Coronavirus or Sharing the Gospel: Which is More Scary?

Like many Christians who recognize the coronavirus needs and fears all around us, I’ve tried to put my faith into action. Shopping for elderly and immunocompromised people. Donating food, toilet paper, and wipes. Calling people isolated in their homes.

But then God challenged me to notice how white the fields are now.toilet paper

No. Not white with toilet paper. With something infinitely more precious.

White for harvest.

While a true Christian’s faith absolutely results in good works, God impressed upon me that my number-one responsibility during this coronavirus pandemic should be sharing the gospel with unbelievers, many of whom are terrified and indeed ripe for harvest.

In his book The Explicit Gospel, Matt Chandler states it like this,

“If we confuse the gospel with our response to the gospel, we risk drifting into actions that obscure the gospel instead of revealing it. At the end of the day, our hope is not that all the poor on earth will be fed…I’m not saying we shouldn’t feed and rescue the poor; I’m saying that salvation isn’t the same as having a full belly. Making people comfortable on earth before an eternity in hell is tragic.”

Blunt words, I know. However, I realized that my coronavirus response to the gospel—shopping, donating food, phone calls—isn’t the same as telling people the good news of Jesus. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

In other words, I need to do both—share the gospel as well as share disinfecting wipes.

But sharing the gospel is kind of scary. What if I offend someone or make them mad? I’m also super uncomfortable telling people that we are all sinners and should repent, and at times I’m tempted to skip that part. Or another biggie—what if they ask me a question, and I don’t know the answer? A friend once shared the gospel with someone who then asked, “Yeah, well, if God is so loving, why did he command the Israelites to kill their enemy’s little children?” What if that happens to me?

However, I surely don’t want to stand before God some day and tell him I was more afraid of sharing the gospel than I was of the coronavirus.

Matt Chandler writes,

“We will never be able to make Christianity so cool that everybody wants it. Yet this is precisely what we are tempted to do: cut off large swaths of the gospel to make it more palatable to the lost…Acts 2 highlights the fact that we simply have to tell people the truth of the gospel. There is freedom for us in this. We don’t have to explain the gospel perfectly, defend creationism, or argue the falsity of atheism. It’s great to have those abilities, but in the end it is God who opens hearts and minds. Our responsibility is to tell people. It’s as simple as that. That’s the power of the gospel.”

I read Acts 2. Peter pretty much preached a no-holds-barred gospel. And three thousand people came to faith.

So here’s my challenge to myself.

Stop dawdling, trust God, and preach on, sister!

Today’s social-distancing requirements make proclaiming the good news a little tougher, but I can be creative. Use social media. Write a blog. 🙂 Phone or use Zoom and talk about Jesus.

Moreover, I can prepare to share. Read and study his word every day, so it’s fresh in my mind. Pray for our big God to open doors and hearts. Ask him for wisdom and discernment to understand his timing and know the words to say.praying hands over Bible

Draw near to him.

After all, we don’t need to practice social distancing from God.

Have some ideas about how we can share the gospel in our social-distancing world? Write a comment and let me know!

God bless and stay safe,

 

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The Hundred-Dollar Angel

IMG_4116I don’t know his name; he declined to tell me when I asked. But last Tuesday, this special man helped me remember the true meaning of Christmas.

As you all know, I’m a part-time crossing guard. Every school-day morning and afternoon, I make sure that walking middle- and elementary-school students get safely across busy intersections. When one of  the kids or a passerby thanks me for doing what I do, I’m always humbled and grateful.

This man, however, thanked me in a way I’ll never forget.

While I was standing on the sidewalk, he pulled his car to the side of the road and rolled down the window. I thought he needed directions (Yes, in this age of GPS, people still ask me for directions.), so I peered at him through the passenger-side window and said hello.

He stuffed something into my hand and said, “For standing outside in the weather every day.”

I looked down and saw a tightly-folded bill—I  suspect he’d hoped to be gone before I had a chance to unfold it and see the denomination. But the fold loosened in my grip, revealing a “100” in the corner. My eyes widened and I leaned through the window. “I can’t take this; it’s too much!”

But with an embarrassed smile, he insisted.

I stared at him. “Who are you?”

I think the directness of my question caught him off guard, because he mumbled something about that not being important, waved good-bye, and sped away.

Back on the sidewalk, I wiped away tears. As I stood there, reflecting upon what this kind man had given me, I realized that although he’d handed me one gift—albeit a big one—he’d blessed me with so many more. He’d noticed little old me crossing kids every day and had sacrificed his time and treasure to make me feel appreciated. And amidst the frenzy of Christmas preparations, he reminded me to encourage the people who touch my own life—whether I’m acquainted with them or not.

My hundred-dollar angel inspired me to follow his example and let people know that I see them and care about them. Like our big God showed us, through Jesus.

 After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

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To you, my dear readers, may the wonder of our Savior’s birth fill your hearts with joy.

Merry Christmas!

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It’s a Chili Thanksgiving

IMG_4111 (3)For Thanksgiving this year, we’re having chili. Venison chili. A little weird, I know, but at least the turkey’s happy. For now…

Like many families with adult children, it’s a juggling act to get everyone together for a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, my son and his girlfriend showed up five minutes before I put the turkey on the table, and then an hour later they were off to her house for her family gathering. Ditto for my daughter and her fiancé. They didn’t even have time for dessert.

So this year, when my daughter announced that she and her husband were going to the Detroit Lions game on Thanksgiving Day—a family tradition on her husband’s side—I could already envision Thanksgiving dinner. My husband, youngest son, and father-in-law would help me carry bowls and platters from the kitchen, all filled with traditional Thanksgiving fare. I’d frown at the four empty chairs around the table and then start when my son and his girlfriend plowed through the door. And because they couldn’t stay long, we’d wolf down our meal while he and his girlfriend picked at theirs (since they had to tackle Thanksgiving Dinner #2 in a few hours). Again, they’d decline dessert, kiss us goodbye, and flit back out the door.

I love my husband and youngest son and father-in-law, but Thanksgiving should be a time when loved ones gather together. A time to talk and laugh and bask in the warmth of family. A time to thank God for His faithful provision and care. A time to stuff yourself silly, and when you can’t eat another bite, top it off with dessert.  A time to clean up the kitchen together, take a post-feast snooze on the couch, and then spend the rest of the afternoon in contented family tranquility. And when the shadows of dusk finally darken the windows, only then will everyone yawn and stretch and begin a lazy search for coats. They all leave with smiles, containers of leftovers, and the comfort of a full stomach and a day well spent.

Now that’s Thanksgiving.

So this year, I announced that we’d have our family Thanksgiving on November 29. A Friday Thanksgiving, when we could all be together without rushing or stressing or driving hither and yon.chili-con-carne-378952_1920

And on November 28, instead of sitting around the table and eating turkey, I, my husband, son, and father-in-law will sit around the TV, watching the Lions football game and eating chili. I won’t mind one bit waiting an extra day to celebrate Thanksgiving.

And I’m sure the turkey won’t mind waiting, either.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of you, my dear, dear readers. May our big God bless you with a wonderful and bountiful Thanksgiving!

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Wedding Chronicles Part II: The Dramatic…………….Pause

brideI had suggested to my daughter that, when her matron of honor and the best man took their places with the wedding party, she pause for a moment  before she began her walk up the aisle.

But this was ridiculous.

Time and my heart ticked away. After a minute had passed, I pivoted in my chair and tried to see over the rows of guests behind me as I told myself not to panic.

Where in the world was the bride?

wedding bells

I cast another questioning glance at the pastor, who stood up front. Since he had an unobstructed view down the aisle, he’d told me he would nod at me when the double doors to the reception hall opened, revealing my waiting daughter and husband. Then, as the mother of the bride, I would stand, which would signal the other guests to also rise, and my husband would escort the bride onto the manicured lawn and up the aisle to the breathless groom.

But instead of a nod, the pastor made a patting motion with his palm to the ground, telling me to remain seated.

I bit my lip and came to a decision. If another minute passed without a trace of the blushing bride, I’d hike up the hem of my floor-length dress, jog down the aisle, and plow through those double doors to see what was wrong. While the instrumental music continued to play and I continued to fidget, my mind raced through possible reasons for the delay.

Runaway bride?

No way. I’d never seen anyone so excited to get married. All day long, my daughter had been bouncing and laughing. Her hair was perfect, her make-up flawless. After the florist delivered her flowers to the bridal suite, I’d watched her finger her bouquet and coo about how lovely the burgundy flowers wrapped in a rose-gold bow would look with her bridal gown. That girl couldn’t wait to walk up the aisle—not only to marry to the man she loved, but also so she could feel like a princess. 

Was it my fault?

Maybe she’d misunderstood what I’d told her at the wedding rehearsal the previous evening. “Remember, you’re the bride,” I’d said. “Everyone’s going to be craning their necks to catch that first glimpse of you walking up the aisle, so don’t be afraid to pause before you open those double doors. You know, to build up the suspense.”

I’d only meant for her to wait ten or fifteen seconds after the matron of honor and best man took their places up front. But maybe she was standing behind those doors, hanging onto my husband’s arm, and telling him, “Wait! Wait! I’m building suspense here!”

I looked at the pastor again. Still no nod.

Then I realized the instrumental music was still playing, and it occurred to me. Could the D.J. be the problem?

“I know exactly what song I want at my wedding,” my daughter had told me a week after her engagement. “I’ve dreamed of going up the aisle to this song. It’s perfect!” She had it all planned out. Her fiancé’s mother, I, and the bridal party, would come up the aisle to the piano-and-strings-instrumental version of her song. Then, the D.J. would segue into the version where the artist sings.

“When the first verse begins, that’s when I start up the aisle.” My daughter pointed a finger at me. “And I’m not moving until I hear the singing begin.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “It’ll be so great.”

Since the instrumental version was still playing, I now imagined my daughter standing behind those double doors and ignoring my husband’s pleas that it was time to go. She’d have her arms crossed and her lips pursed. “I’m supposed to walk up the aisle to the first verse, and I absolutely, positively refuse to budge until I hear some singing!”

But whatever the reason, another minute had come and gone; it was time to do something. I took a deep breath, turned to the pastor to indicate that I was going to check on the bride…

And saw him nod.

I sprang to my feet and spun to face the back. Finally, standing in the open double doors, were my beaming husband and daughter.

Right on cue, the artist began singing. The other guests stood, and we all watched my husband escort my beautiful daughter up the aisle to her patient fiancé. Before God and us, they became man and wife, and we applauded when the new husband kiss his bride.

After my husband and I followed the bridal party down the aisle, he squeezed my arm. “Know what took so long?”

He chuckled and shook his head. “So the last of the wedding party goes out. The doors close, and we’re standing there with the event coordinator. The event coordinator is getting ready to open the double doors again and says, ‘Ready?’ After we both answer ‘Yes!’ the event coordinator smiles at our daughter and then gets this funny look on her face. And she asks, ‘Where is your bouquet?’ “

The princess had forgotten her flowers in the bridal suite.wedding bouquet clipart

While my daughter wrung her hands and my husband kept her calm, the event coordinator took instant action. In a sprint that would have impressed Usain Bolt (particularly because she was wearing a skirt and dress shoes), she raced across the reception room, through the long hallway, and down the stairs to the lower level. At the door to the locked bridal suite, she whipped out keys like an Old-West gunslinger, unlocked the door, and grabbed the bouquet. Then she relocked the door and scampered back up the stairs, through the hallway and reception room, and finally delivered the bouquet to the relieved and grateful bride. Without pausing to catch her breath, the event coordinator yanked open the double doors, gave the bride a panting grin, and watched my daughter begin the journey up the aisle—one hand on her father’s arm, one hand clutching her bouquet—to a new and wonderful life.

wedding couple with heart

What does this story have to do with our big God? Well, we were blessed with a caring (and fast!) event coordinator. Also, thanks to “The Dramatic Pause,” my daughter’s walk up the aisle was definitely memorable. And she did indeed look like a princess. 

Besides, I think we made God laugh.

wedding bouquet

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Wedding Chronicles Part I: The Wedding Decorator

IMG_4111 - Copy - CopyAll summer, people have asked, “I haven’t seen a new post in ages—did you quit blogging?”

No, dear readers, I haven’t stopped blogging. I just couldn’t find my computer under the reams of deco mesh, miles of glitter ribbon and wire, umpteen flowers and vases and beads, stacks of sparkly paper, cans of spray paint, bottles of glitter, and sequined table cloths and table runners.

You see, two weeks ago, my only daughter got married.

And I was her wedding decorator.

When my daughter got engaged last July, I rubbed my hands together and announced, “I’ll do all the decorations!” After all, I’m a creative sort, and with a little ingenuity and a lot of Pinterest scoping, I was certain I could custom make exactly what my daughter wanted for center pieces, table numbers, head table decorations, etc…

But before we decided on colors, we hit the bridal shops. At one, she tried on a champagne gown with rose gold embroidery.

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“This is it!” My daughter twirled and beamed into the mirror. “This is my wedding dress.”Wedding dress

She was right. The dress was unique. Breathtaking. And my daughter looked gorgeous in it.

I hugged her and examined the dress. “We could decorate in champagne. Oh, and rose gold!” I was getting even more excited now. I love rose gold and couldn’t wait to see my daughter and her new husband surrounded by glittering rose gold decorations.

When my daughter decided that her bridesmaids should wear burgundy, we had her colors.

Champagne. Rose gold. Burgundy. 

From October to May, I stuffed my storage space with box after box of champagne, rose gold, and burgundy decorating items. I fiddled with decorating ideas for the ceremony; table centerpieces; table numbers; head, cake, gift, and afterglow table decorations; bathroom decorations. In mid June, after my daughter’s bridal shower, I spent the next two-and-a-half months assembling the decorations, praying that my efforts would help make her wedding even lovelier.

But even with my decorations, for the wedding to be everything we’d dreamed it would be, we also needed to pray for a rain-free day.

Because the marriage ceremony and the first hour of the reception were outside.

I’d envisioned it a thousand times. Guests seated on pristine white chair and gawking at the  gorgeous scenery around them. Then my daughter, escorted by my husband, would walk up the aisle between the bows I’d tied to each ceremony end chair, facing the center wedding bow 2aisle. They were double bows—a large bow made of rose gold deco mesh overlaid with a smaller bow made of rose gold glitter ribbon. The ends brushed the ground, and in the center I’d placed a single flower. In the shining sun, they would sparkle with brilliance, their radiance second only to the beautiful young woman gliding past, champagne train trailing behind her, her smiling eyes focused on her breathless fiancé ahead.

She and her fiancé would then say their vows to each other while the sun’s reflection twinkled on the lake behind them. When the ceremony finished, the photographer would lead  the wedding party through the grounds and take pictures while guests mingled on the manicured lawn and helped themselves to drinks from the outdoor bar and h’ours derves served by white-gloved waiters. After the photographer took a sunset picture of the new bride and groom, the indoor reception would begin. 

I could plan beautiful decorations for my daughter’s wedding. But I couldn’t plan the weather.

That was God’s territory.

A mid-September day in Michigan could mean anything—excessive heat, freezing rain, biting wind, hair-curling humidity. At first, I prayed simply for a rain-free day. God, please, just a nice day, so my daughter can have that dream outdoor wedding. If you want it to be ninety-five degrees or thirty-five degrees, that’s okay. Just no rain, Lord. No rain.

Then it dawned on me.

What a wimpy prayer.

Our big God isn’t a wimpy God, so why was I praying like he was? Like He wasn’t capable of bestowing an all-around glorious day, or that His love for me was so shallow that I could only ask Him for the bare minimum instead of the desire of my heart? His word did say:

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

I didn’t want a thirty-five degree rain-free day or a ninety-five degree rain-free day. I wanted a soft, warm, gentle rain-free day. Not for selfish reasons, but for my family and guests and future son-in-law. And mostly for my daughter. I wanted my bows to shimmer for her pleasure as she took that once-in-a-lifetime walk up the aisle. I wanted her to be comfortable and happy, basking in the warmth of family and friends and the love shining from the eyes of the young man in front of her. 

So I went boldly to the throne and prayed for a gorgeous day.

And guess what?IMG_5223

It was.

My prayer for my lovely daughter and her new husband,IMG_5215 - Copy

May you have the confident assurance and trust in our mighty and loving God to always go boldly to his throne of grace. And may your marriage be like the weather He gave you on your wedding day—warm, soft, sweet, and free of rain, His face shining upon you like the sun.

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You Bet Your Straw Bales He Does

“Have any ideas where I can get straw to cover this?” my husband asked.

I was standing on our deck and watching my husband fling handfuls of grass seed over the topsoil we’d just spread where our pool used to be. And where our pickup truck and trailer, which he’d used to haul the topsoil to the backyard, had left deep ruts in the soft April soil.

I looked down at him. “Don’t you think we should’ve found straw before you seeded?”

“Probably,” he said. “Too late now.”

I racked my brain for a place to get straw bales and came up clueless. In the fall, all the local farm stands had straw. And sometimes farmers parked their hay wagons along the side of the road and sold bales of straw and hay. But now, in April?

He finished raking the grass seed into the soil and smiled up at me. “How about a walk in town?”

partly cloudy

It was seventy degrees outside, and we needed to enjoy the nice weather while it lasted, especially since I’d heard the “S” word in the forecast for Wednesday. (And by the “S” word I mean “Snow.”) We piled into the jeep—our old boxer in the back and us in front. As we backed out of the driveway, my husband punched numbers into his phone. “I’ll call Tractor Supply, see if they have straw or hay.”

Sure, they had hay. Little bags of it in the pet section, where we’d purchased them on occasion for our rabbits. I added up how much it would cost to buy enough to cover the large areas of planted grass and was about to protest when his phone emitted the tone which indicates the user misdialed.

“I’ll try again later,” my husband said.

While he drove, I tried to swallow my irritation. I’d worked hard all week, and all I wanted to do today was take a stroll and then plonk down on the couch with a good book. But instead, I could kiss my relaxing day good-bye. Tractor Supply wouldn’t have straw bales, so we’d drive all over creation in search of a nice farmer who would sell us some. When that didn’t work, we’d end up buying a gazillion little bags of hay from the pet section. It would cost a fortune. And my day would be shot.

A few minutes later, we parked in town. I put a leash on the dog, stepped onto the sidewalk, and stopped short.

By the curb, two houses from where we’d parked, I saw three bales of straw. I grabbed my husband’s arm and tugged him to the bales. “Okay. This is totally a God thing. Someone’s getting rid of their fall decorations.”

My husband wasn’t so sure about the God thing. “They probably unloaded them there and using them later. Bales of straw

“Look, they’re old. They have black spots on the sides,” I told him. “Why don’t we ask the people who live here if we can take some.”

“Maybe, if they’re still here after our walk…”

I gawked at him. I’m a person of immediate action. Plus, I’m super competitive. Those were now our bales of straw. God gave them to us. No one, and I mean no one, was getting his mitts on them before we did.

I gave my husband a little push toward the driveway. “The owners are sitting by the porch. Go ask. The worst they can say is ‘no,’ and you feel like a dork.”

He sighed and then shuffled down the driveway. A minute later, he came back and shrugged. “You were right, they said take as many as we want.”

I stood with our dog as my husband pulled up the jeep and began loading the bales inside. And I thought about God. I hadn’t even prayed yet about finding straw bales, but here they were, sitting on the curb, right where we’d parked. Sure, I was thankful that the straw was free. And I was beyond thrilled that we’d no longer need to spend hours tracking down a nice farmer or spreading the contents of a gazillion little hay bags over the grass seed.

But God was showing me something. And I knew what it was.

This last year or so has been full of struggles. Rejection—lots of rejection. And lots of waiting. Heartbreaking loss. Fading dreams. Bewilderment. Feeling useless and lost. Trying to bloom where I’m planted and not doing a very good job of it. Wondering why God’s will seems so muddled.

holding Bible

With both hands, I’ve been clinging to God’s promise that He’ll never leave me or forsake me. But sometimes I’ve felt doubt loosening my fingers, one by one. And when that happens, God had sent me reminders that His eye is upon me. The perfect verse-of -the-day on my Bible app. A phrase in the message at church. A friend reaching out. A pink and orange-painted sunrise. A smile from a stranger. A kiss from a loved one. Peace wrapping around me like a blanket, still warm from the dryer, when I least expect it.

So the next time I feel doubt creeping in and question whether God sees me, I know what I’ll tell myself:

You bet your straw bales He does.

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My Crossing Guard

“Did you just wake up?” my daughter asked after I’d croaked a late-morning “hello” into my phone.

“I’ve been awake since six-thirty this morning” I said in a scratchy voice. I cleared my throat several times and tried again. “I just haven’t talked to anyone today, except the dog.”

After I hung up, I realized I’d been hearing the same question from other people who called during the day. Or sometimes they’d  ask if I’m sick. And I guess I couldn’t blame them for wondering. After all, my normal daily routine consisted of waking up at 6:30 a.m., praying, reading my Bible, eating breakfast, writing, having lunch, then more writing until it was time to make dinner. I didn’t need my voice to do any of those things, and often the first time I’d talk was when someone called or my husband came home from work.winnie listening

Unless, of course, you count the dog.

So when our school district began seeking a crossing guard for the elementary and middle-school students who walk to school, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I have the opportunity to serve children by helping them across busy intersections, but I’d interact with them too. Plus, the hours were perfect—one early morning and one afternoon shift each day. During the six-hour gap, I could continue writing.

I now spend my mornings and afternoons chatting with delightful children, parents, joggers, walkers, bus drivers, high schoolers. I don a bright-orange reflective vest and wield a red-flashing stop sign. Not sure what the middle schoolers think about the sign, but the elementary kids think it’s super cool.

The job is a lot of fun, but it’s serious business too, especially in the mornings when students are walking to school in the dark. Therefore, when I’m crossing children, the first rule is this:

I go before they go.

intersectionWhile the child stands a few feet behind the curb, I raise my super-cool, red-flashing stop sign and enter the street just in front of the crosswalk line closest to the intersection. I hold up my free hand to the drivers on my left, and with my palm facing them in a “stop” position, I make eye contact with them until they stop. I then face the intersection, walk half-way across the road, stop in the center, and make eye contact with oncoming drivers, including those turning into the intersection.crossing guard

After I’m certain that all drivers see me and remain stopped, I turn my head toward the children and tell them it’s safe to cross. Again, I make sure I remain before them. When they step into the street, I remind them to walk behind me, not in front of me, so I can continue scanning traffic and protect them.  Only when the children step onto the opposite sidewalk, safe and sound, do I return back to the curb.

God has used my new job to give me fresh insight into the meaning of Deuteronomy 31:8.

“…The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (NIV)

In other words, God is my crossing guard.

When I’m facing problems or fears or uncertainty—life intersections filled with heavy, confusing, overwhelming traffic obscured by darkness—he promises that he will go before me into the fray.

intersection busy

After God tells me it’s safe to cross, I don’t need to be afraid to step off the curb or discouraged by the obstacles I see. He assures me that he will protect me, guide me, keep me from harm not only when my foot touches the street but as I travel the entire journey through that crosswalk. And when I reach the other side, grateful for his everlasting presence, I’ll feel his eyes upon me while I continue my walk toward home.

And when I encounter the next intersection, I can trust that he’ll be waiting.

Ready to go before me again.

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