Pepper Road church of Christ

Among the Cameroonian people of Africa, the verbs in their language, Hdi, consistently end in one of three vowels. In almost every verb, one will find forms ending in -i, -a, and -u, but when it comes to their word for “love”, there are only verbs ending in an “i”  and “a”. 

A missionary in this country once asked a translation committee, “Could you ‘dvi’ your wife?”

“Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.

“Could you ‘dva’ your wife?” He asked.

“Yes,” they said, for that was the kind of love that depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and tended well to her husband. 

“Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?” the missionary inquired. Everyone laughed.

“Of course not!” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

The missionary sat quietly for a while, pondering John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”

There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally, they responded. 

“Do you know what this would mean?” they asked. “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.” []

The church family that worships at Pepper Road has a deep regard for the primacy of love and has, so much so, that it has invested a couple of years focusing on everything God says on this central topic, exploring the many differing aspects of love and looking for all the various applications they can. 

In the sermon Marshall McDaniel preached the Sunday morning of our visit to the Pepper Road church of Christ, he shared this beautiful story of the Cameroonian people, inviting us to consider how love truly is at the very heart of all Christian service, for it was love that motivated God to sacrifice His beloved Son that changed our eternal destinies from eternal death to eternal life (John 3:16). It must, in turn, be love that motivates us to serve Him and one another, lest the labor we offer and the sacrifices we make for others become burdensome and thus, ultimately, completely empty (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). 

While there are attributes of God that our nature as humans cannot emulate ㅡ things that are only true of Him and true of no one else (His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, for starters), how wonderful that there are other divine qualities of God that He graciously invites us to take on, including love (2 Peter 1:4-11). God Himself is love (1 John 4:8), and the fullness of God, that is, the very character and essence of God (Ephesians 3:14-19) is manifested when we are loving others as God loves, including those who hate us. When we sincerely desire for these enemies their return to God and thus their well-being, we are imitating our Lord Jesus when on the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”, and are likewise following the good example of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, who while being stoned to death, likewise prayed “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” What levels of maturity summon us! No wonder we’re told in 2 Peter 1 to be “all the more diligent”, to add, among other things, this divine level of love to our lives, for what great spiritual maturity it takes to feel pity for one’s enemies rather than mere disgust or hate. Brother McDaniel supported this point in his sermon by quoting part of an Amy Carmichael poem called “If” where she notes “If I belittle those whom I am called to serve… if I adopt a superior attitude forgetting ‘Who made thee to differ?’ and ‘What hast thou that thou has not received?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7), then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.”

Among the elements of New Testament Christianity that restorationists are committed to restoring, is God’s divine pattern of fervently and consistently expending great effort to love one another, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:11). We do this by thinking, feeling and doing only what is in one another’s best interest (Philippians 2:4), often stretching ourselves to meet whatever need presents itself, for it’s this stretching that the incomprehensible love of God can be reflected through us and we can thus begin to experience the joys found only in imitating His divine nature. 

I’ve experienced this kind of love from Pepper Road members, Susann and Michael Valenzuela, a few years back, before they moved to Athens, they offered my friend and me a night’s rest in their Savannah home though they’d never even met us! Likewise, it is this same imitation of God’s divine nature that will set the tone and be the love glue that will bless the upcoming marriage of Sharon Driedger and Jacob Keese, whom we were also delighted to bump into at worship there.  Moreover, it is the love of souls that has moved Stephen Russell, also a preacher at Pepper Road, to help organize “Profitable For Teaching”, an intense, four-day men’s Bible study where men from all over the country together dig deeply into God’s written wisdom. I’m immeasurably grateful for these studies that effectively prevent the next generation from becoming “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” and I take comfort knowing that the men who return to their respective congregations do so even more enabled to speak the truth in love and help those who hear to “grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”(Ephesians 4:14-15). 

I thank heaven there are such robust believers in and around Athens, Alabama, set on imitating God’s divine nature, and doing what they can to help others do the same. Only recently did we discover Athens Bible School, a privately funded effort that has been building good character and educating the youth in Athens for good since 1943. If you’re looking to migrate to a more family-friendly community, these Christian teachers will educate your Pre-K to 12th graders for $4K-$5.7K per year, at the time of this writing. There’s also a great, Christian-owned bookstore in Athens called CEI/Truth Publications that publishes and provides Bible-based materials, including my book Your Fresh Start 一 that is ever since my friend Heather Ladd recently stopped by to purchase a copy for a hotel employee she wanted to lead to Christ who had been especially thoughtful during her family’s stay there. Since CEI did not yet carry my book, they offered a free “misprint” Bible that Heather could gift to the hotel employee. When the employee returned from the stockroom with the Bible, the “misprint” name at the bottom of the front cover happened to be the exact name of the hotel employee. No kidding. 

I don’t pretend to know everything God’s providence is doing, but absolutely praise Him at times like these, for “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… ” (James 1:17) ㅡ and we’ve witnessed plenty of such “perfect gifts'' for those like Heather who go out their way to diligently seek to imitate the Father’s love.

22776 Pepper Road
Athens, AL 35613
(256) 232-5281