Should Christians Gamble?

In college, I went to the Kentucky Derby with my friends. The main reason we went was to socialize, not bet on horses. After watching a few races, we decided to put down a measly sum of money. $10 to be exact. Was that wrong for us to do? Would the Bible condemn that action?

While there are no specific references in Scripture that condemn gambling, betting, or lottery, the Bible does warn us not to be tempted by the love of money (1 Tim. 6:10; Heb. 13:5). Scripture also condemns receiving money without labor (Prov. 13:11; 23:5; Eccl. 5:10). All of us know the gambling industry personifies both. Therefore, I think gambling should be avoided by Christians. Let me explain why.

Anyone who gambles can develop addictions if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. Signs that indicate someone has a problem is when behavior hinders relationships, finances, and the workplace. Gambling addiction has been known to be a “hidden problem” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like drug or alcohol addiction. Here are 4 things to ask yourself to determine whether you may have a gambling problem:

  1. Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or find ways to lie about how much you really spend on betting. For instance, you may go to the convenience store everyday to get a lottery ticket but tell people that’s not “really gambling.”
  2. You may have trouble controlling your gambling. When you begin gambling, is it hard for you to walk away from it? Are you compelled to keep spending your money until you bet the last dollar? Do you borrow money from others so you can win your loss back?
  3. If you gamble even when you don’t have money, this is a concern, especially if you have children and a spouse to take care of. When you feel pushed to borrow or even steal things for gambling money, you have a problem.
  4. People closest to you in life will share their concerns, eventually when you can’t hide it anymore. Denial keeps problem gambling going, but after a while it becomes obvious. When friends and family show concern, it’s best to get professional help.

If gambling is a struggle, I would encourage you to seek help. Get counseling from a Christian counselor who can remind you of the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. Remember, all of us struggle with sin. It’s when we admit it and are willing to repent from it that God will help us in our time of greatest need. I will end with this verse to remind you of God’s great love. God bless.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

Why Does a Good God Allow Human Suffering?

“Good and upright is the Lord.” – Psalm 25:8

Why does a loving God allow human suffering and evil? If God is all-powerful, doesn’t he have the ability to prevent it? If the Creator truly cares, wouldn’t he bring peace upon this earth? What is the purpose of suffering, if any at all? These are all common questions that people ask, especially when they are experiencing tragedy.

When my wife was a child, she had a younger sister named Natalia. At the age of 1, it was evident something physically was wrong. Her parents went from doctor to doctor to get a diagnosis. Finally, the worst news possible: Natalia had terminal cancer.

Her parents were determined to save Natalia’s life. They tried chemotherapy, surgery, traveled to clinics around the country, but there was no remedy for this cancer. It started in the tailbone and spread to her lungs.

When Natalia began to walk, she would complain about her leg pain. She just wanted relief. My wife vividly remembers a time when Natalia said to her Mom, “I just want an injection. Can you give me an injection to relieve this pain?” Most children loathe shots, but Natalia needed it because her pain was unbearable. That same year Natalia passed away and began the journey to her heavenly home.

Stories like these are hard to hear. My wife and her family were devastated. Heartbroken. Questioning the goodness of God was a natural conversation considering their circumstances. Despite the pain, this tragedy had started a positive direction for their family.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

After the funeral, my Father-in-Law, who was an agnostic, started attending church. He had nowhere else to go. In his brokenness, the only relief was to be part of a community of believers who would pray and comfort him and his family during this ravenous storm.

My wife started going to church with her grandpa. My Mother-in-Law also began attending church. Although Natalie had passed into eternity, her influence was prevalent. This tragedy brought the entire family into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, my wife loves the Lord. She has helped missionaries translate the gospel from English to Ukrainian. She has counseled several women in the church. Everyday,  she teaches my two boys the importance of God’s love. For instance, our eldest son Evan is already sharing Jesus with kids he meets at the park. She has been a tremendous helper for me and a vital asset to the strength of our family.

My Father-in-Law owns a successful business. He gives employees the option of staying after work to do in-depth Bible studies with him. And yes, they get paid for being present. He has contributed greatly to their city, revamping dilapidated buildings, creating programs for youth, and teaching Bible studies at his house. He knows the Bible better than any seminary trained professor I have ever met.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

All of us will experience tragedy at some point. It’s inevitable. When these tragedies do arise, what will your attitude be? If you become bitter and angry towards God, I can promise you, life will become a dark tunnel filled with disappointment. Bitterness always leads to the grave.

My wife’s sister Natalia was a heartbroken event. Both her laughter and tears will never be forgotten. And yes, grieving is the right attitude, but it’s not the final outcome. Natalia had a positive impact on my wife and her entire family. Her death brought brokenness, but that brokenness led the Livinyuk family to seek refuge in Christ. Praise be to God.

Do Not Let Anxiety Steal Your Joy

Do you struggle with anxiety? You are not alone. An estimated 40 million adults in the United States have been affected by this nemesis. In fact, so many have been affected that the healthcare industry spends $42 billion dollars a year to combat this plague. This number is 1/3rd of the total cost of mental healthcare in the U.S. Aren’t these alarming statistics?

I must admit. I am part of this statistic. I struggle with anxiety. It’s like a dark rain cloud that hovers over my psyche. It leads to high blood pressure, isolation, fear, and depression. Worst of all, anxiety steals my peace and joy in Christ.

While anxiety likes to rear it’s ugly head, it’s not invincible. It’s conquerable. Don’t let anxiety lie to you. It is prone to say, “I am who you are. Your personality is anxious. Just live with it.” But this is not true.

Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The creator of the universe told us to be calm. If we ask, He will give us a peace that surpasses all human understanding  (Philip. 4:7).

I know my anxiety is inflamed when I forget this marvelous truth–that Jesus gives us His peace. He is the Prince of Peace. This is the deep, abiding peace between our hearts and our Creator that cannot be taken away (John. 10:27-28).

Do we believe this? If so, why worry? Oftentimes, our focus is on self rather than God. We rely on our own strength. Quite frankly, it’s pride that keeps us worried because that means we are trusting in our own talents to get us through life’s constant challenges. But our talents are finite. As humans, we are broken, incomplete, and susceptible to mistakes. Trusting in self will only exacerbate the worry because infallibility doesn’t exist within. It only exists in our Creator. He is the true conqueror.

Furthermore, when the world let’s us down, we become accustomed to disappointment. We are used to trust being breached. Worry sets in because trust is replaced with doubt. But once again, our relationship with others is different from God. God doesn’t make mistakes. His promises are never empty. When he says, “Peace I give you,” this is exactly what will come to fruition.

I know it’s difficult to fight anxiety. When you do, don’t dwell on the fear. Put on the whole armor of God. Remember, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, philosophies, and powers (Eph. 6:12).

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us exactly what to do when we are tempted to worry. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Here’s a thought. “There’s a traffic jam. I am going to be late to work. I may even get fired from my job.” How do you combat this? Be proactive. Call your employer. Tell them, “I am sorry but I will be running a few minutes late.” 99 out of 100 times, they will understand your predicament is out of your control.

What do you do next? In every situation, including your drive to work, present your requests to God. What are your requests? God, help me right now. I am feeling anxious in the car. I might be late for work. Please calm me down. Grant me your peace. You are ultimately in control. Amen.

Here are some other tips to help you overcome anxiety.

  1. Call a friend and share your inner struggle.
  2. Attend church consistently and maintain fellowship with believers who can pray for your situations.
  3. Read the Bible before you start your day.
  4. Listen to Christian radio while driving to work.
  5. Take deep breaths and count slowly from 1-10.
  6. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy life.
  7. Find a hobby or activity you enjoy doing that will replace fear and worry with recreational joy.
  8. Journal your anxious thoughts and pray for God to take them away.
  9. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  10. Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep (7-8 hours).

Any other ideas? Please feel free to comment below!

Martin Luther Misquoted by Evangelicals

Today, evangelicals defend Luther’s pithy statement: “Justification by faith alone in Christ alone.” Here is what R.C. Sproul, founder of Ligonier ministries, has to say about Luther’s theological accomplishments.

“Luther blazed the rediscovery of justification by faith alone, and he restored the church’s focus to Christ alone.” – R.C. Sproul

But does Sproul accurately portray what Luther meant by justification, or is he, along with other evangelicals, misquoting the Reformer?

Many protestant denominations believe that God grants salvation to each person based solely on the faith of the person, apart from any action taken by that individual. In theological circles, the idea is called sola fide: saved by faith alone.

According to Luther, he would disagree with modern evangelicals on what “faith alone” encompasses. Faith shouldn’t be separated from repentance and baptism. Luther is being misquoted. For instance, in Luther’s Large Catechism, He describes the synergistic relationship between baptism and faith.

[I] affirm that Baptism is no human trifle, but that it was established by God Himself. Moreover, He earnestly and solemnly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. No one is to think that it is an optional matter like putting on a red coat. It is of greatest importance that we hold Baptism in high esteem as something splendid and glorious. The reason why we are striving and battling so strenuously for this view of Baptism is that the world nowadays is full of sects that loudly proclaim that Baptism is merely an external form and that external forms are useless…. Although Baptism is indeed performed by human hands, yet it is truly God’s own action (1978, pp. 98-99).

While scholars differ on what Luther meant, it’s quite clear his soteriology (study of salvation) involved baptism. If salvation is dependent upon baptism, then was Luther contradicting his own theology: Justification by faith alone in Christ alone?

No. He is properly defining faith. Faith is not spiritually divorced from works (Jam. 2:24). Faith is not physically separate from our actions like Gnostic theologians would like us to believe. Faith clings to the water (Mark 16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:4-6; Gal. 3:27). Faith is faithfulness. Faith is obedience (Acts 2:38). To define faith absent from obedience is no faith at all.

Unfortunately, justification by faith alone in Christ alone has caused many to misinterpret Scripture. While we are saved by faith, our faith is never alone; it is fused with repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). And that’s why Luther himself included faith, repentance, and baptism as part and parcel of the gospel. He understood their symbiotic relationship as it corresponded to the reality of salvation. “Faith clings to the water.” – Martin Luther.

Here is a typical response when an evangelical hears baptism as part and parcel of the gospel.

“Baptism as a necessary means to secure salvation? To require baptism for a believer is adding works to the gospel, which is a foe to grace and an affront to God.”

The key difference between this statement and Luther’s is Luther did not believe baptism was a work of man. In fact, baptism is the opposite of a work. We are baptized in the name of “Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 16; Acts 2:28). We are placed into Christ (Gal. 3:27) through His death, burial, and resurrection. It’s all about what He accomplished. Baptism tells the world, “I can’t save myself. I need Christ. The flood of judgment is upon me. Place me in the ark of salvation through your blood. Call on the name of the Lord.” Baptism without faith is just going under the water, but baptism with faith is being born again (John 3; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Personally, I believe the confusion is a result of modern evangelicalism today. Instead of “repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” we tell unbelievers to ask Jesus into their hearts for salvation.

First, nowhere in Scripture does it teach us to ask Jesus into our hearts for salvation. Secondly, the sinner’s prayer is a modern form of Gnosticism because it tries to separate the physical and spiritual realities and undermines what the Bible teaches. Thirdly, and most dangerously, if one takes the view that salvation occurs before baptism, then they are treating baptism as a work rather than a promise from God.

If you take the position that salvation comes first and baptism second, then you have to treat baptism as an act of obedience. You are putting it on the other side of the cross alongside sanctification. When you do that, you misguide people to what baptism really means.

I understand why people might say requiring baptism for salvation is a works-based salvation. It’s because evangelicals have been taught baptism is a work of man just like tithing and fasting, rather than a promise from God.

If Martin Luther were here today, I think he would be shocked how often he is misquoted. In fact, in the quote above, when Luther said the “world nowadays is full of sects that loudly proclaim that baptism is merely an external form and that external forms are useless,” I think he is talking to the modern Protestants. I find it ironic that the very ones who defend Luther’s “justification by faith alone in Christ alone” today are similar in theology to the very ones Luther objected to during the Reformation.

Quantum Mechanics Points to an Intelligent Creator

Can quantum mechanics objectively prove God’s existence? Yes and No. Let me explain. Looking at the science objectively, I can demonstrate, for instance, that the wavelength of a photon can be determined by taking the velocity of the wave and dividing it by the frequency. This can be measured and proven in the observable universe.

From this data, I can only infer subjectively that it’s possible some intelligent mind gave quantum mechanics the sophisticated brilliance to work so elegantly. Does this therefore conclude God exists? In my mind, I can’t think of any better explanation for the data given.

Some have contested this statement, saying, “Why would you infer a mind or that it is intelligent? The universe “works” in such a way that it comes on as all of this, but terms like sophisticated, brilliant or elegant are meaningless here. Do those words even really describe it?

I would argue yes, quantum mechanics does point to an intelligent Creator. For instance, Eugene Weigner, a Nobel Prize Physicist, had argued materialism is no longer logically consistent with present quantum mechanics. Beforehand, Einsteins theory of relativity maintained the universe was deterministic and mind independent. Now, through the double slit experiment, scientists discovered a wave function collapses when there is an observer. When no observation takes place, the photon continues as a wave. When it is observed, it quantizes into a particle.

If the laws of physics weren’t affected by the minds observation, then mechanical materialism or physicalism would be a tenable theory. However, quantum mechanics suggests the opposite.

If the human mind transcends matter then it’s possible there are other minds that transcend the physical universe. And might there not even exist an ultimate mind? Quantum mechanics help bridge the gap between the pure sciences and the metaphysical world. This is huge because no longer are we “inferring” a mind, but the experiments are rather proving it.

In conclusion, it’s hard to make a definitive statement that science “objectively” proves the existence of God. We can’t experimentally test this in a lab. But that doesn’t mean science can’t point to God being a more probable explanation for the existence of the universe than string theory, multiple universes, or naturalistic processes.

Why? Because as I said before, the real world is more sophisticated than a computer machine. Computer machines don’t just spontaneously pop in and out of existence. There was an architect with a mind who gave it code and mathematical computations. Software programs are not self-sufficient; they require a designer. If computers require a programmer, how much more does the fine-tuning universe need one? That’s why I still contend that God is the best explanation for the universe. Thoughts?

 

Denominational Preference Should Never Supersede Doctrinal Faithfulness

I do believe it’s tenable for a denominational tradition to be doctrinally faithful. For Paul clearly said in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” Thus, the traditions of the Judeo-Christian worldview do play a vital role for interpreting Scripture.

However, they do not take the primary role. Denominational preferences or traditions should be superseded if they violate the clarity of Scripture. This means there are doctrines, most notably salvation, that are so clear from the reading of God’s word, that to violate it’s objectivity in favor of keeping a denominational tradition is tantamount to unorthodoxy.

The most notable example is Matthew 15:1, where the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” Jesus answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Clearly, the law of Moses never mentioned that washing hands before a meal was necessary to keep oneself clean. It was introduced into the Babylonian Talmud and over time became wrongly equated with God’s law.

In conclusion, I am not anti-denomination. I am only suggesting denominations should be open minded to changing their doctrinal views if it is found, after careful investigation of their “statement of faith”, to be opposed to the clarity of Scripture.

I realize all denominations, including those who are non-denominational, fall into a set of theological presuppositions. That’s okay, as long as the church does not replace the word of God with a doctrinal creed. And I believe this is clearly articulated in Paul’s letter to Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”

God’s Law and Grace Are Harmonious

“To separate God’s law from grace is to misapply both law and grace.”

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). For all have sinned and stand condemned before God (Rom. 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Thus, all deserve God’s wrath for breaking His law.

Thankfully, Jesus took our punishment on the cross in order to satisfy God’s righteous anger toward sin. Because God upholds His law, He must punish all sin, including yours and mine. To absolve us from the curse of the law, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that we could be made right with God through Christ (Isaiah 53; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only did Jesus die for our sins, but he lived in complete obedience to the law. That’s why there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. Why? Because what the law was powerless to do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us (Rom. 8:4).

Therefore, the only way to understand grace is in light of the law. The law says, “You are guilty.” But God says, “even though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Essentially, the law magnifies grace.

Jesus also makes it clear the law is everlasting. “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose (Matt. 5:17). And He did. He perfectly obeyed the law and that’s the only reason we are made righteous before a holy God.