Food preserving is a process that takes a perishable food and by altering its circumstances, keeps it fresh until ready for use. You remove the air, or sometimes the light. You might cook it by heat or by preservatives like salt and then seal it. It’s a beautiful thing to behold! Such a colorful labor of love neatly on display in the pantry.
The fall time is my favorite. To see my husband bring in meat from a successful hunt is so gratifying. Coolers full of salmon also make my mouth water! We work hard to process and freeze the meat to be used all year long. I’m learning from a local farmer a bunch of ways to can and freeze the produce harvest, too. I don’t spend a whole lot of time with cute labels and perfectly functional pantry planning. I’m just happy with a full freezer and pantry. Because that means not only do we have enough for our family, but it also means we can share it. We look forward to having guests in the home to share and display all our Alaska treasures. You see, the food wasn’t there to just be stored up. It was ready and waiting for the dinner table.
A jar of grandma’s barrel cured pickles are completely worthless unless they are eaten and used up. It only has value if the seal is broken and the process is halted. Then and only then can that preserved food do its REAL work of nourishing and growing a human body.
It would be very sad to be so protective of MY work, that I don’t want anyone to use it or mess it up! If I use one jar, then my even row of twelve would be eleven! What would I do with eleven? Some might put so much time and energy into a Pinterest perfect pantry, that they never think about how to put it into use for those we love and those who cross our path. The purpose of canning or freezing food is not to show off my skill or simply enjoy having a neatly labeled and organized pantry. The purpose is to make those vegetables and fruits and meats available at anytime we need to eat.
A church is like that. A church planter will put in untold amounts of time, energy, and resources to plant and grow the seedlings of a healthy church. And a wise church planter will also “put up” and preserve all of the necessary nourishing elements of life for use later on. Each pastor that comes along after him will use and “eat” and build on the foundations that were laid before. And he will then do some canning and freezing of his own for the nourishment needed yet in his own future.
How does this happen? What is this food? It is the Word of God. It is teaching and discipling. It is forming a biblically sound church structure that seeks to remove the impurities and keeps the good stuff fresh and pure. It is singing, and giving, and fellowship with God’s people. The local New Testament Church is God’s pantry and cellar where the nourishment is easily found and plentiful. It will always be there, ready for you to bring it to the table.
But there’s a catch. Just like that useless row of jars that sit on the shelf for decades without being used, the church cannot ONLY preserve. It cannot remain on the shelf looking pretty and organized and labeled. It must be consumed. It must be poured out like Mary’s precious ointment at Jesus’ feet. What we have must be brought out and prepared to serve to hungry souls who need to grow. The apostle Paul was constantly seeking to be used up and poured out for God’s will among all the churches that they might grow spiritually.
24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.Colossians 1:24-29
We have enough to share! That pantry is so full of yummy goodness , that we really need to give some away before it goes bad. Yes, even preserved food can eventually spoil over time, especially if some impurity sneaked into the jar due to carelessness. Frozen meat only lasts so long in the freezer. It is meant to be used up.
Reach out. Go to everyone you can find to bring them the Bread of Life (witness to them about the good news of Jesus! John 6:35, 48, 51), then invite them to come to your table to eat a well cooked meal. A church ought to never turn away a hungry visitor who may not even know what exactly he is lacking in his diet. The church may not know right away either! But we should take the time to find out and then feed them that. Until they are nourished and growing again.
When we speak of hospitality in the church, it is NOT about literal food and shelter. (Although that is not excluded based on simple love and compassion.) Hospitality is taking what we have in abundance, the Word of God taught and practiced continually, the love for the brethren, the protection from Satan’s devices, and sharing it. We don’t just take; we give. We lengthen the table to include people who may be much more hungry for the truth than we are, or for those who have become fat and unhealthy on the junk food of the world. Here they can find a well balanced meal. They may reject it, some being even so rude as to spit it out. But many will be thankful and have a good experience.
So the next time you take a jar of preserves off your shelf to use, let it remind you to “use up” the blessings you have at church and share it with others. It’s a good work to be teaching and discipling and growing, but don’t keep your church in a jar. Take it off the shelf and use it. Be a part of the preserving and storing, but be a part of the giving and sharing too.
And as time goes on, and more people use up what we have in reserve, we will see harvests of souls saved and adopted into the family (Matthew 9:36-38). Then we will begin the process again with new hands to help teach and serve and store up for another round of visitors. And the table grows and grows until God calls us to the Great Harvest of souls (Matthew 13:38-43).