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NOT AGAIN LORD!

“Jesus said, Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

By Randy Kilgore on April 12, 2019

What do we do when we can’t hear God?

What do we do when the trials and stresses of life are so great only God can answer them, and we still can’t hear God?

What do we do when others start to tell us why God isn’t talking to us and why He’s letting these hard things go on?

What do we do when we’re surrounded by non-Christians watching and waiting to see if God will rescue us?

These are surely the very questions Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, must have been asking themselves as they watched their dearly loved son and friend hanging from a cross, about to die. It’s even possible Jesus Himself—in his full humanity while on Earth—asked questions like these when He was pleading with God in the garden of Gethsemane to find another way to save the lost. Imagine what Jesus must have been thinking when the soldiers and Sanhedrin officials taunted him with these words: “You saved others; now come down and save yourself.” Knowing He (Jesus) could have called a legion of angels to surround those crosses and release Him, it must have been tempting to do so and thereby stuff the taunts back in the faces of His accusers. A lesser man might even have wanted to shame the followers who deserted Him. To be certain, His mother, his friend John and the host of other brave women who stayed close, watching Him suffer and die, must have been wanting Him to pull off a miracle for Himself. What did Jesus do? (a)

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In two unselfish acts while suffering excruciating pain and the weight of our sins, Jesus (a) forgave the repentant criminal next to Him: and, (b) seeing what must have been terrible anguish in the faces of His mother and friend, Jesus tasked John and Mary with caring for each other as He left them. Then, in the most important episode in the history of humanity, Jesus sacrificed Himself to give each of us a chance to be connected back to God—here and now, and forever after this life. He literally rescued the world.

Now that’s great news; in fact, it’s called by Christians the GOOD NEWS: Jesus willingly died, and then beat death in His Resurrection moment so the price for every sin of every sinner who calls on Him as Savior is paid. In doing so, Jesus removed the barriers between us and God—forever.

But that’s Jesus, you say. What about when it’s us asking the questions that started this writing? In fact, what if it’s the writer of this piece asking those questions right now?

Less than six months after my wife, Cheryl, beat one form of cancer, we learned last week she has a more serious form of cancer. Those who follow our ministry know this is another in a string of nearly unbelievable trials and challenges we’ve faced, and all the questions in the lead are questions we’re wrestling with even now, as so many of you are as well. How is God honored when we can’t pay our bills? How is His name glorified when we can barely lift a hand to comfort others, let alone comfort ourselves? How do we stop racing back through our lives to see if there’s something we did that merits God’s silence now, even as some around us play the same guessing game Job’s friends did?

The answer is simple to say but difficult to live out. We must trust God to redeem even these trials someday, and cling to His promise of salvation even if everything else disappears. We have that comfort—we who follow Jesus know how our story ends. We are called overcomers, and we will live in the shadow of the Almighty in the perfectly restored Creation. Knowing the end of the story must give us the strength to persevere, and to imitate the Savior as close as we possibly can…putting one foot in front of the other as His name remains in our heart and His Word live on in our deeds. This holy season, if you’re suffering, please look to the One who suffered so much to make a place where no one will ever suffer again.


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I GIVE UP

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place" --II Chronicles 7:14-15

By Randy Kilgore on March 20, 2019

I’m having a hard time knowing how to speak to and write to other Christians these days. For despite my love for comfortable, invited-to-talk evangelistic conversations with non-Christians, the people God has drawn to my writing---and called me to write to---are most often already aware of Jesus.

Over time I've learned that scolding believers only discourages them; and slapping the hands of Christians being mean-spirited or legalistic or judgmental simply causes them to react to me instead of hearing from God. I've also discovered that filling their minds with images of the hurting and needy who could use their time, money, love or attention isn't often helpful because they already see the same hurts and needs I do, and they feel ill-equipped to tackle them.

Not surprisingly, it was while praying I hit upon my problem(s). The more sadness I witness, the more sorrow I hear, the more hate and venom I see spewed both towards and from followers of Jesus, the more I ache to find the words to change things; and the more I want to speak in a way that moves multitudes to move mountains. And the more I long to do that, even when it's motivated by love or concern or genuine sorrow, the more of me I'm tempted to put into my effort.

When I claimed Jesus as my Savior, I also asked Him to be Lord, and I did so because I knew that in my own wisdom I would never be capable of living this life in a way that honors Him. If I can't live my life without His guidance, I surely can't tell others how to live theirs without it, either.

So instead of trying to be a leader or protector or fixer or any other term that gives the readers more of me and less of Him, I'm going to stick to writing about the many ways God loves you, the many times He longs for your attention, the many ways He invites us to labor alongside Him, and how you can see and hear and know Him more fully while still living at the speed of life.

Like everything else in this journey of faith, trying harder never works; shouting louder never works; getting angry never works. If we're too human; too rebellious; too broken to fix ourselves, then we're certainly too "all" of the above to fix Creation. But just as we turned to Jesus to save us and to begin the process that makes us new creations, we need to turn to Him, grow to know Him, and listen as He tells us how to live and work and share and love, for in the end, as others have said more eloquently, only Love will have the final word.


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WILL IT EVER RAIN AGAIN?

I lift up my eyes to the mountains----where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip----he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you----the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm----he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121

By Randy Kilgore on February 21, 2019

“Will it ever rain again”, the farmer mutters as waves of dust follow his tractor over his crops. Next door, his neighbor sends out yet another resume’ to yet another obscure corner of a job market he once found easy to master. In his mind, he shakes the dust and cobwebs from his wallet and winces as his soul shrivels in the absence of hope. “Will it ever rain again” on his desire to work. In the next town over, a young couple weeps as the doctors tell them their final hope of having a child of their own has been dashed to pieces. Sure it’s “rained” enough for them in other parts of their lives; their bank accounts are full, and they find great joy and fulfillment in the work they do. On the outside all looks well---but in the privacy of their togetherness the sadness spills out, making even the brightest days seem bleak. Indeed, they wonder if the sun will ever shine on their dreams again?

There are moments in nearly all of our lives when it feels like life has just swept away the last possible thread of a dream; when we’ve slipped down a cliff and the branch we grabbed tore loose from the hillside, leaving us to tumble head over heels down the rocks and gravel far enough to be hurt but not far enough to put us out of the race.

What are we to do, as followers of Jesus, in these moments of distress? How do we find the strength to get back up and start moving forward again? How do we express our grief or despair without allowing it to swallow us up and cut us off from any chance of feeling the Father's presence in the moment?

There's only one answer, of course, and it's the answer no one gives because it seems so inadequate:

Knowing Jesus well must trump trying harder to be like Him.

The Kingdom walk and work has never been about trying harder (to be obedient...to overcome sin...to be holier); and it's never been about guaranteed success or happiness...: and it's never even been about the absence of trial, for as James and Jesus both warned us, in this life we “will have trials.” No, the answer both before, during and after the days when we wonder if it's ever going to rain again is this: We must continually lift up our eyes and gaze upon the Suffering Servant, who came and bled and died so we who claim Him as Savior may know with certainty that it will not always be like this.

For to be close enough to see His Face and hear His Words and know His Will is to know we are in the right place at the right time because we are where He is. To look upon the Savior means to move as He moves, with integrity and competence and compassion; for He grips our gaze and holds it as He teaches us to live a life of service and sacrifice to something bigger than ourselves. Trying harder always fails when it causes us to count on our own strength; it only works when it’s coupled with the confidence that Jesus loves us so much He will never leave us to sort out our own messes and distresses. And that confidence in Jesus only comes from spending time in Scripture, the primary way God chooses to teach us His ways.

Knowing Christ better equips us to look beyond our present trials---or up from our deep distress---to be reminded we can rest in His strength and be guided by His will. And it is in His strength we learn to persevere in the face of confusion and trial, and it’s in His will that our own feeble efforts merge with the King of Kings to produce fruit that glorifies His name and soothes our shaken soul.


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UNCHAINED BY GRACE

By Randy Kilgore on February 7, 2019

It’s never been easier to be a “Christian” than it is today; and so…

It’s never been harder to truly be a Christian than it is today.

It’s never been easier to meet a person claiming to be a Christian who appears unchanged by grace; and so…

It’s never been harder to meet a person claiming to be a Christian who appears unchained by grace.

It’s never been easier to hate Christians than it is today; and so…

It’s never been harder to love Christians than it is today.

It’s never been easier for Christians to hate than it is today; and so…

It’s never been harder for Christians to love than it is today.

People who haven’t met Jesus are being told “good Christians” oppose certain issues, support certain issues and vote a certain way; and so…

People who haven’t met Jesus think being a Christian means they have to follow rules; or pick sides in cultural fights.

But here’s the troubling part:

People who have met and accepted Jesus as Savior are being told it’s not enough; that to be “good Christians” and to “please God” they also have to believe a certain way and fight for Jesus; and so…

People who have met and accepted Jesus as Savior aren’t focused on Jesus but instead are focused on issues, being “right”, and “standing up” for God.

All of which means the world isn’t getting a chance to hear about Jesus or His grace; they’re not meeting people who surrendered to Christ and found joy and peace.

So here’s the message Jesus really wants Christians to talk about; what He really wants the world to know: Very truly I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24) And He adds this: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

How and when to come to Jesus? Exactly as you are right this minute; exactly as these eloquent verses from an old hymn describe:

Just as I am, without one plea,

But that Thy blood was shed for me,

And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,

O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot;

To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, though tossed about

With many a conflict, many a doubt;

Fightings within, and fears without,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;

Sight, riches, healing of the mind;

Yes, all I need, in Thee to find,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

Because Thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, Thy love unknown

Has broken every barrier down;

Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

By Charlotte Elliott


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PUSH BACK THE DARKNESS

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” --(Matthew 19:26)

By Randy Kilgore on January 28, 2019

We are called to push back the darkness in this world. It is one of the many ironies in Christianity; this realization that God calls us to fight seemingly unwinnable battles against apparently overwhelming odds, frequently asking us to give up comfort and security and---- occasionally---- personal safety, in pursuit of this effort to let His Light break into the hearts and mind of others.

And yet---

Even if every leader of every government and every CEO of every corporation became a fervent Christian tomorrow, the world would still stay broken; even if every Christian suddenly became an ardent evangelizer, urgently pleading with their family and friends to become Christians, there would still be souls unwilling to surrender to God.

So why bother?

We "bother" because God does; and because we are called to bring Christ's redemptive impact on us to the people and places where we live and work. We "bother" because our relationship with Christ should change us from self-focused seekers to compassionate servants.

We are called to choose jobs and careers that use our God-given gifts and talents to re-introduce the will and ways of God to others, and to the systems and structures we use to tend His Creation. We take back ground where we can do so with love, and we hold on to ground not yet lost in order to plant the flag of faithful living in places where salt and light can still alter outcomes. We work not just to feed ourselves and our loved ones, but because work is the way we honor God; the way we serve Him; by being where He is---at work in the midst of His Creation.

Unlike others, who don't know Jesus----humans equally capable of noble acts and unselfish service---- we fight with different tools and different strategies, and with the hope and perspective of eternity in our sights. We push back the darkness shoulder to shoulder with Jesus, who loves this world and its people so much He suffered the double insult of sins piled on his divine nature and pain inflicted on His human body.

This isn't something we can do in our own strength; it must be laid against an intentional effort to engage the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading. When we take our eyes off of Jesus, even for an instant, we begin to do things as we think they should be done, rather than as the Holy Spirit directs us. (For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. --II Cor 10:3)

But with our eyes fixed firmly on Him, we can and will be proudly marked as the Keepers of Lost Causes, because "Jesus...said, "With man (this) is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matt.19:24) In other words, even those things which seem like lost causes to us become places where God uses us to redeem His Creation.


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RELENTLESS TRIALS

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. --- Micah 7:7-8

By Randy Kilgore on January 16, 2019

A popular classic children’s book tells the story of a Little Engine that’s trying to take a collection of toys over a hill to children in a village far below. It’s a fun story to read to children, and one with just the right kind of gentle tension to keep a toddler’s attention. Will the train get over the hill? Will the children get their toys? (Spoiler alert: The Little Engine is successful!) Cheering itself on with the words “I think I can, I think I can”, I’m happy to report the Little Engine conquers that hill every single time.

We, however, are not the Little Engine.

One of the most damaging myths circulating in today’s culture is that God promises life will never be more than we can handle. That statement is utterly false. This is what that verse really says:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (I Cor. 10:13).

God promises not to put us in positions where the only choice is to sin. But He never promises that life won’t be too much for us sometimes. In fact, far too often in this world, a follower of Jesus gives up and ends his/her life in despair; or collapses under the weight of their worldly worries and just quits trying. God never promises that this sinful, fallen world won't overwhelm us sometimes; won't beat us into submission and surrender.

God does promise however, He will always be with us in those bleak moments. That's important because, often, by the time we've reached our point of despair, we've worn out our welcome among our earthly friends. Often the burden of watching friends suffer what seems like unbearable or unending troubles threatens their own emotional well-being, and they distance themselves for self-preservation.

Whether your struggle is with

repetitive, relentless sin; or

the tangled torture of drugs and/or alcohol; or

the deep abyss of anxiety and depression; or

the terrible embarrassment of financial collapse; or

the distressingly repetitive collapses in your career; or

a soul-wrenching battle with health problems that seem endless; or

the heartbreak of lost love; or

lost loved ones.

...in each of these circumstances of despair, when you don't even have the strength to look up to see if He is there, Paul promises you---on behalf of God---that He is indeed there.

When everybody else is too tired or too distracted or too hurt or too frustrated or even too angry to stay close to you---and even in those days when the things you do or have done make it reasonable that no one wants to have anything to do with you---God declares He will never leave you nor forsake you.

In the midst of your trials, take a break from your relentless efforts to fix or change things and remember this: Our God is able to keep you when you can't keep yourself; and He is committed to doing that even when you aren't.

Lean on Him. He is with you even if everyone else is gone; and even if the trials never end until you see Him face to face.


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PATH TO PERSECUTION

SCRIPTURE LESSON: Matthew 5:1-15

By Randy Kilgore on January 3, 2019

For centuries, four waves of Christian missionaries plotted strategies for how to conquer China for Jesus. For centuries, Chinese leaders saw us coming and sometimes even invited us in. Their strategy was always the same: “Give the Christians access to our leaders, let them even convert them if they can, for nothing ever changes from the top down.” Then in the early 19th century, a British missionary resolved to take the Gospel to the weakest and poorest Chinese citizens, working among them as a doctor caring for their needs and loving them as Jesus does. The result: An explosion of believers—millions and millions of them—even though their leaders visited persecution on them for their faith. The world cannot be saved in groups or nations or policies or power or influence—the work of the Christian is first a work in humbling themselves before Christ, and then a journey of service delivered one soul at a time.

Christianity has always failed the test of leadership. It is failing that test again.

Moreover, history generally teaches us that when Christianity seeks to become powerful, it forgets it’s sin-filled roots and paints itself as an example to be followed. This then leads to a collapse of the institutions it leads, and a loss of the power it so eagerly sought.

What follows, almost without fail, is persecution, and in most cases a persecution so pervasive and all-encompassing that it strips individual believers of the feelings of safety and security they once felt. It also leaves them easy targets for the retaliation of those they lorded over in their reach to control their culture. American Christians are facing just such a future themselves unless we’re able to surrender anew to the humility and compassion that comes by walking with Jesus.

Our faith is about servanthood and sacrifice—and our example is our namesake: Jesus Christ. Nothing in the story of His Incarnation encourages us to believe we should seek earthly reign or political control. Nothing in the examples He set teaches His followers to be leaders; or to be self-protective even. It was no accident lowly shepherds were first to hear from the angels when Jesus was born: The message was then, has always been since, is now, and will always be this: The path to redemption, which is the only path that leads us back to a direct relationship with the Father, is a path to be walked in humility, self-denial, self-sacrifice and service.

Here’s the catch, though. It’s impossible to walk that path in our own efforts or strength. Like 5-year-olds on a T-ball field, we are unable to stay focused enough, be humble enough, or be strong enough to resist the temptation to leave our position and chase after a moving ball, or a chance to be noticed, or a shortcut that is tempting in its promise it’s an easier way.

If we’re to be a follower of Jesus, we must surrender everything we once held dear—our dreams, our goals, our security, our prosperity and even in some cases, our lives. Then, once we’ve stepped out and said yes to the gift of grace, the remainder of our earthly days are to be spent, walking in laser-beam focus on Jesus. That walk leaves no space for pride or arrogance because we’re constantly faced with the overwhelming perfection of Jesus; it also leaves no room for distractions or side trips or judging others, all of which require us to take our eyes off Jesus to go our own way.

It also demands we do away with terms like “leadership” and “flourish” or other concepts that switch the story of Jesus-and-me to a story of me.

Only when the body of Christ is renewed by a wave of believers who abandon themselves in service to God and others, will Jesus release us from the coming persecution. Only then will He send us back out into the world to tend His Creation as He always intended, not as bosses or political power bases---and certainly not as judges, critics, assailants and angry citizens---but as mirrors reflecting the image of Jesus…the One who keeps us saved.


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CHRISTMAS ECHOS

"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." --Luke 19:10

By Randy Kilgore on December 21, 2018

Moonlight ricocheted across the valley. Every sound echoed through the canyons of white. Frigid air crusted the top layer of snow, making each new step crackle and pop as the white fluff gave way to human feet.

It was late December in Vermont, and I was trudging up a hill from the road, headed to a construction site deep in the rural countryside for a late-night safety inspection. Our workers were pushing to get this project done before Christmas. I knew this crew well; good workers and good people, but most of them not inclined to faith. One had never read the Bible, in part because he couldn't read. Another complained frequently about the hypocrisy of Christians. Still others exhibited little interest for or against God. The bitter cold air and the late night made their working conditions more difficult. They wouldn't be welcoming my inspection, always unpopular for a team trying to slam the door on a tightly-scheduled job.

Among the crew was one worker who years before, in a drug-induced state, had committed a violent crime. While in prison, he heard about and surrendered his life to Christ. The witness of the Savior's mercy and the gentleness of grace were never more evident than in this transformed life.

Long before I topped the hill, light from the construction site broke the darkness, spraying the night air with streams of beams. I stopped to admire the contrast, drinking in the beauty of Vermont in deep winter. Quietly at first, I heard the strains of a song coming from the building:

"Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright."

I peered down on the site, gazing in surprise as worker after worker followed the lead of one voice singing tribute to a Baby born long ago. Some of the workers would pause to belt a line; others kept their work up, singing the parts they knew, humming when they didn't.

It wasn't opera, but it struck me as some of the sweetest sounds I've ever heard. And from at least one life in that workplace, the strains of a soul wrenched from Hell and embraced by the Savior surely made God very happy.

Quickly deciding it wasn't a night for safety inspections, I turned around and walked back to my car, adding my voice quietly to theirs as I walked away:

"Away in a manger, no crib for a bed."

As we celebrate the Incarnation, be encouraged by the power of the first Christmas to ring out in the darkest places, changing even the gruffest cultures into reflections of His glory. May the joy of the His birth ring in our hearts and echo through the canyons of our souls this Christmas season. And may we never forget we serve a King who loves every person. Every person. As should we.

"Joy to the world, the Lord has come."


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WHAT GOD CONSIDERS GREAT

By Randy Kilgore on December 13, 2018

August 9, 1941. The day America first lived up to its promise.

Until then, history records, the United States was a nation with more darkness than light despite its unlimited potential. The joyful hope espoused by a band of dreamers and given voice in documents like the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were marred by bloody massacres and immoral business deals that robbed Native Americans of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Slavery, that darkest stain in humanity, made the words in the documents laughable to all but a privileged few, and those “few” got even “fewer” when the robber barons—or titans of business—depending on how much one love’s money used their stranglehold on American free enterprise to starve even their own workers near to death. Even WWI, where America joined the fight late to help turn a corner, failed to do anything to change a culture paying lip service to God while teaching themselves to be selfish.

That was before August 9, 1941. It was going to be a terrible Christmas for most of the world, and there was little reason for hope. Hitler’s army had swept across Europe in a bloody payback for losing the First World War, and only a not-so-intimidating English Channel separated England from the fate of the rest of Europe. Americans, wary of another world war where fathers and sons had been slaughtered half a world away, had turned a blind eye to the turmoil this time, and cries of “America first” were making it clear there was no stomach to help the Old World again.

Hero Charles Lindbergh and celebrities by the dozens were telling Washington to stay out of the war, and in England, America’s ambassador, Joseph Kennedy, worked hard to prevent FDR from helping Britain when it most needed help.

Against the ill-informed cries of their own citizens, a tiny band of American politicians looked beyond getting re-elected or getting rich and asked themselves why God had raised a nation with so much to watch them do so little. It started internally, with Social Security and the dignity of putting people back to work in the Depression with WPA, TVA and a host of letters that meant America would help its own poor as it learned how to help those beyond its borders. To be great, God declares, one must be humble. To be noble, one must be selfless. To be His servant, one must learn to love and serve and sacrifice as Jesus loved and served and sacrificed for us.

Beginning on August 9, 1941, then, America became great in fits and starts, by looking beyond itself and asking England and an enslaved world what it could do to serve them. The Atlantic Charter—and Lend-Lease—were only the beginning, but such a beginning! Aboard battleships in Canadian waters, the leaders of the last of the free world met and worshiped together, and the Spirit of God moved even old soldiers to tears as the hymns rang out.

To be sure, it was a small start, but it changed what seemed hopeless in word and deed. Things would get darker before they got better, but when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the leaders had already made a nation great by refusing to heed the base voices crying for “America first” and instead heeding God’s instruction to love, give, go the second mile, share, as they sought to free the oppressed and stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. What followed was miracles like the North Platte Canteen, and the Marshall Plan. When America is great, it is because its people hear and answer God as Good Samaritans and as keepers of the widows and orphans and as the doers in a world in need of doers instead of hearers only.

What call will Christians answer this holiday season, when darkness seems ready to engulf the world? What kind of people will we ask our leaders to be? As we tell the world we love Jesus, do our words and deeds say so, too? Or will we continue to rage in anger at wrongs and indignities visited on us, cheering unChristlike actions as if the ends justify the means?

This Christmas, may God grant all who call him Father an overwhelming humility and the heart of Jesus, who loved us so much He suffered and died for our salvation. This Christmas, let us be leaders in making His name great among the suffering and the lost among people we know and people we don’t.


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No One Left to Love Me

By Randy Kilgore on December 6, 2018

…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11

“There’s no one left to love me,” he said with great sadness but without self-pity. “And this,” he said, stubbing out his cigarette as he pointed back to the building, “is all I deserve.”

It was a moment touched by God; a reminder to me that great love was needed if we really want to help someone. When the two of us met on the front sidewalk of a treatment facility, I was headed to my car, and Jack was smoking his last cigarette before entering a program inside.

We’d met earlier, in the lobby. Jack was waiting for an admission interview and I was waiting to visit a friend nearing the end of his stay. Because of severe staff shortages, Jack’s wait would be hours; while mine was to be considerably shorter. Still, the gap gave us time to chat, and I learned Jack was a construction equipment operator in his mid-twenties. As the two of us talked, others awaiting admission jumped in, eager to tell their story—or parts of it—to me, it became clear each was fighting for a chance to show themselves as something other than disposable. Some were scared, while others seemed resigned to this as a regular ritual in their lives.

As we waited, we were forced to watch as dignity became the first casualty of the care there—at one point a veteran waiting to be admitted begged for permission to go to the restroom—and was denied because he hadn’t been searched yet, and there wasn’t sufficient staff to accompany him. We watched, too, as a group of clients were herded from the cafeteria back to their rooms, a staff person standing at each corner much as guards in a prison do, directing the group en masse, individuality and adulthood all but gone.

To be sure, there were likely reasons for all of these actions, but to outsiders not tasked with trying to fix broken lives and broken worlds from the poorest among us, it was hard to see these things as hope-inducing. Jack, my new young friend, however, saw it with other eyes. “Bad as it is here”, he told me, “it’s another chance to get warm while ending the chaos that comes when I fall off the wagon.”

Sometime later, having finished my visit, Jack was still in the waiting room as I got ready to leave. I invited him outside, and he walked out to smoke while we chatted. This was the moment God intended out of all the other moments in those hours. Jack told me quietly how his mother’s death started the spiral that ended what had been two years of sobriety, and how angry his father was with him. “There’s no one left to love me,” he said with great sadness but without self-pity. “And this,” he said, stubbing out his cigarette as he pointed back to the building, “is all I deserve.”

It was in that instant that I felt the Holy Spirit sweep over me with an affection for Jack and all the others I’d met this day. This was what Jesus meant when He asked us to love beyond the circle of people who love us back. And I said so. “Jack, I want you to know you’re wrong. There IS still Someone who loves you—and that’s Jesus. I love you, too, because I see you as God sees you—one of His children in deep distress, and someone with great value in His eyes.” Then I told him I’d pray for him.

He signaled I’d said enough but hugged me all the same. When he turned around to go back in, I said one last time: “Jack, in this world, there’s never a time when there’s no one left to love you.”

I left, too, without any assurance Jack heard or responded to what I’d said, but fully confident the God I served would remind Jack often of the hope that’s found even in the broken places.


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TEARS ON THE SUBWAY

By Randy Kilgore on November 26, 2018

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.---John 3:16

Subways are not a place for secrets. Hurtling through man-made tunnels at what feels like roller-coaster speeds, there is still an amazing amount of time for piecing together stories from bits of information overheard en route.

This particular day, there was more time than usual because the Boston subway car I was riding in was stopped. Seated behind me was a burly man in a mechanic's jacket that was heavily stained by engine oil. Next to him was a young boy I guessed to be about twelve. In the silence of the stopped train, everyone could hear everything they said.

Father: (Huge sigh) "How could you embarrass me like that?"

Young boy: (Total silence; no response.)

Father: (Rolled head, rolled eyes, another big sigh) "I mean it. How could you do that to me?"

Young boy: (Still no response from the boy.)

Father: "Answer me!" (The father is now speaking loudly, and to my ear, he's started to sound like he might explode in anger.) "I want an answer and I want it right now!" (These words were said in a shout, and the father seemed oblivious to the rest of us in the car. )

Incredibly, the young boy still doesn't answer his father. His face and body language don't seem to be belligerent; he just looks like he's afraid and doesn't know what to say. I'm getting worried because the dad is really big and the boy is really not big. I'm really not big, either, but I'm thinking this doesn't feel like it's going to stop with words.

Then. Something. Incredible. Happened.

Father: (Emits one last long huge sigh followed by a long pause.) "I'm really sorry, son. I don't know what I'm thinking."

Then the father started to cry.

Only then did the young boy speak, and timidly at that. "I'm really scared, Dad."

Then he started to cry, too.

They weren't the only two people crying in that downtown subway train that day. Lots of tears appeared among the riders around them.

When I stood up to get off the train as it finally moved to the next stop, that big burly dad was cradling that not so big little boy, hugging him tight as he sat in his dad's lap; and the two of them could care less what the rest of us thought. I remember thinking they must love each other very much.

We humans often dishonor God in ways that must have the angels shaking their heads in disbelief.

We also make Him angry, especially when the things that dishonor Him are committed by the very people who tell Him they love Jesus and have accepted His Grace.

Despite our mistakes; despite the hateful, hurtful ways we lash out at other humans; despite how easy we find it to slip back into the pre-salvation defaults, when rebellion was our hallmark---despite all of that---when Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son, He describes how the father raced to greet the broken son. Raced to him! Races to us!

Indeed, when the world could find no way to restore itself to God, our Heavenly Father raced to greet us, sending Jesus to us as a Baby in a manger.

He must love us very much!

Each of us who find our way to that Baby born so long ago discovers the journey leads not to a crib or a child but instead to the Father, who gathers us in a loving embrace; one that starts today and never, ever ceases.

It's the greatest gift we'll ever get.


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A SAD WAY TO SAY GOODBYE

By Randy Kilgore on November 14, 2018

Morning after morning for most of 85 years, my dear friend Sister P has stepped from her room in the century-plus convent that’s served as her home and said a prayer to God while holding the statue of St. Francis located there. A comforting ritual, to be sure, but so much more than that, for it launched her into her days of service by remembering not only who needed her prayers, but also who she was serving.

Then, on a morning not so long ago, she stepped outside her room, and the statue was gone. Without warning or notice, the statue walked itself down—with the help of workers, we assume—to another building where it will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, breaking Sister’s heart as it goes. Sadly, it’s not the only heartbreak for my 99-year old friend: The convent, her home for 85 years when she wasn’t out on missions, has been sold, and she and her 60+ remaining sisters will be moved from the 118-year old majestic structure on a marvelous hillside campus to a brand-spanking-new assisted care facility away from their beloved home.

When I first heard of the move, I was angry—until I learned the hard truth that there are no villains in the tale. With fewer women entering the orders for lifelong service, the Sisters now find the convent is not designed to allow them to care for each other effectively, and so a more modern option was necessary. Still, it seems hard to me that God would choose not to intervene in some miraculous way to enable Sister P and others to live out their life in their home.

Then, as I typed that last sentence, I was reminded of the many other women (and men) who live and work their entire lives in a place they love dearly, only to be forced by health, economics or other forces to spend their final years in a place that “isn’t home.”

It wasn’t meant to be this way, of course. When God created His masterpiece, death was not a part of it. No hurricanes, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, or other natural disasters would strike, and no cycle-of-life was needed for the lamb and the lion—as well as humans—were to consume only plants. Then God gave us a marvelous gift and a terrible curse----free will---and we used it to rebel, disrupting Creation and introducing death to the equation.

All of this—and so much more pain—would be too great for us to bear if that was how the story ended, because if left to humans, the world will only grow deadlier. Instead, God sent His Son, and Jesus lived the perfect life we were meant to live---then freely chose to give up His life to atone for our brokenness. Now humans need not live (indeed they cannot live) perfect lives to live forever in a perfect home. God changed our impossible choice to a possible one---asking only that we accept the gift of grace by accepting Jesus. Once again, free will enables us to choose our ultimate destiny: The restored Creation where eternity reigns because death is disabled; or the terrible option of facing eternity without God, without hope, without anything but the consequences of ignoring Jesus.

I’m still sad for Sister P, and for all the suffering so many are experiencing in a world that seems bent on hate and destruction. But I’m also aware that awaiting Sister P---after a little while in a new place—is a mansion where she will never need to move again, and where the Savior she loves greets her as the treasure she is….

For one night in a Garden where even His best friends couldn’t stay awake to pray with Him, an anxious Jesus faced an unjust fate completely alone, even asking God to “find another way” if He could. Then, knowing His mission, Jesus ran into our punishment, and made a path of safety just for us. Choose that path, you who don’t know Him; rejoice in it, you who do.

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:38


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Guns and Grandfathers

By Randy Kilgore on November 11, 2018

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. —Matthew 5:14-16

The young man pointed a gun at my grandfather, then to himself, back and forth, back and forth. A simple trip to the mailbox suddenly became so much more.

In every other way, the morning seemed normal. Birds chirped, a breeze rustled the leaves, and in the distance a whistle marked the passing of a freight train on a nearby trestle. Closer, dust flew up from the road as cars drove by, apparently unaware of the unfolding drama down the driveway of the house on the curve. Then, finally, brake lights flashed, and the crunch of gravel signaled a stop.

“Are you okay, Ernie?” the driver shouted. “Go away,” shouted the young man, now waving his gun menacingly at my grandfather. “Stay back Jay,” my grandfather warned in a quiet voice, then added “you’d better get help. The boy wants to shoot himself.” Jay slipped back in his truck and pulled away slowly, then when he thought it safe, he gunned the engine to race to the nearest place to reach a phone.

If my grandfather moved towards the young man, he’d point the gun at my grandfather and my grandfather would freeze. Then, when it was clear my grandfather would stay in place, the young man would point the gun at his own head, or his mouth or his stomach. Once, my grandfather told me, he thought it might make sense to move further back, but the young man pointed his gun back at my grandfather and told him to stay right there. “I don’t want to die alone,” he said.

Then suddenly, the gun went off and the young man went down. He’d shot himself in the stomach. When Jay and a deputy arrived, they found my grandfather desperately trying to plug the bleeding as the young man begged him not to let him die. My grandfather pleaded with the young man to hold on for help; but eventually the body went limp and the begging stopped.

Once again, in every other way, the morning seemed normal. Birds chirped, a breeze rustled the leaves, and in the distance a whistle marked the passing of a freight train on a nearby trestle. Except it wasn’t normal; a young life was gone.

My grandfather, the tough old bird who worked in the coal mines before coming back above ground to drive trucks, rarely talked about that day, but when he did, it was always with a sense he’d failed somehow. “He kept telling me he had nothing to live for,” my grandfather would say, “and truth be told, I had no words to offer him. All I could say was ‘please don’t do it’. It wasn’t enough.”

How terribly hopeless the world seems today, both to those in crisis and those who want to help. How utterly disappointed God must be in those who call Him Father and yet spend all their days gathering savings and selfies, forgetting our real treasure is Jesus.

When Jesus walked the Earth, He brushed aside the holier-than-thous and embraced the broken, the needy, the hungry and hurting. But meeting those needs was never the end-goal: It was always a way to let the person know they were noticed, loved, and cared for; then He would offer the real hope. Eternity without suffering; peace without pain. Each of us who love Jesus are taught to hold on through the trials because even if we suffer for 70 years down here, the powerful truth of life without evil and joy without sorrow for time immemorial will be awaiting us in heaven.

What story do our words and deeds tell others about Jesus?


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HE’S GOT THIS…

By Randy Kilgore on October 31, 2018

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. –I Peter 3:15

For weeks after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, people asked me the same question: “Are we going to be alright?” One afternoon that October, I was sitting on a commuter train when the conductor stopped at my seat making small talk. We’d become friendly over the years of my riding his route and on this day, he leaned forward and asked rather quietly: “So Chaplain, are we going to be alright?”

Two people in the seat in front of me turned around, and one of them asked if I minded if they listened in. Pretty soon, a group of about ten people gathered close to hear my response. When I was done, the group went back to doing what they’d been doing before; apparently content to know someone in touch with God wasn’t panicking yet.

Several weeks later, on the same train, the young man next to me heard the conductor greet me as chaplain, and then proceeded to tell me a long, tragic story about his mother’s losing battle with cancer. He was pained by the damage her illness and death had caused to the relationship between her kids, including himself. Pausing for a few moments, he looked over to me and asked with the innocence of a child, “So Chaplain, are we going to be alright?”

On the night of the attacks on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, two young gay men asked me the same question.

Yesterday, in the middle of a routine conversation with an acquaintance, he stopped me and asked, about the Tree of Life synagogue, “So Randy, are we going to be alright?”

By now, you’re probably wondering about my answer to the question. Truth is, my answers were entirely different in each situation. What some of them wanted was assurance the attacks weren’t going to be a new constant in their lives. Others wanted to know if God was still in control, or if the attacks were the beginning of the end times. The young man wanted to know if the anger and hurt that separated the family during the stress of losing a loved one was something that would disappear or get better over time.

The common theme in all their searching, however, was for assurance of some kind, and in times of great stress, most of us immediately look for some link to God in the hope that Someone, Somewhere sees the Big Picture and will keep things from completely collapsing. So why me? The hardest parts of life happen outside the walls of the church, and if a person has a prior link with the church before their crisis, they’ll likely turn to that person or group for comfort or answers. But if they don’t have a connection to a church—and increasingly, fewer and fewer people do nowadays---they’ll latch on to the first symbol of God they can find. If that symbol has a bold confidence in God that doesn’t seem brash or arrogant, they’ll usually accept the first answers that make sense. In other words, they’re looking for people who know God intimately in their everyday places of life. Those people then become the go-to connection in times of distress; and they don’t have to have a title like Chaplain to qualify. They need to be known in good times as God’s children so in hard times they can be trusted as God’s link.

How’s your reputation among the people in your world? Someone needs to introduce them to Jesus. If you’re their link, are they going to be alright?


When Silence Isn’t an Option

By Randy Kilgore on October 19, 2018

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” --- Isaiah 58:6-8

This past week, Humans of New York* interviewed a pastor in Rwanda who put his life at risk to save 300 people who were about to be murdered during the Rwandan genocide. In a moving retelling of those terrible days, you can hear the pastor’s heart breaking as he recognized members of his own Christian congregation—blood on their souls from other killings—preparing to murder again. Even the holy ground of worship and the universal concept of sanctuary could not turn back the powerful drive to kill, kill, and kill some more-------

-------until the pastor started calling out the names of the members he knew, robbing them of the false curtain of anonymity rabid mobs create. Even more powerful than this reminder of their personhood was the pastor’s reminder God was recording their actions. The God whose reign is marked by His commitment to love is also the God who promises He will make eternally right the injustices suffered here on Earth

The expected powerful relief felt by saving so many lives is not evident in this pastor’s conversation, for it’s broken by his deep disappointment at the silence of so many fellow pastors and leading Christians, who said or did nothing to stop the massacres. Nothing.

In Isaiah 58, God tells His people to keep our sacrifices; to not bother to sing those extra verses of the hymns of praise songs or to offer our tithes; and to skip the feel-good rituals of holiness unless they are offered by us after first having stood up for the oppressed and broken; having fed the hungry and clothed the poor; having first marked every action with the unconditional love He gives us. And don’t come to Him with complaints about how so-and-so has wronged us; or such-and-such a group isn’t deserving or doesn’t belong here; or tell God they’ve “made their own bed.” For God will remind us that once we were a stranger in the Kingdom of God, an immigrant from sin and strife begging to be let into the presence of God. He will remind us we were stamped “unworthy” and sentenced to death until Jesus stepped up to pay the price for our admission---with His own horribly painful and lonely completely-innocent death.

He is calling us today to seek justice for the young men and women—mostly black—who die at the hands of a system that sees them as less worthy of safety and compassion than others; even as He calls us not to lump all law officers into the same category. He’s calling on we Christians to speak out against any system that would tear apart immigrant children from their parents without love and safety as the prime directive. He calls on Christians to spend less time trying to accumulate or hold on to “what they’ve worked so hard for” and spend more time finding out how God wants them to use the riches He allowed them to accumulate. More than all of that, though, He calls us to forgive the unforgivable, to love the unlovable, to protect even those unworthy of our sacrifice, because we were once that unforgivable soul; we were once that unlovable human; and not one of us has ever been worthy of the Sacrifice Jesus made---the Sacrifice that made us suddenly forgivable, suddenly lovable, suddenly worthy—not because we changed, for we were powerless to do so…but because the God we serve allowed His Son to wrap His mercy-cloth of grace around us, making us sinless in God’s eyes.

The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” –Psalm 146:9

*Humans in New York is an Internet powerhouse able to move people to dramatic acts of compassion by introducing their millions of followers to real people in real, everyday moments of their lives.


Who Is My Neighbor?



By Randy Kilgore on October 2, 2018

"But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" (Luke 10:29 NIV)

We were in line at the ice cream store when I noticed him. His face bore the marks of too many bar-fights, nose asunder and more than one knife-scar. His hair was nicotine-stained and his clothes were rumpled, but clean. Something in his demeanor made me think he was drunk. With my paternal instincts at red-alert, I stepped between him and my children and turned my back to him, putting up a wall of silence even as I used my body as a screen for my son and daughter.

He tried to speak once, but I didn't hear him clearly and so just nodded to acknowledge him. I sent the kids to a table across the room where I could keep an eye on them while I waited for our turn in line, and where they wouldn't be near the man behind us.

"It's hard, isn't it," he said. I glanced his way and nodded, mumbling something like "they grow up too fast", but scarcely making eye contact. He persisted, gently: "I mean it's hard raising them by yourself, isn't it." Something in his tone made me turn to look at him. Only then did I notice his children, as I listened to him tell me how long his wife had been gone. His words contrasted with his hard exterior.

I was duly chastened. Once again I failed to see "my neighbor", as Jesus calls those people He places in our paths, in the way that Jesus might have seen him. This despite the fact that Jesus never fails to see me with love even through the scars of sin, even through the rumpled nature of my stutter-step faithfulness.

Today, Jesus walks with us into Starbucks, sits beside us on the commuter rail, listens in during our meetings at work. He's as interested in us in these places as He is when we're pew-bound singing praises. But He's also intrigued, compassionate, maybe even wistful, about the people around us at Starbucks, on the train, or in the office. Many have never met Him, and few of us are moving slow enough to think to introduce Him to them. While there's sadness in the eternal realm of these encounters, there must surely be a palpable disappointment He feels when we're so busy we fail to see the people in our paths the way He sees them, as sheep in need of a shepherd.

May the pace of our lives never disrupt our ability to see our clients, our coworkers and even our casual contacts with the same eyes that Jesus sees them. And may we always be open to moments when we can introduce them to Him.


for the love of those who stumble...  

By Randy Kilgore on September 18, 2018

As a visitor, you notice everything.  Noisy, hacking coughs fill the air, cigarette smoke slips through the cracks of the "smoking room" door, mixing in with other more odious smells.

Men and women in the hardest moments of their lives are walking the hallways, fighting to get through the next moment. Some just lay curled up under blankets wishing life was over.  This is the world of a detox unit.  

Life is being played for keeps inside these walls. Nurses, orderlies, doctors, security guards, and other staff members are the "good guys," doing often thankless tasks in the hopes that the next little effort they make is the one that pushes a patient from "I can't do this" to "I'm going to do this." 

Patients are the other "good guys," though you can't always tell it by watching what's happening at the moment. Whether they're in because they have to be or in because they want to be, they are people worth fighting for, people worth noticing and praying for and caring about.  

What goes on inside that facility is terrible and difficult and smelly and terrifying to outsiders, but it's a battle for souls that matter.   

How do we react when somebody's world falls apart? When they make the same mistake for the seventh time? Or the seventieth time? 

How do we respond when someone who was successful suddenly fails miserably; someone who preaches righteousness is suddenly unrighteous; someone who was arrogant and uncaring is unexpectedly and desperately in need of a friend?  

These are the moments when we discover the truth about our faith in Christ. If we're repulsed by the person who's failed, or joyful at the misfortune of the arrogant, or indignant at the suddenly unrighteous, then we know we're still babes in the faith, apparently incapable of handling the core truths of God responsibly.

More than any other subset of humanity, Christians know what second (and even seventh chances) mean. Why would any of us, having been freed from the burden of our sins, ever want to pile on to those who stumble?  

None of us are ever forgiven because we try harder to be good; we can never be good enough no matter how hard we try. Having tasted of that wonderful moment when God takes our sin and "moves it as far as the East is from the West" and "remembers it no more", we more than any other human beings should be leaping at the chance to forgive and be helpful to even the most dramatic of failures by others.   

In fact, the failure to forgive others may be the single biggest indication that we haven't yet tasted true salvation; haven't yet acknowledged it was for our sins that Jesus was put to death.   

When our primary reaction to sin and failure in others is sadness; when we understand that forgiving others is another way to honor God; when the desire to restore broken lives triumphs over the urge to gloat; then and only then can we know the joy of God working through us instead of working on us.  

"Do not lurk like a thief near the house of the righteous, do not plunder their dwelling place. Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove...." Proverbs 24:15-18



Kept by God

By Randy Kilgore on September 11, 2018

In her book, Mimosa Who Was Charmed, missionary writer Amy Carmichael tells a remarkable story.  A young girl from India accompanied her family to drop her older sister off at the missionary school, where she would live and be educated. Even at age 4, Mimosa was so impressed by the missionary that she declared her intent to follow God from that day forward. The book then goes on to share the story of Mimosa’s life, and how she stayed faithful to God through many trials and the taunts of her Hindu family and friends. Then, many years later, Mimosa returned to the missionary compound to drop off her daughter, and it was then she heard about and accepted Jesus.  

Without one other Christian; without access to any Scripture, God kept Mimosa faithful until the day when she could hear and receive the grace of Jesus Christ. 

Many of you are familiar with the taunts and trials that challenged Mimosa’s faith, and the faith of the Christians Jude was addressing in the book of Jude vs. 17-23.  Jude warns them—and us—to overcome persecution by “building yourselves up” in faith and prayer, and “keeping ourselves in God’s love” (v.22) while we wait for the victory of Christ in us when we reach eternity.   

As we work to obey these words, Jude then assures us that, as He did with Mimosa, He will keep us from falling (v. 24) as we move through life. 

"… keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." Jude 21


"...I have come to help."

 

By Randy Kilgore on September 4, 2018

 New York City reporter Jacob Riis made it his business to let the world know what being poor was like.  His vivid descriptions of ghetto life in 19th century New York horrified a generally complacent public.  His “magic lantern show” of photographs taken of the poor in New York so stunned lecture halls that his audiences felt they were present in the tenements themselves.  Many fainted, and it is said that many spoke out loud to the people in the photos. 

Riis’ book, How the Other Half Lives, combined his writing with his own photographs to paint a picture so vivid the public could not escape the certainty of its existence. The third of fifteen children, Riis wrote so effectively because once upon a time, he lived in that world of terrible despair. 

Shortly after the release of his book, a card was delivered to Riis from a young man only then beginning his political career.  The card read simply, “I have read your book, and I have come to help.  Theodore Roosevelt.”    

Hard-nosed, skeptical, world-weary Riis immediately became a disciple of the future President for life.  


It is not enough for us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, to successfully overcome obstacles and become self-sufficient. Our individual lives must be trailblazing, leaving not scorched earth but well-lit paths that others may follow out of the same perilous plights we once faced. 

We owe it to the tired and poor to call attention to their plight and not merely celebrate the fact that we made it out of that morass ourselves.  We owe it to our God to love others so much that the memories of their poverty wrest us from our complacency to a place of action. 

 

"But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves."

James 1:22