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A LIVING GOSPEL
RUSSIANS CELEBRATE THE arrival of spring in March. During a Russian spring, temperatures hover just above freezing during the day, which melts the graying snow—only so it can freeze again into a world-covering sheet of ice at night. There are no tiny blooms reaching up through the earth to try to touch the sun. No patches of green to add color to the bleak landscape.
It was one of these spring nights when ten of us were walking down a dark, icy sidewalk in Vladimir. A young boy darted across the street, heading straight toward us. He was twelve, maybe thirteen, dirty and wearing tattered rags. He was speaking Russian. Asking for something. Pleading, perhaps.
"Sorry, we don't understand," we said. It was no lie.
But we did understand the voices inside our heads that spoke with equal measures of cynicism and sad resignation. Just another worthless beggar. If we gave him money, he'd probably spend it on drugs or cigarettes. If the kid really wanted help, there are plenty of shelters that could feed him and offer a place to sleep.
We kept walking. But something inside fought to quiet the voices. Something inside challenged me to act in a way consistent with the Savior I follow.
I turned, grabbed the translator by the arm, and went back after the boy. "Hey! Come back." What do I say? I thought. Where do you begin to reach out to someone in need? "What's your name?" I asked. "Kak tibya zavoot?" Dema, my translator, repeated in Russian. I got down on one knee so we were eye to eye.
He was no longer just a beggar on the street. He was a little boy with a name—a name shared by a Russian Orthodox saint. I looked into his eyes. He had a story to tell. A story filled with pain and heartache. A story marked by hunger and homelessness. He was shivering. Somehow he'd survived the cold Russian nights.
Just a little boy.
"Hi, Kirill. My name is Tom. How can I help you?" Dema translated for me with a rapid- fire smorgasbord of Russian words.
Kirill had run away from a dangerous situation. He hadn't eaten in three days. He looked so frail standing there. All he wanted was a place to stay and some food.
"Would you help me?" he asked.
That stupid voice went off in my head again. The same voice that speaks to me when I happen upon a panhandler back home in the States. He'll probably just buy vodka if we give him money. That inner voice—it's mine. And it very well could be speaking the truth. But it's not the voice I want to hear. I want to hear Jesus. Did he put conditions on the help he offered? A familiar story elbowed its way past my hesitancy. A story of Jesus helping a woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn't refuse to help the woman because she might sin again. He forgave her and told her to sin no more. She was worth the risk. She was worth helping.
"Kirill, here's money for food and a bus ride." We gave him the address to the ministry center for Children's HopeChest. There he would find help. We made arrangements for him and told the staff we would pay for whatever he needed.
Kirill took the money and walked off into the black night, fading into the distance like a ship on an uncertain journey.
I wondered what Jesus felt as he watched those he helped walk into the night. Did all of them live changed lives? Did they all stop sinning? Did they all hang on to the hope they had been missing?
About an hour later we received a phone call from the ministry center. Kirill had arrived and was receiving the care he needed. They would find him a place to live. Somewhere safe.
My cynical inner voice was silenced. I had only offered money for food and bus fare, but it was Jesus who had spoken to Kirill. He didn't need a translator to hear Jesus' words now. Kirill was tasting them in a meal. Feeling their touch in the comfort of a warm blanket. And resting on them in the hope and promise of a good tomorrow.
He was just a little boy.
And on that cold spring night in Vladimir, Russia, he was Jesus.
You may be wondering, Was that a typo? Didn't Tom mean that he, Tom, was Jesus to Kirill? Of course we're called to be like Jesus. Colossians 3:10 (NIV) tells us to put on the new self, which is being renewed "in the image of its Creator." This is the basis of our spiritual formation, something Paul taught about with great passion and wisdom. And, yes, reaching out a helping hand to someone in need is one way we live out that Christlikeness.
But there is something else going on when we reach out to help the helpless—something unexpected. Something we often miss. Something that speaks not only to the process of becoming Christlike—to our spiritual formation—but also to the very truth of where we find Jesus.
Looking for Jesus
I've discovered a new way to live. Every morning when I get out of bed, I look for Jesus. No, not because I've misplaced him. And I'm not talking about a feeling I get during prayer, or revelation that comes to me while reading Scripture. I'm talking about finding Jesus in the eyes of real people. In the eyes of the poor, the handicapped, the oppressed, the orphan, the homeless, the AIDS victim—the abandoned and the forgotten.
Throughout Scripture, Jesus identified with the poor in amazing ways. He was their champion, their advocate. He gave them purpose and meaning and hope. He held them in high esteem and blessed them. There is something deep and meaningful about this. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me." Was he truly saying that we will find him in the lives of the poor? This is a rich mystery.
We shouldn't be surprised. Our God is indeed a God of mystery. Isaiah 55:8–9 says,
"I don't think the way you think. The way you work isn't the way I work." God's Decree.
"For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think."
You don't have to read very far into the New Testament before running head-on into one of the greatest of these mysteries. I don't know about you, but I (and more than a few Jews in Jesus' time) would have expected the King of the universe to be born in a palace—someplace worthy of his status. He would have slept on no less than four-hundred-thread-count Egyptian cotton crib sheets and rested his head on a down-filled, silk-wrapped pillow. The mobile above his crib would surely have been crafted of sparkling gems—white diamonds, red rubies, blue sapphires, and green emeralds. And all of the most respected people in society would visit this beautifully decorated nursery to worship him.
But that's not how God did things. Jesus was born in a dirty, smelly, disgusting barn. He was laid not on a clean sheet but in a manger—a feeding trough filled with animal snot and drool and their leftover half-eaten food. He wasn't welcomed to the world by great leaders, by rulers and officials and other members of the Lexus-drivers club. He was met by a bunch of lowly shepherds. Yes, three kings or wise men arrived from the east months later. But nobody even knew who they were.
Are you getting the picture? Jesus didn't come to earth and identify with the rich, the successful, and the most influential. He entered the world as a pauper. He entered the world not in the comfort of his parents' home, nor in the company of smiling relatives or even the safety of a hospital. He arrived in the humblest of places, in the lowliest of circumstances. God hid the mystery of the kingdom in the lives of the most needy.
Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus associated himself with the "least of these"? That when we help them, we're helping Jesus? God has tremendous love for those who are rejected, abandoned, and laughed at. This truth came clear to me when I started reading about the life of Mother Teresa. Read what she said:
The dying, the crippled, the mentally ill, the unwanted, the unloved—they are Jesus in disguise. ... [Through the] poor people I have an opportunity to be 24 hours a day with Jesus. Every AIDS victim is Jesus in a pitiful disguise; Jesus is in everyone.... [AIDS sufferers are] children of God [who] have been created for greater things.
In some crazy way, Jesus is the poor. When we find the "least of these," we find him. If this doesn't turn your theology upside down, I don't know what will.
There's a story told about an incredible transformation in an old monastery because people lived out these truths. M. Scott Peck recounted the story in his book The Different Drum.
The story takes place in an orthodox monastery in eastern Europe, sometime in the early twentieth century. The monastery was in danger of being shut down. For centuries it had been the house of a great monastic order, but after hundreds of years of persecution, and in an age when many people believed orthodoxy was no longer relevant, the abbot and four monks found themselves to be the last members of the order. The branch houses were long gone, and even in this one remaining location, the five monks hadn't been successful in attracting new members. Each of these monks was over the age of seventy. It didn't take a mathematical genius to see that the order was doomed. This caused the monks a great deal of worry and anguish, but they remained faithful: Every day they diligently, if sullenly, carried on their work.
In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a local rabbi occasionally used for retreat and contemplation. One day it occurred to the abbot to ask the rabbi if he had any advice on how to save the monastery.
When the rabbi saw the abbot coming up the path, he went out to greet him. But when the abbot asked his question, the rabbi could only grieve with him. "I know how it is," he said. "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." The old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. When the time came for the abbot to leave, they embraced each other.
"It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years," the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice that you can give me, that would help save my dying order?"
"No, I'm sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that one of you is the Messiah."
When the abbot returned to the monastery, his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "What did the rabbi say?"
"He couldn't help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read the Torah together. He did say something as I was leaving—something cryptic: 'The Messiah is one of you.'"
In the days and weeks and months that followed, the monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any significance to the rabbi's words.
The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us here at the monastery? Which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. After all, he's been our leader for over twenty years. But if he meant Father Abbot, why didn't he say so? He might have meant Brother Thomas. Thomas is so gentle and kind; we all know that he's truly a holy man.
Certainly he didn't mean Brother David! David gets so crotchety. Then again, even though Brother David is a thorn in our flesh, he's nearly always right. Exceedingly right.
Well, the rabbi couldn't possibly have meant Aloysius. Aloysius is so passive, a real nobody. But he does have a gift for always being here when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Aloysius is the Messiah.
Well, I know one thing for sure. The rabbi certainly didn't mean me. He couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just an ordinary person. But what if he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? Oh God, I pray that it's not me. I wouldn't know how to be the Messiah.
As they contemplated in this manner, the monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, people occasionally visited the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn or to wander along some of its paths. As they did, without even being conscious of it, they sensed an aura of extraordinary respect that radiated from the monks and permeated the atmosphere surrounding the monastery. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, people began to come back more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They brought friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
Some of the younger folks who came to visit the monastery started talking with the monks. After a while, one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. Within just a few years the monastery had become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi's cryptic gift, a vibrant center of light.
Does this story sound familiar? It should. Both the Old and the New Testaments tell similar stories—taking care of strangers, caring for those in need, and treating others like they could be angels in disguise.
You may be asking, "Well, what other way is there?" There have always been two ways. C. S. Lewis wrote, "The Church just exists to help people be little Christs." I certainly have met individuals and church families who live this out. But all too often, those of us who call ourselves Christians live in direct opposition to what Christ said we should do.
Living out the gospel is hard work. It's easy to talk about it. Any of us can sit in church and sing warm, happy worship songs that make us feel good. We can nod agreeably with the pastor's wisdom. And sometimes we can even drop a few extra dollars into the offering basket. But it's not so easy to actually go and do what Jesus said to do.
Jesus calls us to live in ways that go against our natural inclinations. For example, I don't have the easiest time living out this verse: "I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves" (Matt. 5:44–45).
Frankly, I want my enemies to burn. I want them to suffer for the wrong they did to me. I want revenge. That's my initial response. My human response. But because I have been redeemed by Jesus' sacrifice, the truth of the living Christ who is ordering my life challenges that response. I (sometimes slowly, often painfully) embrace that truth and learn to say no to my human response and yes to what Christ wants me to do.
Most of my life I have prayed that these sorts of transformations would occur almost magically. That I would wake up one day and be a totally different person. That all of my desires would be godly. That I would have a natural inclination to deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow Jesus. That I would suddenly just love my enemy. But it didn't happen like that.
Transformation did occur when I would hear the words of Jesus and obey them, no matter how I felt. The more I obeyed, the more I was transformed. I was becoming a different person because I was living myself into it. I was becoming the words I saw on the page. The words Jesus himself spoke.
What if all Christ-followers lived the Red Letter words in the Bible—Jesus' words? What if we offered the hungry something to eat, gave one of our many coats to someone who was cold, and truly loved all our neighbors as ourselves? How radically different would our lives be? How different would our world be if Christians were really living as little Christs?
That's what this book is about. Learning to live a faith that is so real, you bleed Jesus. Here's how to start: Look for Jesus every morning in the eyes of the people you meet. And then look for him in the mirror.
Excerpted from RED LETTERS by TOM DAVIS. Copyright © 2007 Tom Davis. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 8, 2013
The book was very eye opening to the problems around the world. It really encourages the reader to take action and to live like Jesus lived.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2011
Tom Davis did an amazing job in this book. I highly recommend it to everyone. We all fall short from living a Christ- Like life. However, reading this book reminds us on what we all need to do for everyone around us. Seeing Christ in the eyes of the poor, needy, homeless, the lost. Treat everyone the way you would treat Christ, regardless of their status in society. Loving and respecting everyone, without judgement, without picking and choosing. You never know if you are entertaining an Angel from Heaven as scripture has told us.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2008
Tom Davis's book Red Letters focuses on Jesus words. Jesus showed compassion he offered hope. He touched lives wherever he went. He was not passive or inactive. If we are to imitate him, to be his hands and feet, then, we should offer the same compassion, hope, and kindness that he offered. There is much suffering in our world. What is the Christian's response to HIV, starvation, and calamity? Tom Davis begins his introduction with a statement sure to grab the attention of the reader. ¿The Christian church owes an apology to the almost fifty million individuals in our world currently infected with HIV/AIDS." Davis writes with great compassion. His words ring with authority and compassion. He attempts to challenge the readers to step out of the church pews, to step out of the church walls into the real world. Reach out a helping hand in the name of the Lord. I want to give Red Letters a big Amen! Tom Davis gets his point across in a concise manner. I recommend Red Letters to Christians.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 22, 2008
A child becomes an orphan every 14 seconds because of AIDS. The number of children orphaned by AIDS is expected to exceed 25 million by 2010. With these realities, someone is desperately needed to 'stand in the gap' (Eze 22:30) on behalf of Christ's church for the children and adults in the world suffering with HIV/AIDS, especially those affected most in Africa. Author and President of Children¿s Hopechest, Tom Davis, has answered this call. In his book, RED LETTERS: Living a Faith That Bleeds, effectively persuades all of Christ's followers to be Jesus' hands and feet to our neighbors effected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and around the world and provides practical steps on how each follower of Christ can begin to do this. In RED LETTERS, Tom Davis beautifully captures and portrays God's heart for the poor and oppressed, namely those living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, and what it means for those who confess to be Christ-followers to live out their faith by being Christ to the hurting world. Through his gift of storytelling, Tom brings the reader into the lives of those suffering because of HIV/AIDS. Tom builds a bridge by helping the reader relate to those suffering, by putting faces, names and stories on individuals who were once merely seen as statistics. Being confronted with the reality of the enormity of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, it is easy to become overwhelmed and frozen by not knowing where to start ministering. Tom clearly gives the reader practical ways to help and minister to the children, women and men in Africa and around the world who are suffering because of HIV/AIDS. I was deeply moved, encouraged, inspired and empowered by RED LETTERS. Just like Tom¿s other book, Fields of the Fatherless, I am sure I will use RED LETTERS time and time again in my ministry to orphans. I enthusiastically recommend every Christian read this book and then give it to a friend to read. RED LETTERS will inspire and empower you to see Christ in others and, by living the words of Jesus, become His hands and feet to your neighbors, those suffering because of HIV/AIDS in Africa, the orphan, the widow, the stranger and those living right next door. Please purchase this book (by purchasing it you will feed and orphan for a month), read it, and live the words of Christ.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 13, 2007
I will never play the game Chicken with Tom Davis. I would lose, guaranteed. Tom Davis, author of Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds has the ability, through his writing, to stare you directly in the eye and speak truth that takes your breath away. He begins Red Letters with an apology on behalf of the Christian church, to the 25 million people currently infected with HIV/AIDS. He apologizes for our unwillingness to respond to the Bible's 'red letters'... those words set apart in some Bibles as Christ's own. And Davis clearly outlines his take on Gospel: 'The only Gospel worth living is the one that incarnates love. The only Gosepl worth giving our lives for is the one that elevates the needs of others above our own. That's what the 'good news' is all about.' Davis weaves biblical passages with his own experiences working with orphans in places like Russia and Swaziland. He names the fears that keep us immobile. He provides statistics that stun. He looks at the sanctity of life and call to justice. He names the immense needs faced by so many of our children living around the world. But in the most amazing way, Davis does not try to shame us into action. Rather, he informs, inspires and then provides a host of resources to help us follow through with the call Christ has placed into each of our hearts. Somehow he maintains hope for the orphans... and hope for us. My green highlighter got a work out. While this is not a technically difficult book to read, it was very challenging. Davis takes away any excuse to be inactive because of ignorance. There were many passages I could have chosen to share, but I felt like they were really speaking to my own failings 'you've got to appreciate a book that feels like it was written just for you'. But I will add here a quote from Mother Theresa that is used in a chapter called A Call to Justice: 'When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.' The proceeds from the sale of these books goes back in to feeding orphans. And the profits from each book will feed a child for a month. Seriously. This is an important book. Challenging. Practical. Loving, in the most Christ-like way...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 1, 2011
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Posted October 27, 2008
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Posted March 1, 2010
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