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October Newsletter: Confirm

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CS Lewis: 
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that
people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher,
but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be
a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man
who says he is a poached egg — a madman or something worse. You can shut him up
for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his
feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing
nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to
us. He did not intend to.”

Sometimes I have to take an inventory of my thinking and redirect my brain if you will, realign the process by which I remain steadfast about Faith.  We must remember that from its very beginning this Message has always looked like a failure in process:  we suggest a virgin birth, a criminal’s death for our leader and add to that Jesus being raised from the dead.  That can be a tough sell.

The Bible, which was written over a period of 4000 years by dozens of authors, is composed into, what we believe to be, a living document.  Certainly, it takes the Spirit of God to convince anyone of such stories.  And there are Spiritual reasons to believe God that defy words to explain, however, they’re not included here. 
Here, simply are ‘types’ of things that lead us, show us the way to Him, confirm Him, and celebrate Him.   Each will be brief and I’d encourage further reading. 

I’ll begin in 2Samuel with what I’ll call the Blood Points in King David’s Temple.  2Samuel was written approximately 900 years before Christ, 900 years before any Roman symbols of death were practiced (i.e., a killing cross).   Scripture has us enter the Temple at the Brazen altar and the laver.  Sacrifice and washings are at the entry into that Temple and our Gospel, the blood of the cross and baptism welcomes our way into the Life of Christ.  On each side of the Temple is: 1-the candlestick and 2-table of showbread.  At the upper end of the temple was the Holy Place.  If you lay a cross (the Roman invention of capital punishment) down on the temple diagram you will find Christ’s cross lays specifically on the points where blood was shed on our behalf:  At the altar and laver, the nails driven into Christ feet, at the location of candlestick and showbread, the nails in His hands and at the Holy Place, the blood from His crown of thorns.  That cross lays down within that temple and prophesies the way to our future Messiah’s crucifixion.  Again, a Roman symbol unassociated with the time of King David described and pre-configured for us in the structure of the Temple hundreds of years before its physical manifestation.

(The first sacrifice was performed by God, the shedding of the blood of an animal, to cover (put skin on) Adam and Eve to hide their shame.  Jesus shed his blood to cover us, to hide us in Him.  A truth that was revealed in His last sacrifice mentioned in Hebrews Chapter 10.) 

Another thing that intrigues is this consistency – One God with 3 unique functions, three persons, one God: Father, Son and Spirit.  It’s reinforced by these interesting characteristics.  The Seraphim cry Holy, Holy, Holy three times (Isa. 6:3)(Rev. 4:8)  Three times a blessing is given in Num. 6:23-26.  Three persons appear to Abraham, Abraham referring to them as three and at the same time as one (Lord) (Gen. 18:2).  We have three anointings: Prophet, Priest and King.  In Gen. 1:13 we have the earth raised up out of the water on the third day, symbolic of the later resurrection of Christ. There’s Jonah’s three day fish story.  Jesus rose on the third day, was crucified at the third hour, and for three hours darkness fell on the earth.  We have the Spirit, the water and the blood.  We have the good Shepherd, the great Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd of John, Hebrews and Peter.  Progressively, we have faith, hope and love.  We are presented as body, soul and spirit.  The divine seal of covenant with Abraham was three 3- year-old animals (Gen 15).  Again, the Temple was made up of the outer court, inner court and holy place.  Temptation is summarized by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.  God’s word was corrupted three times by Eve’s confession:  leaving out ‘freely’ in Genesis verse 2:16, making God less bountiful than He really was.  In verse 17 she added ‘neither shall you touch it’ making God more severe than He was, and in verse 3:17 she altered God’s character by changing surely to ‘lest you die,’ thus weakening the certainty of God.  Jesus was tempted by the Devil three times, each time stating accurately and specifically, ‘it is written,’ contrasting the Fall incident of Genesis. The book of Revelation is bracketed into that which was, is, and is to come.  The number of superior imperfection is symbolically given as 6-6-6.  Jesus appeared three times after His resurrection.  Jesus had a 3 year ministry.  The number three is always indicative of completeness and entirety.  It’s profound that a 4000 year old document written concisely by roughly 35 authors writing hundreds of years apart is amazingly held together.  In our story, imagine 35 people’s good idea would be to write that kind of document.  Were they really hearing from God or only hoping that some 4000 years later you would find a dude to volunteer to be crucified by the Romans?  That He would present himself for that killing and declare himself as Son of God.  And that as proof he was that Son, he would promise to reappear, alive, after his burial.  As the quote from C.S. Lewis suggests: lunatic or Son of God, no in-between!  

Here’s another thing with big implications to our Story: the re-naming of Abram.   Abram was a moon worshiper in the Chaldees.  He had no assignment from any god to do anything except provide for his family.  However, this very old man was spoken to by our God and was told his future descendants would be numbered as the stars.  Abram was re-named Abraham (Abram plus exhaled breath) re-named by God (the ancient tradition was not to say God’s name but to use the exhaled breath as a human expression of God).  Symbolic of God and man combined in action.  Similarly, the first thing Adam was given was breath, a foretelling of God with us/in us.  Just as God breathed on Adam and he became a spirit man, God joined with Abram-ham (breath) to carry His message, father the faithful, and partner in ministry with and through man.

Also to be considered is the possibility that a rag-tag group of local fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor and the chief persecutor of the early Christ movement were chosen to carry the Message.  It would not be endorsed by the ones chosen from early on in scripture, the Hebrews/Pharisees.  It was not endorsed by the ruling governing Roman Empire.  But common men and women were to pick it up and share it around the world for another 2000 years to be believed, acted on and died for.

Lastly, I’m always stunned with the unique, precise nature of the Creation.  It takes a different kind of faith to be an atheist and believe in unguided chance for the wonders we see on this one planet.  Earth has perfect temperatures for life, the perfect tilt and distance from the sun, the precise and on time rotation of the solar sky, the perfect atmosphere, the oceans and earth’s crust.   Consider: our atmosphere is made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon and .03% carbon dioxide.  Nitrogen is inactive for the most part or we would have oceans full of acid.  Argon is inactive.  The amount of oxygen is 2 times more than any other occurring atmospheres.  And the carbon dioxide, which is the most active of all, is yet perfectly set at .03%.  There’s never been found in any other planet a permanent supply of liquid water.  It’s a rare commodity.  While 27% of the earth is land, water dominates the planet.  The average depth of the oceans is 12,500 feet.  Land averages 2750 feet above sea level.  If you leveled the land masses and filled in the oceans with the dirt, the oceans would still average 8000 feet deep with no land above. Oh, lucky us that everything worked out so precisely, all that by unguided chance!   Truly, the sun, the moon, every star must run in its own created orbit, must run on time or all things would be thrown out of order. Have you ever read about ‘continental drift’ that seems to still be occurring?  It could very likely be that there was once one large land mass, broken apart in the flood and drifting in the oceans still today.  Psalm 19:1 speaks of El (Creator) and verse 7 of Jehovah (Spoken Word).  God is not only revealed by His Words but also by His works. (Rom. 1:20).  Psalm 147:4 declares that God calls the stars by name and we still call them those names today. (Job 9:9, Job 38:31)  Job 26:7 declares the earth is suspended over nothing.  Isa 40:22 defines the earth as a circle (or more literally correct a sphere); and that was a long time before telescopes, observatories and satellite cameras. 

And finally on my list, and probably the most profound of all, is the change in a person’s heart that you and I both have witnessed.  These are changes that we really cannot explain by suggesting some simple adjustment of their will.   How can you explain when a person does not just change their way of talking but makes a real difference in demeanor, attitude and compassion where no compassion existed before?   You may not see that every time, and yes, you may witness someone that says the right things but does not confirm their words.  However, many times you and I have seen people that simply are not the same people they once were.  

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.