The most important part of the Way of Christ is the journey. Yahshua is quoted about 20 times saying to people, “Follow me!” “But thou, O man of God, …follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith…”(A) So this post recaps highlights of that journey, w/ special emphasis on the books that helped me. The goal of this short article is to help others coming behind me on the pilgrim journey.
BEGINNING THE JOURNEY. In the summer of ’69, while helping my grandfather farm south of Council Grove, KS I had a miraculous conversion (like Paul) to Christ. Because Christ called me to him, I have always felt committed to him foremost, & not to any church. I was baptized in the river that flowed past the fields where I farmed. It was running water, & it was meaningful. The first Bible verse I memorized was perhaps one of the most significant, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction , for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”(B) Because there was no NT at the time that verse was penned, I realized early on that the entire Bible is valuable; & I, using the KJV, included it all for reading…with the major & minor prophets being the last read.
EARLY ON. As with many new converts, I was on cloud nine, and could not devour enough Bible or learning. I inhaled all I could, and was exceptionally happy & joyful. I came from a non-believing science family, so I knew essentially nothing of the Christian walk. So a number of books were essential to getting me on the right track. I loved Sheldon’s In His Steps: What would Jesus do. This book taught me to ask myself as I went through each minute of each day, “how would Jesus have handled things?” I wanted to follow him. And the setting was Kansas, my state. I was also able to get some excellent books on the various topics I needed: For being a disciple, I read William MacDonald’s True Discipleship. To learn prayer, I read Andrew Murray’s book With Christ in the School of Prayer. I loved all of Andrew Murray’s books…which are classics. To see how someone had had faith I read Smith Wigglesworth’s Ever Increasing Faith. And to understand the overall journey I read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. To understand the persecution, I read Foxes Book of Martyrs. Benjamin Franklin had mentioned in his autobiography that at the end of the day, he gave himself a test on the various virtues. So I made myself a test sheet with important Bible verses & evaluated myself each day on how well I had done with the different virtues. As the philosopher said, the unexamined life is not worth living.
LESSONS FROM THAT TIME. In the early period, to understand the book of Revelations, I read Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth which had just come out & was selling well…. Later, I outgrew his theology & regretted having been sucked into his dispensational premillenial view, which I later discarded like a hot potato when I realized how it was grounded on unbiblical heretical teachings. I also never forgot that he predicted Christ’s return by the end of the 1980’s and many of us took it half-way to heart. I remember an Amish minister (Eli S.) & myself (in ’76) thinking the end could really happen by then. I was disgusted in the ’90’s hearing Lindsay claim he’d never made a mistake. Early on, I realized that I needed to study others who had gone before me who had done things right to emulate their lives. At the top of the list to study was Christ. I studied his life in detail. And also the Apostle Paul. On the most critical list of persons to study was Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, & Mahatma Gandhi. On the secondary list which I also studied closely was: George Washington, Corrie ten Bloom, & Dietrich Bonhoeffer. My first list turned out to be somewhat of a disaster…Franklin was a Hell Fire Club Satanist/head mason for N.A….Lincoln was the head Rosicrucian who did some dubious things…and Gandhi also had a mixed scorecard. However, the secondary list on the other hand were inspiring, and worthy of respect.
WEST POINT in JULY, 1973. Long story short, in ’72, I had confidence that I could get an appointment to West Point because I had been an A student, did well on ACT/SAT tests, was an athlete, & was in great health. But I struggled with the issue of whether a Christian could serve in the military. The story of the Roman centurian, who Christ said had the most faith in Israel, tipped the scales in my internal struggle.(C) On my month leave after the first year at West Point (June ’74), I flew to Israel to see the Holy Land. Visiting the Holy Land was a moving experience. The various “dead” meaningless geographical sites of the Bible came to life. I was particularly moved to see the grave site of Abraham & Sarah; it was meaningful to me to be able to get in touch with an ancient patriarch from the book of Genesis. One could feel the special spirituality in the region. Travelling throughout Israel brought the Bible to life. It also convinced me I was a conscientious objector who wanted to serve God’s army, not Uncle Sam’s. When I got back I tried to resign, was talked into staying by a Christian officer, but before the second year was up, resigned with the absolute firm goal of 100% obedience to God & Christ.
AMISH IN SPRING OF 1975. Immediately after West Point, when I reread the Holy Bible with absolute obedience in mind, the book looked different. I came up with a list: “50 scriptural reasons why I am joining the Amish”. To understand the Anabaptist view of the Christian way, I read The Collected Works of Menno Simons, Dirk Phillips’ writings, & John Holdeman’s Ein Spiegel der Wahrheit (in English). I also read large portions of the Martyr’s Mirror, which is an encyclopedic collection of accounts of Anabaptist martyrdom throughout all history from the apostolic times. This was a great deal of reading, but it opened up entire new ways of understanding the Word of God…and really showed how Christians could be separate from the world. Also during this time period, I was able to get some non-Anabaptist books that deepened my walk: Bridges’ In Pursuit of Holiness, A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, and Francis Schaffer’s books. Between West Point & the Amish I had discovered Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. All of these books, deepened my walk with God. But the absolute most powerful book was a selection of Thomas A Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. Kempis’ Imitation of Christ was as powerful as the Bible. I literary felt the Holy Spirit beside me reading it, over and over.
LESSONS FROM MY LIFE WITH THE AMISH. I had some false ideas. First, I thought since I was committed to God 100% if not 110%, that He would open whatever needed to be opened, and would protect me. By that I did not expect to receive any persecution from my fellow Christians. I thought I had my back covered because I had left the world, and was surrounded by Christians. Wrong. I went through hard tests, tests that were caused by ungodly Amish Christians, & I learned the lessons that a number of scriptures address. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (D) “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (E) I learned an important lesson–you can’t run from Satan…there is no “safe spot”…you have to stand & resist him.(F)
MOVING ON IN GOD’S SERVICE. Living as a member of the Old Order Amish Mennonites taught me things every day. It might take a book to cover it all. In 1978, I received divine dreams that were obviously from the Lord to leave the Amish and go back into the World & expose the corruption in the Worldly churches & what was happening in the World system and call people back to the Word of God. At the time, I was teaching school in a one room Amish school w/ grades 1-8. It took an incident involving a county official demanding that I turn in the list of all Amish parents who were not in compliance w/ child vaccinations, and my subsequent dismissal by the Amish school board for refusing to comply w/ that petty county official, that was the catalyst to get me to leave. That church congregation broke up after I left, & I wondered if the issue of vaccinations had helped split it up.
VITAL BIBLICAL TOOLS. Early on in my Christian walk, I discovered Cruden’s Concordance, and used it quite frequently. As I got to know the Bible better, by the time I left the Amish, I needed Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance with its Greek & Hebrew dictionaries. If you are not familiar with these Bible tools, you need to learn about them. When I was Amish, I was visiting with a cousin who had gone to Bible College & became a minister. 4 yrs. of Bible College & they had not taught him about concordances. When I mentioned these two concordances, he had a blank look. People, they are essential to find your way around the Bible. How do you think I can find all the scripture addresses for these posts? As long as I remember a word of the verse (& it makes it quicker if I remember the book), I can look up the Bible address of the verse and also look up what the original language was. I also got interlinear English-to-original-language Bibles, which helps also.
PERSECUTION. In order to understand what my fellow Christians had suffered, and how they were successful, I had read Corrie ten Blom’s The Hiding Place. I also read God’s Smuggler…and all of Wurmbrand’s books (& went out and met his daughter in L.A.). Richard Wurmbrand’s books incl. Tortured for Christ, plus Marx & Satan, & others. I also read Haralan Popov’s book Tortured for His Faith and spent a day with Haralan. He was a Bulgarian minister who had been tortured in a communist prison.
CULT APOLOGETICS. Another area of study for me was how to defend the Christian faith from cultish lookalikes. I read Dr. Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults, his Maze of Mormonism, etc. …& found them shallow. His information is like sending you into battle w/ blanks or defective ammo. I found all of Duane Magnani’s books on the JW’s to be excellent. I found Sandra Tanner’s books on Mormonism to be excellent. I got all of both Magnani’s and Tanner’s books, and perused them. Besides all this, I have read 100’s (or is it 1000’s?) of books on other religions, sects and cults. This was in part because of my deep desire to find the truth. I don’t mean to imply that I have even begun to cover all the Christian books that I read in this first decade, but many of them sadly were not very notable, or are too scholarly for mention. I studied Calvin, Luther, Zwingli & Edwards…but I would not recommend that for non-scholars. Also for brevity sake I am leaving off my ’78 summer prayer & study on eschatology.
CONCLUSION: This has been an snapshot of my first decade as a Christian (with the exception that I read Magnani’s & Tanner’s books in my 2nd decade.) I want to mention one other author…C.S. Lewis. In general, I have had little interest in Christian fantasy & fiction. His books: Screwtape Letters & Great Divorce were helpful. I believe that God divinely brought the book The Great Divorce into my life at the precise moment I needed it. I was struggling mentally with some issues about hell, and was on the verge of giving up Christianity due to its teaching on hell…his book was the key I needed to get past my mental block. I am so grateful I did not walk away from my faith!!
(A) 1 TIM 6:11-12b (B) 2 TIM 3:16 (C) MT 8 & LK 7 (D) 1 PTR 4:12-13 (E) COL 3:13 (F) JAS 4:7