Monday, November 12, 2007

The odds are against you

Massachusetts may soon approve casinos, to add to other forms of gambling already operating in the Commonwealth. Why do Christians believe gambling is a sin? What’s so wrong with games of chance? Isn’t gambling a harmless recreation? What’s so bad about spending a few dollars on some scratch tickets, betting on horses or spending the day at a casino?

First off, gamblers pick their own pockets. I firmly believe that if every high school student was required to take a course in statistics and probability, they’d realize just how the odds are against them. It’s an irresponsible risk. The lottery is a tax on people who failed math. For example, you’ve got a greater chance of having quadruplets or being struck by lighting, or being in a plane crash than winning the average state lottery. A family was driving by the Wonderland greyhound track and the young daughter asked what went on there. The father explained, “It’s a place where people go to race dogs.” The young girl said, “I bet the dogs always win.” It’s been noted that, “Horse sense is what keeps horses from betting on what people will do” (Oscar Wilde). The way to come away from a casino with a small fortune is to go there with a large one.

The gangster casinos of Los Vegas used to be dimly lit and sleazy; the new, corporate casinos have a theme-park atmosphere that masquerades as good clean fun, while overlooking the human misery of gamblers with grim faces who squander their hard-earned money. Casinos are a scavenger industry relying on the milking of existing wealth than on the manufacturing of anything productive.

But the statistical likelihood of losing is not why Christians deem gambling a vice. The core of gambling is the thrill of getting something you didn’t earn. People talk of “making a killing” which usually means they got more than they deserved. Gambling is taking from someone else. If we’re playing poker, I’m hoping to take your hard-earned money. Gambling feeds off the sin of greed and the love of money which is the root of all evil. Greed wants to have what someone else has earned. Gambling discourages honest labor, it violates thrift, and the principle of fair play with reward for effort. Money won in gambling comes from other players, including many who can’t afford to gamble. In any bet there is a fool and a thief. Proverbs 14:23 tells us, “In all labor there is profit, but idle talk leads only to poverty.” Profit should come through productive effort, not by chance.

Gambling squanders our God-given resources. I’ve heard people object, “I’ve got a right to throw away my money gambling.” The Bible is clear that our wealth is not our own. All that we have comes from God, and we’re responsible for how we use our wealth. This is God’s money we’re squandering, and other people’s money we’re coveting. If you enjoy games, there are plenty that don’t involve gambling.

Gamblers rely on luck, which is a non-Christian, pagan concept, making gambling a substitute religion and a kind of idolatry. “Luck” has no place in any Christian’s vocabulary. We are never “lucky”; we’re “blessed.” There’s a big difference. Luck is an impersonal force, whereas we trust in a very personal God who has a plan for our lives. There is no chance in Providence. In God we trust, not in luck.

Many people get addicted to gambling. When we think of addictions, we tend to think of substance abuse, but activities can also become addictive. People get addicted to gambling the same way they get hooked on drugs. Gamblers get a kind of “high”. Eventually they become enslaved. Signs of gambling addiction include: borrowing money or selling personal items to finance one’s habit, gambling to escape stress, gambling till one’s last dollar is gone, and gambling hurting one’s family, one’s job, one’s reputation. Also the suicide rate among gamblers is 150% higher than the general population.

I attended a church that condemned card-playing, and I confess I often played cards with my friends…but we never gambled. We played to win, but not to win money. We just enjoyed what was for us a harmless game. I know some Christians who can’t play solitaire without feeling guilty. When I was in high school I had the part of Professor Harold Hill in the musical The Music Man, who gets the townsfolk of River City all worked up over the pool hall: “You got trouble--with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool!” Like cards, pool can be associated with gambling, but it can also be enjoyed apart from betting. Obviously some people will bet on anything.

When I was a child, my dad, an Army Warrant Officer, got orders for Germany. We sailed across the Atlantic on a military transport ship--not exactly a luxury liner, but there were certain amenities. One night we played bingo, and I came within one square of winning fifty dollars. Just when I thought for sure I’d win, with only one square left, someone yelled “Bingo!” I was crushed. Years later it dawned on me that the only worse thing that could’ve happened would have been to win. I got burned at an early age and never gambled again.

A while back I expressed my convictions about gambling at a Bible study I conduct at the Senior Center. I mentioned how I received some scratch tickets as a gift and because I’m opposed to gambling, I threw them away. Someone in the classed asked, “Pastor Bob, where did you throw them?”

I think the secular world regards Christians as Puritanical, in the worst sense of the word. They see us as people who wouldn’t think of committing recreation; they think we’re against all pleasure. They’ve got it all wrong. There are many leisure activities that help us recharge our batteries. All work and no play is a recipe for burn-out. I’m not against all forms of entertainment, but we need to choose wisely how we use our free time. We need to find recreation that builds us up not tears us down. I’m grateful I took up kayaking; I get so much out of paddling down a river. How do you utilize your free time? Let’s see our material resources as gifts from God and let’s trust Him to use our assets wisely, for our good and for His glory and praise.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Explaining Christ & salvation to children

Children can respond to the Good News but need it to be explained with simple language. They don’t understand the religious terminology adults use, and if their acceptance is based on a superficial grasp of doctrine, or fear of punishment, or desire for reward, or peer pressure, or to please a parent or teacher, they may feel the need to receive Christ repeatedly.

Children need to understand 5 things:

What sin is…choosing to do wrong
Who Jesus is…God’s Son, who loves us
We don’t have to earn/deserve His love
Jesus died to take our punishment
When we trust Jesus we become His children forever

God wants to forgive all who want forgiveness. He promises that all who believe in Jesus are part of God’s family and will have everlasting life in Heaven. Explain that God loves us and wants us to be part of His family forever; that means when we die, we will go to be with God, and while we’re alive, He helps us every day.

Object lessons are popular but young children think concretely and symbolism is often abstract to them. It is better to tell Bible stories and relate them to life. For example:

Jesus talking with Nicodemus, John 3
Jesus talking with the woman at the well, John 4
Paul and Silas telling a jailer about Jesus, Acts 16

Ask them to tell in their own words what they think the stories mean. Ask if they understand why Jesus died, what a person needs to do to become a Christian, what it means to believe.

When quoting Scripture to children, use a modern translation appropriate for the age group, such as the NIrV (New International Readers Version) or NLT (New Living Translation). Find out if the child has a modern language Bible, or preferably a Children’s Study Bible, such as the NIrV Adventure Bible for Young Readers. Be sure the children know what the Bible is—God’s teaching for us.

A few good verses to use:

I John 1:9, “If we tell our sins to God, he is faithful and true; He will forgive us and take our sins away.”
I Peter 3:18, “Jesus suffered and died for sins once and for all time. He did what is right died for those who don't do right. He died to bring you to God. His body was put to death. But the Holy Spirit brought him back to life.”
Romans 3:23, “Everyone has sinned. No one measures up to God's glory.”
John 3:16, “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not be lost, but have eternal life.”

-You may want to assign these as memory verses.

We become Christians by asking Jesus in prayer. Praying means telling Jesus that we’re sorry for our sin and want His forgiveness.

How do we know if we’re really God’s children? The Bible promises that God will never let go of us, that He will always love us…

John 10:27-28, “My sheep listen to My voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them life that last forever, and they will never be punished. No one can steal them out of My hand.”

But salvation is more than a decision…it is a new life, a journey of living for Jesus

Ask how will being a child of God will make us different at home and school? What will happen when we do something wrong?

*A possible prayer children can pray:
“Jesus, I know You love me so much You died on the cross for all the things I’ve done wrong. Please forgive me. Come into my heart; I want You to be my friend and teacher. Help me to follow and become like You. Thank You for making me part of Your family forever. Amen.”