Category Archives: Stories from the Restoration

Sing Along with Me

By: Janet Mendenhall

She wheeled herself up to her designated table in what for this hour would be a makeshift church sanctuary, though the occasional clatter of dishes and faint smells of Sunday lunch gave away its intended use.  I was looking for an unclaimed chair and greeting my fellow congregants as I wound my way through the labyrinth of wheelchairs and walkers.

I have been visiting and worshipping at the nursing center in my neighborhood for several years now, and have come to know many of the residents’ names and even some of their stories. I have my favorites:

• My 90-year-old friend who after several recent falls is madder than a hornet that she has been slowed down by a wheelchair.

• My 87-year-old former nursing school instructor who misses no opportunity to hug, reminding anyone who will listen of the study done by North Carolina nurses that claims a dose of 12 daily hugs is necessary for us to thrive.

• The former Colorado history professor and my current movie buddy who is somewhat limited by serious injuries suffered on Colorado black ice.

All of them encourage and inspire me on a regular basis.

However, I didn’t recognize the woman who stopped me and quietly said, “I am so glad you’re here today. I can’t see very well any longer, and even with my glasses, I can’t read the words in the hymnal, but when I hear your voice, I can remember the words and sing along.” I smiled. I am known for my strong alto voice in that service, but this was the first time I had thought about it serving this particular purpose. I introduced myself and settled into the chair nearest her. I don’t know how I had missed meeting her before, but I was thankful for today’s introduction.

After the service, I wheeled the former nursing instructor back to her room, sang my twice-weekly offering of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” her favorite hymn of which she apparently never tires, and headed out the door with easily the prescribed quota of hugs.

My new friend was parked just outside the door and struck up a conversation with me. She described her sadness at losing her mate, her failing health, her relocation to the nursing center. She told me how she had prayed that she would die, how she felt like 87 years was a good, long life and how tired she was. But she hadn’t died, she said.

And now she was feeling like she needed to make good use of the time she had left. It would not be in her nature, and would require mustering up her courage, but she was pondering running for the presidency of the residents’ organization at the nursing center. There were folks there without advocates, and she thought she could lend her voice to make things better for them. She envisioned herself rolling down the hallways, poking her head into each room and visiting with everyone to see what it was that could be done to make their home even better. Were people getting adequate care? Was everyone comfortable with the surroundings? Was everyone’s voice being heard? She was going to pray about it some more, but felt certain there was more for her to do than to just rest and long for her life’s end.

I thought about our conversation as I walked home. I am not 87 years old, but sometimes I feel tired; too tired to keep trying to make this world a better place. And often, I feel like giving up. But if my friend can overcome her fear and fatigue and run for president, I think I can press on as well.

There was a song in my heart as I turned the corner toward home, and I said aloud, “I am glad you were there today, my new friend. Sometimes my eyes don’t see things as clearly as they should, but when I hear your strong voice, I can remember the words and sing along.”

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Take Your Gloves Off

By: Janet Mendenhall

My hands are not pretty. They are rough and marked with ant bites in varying stages. My nails are a mess: broken, dirty, with torn cuticles. I have been in my garden a good bit over the last month, preparing the soil, planting, and weeding and weeding some more. My daughter is ashamed of my hands and joins a host of others in puzzling over why I don’t wear gloves. I don’t like gloves. They make me claustrophobic. I have tried wearing them, but within minutes, they are thrown off. My hands get hot, feel suffocated and I feel like I am not really there. My hands want to be there, to be involved, to be “hands on,” if you will. And gloves just don’t allow that.

When I garden, I expect to get dirty. I actually want to get dirty. The rich soil now teeming with tiny earthworms feels good to my hands. I feel connected to the earth, this source of life and growth. I can now tell just where to grab each type of weed to uproot the whole plant, and easily separate them from the clinging dirt. I can sense the difference in the soil, where the ants have been happily setting up housekeeping and avoid surprising both of us with a painful encounter.

Of course, there is a price to pay for this close communion with my garden. I don’t always anticipate the ants’ appearances. Years and years of buried glass is being unearthed with each season’s tilling and sometimes is discovered just below the surface by my sensitive fingertips. Some of the weeds proudly display their prickly stems, but others are more subtle and discovered only upon close contact.  My hands are tired and sore, but they are stronger and a strange mixture of calloused and more sensitive.

My job as a community coordinator in a north Abilene neighborhood allows me to live in the neighborhood I am partnering with in the process of community renewal and revitalization. I am thankful for one of the core principles we have adopted from community developers like John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association: relocation. Moving into the neighborhood and nurturing and being nurtured, giving and receiving gifts, and sharing in the promises and challenges of the neighborhood, as a fellow neighbor and friend.

It just makes more sense to me; to really be there, to be involved and be “hands on.” I am connected to this place and the people in this place. I am more aware of the subtleties of my neighborhood, of the abundance of gifts that might be overlooked without close and continuous connection. I am available daily to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood: the stories and dreams and ideas of the people who know the neighborhood best – the folks living there.

Sometimes my hands get dirty. Sometimes sharp edges surface, and there are moments that surprisingly sting. But I just don’t like wearing gloves.

Strengthening the Fiber of our Relationships

By: Janet Mendenhall

It is still dark as I sneak out of the house and head to a local gym. Middle age has made it harder to stay physically fit, so this has become a daily activity. I am disciplined and consistent, but I am also in a rut. The young girl at the desk tactfully points out that I might want to try a free trial of a new class they were offering as an alternative to my usual “routine”. I decline, because… well, I am stuck in a rut. I am comfortable with the equipment I am using — meaning I know how to use it and am only mildly concerned about making a wrong move or otherwise looking ridiculous. Ruts even in exercise are not useful for growth.

A friend invited me to tag along as her guest at her gym one recent Saturday morning since it opened earlier than mine.  We did the quick, 30-minute interval workout she usually does. It wasn’t overly strenuous, but it was different. And when I woke up, some muscles were sore. I realized I hadn’t been waking sore most days, so I was likely not experiencing muscle growth.  You see, muscle growth occurs when there is trauma. During strenuous exercise, there is actual damage to the muscle fibers. In response to that damage, cells outside the muscle fibers rally to repair and increase the density of the existing muscle, making it stronger. Thus the exercise enthusiasts’ mantra: “No pain; no gain.”

I recently offended a dear friend of mine. It wasn’t intentional. In fact, I was surprised when she called to confront me.  She was honest and straightforward, yet somehow still kind. I was devastated. I had been inconsiderate and not trustworthy, characteristics I would typically pride myself on. My prideful heart immediately began defending itself, but stopped short. I listened, and with a broken heart, apologized, asked what I could do to make things right and thanked her for her honesty. I was certain things could not be restored. Things would never be the same. Her hurt would be too much, my shame too great. As I hung up the phone and unsteadily continued the meal I was cooking, I began thinking: This was uncomfortable to me because it is so rare in my life. Not rare for me to offend folks, I am sure, but this straightforward, honest response caught me off guard. It is neither routine for me nor comfortable. And it hurt. There was trauma. There was actual damage to the fibers of our relationship.

My friend has called again. We have laughed and shared from our hearts. We have confided in one another. Our relationship was not destroyed; as it healed it was in fact made stronger.

I haven’t altered my exercise regimen yet. I understand the principle of muscle growth, but I am still plodding through my same routine without the unwanted but essential soreness. My body could be stronger, but I am settling for muscle maintenance, instead of muscle growth. Maybe I will commit to a new routine in the coming New Year.

As sad as that is, it would be sadder to not alter my routine interactions in my relationships, and just maintain them when they could grow stronger. And if we as the body of Christ could practice this exercise principle more routinely, just imagine the gain.

Forty years to Forgiveness

By: Janet Mendenhall

This story of forgiveness begins late on a blustery January night in a West Texas town 40 years ago. Maria remembers the details of that night, including the way the ice felt landing on her face as the Jaws of Life freed her. And the intense pain in her back. And the slurred voice of her boyfriend, begging her to tell the policemen she had been driving. He was on probation and terrified of prison.  Certain that she was dying, the lie seemed reasonable. Had she known she would live, she might not have been so gracious. After all, it had been her boyfriend who dragged her out of bed — to go prove right then that she had not gone to the movies with Daniel while he was gone. On icy roads. Under the influence.  And now here he was without a scratch and looking to further save his hide.

As she regained consciousness in the hospital, Maria could make out his form in a chair across the room. He would be there later as she slipped into a two-week coma, and as she waked to hear the news that she would never walk again, and yanked out IVs and yelled and screamed and begged to die. And he would even relocate to Galveston for the next six-month phase of surgeries.  But he was 17 and in his own words, young and stupid, and there were visits to other girls amidst his hospital visits. It likely didn’t matter. Maria was very angry and bitter and hated him. She didn’t want to even look at him.

She also didn’t want to be stationed in his parents’ home in a back brace flat on her back in a hospital bed while he brought home his new girlfriend.  Nor hear the giggling voices of his younger sisters hurrying in to report to Maria that he was kissing this new girl. But Maria’s mother was dying of leukemia and his mother was her second mother, and the only available caregiver. She certainly didn’t want to pick up the paper in the hospital after returning there for serious bedsores and a morphine addiction, to read that he had married the new girl. That hospital stay would be 16 months long and punctuated by visits from him. Occasionally he would be sober, but always he would declare his love for Maria. Maria would tell him to go away. To go home to his wife. She was still angry.

More sadness would ensue during that stay as her mother at last succumbed to leukemia, and a month later a younger brother was killed accidentally. Maria was depressed. Perhaps even more upon her release as she went to her father’s home to recover and simultaneously raise eight younger siblings ranging in age from 12 to 2 from her new wheelchair.  A friend named Tony grew to love Maria, and though he realized Maria did not love him, he offered to have her move in with him and bring her siblings to raise them together. Though she would never marry Tony, they would raise her brothers and sisters and bring three more little ones into their world. They were together nine years, before alcoholism consumed her well-intentioned partner.

Maria remembers the depression slowly fading as she mastered the wheelchair and became more independent. But remembers more markedly the sadness subsiding at the birth of her children and as she watched them grow. Being mother to the three of them brought joy and healing. Her road was still not easy. There would be infections and sores and injuries to her feet resulting in amputations and later a bout with brain cancer. But she would face these with a new spirit, and less anger and self-pity.

About 10 years ago, Maria became more tolerant of her encounters with that old boyfriend. After he separated from his wife, he began making regular visits to Maria. He walks the 12 blocks down the street to her house on a daily basis. He rivals the postal service with his commitment.  In Maria’s words, “There is nothing he wouldn’t do for me.”  She is certain of his love. He tells everyone she is his lady, to which Maria gives him a swat and says, “I am not your lady.” She is not in love. But she smiles; she cares deeply for him.

I ask if she has forgiven him.

“ I am still working on it. I think I have, but some days, my mind starts remembering things. And he makes me mad. Like when he tells me he is tired of pushing my chair and I tell him, ‘You put me in this chair. Just keep pushing!’ ”

And Maria smiles that beautiful smile.

“Yeah, I forgive him. He makes me laugh. We have a lot of good times together. And at least I am not depressed anymore.”

Sometimes the sun slips down on your wrath.  And sometimes it is many, many suns.  But don’t let it be all of your suns.

He Lived His Life Alive

By: Laura Callarman

Laura Blog

The Moore family, a few years ago — Michael and Michelle, with Joshua and Elizabeth

Yesterday—November 1, 2013—the world lost an amazing young man. You see, Joshua Kyle Moore, a bright and extremely kind 16-year-old, went out for a run one night and never came back home. Just a few minutes into his run, he collapsed on the side of the road, his heart stopped. Two nurses discovered him there, and the CPR that restarted his heart also punctured one of his lungs. As far as I know, he never regained consciousness. After three heart-wrenching days of attentive hospital care, countless prayers, and rising and falling hopes, his family, friends, church, and the world said an unwilling goodbye to him and let him go from this life.

I cried a lot last night, mourning our loss. I cried a lot, and I hardly knew the kid. Because, you see, what I do know, even from my regrettably surface-level interactions with him over the years, was that he smiled. And he laughed. And he was mischievous, like any average 16-year-old. And he loved his church family. And he loved God. What I do know is that, even though his life was that of an ordinary young man, he was a bright place in this world, offering hope and love and faith in quantities beyond what we’d (probably unfairly) expect from him in his 16 years. What I do know is that he was a witness to the powerful love of God, that his life was full of God’s grace. What I do know is that simply by his presence he impacted my own life, mostly in ways that I didn’t even realize until just a few days ago. Oh, of course, like all of us Joshua had his imperfections and sins, things that—praise God!—he is now free from. But I can also tell you one more thing: even in the midst of his inherent human limitations, Joshua Moore was, in the words of Philippians 2:15-16, a “child of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which he shined like a star in the universe, holding out the word of life.”

You, I am guessing, did not have the privilege of knowing Joshua. But even in death, he continues to shine like a star, holding out that word of life and light to me, to you, and to all of us. You see, his death is a reminder of how powerful life is, even a short life. And his life is a reminder that every single one of us can shine like a star, no matter our faults or limitations or situation. Perhaps at least a part of Joshua’s legacy, then, is that a life well lived—a thoroughly gospeled life, as I’ve been calling it here—points us back to God, even if it seems short or ordinary from our own perspective. Yes, this 16-year-old boy reminds us that the gospel knows no bounds and is displayed even in the most ordinary seeming places. He reminds us that God is in our midst here and now, everyday, and not only through the three persons of the Trinity but also through each and every one of us, for we each reflect the image of God and together we are the body of Christ. And perhaps most powerfully of all, Joshua challenges us, the ones he’s left behind, to live our own lives—however ordinary they may be—alive to these important truths that his own short life taught us.

The Life and Times of Javan Furlow

Sharing our stories is an incredible way to learn and grow deeper into the values of the Kingdom of God.  This is the story of one of our Neo-Restorationists, Javan Furlow

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 3)

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Our Reality

As I continue to remove the shield that protects my faith during my experience in the seminary and the world, I am beginning to see the many cultural shifts that are transpiring. The modern world is rapidly moving away from God. It is changing. Church and tradition are not as important in a postmodern world.  Indeed, why are we still attending expensive lectureships, flashing our cufflinks and preaching hell-fire and brimstone sermons while the worldly is ignoring us?

Why are we still fighting over worship preferences when the people in our pews are dealing with some deep existential crises? Have we forgotten that to be like Jesus means to walk the streets of ghettos? Have we forgotten that Jesus led His disciples to the despised and rejected rather than to the Pharisees and Sadducees? Are we not more like the Pharisees who viewed themselves as religious icons while acting hypocritically? Are we more like the Pharisees and Sadducees who spent most of their time in the temple arguing about doctrinal differences while lepers, homeless people, and others outside the temple were living hopeless lives? Does this sound more like us today?

Preachers in fact waste too much time at lectureships, conferences, preachers meetings wrangling over issues of church polity and finances while the marginalized people of today are despised and rejected and living in a world of hopelessness? When will the messiness and authenticity of the gospel become a reality within our churches?

Will we wake up and realize that the reason why the world has turned their backs on God is not simply because of sin, but also because of our hypocrisy? When will we realize that we were called to be light and salt of the earth? When will we realize that God is not primarily concerned with what we do on Sundays than what we do for those who are living hopelessly in the world? For instance, when discussing the judgment of Sheep and the Goats in the NT, notice what is stated about those who did not participate in providing hope, love, and care to those who are lost in the world,

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[1]

Dear brothers, I am a firm believer (and I am sure you are as well) that Jesus meant every word he mentioned in the passage above and the broader text. Jesus was serious about this just like he was serious at the end of the book of Matthew when he told his disciples to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.[2] Will we take Jesus as seriously as we take Peter when he told the mass audience to repent and be baptized?[3] Will we take Jesus as seriously as we do when we discuss how he will build his church?[4]


[1] Matthew 25:41-46 (New Revised Standard Version).

[2] Matthew 28:19 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (New Revised Standard Version).

[3] Acts 2:38 – Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (New Revised Standard Version).

[4] Matthew 16:18 – And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rockI will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (New Revised Standard Version).

I am not all out of love for the ’80s, but…

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It is a hard day’s drive to New Orleans from Abilene. I was happy for the comfort of the Town and Country van our boss rented for the staff’s trip to the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association. I am an anxious flyer, so the long drive was less daunting than security checkpoints and flight delays and airport layovers and bumpy takeoffs and landings and breathing that recycled stale air and fighting over shared arm rests and that constant nagging fear of crashing.

I drive a beat-up Corolla with manual windows and locks – I have to teach kids how to lock the doors and roll down windows when they ride with me – and a cassette tape player. This van was a slight upgrade from my usual means of transportation.  I was particularly cheered to see it was equipped with satellite radio, as nothing passes traveling time like an endless variety of music. Instead I got 12 hours of ’80s music.

Don’t get me wrong, I can still sing along with most top hits of the ’80s, take a stroll up and down memory lane to the beat of Hall and Oates or Air Supply or even Culture Club, but I began to wonder about our fascination with the music of the past. A peek at my playlist on Spotify would reveal diversity, but mostly songs from my past. Songs that remind me of my youth as I sang and listened to folk or country music with my father.  Recordings of hymns from early days as a preacher’s kid whose life was consumed by church attendance. Tracks from those early teen years when I discovered music of my own. Tunes that remind me of my college days. Music from a move to Nashville and a rediscovery of country music enhanced by the flavor of new country.

But sprinkled amidst those tunes would be some songs from Pink, and Fun! that my younger children have hooked me on, and some new bluegrass and folk music from up-and-coming songwriters and musicians my older sons have shared, for which I am most thankful. I’ve heard amazing new voices and freshly inspired words my heart could not ponder otherwise. Someone needs to hear and love and celebrate the sounds of the present decade and the next and the next.

We worship some at the CCDA conference. It is vibrant and exciting and sometimes overwhelming to me, an uncertain worship introvert. It is a rare thing for me to know these songs. Sometimes the words are in Spanish. Or Chinese. Or African.  I long to sing along. I want a familiar hymn. Or even the best devo (lowercase D) hits of the ’80s.  But then I think of the voice of the girl leading worship.  “I wrote this song one day when,” she begins, and she tells her story. This amazing new voice sings freshly inspired truth over me. And I want it on my Spotify list, alongside my old favorites. One day it will be a well-worn word in the midst of more fresh inspiration.

And I will sing along.

PRD

PRD

As a preacher I get a lot of email. Most of the notes are encouraging and uplifting. Some not so much. But today I got a note I want to share because it came from a fellow preacher. My friend and partner in the gospel explained how he wanted to claim a “PRD.”

My friend, like many of us, is on stage constantly.  It doesn’t matter if you are a preacher. If you are in any type of ministry there is unimaginable pressure to perform. As someone much older and wiser has said, “It can be lonely at the top.” Please don’t misunderstand- leadership is not about being at the top of a food chain or hierarchal ladder. But leadership is all about expectations at the “top.” There is a particular pressure when you lead. And it is at the top – in this pressure – where we often lose sight of who we are.
We fail and we want no one to see.
We sin and we cannot tell anyone.

We must be perfect in every way because the pressure and expectations are intense at the top.
Yet tragically we break the hearts of those we love into a million pieces.
And maybe the worst part is you think everyone has deserted you- even God.
But I believe this is the point where God can move in. God is able to do the unimaginable. God is able to speak creative order into chaos. The offer of new life is extended and it is ours for the taking.
Which is why resurrection is the most powerful story for any disciple – especially leaders.

When I first began preaching I was hungry to learn everything I could from more seasoned veterans. (That’s my gentle way of referring to “old” preachers!) So I was at a conference and I found another preacher who had been at his game for 30 years. I purposefully sat next to him so I could pick his brain about the “in’s and out’s” of preaching. This is the question I asked: “If you could go could back and talk to yourself as a 30 year old preacher, what would you say?” He paused. He looked straight into my eyes and simple said, “It’s all true.” Okay… what’s true? “The resurrection. It’s all true and without that it would all be worthless.”

Now that’s a great word. A word from someone who has been at the top, felt the weight of expectation, and known what’s it like to carry the weight of sin.

And it’s all true.

The early church believed it. Paul staked his life on it. And as restoration leaders we must embrace it. We are messy, screwed up, not-so-perfect leaders who face unbelievable pressure to flaunt our “perfection.”

And when we are consumed by these sinful expectations, we need to take a breath and claim a “PRD” for whatever is weighing us down.

Will you join my friend? Will you join me?

Let’s claim a “Personal Resurrection Day.”

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 2)

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By: Steven Brice

My Current Journey

Beloved heritage, I am currently at Abilene Christian University. It too is closely connected to our broader heritage of the Churches of Christ.  To be sure, among the African American heritage, Abilene Christian University had a reputation for being racist (as witnessed in past events); however, today it has a new reputation. It is much more inclusive, but Abilene Christian University is also viewed as a liberal school which has left the faith by a great number of African American Ministers, leaders, and members.   For example, during a lectureship at Southwestern Christian College, I remember discussing with one of our “defenders of the faith” my desire to attend Pepperdine University to complete a Master’s degree in religion.  This preacher informed me “to be very careful with schools like Pepperdine and Abilene Christian University – which have left the faith and whose teaching can persuade you to do the same. These schools have stolen some of our brightest young man, and since you are a bright young man with a promising future, I would hate to see you leave the faith.”[1] I informed him of my commitment to the faith. Subsequently, I decided to attend Abilene Christian University rather than Pepperdine University.

It was the year 2011, when I enrolled as a full time student at Abilene Christian University to work on a Masters of Divinity in Missions. Knowing the reputation of this school as a result of my heritage, I was determined to protect my faith. I held strongly to this endeavor to guard my faith until receiving numerous lectures from various professors during orientation day. At a certain point, a professor said something profound which challenged me to remove the shield buffering my faith. The professor said, “This education will deconstruct you, but one of the benefits of this deconstruction is that it will humble you.”[2] Humility, in my opinion, was rarely taught within my heritage, and I desired to be humble. I wanted to stop acting and believing that I mastered the faith and I had it all together. I desired to grow, to learn more, and I wanted to be a student of the faith. I desired to expose faith to those outside my heritage. After all, if faith is to be proven true, it must be tested.

As I journeyed throughout seminary at Abilene Christian University, I have learned many things which were not taught in my heritage; and perhaps some of these things have been hidden or obfuscated from me by African American Church of Christ preachers.  Perhaps I am being too strong here; nevertheless, I will mention one or two things as examples.  First, as a result of my studies here at Abilene Christian, I realize that the core of Christianity is not focused or centered on ecclesiology (the church). The core of Christianity is the story of God’s love for humanity expressed in the redemptive work of Jesus. The story of Jesus Christ, which was forecasted in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the writings of the New Testament, is the foundation of biblical faith.  In addition, human faith has God himself as the foundation. I have learned that the Bible is not God and God is not the Bible. The Bible shares glimpses of who God is and what He has done, and what He plans to do, but the Bible is not God.

If the above notion proves to be true, then there are countless things which need to be evaluated within our heritage. Still, in order to remain focused on the theme of this letter, I will only discuss the core of Christianity and elaborate how this core identifies us as the church.  In fact, what is this core?  I believe the core of Christianity is the story of God loving sinners to the point that God sacrificed His position in Heaven to dwell among us in a fallen world in order to restore us back to Him. This is the gospel my beloved heritage. This is the gospel we should preach!


[1] A conversation with a seasoned Evangelist preacher within the African American churches of Christ during the Southwestern Christian College lectureship in the year of 2009.

[2] This is a paraphrase quote from Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology department at Abilene Christian University, Dr. Mark Hamilton.