Archive for April, 2012

Teaching the Constitution

April 26, 2012

This looks like an awesome tool for teaching (as well as personally understanding) the Constitution of the United States.  I’ve only perused it briefly, but as a home-school dad, I’m always on the lookout for tools that can help my wife and I teach as well as help our kids directly learn and understand for themselves.  

This tool provides essays and explanatory notes for every section of the Constitution and all of the Amendments – sometimes for entire sections and sometimes for particular phrases.  The explanations will tend to be identified (and/or dismissed) by some as ‘conservative’ in nature given the site that provides the tool.  The commentary is intended to try and illustrate what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they crafted this document, as well as how the various Amendments came about and for what purpose.
Judge for yourself whether this is a helpful tool.  Feedback here is always appreciated!
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Reading the Qur’an

April 26, 2012

I’ve finally decided to read the Qur’an.  I bought an English language translation over a decade ago, tried starting it once, and gave up after a few pages.  Prompted by a world religions study that I’m leading for my mid-week study group at church, I decided it was time to plunge in again.  This time, it looks like I’m going to make it.

Obviously, I’m not going to be touting the Qur’an as divine revelation.  Without a guide that can help me make sense of the text faithfully (something I encourage everyone approaching the Bible for the first time to do with Scripture as well), I won’t pretend to be able to derive it’s fullest senses and nuances.  But there are plenty of observations that I can make now that I’m about halfway or more through it.
I’m surprised by how many references it makes to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, both directly and indirectly.  It talks more than once about Jesus, his mother Mary, Moses, Abraham, and even King David in a recent passing reference.  I’m also surprised at how much liberty the Qur’an takes with these existing texts.  It refers to some events, retells others, adds dialogue and other elements to other renditions.  It also repeatedly states that both Jews and Christians have not remained faithful to their Scriptures, and have not necessarily passed them on with the same accuracy that they were originally revealed.  
Thus far the Qur’an is radically different from the Hebrew & Christian Scriptures in it’s general tone and intent.  It is concerned with submission – the reader’s submission to Allah.  It spends a lot of time enjoining the reader towards this submission, both through alternating threats and promises of blessings, as well as through legal directives reminiscent of Leviticus and other sections of the Old Testament.  
Also interesting is the Qur’an’s implicit assumption that the reader is male.  Women are talked about in the third person exclusively, while males are referred to in the second person.  Part of this would make sense if these are the direct words of the angel Gabriel speaking to the man Mohammed.  But it’s interesting all the same.  
Overall, I haven’t come across anything terribly surprising.  Most of it seems, well, familiar – as in it is contained in the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures.  The biggest impression is that of driving the reader towards the acceptance of Mohammed’s revelation as authoritative personally.  While there are plenty of reiterations that Allah is benevolent and forgiving, there are no fewer passages that both indicate that Allah is not inclined to be forgiving with those who reject him, and that ultimately he’s going to do what he wants to do anyways, so we all ought to be on our best behavior just in case.  
There seem to be plenty of conflicting passages about interactions with Jews and Christians, alternately enjoining benevolence and kindness, then stressing the importance of not trusting them or seeing them as allies.   There are passages encouraging the faithful to live in peace with others, but plenty of others encouraging the faithful to be fervent in warfare.  
I’ll post more later, but it’s good to finally be reading this for myself.  

Book Review: Manic by Terri Cheney

April 25, 2012

Being on vacation is surprisingly less conducive to reading and posting than I often assume it will be when starting out on it.  Wonderful time, but reading and writing has definitely been at the bottom of the list overall.

However, I’ll post this update on one book that I’ve finished on the trip.  I was lent Manic:  A Memoir by a friend.  Since I currently know at least two people who deal with various types of depression or bi-polarity, I was eager to read the book for a better insight into how to relate to their experience.
The book basically reinforced the idea that I can’t relate.  Not in a meaningful or helpful way.  Cheney does a good job of driving home the point that control is not something on the menu for many people who deal with these sorts of issues.  As such, relating is a fleeting matter at best.  
As an author, Cheney is very adept at relating incidents and emotions in a compelling and enticing way.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she is (or was) a self-described beautiful, intelligent, sexy, highly-compensated lawyer working in Hollywood and enjoying the finer things in life whether on her dime or the dime of one of the men in her life.  The net result is a glorification of the horror, in many respects.  The reader is dazzled by the environments in which Cheney careens, and that can easily lead the reader into a glamorization of those darker impulses even though Cheney is clearly not desiring us to use her life as a role model.  
I imagine it must be terribly difficult to adequately describe the dark episodes of depression.  Writing chapters or an entire book solely dedicated to that all-consuming darkness would make for awful reading, I suspect.  As such, it’s easier (and perhaps only possible) to describe those moments of brilliance – whether manic or otherwise.  Moments that stand out in the memory in all their awful beauty.  Lost moments and opportunities, unexpected twists and turns in what had been assumed to be a relatively straight stretch of emotional road.  But in my limited experience with depression and those who deal with it, those bright moments or memorable dark moments are very, very rare and elusive.  
If you have someone in your life who deals with these sorts of issues, this book most likely won’t be very helpful to you.  It will be interesting to read, thanks to Cheney’s interesting life.  But I’m not sure it will help the people having to deal with those who are unable to rally themselves to the simple tasks of day to day life.  It might be more helpful in understanding a manic person, but I’m not qualified (as far as I know!) to make that comparison.  

Someone Else’s Review

April 16, 2012

Getting back into the swing of regularly blogging is taking longer than anticipated.  Thanks to you all for your patience.  

For starters, here’s a review by one of my seminary professors of a recent article in Time magazine that you may have run across.  I don’t subscribe and so can’t view the article, although there is an interesting-in-its-own-right follow up blurb here.  Even if you can’t read the original article, the review by Dr. Gibbs is worth reading in it’s own right, and the follow-up link above is also good food for thought.
How we talk about heaven does matter to life here on earth.  It’s an important aspect of Scripture and faith that has all-too-often been glossed over into vague talk about heaven as though this is the goal of the Christian life, rather than a very, very nice hotel that we stay at en route to our final destination, the renewed and reconnected heaven and earth. Our hope is not to escape from life and this world but rather to enjoy it the way it was originally intended to be enjoyed, without the scars and wounds of sins and evil.  

Batter Up

April 12, 2012

Although religious institutions dodged a particularly deadly bullet in the unanimous Supreme Court decision to uphold what ought to be the common sense application of First Amendment rights that religious institutions are not to be bound by anti-discrimination (or other) legislation in their hiring and firing practices, we shouldn’t assume that the issue is moot.  

Consider this article regarding a female teacher at a Christian school who was allegedly dismissed from her position because two months after her wedding, she informed school officials that she was requesting maternity leave and that the child was conceived prior to the marriage.  The article highlights the vagueness of the behavioral policy that faculty agreed to abide by, and the teacher’s assertions that the decision to terminate her was both an example of gender discrimination and an effort to avoid costs associated with her pregnancy.
But what caught my eye was towards the end of the article, where the comment is made as to whether or not the school can be considered a church, and therefore exempt from Federal anti-discrimination employment laws.  
Let’s say that you wanted to curtail the influence of religious institutions on a culture without a direct frontal assault on a Constitutional protection against such actions.  What might you do?  You might become very, very specific about what was considered a religious institution.  You might readily agree that churches, mosques, synagogues, and other institutions of worship were certainly protected by the First Amendment.  But you might begin to work very hard at undermining the application of that First Amendment to other religious institutions – hospitals, schools, charitable organizations, etc.  
Is this a bad thing?  Certainly from the standpoint of a religious individual it should be seen that way.  Is it unreasonable?  That’s a harder question to answer.  Is it effective?  Well, witness the current administration’s thus-far-successful effort to force religious institutions other than houses of worship to abide by legislation requiring them to pay for contraceptive and abortive services to all of their employees.  Much ado has been made about whether this will result in the closure of these institutions rather than violate their conscience in abiding by the law.  Redefining what constitutes a religious institution won’t eliminate their influence in our culture, but it certainly could reduce their number and impact.  Which would tend to make reliance upon state-offered alternatives heavier.  Certainly there would be more than a few religious schools and other organizations that could not survive without tax exempt status or the ability to hire and fire based on their religious beliefs.  
The fight over who gets to decide what is and isn’t a religious  institution is merely a preliminary offense on freedom of religion as guaranteed in the First Amendment.   It masquerades under a veneer of reasonability – a school is not a church, a hospital is not a synagogue, an adoption agency is not a mosque.  But in reality it is radically narrowing the understanding of religious liberty, seeking to confine it to a very narrow segment of life that is spent in formal worship or prayer, and denying it any purchase in the broader cultural and professional context.  
Religious institutions can and will adapt.  But we shouldn’t pretend that this isn’t as serious a redefinition process as it really is.  

More on Gambling…

April 11, 2012

This post began as a reply to a query from a reader on my previous post on gambling.  As is often the case, I got so wordy I figured I might as well just make my response another post!  

Casting lots depends a great deal on what we *think* (since we can’t ever truly *know*)  is actually going on behind the scenes – what is the understanding regarding what is happening?

Casting lots implies any number of methods for allowing random actions to make decisions.  However, it seems to me that there can be two fundamental understandings about this process.  The first is that the casting of lots is essentially a random action.  Divine or supernatural manipulation of the process is possible but not necessarily stipulated or required.  The second understanding is that the casting of lots is not at all random, but rather a direct way for the divine or supernatural to make known a desired outcome.  This can range from a vague hope that the resulting decision is the will of God, to a firm conviction that nothing is truly random, and that what we consider to be random is in reality the will of the divine/supernatural expressing itself. If we focus in on just this second understanding, it can either be a human-initiated effort to discover divine or supernatural will, or a tool directed for human use by a divine/supernatural will.  In either of these latter cases, the assumption is that the result does reflect the divine/supernatural will.
This utilization of some form of random action to reach a decision appears in multiple places in the Old Testament, and two (the soldiers dividing up Jesus’ clothing and the disciples choosing a replacement for Judas) in the New Testament.  Considering that the Old Testament forbids the use of divination (Leviticus 19:26, Deuteronomy 18:10), it seems clear that the proper interpretation of these Scriptural references is not a human-initiated activity aimed at discerning the will of God.  Some people think that the Urim and Thummim of the Old Testament were some form of lot casting device.  If so, the key issue would be that God had given his people these objects for this purpose, with the understanding that He was allowing them to use them to help discern wisely.  
Scripturally, obedience to God’s commands is fundamentally different than initiating an action without being commanded to do so (consider Saul’s sacrificial blunder in 1 Samuel 13).  If God tells his people in a specific circumstance to perform an action, it’s not necessarily setting an example of what they can and should do of their own volition.  God is in charge, not us.
While interpretations differ widely, I’m of the opinion that those passages in Scripture that describe some form of lot casting are instances where either the action is undertaken at the command of God, or the action is seen as allowing God to work in the results, but not requiring it.  The disciples found two qualified candidates to replace Judas.  They met all of the criteria put forth.  There seemed to be no compelling reason to choose one over the other, yet one had to be chosen.  Having done all they could to make wise decisions, and still winding up with two equally qualified candidates, the apostles see fit to pray, ask for God to show his will, and abide by the decision that results from casting lots.  I seen in the casting of lots an understanding that this was a fair way to make a decision because the outcome would be equally good regardless of the result.  If God the Holy Spirit worked in the randomness of the lots, so be it.  If not, the decision would still be binding because there would be no reason to question it.
I suppose the closest equivalent these days would be the idea of flipping a coin.  When I flip a coin (generally when determining who is going to break in a pool game) I don’t particularly assume that God is guiding the outcome.  In fact, I rarely do.  Could He be?  Certainly.  The fact that I’m the result of 20th century modernism rather than first century culture probably contributes quite a bit to my default mindset.  Regardless, I am unable to discern in most situations if God is guiding the outcome or not.  I don’t obsess about trying to figure it out.  That’s not my job.  My job is to do what is laid before me in a way that brings glory and honor to God.  Sometimes (almost all the time?) that can be accomplished equally well whichever way the coin lands.
Another modern example of lot casting would be the mindset of more than a few Christians that God needs to directly guide them in each of their decisions.  Should I take this job or that job Lord?  Give me a sign.  Should I date this guy or that guy Lord, give me a sign.  Should we have another baby or not Lord, give us a sign.  I don’t tend to believe that Jesus or the Holy Spirit directs our every action, and I believe that insisting that He not only can but should/must is a form of abdication of responsibility.  If Jesus tells me everything to do, nobody can hold me accountable if things go badly, if I make the wrong choice, etc.  Of course, it leads to a lot of theological angst should something you believe Jesus told you to do turns out terrible.  
God gave us brains, we use them to the best of our ability.  He gave us Scripture to guide us, and we seek to let it do so.  He gave us Christian community to assist us in discernment and wisdom, and we undoubtedly could make better use of this resource!  What more do we want?  Yes, God does answer requests for a sign directly sometimes (Judges 6).  If this was how we were supposed to make decisions all the time, why bother to give us Christian community or Scripture or brains?  He could have just built a light into our chests that would flash when we were doing what He wanted us to do.  
So, getting back to William’s original comment – yes, we want to pray in making our decisions.  We must acknowledge that we have a Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that means seeking his will at all times and in all things.  This should be done in conjunction with using our brains, using Scripture, and using trusted Christian community.  We need to separate process from result, and recognize that how we make decisions is often far more important than what decision we actually make.  Can you flip a coin as a Christian?  Sure – depending on what you think could or should be going on behind that coin toss and why you’re relying on it in the first place.  
Helpful?  Confusing?  Misguided?  Lemme know!

…and another thing…

April 6, 2012

A few miscellaneous tidbits for Good Friday.

First off, we had an amazing Seder dinner here at my congregation last night.  Almost 100 people gathered together to participate in a liturgy very similar to what Jesus and his disciples shared on that first Maunday Thursday almost 2000 years ago.  
Seder dinners on Maunday Thursday have been a part of my life for over 20 years now.  Last night was the largest one I have ever attended, let alone presided over!  I am humbled by the servant hearts of the people in my congregation, who contributed food, logistical support & advice, and strong hearts and hands.  Some of us were there for over six hours, setting up, cooking, participating, and then cleaning up.  What a wonderful experience for me, to see the Body of Christ at work in joy!  I am deeply blessed.
*  *  *  *  *  
A thank you to the oft-times interesting and thought provoking blog site Mockingbird for providing this reprint of a Good Friday-appropriate play by Thornton Wilder.  It’s brief, but beautiful.  May it provide food for thought in your Good Friday contemplations.

Wheelin’ & Dealin’ With God

April 4, 2012

Thanks to Dianne for this question regarding a variation on yesterday’s gambling topic.  I’m just going to quote her note to me before responding.

This guy was at a basketball game and he was selected to participate in a half time on-court contest.  Three guys were chosen.  The guy who wrote the article drew his location from a hat and it was “Half Court” which meant he had to sink the ball from there in order to win the $2500.00 prize. When the time came, he took his place and prayed, “Okay , God, if I hit this shot, I’ll give you half the money.”  Of course, he won.  He and his wife attended mass in a church that had recently had a fire in the sacristy.  He donated half the prize which covered the repairs.  Now I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this……………I don’t believe it’s right to make a bargain with God.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to contact Guideposts to express my opinion.  What’s yours?
Thanks for the question, Dianne!
I guess the best place to start is by defining terms and clarifying the setting a bit.  If I understand your concern correctly, it centers around the issue of bargaining with God, which I’ll define here as trying to strike a deal with God in order to ensure a desired outcome.  It might be represented as the formula: If you do this, then I will do this.  
This can take lots of forms, and many of us have probably engaged in this sort of thing at one point or another, often in times of distress and fear.  The story is told of Martin Luther that, being caught in a particularly frightening storm, he promised God that he would become a monk if he survived the storm.  He survived, and much to the chagrin of his parents (who had put him on the track to become a lawyer), he fulfilled his vow and became a monk.  For a while
Biblically, we have some interesting precedents for this kind of behavior as well.  There’s Abraham’s bargaining with God in Genesis 18.  Abraham isn’t seeking his own personal benefit (though he has relatives in Sodom), yet would this qualify as an example of bargaining with God?  It’s sort of tricky because Abraham is not promising anything on his part in exchange for God’s actions.  More accurately, Abraham is reminding God of God’s own nature – the nature that is more ready to forgive and to show mercy rather than to distribute wrath and destruction.  I still tend to think that this counts as an example of bargaining though, even though Abraham isn’t promising something on his own part.  
Then there’s the curious event in Genesis 32 where Jacob has a wrestling match with the Lord, and refuses to cede the fight unless he receives a blessing.  Certainly seems like some strong-arming going on there (sorry for the bad pun).  It fits the formula cited earlier better:  If you bless me, then I will let you go.  
An important distinction in these two examples is what is being asked of God.  In both cases, God is being asked/bargained with to act consistently with his nature.  The desired outcome is that God would bless rather than curse, spare rather than smite.  As well, the desired outcome for those involved is God’s blessing – Jacob to be directly blessed by God, the citizens of Sodom to be blessed that God does not execute the immediate judgment that their evil merits.  
So if we’re going to use Scripture to justify bargaining with God (and we clearly can, given these two examples), we need to recognize that at least in these two examples (can you think of others in Scripture?), the outcome being sought is consistent for both God and the requestor (or those being requested for) – God blesses and his creation is blessed.  Not just any sort of bargaining is engaged in, but a particular bargaining that asks for God to do what He is naturally inclined to do, for the outcome that is appropriate to a creature/creation of God’s.  I suspect that this is an important distinction for the discussion that follows.
Back to the example above.  Is this the equivalent of bargaining with God as we’ve defined and Scripture has illustrated?  It’s hard to tell on the surface, as I’m not sure exactly of what this person thought or prayed before letting the basketball fly.  But it seems at the very least to imply a form of bargaining.  The conditional first statement – the ‘if you do this’ statement – would be: If you let me make this basket.  The second statement is explicitly stated: then I will give you half the winnings.
We could pick this bargain apart based on semantics and other criteria.  God doesn’t need $1250, for example.  Others would argue that God’s church needed the money, which is somewhat similar – or at least similar enough.  But those arguments ultimately sidetrack us.  
First off, we need to recognize the primary problem in the equation for bargaining.  We don’t really have anything to offer God.  It’s not truly a bargain.   Any time I offer God something, all I’m doing is offering him what is already his.  Nothing I have or am can truly be said to be exclusively mine in the sense that I could reasonably deny it to God if for some reason He were to demand it of me.  Not my life, my family, nothing.  In that sense, it’s impossible to bargain with God.
Not that we don’t still try.  Sometimes even when we know better.  We’re willing to grasp at any number of straws in the right situation.  Having God in your corner pretty much trumps any other straw we can imagine.  So our prayers can be laced at times with both explicit and implicit offers for bargaining with God.  If the test results come back negative, I’ll treasure my spouse more.  If the surgery is successful, I’ll start going to Bible study.  If the tornado misses our house, I’ll give up smoking.  
When I’m honest with myself, those moments when I want to bargain with God tend to illustrate my own honesty about what I really ought to be doing.  Honoring my spouse isn’t a bargaining chip – it’s part of my vocation as a Christian and a spouse.  Going to Bible study probably is something I’m already convicted that I ought to do – so offering it as a bargaining chip to God both exposes my realization that I’m not doing something I know I should, and demonstrates that it’s really not a bargaining chip.  
If Luther felt compelled to offer his life to the Church in exchange for living through the storm, I tend to think Luther already had some inclination that perhaps a life in the Church was something he really ought to be pursuing more diligently.  The bargain may have ultimately been a means for him to fulfill an inclination or direction he already knew was right, but wasn’t able on his own to pursue (it would have required an open conflict with his father).  
When I bought my lottery ticket for the big drawing last week, I didn’t promise God to give him half the money if I won.  Giving to God of the blessings He has given me isn’t a bargaining chip – it’s a natural response to the love of God manifest in the blessings I’ve received – and that is defined most honestly ONLY as the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on my behalf.  Anything else I enjoy in this life is icing on the cake.  If I don’t receive any other blessings in this life, I am still blessed beyond measure in Jesus Christ.
I guess this wraps up my long-winded answer.  When we attempt to bargain with God, we misunderstand our fundamental relationship to, with, and in Him.  We have nothing to offer.  We have already received everything in Jesus Christ.  Therefore we can and should honestly pray Thy will be done, rather than attempting to manipulate God.  
But what about Abraham and Jacob above?  Another interesting thing is that in each case, God appeared to them.  God initiated the contact that provided a context for the bargaining to take place.  Abraham and Jacob didn’t attempt to hunt God down to have him do their will.  He came to them, initiated the exchange, and then responded when they engaged in the exchange as well.  I think that’s probably a key thing to see as well that separates it from the example in the Guideposts article mentioned above.
All that being said, we are called to come to God with our hopes, fears, dreams, desires, joys, sorrows – everything.  It isn’t wrong (and Luther would
say it’s commanded) for us to pray all things to God.  The guy holding the basketball could have prayed to God that he really wanted to make the basket, but thy will be done.  No bargain implied or stated.  If he made the shot, he still ought to know a proper response to his blessing and follow through on it without the verbal contract with God in advance.
Praying thy will be done in all things allows us to be honest with God, and to honestly understand our relationship to him.  It is a relationship of complete dependence upon him for everything, always.  It is a relationship where we acknowledge his wisdom and power as being beyond our best efforts to discern the proper outcome in any given situation.  It reminds us that whether we receive what we specifically ask for or not, we are still his creation that He loves completely – enough to send his Son Jesus to die on our behalf.  
Bargaining may come naturally, but it seems contrary to a proper relationship with our Creator.  While there are times when God may come to us and engage us in a manner that allows for us to place our demands more confidently before him, trying to bribe God with something that is already his, or that we already know should be our natural response is a mistaken effort.  The fact that God grants some prayers that are actually bargaining efforts is his discretion, and the fact that some earnest prayers for specific outcomes without attempts at bargaining are not answered the way we wish them to be ought to drive us back into that trust of God that enabled us to pray thy will be done from the start.  
We don’t need to bribe God into blessing us – He has already blessed us in Jesus Christ.  Everything else is just a matter of being honest with God about where our heart is, and trusting that He is capable and willing to care for us regardless of whether or not it’s the way we’d prefer to be cared for.
Thoughts?  Ideas?  Counter-proposals?  Thanks again for the question, Dianne!
  

Down for the Count?

April 3, 2012

Gambling has been on my mind the past few days.

It began with the massive Mega Millions lottery drawing last Friday.  I don’t play the lottery in general.  But when it gets particularly high, I’ll spend $5 on a ticket.  I see it as entertainment, mostly.  I’m participating in an event that a great many people have a very heightened awareness of and interest in.  Since I don’t watch television, I see it as one occasional way I still act as part of the my larger culture.  I’d feel better about that analogy if I had some stats on how many people play vs. how many people spend way too much on playing.  
I didn’t expect to win.  Even cursory efforts at daydreaming about winning proved rather pointless.  I have no idea what I would do with that much money after a few basics are out of the way (buying a home, etc.).  I’m fairly certain that God would not let me win the lottery, as He knows it would undoubtedly only cause problems.  But I spend the $5 anyways.
I didn’t win the jackpot, but I did win $2, which I’m more than happy with.
Sunday, I included the lottery drawing and my participation in it as part of my sermon, a launching point, a modern analogy for themes I was hoping to draw out of the texts for the day.  My practice in my congregation is to make the post-worship adult Bible study an opportunity for larger participation both with the texts and my sermon take on them.  In other words, I want the people of God to be involved actively in theology, not just passively.  
So I was excited when one of my members indicated rather sheepishly – but firmly – that he was convinced I had erred greatly in my approach that morning.  As we talked, I discerned two different but related issues.  The first was his conviction that gambling in any form is immoral.  It feeds on those who can least afford to be fed upon.  It is the source of great pain in many lives due to gambling addiction or even just the momentary lapse of reason that allows someone to part with their life savings or child’s college fund.  His second point was that given this moral indefensibility of gambling, it was particularly egregious for me as a pastor to reference it in a sermon, particularly in a way that made light of it or otherwise condoned it tacitly or explicitly.
We talked as a group about the issue.  It was amicable to be sure.  I have no doubt that we parted with him still very convinced that he was correct in his concerns.  I left with lots of doubts – less on the morality of gambling than on the fragile wire that pastors are blessed and challenged to walk on.
On the first issue, we should acknowledge that there are certainly good reasons to be very careful with the issue of gambling.  I brought up two instances in Scripture where gambling is described (not commended, per se) – the soldiers gambling for Jesus’ clothes as he was crucified, and the apostles casting lots to determine the replacement for Judas in Acts 1.  In a discussion with a friend & colleague last night, he also reminded me of the sailors casting lots to determine who was to blame for the storm in Jonah 1.  
We agreed that at least in principle, the example in Acts seems to be a very different type of gambling.  Following prayer, it is an acknowledgement that both candidates are equally qualified and acceptable and that rather than leave it up to a popularity contest of some sort, it seemed wisest to allow the Holy Spirit to have it’s way in the casting of lots.  Technically gambling, but not the sort of gambling we were concerned about in our discussion Sunday.  The example of the soldiers (or the sailors) seems to be less applicable because these were not Christians, and therefore their moral codes can’t be expected to conform to Scriptural standards.
What are those Scriptural standards?  There aren’t any strongly explicit condemnations of gambling in Scripture that I’ve come up with.  Interestingly enough, my better over at The Blog of Veith posted an article on the topic of gambling and vocation this morning.  One of the folks commenting on the post challenged others to identify where Scripture condemns gambling.  Another person indicated that it would logically fall under the realm of stewardship – being wise stewards of the blessings God has permitted us precludes putting those blessings at risk through gambling.
There are certain denominations and traditions within the Church that have frowned heavily on gambling as well as other social activities such as drinking and dancing.  The Holiness churches of the last 150 years come particularly to mind, with a strong emphasis on the Christian life that manifests itself in a legalism that Lutheranism has been traditionally wary of.  As I told the gentleman in Bible Study Sunday, I have no problem acknowledging that gambling (or any other behavior, for that matter) can be sinful.  But I have a problem with the blanket assertion that gambling is sinful, always.  
This is still where I stand.  Is that a product of my Lutheran upbringing?  I have little doubt that it is.  Can I defend that point of view Scripturally?  Overall, I think so.  Is there a Scriptural defense for the alternate point of view?  I think so.  Where does that leave us?  In typical Lutheran fashion, walking a dangerously thin line.  I think that Paul’s line of thought in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is key.  An action or behavior may or may not be sinful in and of itself.  It’s sinfulness depends on two things – our convictions about it in light of the Word of God, and the impact it has on our brothers and sisters in the faith.  Not just one or the other, but both of these things.  
Which means that an action or behavior – in and of itself –  could be sinful for one person and not for another.  I can buy a lottery ticket once a year without being tempted to begin spending money on it every week.  Another person might find the temptation too great to resist.  Gambling might not be a sin for me because it has no hold on me, whereas it might have a hold on someone else, becoming sin.  
However in both cases, for both people, the sinfulness of the action also has to be gauged by the impact it has on others in the faith.  Is it proper for me as a pastor to joke lightly about something that is a source of sin and damage in another’s life?  Or to suggest – either tacitly or explicitly – that a behavior is not sinful, thereby leading a brother or sister into behavior that ultimately becomes sin for them?  In both cases no!  My actions must be governed in part with the understanding that the Christian life is a public one, and our behaviors can affect the faith of others either for good or ill.
So on the second issue on the appropriateness of me making light of the issue in a sermon – even if it was only by means of analogy or example – I need to be careful.  
A colleague and friend of mine saw in this situation an opportunity to teach the concerned person about how I as a pastor must be free to use whatever analogies or means necessary to convey the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people.  If I am constrained by worries about who might find a particular example or analogy improper or inappropriate, then my message is similarly constrained and I am no longer exercising my Calling as a pastor.  His take on the situation was that the more fundamental issue was a misunderstanding of what I had intended to c
onvey by the use of the lottery example.  
I hadn’t considered that point of view before, and it does make sense to a point.  Yet I also feel that the member in Bible Study was reminding me of a very important point – sin is a slippery thing.  Satan works in myriad ways, and he’s certainly capable and willing to use something that is not actually sinful in my life to engender sin in another’s.  We can begin the argument about just how far we are expected to go in being our brother’s keeper and ensuring that we don’t contribute to the sin of another, but that wasn’t really the issue with the second point this member raised.  
We can argue about the absolute morality or immorality of gambling, and both feel that our position is better supported Scripturally.  We can disagree honestly in the faith and remain not just brothers in Christ, but also fellow Lutherans.  What an amazing concept for our oftentimes fractious polity!  
But the other point about the necessity of me to consider carefully what I say from the pulpit is well taken.  It’s not that I don’t think about these things, but it’s a reminder that however carefully I think about them, there is always the potential for misunderstanding or offense.  My duty is to seek not to let these misunderstandings and offenses eclipse the Gospel – either in curtailing what I say, or in a contrarian attitude on my part that might seek only to shock and offend  (ostensibly for the sake of the Gospel).  Either of these responses is inappropriate.  
At the end of the day, I’m not sure I would have preached differently, but it’s a good reminder that people are listening, and I need to take that very, very seriously.