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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Flower arrangement on the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk
Flower arrangement on the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk

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"Exposing Darkness"

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (Ephesians 5:8-11).

Today's message may offend some, others will heartily agree and still others may disagree with me in tackling such a topic this way. Throughout my lifetime I have been to several cities notorious for evil such as San Francisco and most notably Provincetown, Massachusetts. I've never been to New Orleans, Las Vegas or Atlantic City, although 15 years ago Brooksyne went on a vacation with her family through the northeast and they stopped by Atlantic City. This last weekend, since we were only about 10 miles away, we decided to enter Atlantic City. Very aware of this city's reputation we prayed  for a hedge of protection and asked the Holy Spirit for spiritual discernment.

We parked at the south side of the famous boardwalk and walked along observing the people as we passed by the glitzy casinos, generally rundown stores, and quite a lot of down and out people. We passed many of the sorriest street musicians and pan handlers imaginable, although one creative fellow who posed as "stone art" did put on quite a show.  We passed those on benches with a bottle of booze half-filled, sleeping off their addictive binges.  What a contrast to the family oriented Ocean City boardwalk, just down the New Jersey coast, where we walked
just an hour earlier.

I suppose we walked about 1.5 miles ending at the most ostentatious casino of all, the Trump Taj Mahal with golden colored minarets. The promotional signs outside showed very successful looking people, handsome men, and beautiful women all laughing and appearing to be having a great time (I could link to their website as an example but I won't!)

We entered the casino knowing it to be a den of iniquity as we slowly walked through and carefully observed the setting and the people. They didn't look at all like the promotional ads and interestingly they represented every age and ethnic background.  They sat at the slot machines and rapidly kept pressing the buttons, some with great disappointment on their faces banging on the machines as though it would force money to come out. At least there was some interaction at the various gaming tables where we did see a few smiles and a couple of times a united shout when a player apparently won something. The staff was all dressed up, the table head in a fine suit, apparently an attempt to convey professionalism and success.

The weirdest thing was the background noise, a loud, non-melodic, hypnotized blending of sounds that never ended nor transitioned, but was constant.  We wondered aloud if this mechanical sound was psychologically designed to keep the people gambling and oblivious to anything else. This morning I read an article that describes it this way, "like cool, oxygenated air, constant lighting and a lack of clocks, the music is there to keep people in the casino and gambling."

While we were there we looked everywhere for a clock but didn't see any (I always heard that's one thing you will never see in a casino.) But I saw lots of security guards and mirrors (perhaps some were two way mirrors.) The place was huge with one large room after another and I think we only saw a small part of it. 

An interesting sign in the foyer as you walk in tells you that photos will be taken of those who gamble and reminds the people that they need to smile because it's the smiles that will be publicized.  (Perhaps cameras should be designed to flash automatically when a win takes place, for we certainly would not want the pictures of those who just spent their last cent or even worse, plunged deeper into debt for the supposed "get rich quick" scheme.)

It was good after just a few minutes to get back outside again and head back to our van. We saw all the evil we needed to see.  Of course we didn't need to see it to know already that evil abounds in these kinds of environments.  I read a statement recently that says, "Gambling is fun if you practice restraint."  The problem is restraint is usually thrown out the window along with the wasted earnings.

It's interesting that one of the many distorted pictures Satan paints in having "a good time" is patronizing a casino or places like it. But Christians are often portrayed as a sad, disgruntled, judgmental type of people who don't know how to enjoy life. What a deceitful lie many have come to believe! 

I contrast my observation above with a joy-filled church service, a loving home fellowship meeting, or a Christian conference like we just attended where people are seeking to fulfill their calling in life. I consider a happy marriage and the blessing of family and friends to be the ultimate joy this life can bring. And above everything else is the joy of knowing Christ!

Today I hope I've done an effective job of exposing some darkness and challenging you to live in the light of Christ responsibly, joyfully, and with thankful hearts.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer:  Father God, You've given us so much and You give it to us with this requisite: "To whom much is given much is required."  You've called us to be responsible believers as we live self controlled, godly and upright lives in this present age. With Your help we continue our walk on the straight and narrow path that leads to heaven.  We also want to take hold of the hands of those who've chosen the darkened path of evil and lead them into the lightened path of truth. And that truth is Jesus, for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life that leads us to You, Father.   Amen.

Note from Brooksyne:  I suppose I have had a strong opinion about gambling since I was a child. I was very fortunate to have parents who had neither a drinking problem nor did they gamble.  In fact they had very strong convictions against both.  In part because of Daddy's Christian heritage but also due to the destructive influence it had in my mother's upbringing.  Her father, drunk more often than sober, not only abused his children but also took what money he earned and headed for the bars and gambling halls.  Mom related that often he took her along as a small child and used her to play the slot machines. I don't know if she was allowed to do this or he sneaked her in.  She was his "lucky penny."  Of course she wasn't allowed in the bars so she sat in the car for hours on end, sometimes in the winter months, during his drinking binges.  Amazingly, she wasn't killed when he later drove them home. 

When I walked the Atlantic City boardwalk nearly 15 years ago with my family on vacation this remembrance came to me when I saw unsupervised children sitting outside on the steps of a casino.  Not long ago on the news I heard of a child who was brutally murdered in the bathroom of a casino while his father was gambling.  This father paid out far more than he ever intended when he walked in the doors of this casino.

One more note from Stephen: Here in Pennsylvania our very evil, corrupt governor is hell-bent on ramming gambling through.

Atlantic City, NJ boardwalk
An interesting art form that we saw in Atlantic City is this man whose appearance makes him look like a stone statue. His clothing and skin are sprayed in a gray color and he's absolutely still, making him look like a statue, but when you drop in a donation he appears to come alive. Although he remains silent he mechanically move his head and arms to interact with the donor. The discipline to stand completely still for minutes at a time would be more than most of us could ever endure.

Ocean City, NJ boardwalk
What a wholesome sight to see this young family of four on the Ocean.

More weekend ministry conference photos

Phil Jackson with parents
The main speaker at the conference was Phil Jackson, a missionary to Macedonia, who had several uplifting and challenging mission messages. He has a rich heritage as a third generation missionary. He is shown with his parents, Walter and Marjorie. Marjorie has a remarkable testimony as a prisoner of war for seven years during the Second World War. She, along with her brother and classmates,  was in a Japanese prisoner of war camp all through the war until she was liberated in 1945.

Kent and Joan Wilson
New friends Kent and Joan Wilson
Both were widowed, having lost their first spouses to cancer and feel the Lord brought them together in their second marriage just over one year ago.

Steve Grant
This morning I had breakfast with Steve Grant, who played pro football at Indianapolis during the nineties but now speaks out for the Lord, working with Sportsworld, a school assembly program. He's in our area doing several school assemblies and other meetings through the week. He came to Christ his Junior year of college at West Virginia due to the influence of a "pestering" chaplain.  For years he lost contact with the chaplain but reconnected and thanked him for persevering in his witness. I had the opportunity to pray for Steve this morning as he seeks to influence others.

ChurchHere's my latest satire blog post, an account of a pastor in North Dakota who has multiple doctorates and the interesting way he "earned" them and how he is dealing with his advanced education. Click here to read the article.

Today's suggested music:

"My Life Is An Offering"  (Audio)

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission; and the King James Version.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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