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Summary: Agape is the highest form of love … the love that everyone wants to receive but few are ready to give because of the sacrifice involved. How can anyone receive agape if no one is willing to live and to share and to give agape?

Eleven adults and 26 high school students loaded into three vans in the parking lot of the First United Methodist Church in Hartselle, Alabama, said good-by to family and friends and home and drove over 700 miles to a little town on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. Two of the adult leaders had been here before but the remaining 35 mission team answered God’s call and came to Pahokee, Florida, not knowing anything about us or what to expect … nor had we ever heard of Hartselle, Alabama, or knew anything about them except that they had come to serve the Lord.

They fixed the home of a man they had never met before and wouldn’t get to meet because he was in the hospital at the time. Now he’s in rehab. But when he gets home, he’s going to be blown away when he sees what this group of people he has never met has done to his place. Another part of the mission team got to fix-up a mobile home literally on the other side of the tracks. The team that got to work on the mobile home got to know Juan and he got to know them. For five days … in this crazy heat and humidity … they stood on the roof of Juan’s trailer. They patched up holes and put on all new shingles so that when it rains, as it does every afternoon here during the summer, the water won’t pour down behind his walls and continue to run his ceiling. They also built him some new steps to replace the fiberglass ones that had deteriorated and become dangerous. When they were done, they gave Juan a prayer shawl knitted by members of their church to give out on the trip.

Another team rolled up their sleeves and helped Becky Addison get the Glades Area Pantry school ready for the new school year. They painted all the classrooms. They helped organize the library and school supplies. They patched the roof of a home that Becky plans to use to shelter homeless people. Again, all for people they’ve met and who will never meet them.

What a heart for God and for service this mission group from Heartselle, Alabama had. They worked in the heart … they dealt with some pretty serious rain and thunderstorms … and I never heard one word of complaint, not one word. I didn’t hear any whining either … none. When they finished a task, they immediately asked us what they could do next. They went above and beyond every project we asked them to do. And even though they were bone-tired by the end, they continued to work hard so their wouldn’t be any loose ends when they left.

They not only worked hard, the bought all the materials they needed. They literally spent thousands of dollars of their own money. They brought and bought their own food, their own tools … and they were grateful for everything we did for them. They traveled 728 miles to get here … and 728 miles back … crammed into three vans … gas and food here and back … two night’s hotel for 37 people …

And as I watched them load up their vans and pull out of the parking lot to head home I thought to myself, “What a perfectly wonderful picture of ‘agape’ … true Christian love … they made.” A love that gives and expects nothing in return.

When the world speaks of love … which it does all the time … TV, movies, music, the internet, books … they are usually speaking about selfish and self-centered love. They are speaking about one-sided, hopeless love. They are speaking about deceit and cruelty masquerading as love. And, once in a while, they speak of a mature, other-centered love that stands the test of time. No wonder we take the word “love” for granted. We’re obsessed with it … yet rarely do we witness or hear about what love truly is in the world around us.

If true love is so unfamiliar, why do people write about it, text about it, and sing about it so much? Because there is a hole in the human heart. We are desperate for the experience of genuine love. We long for it. We hunger for it. But the love that we seek is not the “love” that the world has to offer, amen? Everyone one of us needs reassurance, affection, and fellowship. Love … agape .. is oxygen for our souls. We have to have it. The first thing an infant needs at birth is to be held … to literally feel loved.

The Bible has a lot to say about “love.” The word appears over 500 times in God’s love letter to us. From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, the story of the Bible is the story of God “hesed” … God’s steadfast, unconditional, and relentless love for us. The love that appears at the top of almost every list of virtues in the Bible is not just God’s love for us but also our love for each other Being a Christian means that the very love of God has been poured into your heart. It grows within you just as grapes grow on a vine … for the “fruit” of the Spirit is … love … agape.

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