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SAY: The Jesus we are most familiar with was several things, Mighty Savior, Perfect Healer, Great Physician... but “foodie” probably doesn’t instantly come to mind. If you could pick one food to eat for dinner every night for the rest of your life or as your “Last Supper” – what would it be? What is that food you just can’t get enough of or don’t grow tired of?

Intro: Cultivating friendships for the soul
“The purpose behind all the meals is Jesus is revealing the heart of a relational God.” – Pastor Derick
SAY: Meals were a loaded experience of great significance. Family gatherings and holidays typically happen around big meals. There is an art and beauty behind sitting across the table from a friend and sharing a meal. Jesus said “I came to eat and drink…” This was Jesus demonstrating the heart of God through the context of relationships. Like Pastor Derick said, “The point of food isn’t just fuel for the body, but an excuse to cultivate friendships for the soul.” So let’s get right down to cultivating the friendships among us today and pass around our first topic…

Topic One: Change your writing tools, and “Follow Me.”
Jesus was totally comfortable with the imperfect and met people right in their mess. - Pastor Derick
READ: In Mark 2:14, it reads, “As Jesus walked along, he saw Levi sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.”
In Luke 5:27-28, it reads, “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.”
But, notice how when Matthew, himself, notes the account of the exact same experience and moment in time, he refers to himself in his “new” identity as Matthew, not associating with his former name of Levi, before his encounter with and salvation through Jesus*:
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.” - Matthew 9:9
SAY: Levi (who later changed his name to Matthew) responded to Jesus’ invitation to “follow me” without hesitation. He experienced a radical and total life transformation as a result of his immediate, “don’t look back” obedience.
ASK: What holds you back from being a fully committed follower of Christ? What causes you to hesitate or delay or disobey Jesus’ call to live and love by His example? Can you identify any internal or external obstacles in your life that discourage obedience?
SAY: So many times, we don’t step out and follow Jesus because of insecurity. Perhaps, we get hung-up in the awareness of the speckled shortcomings in our past… but newsflash! God is already aware of your past – He knows everything that went down – but, He stilled called you.
ASK: Aren’t we all Levi, ourselves? What do you think you need to change in your life/perspective/habits/relationships to demonstrate Matthew’s sold out obedience to follow Jesus?


Topic Two: Meals were a part of the validation of one’s spirituality.
"It takes no spiritual insight to diagnose the sickness of sin in someone else's life." –Pastor Derick

READ: While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. - Mark 2:15
When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” - Mark 2:16-17
SAY: When the Pharisees saw that Jesus was dining with Levi and his comrades, they asked, "Why is this man eating with tax collectors and notorious sinners?” 
ASK: Is there someone in your life such as a co-worker or neighbor that you would hesitate to share a meal with, publicly, but that doesn't have a personal relationship with Jesus? How could you respond to that individual upon receiving Pastor Derick's message and after being reminded how Jesus viewed outcasts?
ASK: What are some areas where you may be too focused on behavior modification? Where could you extend yourself more grace from a Jesus-posture, saying, “you belong with me first?” Why is it often times, easier to adjust your behaviors and belief system in a way you think is pleasing to God, yet still feel like you don’t belong? What can you infuse into your daily routine to remind you of your identity in Christ?

FOR COUPLES GROUPS: How could you extend your spouse more grace from a Jesus-posture, saying, “you belong with me” first in any of the areas where you feel your spouse may “fall a tad short?” Are you, perhaps, too focused on behavior modification?
ASK: What areas do you need to approach with a highlighter versus a sharpie? Instead of crossing out and writing off – how can you adapt a perspective of Jesus and highlight the strengths/positive in ourselves and in our circles?
SAY: Pastor would encourage us to take the opportunity to broaden our circles… Let’s be deep and wide. May we never develop a religious/pharisaical attitude that you only belong at my table if you believe like me, look like me, have an opinion like me… rather, maintain an “iron sharpens iron” mindset can you develop friendships with people that don’t act like you and let that speak louder about your security than it does your spirituality. Let’s be a little more like Jesus with a full belly, a full heart, good conversations he’ll keep it simple and say “I love you. I forgive you.… Now let’s eat.“ So with that, let us dive deeper into the MEAL acronym and calling out scripture and spurring discussing around each letter…


Topic Three: Make the most of every opportunity.
READ: “Don’t waste your time...” -Ephesians 5:15
SAY: In Pastor Derick’s MEAL acronym the “M” represents making the most of every opportunity. Jesus made the most of every meal. He wasn’t just present with them, He was engaged. May we relearn the art of storytelling, make eye contact and limit distractions.
ASK: What kind of plan or ideas do you have to actually put down devices and divulge into deep conversations?

Topic Four: Encourage God’s activity in their life
READ: “Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” - Hebrews 10:24-25
“God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:11
SAY: In Pastor Derick’s MEAL acronym the “E” represents encouraging God’s activity in the lives of the individuals in your circle. “If you build it they will come.” So build it! Pastor challenges us to speak of God’s activity in one’s life to inspire others to what they can become. A “spire” is the top of the building that points to/reaches to heaven. To inspire is to reach in to someone and point up to heaven helping them to see the activity of God and what He is doing.
ASK: What if we were like Jesus and met people in their “mess”? Are there times you may hesitate to help people when they are in their valley? How can we encourage and inspire them in those times? Like Jesus did for Levi, give an example of a time you in-spired someone? You pointed in and then up. How you were privileged to see how God used that moment to propel them forward?

Topic Five: Allow time to pass
READ: “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” - Jeremiah 2:25
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” - Ecclesiastes 3:1
SAY: Pastor Derick said that the fellowship isn't over when the last bite is taken, and in the MEAL acronym the “A” represents allowing time to pass. The connections actually begin during the conversation that follows the meal. This solidifies the fact that it's less about the food itself and more about the people you're sharing it with. The food is just the excuse to get people around the table, which leads to making connections, pouring into each other, and forming lasting relationships.
ASK: Think back to a time when you shared a large meal with lots of people, such as Thanksgiving dinner. Isn't it true that while there was likely conversation during the meal itself, most of the talking, laughing, and storytelling happened after the plates were cleared? How does this coincide with the way Jesus viewed meal times?


Topic Six: Laugh
READ: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." - Psalm 126:2
“A cheerful disposition is good for your health.” - Psalm 17:22
SAY: Don’t suppress your laughter, let it loose. Protect the art of table through the tablet of the Bible. Pastor told us, there are certain endorphins in your brain that won’t fire or release until you audible hear yourself laughing. Let’s try it! (start laughing and watch it contagiously grow in momentum around the table.)
ASK: What images splash through your mind when you think of what brings you exuberant joy? What are some areas that force your face muscles to involuntarily draw a smile?

Wrap up: Protect the table and focus on the “third Son.”   

SAY: In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. One son grew tired of waiting on his inheritance, went to his father and in so many words expressed that he didn’t want to wait on his father to die, but rather wanted his inheritance right then and there. And to many of our surprise, the father honors the request, giving the son the inheritance, knowing he was not mature enough to handle that kind of wealth. So, the son took the money, moved to another city, and squandered it all away on a wild lifestyle. The Bible says that he was financially, emotionally, spiritually and relationally bankrupt. He lost it all, and it wasn’t until the farmer the son ended up working for forbade him to eat from the pig-slop, that he realized he had hit rock bottom and purposed in his mind to return home to his family. But he didn’t set out to earn his place back into the family, because he felt it was “too much to ask” as he had behaved too poorly. He planned to return and beg his father to hire him as one of his servants. And even while he was a long way off, the father saw the silhouette of his son in the distance, and he ran to him, embraced him and said, “welcome home!” And then he shouted at the top of his lungs, “I’m hungry! My boy’s back, let’s eat! Kill the fattened calf! Let’s throw a party, because what was once lost is now found.”

We tend to think of this story having two sons, the prodigal son and the elder brother, who got mad at his father and jealous of his brother at the grandiose homecoming and throwing of the party was undeserved, in his eyes, because the prodigal son didn’t behave correctly. The father affirms his actions saying, “It is right that I did this.” Because, this father is a picture of our Heavenly Father. “You belong here before you believe here. I’m not highlighting your behavior, I’m highlighting your life.” There is a third Son in this story. The narrator, who is telling the story. The Son of God – Jesus - who came to be our example and demonstration of the love of His Father.

ASK: Aren’t we, too many times, assuming the perspective of the elder brother? We know the trials and hardships facing those in our circle, whether they “asked for them” or not.

Have we even acknowledged a situation was breaking the heart of someone we love, but haven’t taken the opportunity to speak encouragement or inspiration over the subject or the situation? What more could we have done to help bring resolve, restoration and reconciliation to a broken relationship or hemorrhaging situation?
SAY: Let us take the next four weeks to taste and see the goodness of God. It’s not about behavior, it’s not even about your belief, it’s about belonging. Let’s pick up the highlighter and highlight the mercy, forgiveness and grace that only comes from Jesus. What if we are most like Jesus, not just inside the church walls, but when we are sharing good food, through great conversation so people will leave inspired with a full heart.


Closing Prayer
PRAY: God, give us eyes to see and a mouth to speak inspiration to every situation. God, equip us to leverage every moment of our life, every meal, every conversation. May we drop our pride, our arrogance and our perspective – laying our sharpie down, for it is not a sword, and begin to highlight the activity of God in every conversation we have. Make it natural for us to become the “spire” in every conversation. Give us wisdom in how to direct those we love towards Heaven. May we walk into this season, live within this season and walk out of this season, honestly able to say, I have tasted, and I have seen my God, and He is good. In Jesus name, amen.