Friday, October 17, 2008

Unnecessary Risk

Isaiah 45:1-7
1 Timothy 6:6-12
Matthew 25:14-30

It is a delicate balancing act to speak for or against what may appear to be a political issue without sounding political, but I feel I would be remiss in the duties of my office as pastor if I were to remain silent about a particular issue coming before Arkansas voters. I am aware that many see no harm in lotteries - and lotteries seem harmless enough - but we Christians have to look beyond what is right in front of us and make sound choices based on the words of scripture and reason rather than what may seem harmless on its surface, for it is written: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 16:25 NKJV)

Suggesting that a lottery could be a “way of death” may seem a little over the top, but we cannot afford to accept this proposal at its face value without considering everything it may mean not only to us as individuals and as Christians but also what it could mean to those for whom economic and financial distress are ways of life that seem inescapable. For these people, the illusion of “easy money” is compelling and difficult to resist especially if its ultimate “promise” is college money for their children.

Are we our brother’s keepers? Are we responsible for deciding what might be best for those whose lives seem marked by one failure after another? Are we charged with taking from them a supposed “right” to fall on their own faces, make their own mistakes, and dig their own graves? In a manner of speaking, yes. We are charged in a particular way to serve USEFUL roles as our brother’s keepers, as stewards of the Kingdom’s resources. And these are things we must be mindful of whether this issue passes or not.

It is written in Romans 12:2 that we “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Is gambling in any form the “perfect will of God”? Or is the notion that it is a harmless vice something the world wishes us to believe and embrace?

It is also written, again in Romans 15:1-2, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification (building our neighbor up instead of contributing to his downfall).”

Now just a couple more scripture passages that we must necessarily consider. In 1 Corinthians 3:18-19a it is written: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

Finally, consider the words of 1 Corinthians 8:9 in which it is written: “Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.”

As I have shared previously, issues that seem to revolve around money such as economics, finance, and gambling – and even tithing - have little to do with money itself. We all need money to live on, to pay our bills, to save for our old age, to offer to the church, to educate our children. Money may not be needed in heaven but as George Bailey told the angel Clarence in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, money comes in pretty handy down here!

But isn’t money incidental to Kingdom things? Should our lives be spent in pursuit of money? Should money be our sole, if primary, focus in everything we do? It is with gambling, including lotteries. It is taking from the mouth of a hungry child for no reason other than the misguided (and very worldly) hope of acquiring more for ourselves. It is taking from the very hand of the Lord God in a very selfish measure of greed. From a practical standpoint, it is taking from an interest-bearing savings account or tax-deductible donation to a college scholarship fund of one’s choice, both of which will almost certainly pay off in the long run even if it does not seem like much in the beginning. These, of course, are the “sure things”. In gambling, there is no such thing. There are only such sure and certain facts as 80%-90% of gamblers will lose.

How does a lottery measure up to Jesus’ parable of the talents as told in Matthew 25:14-30? One might try to suggest that at least Arkansas’ lottery has the noble intent of ultimately providing college scholarship money but as Bishop Crutchfield points out in his letter to Arkansas Methodists, “the end does not justify the means.” “Only a small percentage of the funds will be used for scholarships.” There will first be expenses, advertising and other production costs, and prizes (if any) to be paid long before “any educational value is realized”.

But Jesus’ challenge goes far beyond even this. The talent itself served as a measure of money in its time, equal to about 6 thousand denarii (a single denarius equaled about a day’s wages for the typical worker), so the sum of money being spoken of is nearly incomprehensible to the folks who were listening to Jesus. And such a huge sum was probably being used in this parable to mean “immeasurable” wealth. This is precisely what Christians are entrusted with even today (immeasurable Kingdom wealth), but the measure has little to do with money itself. It has to do with ANYTHING we’ve been entrusted with by the Lord to do, as the parable points out, “profitable” things for the Master.

In the parable those who used Kingdom money for Kingdom things showed a positive return of the Master’s investment. Having shown themselves trustworthy with so relatively “little”, they were each then entrusted with even more than the “immeasurable” worth of the talents they had started with. However, the one who buried his talent (in parable-speak, kept it to himself and did nothing for the Kingdom) was cast out as “useless” to the Master and to His Kingdom.

One might suggest that the one who did nothing should not have been so severely punished because he didn’t “do” anything evil, but we must remember that doing nothing for the Lord is anti-Lord because Kingdom people are “doers” of the Word (James 1:22). Kingdom people cannot sit idly by while a government, our government, attempts to fool people into believing that it is games of chance that will enhance our lives and serve as our educational “salvation” rather than solid policies that encourage hard work, discipline, and sound investment in an economy in which people can do and provide not only for themselves but also for the society in which we all live.

We cannot afford to be taken in by something that appears to hold promise but is actually an abyss into which we must not fall. Gambling in any form provides nothing positive for our society, and it is a bottomless pit for the faithful. Gambling may indeed be a worldly reality with which we must contend, but it is not a fruit-bearing tree of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is important that we be mindful of our social obligations in the context of biblical principles, especially in avoiding being part of actively creating that dreaded “stumbling block” that does far more harm to the weak among us than it will ever produce anything positive. The risk is far greater than the reward which, according to reasonable odds and statistics, will never be seen.

Everything in His Name. Amen.

1 comment:

Seven Star Hand said...

Hello Michael,

Consider how money, religion, and politics are inseparable because of the inescapable trap (bottomless pit) they form. The conceptual and physical aspects of the world's currencies and monetary systems creates an endless loop. The math of debt-based money forms a debt generating engine that creates a true virtual vortex that is in fact, purposeful slavery by proxy.

The symbolism of the bottomless pit refers both to an ancient trap (pit) and to its associated deceptions, hence the inability to "get to the bottom of it." We are all trapped in a web of deception woven with money, religion, and politics. The great evils that bedevil us all will never cease until humanity finally awakens, shakes off these strong delusions, and forges a new path to the future.

Furthermore, money, religion, and politics are each purposeful logic traps and delusions that present themselves as myriad deceptive lures that are always illusions that can’t be attained or maintained. It’s a well-sculpted shell (and shill) game rigged so most lose while the Vatican and its secret society cohorts (those atop the pyramid) continue to win. Once humanity understands that they are laboring under imposed delusions and finally understands the truth, the power of the illusion will vanish into thin air, just like the darkness does when the lights are turned on, and like smoke does when a strong wind blows.

A little light for dark times...

It's no wonder the Vatican and its many cohorts fear the truth more than anything else.