NOTE: I want to thank Shane Bennett, Ryan Denison, and Mark Legg for their outstanding work in writing the Daily Article last week while I was traveling with my wife. I am honored to share this ministry with them and excited to return to writing this week.
We might not expect a typical garage sale to make the Washington Post. But what happened recently in Arlington, Virginia, was anything but typical.
Susan Thompson-Gaines recently staged her third annual “Kindness Yard Sale” outside her home. The two-day event was a “kindness” sale in two ways. One: You could pay whatever you chose for any item; if you wanted to hand over $5 for twenty dresses or $10 for a bike, she simply thanked you. Two: She will spend the money not on herself but to help others.
After last year’s sale, she and her husband threw a virtual beach party for a group of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, kept an outdoor pantry filled with food, and added coffee pods to a teacher’s lounge. They also helped 111 neighborhood children write letters to Santa; Thompson-Gaines then wrote each child a personalized letter from Santa and gave them a wrapped present under a tree adorned with ornaments from people across the neighborhood.
This year’s sale raised more than $11,000. People across the next year will be helped by her remarkable kindness as a result.
My recent travels in Vermont
What Susan Thompson-Gaines does with her “Kindness Yard Sale” is both extraordinary and ordinary. She touches hundreds if not thousands of lives with her unusual generosity, but her yard sale is something nearly anyone with a yard could do. It requires no advanced degrees, special skills, political influence, or financial wealth.
She typifies the best of humanity. And that’s my paradoxical point today.
I am writing after spending last week with Janet in Vermont. We had always wanted to see this beautiful state in the fall, and our experiences exceeded our expectations. The mountains are majestic, the changing leaves are magical, the small towns (many are called “villages”) are quaint and picturesque, and the people are hardworking and welcoming.
And yet, surrounded by such reminders of God’s creative genius and grace, the vast majority are apparently oblivious to his presence and power. World Population Review ranks Vermont as the third-least religious state in the US, one percentage point ahead of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. According to Baptist leaders, 97 percent of the state’s population is unreached with the gospel.
The people we met appear to be doing the best they can to be the best they can. So far as many seem to know, that’s the best anyone can do.
But that’s not good enough.
Funeral services for Gabby Petito
Funeral services were held yesterday afternoon for Gabby Petito as the manhunt for her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, continues this morning. (For more on this tragic story, see Mark Legg’s excellent article, “Gabby Petito and the search for perfect justice.”)
In other news, investigators arrived last night at the scene of Sunday’s deadly Amtrak derailment in Montana that killed three people and left seven hospitalized. A mother and her two-year-old son died Saturday after falling from the upper deck at Petco Park before the San Diego Padres’ baseball game. The day before, a school bus driver was fatally stabbed in front of students after picking them up from a Washington state elementary school; more information is expected to be released today.
A study published today by Oxford University shows that the life expectancy of American men decreased by two years during the pandemic. A recent salmonella outbreak has more than doubled in infections in over a week. And the US in 2020 experienced the biggest rise in murder since the start of national record-keeping in 1960, according to previews of a report to be issued later today by the FBI.
Here’s what these stories obviously have in common: they illustrate our undeniable mortality. Whether we hold kindness yard sales or commit homicides, the Greek playwright Euripides (died 406 BC) was right: “Death is a debt all mortals must pay, and no man knows for certain whether he will still be living on the morrow” (Alcestis 1:783-4).
Meeting a man who is spiritual but not religious
One reason Christians know everyone needs Christ is that we know everyone needs a Savior. We remember what Jesus said of himself: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). And we know that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life [through saving faith in Christ], he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
However, most of the unreached people in Vermont, Texas, or anywhere else in our secular culture apparently do not know or believe these biblical facts. If they believe in heaven at all, they believe that their good works are good enough to earn their place in it.
Last week, Janet and I were on a history tour where our speaker confidently told our group that he is “spiritual” and highly committed to living with integrity but has no personal religious commitment. He was apparently untroubled by any concern that he would spend eternity separated from God in hell as a result.
How can we help such people see their need for Jesus?
"They had been with Jesus"
We’ll continue this conversation tomorrow. For today, let’s close with this fact: all people are created by God with a “Christ-shaped emptiness” (paraphrasing Pascal), whether they know it or not. When lost people meet Christians in whose lives Christ is active, empowering, gracious, and compelling, what they are missing draws them to the only One who can satisfy the deep hunger of their souls.
When the religious authorities “saw the boldness of Peter and John ... they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Will the people you meet today say the same of you?
Publication date: September 27, 2021
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Pamela D McAdams
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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