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FIRST-PERSON: For ‘scratch and win’ enjoyment,the lottery is a poor substitute

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Lottery promoters encourage us to “scratch and win,” so we queue up to buy those tickets bearing a smudge of scratchable matter over some “lucky” numbers. I’ve never bought one, but I suppose there’s a little buzz of anticipation, however unlikely the payoff.

Much more gratifying is the “scratch and win” you play when you initiate spiritual conversation. Folks have fascinating perspectives and stories to share if you’ll scratch the surface with some leading questions. And their answers open the way for evangelism, encouragement, counsel, and your own Christian education. Let me give some examples.

My youngest son and I caught a Bulls-Pacers game at Chicago’s United Center a few weeks ago. At halftime, I headed to a concession stand. Things were hectic for those workers dishing out popcorn, brats, beer and Coke. But when it came my turn at the counter, I found an oasis of congeniality.

The young black lady who took my order for nachos and soft drinks acted as though her whole purpose for coming out on that bitterly cold, snowy night was to make sure I got what I needed.

We laughed about my son’s interest in and my profound disdain for jalapenos. (I figure that, with their marginal taste and maximal pain, you could just as easily put a hot poker to your tongue, saving the cost of peppers.) She was generous with the cheese, apologetic when she misheard my Coke order, and amiable toward both me and her fellow workers.

I decided to venture the question, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?” She smiled and said one word, “Sanctified!” Well, Amen. I told her I was a preacher and that her Christian heart showed through. We exchanged only another sentence or two since there were others waiting.

That little “scratch” encouraged her in her Christian walk, deepened my conviction that regeneration shows up in the workplace and secured us a moment of Christian fellowship in the maelstrom of halftime vending.

A few weeks earlier, I found myself in a cab with an Asian driver. I asked him where he was from, and he said Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. We talked a little about the country’s name change, and then I asked him if he were Buddhist. He said he no, he was Christian, and I expressed some surprise.

He explained that he became a believer through the work established long ago by Adoniram Judson. It took me a minute to figure out what he was saying since they pronounce “Adoniram” differently.

I was flabbergasted, for both he and I were beneficiaries of the same man’s ministry. Judson and Rice were critical figures in the emergence of the Triennial Convention, from which came the Southern Baptist Convention. And here we were, 150 years later, he half a world from home, negotiating snowy streets, as strangers until now.

Then there was the Hispanic fellow on the train. I was standing in the vestibule when I spied the Bible he clutched in his hand and asked him about it. He was more than happy to pick up on my question. I discovered that he was a new believer from Kenosha, Wis. He started to talk about essentials of his Christian walk, and we got to “hold class” for the half-dozen folks around us.

One of the listeners proved to be a non-believer. She’d earlier overheard my question to the conductor about transfers from the north to the west line. I was making plans for some adjunct teaching in the western suburbs, trying to figure how to get there from Evanston. I was surprised to hear that she commuted daily from the west, so she knew the route perfectly.

We talked awhile, and then I asked her where she went to church. She said she didn’t go, even though her parents were strong Christians. I thought of their heartache and urged her to give things a fresh look. Nothing dramatic, but I hope it was a nudge from God through me.

And so it goes. People have interesting spiritual accounts, and it’s surprising how readily they’ll let you in on them. Once you hear them, you can pick up with whichever ministry suggests itself — or just fellowship with them in the Lord.

Scratch and win.
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other columns by Coppenger are posted at www.comeletusreason.com and www.listten.com.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger