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An Evening with Russ & Tori Taff

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August Newsletter-John 2

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John 2

I have been re-reading a novel about the Apostle John.  I’m not sure if it’s a good book or not, but I know its format appeals to me.  It’s not really a Christian book but the author is a Christian.  The book is set on the isle of Patmos; John is in his 90’s, blind, having a few hearing problems.  But the memories, lots of memories, flood John’s mind.  In the novel it’s been years since he witnessed the miracles, many years since first being with Messiah, the One he had put all his confidence in, now long ago crucified.  Much of the script is John re-living those moments, remembering when he and his brother were a part of the twelve, the joy of those moments still vividly alive in John’s heart and mind. As you might assume, exiled, the setting on the isle is bleak, mostly gray rock and gray sky.  John is surrounded by a few friends who ‘serve the Apostle.’  If our Gospel story is true then it’s necessarily true that the people referred to and used in the text be remembered as real, normal people just exactly like we are, regular people with a super story, not the other way round.  People, not with special capacities, but people just like you and me.

There’s a line in the book that says, ‘How can this have been where such faith was?’  Those words rang true then and sometimes I hear them now, in this culture, at this time. There was no physical or emotional reason for faith to thrive on Patmos, no logical way that faith should find a home there.  That question is one that comes into John’s mind throughout the book.  How can this have been where such faith was?  Perhaps you’ve felt like you’re in a place that’s not friendly to faith, a place maybe even opposed to faith?  Where did John’s steadfastness come from?  Today, can it hide in our hearts, only to reappear when we need it most?  Increasingly, it seems we need that faith desperately right now!

Faith is akin to a covenant of trust.  Every person is a person of faith.  They believe something that fits their world view.  Each has decided to trust in some image of the world and its purpose.  The atheist has faith in no God, and bets his or her life on it.  I believe that faith held John to the heart of God, and that same faith is available to believers today.  John’s kind of faith did not solve every physical or mental problem on the island but remained strong in spite of that.  Many criticize that Christian faith is just our imagination used to make our life easier, something Christians need to believe just to keep us sane in a troubled world, a crutch.  (I would not suggest that thought to John, or Paul, or the martyred believers of the past or today.)  I don’t think the faith I experience does that at all– it is not generated out of that kind of psychological desert.   I don’t think Christians use their faith as a balm for the pressures of this world.  Please! A quiet Christian faith is much more than that.  Indeed, the powerful faith that remained in John’s life after his political banishment and physical deterioration held fast all those years because something changed in him after meeting the Master that couldn’t be denied (and that same change has happened to us).  It’s not that it is simply convenient to believe, it’s that it’s become impossible not to 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 like this, ‘I want you to know, brothers, that the Gospel I preached is not something that man made up.’ (Gal.1:11)  Going a step further Paul suggested 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 system either.  It is more than ethics and morals.  It is a living life!  The gospel, boiled down, is not about Adam, Moses, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  The Gospel boiled down is Jesus Christ and him crucified!  That gospel is bigger than the problems, both internal and external, in our lives.  It’s not about a belief system that simply gives us confidence and overcomes our fears.  John didn’t hold on to something all his life because of some psychological need for ‘mind salve.’  Jesus said it simplest of all:  I am the Truth!  Not a truth, not something that added to would become the Truth, He is the Truth. That’s the first knowing Him; everything else gets added after that.

When John was exiled to Patmos, upon his arrival he had a great vision, a Revelation!  That vision was mixed with tension, hunger, storms, cold, sickness, fear and threats.  No Holiday Inn there.  His were hard times, a cold barren cave, gray and bleak skies.  There were messages received of the martyring of the other eleven, even the death of his own brother.  Under those conditions it would take more than a feel good story to keep John’s heart steadfast.  It would take something so profound, so overpowering, to overcome those moments; something so strong that it easily withstood the wind, the hunger, and loneliness.  That’s how today, if we’ve met that same Master, our stresses melt in the face of His Presence.  OK, some days I’d like to lay it down and just give in to the pressure, disappointment and frustration this life brings. But just like John, I can’t forget a spring evening in April when I was 16 years old, meeting that Master for myself.  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.  Like John, I can’t forget!  Too powerful.  Too wonderful.

Listening to the radio most the time you’d never guess that there are literally hundreds of things that have to happen to play your favorite song.  And trust me, declaring this Gospel 24 hours a day is no guarantee of being isolated from disappointment or pressure.  However, the things that I can’t get over, the things I can’t forget, push us to tomorrow.  This faith has become involuntary!  I don’t turn it off and on.  I’ve 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 called it ‘the good fight of faith’.  Like John demonstrates, the Christian Life can become, not a fight to possess faith, but the very tool in our fight to overcome the world.

The book, while a novel, is based on many commentaries.   At the end of the book, John, the last surviving Apostle, is weary.  The Romans have finally permitted him to return to Ephesus and come away from the island of Patmos.  He has lived long enough to have experienced rebellion within his friends and companions, some suggesting his vision of the Revelation of Christ was just a dream, a figment of imagination.  He’s seen the street ‘barkers’ hustling scrolls supposedly of the crucifixion from people that were not there, as he was.  His companions that walked with Jesus have been killed; only he remains of those who were eyewitnesses to the Christ.  And as his life ebbs ever so slowly away the memories still drive him to the next day.  In the book John always believed Messiah would return within his lifetime.  At the end of the book, at his last day John has a vision of being at the beginning of something rather than at the end as he thought before.  He sees a horizon full of people coming, a church coming, and ‘he knows the world will not finish here, only his is ending.  He himself is already disappearing.  He tells on.  His spirit soars.  He sees what is to come.  He sees the number of Christians grow.  He sees the churches and therefore the great cathedrals, the psalms, the songs, the composed Masses, the rapture and revelations of centuries of art divine yet to come.’  John’s faith allowed him to see not only the Revelation of the Christ and the love of God but also the revelation of the fulfillment of Abraham’s promise from God of a Church with believers outnumbering the stars.

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