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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.

July Newsletter- Purpose

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I once heard it said that education is what’s left after you have forgotten everything you learned in school.  We learn a lot about how to work in school, but I think the longer we are away from school we realize how much it did not teach us about relationships and respect. Those come later in our lives.

 

It’s been a busy 2019.  We’ve done 6 events in 7 months on top of broadcasting 24 hours each day.  All that activity caused me to think about our beginning in January 1990 and why we ever started WBVN.  Somehow, by the grace of God, we’ve been able to stay on course and focused on the first things of this ministry.  By first things I mean the reason for having begun at all.  Fortunately, it’s been easy for me to think about our original purpose daily, weekly, yearly over the years. The dependency we have on our listeners, what I’ve described as vulnerability, their advantage of having WBVN, what we do and why we’re doing it, is paramount in my memory.

 

I remember an idea by a Christian philosopher suggesting we should define life backwards and live it forwards.  His thoughts: we should be starting from our destiny and letting that redefine our journey.  It’s been suggested that instead of asking children what they want to do when they grow up, we should be asking what kind of person they want to be when they grow up.

 

Writing these newsletters is similar to that.  I’ve told people for years, with a smile of course, that each month, while driving, or walking, or working, or doing something unrelated to the newsletter, I simply ‘discover’ a single thought I want to write about and just follow a path through the newsletter to get to that single sentence.  A poet once described his work as a process of writing the last line first and following the road back from there.  I like that as a life-philosophy.  Live life backwards.

 

If we’ve developed purpose, we surely can find a way to live it.  That’s what the Gospel is about.  Living out what is coming before it actually happens many times.  Finding out what’s true and making our lives fit the definition of that truth.  The end determines the way of the journey.  The problem with a materialistic world-view is that it leaves us bored, unfulfilled and, as the old adage goes, it suggests ‘sex-drugs-and rock and roll’ as a way to fill the boredom.  Believing in God gives us a destiny and the starting place of our journey.  Ravi Zacharias said “… they (the disciples) knew Jesus in the chronological sequence of His birth, life, death and resurrection.  Paul encountered Him in the logical sequence of His resurrection, death, life and birth.  Through the keyhole of the Resurrection, Paul peered backward in time.  C.S. Lewis addresses this same theme in an allegorical form that effectively captures truth in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe…”as the bewildered children hasten back to the scene of his death, they are greeted by Aslan, triumphant over that death and the children yearn for an explanation:  ‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge only goes back to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.  She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.'”

As we complete 29 years of ministry at WBVN our heart has not changed.  The vision for why and what is still as strong today as the day we started.  Truth is, I really never expected it to last this long.  Ours is a bit of a David and Goliath story.  Incredibly small radio ministry, donor funded station, and yet broadcasting over 15 million minutes of programming and producing over 200 community events.  If you knew me very well you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I had a short-term plan in case we failed and no long-term plan if we succeeded.  And, while I say that a little ‘tongue in cheek,’ there’s just a little bit of truth in it.  We came to do this ministry for as long as our lives and your partnership with us lasted.  What we came to do in 1990 is still what we do today, why we do it today.

 

Because we knew where we were going (serve believers), we could find out how to get there.  Caring for a fellowship of believers was always our goal. We weren’t guessing about it, we knew it ahead of time.  As believers, our personal lives, business lives, family life can follow that same map.  It’s like recognizing where we want to end up and living backwards from that, following whatever road it takes to get to where you’re already at in your heart.

 

WBVN came to be an encourager; we haven’t been diverted from that purpose.  The hard part is, it’s so easy to add to the original purpose God has set out to accomplish.  Easy to jump off the tracks and move away from the original unction.  You can begin thinking what you might do in order to do something new, fancy or expanded.  And, you can imagine doing that ‘in the name of Jesus’.  However, if you live life backwards from purpose, you’re less likely to be persuaded away from the original.  What do you really love about the Gospel?  Now, slowly and with as little planning and demanding as possible, do it!

 

God, before time began, looked to the future and said, “Yes, let’s do this,” then proceeded to get to that yes through Jesus Christ millennia later.  It’s a future hope and destiny that we find purpose in today.  We can find joy even in times when we’re not happy.  That’s because we know something about the future and we let that future affect the present.  It’s not that we are trying to figure out everything; it’s that we’ve simply made up our minds about tomorrow.

 

More than we could have ever imaged in the beginning has happened to us.  Never forgetting the ‘why’ in anything we do at WBVN is incredibly important in staying the course.  What we’ve discovered for ourselves we try to share with others.  Trusting Him, you can set a God-inspired desire as your ending point and start from there.

 

The Christian Life is much like that education we accumulate; at the end of the day, the Christian Life is what we experience after we’ve tried everything else that didn’t work.  We can start living a life that He guides us to pursue, guides us by whispering the end to us before we start the journey.  At the station it’s not that every song is profound, although many are.  It’s not that the conversations are so well placed– some are but others not so much.  It’s being present for 29 years, by  offering a place, a home, for your thoughts, and paying attention to your needs that keeps us here.  By being present we know He is present.