Some Disturbing Facts about the Lottery

Recently a $1 billion Powerball jackpot sent the nation into a frenzy. An article in The Week magazine entitled “Addicted to Lotteries” (02/12/16 p. 11) presents some sobering facts about our country’s “harmless” obsession.

People waited in 3-hour lines during the latest Powerball frenzy

People waited in 3-hour lines during the latest Powerball frenzy

  • Last year Americans spent $70 billion on lottery tickets. That’s more than what was spent in this country on video games, movie tickets, and sporting events combined.
  • Over half of all lottery tickets were purchased by just 5% of the population. This group “tend(s) to be poor and uneducated.” A Duke University study found that people with household incomes of less than $25,000 spend an average of $583 per year on the lottery (Upper income families spend about half that much). The educational differences are even more pronounced. High school dropouts spend around $700 while college graduates spend less than $200.
  • Lottery defenders generally claim that the money raised by state lotteries goes to support education. However, the states that do not have lotteries on average spend 10% more of their budgets on education than the states that do have lotteries.

“While the lotteries spend millions promoting their games as harmless entertainment and encouraging people to imagine themselves quitting their jobs and buying mansions–‘Hey, you never know,’ reads the New York lottery’s tagline–studies show that poorer players are 25% more likely than richer players to consider a ticket a genuine investment, and to vastly overestimate their chance of winning.”

The article concludes that lotteries are “just a tax in disguise” designed to exploit the poor. I have to agree.

This post is cross listed at www.theologyforthechurch.com

What Percentage of Americans Are Evangelical?

During this election cycle a great deal of attention has been given to the evangelical vote. And for good reason: evangelicals are believed to make up 20% of the voting electorate. However, counting the number of evangelicals has always been a challenging task.evangometer Some evangelicals attend mainline denominational churches, and not everyone attending evangelical churches hold to what are typically considered evangelical distinctives. And to make things even more complicated, some who hold to evangelical beliefs do not self-identify as evangelicals. Leith Anderson and Ed Stetzer, working with a group of evangelical leaders, came up with four belief statements that appear to identify evangelicals when used in a questionnaire. They report their findings in the latest issue of Christianity Today (April, 2016) in “A New Way to Define Evangelicals” (pp. 52-55; the online version can be found here).

The four belief statements are:

“The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.”

“It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.”

“Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.”

“Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal life.”

Their findings? Anderson and Stetzer conclude that “29 percent of whites, 44 percent of African Americans, 30 percent of Hispanics, and 17 percent from other ethnicities have evangelical beliefs.” This means that, overall, about 30 percent of Americans hold to evangelical beliefs.

Cross posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Shepherding Your Church During a Presidential Election Year

By: Dwayne Milioni

Why did I agree to write this blog? I am definitely not a prophet, because I didn’t expect the election in November coming down to the current front-runners. Now what do I do? Shepherding your church members during a presidential election year is challenging enough, but this time I am not only challenged, I am also confused. I have never had so many church members ask me, “Who should I vote for?” or “Should I even vote at all?”

My church is polarized when it comes to politics. I have some members who cannot see the distinction between patriotism and Christianity. They drape the cross with an American flag. They love sweet tea and the Tea Party. I have other members that disrespect patriotism. They want little to do with politics. Some see voting as a biblical mandate while others see it as optional.

So amidst the confusion and presidential election chaos, let’s recall some biblical principles to help us see through cloudy circumstances and give direction to the people in our churches.

  1. Pastors should teach their members the proper role of government. While we cannot expect a secular government to fully represent the nature of God, there are at least three attributes of God that a secular government can promote—protection, goodness and justice. Jehovah is our protector. He is also good and just. God hates injustice. In the Old Testament, he commanded the nation of Israel and its kings to only pursue justice and righteousness (Deuteronomy 16, 1 Kings 10).
  1. Pastors should encourage their members to focus on biblical priorities. The Bible speaks to political and social “hot potatoes” that surround this election: the sanctity of human life for the unborn (Psalm 139:13-14), homosexuality and heterosexual marriage (Romans 1:26-27; Matthew 19:4-6), and accruing debt (Proverbs 22:7). Our opportunity to be a voice for biblical morality is also a voice against moral decay.
  1. Pastors should remind their members voting does a number of good things for the Christian. It allows us to obey our government authorities who ask us to vote. It honors God, who by his grace has allowed us to live in a country where citizens decide who their leaders will be. Voting allows us to be a voice for the voiceless and oppressed. It allows us to choose law makers and judges who will promote justice and restrain evil. Unlike other nations, a single voice via a single vote can make a difference in determining government leaders.
  1. Pastors should tell their members it is possible to honor non-Christian government officials (1 Timothy 4). The Bible tells us how Joseph, David, Daniel, and Paul yielded with humble obedience to their leaders while not compromising their faith. We must live in light of God’s sovereignty. Also, as we seek to obey our leaders, we also have the privilege to exhort them. For instance, in the case of legalized abortion, we should admonish those who would perpetuate laws that kill the innocent.

Unlike other presidential election years, this time a few significant evangelical leaders are encouraging Christians either not to vote or abstain from voting by writing in another name. Although I understand and appreciate the appeal for Christians not to violate their conscience, I think we should consider the full ramifications of our actions. Are we being responsible as citizens? Are we loving our neighbor and our nation by abstaining? Are we being selfish by not voting? Are we being fearful? Are we mixing our biblical categories by thinking we can only vote for Christians? I have said many times to church members when they vote they are not choosing their pastor but their president. One represents the kingdom of man, the other the Kingdom of God—these are two very different kingdoms with different priorities.

I have an international friend who just became a naturalized U.S. citizen. As we were talking about the upcoming election, I apologized that his first presidential vote will most likely be between two “not so good” choices. He laughed and said to me, “You Americans are really spoiled. You get all bent out of shape when you don’t have a choice between good and bad. Where I come from, we only ever had one choice when voting—bad and worse.” Convicting truth. God help us all.

Dr. Dwayne Milioni is Assistant Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lead Pastor at Open Door Church, and Board Chairman of The Pillar Church Planting Network.