Cover Story, February 2017

Serving Christ by Serving Others

Serving Christ by Serving Others

150 years of ministry leaves quite a story to tell.

by Susan Brown and Photos by Beth Townsend

IMG_7466 5“Any operation or ministry that’s been around for 150 years says a lot about the work. Obviously, God is behind you. It’s amazing to see the generosity of our community.”
In 27 years as Chief Executive Officer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Michael Acaldo has cultivated the agency into a thriving $8 million operation equipped with some 1,500 volunteers per month. As the largest nonprofit in the region, SVdP serves hot meals, provides shelters for homeless men, women and children, operates eight thrift stores and offers dental care, prescription medicine, rental assistance and furniture.
“Our focus is – how do we bring the bright light of God and Christ to those who are truly in need?” Acaldo said. “We are a ministry. A lot of people think we’re a social service organization – no – it’s more people in our community that want to put their Christian faith into action.”
The local St. Vincent de Paul operation welcomes interfaith participation. “We have great support from our local synagogue, the B’nai Israel congregation,” Acaldo said. The congregation provides the popular Thanksgiving Turkey Train. “There’s a lot of good interfaith stuff. I think that’s what our faith calls us to do – to open our arms and be inclusive.”
It was a lesson gleaned from the life of Vincent de Paul [1581-1660], who experienced the stark contrast between extravagance and poverty in pre-revolution France. Born to a French peasant-farmer family, Vincent de Paul’s father sold oxen to send his son to seminary in the hope of future provision for the family. A religious career provided a rare bridge from poverty to financial security.
 IMG_7479 3IMG_7486 2IMG_7498 2“Basically, he dealt with many of the wealthy, and at some point, he was called to provide last rites to an individual who was dying, someone who was poor and a servant,” Acaldo said. “At that point he used all his connections with the wealthy in France to inspire them to do things for the poor.” That included founding hospitals, tending to those suffering the effects of war, and securing freedom for over a thousand galley slaves in North Africa.  Some 200 years later, university student Frederic Ozanam founded The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in response to a devastating cholera epidemic in post-revolution Paris.
“Everyone is a child of God. That’s how we operate,” Acaldo said. “Our job is to provide a handout in a faith-filled way, so they can feel God’s love. We don’t judge.”
“Twenty-seven years ago, it was rare to see a homeless woman and particularly rare to find a homeless mother and children. Now, it’s common, very common. We’re trying to expand what we’re doing shelter-wise,” Acaldo said. “Also, the severity of mental illness and the number of people suffering from mental illness have increased – we’re just seeing loads of people.”
“A lot of government-type resources have been cut and you see the results,” Acaldo said. “Basically, we have people on the street that are not quite a danger to themselves, not quite a danger to anyone else, but they’re very close. In the past, that kind of person was getting the care they need, and not on the street. In the last four months, we’ve had women come to us and they can’t even tell us their name. If you can imagine it, we have seen it.”
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 But success stories outweigh the challenges: a mother donates a bag of food to the shelter that once housed her family, an auto parts salesman stops to say thanks for helping him through a rough time, a young mother with three children celebrates school achievement.
“Her boy was in fourth grade and she had lost her job. She had nowhere else to turn, no family, nothing. This little boy won the spelling bee in East Baton Rouge Parish while he was staying at our shelter,” Acaldo said. “It’s uplifting to put people in a position to be successful in life.”
 “I’ve heard a St. Vincent de Paul volunteer say on many occasions that we’re called to see the face of Christ in the poor, and if we do a really good job with our work, they’ll see the face of Christ in us,” Acaldo said. That takes an army of volunteers.
Last year 400 volunteers made more than 2,200 home visits and distributed some $700,000 in assistance. Others serve meals, organize donations, repair furniture and electronics, and assist with life skills instruction.
“One thing that’s been uplifting to me is seeing people who take this as a lifestyle – serving the poor,” Acaldo said. “We’ve had people make 70 years volunteering; we’ve had volunteers 50 consecutive years. That’s powerful.”
His wish list includes useful household and pharmaceutical items. “On any given night, we’ve got 100 men, women and children that we’re providing shelter to, and that’s very important,” Acaldo said. On average, SVdP provides more than 26,000 nights of shelter to men, women and children annually. “Individuals can donate blankets, shampoo, towels and prescription medicine, but we also need Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, and cold medicine that’s high blood pressure friendly.”
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“Obviously, we need financial support. We get some small government grants but about 90 percent of giving to St. Vincent de Paul is by individuals in the community: finances, time, talent, and in-kind goods,” Acaldo said. For example, volunteer Bobby Deangelo and his team buys and fries all the turkeys for Christmas dinner.
“I think each of us is called to see what kind of impact we can make,” Acaldo said. “All the credit belongs upstairs and [to] all the good people that are inspired by God to do this work – if you understand that love and understand where it comes from.”
“I think that is nurtured by your parents (Jay and Dottie Acaldo) who ensure that you walk a life of faith, that you try to recognize when God is having a hand in things. They sacrificed to put us through Catholic schools (Catholic High School, 1985) and for that I’ll be forever grateful,” Acaldo said. “My wife (Paula) is very supportive of me in my ministry. She’s phenomenal.”
“My number one prayer is that I get to retire from here and do a better job than I did the first 27 years,” Acaldo said. His goals include expanding the shelter for women and children from 36 to over 70 beds in 2017.
“We’re also going to put a chapel right in the center of this campus. That’s where God belongs,” Acaldo said. They received a commitment of $100,000, and estimate a cost of $300,000 to construct the chapel.
Acaldo would like to see St. Vincent de Paul property developed to meet pressing needs. Property on North Boulevard – the old Romano’s grocery site – could become a nonprofit supermarket with a second floor for affordable apartments. Land on Florida Boulevard could house auxiliary space for more services and apartments. “God hasn’t made it clear what we’re going to do with the property,” Acaldo said.
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“I would like to see us inspire more people to leave St. Vincent de Paul in their wills, in their estate planning,” Acaldo said. “What a beautiful way to keep something going in our community.” A goal is to build the agency’s foundation to ensure longterm services and to establish a fund dedicated to maintenance and the upkeep of the properties.
It’s all about growth – spiritual and physical. “If you’re not going from where you are to where you can be, you’re not really fulfilling what you need to be fulfilling,” Acaldo said. “We’re all so very busy, and you’ve got to give the
Holy Spirit time and room to work within your life.”
“Christ’s love – God’s love – is ultimately the solution. I think from my standpoint, God is on our side,” Acaldo said. “That motivates you and puts you in a position to be part of a lot of wonderful things, great things.”
February 2017, Publisher's Letter

February Publisher’s Letter

                                                                     Love.

bethIs it really just a four-letter word?  

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.

signbeth

 

Faith Life, February 2017

We Love Because of Christ’s Love

We Love Because of Christ’s Love

Story by Ken Paxton

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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.”

Faith Life, February 2017

The Courage to Love

The Courage to Love
by Hamsa Martin, M.A., PLPC, NCC

hamsa-martinThere 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.

Veritas
10500 Sam Rushing Dr. Baton Rouge, LA 70816

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.

Faith Life, February 2017

Passing the Test of Faith

Passing the Test of Faith

by Lisa Tramontana

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Sarah Holliday James says illness and personal tragedy have not shattered her faith.

If anyone’s faith has been tested, especially in the past year, it’s Sarah Holliday James. But her faith is stronger than ever.

A bright, friendly, sociable woman, James has enjoyed a busy professional and family life for the past 30 years. But illness, the death of her mother, and flood damage to her home this year have forced her to stop working and focus on recovering physically and emotionally.
A year ago, Sarah was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery to remove it. The tumor was benign, but the experience was frightening because Sarah was in the midst of a two-year battle with breast cancer and was going through chemotherapy at the time.
“It has been a lot to go through,” she said. “There have been so many challenges, but my faith has sustained me and kept me strong.”
Faith from the very beginning
In fact, her faith has been a part of her character for as long as she can remember. Originally from Blairstown, La., Sarah remembers sitting on the “mourning bench” at the age of 9, waiting to be baptized, praying for a sign that she was ready. “We would go to church every day after school, and the children would sit on that bench and listen to the pastor’s teachings about Christ and his love for us. One day, I just got this feeling and I knew it was time. And I gave my life to Christ.”
That solid faith foundation came from her mother, Sarah said, which is why it was so painful when her mother passed away last August. “She was 73 and died of cancer,” Sarah said. “But she was ready. She knew (and I know) that one day, we are all going to leave this world, and we just have to make sure we’re prepared when it happens.”
An advocate for worthy causes
Sarah’s education and career have provided her with the tools to accept whatever the future holds. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology from LSU, she worked as a judicial assistant in Baton Rouge’s criminal court for nine years. “I’ve seen what can happen to families,” she said. “I’ve seen how people’s choices can tear their families apart, put people in prison, take away their hope. But there are a lot of things you can do to have resolution in your life.”
That means praying for your enemies as well as your loved ones, healing broken relationships and doing things to make you happy, she said. “No one knows when their time is, so you’ve got to make sure your soul is right … and you’ve got to do it now!”
That attitude of determination comes from the fighter within Sarah. Over the years, she’s been active in community affairs at every level. In 2010, she made history as the first African American club president of Republican Women in Louisiana. She helped charter Capital City Republican Women in an effort to advocate for fairness, diversity and education in the fight against racism, crime and poverty. After her breast cancer diagnosis in 2014, she added cancer survivor to her resume and participated in cancer events as well.
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Chemotherapy visits were tolerable when Sarah had her husband at her side.
Taking time for herself
Not long after her mother passed away, Sarah and her husband Larry had to move in with a relative when their Park Forest home was flooded. Because of the brain tumor, Sarah lost some of her short-term memory, and had to give up driving. She also had to turn over management of her promotional products company to her son and his wife. (In 1985, Sarah founded her own company, Hollico Ad Specialties).
The living arrangements have been an adjustment. “Now, I just stay at home,” she said. “I still cook occasionally and I can get around by myself. When I feel up to it, I go to church at Promised Land. I’m lucky that I have such a wonderful husband and two great children who have helped me in so many ways.”  Sarah stays busy on social media, and often shares inspirational quotes on her Facebook page. Her New Year’s message to friends was a reminder to appreciate God’s gifts:  “Each season of the changing year has blessings all its own, something special that belongs to just that time alone. Each year is a gentle reminder of God’s gift of life on this earth. He comes into our lives like a new dawn, a new day, a new hope … “  As Sarah regains her strength and makes plans for 2017, her advice to others is to practice love in everything you do. “Stay close to your family. Mend all the broken friendships and relationships in your life. Take care of personal business such as wills and debts. And then, just treat others well. Keep a positive outlook … because no matter what happens, there is so much to be grateful for.”
Faith Life, February 2017

Basketball for the Gospel

Story and Pictures by Bruce Kuehne

Three men were recently baptized as more than 40 others watched-then they all played basketball. It didn’t seem odd.

LBB Baptism
Istrouma Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Ginn with three he was baptizing.
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Istrouma Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Ginn baptizing a participant.
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Istrouma’s Sport Outreach Director, M. L. Woodruff.

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.

Istrouma is not trying to build its own base. “Our goal is not to bring people to Istrouma,” says Coach, who has built a leadership team of 16 men, only some of whom attend Istrouma. When Lunch Bunch Basketball started expanding, he invited Clayton Hayes with Connections Ministry to join the leadership team to help develop the program and to contact other pastors to see if they wanted to start similar programs.
Rene Brown, Pastor at Mt. Zion First Baptist Church, intends to start a program. Bart Riggins, Pastor at Faith Chapel on Staring Lane, is starting a Lunch Bunch program in the Gardere neighborhood. BREC, which serves mostly school-age kids and typically doesn’t open its gyms until after school, is willing to open its gyms earlier for this program. The police and sheriff’s departments, recognizing a need to become more closely connected in communities, especially with black men, are also participating.
Forty men don’t show up twice a week just because someone blows a whistle. Below the surface is great attention to detail. Nathan Strong, Coach’s assistant, who majored in sports administration and minored in business at LSU, registers each player as they arrive, assigns them to teams, hands out (and picks up and washes) the colored jerseys that identify each player with his team for the day, puts their names on the team board, ensures the clocks work, keeps track of the time of play (they rotate every 4 minutes during each of two – 20 minute games), and assigns the “halftime” activity. The focus of these tasks isn’t just technical; it is intended to create a stable environment. All of the leaders are trained to learn and use each man’s name, make frequent eye contact, and let him know he is welcome. But they don’t force it. The objective is long term relationships, not instant response.
Although the core activity is basketball, it’s not the purpose. Pastor Jeff Ginn often plays, and speaks at halftime when the men gather for a devotional, prayer and questions. After one session, one of the leaders commented saying, “Jeff was so clear in his presentation of the Gospel,” and when he invited men to ‘call on the name of the Lord to be saved,’ about eight men prayed out loud, phrase by phrase, as Jeff prayed.” Three guys were recently baptized, and two others were baptized in the Spring. But most of the players are not believers. Nathan points out that, “Our humanness comes out in the way we play.” This program exposes them to the way Christians play basketball. They can see what men look like when they try to follow God. Over time, he says, “They are changed.”
The basketball is not about winning in the typical sense. “We strive together for God’s glory.  We don’t strive against for self-glory,” says Coach. Nathan assigns players to teams and tries to ensure there are no “stacked teams,” so players know there is no arguing about who’s on which team. There are no championships. Men know when to come, and what to expect. “We’re working on the hearts of leaders and players as they come into [our] community,” says Coach.
Clayton invited Jon Odenwald, a gifted mentor, to help work on this goal. Nathan’s gift for organization creates an opportunity for Jon to freely move among the men when they’re off-court. One of the players asked Jon what his role was. “I’m the social chairman,” Jon answered, to which the player laughingly responded, “Take my phone number.”  Jon did, and later called to follow up.
“When I started, I asked Coach whether I could interact with the men outside of the basketball games. He said, ‘Do whatever you want,’” Jon said.  Jon is excited about the opportunities presented. “They are very good players, but need someone to encourage them, to believe in them, to ask them how we can pray for what’s going on in their lives,” he said. “Most men don’t have close connections. I cheer them on, listen to their stories. I invite them to enjoy a gathering of men – not just for basketball, but for life. I get to show them how God is so important in that journey.”
All the leaders see God at work. Church-sponsored events sometimes have low rates of return.  People show up for food, music or whatever, but don’t come back because there is no core of interest. Men who play good basketball do come back, and they invite their friends. “We average four new guys” every session, Coach reports. “If the churches could do that, it would be awesome. We think it’s a movement of God. We are trying to join Him. Our objective is to transform lives through the gospel. We use basketball as a bridge.”
Family Life, February 2017

Love Don’t Cost a Thing

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.