Smilin’ with These Three

First, a gentleman from Raceland.

You know how you drive through sections of Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes and see house after house that appear to have been abandoned? There will be lovely homes newly rebuilt, some houses in the process of rebuilding, and then here and there a residence with high weeds and shuttered windows and you wonder about them, who owns them and what their plans are. But one thing you know–that’s someone’s house.

Jesse Bryant did not know that.

This resident of Raceland, a small town forty miles west of New Orleans on U.S.90, picked out two such seemingly abandoned properties on the east side of our city and drove home-made signs into the yard announcing: “I, Jesse Bryant, do take possession of this abandon (sic) property.” As though that were all it took.

Then, he broke into the houses and had the locks changed. A deputy sheriff noticed the sign in one yard and stopped to check on it. He was informed by Mr. Bryant that he had assumed ownership of the houses since they had been abandoned. The deputy called the owner who came out and was not real pleased.

They arrested Mr. Bryant for burglary and criminal trespassing. He admitted he had been planning to take possession of other abandoned properties in the area.

One of the houses is owned by the Road Home Corporation, and the other is being renovated by its present owner, a local resident.

Mr. Bryant has been reading too many western novels in which people stake out claims on available land, or possibly watching too many infomercials offering great riches by claiming repossessed houses and reselling them.

My guess is the judge will not throw the book at him, but give him probation. After all, he was not malicious. Just dumb. Really really dumb.

(Update a few days later. The Times-Picayune reports that the Lafourche Parish officials, after reading in the New Orleans paper about Bryant’s doings, decided to check him out locally, since he’s from Raceland. They discovered he had pulled the same shenanigans there, and in fact, had taken possession of a house across the street from his 87-year-old mother. His brother has been living in that house. When asked about her sons, the mother replied that she has enough troubles of her own without meddling in theirs.)

Second, Elizabeth Luter, the extreme opposite of the first fellow. One smart lady.

If you have heard Pastor Fred Luter preach–and what a powerful proclaimer this man is!–you may have heard him introduce his wife from the pulpit. “This is the love of my life, the apple of my eye, my prime rib, my good thing–my wife Elizabeth!” He delivers it rapid fire, it gets a laugh, Elizabeth stands, beaming, and everyone applauds.

Thursday at noon, Elizabeth Luter was the featured speaker to the annual luncheon of the church secretaries from our association. We gathered at Smilie’s Restaurant on Jefferson Highway in Harahan, presented lots of promotional stuff to the secretaries and a gift or two, had a great meal, then sat back and listened to this lovely lady speak.

Her text was Galatians 6:9 and surrounding verses, which she read from the Amplified version. “Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not,” the KJV reads.

I cannot begin to do justice here with what she did, but let me make a feeble attempt.

Elizabeth had brought along several pairs of shoes and a number of scarves. “When you first go to the church as the pastor’s wife or as the new secretary, you wear these 5 inch heels and this youthful looking scarf around your neck.” Spiffy.

Before long, however, you are being worked pretty hard, you get tired, and those high heels don’t work any more. She changed to 3 inch heels and a more practical scarf. In time, the heels shortened considerably and the scarf became more and more conservative. At the end, the shoes were flats and the scarf was more of a shawl.

Her message was “How to stay on your high heels while wearing flats.” In other words, how to keep your edge and your zest in the ministry while not wearing out.

By leading, loving, living, and laughing wisely and willingly we keep our edge for the Lord. She drew parallels from the woman of Proverbs 31.

Mrs. Luter concluded with everyone’s favorite “praise God anyway” text, the last part of Habakkuk chapter 3. You will recall the last verse reads, “The Lord God is my strength; He has made my feet like hinds’ feet; He causes me to walk on my high places (hills).”

With a gleam in her eye, Elizabeth read it, “The Lord God is my strength. He has made my feet like the deer. He causes me to walk on my high heels.”

I read somewhere once that a man will know another man and like him. But when he meets that fellow’s wife, if she’s sharp and attractive, immediately his respect for the friend goes through the roof. I’ve noticed it enough in my own life to believe it. No one proves it better than the Luters. Both Pastor Fred and First Lady Elizabeth Luter, servant-leaders of New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, are such a credit to the other. An impressive team in every way, and we are blessed to serve on the same team with them.

Third, Greg Hand. The pastor of the French Quarter’s Vieux Carre’ Baptist Church.

In his internet newsletter this week, Greg reported on renovations to their facility on Dauphine, a block north of Bourbon Street. They moved the church office upstairs and added nine more bunk beds there, increasing their ability to host larger church groups coming to minister in the Quarter. “We have new beds downstairs and are praying for new mattresses,” he writes.

Now, it goes without saying that if you are going to minister and evangelize in the French Quarter, you would not do it the same way you would in, say, suburban Atlanta. So, Vieux Carre’ church has a “Shut the hell up” room. That’s right. Every Monday, the church reaches out to the homeless, offering them showers, a meal, clothing, and one-on-one ministry to bless and encourage.

Greg leads a discipleship breakfast on Fridays. Wednesday nights he conducts what he calls “a rather unique Bible study that attracts many unbelievers, even those who vow allegiance to the darkness.”

He writes, “I just got word that someone came by last week looking for me.” This person had come to the church before Katrina, and Greg prayed with him to be delivered from drugs and other addictions. “Now, I hear he is pastoring a church! I can’t wait to talk to him.”

That will put a smile on any minister’s face.

Greg and his wife Wren ask for prayers: for the new mattresses, to have the hallway and downstairs dorm rooms tiled, and for Heaven to open up in the French Quarter.

Want to contact them? Greg’s e-mail is The website is Mailing address is 711 Dauphine St., New Orleans, LA 70116.