The hostess was edgy and stressed. I love edgy but hate seeing anyone stressed. When I said, ‘Thompson party of 4 for 7pm” she jumped, fumbled the menus, and her stress grew.
Trying to help, I said, ‘How has your day been?’ Now she dropped the menus, stared straight at me and replied, ‘I’ve been here all day: it’s been hectic! You are the only person who has asked me how my day has been; I’m giving you the owners’ table for tonight!’
She waived off her assistant and personally escorted our party to the owners’ booth. We sat elevated like kings and queens, next to a window, overlooking the main restaurant area. This gave us a perfect view of the outdoor patio below, with the ice cream shop famous in our city.
Healed by wholesomeness
As our party caught up on family, business, and food choices the hostess returned. She chatted me up about the band on the patio outside and below and crowd dancing there. She described how it had become a ‘community gathering place.’ Without warning she became emotional.
‘Last week the band was playing, people were dancing; everyone was having so much fun. As I watched it, I began to cry. It was so wholesome; so wholesome … ‘ Something profound happened to her the previous week, and was happening again while she described it to us.
If I did not know better, I would say she was being healed. But of course we all know better. This was a restaurant, not a church and no one had prayed for her. That’s how healing comes, right? Through a prayer, at a meeting, in an atmosphere carefully staged or stewarded ‘so God can move.’
The others in our party missed the significance of the moment because none were aware of this restaurant’s history. The hostess’ emotional recap of the previous week touched me deeply because I knew the backstory of the building. It is profound and instructive.
Resurrected from death
The restaurant is one of the Top 10 in our city. The building originally housed a mortuary in 1908. That business closed in the late 90s and the building shuttered for a decade, as the surrounding area suffered decay. Someone eventually purchased and repurposed the building as a restaurant in the late 2000s.
A local family started an ice cream business next door to the restaurant soon afterwards. Their business idea started as a desire to honor their patriarch, and became wildly successful. Impacting the community was an afterthought – building a business was predominant in their thinking.
They conceived a unique building concept and hired a former of consulting client of mine to do the engineering. This gentleman is concientious and and creative. He is a legend in the city for his work ethic, skill, and integrity. His structural plans facilitated the approval of the building concept which is now a community icon.
Seeds springing up
As these businesses thrived, the outdoor space around them took on a life of it’s own. Bands, artists, community groups, and others began using it as people from across the metro streamed to the neighborhood. Like stem and leaf popping through the tinest opening in concrete, life pushed through and began to bloom.
After finishing our meal, we wandered down to this patio area (the ladies wanted ice cream) and discovered the elusive, diverse America that many of us yearn for. Ice cream may have drawn us, but now the people dancing captivated us. Young, old, and in between, from different backgrounds and cultures all dancing together. The scene was compelling.
It was the best of American life – many colors, many cultures – all enjoying freedom and life together in peace. Differences did not divide nor separate; they blended to make a more beautiful whole. All around us people were waiting in line for ice cream, but no one could look away from the scene of people enjoying life. It was wholesome … and it was healing to the soul.
The end goal
From all my biblical study and research over the past 3 decades it appears this really is the end goal. Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy and requested that prayers be made for everyone, for rulers and those in authority so that:
‘… We may all live lives of quiet and peace in all godliness and dignity. ‘This is good and pleasing to God.’(1 Timothy 2:2-3)
The end goals of ‘the church’ are not revival, exciting meetings, great conferences, or even congregational growth. These are only desirable and beneficial to the degree they support, not hinder the end goal that pleases God. That goal is a quiet, peaceful life in godliness and dignity for everyone.
Institutional Christianity often degrades down to encouraging people to ‘leave the world’ to join its ranks. This undermines the reason we were born – transforming the world by living inside it. The enticement to become enamored with religious life versus life in the world may increase church attendance, but it undermines societal transformation – which is the goal.
Societal transformation that leads to a peaceful, quiet life in all godliness and dignity is what we are working towards. This is what I witnessed in and around the restaurant. I saw life, community, healing from trauma – all components of societal transformation – as a product of commerce.
The beauty of commerce
Commerce is a ‘secular endeavor’ or most would assume so. However revitalization of a neighborhood came through financial risk, skilled labor, and a desire for commercial success. When completed this project provided opportunities for other – economic and otherwise – and took on life beyond expectations, transforming the neighborhood.
A friend describes it this way – ‘there is a beauty in commerce.’ He does development projects in countries where unemployment rates range from 30-60%. The poverty, disease, and loss of dignity are societal consequences. Through micro financing, business training, and personal discipleship they are transforming communities moving them closer to God’s end goal.
The best incarnation of commerce creates jobs providing individuals an opportunity to utilize their gifts and talents for a greater purpose. They gain fulfillment and ultimately foster expressions of life and community in the world. That sounds a little like societal transformation to me.
What does transformation look like to you – someone responding to a message in a church? Individuals may start their journey that way but when our vision of transformation is limited to personal salvation, it translates very little into societal transformation.
Transformation can start in church meetings with individuals having an awakening of faith. However our societies only change when individuals move in faith IN the world of transaction that comprises business, commerce, and community investment.
Transformation through work
There is transformative power in people doing what God created them to do in the world, not separated from it. Developers, chefs, engineers, venture capitalists, artisans, and artists all have power for impact. Our world can be transformed as people confidently use their God given talents to succeed in the world, thus provided opportunities to others, through that success.
Transformation may begin with individuals in church meetings, but must continue by individuals investing their gifts into the world. We have to emerge from our ‘religious bushels’ so our light can shine collaboratively in the world. God put us in the world and His Son inside of us he could dwell in our world. That only happens as we serve from within.
Creation began when light came into the darkness. It continues every time someone invests their God given gifts to serve others and make the world a better place. Doing God’s will is no more complicated than doing what Jesus did. This is how Luke described it:
‘Jesus Christ of Nazareth went around doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil.’(Acts 10:38)
A beautiful simplicity
Do you desire to do God’s will, but struggle knowing your specific part? Try this – do good whenever you can. Do good in your career. Do good through your career. If you do good long enough you might discover a brand new world emerging from the ruins of the old. You might see people healed in restaurants, conference rooms, or retail settings. It can happen.
God’s will is not mystical nor mysterious. Neither is transformation instant or ocurring only in ‘church.’ Both are accomplished over time and by generations of people living successfully, serving others, and building a world that leads to a peaceful, quiet life for all with godliness and dignity. That is the beautiful simpicity of God’s plan and our purpose in the world.