FIRST THINGS FIRST

FIRST THINGS FIRST…    

He hath made with me an everlasting covenant.   2 Samuel 23:5

This covenant is divine in its origin. HE hath made with me an everlasting covenant. Oh that great word HE! Stop, my soul. God, the everlasting Father, has positively made a covenant with thee; yes, that God who spoke the world into existence by a word; he, stopping from his majesty, takes hold of thy hand and makes a covenant with thee. Is it not a deed, the stupendous condescension of which might ravish our hearts for ever if we could really understand it? HE hath made with me a covenant. A king has not made a covenant with me…but the Prince of the kings of the earth, Shaddai, the Lord All-sufficient, the Jehovah of ages, the everlasting Elohim, He had made with me an everlasting covenant. But notice, it is particular in its application. Yet hath he made with ME an everlasting covenant. Here lies the sweetness of it to each believer…Blessed is the assurance that he hath made a covenant with me! If God the Holy Ghost gives me assurance of this, then his salvation is mine, his heart is mine – He is my God.

  An everlasting covenant means a covenant which had no beginning, and which shall never, never end. How sweet amidst all the uncertainties of life, to know that the foundation of the Lord standeth sure, and to have God’s own promise, My covenant will I not break… (Charles Haddon Spurgeon; morning devotional for December 21 from The Morning and Evening Devotional)

What does this have to do with running a church kitchen? Does this have anything to do with cooking and serving large quantities of food to big groups of people?

It all starts with God…Who He is and who you are to Him. The Spurgeon devotion is a small picture of Who God is. Of course, words are too limiting to truly describe Him and His majesty and power and limitlessness and holiness and on and on. And me…I am His adopted child, His servant, His beloved. He died for me and lives for me and forgives me. I can’t comprehend the magnitude of that either.

This is for Whom I work. This is what makes my job more than just a cooking job. Before I begin my work, I need to try to grasp Who my boss is.

Is it any different working in our church as compared to working in the secular work force? Not really. I am supposed to be doing everything in obedience to Him and with a desire to serve and please Him. I just have the added privilege of doing my work in God’s house, serving God’s people. We (all of us called by His name) need this reminder whatever our job is; it should be our first thought and motivation before we begin to work.

If I am really doing God’s work, I am ministering. Whatever I do, I should be ministering to those around me. But, by being employed in a church, it does make it hit home more easily…I am a minister! Pastoring isn’t my job, but ministering is. Every employee of a church should consider themselves in ministry.

Where I work, one of the most effective ministers is a custodian. The way he affects the people of the church and how he shows them Christ is often life changing. He anticipates the needs of others and takes care of them. He is always available to talk through a problem and to pray with someone, whether an adult or a child. He learns the names of every child in the school that is at the church and all of the staff and every member that he interacts with. He speaks to them with personal greetings.

Before I get down to the nitty gritty of cooking for the church, I need to stop and think about the big picture of what I am to be about. Then I need to pray that God will use me and minister through me and allow me to serve His people in the way He desires. I need to pray for His help to do the best job possible.

Okay…after I’ve thought about this important aspect in my job…and I’ve prayed my prayers…now I can go on and begin the real work…

This is too often my attitude: I’ve done my little devotional for the day and I’ve prayed (probably a short prayer) and now I jump into my work. I may not think about the Lord for the rest of the day. (On busy days, I may have jumped right into work and I didn’t think about God all day…no Bible reading, no devotion, no prayer.) But…those days that I am truly working unto the Lord…I see people differently and I view my work with new eyes. People seem to be less obnoxious and I can really delight in serving them. Praying without ceasing is just talking to God throughout the day, and when I have continual conversations with Him, I am really working with Him. I get answers to questions; I’m more likely to be bold in speaking up for Him; I love others better; I really serve. Getting my priorities right will make a huge difference in my work!

Putting our relationship with God first is obviously the first order of business in any job. But, secondly, if you don’t think what you do is important, it will negatively effect anything that you do. We need to see that there is great value in all work that is done for the glory of God. A man who helped do dishes in one church where I cooked said (as he was doing dishes) that there is no menial work if you are a Christian. A mom cleaning her bathroom is not doing menial work; a busboy in a busy restaurant isn’t doing menial work. All of our work is important; it all has value; it is all for God. Even more specifically, working in the kitchen of a church has extreme value if you see what it contributes to the body of Christ.

My husband and I started and ran a Christian newspaper. We thought that we were doing “godly” work. It was a Christian publication, after all! The newspaper failed and took with it all of the money we had and left us in debt. Our idea of godly work was messed up and too narrow in focus. Looking at Christ’s work and words, we saw that He never gathered with his followers over a newspaper! He communed with them over food and drink. Christ told us to break bread together. He cooked for his friends and then served them. His example shows us that gathering over food often starts relationships and then keeps them going.

I can’t eloquently put into words what the kitchen ministry can do for a church, so I’ll let a blog entry from one of my pastors, Dr. George Grant (who was writing about planting churches), say it for me:

“There is nothing quite as effective in ministry as fellowship around the table. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, nurturing genuine covenant community is no easy task. Missional and relational rootedness requires deliberateness and intentionality. It can be hard and messy work. But, the truth is, the men and women and families who need Christ in our neighborhood are far more likely to be attracted to our church plant by the vibrancy of our relationships than the incisiveness of our vision statement, the creative application of our model, or the oratorical brilliance of our preaching. That’s why you should eat. Together. Regularly. Joyously.

I love food. I love everything about food. I love eating it, of course. But, I also love talking about it, thinking about it, and reminiscing about it. I love the social traditions that surround good meals. I love the kind of fellowship that can only be shared around a dinner table, across a picnic table, or beside the kitchen counter or over the stove. And, I’m not alone. Most people love food too. But apart from its obvious sensate attractions, food is supremely spiritual.

Consider the fact that we can hardly read a single page of Scripture without running into a discussion of bread and wine, milk and honey, leeks and onions, glistening oil and plump figs, sweet grapes and delectable pomegranates, roast lamb and savory stew. Everywhere we look, there are feasts and celebrations, fatted calves and pungent herbs, loaves and fishes.

Think about how many ways the Lord uses food to preach the Gospel to our hearts and lives. Faith is defined by hungering and thirsting. Covenant is defined by hospitality and community. The pinnacle of worship is the gathering of God’s people around His table. The culmination of the history of redemption is a wedding supper.

And have you ever noticed that nearly all of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances occurred at meals? Remember, Jesus did not say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will enter in and discuss theology with him.” Oh no! Instead, Jesus said, “I will come in and sup with him.” What a difference!

It is always delightful for me to consider the fact that one of the surest indications of healthy covenant love in a church is the appearance of “saints bearing casseroles.” In times of joy, in times of sorrow, in times of celebration, in times of consternation, there is nothing quite like the power of food to facilitate a deeper and richer sense of our callings together.

So, we need to schedule regular times for the planting families to eat together, cook together, share recipes together, picnic together, barbecue together, and nosh together. We need to embrace food as a means of grace to reinforce the rhythm of the seasons, the patterns of the Gospel through the course of the year.

Our folks need to rediscover the wonder of table talk, the delights of slowing down just a bit, the refreshment of varied conversation, and the recalibration and reorientation of life and perspective that comes from iron sharpening iron. And all this may be had from the ministry of food. Taste and see that the Lord, He is good. Amazing grace, oh, how sweet the sound. There was glory in the air, There was dinner on the ground.’- Randy Travis“ Amen, Dr. Grant!

Did you notice his statement “…eat together, cook together…”? The ministry of food isn’t just providing the food so that people can gather to eat it. The ministry of food also happens in the kitchen. There will be many people that come through the church kitchen. Some may be church employees. In most churches, the major meals and events have volunteers that help with the cooking and serving. Few churches hire enough staff to cook and serve all of the meals that are prepared; a lot of churches are staffed strictly by volunteers. Whoever is in the kitchen, as you work together, there should be fellowship and, as a result, there will be solid relationships forged. The food getting done well and safely is, of course, a high priority. But, it shouldn’t be your only goal. You are to be ministering to all of those people in your kitchen – and they will often be ministering to you.

The first church kitchen that I worked in as an employee was a small kitchen that replaced a tiny kitchen. The church had bought an old grocery store that was on the same block as our church building. It was gutted (using a lot of volunteer labor) and turned into a fellowship hall, kitchen and bathrooms. The kitchen was not very big but it contained all that was really essential and it somehow always worked. We cooked meals for up to 400 people in that space. We always worked in close quarters, which could be challenging for cooking, but was wonderful for making us talk and get involved with each other! When we would cook Wednesday night dinners, there were quite a few volunteers that came in to help the last hours before serving and then stayed through cleanup. (A few volunteers came just for serving or just for cleanup.)

At one point, all of the volunteers were stay-at-home mothers with small children. Because the church employed a babysitter to take care of the volunteers’ children, it was a nice break from their normal routine. The kids had a safe, fun environment and Mom got to hang out with other mothers. There were a number of times that I heard a woman say that the volunteer time in the kitchen was the highlight of her week! They would come and work hard in the kitchen, but they could have a time with other ladies that was almost like group therapy! Because it was all women, no topic was taboo. Questions were asked that might not be safe anywhere else. People shared what they had learned or experienced or read. The discussions were often serious, life changing talks. Or they could be fun, maybe even silly, but definitely entertaining. There were times that the work stopped so that we could pray together or two people would leave for a time to have a quiet private discussion and prayer. Even when the topic didn’t seem “spiritual”, God was in the middle of what happened there!

The make-up of the volunteer staff changed over the years. Men joined us and added a new dimension to the talk. We had quite a few people come through the kitchen that were being helped by the church and wanted to give back in some way. We had people with developmental difficulties that limited what they could do, but could be of some service. There were a few people that were never really any “help” (they took so much assistance that the cooking itself would have been easier without them – like those times that you let your child “help” you) but yet there was no doubt that they were supposed to be there. It was for their benefit and for the benefit of the rest of us.

The church where I work now has volunteers that are mostly older, retired people. They are the hardest working people that I know. They have great insight and wisdom. They minister to me and the others involved! They also talk about how they have never had so much fun in a kitchen. The atmosphere is comfortable and inviting and it encourages relaxed relationships. We encourage each other and we talk over life and we laugh together. When the volunteers are there, it is often the highlight of my week! I need them personally as much as I need them for their kitchen work!

Over the years, there have been difficult people who have worked in the kitchen. I have had a number of times that I have struggled with an awkward relationship or someone that I just didn’t care for. I have been around people who knew how to do everything and they were going to make sure that they told me a better way to cook, clean, serve or just live…and I would get so angry inside when they were right! In these situations, it helped me to remember that God is sovereign. I needed to accept that there was a reason that the person was part of my life. After prayer and pursuing godly solutions, which usually came after ranting and raving to my husband and complaining to God…I wish that I could say that the godly response was my first response…I could always see that something positive came from the situation.

The most helpful scenario was asking God to show me how to love this person…and then acting on it. I needed to remember that love isn’t just a gushy feeling, it’s an active verb. If I’m not showing love to someone, I don’t love them. What is still amazing to me is that, when you begin to act in love toward someone, the feeling often follows. It isn’t being a fake; it’s about doing what is right. What’s funny is that a few people that I didn’t care for are now dear friends. I got to know them enough that often I could see why they acted like they did and join with others that loved them through it.

I am a blessed woman. I know I am doing something that is important and I know that it is God’s work. I am in a godly environment with good people, and I enjoy using the gifts that God has given me. I can get caught up with mundane chores and let myself get irritated with people and situations. But, if I will pause for a moment and remember Who I’m working for and why it matters, and speak to Him for a moment, a smile will return, and I can cheerfully get back to working in my job of ministry.

Written By, Judy Lowery Matheny
Food Service Director
Covenant Presbyterian Church
33 Burton Hills Blvd.
Nashville, TN 37215
Cell: 615.790.3685

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