Monday, November 27, 2006

By Invitation Only

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the holidays. I grew up in Canada so I’m not accustomed to Thanksgiving being so close to Christmas. Back home, Thanksgiving is celebrated in mid-October so there’s lots of time to recover before another big event occurs. Here it’s just back-to-back holidays. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving to me still means family, food and leftovers.

Sometimes Thanksgiving can be a little crowded. At my family get-togethers there are grown-up tables, kids tables and little kid tables. Don’t let the titles fool you…I sat at the kid’s table until I was in my thirties. It’s more of a hierarchy than an age thing. The only real difference is the beverage service; juice versus coffee, or maybe wine after the meal. Every table is the same, lots of food and no leg-room.

I didn’t go home this Thanksgiving, deciding instead to spend it with my family here. I have learned that family is not so much dictated by genetics as it is by choice. God has blessed me tremendously in that I have a great biological family AND a great family of choice. I am extremely grateful for both.

This year I had possibly the best Thanksgiving of my life. I got to spend it with my friends serving dinner to over 200 people who might not otherwise have had a Thanksgiving meal. The Baton Rouge Dream Center hosted its first public event, inviting everyone in the neighborhood to come to our place for dinner. It was fantastic. Cooking For Christ outdid them selves again, providing turkey, stuffing, cranberries, green beans and apple crumble. Between all the campuses, CFC prepared over 1100 meals between Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon. Those are some dedicated men and women of God!

So here’s how it went down Thanksgiving Eve:
Most of Wednesday was spent getting tables set up, flyers distributed and decorations laid out. We had asked HPCers to consider volunteering some of their time for this event and they showed up! Over the course of the day we had about 150 people come out to help pull this thing off. There were singles, couples and families; people of all ages who wanted to give something back. It was incredible. We had greeters in the parking lot, people seating guests at their tables and servers bringing meals and beverages to our patrons. Some of our volunteers just sat with local families, visiting with them, sharing their lives and praying for them. Just incredible.

Some of our volunteers went door-to-door, inviting people to come celebrate with us. Our good friends at the flat-tire station were still working, so we made to-go plates and delivered a hot meal to them. They were appreciative and hungry.

At 7pm we were closing up shop, but with leftovers available we made the plan for another delivery. Turner Plaza is a housing project just up the block from the Dream Center. Since the residents are primarily elderly or disabled, they are grateful for anything we bring them. We loaded up the meals and headed over to North Street. Before we knocked on our first door Road Runner had arrived. Road Runner is a fast-talking, quirky kind of guy who has lived at Turner Plaza for 27 years. He told us that they had put him out three times, but since his cousin is a senator they keep letting him move back. He stated proudly, “They’ll never keep me out of here”. You gotta love Road Runner. He was good enough to take us door-to-door, letting us know who lived where and who really needed a meal. Behind one door was a sweet woman who told us she was born January 11th, 1902. Before we had time to hand her a plastic fork she was eating the turkey with her fingers. We left her an extra meal for the next day. Behind every door was another story. It took us about 30 minutes to hand out the 65 meals we had taken to the Plaza. Everyone was very thankful and not one person turned us down.

Overall we estimate that we fed 240 people that night. There was food, fellowship and even a little break-dancing. It was a good night. I am continually amazed at how God’s love can penetrate barriers that seem unbreachable. The devil has drawn some pretty firm lines through that community; lines of poverty, racism, addiction and violence. But, on Thanksgiving Eve, every one of those lines were crossed. We ate together, we prayed together, we rode together and we celebrated together. God’s love overpowered darkness once again. Ha-ha, Devil, you lose. All glory to God!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Soup and Bread

I had intended to write this story about the Thanksgiving meal we served at the Baton Rouge Dream Center, but there’s another story that I can’t get out of my head.

On Wednesday morning we were downtown getting ready for the big meal. There were tables to set up, decorations to prepare and flyers to hand out. Lots of people, lots of activity, lots of prayer.

After blitzing the neighborhood with reminder notices about the dinner that evening, we were almost ready for a break. Our final stop was The Alamo; a by-the-hour motel with lots of activities not fit to mention in a Christian story. We visit the Alamo fairly frequently, doing grocery giveaways and Midnight Outreach. We pulled into the parking lot and started handing out flyers. The first guy I talked to was sitting in his car smoking a joint. I handed him the paper, answered his questions and moved on before I had to inhale. I talked to a couple of random uninterested people and then I saw a woman pushing a cleaning cart from room to room. I walked over to her, told her I was from Healing Place Church and invited her to dinner as I handed her a flyer. She thanked me for the invitation but said she had no way to get there. I explained that we were located just up the block and around the corner. She asked if it was free and I said yes. She asked if she could bring her two boys and I said yes. Her face lit up. She looked at the paper, smiled at me and folded it into her shirt pocket. She said, “God bless you” and turned back to her cleaning cart. I moved on to the next person, without really thinking much about it.

I was out of flyers so I was standing in the middle of the lot just kind of watching the other team members. The cleaning lady walked up to me again and smiled. I introduced myself, shook her hand and asked her name. She said it was Beverly and looked at her shoes. I smiled at her and asked how she was doing. She looked up at me and said, “Y’all are the people that brought that good soup to us right?” I nodded and said, “Yeah, that was probably us. We’ve handed out a lot of soup lately.” She looked at her shoes again and said, “Do you know when you’re bring some more of that soup out? It surely was a blessing to me and my boys. It’s real good. I buy bread for my boys, I don’t eat the bread myself, but I buys it for them and they dip it in that good soup and it’s a lovely meal. A real blessing. And you know what else?” She looked at me in the eyes when I smiled and said, “What else?” She smiled back and continued, “My neighbor threw their soup out in the trash so I got blessed with that too. Yes Ma’am, a real blessing, my soup and theirs too. What a blessing. Do you know if you’re gonna bring any more of that soup around?”

It took everything in me not to start crying right there in front of her. I told her I wasn’t sure when we were doing that again but that I’d be sure to find her when we did. I asked which unit she lived in and prayed I wouldn’t forget before I wrote it down. I showed her the number on the flyer she could call if she needed help and asked if I could pray with her. (A part of me secretly thought that maybe she should pray for me, as she certainly had a better grasp of God’s blessings than I did.) She nodded and told me she never turns down pray. I called Miss Margaret over and we prayed blessing, provision and breakthrough over she and her family. When I said amen she grabbed me by the neck and hugged me. I hugged her back and didn’t want to let her go. I told her that I would see her again soon. She thanked us again before walking away. I walked back to the truck, trying hard not to cry.

Most of the people who end up at the Alamo have made some bad choices. A lot of them are tangled up in addiction, abuse and all manner of sin. You know what? So was I. God found me and loved me right where I was at; surrounded by dysfunction, perversion and brokenness. God didn’t wait until I had my act together; He came into my life and got my act together for me. So many times we look at people and wonder why they live like that (whatever ‘that’ is). Miss Beverly is very likely caught up in some unhealthy, unholy activities…just like I was. But God loves her right where she’s at…and He loves her too much to leave her there.

Oh God, give us eyes to see your people as You see them. Let us see Your precious creations, not through our eyes of judgment and condemnation, but through Your eyes of compassion and completion.

I am so grateful that Jesus was willing to come into the miry clay, into the deep pit, to pull me out. I pray that He would create in me a willingness to enter the pit in search of others. If I’m going to be ankle-deep in the miry clay, I pray that I dive in headfirst.

All glory to God!

Thanksgiving Eve

Twas the day before Thanksgiving and all through the hood
There was hunger and poverty; life was not good.

But in the heart of a pastor was a cry for the poor
He sent his church to the streets to tell them there’s more.

With turkeys and stuffing, green beans and corn bread
He wanted relationship; he wanted them fed.

But the clock was against us and the need was so great,
There were still hungry people; too hungry to wait.

So we opened the doors and invited them in,
Sat them down at a table that was set by the King.

They came as they were, broken and bruised
Gathered from the hedges of North Baton Rouge.

They came in their boots, some in short mini skirts
There were Sunday-best outfits and faded work shirts.

But whatever their outward appearance confessed
They were seated with dignity and we served them our best.

There was food and festivities amongst neighbors and friends
But time soon slipped away, dinner came to an end.

They packed up their children and hugged us good-bye.
They thanked us with words and the look in their eyes.

For that window in time they weren’t poor or unstable,
They were guests of the King, with a seat at His table.

As they stepped from the building back into the dark
I prayed that God’s love would envelop their hearts.

Thanksgiving is not just one day in November.
It’s a lifestyle of love; the forgotten remembered.

It’s not about turkey or stuffing or cake.
It’s the life that we live and the choices we make.

Happy Thanksgiving…every day!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Turkey Take-Out

What do you get when you mix 560 turkeys with 100 HPC volunteers? Thanksgiving dinner delivered to over 400 families in less than 5 hours. How cool is that?

Saturday was our big Thanksgiving giveaway and God showed up! We had been working all week trying to gather info, print maps and pack grocery bags in anticipation of the grand event. I’ve got to tell you, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. With over 300 addresses that were expecting a delivery, I imagined us delivering turkeys into the wee hours of the morning. And believe me, you don’t want to be knocking on any doors in the wee hours in north Baton Rouge.

But, everything ran like clockwork. (By ‘clockwork’ I mean the kind of clock you buy at the Dollar Store, with no warranty, 10 minutes before they close on Christmas Eve.) The volunteers were early, the turkeys were late and it seemed like half of our people moved between last week and this. All in all; a near-perfect event.

I have to say, I am always so impressed by the people who attend Healing Place Church. From the pulpit we hear that we’re a healing place for a hurting world, but to see that walked out in the flesh just touches my heart. Cars were lined up at the Annex with people anxious to spend their Saturday delivering food to people in need. When we told them they had to wait because the turkeys were delayed, they got out of their cars and asked how they could help us until the turkeys arrived. When the addresses were wrong, they called to see who else they could bless. When the turkeys were gone, one family purchased another complete meal to give to a neighbor that didn’t get one. Another couple delivered the turkey, discovered the people were without food, and got together with their life group to buy groceries for the family in need. Who does that?! HPCer’s, that’s who.

I love that our church understands that we are blessed so that we can bless others. I love that ‘reach’, ‘serve’, ‘give’ and ‘build’ are not just words in our church; they are principles that we try to live by. I love that over 100 volunteers came out, not just to give somebody a meal, but to give people a living example of thankfulness.

Once we finished the drive-through portion of our day we headed downtown to the Baton Rouge Dream Center. With about twenty birds left to deliver, a team of volunteers loaded the truck with 30 cases of grape juice. We drove across North Acadian to a little trailer park on Hollywood. This isn’t one of the new FEMA parks; this is a collection of dilapidated mobile homes that look like they should have been condemned years ago.

As soon as we pulled into the park, people start streaming out to meet us. They recognized the HPC logo from prior outreaches and immediately connected it to giveaways. The need was overwhelming. We found Mr. John, an elderly gentleman with a hand-held voice box. He runs the park. John was thrilled to see us and made some quick decisions on who needed what. Thanks to his assistance our truck was empty in less than 20 minutes. We had the opportunity to visit with some of the residents and to pray for man who needed healing in his body. With thank you’s and waves all around, we slowly made our way out of the park.

Not everybody got a turkey that day, however everybody was invited to join us for Thanksgiving Dinner on Wednesday night at the Dream Center. Thanks to our faithful volunteers with Cooking For Christ, we plan to feed 200 people a full meal on Thanksgiving Eve. It will undoubtedly be a night to remember.

I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of what God is doing here in Baton Rouge. I thank God for my church, for my pastors and for everyone who works so hard to demonstrate the love of Christ. Sometimes a turkey is just a turkey, but in the right hands a turkey can hold the key that opens the door to someone’s heart.

Happy Thanksgiving. All glory to God!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Money (Don't worry, I'm not asking for yours)

I spent five hours in church today...I feel like I'm penecostal again! And, it wasn't even at my own church. Yesterday I was watching TBN and heard about a prosperity revival that was being hosted at a church in Louisiana. I looked it up on the web and discovered it's only about twenty minutes from my house. Since I have time, and need prosperity to manifest in my life, I figured I'd check it out.

This morning Dr. Leroy Thompson preached and tonight Jesse Duplantis took the pulpit. Great teaching at both sessions! Who knew that there was such annointing in Darrow, LA? Anyway, it was good.

If you have any time this week you should check it out. It's called Prosperity Revival and it's being hosted by Ever Increasing Word Ministries. There's no registration fee and from what I've heard so far it's solid biblical teaching. They have sessions at 10:30am and 7:00pm until Friday. Check it out and be blessed in Jesus' name. All glory to God!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Chili to go

I had a cool thing happen yesterday that got me thinking (scary, I know). I had invited several people (about 15) over to my house for lunch, and for a variety of reasons many of them (all but 3) were unable to show up.

As I was cleaning up I wondered if lunch had been a bad idea. I immediately decided that it wasn't, because I had a good time with the people who did come. I decided that even if only one person had shown up, it still would have been worth the effort.

Then I started thinking about Jesus going to the cross. He would have went for one; even if you (or I) was the only one who chose to follow Him, He still would have done it. He would have suffered all that humiliation and pain, just to keep one of us from the pits of hell.

Then I started thinking about the three people who came for lunch. Simply by showing up they got to eat as much as they wanted and they got to take stuff home with them. I had cooked enough for everyone, but not everyone showed. By default, the ones who did show got extra stuff. That's how it is with Jesus. The blood He shed was enough for everyone, but not everybody shows up. Again by default, the ones who do show up get more than enough of everything they need, and leftovers. How cool is that?

I'm grateful for the ones that showed up. I enjoyed their company and I enjoyed being able to bless them. I think that's how Jesus is too. He's glad we showed up at the cross; we were broke-down and bleeding, but we showed up. Once we show up, He can bless us... with more than we can ever imagine. I love my God! All glory to Him.

Etouffee with a Side of Harleys

The birds weren’t even up yet Saturday morning when I got into my car and drove towards HPC. The Cooking for Christ team was preparing etouffee for 500 people at the Police Motorcycle Competition. I thought that would be a pretty cool event to volunteer for. After loading a few things at HPC we headed to Cortana Mall to set up. One of the flashing signs on Airline blinked ‘5:47am’ and ’41 degrees’ as I drove past. I thought of the volunteers who did this on a regular basis; giving up sleep, recreation and time with family to show others the love of Christ through a hot meal. Pretty impressive.

The dawn was just starting to break when we got to our destination. The place was already abuzz with dozens of motor cops practicing for the day’s competition, event workers, judges and other vendors doing prep work. Amidst the roar of Harleys and the din of the chaos I watched our CFC men remove their hats, join hands and bow their heads in prayer. I was humbled to be a part of it.

After the prayer we started moving equipment, firing burners and getting some stuff in the pots. As we were cooking bacon and browning chicken, the Motorcycle Competition got underway. I was standing at the fence watching the opening ceremony as almost 150 motor cops from across the nation drove into formation. It seemed like a sea of uniforms standing at attention beside their bikes. The sight of police officers from across the country, bowing their heads simultaneously in prayer, brought tears to my eyes. They saluted as one when the American flag was raised, the national anthem being sung from the podium. We live in a great country, protected by some great people. I returned to our cooking station thanking God that I live in a place of freedom.

The menu for the day was chicken & shrimp etouffee, spicy corn and fresh rolls. The enticing aromas of tomatoes and onions, chicken and bacon were almost too much to bear. From 7am until we served at 10:30am we had to keep telling people that it wasn’t ready yet. They would wander past every few minutes, breathing deeply, to see how it was coming.

Being from Canada, I know absolutely nothing about South Louisiana food. Fortunately, all I had to do was stir the pot and follow directions. Everyone was good-natured about my lack of knowledge and gave me some helpful hints on southern cooking. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Every good recipe starts with at least twelve pounds of butter.
2. A roux should not look like cookie dough, so keep stirring.
3. Corn isn’t ready to be served until it makes your nose run.
4. When in doubt, eat a bacon sandwich and add something spicy.
5. Official CFC measurements are always made in quantities of ‘some’ or ‘a lot’.
(For novices: 2 ‘somes’ equals 1 ‘a lot’)
6. Before becoming a CFC volunteer be sure that your health insurance covers Lipitor or similar medications.

As always the food was superb. I even had a Texan tell me that it was very, very good! It was a great day. I thank God for our church, and for the hearts of the men and women who give of their time and their talent, taking the doors of the church to the people. If ever you have the opportunity to volunteer with this ministry, I encourage you to take it. You’ll be glad you did. All glory to God!