Today, I’m writing primarily to my Stevens Street church family. For the fourth year in a row, our building will be transformed into a hub for a massive operation to provide a hot, home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner to those who might otherwise go without. In one day, nearly 9000 people will have a meal delivered to their home, workplace, or dormitory. Hundreds of volunteers from several area churches will be meeting at SSBC and a few other “satellite” distribution areas to take this food to all who have asked. Mobile kitchens from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief Unit have been deployed to help cook massive amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and all the other traditional Thanksgiving Day foods. Thousands of pies will be delivered to the church in the morning (including 12 from the kitchen of the Gardner household).
It really is an impressive and well-coordinated undertaking. And it could easily be a complete waste.
It is so easy for us to look at all that has happened, and that will happen today, and say “we have done this”. It will be a temptation to try to bring glory to ourselves; to boast in Stevens Street Baptist Church. After all, many in our town will look at this day and say, “Wow… look how great those people at Stevens Street are!”
And yet, if what people see in our efforts today is nothing but our efforts, it will have been a complete waste. If Christ is not exalted; if the gospel does not go forth with these meals, it will have been for naught. We must proclaim the name of Jesus, and make sure people know that He is the reason for the food that they have received. It is because He first loved us that we love others. It is because He cares that the physical needs of His creatures are met that we care to meet those needs. It is because of His provision that we are able to provide this dinner.
Jesus taught his followers to meet the physical needs of others, and demonstrated this in his own earthly ministry. But the actions of feeding, clothing, and sheltering do not in themselves communicate anything about Jesus Christ or his gospel. Any humanitarian organization can meet physical needs, and for any number of reasons. There is much more required of us when we meet these needs “in Jesus’ name”.
As the children of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, God met their physical needs. He provided them with food, and kept their clothing from wearing out (Deuteronomy 8:4). But He also told them, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus referred to this Old Testament passage during His temptation in the wilderness. He later taught that He himself was “the bread of life” (John 6:35), the “living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). The bread that God sent from heaven to the Israelites was not ultimately life-giving. Those who ate it still died (John 6:49). The manna was necessary to temporarily sustain life and a blessing to those who received it, but it was most importantly a type and foreshadowing of Christ, the true Bread of Life. Those who partake of Him will live forever (John 6:58).
The food that we deliver today must similarly point people to Christ, and to the table at which He invites sinners to dine and never hunger again. It must be delivered along with a message of salvation; of freedom to the captives. We must go beyond a mere “Happy Thanksgiving”. There is power in the name of Jesus, and people must be made to know what it is about that name that compels us to love and serve perfect strangers. They will ask, “Why are you doing this?” As the apostle Peter writes, we must be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
Delivering food is not the gospel. Good works such as feeding the multitudes are a fruit of the work of the gospel, but those works are not the gospel themselves. No one will be saved because someone brought them a turkey dinner. No, it is the gospel that is the power of salvation (Romans 1:16). That gospel (literally “good news”) is a message, and it has specific content. That content is “the word of Christ”, and it is the hearing of this word that produces saving faith (Romans 10:17). Just as God told the Israelites that man truly lives by the word of God, so it is this word that brings eternal life. I pray that many will receive this word, and come to know the Savior in whose name they are being fed.
I pray as well that we will resist the temptation to boast in anything but Christ. An unfortunately-worded quote somehow made it onto our projector screen Sunday morning during the announcements related to “Feeding the Multitude”. I’m not sure I recall it exactly, but it was something along the lines of, “I see Stevens Street everywhere. If those people don’t receive crowns of righteousness, no one has a chance.”
Presumably, this is a quote from someone who called in last week about receiving a meal, or perhaps to assist in providing meals to others. But this sentiment is exactly what we need to avoid. If people come away from this event seeing “Stevens Street” instead of seeing Jesus everywhere, we haven’t sufficiently communicated what we are doing and why. And in a roundabout way, the anonymous author of this quote has spoken a great truth. If our “crowns of righteousness” (see 2 Timothy 4:8) are dependent on any of our works, no one at Stevens Street would receive one… not even for feeding 9000 people. If our salvation depends on our good works, no one has a chance.
That’s the whole point of the gospel. We will never be good enough to merit salvation on our own. Everyone who receives a meal today, everyone who has prepared the meals, and everyone who will deliver the meals: all are sinners, hopelessly lost but for the grace of Christ who died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).
So let’s not waste this great opportunity to show people the love of Christ in a tangible way, and to share with them the message of salvation that He offers. I believe this will be a great day for the Kingdom of God and the city of Cookeville, and I’m so thankful to play even a small role in it!
P.S. — I realize that these words may ring hollow to some because I will be traveling out of state with my family today, and will not be present during the actual delivery of these meals. However, I assure you that I will be present in spirit, because I am a part of the Body of Christ, and of the local body known as Stevens Street Baptist Church. God uses people in a myriad of ways, and has used thousands of people from many different local congregations to make “Feeding the Multitude” what it has become. We have unity with one another, and each of us is “present” in the work of the church, no matter what it may be. It’s why we have such a responsibility to be aware of and supportive of all of the different ministries of our church, even when we may not be physically involved in every ministry at all times. It’s all part of being one “Body”! My prayers go with those who have the great privilege of delivering these meals today.