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Monday, August 4, 2008

You don't need a bouquet of flowers when you grow this beauty.  Only one 6 inch bloom makes a beautiful statement! 

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"Pleasing The Lord"

"Find out what pleases the Lord" (Ephesians 5:10).

I spoke in our church yesterday on the topic of gambling.  My pastor asked me several months ago to deal with this topic while he was on vacation.  Members of the church were asked to share topics they would be interested in hearing and this was one of their requests.  In fact, the specific question was, "Is the lottery sinful?"

After the service Brooksyne, Ester, and I greeted the folks as they left the sanctuary and Bill approached me.  With a twinkle in his eye he said, "After that sermon I sure won't be gambling; you can bet on it."

Gambling in its many forms is growing in acceptance today and, as is typical with all sin, lesser forms that were once prohibited tend to become more acceptable in all circles. The state lottery was started in Pennsylvania in 1971, thus many have grown up with this as an acceptable practice (according to state law). Now we are seeing the growth of casino gambling which is heavily promoted by our current governor. Commercials, radio jingles, junk mail, coffee cup holders, you name it...these various forms of gambling are now encouraged by our own government as a solution for the funding of "good causes."

I preached hard yesterday since all through my ministry I have seen firsthand the destructive elements of gambling and do so to this day. In the past week Brooksyne and I have dealt with those experiencing the terrible consequences of gambling.

Yesterday Brooksyne shared with our congreation a brief story about her grandfather, who was a compulsive gambler
(see below).  I also weaved into my sermon several illustrations about my experiences in dealing with gamblers as a pastor and chaplain.  My short answer is, "Yes, I certainly believe that the lottery and all forms of gambling are sinful, destructive, and our participation does not honor God."

The challenge in preparing the message is that, like many sins, there is not a specific Biblical prohibition about the lottery. But there are several Biblical texts that demonstrate God's attitude toward gambling.

I approached the message from the perspective of the daily verse, "find out what pleases the Lord."   Several principles from Ephesians 5  Biblically inform us as to how we may please the Lord regarding this issue and it would certainly apply to many other topics as well:

1.  We are called to be imitators of God.  (V. 1)

2.  There should not be a hint of evil in our behavior. (V. 2)

3.  We are not to be deceived by empty words. (V. 6)
4.  The Bible cautions against ungodly partnerships. (V. 7)
5.  We are called to live as children of light. (V. 8)

6.  We are to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness. (V. 11)
 We are to be very careful, then, how we live—not as unwise but as wise. (V. 15)

The Apostle Paul writes of an ongoing need for the child of God to "find out what pleases the Lord."  Today may we all deeply understand just how much our heavenly Father loves and cares for us. Let us freely submit to Him as obedient children earnestly seeking to find out what pleases Him.  

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, help us to consider the way we live our lives; not as children of the dark, but as children of the light.  May the light of Your Holy Spirit guide us in all that we do, so that You are glorified and our spirit is edified.  As we read and meditate upon Your Word we are able to see what pleases You, Amen.

Last fall we went to a conference in Ocean City New Jersey and walked through Atlantic City. See here for our perspective on that brief trip!

Brooksyne shared this yesterday concerning her family background:

I grew up in a family where I had two grandfathers; Elbert and Elmer.  Their names are similar but their lives stood in great contrast.  My dad was raised on a mountain in Arkansas by Elbert, a very godly man. On the other hand my mom was raised in Fraser, Colorado by a very ungodly man, Elmer.  In truth he was an atheist.  No one was allowed to even speak the name of God unless it was accompanied by an expletive.  Elmer was a vile, immoral, and abusive man who drove a great deal of fear into his wife and seven children.  He was also an alcoholic and a gambler.  Mom rarely spoke of her painful childhood experiences but there was one that she told me several times.  Being the oldest child she would accompany her father on some of his trips to town.  He would tell her "I'm going in for a drink.  You wait in the car."  Well, one drink led to another and the obsessive gambling often accompanied the drinking; many hours later my mother would still be sitting in the car shivering into the late, cold, dark night.

I never met Elmer, my mother's father, because he was in prison by the time of my birth and was released only a couple years before his death. 

We were living in northern Pennsylvania when I took a vacation with my family to the northeast in 1992.  My sister and her husband wanted to stop by Atlantic City, New Jersey.  I'd never been to an area where there were large glitzy casinos – it was an amazing sight, quite a contrast to our rural Lancaster farm lands.  One of the first things that disturbed me was seeing the unsupervised young children playing at the entrances of the casinos.  Hours later after we'd walked along the ocean and the boardwalk the same unsupervised children were still at the entryways, though by now night had fallen.  It brought to my memory the story Mom shared about her father leaving her for hours while he blew his whole paycheck in one stop; week after week, year after year. 

Here's a note I read concerning some Biblical passages that deal with gambling: God’s people in Bible times apparently were not greatly tempted with gambling. It seems the vice manifested itself only when Israel was dominated by heathen nations. When gambling did occur God clearly indicated His attitude concerning it when the Israelites came under the influence of people who gambled and also became involved. To these people God through Isaiah said, “Ye are they that forsake the Lord, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number” (Isaiah 65:11, KJV). As indicated in some modern translations of the Bible, the Hebrew words translated “troop” and “number” were names of the heathen gods “Gad” and “Meni.” To the heathen, Gad was the giver of good luck. Meni was the god of bad luck. The translation of Isaiah 65:11 by James Moffat is as follows: “But ye who have forsaken the Eternal, ye who ignore his sacred hill, spreading tables to Good Luck, pouring libations to Fate, I make the sword your fate.” E. H. Plumptre, late Dean of Wells, has pointed out that Gad was worshiped as the greater fortune, the giver of good luck. Meni was worshiped as the lesser fortune. George Rawlinson, who at one time served as professor of Ancient History at Oxford, has indicated the name Meni “designated a deity who apportions men’s fortunes to them.”  The sin for which some of the Israelites were condemned was trusting in luck rather than God. Isaiah made it clear that trust in God and trust in luck cannot coexist. If people rely on chance it is evident they do not rely on God. Isaiah described those who trusted in gambling as “they that forsake the Lord” (Isaiah 65:11).

I also value this powerful summary statement from a pamphlet on gambling: When the various truths of God’s Word are considered, Christians cannot adopt a neutral stance toward gambling. There are responsibilities which they cannot ignore. When the Bible instructs believers, “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), it certainly precludes gambling. God is not glorified when people put their trust in chance rather than in the Lord. When God’s Word teaches that we should “avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) it precludes gambling. There is no way in which a practice can be considered anything other than evil when it violates principles of God's Word concerning stewardship, consideration of others, and the dignity of honest labor. Those who want to live according to Scripture will refrain from participation in any form of gambling. As the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13) they will also do all within their power to discourage this evil practice.

Here's a pastor's message on gambling

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

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"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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