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The time I saw thousands of dollars go out the window.

February 8, 2018

7Decades back (prior to my teaching career) I was a program director for a local radio station here in Tennessee. It was a scene out of a 1940s comedy movie:  a businessman in the area sold a majority of the real estate that he owned and invested it in a radio station in downtown Knoxville.  The only problem was, he admitted, he had no idea how to run a radio station – I mean, none at all.  Through a few intermediates, he had contacted me and offered me the position to run the station, top to bottom with a nice salary and full creative rights to re-design the format. I had a background in radio broadcasting, and this seemed to be a dream come true. It seemed too good to be true.

It was too good to be true.

When I stepped into the studio on my first day, I was stunned.  Fully two-thirds of the staff had quit on the new owner, including announcers.  The sellers were less than scrupulous, and on the final night of the sale to George, before they turned over the keys they snuck into the station and quietly exchanged all of the new equipment for musty warehoused electronic gear that looked like it had come out of World War 2 surplus.

It was a mess.  I had to start from the ground up.  George and I ran the sunrise-to-sunset radio station WSKT of Knoxville by ourselves, and I mean by ourselves.  My on-air shift was approximately eight hours.  That was eight hours on the air, mind you, and that included a live talk show.  This is the truth:  sometimes we coerced George’s wife and my wife Jill to be on-air DJs for an hour or so in order for us to get a rest.

We were slaving away and fighting for a financial break.  George finally told me he had no money; he had sunk all of it in this station.  We had to get radical if we were to make it profitable.  One break finally came:  we were going to have a remote broadcast in downtown Knoxville during the Dogwood Arts Festival.  There were paying customers, an actual advertising potential that was interested in our remote set-up, where I would walk through the park and interview people during the festival.

The day came and I took our gear and hauled myself into the park.  Believe it or not, George – with no experience – would hold down the station and host the program while bringing my live broadcasts periodically between songs.  I had to practice with George for hours in order to train him what to do.  I checked and re-checked my gear and prepared for the day.  In one ear I wore a small bud that connected me back to the station where George would cue me on the commercial breaks.

The day’s broadcast began, and to tell the truth, things went well.  The transitions were good, I had some great interviews and we were getting a strong response.

Then at a commercial break things got silent.  “Brad, get back to the studio, quickly” barked George.  I loaded my stuff and dashed back to WSKT.

I entered the studio and it was evident that we were off the air completely.  All of the machines were dark.  George sat there, looking at me with a funny expression.

“What happened?” I asked, rushing over to the machinery to see what I could fix.  “Did the transmitter just quit?  Did you have a power failure?”

George sat there, sheepishly.  “Nope.”  He shrugged.  “You know the kind of person I am.  If it says ‘wet paint’ I’m going to touch it to make sure it really is.”

I didn’t like the way that sounded.

“George, what did you do?”

He nodded his head toward a large switch.  “I turned that off to see what would happen.”

“That switch” was a kill switch which shut down the entire station.  Everything. But let me explain why this was so stunning to me:

Taped over the switch was a full sheet of paper with capital lettering saying DO NOT TURN OFF THIS SWITCH.

George shrugged again.  “I lifted the paper and turned it off, but even after I switched it back it won’t turn on again.  I figured you could help me.”

I was exasperated.  We were watching revenue flying out the window with each minute we were off the air.  We would have to refund advertisers’ dollars.  “George, you threw a switch that can only be reactivated by an engineer, and I am not a licensed engineer.  Even worse, he’s going to have to go all the way out to the radio tower miles away and hit the proper switch at the northern site on top of the mountain!”  I paused to gather my composure.  “Why did you do it, George?”

He shrugged again.  “That’s the kind of person I am.”  He laughed dryly and shook his head.  We lost thousands of dollars that day.

That was the final straw financially; we never recovered.  We closed up shop before the end of the summer.

It really came down to simple obedience.  Just follow the words and you’ll be okay.

In my teaching ministry I have encountered many a student who endures serious self-inflicted pain merely because they don’t listen to the rules of the school.  I know you have as well.

Even more so, many students fight spiritual battles because they don’t even care to follow the instruction of a loving God who wants to lead them through this life and beyond.  Oh, they enjoy the magnificence of Christ all right – His miracles and glory are stunning, they’ll readily admit.  They’ll sit leaning forward and take in every word.

But they leave it in the classroom.  They clearly see the Biblical instruction but they choose to go their own way.

My greatest grief lately is of seeing students – both secondary and college-age – who simply do not want to read or study the Bible.  It is almost as if there is a disease in the pages of the Word that repels these Christian students from lifting a finger to access God’s Word.  It brings to mind a very, very important passage that we as teachers should take to heart.

When we move into the sixth chapter of John we run into a mystery.  We see a story that had such a great beginning turn into a disastrous disappointment by the final paragraph.  Jesus opened the chapter by feeding five thousand and obviously the place went nuts  (“this is a Miracle Worker!”); yet the end of the chapter showed five hundred walking away, never to return (“Who can accept these words?”).

What happened?

The answer is in the final private exchange of the chapter.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Ah. The words.

The words were what drew the line in the sand between belief and rejection.

It wasn’t what He was doing, it was what He was saying.  Hey, people were okay with the miracles He performed – that’s a nice, easy, exciting thing that’s acceptable.  Who wouldn’t like to be fed Heavenly bread, or watch a decrepit old blind man get healed?

That’s not personal responsibility.  That’s spectatorial.

Yes, but those who stayed followed the words of Jesus.  No, a better word would be that they embraced His words.  They clung to the dearest part of Jesus’ ministry and outreach to mankind, and that would be not His works but His words.  They were willing to get His instruction, to get his correction, and to follow His guidance.

They were willing to obey His to-the-heart teaching, moving beyond the wild display of the miraculous.

The wonders were spectacular, and drew an immediate throng.  Everyone loves a party, and wouldn’t the magnificence of the supernatural attract them?  Of course it would, just like a Black Friday special draws crowds today; you get something exciting.

But the festival was over.  Time for classroom instruction that reached into a personal chasm known as the soul.  He began to speak.

That was crossing the line.

The words offended them, and they walked.

I like how you entertain me, just don’t tell me what to do. 

Jesus: “The world hates me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.”  (John 7:7)

He begins to teach (7:14) and it is made known that they are gathering forces to kill him (7:19)

Jesus: “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say… because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! … If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” (8:43,47)

Stefan came into my room early in the morning before class started.  “I am having a lot of doubts,” he said.  “I am really struggling.”

I asked him about his Bible reading.  “The only Bible reading I get is in class here,” he replied.

“You don’t get any training in your church?  Your pastor’s messages?” I asked.  Stefan shook his head.  “I help run the sound booth,” he said.  “I concentrate on the electronics so much, I don’t hear the message.”  He sat back.  “Our church uses me every Sunday.  Every Sunday.  I can’t remember when I have been able to sit and hear the Bible.”

And then he made a profound statement that hit me hard:

“I am so involved … that I’m not involved.”

Works over words.  I got his point.

We’ve started with a private Bible reading time.  He and I are now sharing a daily reading in the book of Mark, a chapter a day. Stefan is going from works back to the Word.

So should we all.

Let’s get back into the deep teaching of Jesus.  Let’s hear what He has to say.


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