Snapshots: One Man’s Journey

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow,
Though none go with me, still I will follow,
Though none go with me, still I will follow,
No turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me,
The world behind me, the cross before me,
The world behind me, the cross before me,
No turning back, no turning back!

Summer 1977, New Orleans, Trinity Christian Community

Heart pounding, full of desire to follow this amazing, radical Jesus that I read about in the Gospels, I stood in the water singing with all of my heart. I was confident that at the end of that last “No turning back...” the young pastor whose arm was around me would plunge me under that water, and I would never be the same again. I fingered the silver and turquoise ring on my right hand. I had bought it in the Fall of 1972 at the Ann Arbor Hash Festival where I had pushed past my nagging conscience and grabbed onto the tail of the ’60s movement in my desperate desire to be part of something exciting. Now somehow that ring symbolized for me all the selfishness and futility of those past five years. “The world behind me, the cross before me...”
With silent determination, I slipped the ring off my finger and let it sink to the bottom. No one saw me do it. “No turning back, no turning back...” I emerged from the water jumping for joy, full of zeal to follow Jesus, one of countless young people touched by the Jesus Movement of the 1970s.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

~ Martin Luther

Fall 1979, South Hamilton, Massachusetts, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

The strong, deep chorus of male voices resonating in the chapel of the old convent sent chills down my spine. I pinched myself as I left the glorious chapel service and walked across the majestic hilltop to the library to study. Was it real? Was I really in seminary, sitting at the feet of the great Bible scholars, being trained for a lifetime of ministry? The library atmosphere enveloped me. Its inexhaustible supply of books was intoxicating — systematic theologies, commentaries, biographies, church histories, Calvin’s Institutes…
It was hard to concentrate on my church history assignment, not only because of the sea of books surrounding me, but because of the escalating voices of two students having an intense argument behind me. It was the typical Calvinist/Arminian debate — election versus free will — and they were going at it “hammer & tongs.” Somehow that moment vividly represented to me the whole bloody history of the church. That very morning I had been troubled to hear of John Calvin having Michael Servetus burned at the stake for refusing to believe in the Trinity. The professor only lamented the fact that Christians no longer had that same passion to be “Defenders of the Faith” like John Calvin.
Over the course of that year my thoughts increasingly troubled me, and my doubts grew that the lofty realm of seminary had anything to do with the simple but profound love of the Carpenter from Galilee and His rough-hewn disciples who turned their world upside down. I left seminary, longing for the life of those first disciples.
My flesh is tired of seeking God, but on my knees I’ll stay.
I want to be a pleasing child, until that final day.
My mind is full of many thoughts that clutter and confuse.
But standing firm, I will prevail, in faith that I’ll be used.

~ Keith Green

Fall 1982, Dorchester, Massachusetts, Prince of Peace Fellowship

Unable to hold back my tears, I took down the sign I had carved by hand less than two years before: Prince of Peace Fellowship, Assembly of God. Our inner-city house church had suffered a fatal heart attack. Once shining lights of the Assemblies of God Home Missions outreach, my wife and I had burned out, unable to kindle a fire in the hearts of our little congregation. We had thought we could start from scratch and do things right, not weighed down with all the traditional church trappings. We had thought that we all had the same heart, to live together in community and share all we had in common. We were sadly mistaken.
I put the sign in the basement of our tired old house, unable to throw it away. For the next eight years I would cry every time I looked at that sign, because of the great hopes we had for our little church. Failure was a bitter pill to swallow.
God of all comfort
God of all grace
We have come to seek You
We have come to seek Your face.

~ John Wimber

Spring 1984, Framingham, Massachusetts, Vineyard Christian Fellowship

Comfort settled over me like an old flannel quilt. The Jesus Movement had mellowed with age, and its soothing melodies were like an anesthetic on my ecclesiastical wounds. Kenn Gulliksen’s soft eyes and warm smile surveyed his devoted followers, tilling their hearts for the seeds of introspection he would sow. Newcomers on the scene, my wife and I waited in eager expectation of heavenly words from this legendary teacher.
The first portion was rather strange fare. We heard that all of our wrong ways, our deep insecurities, and our emotional wounds were inflicted upon us by our parents, siblings, and other close relations. We’re all victims of neglect, abuse, and injustice, and need deep inner healing. Jesus wants to journey back with us to revisit each painful memory, visualize it, and let him heal it, helping us to forgive each one who hurt us. Ahhh… how soothing! So that was my problem. I’m just a helpless victim. It’s really not my fault. Let’s see… where can I place the blame?
From week to week the menu never changed and the seductive savor of that sentimental sauté gave way to its bitter aftertaste. Introspection is a suicide journey and we were in the dining car, watching our past go by, increasingly sensing that we didn’t want to go where this train was taking us. We got off at the next stop, disoriented, disillusioned, waiting for the next train in some other direction.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

~ Robert Robinson

Summer 1987, Dorchester, Massachusetts, A Local Baptist Church

It was only a few blocks away from our house, so why not give it a try? An old traditional Baptist church, most of the congregation over 70, most of the pews empty… they’d probably appreciate a nice young family like ours.
They did. The old folks loved us. The young pastor loved us. We could do no wrong… almost. We had been there almost a year when it came time for the annual church business meeting. But who was that strange man at the head table? He’s the church treasurer? He’s on the Board of Trustees? Why have we never seen him in church? Oh, it’s not his thing. He only comes on Easter. Then what’s he doing on the church board? He’s a stock broker; he’s good with finances. We got the message. Serve, sing, encourage, pay tithes. Don’t rock the boat.
It was hard for John, the young, zealous, Calvinist pastor. His intensity in the pulpit worked against his approval rating. In fact, hearing his sermon one Sunday morning I came to a startling realization. I’d heard that argument before somewhere… in that very same voice… He was the Calvinist student having that bitter argument in the Gordon-Conwell library! It made the hair tingle on the back of my neck.
It took less than three years for the “old guard” to give poor John his walking papers. He begged us to walk with him and they begged us to stay. We had given our hearts to both and the bitter schism ripped us apart. It was time to say good-bye again.
They teach a vain and false deceit,
Which is to God and all his truth opposed;
And what the willful mind conceiveth,
— O sorrow which the church so sorely vexeth —
That must usurp the Bible’s place.
The one now chooseth this, the other that,
And reason’s foolishness is their full scope.
They are just like the tombs of dead men,
Which, though they may be outward fair,
Mere stench and mould contain within them
And all uncleanness show when opened.

~ Johann Sebastian Bach

Winter 1990, Boston, Massachusetts, Park Street Church

We dropped off our children for Sunday School and walked down the street to pass the hour having coffee and croissants at Café Tremont before taking our customary pew in the balcony. Ten years of bitter disappointments had drained all the urban missionary zeal out of us, to be replaced by the comforts and travels of my thriving consulting business. Nature abhors a vacuum.
An arousing Bach organ prelude reverberated through the grand old building as it filled with a thousand or more in their finery. Ken Olsen, deacon in the church and billionaire founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, took his customary pew not far from me. What on earth were we doing here?
Seeking a quiet refuge from the battles of small church politics and the pressure to be and do everything, we thought we could just disappear into the homogenous laity of this bastion of Evangelicalism. We sat back in the pew and went along for the ride. It was quite comfortable… until we got a whiff of the seamy underbelly of the church. Lurking beneath its veneer of virtue and respectability was a whole world of sexual intrigue. We slipped quietly out the back door. Hardly anyone noticed.
My eyes are dry, my faith is old,
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold,
And I know how I ought to be,
Alive to you, and dead to me.

Oh what can be done, for an old heart like mine,
Soften it up, with oil and wine.
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love,
Please wash me anew, in the wine of Your blood.

~ Keith Green

June 1990, Lausanne, Switzerland, A Lonely House Overlooking Lake Geneva

The children’s toys greeted me as I returned to the empty house to embrace a month of solitude. A death in the family had called my wife and children back to the States, and the death at work in my own soul called me to the brink of despair.
How I dreaded coming home to that empty house! But why? I was no stranger to lonely hotel rooms. But somehow this was different. The smells and effects of my wife and children haunted me. They were there, but not there. Loneliness gripped me like a bandit. Every evening after work found me lingering at my favorite café… another glass of wine… a cup of coffee… a chocolate… a slow walk by the lake… until darkness drove me home to fight off the cruel comfort of the television.
Oh, God, are you there? Where are you? Why are you so far from me?
The Bible brought me no comfort. Everything my eye fell upon condemned me.
But I was saved, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I? Was I?
If I was, where was my Helper?
But I was… helpless.
Oh, God, please help me!
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

~ an old Negro spiritual

August 1990, Dorchester, Massachusetts, Our Old House

Eleven years worth of possessions took some time to pack. “Imagine no possessions…” John Lennon had said. We would have to settle for hiding them in the basement. The house was for rent, and we were going back to Switzerland to stay. Trouble was, whom could we trust as tenants with all of our possessions in the basement?
The umpteenth prospect shook his head sadly, “Too much house for me.” Pausing briefly before driving off, he added, “If you’re really in a pinch, you might want to check out that community over on Melville Avenue. They’re really nice, and they always seem to need more space. They believe the Bible, too. Good luck!”
The next morning found me knocking on their door. “What? You want us to live in your house while you’re gone? How kind of you! But don’t you want to know what we’re about? Here, read this freepaper. We’ll send someone over to see you tomorrow!”
A week later we were flying back to Switzerland, having left our house in the care of this peculiar people we hardly knew but completely trusted. “Please visit our brothers and sisters in France!” they urged us. We were determined to do just that at the first opportunity.
This is how I came to my land,
I remember our God,
And His words that went deep into my heart.
Our children, our wives, packages held in our hands,
Some came on mules and some on their own two feet.
I know this is the way,
I know that it was shown to me.
Abba please, light up the way,
Help me for I’m coming back,
Comin’ back to my land.

~ An old Israeli song

October 1990, Sus, France, Tabitha’s Place

My weary eyes opened to the breathtaking sight of an ancient walled city rising above the mist as we rumbled across the countryside of southern France. One by one, my wife and children awoke, full of anticipation for what lay ahead. Waiting for us at the station was a warm-hearted, full-bearded German man who kept smiling at us and saying, “Wonderful!” as he loaded our bags into an old Peugeot van.
As we turned into the gates of the old chateau we were greeted by 150 men, women, and children of all ages and nationalities jumping up and down and cheering as they swarmed around us, ushered us into the entrance hall, and served us a delicious meal. Thus began the week that forever changed our lives. Had we stepped back 1950 years in time to the first community of disciples described in the Bible?1 Or even more wonderful — could it be that the very same life and spirit had been restored in our day?
In the light of this life, the darkness of my soul had nowhere to hide. It stared me in the face and reduced me to a quivering lump on the bed. All those years had not given me life. I had only walked according to the course of this world,2 still a slave to my flesh.
But, oh, Joy! Life was here! Love was here! I had found the Treasure hidden in the field! I would go and sell all that I had and buy that field!
He’s given me hope, hope that does not disappoint,
He’s given me hope, for me to go beyond this point,
And now I’m grateful, grateful to be a part of this life of love.

He’s given me friends, friends that can understand,
He’s given me friends, friends that gave me a hand,
And now I’m grateful, grateful to be a part of this life of love.

He’s given His love, when I really saw my need,
He’s given His love, brought me in His family,
And now I’m grateful, grateful to be a part of this life of love!
And now I’m grateful, grateful to be a part of this life of love!
And now I’m grateful, grateful to be a part of this life of love!

November 1990, Lausanne, Switzerland, A No-Longer-Lonely House

Determined to disentangle myself as gracefully and quickly as possible from my consulting contracts, we returned to Switzerland with the hope of a new life just ahead.
“Are you crazy? You’re going to lose everything you’ve worked so hard to gain!”
“You hardly know these people! They’re probably a dangerous cult!”
“At least keep some money in a Swiss bank in case you change your mind…”
It was unrelenting. How could we withstand it? Please, come and help us!
Relief came in an old Land Rover — six radiant faces beaming at us as we flew down the walkway to greet them. Oh, you’re here at last! Thank you for coming!
Eagerly we called all our friends, “Come and meet the ones who are living out the Scriptures! Then you’ll understand!” But they didn’t understand. They all left the house, shaking their heads, leaving us alone with our new friends.
Evening fell with a blanket of snow. One of our friends opened his Bible and with simple grace explained our Creator’s purpose and plan for His people. I wanted with all my heart to be one of them. Faith had finally worked its way to the core of my heart and up to my lips. Down to the lake we all went with great joy, where I and my faithful wife surrendered our lives in the frigid waters, crying out to the only One who can save. The warm hands of our new family received us from that icy womb and took us home.
Love is our home,
a place to receive healing.
Brokenness of heart opens the way,
And forgiveness washes all.
Love is our home.
It’s filled with brothers and sisters,
Sharing what we have on our hearts,
Causing us to grow in love.
No more separation, or fear of rejection,
For we have entered into
a simple love affair of the heart.

November 2002, Groton, Massachusetts, An Old House on Main Street

As we warmed ourselves in the glow of the crackling fire on the hearth, my faithful wife, six wonderful daughters, and a few close friends recalled the amazing way we had come to live in this cozy old house. It had been given into our care by a sensitive woman who was touched by the love and warmth of our people. Somehow she knew that she could trust us to care for this pleasant house that circumstances prevented her from living in. She had no idea, as she handed me the keys, that I had done the very same thing twelve years before. We hope someday to win her heart as well.
Such is the way our life grows… organically… hearts touching hearts, passing on the faith that grafts each needy soul into the fruitful vine of our common life.
Ours is not an easy life, but it is deeply satisfying. Love is our home, forgiveness the healing balm that makes our life sustainable. And as I watch my daughters grow into pure young women, full of passion for the kingdom we are building together, my heart overflows with thankfulness for the lovingkindness of our God. He has proven Himself true to me for heeding these words:

He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. (John 12:25-26)

I hope my story will encourage you to come and serve the Master where He is.
~ David

  • 1. Acts 2:44-47 and 4:32-35
  • 2. Ephesians 2:2

The Twelve Tribes is a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, composed of self-governing communities. We are disciples of the Son of God whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua. We follow the pattern of the early church in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, truly believing everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible, and sharing all things in common.

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