Heaven is a better place recently as two great men have recently moved in. Yesterday theologian Tim Keller left this world leaving behind an amazing legacy, and a huge impact on me personally. Dr. Keller, who Time magazine called a CS Lewis for the 21st century, is the author of many best selling books. The first of his books that I ever read was "the Prodigal God". It changed my thinking in huge ways. His basic premise is Jesus' parable of the prodigal son is really about the 'faithful' older son who stayed home and served his father while his younger brother lived a life of debauchery. Then, when the younger wild brother comes home, this sweet, obedient son throws a tantrum, accusing his father of favoritism and injustice. It must have been so offensive to the Pharisees in Jesus' audience when the faithful, law-abiding son in Jesus' story is left out of the party his own dad threw for his repentant younger son. Dr. Keller turned the obvious meaning of this parable on its head. I loved this book so much that I taught it to my Freshman Bible class the one year I ever taught high school level courses.
Tim Keller, who pastored a Presbyterian church in Manhatten, also wrote "The Reason for God", the clearest book on basic apologetics I've ever read. I've also studied his books on Jonah, Proverbs, Christmas and Easter. I can tell you that Time's comparison to CS Lewis is not hyperbole. Most recently I read his book on prayer. It changed my understanding of prayer deeply, although in practice, my prayer life has not changed nearly deeply enough. Like all of his books, it deserves to reread multiple times.
But as much as his writing and preaching has influenced a generation, I respect him more for what he hasn't done. A world renowned pastor, he has had no financial or moral scandals. He has never publically declared his political views. He has never belittled or mocked people who hold a different world view.
By now, I imagine Dr. Keller has run into another great man on Heaven's golden streets. Kip Ridlon, unlike Tim Keller, was not an intellectual, nor was he was he world renowned. He never lived anywhere other than western Maine. But he was every bit the saint Dr. Keller was.
Kip passed away in his sleep at the age of 80 a few weeks ago, and his memorial service was today. Two of his grand daughters grew up with our youngest daughter, Rose, and he attended the church we did for 23 years. After we moved to another nearby church, he and his wife eventually did as well. I can not think of anyone who reflected the love and grace of Jesus quite like Kippy. I remember the time -when he was well over 70 -that he spent a cold January day in my backyard helping me defrost frozen pipes under my house. Another time during the covid-19 pandemic when I was making a video in our church sanctuary. I was interrupted by the sudden sound of whistling and hammering in the foyer. I went out there to find Kip doing repairs. My video was ruined, but his wood work was excellent.
Kip was in fact a masterful carpenter. But he was so much more. He used his craft to serve so many free o f charge. In fact, he was the inspiration for an event I organized for three consecutive years. After reporting back to our church on one of our missionary trips, Kip came up to me and said, "I'd love to go on one of those trips with you, but I can't get away." That simple, sincere statement led to SPARK Week, an annual event in which our church in Bridgton, Maine did a missionary trip... to Bridgton, Maine. Kip headed up a carpentry team who spent the week doing free repairs for elderly home owners, while other teams did free car washes, concerts, hymn sings and a medical clinic.
Kip knew the Bible, perhaps not with the finesse of Tim Keller, but with a passion and commitment unmatched by anyone I know, and certainly unmatched by me. Kip was a warrior in prayer, and one of the things that was found in his Bible after his passing was a prayer list of upcoming shows I was doing. There is no doubt in my mind that he prayed for my ministry faithfully.
These two men of faith were different in every earthly way, but the one thing they shared made them more alike than not. They both loved Jesus and spent their lives getting to know Him more deeply by getting more deeply into Scripture. Both used their very different gifts to serve Jesus and others, and both are now having a great time on the golden streets of Heaven.