Serving Christ by Serving Others
150 years of ministry leaves quite a story to tell.
by Susan Brown and Photos by Beth Townsend
Holy Spirit time and room to work within your life.”
by Susan Brown and Photos by Beth Townsend
Based on popular opinion, he was a great catch. Great looking, wealthy, from a rich heritage, and he certainly had a way with words. “I love you, I want to be with you.” We’d been dating a few weeks. He was a bit too quick to pronounce his devotion. It sounded good, but I knew the words were just that, words. I’d seen the signs – thankfully that was years ago.
Words should mean things. Many are quick to offer their opinion on a variety of topics. Not that that is a bad thing, but it can get relentlessly confusing. “Do this, try that, go there and don’t go there.”
If you are like me, you just want to do God’s will for your life. Not everyone else’s will. Just His will – nothing more, nothing less and nothing else. “Please Lord, help me to keep it that simple in 2017.” Yet that worthy goal is made complicated every day! There are so many voices speaking into what we should or shouldn’t do. People we love, jobs we have, things that have happened that we didn’t anticipate all greatly influence what we do. Perhaps a simpler approach could help.
You know a man by his fruit. Not what is said, but by what is done. Matthew 7:16 says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?”
“Fruit of the Spirit” is a biblical term that sums up the nine visible attributes of a true Christian life. According to Galatians 5:22-23 (KJV), these attributes are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. We learn from Scripture that these are not individual “fruits” from which we pick and choose. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is one nine-fold “fruit” that characterizes all who truly walk in the Holy Spirit. Collectively, these are the fruits that all Christians should be producing in their new lives with Jesus Christ.
In 2017, our monthly themes will be fruits of the Spirit. Featuring love this month, each subsequent edition will take a closer look at what we are called to be producing within our lives. With that focused approach, we should be positioned to prioritize decisions in such a way that we set out to produce fruits of the Spirit and bring glory to our Father.
It’s true – February is all about love. Dinners, chocolates, jewelry, roses, and other gifts on Valentine’s Day will be presented carefully to say, “I love you” to those we care most about. Yet God’s love is year round. It’s a noun and a verb. It’s feeling and a fact. It’s a daily calling for every follower of Christ.
We are to love one another as Christ loves us. He didn’t wait until we had it all together to open his arms and receive us into his forever family. He didn’t wait until we quit living in sin to forgive us. He didn’t say, “When you are more like me then I will love you more.” His love is and was and will always be complete. It’s available for all to receive, and our job is to share it.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35 sums it up perfectly. Let’s not play games. This is eternity. Love is more than just a four-letter word.
We Love Because of Christ’s Love
Story by Ken Paxton
While I was in the middle of my turnaround in life, I prayed for a wife. At that time, I knew God was working on me as he was working on her. I spoke to a group of guys and was telling them how marriage is like welding two pieces of pipe together. As God works on you, like a welder works on pipe, God prepares us by sharpening our prayer life and our faith as we wait for our bride. God was preparing me by showing me how to love my future wife, how to listen and how to be gentle. I love what God says in Ecclesiastes 9:9, “Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil.” I had to be still and wait for His timing … and so did she.
Well, God blessed me more than I could have ever imagined when He sent me my wife, Brandi. And on September 27, 2014 – we became one forever. Finally, after six years of struggles and my own turnarounds in life, God showed me how He was shaping me to form the Godly union between me and my wife. Brandi is my best gift besides the gift of salvation. She accepts me for who I am and doesn’t try to make me someone I’m not. She sees me as Jesus sees me, and I feel His agape love through her each and every day. Jesus said in Proverbs 18:22, “The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord.” Do we argue? Of course we do, we are human. But we always come to an agreement and work things out no matter what. We never go to bed angry … this is a must. The lines of communication must be open and always have trust. And you must be willing to ask for forgiveness, and humble yourself to forgive. We always pray together before bedtime and say something positive to each other every morning. For me, each morning when I get to work, I send my wife a text telling her how beautiful she is and how much I love her. I want to be the first one to compliment my wife in the morning and the last one to compliment her at night. We both have a past and we know that. But we respect each other enough to not care about the past and things that we’ve learned about it along the way. Besides, how can you look forward to your future if you’re always looking in the past?
We have a beautiful blended family of four boys – Nick, Kyland, Logan and Chris (who is our angel in heaven). We love our church, and I enjoy doing men’s ministry but my first ministry is to my wife and kids. I can’t be anything for anyone else if I can’t be the best husband and father I can be. My priorities in life are God, my wife, our kids, and then everything else.
My wife and I enjoy spending time together whether it’s with our boys making memories, alone going shopping or antiquing, or watching LSU football and spending time with family and friends. We love watching our boys grow and learn, as well as them teaching us about precious moments in life. My wife is my best friend, my biggest supporter, my confidant, a wonderful mother to our boys, and the love of my life. I’m so blessed that we get to do life together because of the love of Christ. God’s love is between us, and as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”
There is a feeling that haunts all of us on occasion, it’s that feeling of doing it all on our own or feeling alone in work or decisions we make. In a sea of family and friends, we can sometimes feel like we are on an island and no one truly understands the deepest part of us, making sure not to show the “ugly” parts of our hearts with most people. We don’t want our family to know we struggle or might need help, we don’t want our neighbors to know that our lives are chaotic, and we don’t want our close friends to know that home life isn’t as peachy as we’d like them to believe.
What are all of these examples above missing? Connection. Connection, or bonding, is an integral part of any intimate relationship. It’s the linking of two people where the strength of that relationship is determined by whatever is tying/holding those two people together. The level of intimacy determines the strength of that hold. Creating intimacy means going against the preservation of our perfect image and sharing the wounds of our hearts. Opening up our wounds does not mean trashing others or telling someone the business of everyone around us. It is not focusing on the faults of others or their actions or intentions against us. It is the telling of our story. Anyone can gossip and tell someone how so and so hurt them and did the same thing to so and so — that knowledge is often obvious to others without us gossiping. Gossip bonds two people by the hate or frustration shared, but I would argue that the strength of the connection, or level of intimacy, is very weak. If it is so easy for this person to talk poorly about someone else, what makes us think that they would never speak the same way about us? Trust is not a result of this kind of connection.
To build trust, we must share something with another person that no one else can share with them. Each action against us and interaction of our past is a part of our story, yes, but to tell our story right, we must focus on the way these events settle in our hearts, change our views of our self or others, and the effect that these things have on how we approach people. When we share that part of our story, we begin to connect to the listener with a stronger hold than that of the gossip natured connection. We must let someone into our pain and allow that person to have empathy with us. We must allow that person to also understand our hearts and intentions enough to challenge our actions or views of others so that we do not get stuck in our one-sided downward spiral of judging others. This relationship should allow you to have empathy not only with each other, but to help each other begin to have empathy with others. This is where true LOVE begins.
In the spirit of the season, we will focus more on intimacy in partnership and marriage. We must implement the same characteristics of connection described above. When we share our hearts, motives and pain with our partner, it leads them to begin to trust us, and will motivate our significant other to want to share his or her pain with us. Vulnerability breeds more vulnerability. Love, the feeling at least, is the result of bonding like this and also through the actions of holding, hugging and kissing. All of these things cause our body to release a hormone called Oxytocin, which is said to be the bonding hormone, monogamy molecule and serves to create a sort of safety with our partners. These wonderful things build a strong bond that is severely difficult to break.
The problem is, there is a large percentage of us in the South who live under the standard of not respecting others or ourselves for even paying attention to our emotions. When we ignore our emotions and just dust our shoulders off and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, we neglect an important part of ourselves. This would be equivalent to getting kicked off of our horse, then getting right back on the horse, ignoring the sprained wrist or broken leg, and continuing to ride on. In this metaphor, these wounds do not heal properly and we end up feeling hints of pain from our ill healed wounds with every ride we take.
Bringing this metaphor back to partnership or marriage, we bring in all of our past hurts that we have ignored and watch them effect our relationship. Our instinct is to keep the hurt inside and to not let anyone in to that sacred pain. We may not even be aware of what is causing the pain. We find it almost heroic to not let our emotions effect us – on the contrary – I would argue that it takes more courage to choose the path toward love by understanding those emotions and sharing them. We may be too afraid to enter into this uncharted territory and we sure as heck do not want someone else to enter in with us … they might be a part of unveiling the ugliness we have kept hidden for so long. The contradiction here is that the ugliness stays ugly when left deep down in the darkness of our hearts, but becomes beautiful when we unveil it to our partner. The beauty of it is that we are vocalizing that we trust them, thus creating a handsome bond between our partner and our self. The beauty is that we become known and fully known by our partner.
We sometimes find ourselves in a place where the stakes are too high to just try practicing with our partners because we are too afraid of offending or hurting them (or vice versa) because his or her actions may be contributing added hurt onto our already opened wound. This is where the counseling room comes into play. It is a safe place where we can explore our stories, mend wounds, cry, explore our emotions, discover our patterns of anger and intimacy, understand what is keeping us from intimacy, and practice communication with or without our partner present. All of this in hopes of helping us become seasoned story tellers (of our own stories) in order to strengthen the bond between us and our partner.
Veritas Counseling Center is a nonprofit counseling center made up of professionally trained counselors who want to walk with others in learning how to tell their stories. We desire to see mended relationships, healed hearts, and an understanding of why one acts, thinks, or feels the way they do. The more awareness, the better a storyteller, the better bond we create. Veritas Counseling Center wants counseling to be available to all people who are desiring to walk the journey of healing, so it provides counseling at a rate of $40 an hour (compared to $80-$150 at most counseling centers). We hope to rid the stumbling blocks that keep some from entering into the counseling room. You can visit our website, www.veritascc.org to learn more about our services, and call or email one of the counselors on our team to schedule an appointment.
by Lisa Tramontana
If anyone’s faith has been tested, especially in the past year, it’s Sarah Holliday James. But her faith is stronger than ever.
Three men were recently baptized as more than 40 others watched-then they all played basketball. It didn’t seem odd.
For no spiritual reason, about five years ago Jeff Ginn, Pastor at Istrouma Baptist Church, asked M.L. Woodruff (Coach), to organize some “pick-up” basketball games for the staff. Coach is the Sports Outreach Director and directs teams for about 1,000 kids annually, so it wasn’t long before a dozen staff members played; then a few church members joined; then someone invited an outsider, and then … What started as a small group of mostly white co-workers is today the Lunch Bunch Basketball league, a mission to about 250 men, 90 percent black, which plays twice a week at noon.
Love Don’t Cost a Thing
by Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis
Growing up, I would constantly hear people say, “Love don’t cost a thing.” It wasn’t until I became older that I realized exactly what was being said.
The word love appears 310 times in the King James Bible, 348 times in the New American Standard Bible, 551 times in the New International Version and 538 times in the New Revised Standard Version. The word love can be broken down into four categories according to the Greek: Eros, storge, philos, and agape. Eros is romantic love, storge is a natural love, and philos is a friendship or non-romantic love. Agape, or Christian love, is the highest, purest, most unconditional and noblest form of love that is commonly used in the Old Testament.
Through previous readings and teachings, we know that we the people are the church. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25-32). In John 21:15-16, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him with the agape type of love, and Peter responded that he had the normal human philos type of love for Him. But after receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter was able to genuinely demonstrate the godly love, and went on serving others throughout his lifetime.
One morning on your way to work while running behind schedule with no time to stop for breakfast, you encounter a man at the end of your exit on the interstate. He’s disheveled, has on torn clothes and no shoes. In the blink of an eye, what do you do? Do you roll down your window and give the disheveled man a few dollars and pull off? Or do you take the time to speak with the disheveled man? Most of us wouldn’t take the time to roll the window down to give a few dollars, let alone take the time to speak to him. So you do neither, and you pull off quickly because of your tardiness to work.
Later that evening, you hear WAFB’s news report while preparing for bed, stating that some unsuspecting woman was given the chance of a lifetime because she took the time to ask a disheveled man if he needed help. See, the disheveled man at the end of your interstate exit was really a multi-billionaire with cancer on assignment to find a genuine person to take over his company before he gets too sick. And his only request was to find someone who genuinely cared about people, as that is the nature of his business.
The business was handed over to woman who wasn’t too busy, who might have been late but stopped, who wasn’t in rush. A woman who showed genuine love and compassion for all of God’s people no matter their outer appearance, or what state of mind they might be in. By serving others we express the genuine agape love that God designed us for.
We are in an everyday struggle to be more Christ-like, but some of us aren’t even trying. To be Christ-like is to show genuine love to everyone, even if they’ve wronged you. Learning to forgive is just a part of the cycle. So I want to petition the hearts of the readers to show love and kindness to everyone. Just take one moment to think about how you would feel if you were down on your blessing and needed just a simple listening ear, but not one soul was there. Most of you would say, “I’ll just talk to God.” But if He sent you an angel in the form of a disheveled man, many of you would miss it because you’re too high and mighty to recognize His hand at work. But no one is higher than the Almighty. Here’s the key ingredient: “Faith without works is dead.” It takes faith and a relationship with God to see the blessing in everything.
So with all of these love groups, you are sure to fall into one or another in your lifetime. But the one we should all strive for is showing agape love to all of God’s people. Agape love doesn’t cost a thing.