Pardon the Rev. Russ Cripps for his unyielding willingness to boast about the power of God.

Cripps, the pastor of the new Acacia Church, certainly knows about the power of pardon - from God and from man.

As a troubled high school senior involved in drugs and alcohol, the Alexandria native was behind the wheel during a tragic accident in 1986. Going around a curve on dark road, he swerved to avoid one car and killed a man who was trying to help another car get out of a ditch. Cripps ended up serving about a year in jail in 1988 and five years probation.

“I’m certainly not proud of my past, but I’m proud of the things that I’ve learned because of my past,” he said. “So when people come to me and they got some drug issue, some alcohol issue or some baggage with their past, that’s my song; I know those verses.”

Cripps, 42, also likes to share the story of his pardon.

“I wanted to seek a pardon ... not to forget about it but to try to close that chapter of my life and move forward,” Cripps said. “And I had to come to Baton Rouge to come before the Pardon Board.”

His pardon was granted in 1995; his criminal record was expunged. Similar to the way God grants clemency to us, Cripps said.

“On my record, it was like it never happened,” he said. “That’s exactly how redemption works. The Word says that he cast our mistakes and our baggage as far as the east is from the west. I feel that’s how far removed I am from that previous life.

“I’m no longer that felon. I’m a forgiven child of the king and that’s how I chose to live my life, and that gives me an extraordinary amount of hope, not only to live my life, but to extend that hope to a lot of other people.”

Cripps has been in the ministry since 1993, a year after graduating from the University of Louisiana-Monroe with a degree in finance and economics. He moved back to Alexandria to help in his father’s loan company - and got back into church, where he made a spiritual commitment.

That commitment led him to ministry positions in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, before he moved to Baton Rouge last summer with his wife and two daughters to start a new church.

“I just felt like the Lord wanted us to come back here to Baton Rouge, because ... I was granted the pardon and felt he wanted us to come down here and offer spiritual clemency to people that were down here,” he said.

Cripps and his wife, Stephanie, started the church in their home a year ago. She holds a master’s degree from Austin Theological Seminary and is the co-pastor of Acacia.

The church gets its name from the type of wood used to build the ark of the covenant as described in the Hebrew Scriptures.

“The ark of covenant is symbolic of really two things: it’s symbolic of God’s presence and, of course, it’s called the mercy seat,” Cripps said. “We want to have a church where the presence of God is so thick that everyone realizes they have access to his mercy.”

The nondenominational church met at The Dunham School for about five months before moving to 7870 Anselmo Lane, between Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard.


God’s voice

“Have you ever heard God’s voice? If you haven’t, it’s something to behold,” the Rev. Keith Manuel said in a sermon titled “When God Speaks to You.”

Manuel, the evangelism associate with the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism and church growth team, was the guest speaker at the recent revival at Hebron Baptist Church in Denham Springs.

“When you’re his child, you’ll hear his voice and he speaks to you and you speak to him,” Manuel said. “Prayer is the communication with the living God. That’s why it’s a personal relationship.”

Manuel, basing his sermon on Jesus’ warning to his disciples concerning sin and judgment in Matthew 16, said the first thing God’s voice tells us is to come to him.

“The spirit of God brings conviction to our hearts,” he said. “The Bible says God is not slow concerning his promises but he is patient with you, not wishing anyone to perish but all to come to repentance.”

God will convict us of our sinful ways, Manuel said.

“Here’s the key: Will you hear what the spirit of God is saying to you tonight?”

Another key point Manuel shared: The voice of God tells us to live and look like Christ.

“It takes you actively pursuing a relationship with the Lord and allowing the Holy Spirit to do his refining work inside of you,” Manuel said. “Instead of getting into a cycle of rebellion you ought to get into a cycle of righteousness where God grows and grow you, so that your loyalties become different, your attitudes are different, your food and drink are different.”

Live and not die

From her childhood, Sandra Mizell knew about rejection. It carried over - until she found healing and restoration through a relationship with God.

Mizell found such strength that she has been able to help and minister to others, including releasing a new book titled “Live! You Didn’t Die?” (Outskirts Press Inc.).

Mizell, an associate minister at Bethany World Prayer Center and a former missionary, said she wrote the book for others like her who are “still living in an ash heap, covered with the debris they have picked up on this highway called life.”

“Does rejection hurt? You bet it does!” Mizell writes. “That’s why it is so important for the truth to be told, because the truth sets us free and will help us to not allow the pain of rejection back in our lives.”

The Houma native knew sickness and a failed marriage before coming into the knowledge of God’s purpose and plan for her life.

One of turning points in Mizell’s life came after she was invited to a church attended by future husband, Garlin Mizell. After the sermon, she answered an alter call where she accepted Jesus as her savior. She was even invited to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

“Within moments, I began to speak in a heavenly tongue, and my life took a turn toward the things of God. I have never been the same since. That was the beginning of another chance for me, a time when God spoke into my life,” Live! You didn’t die!”

The Mizells went on to serve as missionaries to Novosibirsk, Siberia, from 1993-94. They also led mission teams in Serbia and India.

Mizell’s 135-page tome is made up 17 short chapters and plenty of scripture passages.

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Faith Matters runs every other Saturday. Contact Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email