January 18, 2016

On the way to work I was reminded on the radio and by the Post Office being closed, that it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Carolyn and I even joked about having to work today. But I do think it’s important to remember the struggle for racial equality in this country and the huge role MLK played in that. Though most admit that we still have a long ways to go, I do believe he made a difference. Though he was also a flawed man (like many), he was also one who was willing to step up and risk everything for his beliefs. We can all learn from that and his dream of a country where we are all treated equally is something we should all agree with as well.
I mentioned on Facebook this past week that I wanted to say something about the Powerball lottery but that I had decided to wait until my blog to possibly say something. I don’t think I got a single comment or “like.” Ha. I’m not sure if that means no one reads my Facebook posts or no one cares or no one cares what I have to say about Powerball. Hmmm. Of course, like most pastors, this has never stopped me from voicing my opinion before and certainly it won’t today.

In addressing this topic I want to be very careful. I think Christians already have a bad rap of just being against “everything” and especially when it comes to “fun” things like the lottery (I’m not saying it’s fun but some people do). I fully understand why people, probably many of you reading this, may have bought a lottery ticket, either before this last big jackpot or in the past. I’m not here to condemn you. I do think the lottery is something that is hard to justify and be consistent with God’s word. John Piper has a good article called “Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery.” He outlines some of the basic flaws in a very logical and biblical fashion. When people are questioned about the lottery and they are given the odds they usually just laugh and the standard answer is, “Well someone has to win. It might as well be me!” I mean, who wouldn’t want hundreds of millions of dollars?

Who hasn’t imagined what your life would be like if you were wealthy? I can remember growing up and my Dad would play this game with me where we would imagine what it would be like if we had a million dollars. And then 10 million. And then 100 million. That was really about as high as we could imagine. And we would talk about what we would do with the money and what we would buy and son on. At first I kind of liked the game but as time went on I began to get frustrated by it. I was frustrated because I knew that was never going to happen. I also realized that this fantasy made me less satisfied with my current life and how God had already blessed me. I was frustrated because it made me realize just how shallow and materialistic my mindset had become. I vowed never to play this game with my children. For me, this is what the lottery does. It fills our mind with frustration and false hope. I heard another person being interviewed and his comment was that he was holding a $2 piece of hope. That as each number was read there was hope until a wrong one was read. If we are looking to the lottery for hope then we are in trouble. God is the source of our hope.

Even when you present people with the mathematical odds they still believe. In the most recent Powerball lottery the odds were 1 in 292 million that you would win. You were more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to win that lottery (Some of you are saying but people did win and no one was hit by an asteroid – mercy). Your odds of dying in a plane crash are only 1 in a million and yet we play the lottery, oblivious to the staggering odds. Or we think by buying “more” tickets we can somehow beat the odds.

In reading another article where Pastors were asked about the lottery I wasn’t as disturbed by the remarks of some Pastors who gamble as I was by the statistic which tells the story of how the poor are taken advantage of by the lottery. “Americans with annual take-home incomes of $13,000 or less spend 9 percent, or $645, of their income on lottery tickets each year.” So the next time you buy a lottery ticket in hopes of winning, remember that a large portion of that potential money to be won will be paid by people who can barely put food on their table and sometimes not even that.

And the final question that came out of that article and spurred by John Piper’s was, “If someone in your church won the lottery would you accept their tithe?” As one pastor said, “I'd rather wait to wrestle through this with God if it happens. Frankly, the odds are in my favor I won't have to do so.” Amen brother.
Finally, let me say thanks again to those who read this blog each week. One of you came in last week shortly after that edition went out and commented about it. One of my children thought I messed up my oldest daughter’s birthday in last week’s blog but I clearly said it was last Wednesday so maybe they didn’t read close enough. Ha.