Betting On False Hope

(Titus 2:11-14)

As many of you know last summer my family took a four day cruise to the Bahamas for our vacation. On the ship was a casino, which would open once we were away from port and at sea, probably once we entered international waters, which is twelve miles off shore.

While we were at sea I would sometimes walk through the casino just to watch people, and to see what was so thrilling or compelling about gambling. Well after a while of walking around and observing, folks it became clear to me who was losing and who was winning. And in general I saw many more somber faces than I did happy ones.

On our last day at sea I was in line for the lunch buffet and the couple behind me was having a conversation about the casino, and more specifically in their case, their lack of luck at the casino. I over heard how they had lost all the cash they brought on the trip and how in just a couple of days they max'ed out their credit cards playing the slot machines and Black Jack. While standing in the line they were trying to figure out where they could get some more cash so they could try to win some of their money back during the last couple hours the casino would be open before the ship returned to Florida.

After some time one of them remembered that the cabin attendants received a tip which is automatically added to the cabin bill. You see before you pay your final bill you have the ability to add to the tip or take away from the tip based on the performance of the cabin attendant. So this couple decided to take away the tip from the cabin attendant, not because he or she did a bad job, but because it was the only means of cash they had to continue gambling.

So after lunch I went to the casino to see if they actually followed through with their idea, and sure enough they did, and they managed to lose it all to the one-arm-bandit.

Gambling in its many forms has become a big problem in our society with its allure and prospect of fast action and easy money. For the past year the debate over allowing slots in Maryland and in our neighboring Adams County, Pennsylvania, where some of you live, has been contentious and is beginning to heat up once again.

As many of you know the Maryland state government is currently considering legalizing slot machines in Maryland, and Adams County has been looking at Gettysburg as the perfect place for legalized gambling. Some of the rationale the legislators are using for legalizing slots in Maryland include: " Keeping the gambling revenue Marylander's spend in neighboring states within this state " Helping fund our children's education " Providing jobs, for those who may otherwise be unemployed " Keeping the government from having to raise taxes to cover revenue short-falls

Those who oppose legalizing slots offer some of the following reasons: " Gambling is the fastest growing form of addiction among U.S. teens, especially on college campuses. " It takes many people to lose, for one to win, and the odds of winning are very slim " Bankruptcies, divorces, and suicides increase wherever casinos and slot machine gambling are located " Slot machines unfairly target the poor and elderly by offering them a better future. So in some cases these folks use their food and prescription money to gamble with.

Over the past couple of weeks I've spoken with several people who work in the gambling industry in West Virginia, I've spoken with pastors of churches in the Charles Town, West Virginia area specifically, and I've spoken with individuals who oppose gambling in all its forms.

And not being a gambler myself I even had a friend of mine show me how to play the popular poker game Texas Hold'em so I could experience what the so-called "thrill of the game was."

I found in all my conversations, and in the playing of Texas Hold'em, that the reason gambling is appealing is that it offers an escape from ones present reality and provides hope for a brighter tomorrow. Now it's true that in Charles Town if it weren't for the slots and race track more folks would be living below the poverty line, not because they're winning, but because these places offer them jobs.

But it's also true that many of the folks gambling are those who can least afford to gamble, and a very high majority lose, leaving themselves in a worse state than before they started to gamble. So in reality there is no net gain in the quality of living in areas that support gambling. Poverty and need are just shifting from one family to another.

Now I have to admit I found playing Texas Hold'em a fun game to play, and during the evening I played I did win some, and I lost some. It didn't really matter since we weren't playing for money.

But it also became very apparent to me how someone could quickly get hooked on playing the game for hours without even knowing it. I ended up playing for three hours without realizing how fast the time went by, because I was so into the game. As many of you know I'm pretty competitive so I was pretty focused on winning. With the ability to gamble over the internet now, access to Texas Hold'em and other games that promise excitement and fortune are just a mouse click away.

In my research I came to the conclusion that most forms of gambling can lead to two very serious problems if folks aren't careful: addiction, and false hope.

Addiction to gambling can come upon someone very quickly, and no one is immune to this disease. At first we may start by playing a game for fun, then we begin to enjoy it, we may win a little and then the temptation to keep playing to win the big one becomes so great we get hooked.

I know someone who won a little, then won big playing the slots, she became addicted, and eventually lost everything she had, totally in the $10,000 range.

An article entitled "Gaming's rise takes human toll" dated December 22, 2002 in The Courier-Journal of Indiana, estimates that more than 204,000 people in Kentucky and Indiana alone have gambling addiction problems, problems that lead to financial troubles, crime, and many calls to the gambling addiction help lines.

It's also clear some people also seek out gambling because they're looking for hope, and the allure of gambling with its promised fast action and potential reward becomes their means of hope.

Perhaps their lives aren't all they would like them to be, they're struggling and are working very hard only to see things get worse rather than better, or perhaps the sin of greed and self-image take control of their lives. In either case these folks are looking for a better future, they're seeking hope.

So what are we to do, what are we as Christian's suppose to do with respect to gambling?

The United Methodist Church takes a strong stance against gambling as written in our Social Principles. Our Social Principles state in part: "Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government." So what about the Bible, what does it say? Well archaeological and historical evidence shows that dice playing and other forms of gambling were practiced in biblical times; however, if we turn to the Bible we quickly learn that the Bible doesn't address directly the issue of gambling. For example, the only mention of gambling in the New Testament is when the Roman soldiers cast lots to see who would get Jesus' clothing after he was crucified. (Matt. 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:24)

However, casting lots was not primarily a gambling method, but a way of making a decision, similar to drawing straws. (Lev. 16:8, Num. 34:13, Jonah 1:7, Acts 1:23-26) It was often assumed that God would make His will known in the outcome. And the "lots" mentioned in the Bible may have been some form of dice, but that's not certain.

So the Bible doesn't give any direct guidance on whether gambling is right or wrong. However, according to the Bible some of the motivations and actions that may lead to gambling are sins. For example: " Greed and obsession with money - Mark 7:20-23, 1 Timothy 6:10 " Exploitation of people - Leviticus 25:16-17, 1 Thess. 4:5-6 " Not providing for one's family - 1 Timothy 5:8 " Bad habits and compulsions - John 8:34, Romans 6:16-18 " A life of dissipation - 1 Peter 4:1-4

Paul's letter to Titus, from which we heard read from this morning, reminds us that it's the purpose of all Christians to exhibit right living in a world known for its greed, self-centeredness, and evil.

Paul is counseling us to live upright and godly lives, and not lives of sin, while we wait for the blessed hope; the second coming of Christ. You see for Christians our hope is an eternal hope as promised by God. Our hope is in the risen Christ who triumphed over death for us so that we too might have eternal life.

Now isn't hope based on what God in Christ can do, has done, and promises to do, a far greater, far more certain hope than hope based on the luck of the draw, the throw of the dice, or the click of the mouse?

The truth is when people place their hope in a one-arm-bandit, a computer mouse, a lottery ticket, roulette wheel, dice, or a deck of cards, they are betting on false hope. The chances of winning are slim. In fact the odds are in favor of losing, and losing big.

The Lottery Action Guide reports that a person has a much better chance of getting murdered on the way to a convenience store to buy a lottery ticket than he or she has of winning the multi-million dollar prize. Listen to the following odds: o Seeing a no-hitter pitched in baseball: 1 in 1,347. o Having a royal flush in a poker game: 1 in 649,739. o Having quadruplets: 1 in 705,000. o Being struck by lightning: 1 in 1,900,000. o Winning the California Lottery: 1 in 23,000,000.

And for those who do win, many learn that what they were hoping to achieve by winning really didn't satisfy their needs at all.

You might remember a few years ago a man in West Virginia won millions of dollars playing the lottery. A year or so after he won he commented to the media, when they asked how he was doing, that his financial situation improved as a result of winning the lottery, but his life did not.

The other day I was in the Food Lion in Mt. Airy picking up a couple of items. While I was in the checkout line I noticed the person in front of me using Food Stamps, and I thought to myself what a great program to help people.

After I checked out I went to the 7-11 to get a cup of coffee. And the same women was again in front of me in the checkout line, however this time she was using cash to buy five lottery tickets. After buying them she quickly rubbed off the squares to see if she'd won. And I stood around long enough to find out if she did win, but as "luck" would have it she lost. I asked her if she ever won and she said she wins a couple of bucks every now and then, and she still had hopes of winning the big one, one day.

Man the amount of money lost every year to gambling is absolutely mind-boggling. The River City Group estimates that over $12.6 billion a year are gambled over the internet alone. And in 2001 $756 billion was wagered at Casinos in the United States.

What a poor use of God's resources, the resources God has entrusted to us. I wonder what the world would be like if every dollar gambled were used to share the Gospel and to provide others with the basic needs of housing and food?

The social costs of gambling are tremendous and will continue to grow over time as more programs are needed to help those who become addicted gamblers, and as more prisons are needed to house those who turn to crime to pay off their gambling debt, or to feed their habit.

To those who propose using revenue from gambling to fund our children's education because it's so important, I suggest if education is so important why isn't it the number one item funded in the annual budget, rather than the last? And why does education require another revenue stream while in some cases politician's pet projects get funded without a problem.

Well, I believe it's because the politicians know that people are concerned about their children's education, so they use funding education as a way to motivate people to support gambling.

So what are we to do, clearly gambling is here to stay and it will continue to lead people to practice sinful behavior and pursue false hope.

As the church we must serve as the moral conscious of our government and communities. To this end we ought to "promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unnecessary and undesirable the need to resort to commercial gambling - including public lotteries as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public funds for supporting charities or government. And where people have become addicted we out to encourage them to seek the proper help so that their energies may be redirected into positive and constructive tasks."

Instead of gambling why not save the money we are willing to gamble away and at a minimum tithe the same to the church and invest in the work of the Lord. The positive impact on the world and on an individual's life will be much greater than throwing the money away in a card game, or forcing coins down the throat of a machine.

As the church we must be firm in our convictions that sinful behavior is wrong and that our hope lies in the resurrected Christ. And that the hope we have as followers of Christ is as bright as the promises of God.

The Bible offers us confidence for the future, not based on our own ingenuity or determination, but on the love and mercy of God. God, the all powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who cares about our every need and our every problem, and whom can build a secure future for us, offers us hope sustained by his grace and love. The prophet Jeremiah knew the secret of hope: "Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord." (Jeremiah 17:7)

Now the person who has never placed their trust in Jesus Christ may see life as hopeless. And you know what in the end they're right, because without Christ there is no hope, because there is no future.

But the great thing is Jesus offers all who believe hope that can never be purchased or won through gambling:

  • A love that's not based on our feelings or merit, but on the never-ending grace of God " The freedom to know and enjoy God because Jesus Christ has taken the punishment for our sins
  • A friendship that will never disappoint us because Jesus promised,
  • I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5)
  • A reason for living because following Christ gives true meaning and purpose to life
  • An unshakable future firmly based on Christ's promise, "I will come again" (John 14:3)
  • And an eternal home where the misery and sin of the world, manifested as selfishness, greed, hatred, and death, will be gone

So as we live our lives in the here and now we have a choice:

  • we can place our faith in the gambling venues of this world, and place our hope on chance and the luck of the draw,
  • or we can build our hope on things eternal through faith in Jesus Christ.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade