My heroes have always been cowboys. Like the song says, “I grew up dreaming of being a cowboy, and loving the cowboy ways.” My childhood days were spent pursuing the life of my heroes in the woods, streams, and fields around my home. My brother and I, along with our buddies, spent our days building forts, blazing trails, and establishing hideouts. Every day was a new adventure.
I remember listening to Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger on the radio. I would sit at the kitchen table and let my imagination roam freely through the Old West.
Then Matt Dillon and the Lone Ranger came to TV. Soon the golden age of cowboys was on us and I loved it! There were so many of them I can’t remember them all. I do find myself thinking about these: Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, Bonanza, High Chaparral, Big Valley, and Johnny Yuma.
Somewhere along the way I picked up a love for reading and a love of history. So I started reading about and studying the American West. It did not take me long to uncover an important truth: the American West of popular novels, TV, and movies had been built on legends mingled with historical facts. I soon made another discovery: The men and women of the real West were far more interesting than the legends. Soon I was hooked on history even more.
At Wheaton Graduate School the door to Historical Theology was opened to me by Dr. Robert Webber. I ran through it with eagerness. I took every course possible in my time there on the history of the Church and the development of Christian doctrine. As I discovered the historical roots of the Church I was given a new vision for and understanding of the Church.
Why am I recounting all these experiences? I have one aim: I want you to read history. The vast majority of people, including Christians, do not like reading history. I really don’t blame them, either. The main root of the problem is the way it is most often taught. It ends up being a memorization of people, dates, and events. Soon you are lost in a sea of facts and you flee from it in despair.
I am asking you to look at it differently. Look at history through the lens of Scripture. Consider Psalm 145: 3-7,
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Here the psalmist calls us to look for the “mighty acts” of God in history. We are then to “meditate” on them and “proclaim” them to others. As you read history you will often discover the awesome deeds of God recounted in books that are not even designed to speak of God. They are just retelling historical events – they believe.
Psalm 46:7-11 calls us with these words,
The Lord almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
Do you believe that God is the sovereign God as well as the personal God who acts in history? Do you believe He breaks into space and time to accomplish His purpose and carry out His plans? Have you seen His works and history and recounted them to others?
Look at Psalm 64:9-10
All mankind will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done. Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him!
Wouldn’t it be wise for us, the righteous, “to ponder what He has done” now? Shouldn’t we be rejoicing in and proclaiming His acts now? If we are not aware of what He has done in history, how can we proclaim it to others?
You may think, “Aren’t history books expensive? I don’t have the money to invest in books now.” Let me encourage you. There is no need to spend a lot of money on books. Did you know that our church library contains numerous volumes that can get you started as you look for the mighty acts of God in history? You can find them under these three genres: Biography, History, and Classics.
Consider starting with one these:
Five Great Evangelists by John Armstrong
The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century by Roland Bainton
John Newton: Letters of a Slave Trader Freed by God’s Grace by Dick Bohrer
There are many more available. One of our librarians would enjoy helping you find a book that would encourage and challenge you.
By the way, in my reading of Church history I found a new hero: Martin Luther. He was sort of a Christian cowboy so it’s no wonder I was drawn to him. He has been a help and inspiration to me. I hope you find a hero as you travel the trail of history.
Elder Jim Gordon