Neighborhood Studies       
 by Carol J. Ahola               

The Joy of Teaching

   "I've found the greatest recipe!" How often do you and I say those words? Most of us enjoy exchanging tasty ideas for feeding our families. Yet have you discovered the even greater joy of giving God's good news to hungry hearts?

   Sound scary? If you can recite a recipe, you can tell your testimony. I've learned that sharing food and faith go together--naturally. Recently I invited a few friends to my home for a brunch. We chatted while I whirred up a batch of Sue's blender waffles. I showed the women a handful of "Kamut," the whole grain I used, and read how it came to this country from Sue Gregg's Breakfasts cookbook.

   As we enjoyed the yummy food, it was an easy transition from talking about the wonders of whole grains to the One who created them. As we chatted, the ladies realized how often God uses food to teach us about Himself--and us!

   "Let's do this again!" several women chorused. Over the next months, I was delighted to "show and tell" how to serve nutritious, yet tasty meals. While muffins baked or soup simmered, we shared God's Word. We gathered often, feasting on daily bread and the "living" bread in my cozy kitchen.

   You can do this too! Ask the Lord to open doors of hearts as you open the door of your home. Talking about the Ultimate Source of food can be as easy as turning on your blender!

   My first experience demonstrating a recipe was a disaster! I trembled in front of a room full of people and judges at a 4-H Demonstration Contest. I talked as quickly as I could, spilling and splashing my way to the end. Mercifully, I finished before fainting, vowing I'd NEVER demonstrate again.

   I've since learned that demonstrating need not terrify! The secret? Smile! Enjoy what you're doing. Get your mind off you and think how what you're sharing will help your friends. Laugh over spills and splashes. Relax and others will too!

   What to demonstrate? Try them all--waffles, pancakes, crepes, coffee cakes, and muffins full of whole-grain goodness!

   Your friends will be delighted to discover that they don't need a flour mill before they can prepare and serve tasty, nutritious food to their families. They'll be amazed when you show them how a sturdy blender quickly transforms hard grains to smooth batters. Because the cost of grains is low, the preparation time minimal, and the taste fantastic, your friends will want to make their own blender quick breads. To get them started, you might want to give each lady enough grain for a batch of waffles from your supplies to take home.

   Watch as they transfer their gratitude for whole foods from you to the Master Chef. That is the plan!        

The Joy of Food

    Aromas waft from a crock pot. Colorful dishes catch the eye. A steak sizzles. A creamy soup soothes. A crispy apple crunches. Sounds, sights, smells, textures, and temperatures all invite a taste. Arouse an appetite.

    "How did you do it?" "May I have that recipe?" "Please show me how."

    That's what happens when you serve a tasty recipe. The questions ring like compliments.

    Those responses are invitations for you to say, "Come over and we'll do it together," or "Let's get a few friends together, and I'll demonstrate how." It's an opportunity for you to introduce a Taste & Tell mini-cooking class and the Food to Faith Studies.

Carol J. Ahola

The Joy of Discovery

   Imagine the Creator as He considers Adam and Eve: "I'm going to put this lovey couple at a living banquet table with a never ending variety of foods so they'll think well of me every time their senses waft in a delicious aroma, taste a juicy bite, and are satiated with gourmet pleasures."

   After the eating comes the joy. Why is it that food gives us such delight? Acts 14: 17 observes that there is a chain of cause and effect connections between the pleasure humans derive from food and the source of that pleasure. At the end we discover the cause beyond the causes that is more than chemical stimulation or tummy- full satiation. The Ultimate Cause is very personal.

   Food and the Creator, food and Jesus naturally go together. That's part of the Master Plan. Our part is to teach others appreciation for the gift of food--how to choose the best, how to prepare pleasing dishes, and, most of all, how to show appreciation to the Creator.

   When it comes to teaching about food and food preparation it is important to talk about nutrition, cost, and efficient preparation techniques. I agree, however, with the choice of the key word in the title of the most famous of American cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking. The joy originates with the Creator. That is why I believe the Bible stories are the place to start. It is the book that stands behind the cookbooks.

   I am pleased to present the Taste & Talk Studies prepared by Carol Ahola. With these guides you can introduce your friends to both the joy of cooking and the joy of a relationship to the Originator of all good tasting and health giving food. By exploring the food to faith connections in the Bible they can gain insights into the Creator's plan for them.

May your efforts be richly rewarded!

Sue Gregg

The Food to Faith Connection
    A Biblical text written in the first century reflects that good food results in satiating pleasure. "He [God] provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." Acts 14:17b NIV. The food-pleasure connection provokes speculation. Why taste? Why aromas? Why human attraction to colors, shapes, and textures? Is there really a cause behind the effect, an intelligent designer behind it all who has implanted in humans a passion to pursue the pleasure of good food?
   Other examples come from the Jesus story told in the gospels. His first miracle of turning water into wine suggests that there is more to drinking (and eating) in the divine design than just filling up human gas tanks. It saved the wedding host from the embarrassment of running out of wine. Furthermore, it produced raves about how the drinks got better as the celebration progressed.

   Later the prospect of free fast food motivated thousands to follow Jesus. In fact people saw this as an opportunity to turn him into a very convenient fast food delivery system (The masses wanted to coronate him king after he fed them). Jesus, however, used it as a bridge for understanding. If people could trust him to provide food, they could also rely on him to meet the deepest human desires—forgiveness, freedom, intimacy, life on the other side of death. To enjoy the benefits he offered, however, there was a condition. They must "eat him," "drink him in," "follow him," relate intimately to him in such a way that his words, character, and spirit would interweave into the very fabric of their everyday lives. That is the food to faith connection.


#1 Gifts

    Framed crosswork hangs on several walls in my home, gifts from my daughter, April. Although she is a mother of four young children, she redeems snatches of time for creative handiwork. Knowing how full her hands are makes these gifts even more valuable to me. Every time I look at one of these pictures, I think of my daughter. She gets thought of often--and appreciated much!

    We connect gifts with the giver, don't we? Did you ever cry when you broke something--not because it was so valuable but because a dear friend gave it to you?

    That's my story--you can use it if you wish, or better, tell your own story. Then ask your guests: "Please tell us about a special gift you have received or given." You'll note how their gifts connected them to the one who gave it.

    Now ask questions that explore the theme of gifts in the Bible.

#1 What is the first--and most often repeated--gift parents give to their children?

#2 What is the first gift the Creator gave to humankind?

#3 Why? (You may get several answers here. Don't be concerned about getting everyone to agree on one "correct" answer.)

#1 Seconds after Joy was born, I cradled my daughter in my arms and fed her on the delivery table. It didn't take Joy long to connect me with a filled tummy. When she would see me, she'd brighten, bonding easily to her "food lady."

Months later, I spooned mashed and squashed colors into her baby-bird mouth. Gradually, she graduated to people food. Now eighteen, Joy freely forages for food in our refrigerator. Although she no longer "burps" her approval, Joy still expresses her gratitude for food, daily to her heavenly Father, with occasional compliments to the cook. We've watched this progression of thankfulness--from the "food lady" to God Himself--in all five of our children.

#2 In the beginning of His book, God prepared the earth to provide for His children:

"I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." Genesis 1:29

"Everything that moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything." Genesis 9:3

Like a loving parent, God still supplies "seed to the sower and bread to the eater." Isaiah 55:10

#3 Why? God wants us to make the obvious connection between provision and Provider. God's grace ("charis") correctly understood prompts gratitude ("eucharisteo").


    "Foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." 1 Timothy 4:3b


#2 Temptation

Visions of sugar plums danced in my head on Halloween, not Christmas, when I was a child. My brothers and I walked our country roads in homemade costumes, filling our sacks with sugary loot. I then savored the uncommon candy over several days, except the year I was eight. That's the time my taste buds took command, begging "just one more treat," until I had devoured my entire candy cache.

My childish greed caught up with me the next day. The school nurse drove me home, worried about my sharp abdominal pain and pale skin. Her tender concern contrasted sharply with my mother's lack of sympathy. Mom told the nurse about the pile of candy wrappers she found in the trash that morning. Then both women frowned down at me. I learned too late that surrendering to temptation has a price--and that nature always collects!

That is how I succumbed to the craving and suffered the consequence. You can use my story, but I urge you to open with one of your own. Then start the discussion off with your guests by asking:

#1 Are you ever tempted to eat something that you know isn't good for you? Share a food temptation.

#2 What was man and woman's first temptation? How did their response affect their lives? What was Jesus' first temptation? How did His response differ from Adam and Eve's? What was the result?

#3 How do your food choices affect you? your family? What would you like to change?

#1 "Betcha can't eat just one!" the commercial teases. Potato chip producers know--salty snacks tempt most of us. So do sugary ones, and fat-filled bites. How have Americans fared in this battle between "goodies" and healthy choices? Not well.

#2 Like Adam and Eve, many of us succumb to the food barkers' promises and suffer for it. Decide to bless our bodies with healthy foods in proper amounts and we're labeled "health nuts."

Is God too busy running the universe to care about what we munch for lunch?

He gave only one prohibition in Eden:

"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Genesis 2:16b-17

Adam and Eve "fell" for the ad(der)'s pitch and the whole human race voluntarily tumbled in after them.

God sent His son, fully man and fully God, to pull us out of the pit. But He must refuse all temptation to die the perfect sacrifice for our sinning.

How did Satan tempt Jesus? He used what worked in the garden:

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.'

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Matthew 4:1-4

#3 Because Jesus conquered temptation, we enjoy the freedom to make good choices. Why not begin today?


#3 Intimacy

"Wanna cookie?" The little girl next to me at the school lunch table smiled shyly. It was my first day of school and I was terrified. How I welcomed her offer of food and fellowship! From that day until I left for college 12 years later, Carol and I shared lunches, giggles, secrets, fears, and dreams. Years later and two states away, Carol and I still meet for lunch whenever I'm in her town.

I might have missed the intimacy of that friendship if my parents had forbidden me to partake from a school-mate's lunch. (The food-sharing rules in our house were limited to two: Never take candy from strangers, and never feed the dog at the table!)

As I grew up I learned our culture's unwritten rules about sharing food. You know them too; for example, when dining with another couple, you might offer to cut a bite for the man to sample...but you never feed him from your fork. You reserve that intimacy for your husband alone. Without being told, we know that violating this unwritten rule is more than a breach of good etiquette--it is as out of bounds as the closeness of a long embrace with someone else's mate.

#1 Tell about a time when you shared your food with someone. How did it affect your relationship?

#2 When was the first time people shared food with each other? What resulted? How does that contrast with the Old Testament story of Boaz offering food to Ruth?

#3 How did Jesus extend His love to Judas before the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane? What does Jesus desire to do with us when we welcome Him into our lives?

#1 Remember the thrill you felt when your sweetheart first invited you to sample food from his fork? How close you felt! That simple act told you, and everyone at the table, "This friendship's going somewhere!"

#2 Eve shared Eden's forbidden fruit with Adam. They tasted the bitter results of their disobedience for the rest of their lives. (See Genesis 3.)

Boaz invited Ruth, a destitute foreigner, to sit with his reapers at mealtime. (See Ruth 2:14) His eagerness to provide for her gives us a snapshot of the heart of God. The "fruit" of their marriage included great grandson King David, and later the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

#3 When we dined with friends in Japan we often dipped our chopsticks into a central pot, a "nabi" full of bubbling vegetables and meat.

This Oriental custom of intimate eating is not new. At the last supper, Jesus wiped the common bowl with bread and offered this soaked morsel to Judas. Immediately after he took the bread, Judas left to gather a murder-hungry mob. No surprise, his rejection of God's love. Earlier that night Jesus had painfully prophesied, "He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me." (John 13:18-30)

Jesus still offers the communion of His fellowship to us, His rebellious creation. He invites us to share supper with Him: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." (Revelation 3:20)

Why not accept His invitation for intimacy? It's a meal you won't want to miss!

#4  Hospitality

Whenever my husband and I visit our three out-of-the-nest children, we headquarter at April and Rick's. April, our oldest daughter, and her husband, Rick, live shoe-horned into a 600 square foot trailer while they are building a house for their family of six. The lack of space or a fancy place hasn't hindered their hospitality. True, three of us must stand up when April opens her refrigerator door, but we can boast more laughter per square foot than people in many mansions.

Our entire clan of seventeen gathers each summer. Blankets are spread on the grass and we picnic in their mountain meadow. While the men hammer and saw on the house project, the ladies prepare the meal together. Stirring and pouring combine with baby-watching and news-sharing. The menu may be homemade soup and muffins; plastic substitutes for silver, but no matter. We're together and how sweet it is!

#1 Describe someone you know who exudes the gift of hospitality. How is it expressed? What are the results?

#2 Define hospitality. How does it differ from entertaining?

#3 What does the Bible say about hospitality? How can you joyfully "give yourself" to hospitality? When?

#1 Hospitable hearts share several characteristics: Relaxed hostesses focus on blessing others, without apology for their housekeeping or cooking. No matter how simple the surroundings, the welcome warms, the conversation edifies, and the food nourishes.

#2 Hospitality comes from the same Latin word that we translate hospital--a healing place for sick and injured people, and hospice--a shelter for travelers or a program that ministers to the ill. True hospitality provides a refuge for refreshment and renewal for welcomed guests.

Entertaining is usually intended to impress, often in a sophisticated setting with fancy food. Hospitality demands neither elegance nor a return invitation. It reflects God's heart that shares His bread with the hungry and brings into His house the poor who are cast out, and calls us to do the same. (See Is. 58:7)

#3 God has woven hospitality, including its rewards, throughout His book. In the heat of the day, Abraham ran to welcome strangers, insisting they rest and "refresh their hearts" before they passed by. After the meal, these visitors delivered God's promise of the birth of Issac. (Gen. 18:1-15). Jethro extended hospitality to a fugitive from Egypt and that fugitive, Moses, became his son-in-law. (Ex. 2:15-17)

The "host with the most" hospitality is Jesus! He saved a wedding from disaster. (John 2). Catered fish and barley chips to drop-in guests estimated at over 10,000 in number. (John 6). Right how He's preparing for the banquet that culminates history, the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Rev. 19:9).

Paul exhorted all believers to be "given to (literally 'pursuing') hospitality." (Rom.12:13). Twice he noted hospitality as a qualification for church leaders. (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:18) Peter admonished all believers to "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling." (1Peter 4:9)

Does fear lock the doors to hospitality at your house? So you're not Martha Stewart. And maybe the only mansion you will ever own is "just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we'll never grow old." Why not begin today to give yourself to others?


Introducing Carol J. Ahola

Guests at Carol J. Ahola's home leave with spirits uplifted by special dishes from her kitchen and words of wisdom. As a free-lance writer she has had articles published in several magazines including Guideposts, Decision, and Sunday Digest. She also speaks at women's conferences.

Carol's experience includes serving as a cultural and spiritual ambassador in Japan, high school teacher, and an editor for a home schooling publisher. She and her husband, Milt, have raised five children and enjoy eight grandchildren. Currently they are based in Mountain Home, Idaho.

The inspiration for her contributions to the Taste & Tell Studies comes from weekly meetings of women from her neighborhood around her kitchen table.

Here Carol J. Ahola is serving her Finnish Pancakes to guests. 
Click on photo for the recipe demonstration.


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