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“The Scribes and the Pharisees brought you the woman taken in adultery, asking if you would break the Law of Moses and not have her stoned. Seeing if they might accuse you. … the hatred and some who sought to kill you. (Jesus) ‘You judge the flesh, I judge no man. I am the one who bears witness of myself and the father who sent me.’ And they cry, ‘Where is thy Father?’ ‘You neither know me nor my father. Whither I go you cannot come. You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples. You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ And they cried, ‘We are Abraham’s seed and were never in bondage to any. How shall we be made free?’
The crowd pressing forward, James and I stepping in front of you lest they try to seize you. Those who shouted against you, who pushed against us. …The jeering. The mockery. The ones who raised their fists, sought in the ground for stones…the first stone coming, the great surge of the people to seize you.”
I have been reading a novel about the Apostle John, therefore the excerpt above. The book is set on the isle of Patmos; John is in his 90’s, blind. It has been many years since he witnessed the miracles, years since first being with the Messiah, the One he had put all confidence in, now crucified. Much of the script is John re-living the memories, the miracles, re-living when he and his brother were a part of the twelve. The joy of that moment still vividly lives in John’s heart and mind. The setting on the isle is bleak, mostly gray rock and gray sky. John is surrounded by a few friends that have come to ‘serve the Apostle’. There is a line in the book that says, ‘How can this have been where such faith was?’ There is no physical or emotional reason for faith to thrive there, no logical way that faith should find a home there. That question is one that comes into mind throughout the book. Although I have not finished it and have no clue about how the book turns out, just the opportunity to think about that question has made it worth reading. How can this have been where such faith was? Ever felt like you’re in a place where it’s just not friendly to faith, a place maybe even opposed to faith? When I look around I get the feeling that question applies to our lives today. Where does this steadfastness we have in our hearts come from, where does it hide in our hearts, to reappear when we need it most? How does it survive in us? And it seems we need that faith desperately right now!
That faith that held John to the heart of God, that same faith, is in us who believe today. Why? I know I don’t need it as a crutch. Many say that a Christian faith is just something that makes life easier for them because we need something to believe in just to keep us sane in this troubled world. I don’t think the faith I experience does that at all, it is not generated out of that kind of psychological desert. I, and just about every Christian I know, do not use this faith as a balm for the pressures of this world. Sometimes it does just the opposite; its struggle creates stress rather than relieves it. Instead, the powerful change that remained in John’s life after political banishment and physical deterioration held fast all those years because something changed in him after meeting the Master (and that same change has happened to us) that cannot be denied. It’s not that it is only convenient to believe, it’s that it has become impossible not to believe. I think many of us have tried that unbelief stuff and it simply leads to the realization of how can we not believe?
Some people have said that the Gospel came from Paul, that he invented it. Some say it came from a group of old dudes that made it up just to control the masses. Paul answered such suggestions himself, ‘I want you to know brothers that the Gospel I preached is not something that man made up.’ (Gal.1:11) Paul suggested further that it was not received from any man. (Gal.1:12) The Gospel message itself is not a bunch of traditions built out of an ethical church system either. It is more than ethics and morals. It is a living life! It is something that Christ gifted to us. The gospel, boiled down, is not even Adam, Moses, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. The Gospel boiled down is Jesus Christ and him crucified! Paul’s Gospels, as some have called it, came from the highest authority. The Gospel came to him by revelation directly from Jesus Christ. That gospel is bigger than the problems, both internal and external in our lives. It is not about a belief system that simply gives us confidence, overcoming fears. We don’t believe it to help us soothe our ‘tormented minds’. John did not hold on to something all his life because of some psychological need for ‘mind salve’.
John had been exiled to Patmos. Upon his arrival, he had a great vision, a Revelation! That wonder was mixed with tension, hunger, storms, cold, sickness, fear and threats. No Holiday Inn here. Hard times. Barren, gray and bleak. Messages of the martyring of the other eleven, even of his brother. It would take more than a feel good story to keep his heart steadfast. It would take something so profound that he could not get it out of his mind. Something so real it could not be forgotten over time. Something so strong that it withstood the wind, the hunger, and loneliness. That’s how we feel today if we have met that same Master. Some days I would like to lay it all down and just give up on the pressure, disappointment and frustration this life brings. But I just cannot! Like John, I can’t forget a spring evening in April when I was 16 years old. I can’t forget the miracles I have seen, can’t get over the tenderhearted moments where the Spirit of God was so present that I thought He was standing behind me. I can’t forget! Too powerful. Too wonderful.
I have had a week! What that means to a radio person is that we have lost power, lost the backup generator, had to work on two software problems in the office. Been accused of playing ‘new-age’ music. I have had a week! Yet, the thing that has happened in all that is that I did not become discouraged, I simply remembered all the things of the past. The things that I can’t get over, the things I can’t forget, and they push me to tomorrow. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just cry and throw a fit, but I can’t. This faith has become involuntary! I don’t turn it off and on. It is permanent. I have become that faith. Rather than trying to work hard to believe, I now have to work hard to get frustrated with it. That kind of faith is promised to us. I think someone famous said it was ‘the good fight of faith’. Like John, it can become not a fight to possess it, but a fight to overcome the world.