How should the church respond to those who need our help, especially those struggling with poverty issues? Lee Strobel provides an example of what “doing more” can mean in his book: “The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives.”

Cody was waiting upstairs clutching a number that secured his place in line for a shower. Several homeless men were milling around, so he didn’t feel conspicuous. Tables offered free coffee and food. That’s when, unnoticed by Cody, a volunteer named Michelle came in. Michelle surveyed the room, then walked over to him and said, “Sir?” Cody turned and found Michelle looking him straight in the eyes.

“Sir,” she said simply, “You look like you need a hug.”

Cody was aghast. A hug? He was gaunt, his hair matted, his beard scraggly, his clothes dirty and stained, his teeth rotting in his mouth. A hug? He shook his head. “Ma’am, I haven’t taken a shower in three months,” he said. “I smell horrible.”

Michelle smiled. “You don’t smell to me,” she said — and then she wrapped her arms around him. Again, she looked him in the eyes. “Do you know,” she said, “that Jesus loves you?”

Jesus can’t love me, Cody was thinking. I’m homeless. Jesus can’t love me. I’m a drug addict. “

At that moment, in an instant, something spiritual sparked inside of Cody. Years later, he can’t talk about it without his voice cracking. “Plain and simple, that was the pivotal moment of my life,” he told me. “It was like a personal encounter with Jesus. It was love — pure love. She didn’t care what I looked like or how much I smelled. It was like Jesus himself was standing in front of me and saying, ‘Cody, I love you.’ “At the time in my life when I was the least lovable, when everyone shunned me, when there was no hope of getting out of the mess I was in, when I smelled so bad that even the other homeless didn’t want to be around me — there she was, with this simple expression of the grace of God.”

Jesus said: “Who among you, if you have a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one which is lost, searching until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he gets home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15:4-7)

The story of Cody’s transformation brought about by a simple hug represents the church at its very best. Yes, we are to provide help for the least, the last and the lost but if we truly want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we must find a way to work through our discomfort and truly love our neighbor as Jesus loves us. Is it difficult? Extremely! But Cody was transformed by love that goes beyond the ordinary, toward the miraculous. God’s church making a difference one life at a time in the community and around the world.

Jesus said “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. (Luke 6:32-34)

The church should never be a social club for members only. The church is you and I with God’s divine help learning to love those who love us and to especially love those who don’t. The church exists to see us through times when life or people’s behavior is simply not fair.

That’s what undeserved love and grace is all about…

Billy never thought much about God. He was a go-getter with a bright future in sales. Before he turned twenty, Billy was a top producer. At thirty he was manager of a territory covering three states. Now, Billy’s life was spinning out of control because his eight-year-old boy lay in intensive care fighting to stay alive after being struck by a drunk driver while riding his bike.

Billy was feeling angry and guilty at the same time. Anger at the driver who did this to his son. Guilty for all the times, he chose work instead of being the parent he should have been.

In the waiting room, his wife was surrounded by several friends from her church. But Billy never wanted any part of that stuff and usually sat off to himself. At one point, they all stood to pray. A man walked over to Billy and motioned for him to join them.

This time, without any hesitation, Billy stood up and sheepishly took hold of their outstretched hands and listened fervently to the heart-felt words asking for God’s healing mercy. During the prayer, he felt a surge of electricity surge through the room that he could only imagine was the Holy Presence of God.

When Billy needed God, he discovered the true meaning of church.

Churches may not offer sure-fire formulas for a problem-free life, but we can and do depend upon the Holy Presence of God to give comfort and hope to people like Cody and Billy, healing comfort that goes way beyond what is expected. When you need help most, God’s church is there, offering a hug when you feel unhuggable, saying “I love you in the name of Jesus” when you are acting unlovable or healing prayers when everything around you seems lost.

This Easter Sunday celebrate Christ’s resurrection where lives are transformed and guided toward a mission to change the world one hug, one “I love you” and one prayer at a time: God’s Church.