We were a strange group of young men and women from all over the states and the world who somehow learned about this tiny little school in upstate Pennsylvania and decided to spend a year of our lives together. Looking around the circle of students (or apprentices) you could identify the rebels, the sheltered, the uber spiritual, the socially awkward.. somehow we had ended up in boot camp, sleeping in un-insulated bunkhouses and getting up for 5:30am exercises.
That first month was tough; you have to adjust to the new physical activities (chores, horseback riding) as well as mental activities (memorization, journaling) that many apprentices had never tackled before. Our first memorization project was done as a class and we were memorizing James 1 in the King James Version. Every evening we would gather in a big circle and recite it together..
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the 12 tribes that are scattered abroad, greeting!”
We wore Carhartts and muck boots, some mumbled along while others who were proud of how well they knew it rang out above the rest,
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
The two years that I spent at the program changed me in ways that I’m still finding out. Principles in the Bible are now embedded rock solid into my heart and show up when I’m facing a conflict, I’ve found that I’m stronger than I think I am and I know more than I think I did. For the time you spend there everything about you is scrutinized and tested–from your attitude to character qualities. Terms like “speaking the truth in love” and “dying to yourself” are used in everyday conversation.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”
An hour south of Lake Erie, Miracle Mountain Ranch is nestled on a mountaintop away from the outside world. It is a working summer camp and retreat center so every weekend saw the apprentices dressed up in western garb and working every aspect of hospitality. The falls were spectacular, the air clean and crisp. I can’t smell fall without thinking of that place.
“Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”
It was hard not to laugh when 38 students said “superfluity of naughtiness” all together. But when I look back on this chapter (which still runs through my head frequently) I find that this verse stands out to me. The only way that I could be changed was to lay aside the filthiness in my life and heart and humble myself before the word of God, accepting it as the authority. I was on a wide road to ruin, but this act of meekness and letting God’s word be grafted into my heart is what saved my life.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
The years I spent at the Ranch are what I would mark as the first of my wilderness experiences; times when God stripped everything in my life away to show that he was all I really needed. There would be many more such times to follow, but those two years really started my personal and honest journey as a Christian.
Sometimes it is helpful to look back, to see where God has taken you and when he has been faithful in your life. Today I’ve been discouraged and dealing with a lot, but I have been reminded too that I’m a trained soldier of Christ. My faith is built on years of teaching and study and experience, even though I have fallen out of shape and I’m not as battle ready perhaps as I once was.
What is the superfluity of naughtiness in your life that you can lay aside today? How can you meekly allow God to graft his truth into your heart?