It’s Thursday, but Sunday’s Coming

The title of this post is a spin-off of S. M. Lockridge’s sermon “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” In that sermon, Pastor Lockridge is encouraging those who are discouraged by the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion to look forward to Sunday. Because on Sunday, everything is different. In this post, I also want to challenge you to look toward Sunday, but for a different reason. But, before looking forward, let’s look backward.

How was church yesterday? is a common Monday morning question among Christian friends who attend different churches. Typically, what is meant by this question relates to how much that particular individual enjoyed his or her morning at church. It may solicit an evaluation of the sermon, the music, the crowd size, the fellowship, or even the temperature in the building.

I want to look at the question from a different angle. How was church yesterday (or last Sunday) for the visitor who didn’t know anybody there? The new person in town who was invited by the highway billboard that promised “A welcoming and friendly atmosphere.” The lonely person who responded to the 30-second television advertisement with b-roll clips of people happily engaged with others as the soothing voice described the warm fellowship that happens at your church. The one who found your church on a Google search. A Google search done not so much out of interest, but desperation because of his/her life is caving in?

Regarding the experience of visitors many church consultants think in terms of convenience. Here’s a list of focus points provided by Jayson D. Bradley (sponsored by Pushpay):

  1. Signage
  2. Presentation software
  3. Giving software
  4. Service planning software
  5. A plan for capturing visitor’s contact information.

All of those certainly have value. However, that list has a glaring deficiency. What is missing? The personal touch from real people. And here, I don’t mean the happy people dressed in logo shirts standing next to the entrance. I mean regular members … the people who show up week after week, but aren’t on the Impressions Team. The regular people.

Let’s go back to that visitor’s experience at your church. Did that person feel the warmth that others describe as the normal experience at church? Did anyone express a genuine interest in that person? Or, did you pass them in the hallway as you raced to see your friends? This scene is all too common in churches today. Friends huddled together, fellowshipping with each other as visitors try to find their way in this new environment. Sometimes those visitors are committed Christians who are seeking a new church and basically know the lay of the land. In other cases, the new person may be uninitiated in all things church and are simply looking for God. If that person wanders into your church, what will they experience? Will they walk away saying, “No one was interested in me.”

It’s Thursday, but Sunday’s coming. Looking toward Sunday: How can you help visitors experience what the advertisements say they will find at church? People – even “uninteresting” people – are interesting … if you slow down and talk with them. Everybody has a story. Who – that you didn’t already know – did you initiate a meaningful conversation with in the last month?

This Sunday, will you commit to finding someone you don’t know and start a conversation with them? I don’t mean the “Hi! My name is Craig, it’s nice to have you today” then spin on my heels and walk-away conversation. I mean the conversation that attempts to know them in some meaningful way. The conversation that recognizes them as people, not as a cog in the evangelical church wheel.

You can’t have a conversation about Jesus unless … you have a conversation. #TalkToSomeoneThisSunday

My New Friend

Last week while passing a lumber yard, I noticed a man sorting through what appeared to be clean discards. I hadn’t noticed that before, so I wasn’t sure what I had seen. With my curiosity piqued and my hoarder tendencies activated, I made my way safely into the turn lane, then backed up 50 yards or so to investigate more closely. I rolled my window down as I backed into the entrance, then asked the man, “Is that give-away lumber?” “Yes,” he responded about the time I saw the spray painted “FREE” sign in front of the rack of miscellaneous pieces of lumber. As he looked up, he said, “I’ve got lots of ideas for this wood.” That fueled my interests more, and the possibilities started to race through my brain as I clumsily tried to push pause on the Ted Talk on reducing clutter in my life that was emanating from my phone. Reducing clutter had suddenly become less important in the presence of a treasure trove of possibilities residing in that stack of free lumber pieces.

As I approached the stack, I found myself in the midst of a mental and emotional battle: On the one hand, even though I had no intended purpose for the lumber, it was there. And. It. Was. Free. On the other hand, I had listened to several Ted Talks that morning that focused on organizing my life by simplifying, which included reducing clutter and stuff that I don’t need. Should I or shouldn’t I? Yes! No! I don’t know!

In an effort to find reprieve from the “yes/no” battle going on in my head and heart, I offered to help the man get his lumber into his car. To his objection, I grabbed all his wood and said, “I’ll get this, you open the back.” As I looked back, I noticed that he was noticeably dragging his right foot. His hat said “US Army Disabled Veteran” so I thanked him for his service and used that as conversation starter, which is one of the tips for engaging with others that I teach my classes. However, while we continued with the small talk, my mind kept returning to the free wood. Should I take some or not?

During our conversation, the man struggled to remember common information. For example, when I asked where he is from, he immediately said, “California.” However, as he continued to tell me that his wife was from Missouri, he struggled to remember the city. “She’s from … just a second. She’s from … uh … uh … uh … it starts with a B. She’s from Bri___ no, that’s not it. Sorry, I can’t remember the name of the town.” As he tried to remember the name of his wife’s home town he even tried to spell it out with his finger in the air, but it never came to him. Then, he apologized again for not being able to remember the city before he confessed something really personal. “Listen, I had a stroke recently and I … uh … uh … uh …,” he said as he motioned around his head with his finger. I helped him finish his thought, “And things aren’t always connecting.” “Yes. Things aren’t always connecting.”

Then he asked me, “Are … you … uh … are you … uh … a … Christian?” In that moment, I noted something really important. My new friend who had just confessed that “things aren’t always connecting” in his brain because of the stroke, had not lost his heart concern that others know his savior. It would have been easier to let it slide and simply hope the best for me. Or, not to even think about me again. Who could blame him. He had suffered a stroke, after all. But, Christ matters.

I’ve thought much about this encounter in these intervening days. I’m thankful for a real example to share with my students. I’m also thankful for a real example to remind myself about the priorities in my own life.

I’m thankful someone cared about me. Note to self: Now, go and do likewise.

A Golden Outcome

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Proverbs 25:12 ESV

The writer mentions two parties in this verse, the speaker and the listener, and both have an important part in the relationship.

The speaker is described as wise, and his words are corrective. And, though it is not stated specifically the speaker has a willingness to engage another who, given the context, is not doing something correctly. Thus, we could summarize the speaker’s qualities as wisdom and willingness.

In a similar way, the listener demonstrates a willingness to be engaged and corrected by another person, which demonstrates his own wisdom. We can say this with confidence, though it is not explicitly mentioned in this verse, because elsewhere in Proverbs, such a person is described as wise. For example, 10:1 says, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction ….”

The word picture used to illustrate these two people is a gold ring or a gold ornament. These items are used to add value or enhance someone or something else. Thus, the wise reprover adds value to the wise listener. In other words, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

Questions:

1. In what way are you preparing yourself to be a wise reprover? How do you build your credibility to offer reproof to another person.

2. Do you have a listening ear, one that accepts correction? When was the last time you received correction/instruction from another person? Did you receive that correction happily or begrudgingly? In what way can you improve in this area?

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #1

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent One, a male from Bethlehem. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 298-300.

Respondent One – male – Bethlehem

Respondent One was raised in a traditional Muslim home that was not religiously active, which created a general lack of interest in religious issues that was compounded by his negative experience both with religious Muslims and orthodox Christians in the Bethlehem area. One thing he was certain of was that he did not like the Christians; “They didn’t care about the Muslims, only themselves,” he said.

About ten years prior to our interview while living in Bethlehem, he started working in Jerusalem and met a “Jewish woman who believes in Jesus.” She was friendly and began to talk with him about spiritual things. At first he was not interested in such discussions, but because she seemed genuinely interested in him as a person and also “loved Jesus very much” he was provoked to continue the conversations and to begin reading the Arabic Bible at home.

He read the Bible side by side with the Qur’an to see where they agreed or disagreed. In his studies he began to notice some problems in the Qur’an, particularly what he described as “logical problems and errors.” It is important to note that his personal studies were not guided studies; he simply read and compared both texts.

As questions about Islam and the integrity of the Qur’an began to mount, he started to attend a Hebrew language Bible study in West Jerusalem. At the Bible study he learned more and began to see “how the Bible fit together much better than the Qur’an.” The topics of study in the Bible study were the books of Genesis and Daniel. As he continued to read and study the Bible he began to sense a confidence in what he was reading, and he concluded that, “Faith is the natural outcome of honestly reading the Bible.”

The evangelistic stage lasted about three years, when finally, “all the pieces were in place” and he “believed that Jesus is God who died for [his] sins.”

Shortly after coming to faith, he arranged to be baptized a couple of times by different Arab pastors, but for various reasons the pastors backed out. Finally, the Jewish pastor, whose Bible studies the respondent had been attending for three years, baptized him in West Jerusalem. The respondent’s family – wife and five children – witnessed his baptism.

Two days after his baptism, the respondent had a dream in which appeared a man with a glowing face dressed in white. The man told him two things: “You are on the right path, continue on” and “You need to tell others about your faith, don’t stop.” In his mind, this dream served two purposes: To confirm his conclusions about Jesus and to give him a “calling” for his life.

The respondent has spent the last seven years learning more about Jesus and telling all who will listen. His witness has been effective in about fifteen others coming to faith in Jesus. He doesn’t have a planned approach to evangelism, he “just starts talking about Jesus” to people as he visits their homes. His approach is to speak highly of Jesus and encourage others to read the Bible, which he assumes, will be as effective for them as it was for him. Along with printed Bibles he also distributes mp3 players loaded with audio Bibles and other Christian literature.

His conversion resulted in tensions with his family. The respondent’s conversion to Christianity has been an open topic amongst his family – wife, children and siblings – all of whom have remained Muslims. Soon after his conversion, he told his wife that she could choose to let him stay at home or send him away. “But,” he added, “whatever you choose, I will always follow Jesus and tell others about him.”

His evangelistic efforts have also created tensions in his village and problems for him personally. He said that he was arrested, incarcerated, and beaten by Palestinian Authority police because he “would not stop telling others about Jesus.” According to his testimony, telling others about Jesus “is the red line for the Palestinian Authority.” He is currently in exile due to threats on his life as a result of his evangelistic efforts. In this case, exile means that he does not live with his family. Instead, he moves about from host to host – both in the PA and Israel – staying a day here, a few days there, perhaps a week somewhere else.

The respondent said that the most important things for his conversion were Bible reading and an openness to listen. And he added that the latter was definitely the result of Christians showing a true interest in him as a person and being very patient with his questions. Arabic language Christian programs on satellite television also were helpful in building and maturing his faith, as has been his continued contact with believers in Jerusalem.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, formal Bible studies, the Qur’an vs. the Bible, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, and dreams.

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #2

Am I a bad professor if . . .

Am I a bad professor if I let a student sleep through the last half of class? If you answered no, would your answer change if you knew that I also allowed the rest of the students (their idea, not mine) to quietly exit the class and leave the student to sleep through lunch?

My daughter thought I owed the student a lunch. I disagreed. My initial thought was if a person is paying $250 per credit hour and sleeps through the class, they must need some sleep . . . so, let them sleep. Is that wrong?