a boat allows you to go wherever the fish are biting. Another way to catch fish is to build a dock and hope the fish come to you. Too many church buildings are immovable docks -- and the fish stopped biting years ago."
Clearly a bigger "come to church" billboard is not the answer, but real people, one-on-one, forming relationships with other people. That was Christ's model of evangelism and it should be ours as well!
If I could summarize variety of the different themes going on, it would be, "Be intentional about doing life among 'sinners' and don't let other things stand in the way." These 'other things' come in a wide variety.
For instance, the desire to hide behind a mask of perfection. The author says, "Authenticity is what integrity wears when it goes out in public." He says that, "Men and women with integrity are unstoppable" because they have nothing to hide and no fear of being exposed.
Or, as Luke 5:5 indicates, Just because you're having a "bad day" or you consider yours a "wasted life", doesn't mean the next thing you try won't work (if God is in it). He talks about record-breaking swimmer Florence Chadwick who lost sight of land during her attempt from Catalina Island to California. She gave up and was pulled into the boat only to realize when the fog cleared that she was less than a mile from shore. DON'T give up!
Also, the author calls for a renewed sense of "tolerance" when it comes to dealing with outsiders. However, he is careful to use the word in the correct way, rather than the typical modern way. He wisely balances accepting sinners vs. condoning their sin. "We are supposed to eat with the non-Christian sinners, not the un-repentant Christian ones." (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)
Finally, it was a minor point, but Chambers said something like, "It's not about winning the argument, but winning the person." The goal is to love people, not get in arguments. It's a good point, and I wish he would have expanded on it more, rather than including some other things (more on that later).
Therefore, I think we should take both the medium and the message from Jesus. Meaning, we should preach: Deliverance for the captives, love not condemnation, the power to overcome, and that "you matter to Jesus".
[Aside, how ironic is that? Christians are renown for two things: holding up John 3:16 signs, and pointing fingers to make people feel worthless. Really? Is that how that verse says God feels about the world?]
Here are some practical ideas to increase our interaction with sinners:
(some from the book, some mine)
- Support global missions. It doesn't have to start off big. Just learn about a people group.
- Shop local! Become a regular! Eat at the local diner (bar stool is better), get your hair cut at local barber shop, etc
- Join a gym
- Coach a little-league sport or join an adult league
- Volunteer or perform at a rest home
- Attend town council or even run for office
- Become Christian artist (films, music, etc)
- Try out for a community theater play
- Do airport pickup and other services for an international students ministry
- Start a bar ministry (NOT if you have alcohol temptation, of course!)
- Participate in, and/or start, community service projects
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter
- Attend or teach a class at a library or community center
- Join or start a chess club or tabletop gaming club
- Anything with the word "club" in it, really (Maybe not Fight Club. That could be painful.)
- Drive for Uber
- Hospital ministry
- Prison ministry
- Church bus ministry
- Get involved helping the handicapped / special needs
- Inner city mission projects
- Have a neighbor over for dinner once a month
- Attend/host neighborhood block parties
Like any book there are always flaws. Though this time they are very, very minor as opposed to the last couple of sponsored book reviews I've done. (Larger-Than-Life Lara, and You Can do This)
First, and this may be more of an editorial thing, but thing I found most annoying is that they did supporting third-party quotes AND book quotes in the same format boxes. When I read a book I usually ignore the self-quotes because I find them redundant and annoying, but with the same format I didn't know whether it was going to be a repeat of what I just read, or something clever from John Wesley.
I will also say that about 3/4 of the way through it seemed like the author had already said everything that needed to be said, and was trying to stuff in more material. Topics like "Joy" and "Humility", while great chapters, seemed only tangentially related to the subject of the book. It almost felt like the publisher said, "We need more page count." so the author dived into his file cabinet of "greatest hits" sermons. I'm not overly upset about this, since it wasn't fluff by any means (which is what usually happens).
Without it, we wouldn't have gotten zingers like:
"But I thought that if I gave my life to Jesus I was going to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. I thought following Jesus meant first class seats, luxury cars, a gold watch, a spacious home in a gated community, perfect teeth, a silk suit, my 'best life now,' and the most important seats at the banquet.
"I hate to break it to you, but that's not the picture Jesus painted. The picture Jesus painted looks an awful lot like a cross."
Buy it. Read it. Live it!
There are very few times when I look at a book and cry, "Nailed it!"
There are even fewer books that, if lived out, would have the power to revolutionize society for the better. This is one of those books! (Though to be fair, this transformative power does not from Chambers' writing skill or original ideas, but from following the example of Christ. AS IT SHOULD!)
Live your adventure!