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Many Christians have little or no idea of what idolatry actually is. We only know that many people worshipped idols in ages past and surmise that it was purely out of ignorance and superstition. Merriam Webster follows this line of thinking in its definition:
1: an object of extreme devotion; (Example: a movie idol)
2: a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly a false god
4: a false conception or fallacy
5: a form or appearance visible but without substance; an enchanted phantom, (a lifeless idol— P. B. Shelley)

For many years, I too considered idolatry to be something from the distant past. I reasoned that if idolatry existed at all in our modern world, then it would assuredly be among uncivilized people groups.

In this article I hope to convince readers that idolatry is more prevalent than ever, especially in our civilized western world. I am talking about the United States of America, in your town and mine.

What is the Biblical Definition of Idolatry?
God has much to say about idolatry in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. It speaks of graven images, gods or places where the people worshipped idols, such as groves and high places. There are over a thousand references pertaining to idolatry in the Bible and the word "abomination" is frequently associated with this theme!

Idolatry is worshipping anyone or anything more than or in place of God.

Read what Isaiah wrote about idolatry in 44:9-20
They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed. Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together. The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint. The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god. They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?

Idol worship was rampant among the heathen and it made huge inroads into the Hebrew nation. We would be wise to make a careful study of idolatry in order to recognize and eradicate it from our midst. I will first ask a simple question: What exactly is idolatry that makes idol worship so popular with men and repulsive to God?

God created humans to worship him alone. That means to respect, trust and obey him. We are to be subject to God, to serve him and please him. Idolatry, however, is self-worship. I realize that we speak of people worshipping images, nature or things, but it all boils down to self worship. Man makes or chooses his idols and worships them in the hope that they will bring him blessings, safety, health or fortune.

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve he promised that if they obeyed him, they would "become as gods." In other words, they would not need God to decide what was good or bad for them. They could do their own thing – anything they pleased. Man makes or chooses his idols in order to get or do whatever he pleases. In past history, people wanted children, so they fashioned fertility gods of wood or stone. Today many don't want children so they trust in birth-control gods. When ancient people wanted prosperity, health or power, they made themselves gods designed to give them what they wanted. If they wanted protection from evil people, they fashioned angry-looking gods and sacrificed to them.

There always was and still is a lot of superstition involved in idolatry. When people feel that they can not attain what they desire through their own efforts, they look for short-cuts, seek some kind of magic or chance. Just as true Christians place their faith and trust in God, unbelievers place their trust and faith in things made with hands, or they choose something in nature (the sun, moon, some mountain or magic potion), or they choose to worship someone who makes great sounding promises.

Bookend Commandments
The first commandment forbids idolatry and tells us that we are to worship no other gods. The last commandment forbids coveting. These commandments are like bookends. Worship seeks to please God while coveting is self-pleasing. In worship, man seeks to serve God, but the covetous man seeks to satisfy his own desires.

Both worship and coveting have lost much of their biblical meaning in today's society and even in the church. Some church "worship teams" may claim to be praising God and "lifting him up" in their words and music, but it is quite obvious to serious observers, who is on stage, standing in the spotlight and seeking applause.

The Hebrew and Greek idea of coveting indicates greed and lust. Apparently, this word seemed too harsh, so translators gave it the meaning "to covet" which means strong desires. If a person is normal and healthy, he or she will have desires and a good appetite. The Bible commands us to covet earnestly the best gifts (1Corinthians 12:31 and 14:39).

That which has infected nearly all individuals, institutions and organizations today, however, is greed and lust. Greed is the primary motive behind most actions and the determining factor in most decisions. Greed and lust are similar and both are evil because they are not controlled by ethical, moral or common sense values and discipline.

Today, people "covet" and few see anything wrong with it. Stores and businesses do all in their power to create and nourish coveting. Good advertising must whet our appetite for food and drink; make us greedy to own the offered products and lust to enjoy them. Above all, it should convince people that they are getting a great bargain. Words like "FREE," "half price" or "60% off" underscore that message. "We deserve the best and customer satisfaction is the company's highest priority." Coveting is good for business, but greed and lust could scare some customers away.

Coveting is seeking to satisfy selfish desires as cheaply, quickly and easily as possible. Today, the popular term is "instant gratification."

Greed is the opposite of faith. Faith is seeking the truth in order to live accordingly. All else is idolatry: allowing something else to stand between us and God.

If you think there is not much idolatry in America today, you had better consider the New Testament definition. Idolatry is twice defined in the NT as coveting - greed and lust! Ephesians 5:5 “...covetous man, who is an idolater” and Colossians 3:5: "...covetousness, which is idolatry.”
I Corinthians 10:7 reads, Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Did you say that there is not much greed and lust in America today?

Bible Passages on Coveting
When Jacob decided to return to Canaan, his wife Rachel stole the idols of her father (Genesis 31). It is clear that idolatry was widely practiced in some lands, but this is the first mention of it among God's chosen people. In chapter 35:2-4, Jacob later confiscated all the idols and hid them under an oak.

Exodus 18:21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness [greed, lust] and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. The primary idea in coveting seems to be love or lust for power and wealth. The love of money is the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:10a).

Psalm 119:36 Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness [greed, lust].

Jeremiah 6:13 (also in 8:10) For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness [greed, lust]; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.

Ezekiel 33:31 And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. Here we see that coveting is the opposite of love.

Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

New Testament Texts

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. [to covet is to lust]

Romans 13:9 Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Here again, love is the opposite of coveting.

Luke 12:15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness [greed, lust] for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

Collossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness [greed, lust], which is idolatry.

Pro_21:26 He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.

Hab_2:9 Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness (greed, lust) to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!

In recent years, many laws that were designed to curb crime, violence, immorality, and harmful actions have been relaxed or even abandoned. We now speak of "controlled substances" rather than addictive drugs and many States are trending towards legalization of the same. Killing unwanted babies is now called "a woman's right to choose" or "Family Planning." Homosexualality is not only permitted and tolerated, but promoted by the media, taught in schools and protected by law. Anyone who even speaks out in against such practices can be prosecuted while perpetrators of deviant sexual lusts celebrate with "Gay Pride Parades." The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves Isaiah 3:9.

The government at all levels can now rob citizens of their money, rights and property and victims have few legal recourses. Businesses can be untruthful in advertising without being held liable. Politicians who were elected to protect the people from abuses are now among the worst offenders. Honest, hard-working and tax-paying citizens are robbed and punished while foreigners are openly invited to enter our country illegally. They are also offered anything they need or want free of charge: education, health care, food stamps, subsidized housing and welfare. It is difficult to find any person or organization that can safely be deemed trustworthy today. Ministers and medical doctors used to be considered reputable, reliable and caring, but this can no longer be assumed. In the minds of many Americans, "clergy" and "pedophile" are almost synonymous and anyone associated with health care falls into the same category as lawyers and politicians.

Greed and Gravity
Gravity pulls everything downward and is never satisfied. If gravity should ever become satisfied, we and other objects would float aimlessly through space. God created gravity, but he also created life. Life is constantly engaged in a struggle to overcome gravity. Life seeks to grow and push upward. You might argue that roots grow downward, but that is only to support life and growth. Roots grow downward to seek nourishment and water so the plant can grow upward. They also provide a strong foundation so the plant can stand tall and not be toppled by strong winds.

Like gravity, greed also pulls downward and is never satisfied but God wants Christians to be kind and caring. His love and His Word are edifying and build us up, but Satan seeks to pull us into the gutter or pit. When people reject God's Word, way and purpose in life, and if they are not hindered by laws and rules based upon God's Word, they become greedy. Greed grows into a ravenous monster that is never satisfied. Left to itself, a child will try to live on candy and do all kinds of unhealthy and dangerous things. The Creator provided plants and animals with built-in mechanisms called instincts that prevent such catastrophes, but people were created to live in harmony with the Creator and to follow his guidance.

People are bargain hunters by nature. That is why yard sales are so popular and the most commonly seen words in business advertising are "Sale" "Save" and "% off." There is nothing intrinsically wrong with getting a bargain, but it becomes evil when a person becomes addicted, lusting after and coveting undeserved benefits. We should view bargains as God's blessings and thank him. We should even ask God if there is some needy person we could help rather than boast of our "streak of luck."

One of the ugliest results of greed is gambling. My wife and I live in New Jersey just 42 miles from the Atlantic City casinos. Much of the traffic on Route 40, that we hear 24/7 every day of the year, is either headed for or coming back from the casinos.

New Jersey legalized gambling in Atlantic City in 1976 and one of America's finest resorts soon became known as the "Mafia's outhouse." In 2005, I read that 35 million people visit the 14 Atlantic City casinos. That comes to nearly three million per month or 96,000 per day, making Atlantic City the most frequented tourist attraction in America!

Gambling thrives on the greed of both owners and customers. Scandals are no rarity. The most notorious one is probably the Revel Casino project.

In 2006, Morgan Stanley purchased 20 acres (8.1ha) for a new $2billion plus casino resort. Revel Entertainment Group was named as the project's developer and Revel was plagued with problems from the outset. In April 2010, Morgan Stanley, which owned 90% of Revel Entertainment Group, decided to discontinue funding and put its stake in Revel up for sale. New Jersey's state legislature passed a bill offering tax incentives to attract new investors and complete the job, but a poll by Faileigh Dickonson University's Public Mind released in March 2010 showed that 60% of voters opposed the legislation; two thirds of them "strongly opposed it."

When New Jersey legalized gambling in 1976, citizens were promised that taxes would soon go down, but it wasn't long before the State was subsidizing casinos with tax-payer money. As part of his plan to revitalize Atlantic City, Governor Chris Christie announced in 2011 that the State of New Jersey would invest $260 million in the floundering Revel project.

In February 2012, the news reported that Christie's budget proposal included the expectation that the Casinos would bring in $38 Million additional tax Dollars in 2013. This amazing prognosis followed 40 consecutive months of casino revenue declines! A couple of days later the news media gave a clue as to why Revel was expected to break its losing streak. Revel would be offering a "Royal Jelly" burlesque show with live bands and dancers who mix with the audience as they strip down to bare facts - only strings attached.

Oh yes, I should add another reason for Christie's rosy prognosis. The New Jersey Legislature introduced a bill on December 1, 2011 which struck down the waiting period required before performing marriages and civil unions. The law also allows for either party to have the union annulled without contest within 30 days. The Legislature calls the bill R.S.37, but I call it legalized prostitution.

Ultimately, Governor Chris Christie offered Revel $261million in state tax credits to assist the casino when it opened. The Revel opened in April 2012 but towards the end of 2013, the New Jersey Pension Funds invested another $300 million in Revel. The following year, 2014, Revel declared bankruptcy and was sold to the Canadian investor group, Brookfield Asset Management for $110 million. Then BAM backed out of the deal and the Florida billionaire, Glenn Straub, bought the $2.4 Billion-Dollar complex for a measly $82 million, far less than the public money that Governor Chris Christie had sunk into the project. The property was again sold to AC Ocean Walk, LLC for $200million in 2017, and reopened in 2018.

In the wake of the closures and declining revenue from casinos, Governor Christie said in September 2014 that the state would consider a 2015 referendum to end the 40-year-old monopoly that Atlantic City holds on casino gambling and allow gambling in other municipalities.

Gamblers Always Win!
In 2005, an Atlantic City casino boasted on a billboard that it paid out an average of $1,500,000 in daily winnings. I was certain that this astronomical figure was a blatant lie and took the trouble to check it out. I discovered that it was actually true!

Casinos generally don't reveal statistics on their operations, but after doing some extensive research on the Atlantic City casino operations in 2005, I came up with some revealing facts.

These same casinos generated $5 Billion in gaming revenue, an average of $142.86 per customer and day. Because slot machines have a high rate of payback, it takes quite a while to get rid of that much cash. Every time the slot machine spits out money, it is counted as winnings and the slot machine keeps a tally for you. You can readily see why a gambler's "winnings" can be several times the amount he actually spends. The money is "recycled" until nothing is left. It can take hours, but players always manage to get rid of their money. That is why many gamblers claim that they always win, or that it is just entertainment.

People don't gamble because they enjoy taking chances. They gamble to win. People who operate casinos and gaming parlors are well aware of this and make certain that their customers win. They would never return if they didn't win. Ask anyone who gambles and they will assure you that they win -- always!

Casinos are Benefactors
When the casinos opened in 1978, we were told that taxes would go down. New Jersians now carry the highest tax burden in the nation. Property taxes are double the national average with the average private home-owner paying $15,000 per annum. One fourth of our own Social Security income goes to pay taxes on our suburban 45-year-old rancher, with 3-bedrooms, a single bath and crawl space.

As anyone can imagine, residents have been complaining long and loud about this situation. Senior citizens living on Social Security were eventually granted a modest property tax rebate, but that didn't placate most voters. A candidate for public office who fails to put tax relief foremost on his platform hasn't the ghost of a chance to get elected.

In 2005, Democratic Senator, John Corzine, campaigned successfully for the office of Governor with promises to ease the tax burden. One of his first acts as Governor was to raise the sales tax from 6% to 7%. Political talk about lowering property taxes dragged out for more than a year and likely contributed to global warming.

Finally, in January, 2007, State politicians grudgingly agreed to cut property taxes for nearly everyone except senior citizens living on Social Security (like us). We get no relief whatsoever from this measure. Why? We were already getting a partial property tax rebate.

Although a reduction in property taxes was agreed upon, no one has seen relief. Most New Jersey residents found that any reduction in property taxes was more than compensated by higher assessments. Haddon Heights citizens met in a church on June 26, 2007 to protest the sudden hike in their property taxes. The 100-year-old house of one senior citizen was reassessed for three times its previous value! The owners were forced out of the home they had lived in for decades. Casino operators should be standing in line to offer them assistance!

Casinos like to boast about how many jobs they create. They employ PR people to inform the public about all the benefits they receive from gambling. And they hire clever accountants who manage to keep earnings down and owners rich. The Atlantic City gaming industry bragged that it paid $490 Million in taxes in 2005 "which benefits seniors, the disabled and economic revitalization programs in New Jersey." Yet, after paying salaries, utilities, advertising and other expenses, one third of Atlantic City's casinos reported losses for 2005!

In order to escape taxation, the "Casino Reinvestment Development Authority" was formed. The Associated Press reported on February 19, 2007, that the CRDA was purchasing eight double-decker passenger cars for approximately $15 million and leasing four locomotives for another $4.5 million. The trains will transport people between New York and Atlantic City. That is how casino winnings "benefit seniors, the disabled and economic revitalization programs in New Jersey."

The First Gamblers
The first sin recorded in the Bible was gambling. Satan preached a four-point sermon and there was rejoicing in hell when Adam and Eve took the gamble and became the devil's first converts.
1. "You can be like God = Do anything you please!"
2. "You won't die = This life is all that is important. Live and enjoy it to the fullest!"
3. "You can decide for yourself what is good and evil."
4. "Your eyes will be opened = you will be enlightened."

God says one thing and the devil says something else, so what should we believe? Adam and Eve probably didn't believe everything Satan told them but they decided to gamble and tasted the forbidden fruit.

The gamble paid off. The fruit was delicious, they didn't die, and Eve became the first woman to exclaim, "I don't have an earthly thing to wear!" God gave her a fur coat -- talk about winners! Adam and Eve even won the blame game. The serpent took the rap and the devil got home free!

But gambling was not born at creation.

The ultimate gamble was made by Satan before the creation of this world when he risked everything to challenge God's supremacy. For millenniums, Satan seemed to be the winner, but when the seal on Jesus' tomb was broken, the devil's fate was sealed. Satan is still free, but he knows that his time is running out. He's desperately trying to persuade people to gamble with their goods, their gifts, their health, their lives and their eternal abode -- in pretty much that order. He lets people win in the beginning, but what he is really after is their souls.

Gamblers are Losers
When you gamble, you may seem to win at first, but in the end, you lose. Occasionally, you hear about someone winning big, but they don't tell you how much was lost while hoping for the big win. Even those who take home more than they brought are losers. Much of the money goes for taxes and fees and the rest is soon spent. Because the names of winners are publicized, they are deluged with requests from charities. Relatives and friends expect a share in the takings and beggars are a dime a dozen.

With the last few Dollars, the gambler returns to the casino, hoping to crack the jackpot again. Someone should make a survey of what ultimately happens to winners. How many marriages and families are ruined and how many become compulsive gamblers, addicts, alcoholics or commit suicide?

When a heavy drinker or chain smoker lives especially long, it makes headlines, but nobody is interested in reporting or reading about the millions who die young or who suffer much because of their chosen lifestyles. It is the same with gambling. We occasionally hear of a jackpot winner, but no one reports on the losers.

Why Shouldn't Christians Gamble?
Here are my seven reasons for not gambling:

1. The Golden Rule: "Love thy Neighbor as Thyself"
One reason I don't gamble is because I attempt to follow the Golded Rule. I don't willingly take part in contests that involve luck or chance even if they don't cost me anything. God takes good care of his own and I don't need any other sustenance.

By participating in a contest, I also diminish the chances of someone else winning. I have won contests, however, in which I was an involuntary participant. In 1980, I was flying back to Austria from a Field Directors Conference in Kansas City. A stewardess passed out rub-off tickets to each passenger. Anyone who found three TWA symbols on their ticket would win a free round-trip ticket to any destination served by Trans World Airlines. I waited until the gentleman seated next to me had finished rubbing off his ticket and handed him mine. "Don't you want it?'' he asked with obvious surprise. I said, "No, the Bible tells us to love our neighbors and even give them preference." The ticket was a winner and the stewardess announced over the PA system that there was a winner on board. Once out of the airport, we found ourselves on the same shuttle bus. My newfound friend announced to everyone on the bus that he was flying to Greece because I had given him my winning ticket. He even told the passengers about my faith in God! That precipitated a lengthy conversation with a Jewish youth sitting next to me. Talk about winners!

After eating in an Austrian restaurant once, we walked home with a couple that lived only two doors from us who had also eaten there. A local electrical appliance store was having a special exhibit of new products and I suggested checking them out. At the door, we were each given a ticket that was good for a door prize. I handed my ticket to our neighbor. As you probably guessed, he won first prize, a color TV.

On another occasion, the teller at our bank handed me an entry blank for a contest in which someone would win a mountain bike. I turned it down using my Golden Rule argument. When she looked puzzled, I explained that by not participating, others had a better chance of winning. Two weeks later, she told me that a partially crippled young man had won the bike and lost his mother to cancer that same day. The bank teller started attending our church, but then she gambled on a promising young man who kept her away and made her life miserable.

Many teachers in the Bible Institute we founded in Austria were pastors and not trained teachers. For this reason we conducted a 4-day Teacher Training Seminar and engaged an expert to lead it. The first session was in the evening and our instructor explained that we would be very busy from morning until night. For this reason, he was choosing one person to serve as "Watchman" for each day. His duty would be two-fold: He was to get up early and listen to the news; and then share the headlines with everyone at breakfast. His other duty would be to ring a bell which announced the beginning of each session.

To be fair, he had each of the 13 teacher participants draw a card from his hand. The holder of a pre-selected card would be Watchman for that particular day. I took a card and realized that it was from a deck of regular playing cards. My parents never allowed us to play with these, saying they were of the devil. Here was an instructor dealing out "the devil's cards to teachers of our Bible Institute!"

The instructor announced that the person holding the Ace of Spades would be the watchman for the following day. I had no idea what that card looked like, so I asked a teacher sitting next to me. He glanced at my card and said, "That's it!"

The instructor shuffled and dealt the cards again for the second day and named another card. I got that one too. After winning the third round as well, everyone was laughing and joking about my luck (bad luck in this case!). One teacher even got out his calculator and figured the slim chance of anyone winning three out of four times. The instructor announced that he was not including me in the next drawing, but there was a storm of protest from the teachers. "We will never know if Ralph might have won the fourth round," they complained. I was included and -- you guessed it! I "won" a fourth time!

2. False Desires
An inherent part of gambling is the desire for personal gain, but desire is not inherently wrong. Hunger and thirst are just two simple examples of that. Jesus desired to eat the Passover with his disciples (Luke 22:15) and Paul's desire for Israel was that they might be saved (Romans 10:1). The Bible encourages us to desire spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 14:1) and "the sincere milk of the Word" (I Peter 2:2). If a man desires the office of a bishop, "he desires a good thing" (I Timothy 3:1).

It is desires which are not conolled by the Holy Spirit, that are wrong or even deadly. Jesus reprimanded the disciples because they desired to be first (Mark 9:35 and 10:35). He pronounced woes on the Pharisees because they desired esteem and recognition from others (Luke 20:46).

Most importantly, the "get something for nothing SIN-drome" stands in direct contradiction to biblical teaching. It is not just desire, but coveting, greed or lust.

3. Work Ethics
I don't gamble because of the ethics problem involved. The Bible teaches us that "if a man will not work, neither shall he eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10). God told Adam that he would have to earn bread by the sweat of his brow.

Ever since Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, people have longed to regain their "paradise lost," but paradise is carefully guarded by the angel's flaming sword and remains inaccessible in this life.

There is no place for laziness in paradise. Surely, if God works, we have no right to be lazy. Even before Adam sinned, he was given jobs and responsibilities. Throughout the Bible we are instructed to serve God and man faithfully. We are commanded to work six days and rest on the seventh.

We would not be human if getting something for nothing didn't sound tempting in our ears, but God has carefully outlined what is free and what we are to earn. Salvation and forgiveness are free, but only because we couldn't afford it and Jesus paid it all. We are to be workmen that don't need to be ashamed (II Timothy 2:15). We are commanded, first and foremost, to seek what pleases God and that he promises to take care for all our needs (Matthew 6:33).

There is no biblical basis for trusting our luck!

4. "Thou Shalt Not Covet"
The tenth commandment is another reason for not gambling. Whenever a person gambles, he covets. There is no getting around this. No one gambles because he or she wants to lose; people gamble in hopes of personal gain. The argument that a raffle or contest benefits some charity is a cheap excuse for gambling. If you want to help a charity, give to it!

Giving precedence to any desire, person or object above God is idolatry. In the New Testament, idolatry is defined as "covetousness" (Colossians 3:5 & Ephesians 5:5). The Greek word is pleonexia which means "greed, the desire to have more, covetousness, avarice." Many Christians seem convinced that idolatry is found only in "heathen" nations and rarely in America. Hello? There is no greed, coveting, or materialism in this country?

For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth (Psalm 10:1).

The longing for pleasure and craving for easy gain are basic desires of carnal man, but nourishing these cravings automatically leads to greed and lust. It is the same inner urge that eventually entices people to cheat, steal and commit adultery. And it is also why people gamble.

5. Giving and Receiving
The Christian faith is all about giving and receiving, not getting and keeping. The rules of giving and receiving stand in direct opposition to the rules of gambling. We can not earn salvation nor can we obtain it by chance. It is the gift of God lest any man be tempted to boast. There is only one source of blessing and that is God. A person who gambles has another god, another faith and another hope.

The entire philosophy of getting, collecting and keeping is satanic. Even many Christians are consumed with getting and fail to see anything wrong with it. And they never know when they have enough.

This backwards philosophy has infiltrated many churches and it affects missions and evangelism. Jesus told us to go and give, but these churches have adopted the "come and get" principle. They have regular fund raisers and promotions designed to attract people into their churches and to get money. Some even offer gambling (Bingo, raffles etc.). Committees are appointed whose job is figuring ways to get even more. Christians obsessed with getting generally don't tithe and "getting" churches send few missionaries.

Some might argue that you can't give until you have, and in order to have, you must get. That reminds me of the guy who told God, "If you help me win the lottery I will give you a tithe." It is putting the cart before the horse. And we can all give at least a tenth. Don't be so foolish to think you don't have anything to give. Giving comes in "cans" and not in "cant's." Serving can be compared to a pipeline; the more you give, the more you receive.

The widow of Serepath claimed that she had only enough for one meal before she and her son would starve to death. The prophet convinced her to give of what she had and they all had an abundance. Did she gamble? Not at all! Faith is not a gamble and she believed. In fact, neither God nor the prophet needed what she had. Both wanted to give her what she really needed -- assurance of God's love and care.

Christians have plenty to give. We can give time, health, gifts, things, hope, strength and comfort. What people need most is you and not what you have. God so loved us and gave his Son. Jesus gave his life for us and commanded his followers to do the same for others. God tells us to forgive each other even as Christ forgave us. The "Lord's Prayer" gives this teaching a different twist in that we ask God to forgive us just as we forgive each other. The Christian faith is all about being forgiven and forgiving.

How does gambling fit that concept?

6. Owe No Man Anything!
One of the most common types of gambling is with cards, but I am not speaking of the traditional card games like Bridge, Poker and Black Jack. People gamble with their credit cards. It is gambling with someone else's money, called debt. Many Christians who would never visit a casino are compulsive gamblers with their credit cards.

For years we didn't have a credit card, but after futilely trying to rent a car, we decided to get one. For the next 10-15 years, we had a card for such situations, but seldom used it otherwise. After retiring from active missionary service and settling in New Jersey, we found it virtually impossible to get along without a credit card.

Everyone wants you be in debt. For decades, we never made debts. We even put money aside in a 401 for our retirement years. When we finally retired and decided to buy a home, we discovered that we had no credit. We argued that we had enough to pay over half the purchase price, but that didn't count. We checked with others, who confirmed this fact. A bank gives a mortgage only if you have credit, and in order to have credit, you must make debts. Our only hope was to get a loan and pay an exorbitant interest rate.

We were finally able to obtain a reasonable home equity loan, but only because the Bank President and Chairman of the Board were personal friends and supporters! After purchasing our house, the telephone, electric and gas companies demanded payment of a caution fee before they would give us services. They don't gamble!

After four years of making mortgage payments, we get several offers a week for credit cards, loans and mortgages. We burn them in our fireplace. We are definitely not good customers. We do use our credit card, but pay bills as soon as they come due. That is rare in America.

A large number of Americans gamble with their credit. They have several credit cards and pay interest on sizable balances. Houses and cars are owned by the bank or mortgage company. Monthly payments hardly suffice to pay the interest. Any unexpected expense or loss of income can prove disastrous. When these people see no hope of recovering losses, they begin to gamble with reckless abandon. They even gamble with their last resources because they have nothing to lose and only a win can save them from bankruptcy.

Actually, all gambling incurs debt. The money you gamble is money entrusted into your care by God, and he didn't give it to you to gamble.

7. Unnecessary Risk
Not all risk is wrong. There is no such thing as a risk-free environment or activity. If you are alive, you run the risk of getting sick, injured or killed, no matter where you are or what you do.

By definition, gambling is taking a risk or chance in hopes of gaining some advantage. This can cover anything from "safe bets" to "long shots." A safe bet is when the risk factor is low and the possible gain is high. Anyone who invests in stocks knows all about this. If you don't want to risk losing your investments, put your money in a savings account of your local bank. The interest rate will compensate for inflation, so you won't lose even if you don't gain. If the bank goes under, it is insured by the FDIC. There is still a slight chance you could lose your money if the government fails to keep its promise.

Those who cheat or steal have feelings of guilt and shame because they know someone else gets hurt. But a gambler feels he can have a good conscience because gambling is a voluntary pastime. The gambler accepts the risk of losing along with the chance of winning. Gamblers see nothing wrong with this and apparently, neither does the government which doles out licenses and collects taxes.

Although we can't completely avoid risks, we should not take chances beyond the realm of faith. That would be my definition of gambling. There is no risk involved when we place our faith in the Creator and follow his leading. It only appears to be risky from a human perspective. Hebrews 12:1-2 calls us to give ourselves to God as a physical sacrifice with no holds barred. We don't just wager a few Dollars; we stake our lives on God's promise to care for us. We seek the kingdom of God and what is right in his eyes, and he takes care of us (Matthew 6:33).

Hebrews 11:6 defines faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The faith referred to in Hebrews 11 is not just faith in something or someone, but faith in God. Faith does not negate our willpower, but brings it into alignment with God's will. It's a win-win situation and not a gamble. We may not know what the future holds, but we believe on him who holds the future in his hands.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer speaks of "grasping for the wind" nine times. The King James Bible renders it "vexation of spirit," which has little meaning for most readers. The term refers to searching for answers and satisfaction in an unknown spiritual realm as opposed to trusting God and obeying his clear commands. We might say, "trusting our luck," "groping in the dark" or "speculating." Basically, it is gambling.

In the NT two juristic terms are translated to "judge" or "determine." These Greek words are diakrise and diakrino. The prefix dia means through or by and the main part of the word krino or krisis indicates the method by which a decision is made. If we ask God for guidance in specific situations and then do whatever seems right, this is called faith, or in Greek, pistis. We often make decisions based only on what we believe to be best for lack of facts or clear leading. Decisions based on human instincts, feelings, or circumstances, would be diakrino decisions. A diakrino discernment is one without absolute certainty.

The Apostle James wrote, If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. Nor let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

The word "Faith" comes from the Greek pistis and the word translated "wavering" is diakrino. You could say that this passage warns us not to gamble, but to seek God's will in faith.

In sale- and bargain-conscious America, many Christians spend hours clipping coupons and they drive many miles to buy a dress or TV that is on sale.

Stores used to have "specials," then "sales," and now everything is "off". A visitor to America from what was once called Eastern Europe paused to look in the window of a clothing store. The store was having an end-of summer sale on ladies' swimwear. The visitor commented, "40% off? It looks more like 90% off to me!"

I often hear Christians bragging about the bargains they got at a yard sale or the money they saved on shopping sprees. They seem to think that this is the religious obligation of every good Christian, paramount to being a good steward of that which God has entrusted into our care. I don't condemn this sort of thing, for we do need to be frugal and careful with all the tricks businesses play with their customers. But in some ways and with some people, it closely resembles gambling.

Psychologists are beginning to talk about eBay addicts. Americans are very gullible and can be easily duped by fast-talking salespersons. They fall for anything that is free and actually believe that a company like spends millions for TV ads with no self-serving interest, but just wants to give you something free. Freecreditreportdotcom even sponsors a NASCAR race car!

Not a few Christians believe and forward everything they get on the Internet without questioning its validity. They think that they are being nice to their friends, yet at best, this is gossip and at worst they are spreading lies to everyone in their address book!

Approximately 500 billion dollars is legally wagered every year in America and some estimate up to a trillion dollars in illegal gambling! There are about ten million compulsive gamblers, more than the number of alcoholics.

Gambling played a prominent role in early American history. When Columbus discovered the continent of America, his sailors gambled away much of their time when weather allowed. In 1612 the British government ran a lottery to assist the new settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. George Washington declared, "Gambling is the child of avarice, or greed, the brother of iniquity and the father of mischief." But George kept a diary of his own winnings and losses! In 1776 the first Continental Congress of the United States sold lottery tickets to finance the American Revolution and President Washington bought the first lottery ticket to build "Federal City," now known as Washington, D.C. So our nation was founded on a lottery, the Revolution was financed by a lottery, and our capital city was financed by a lottery. From 1790 to 1860, twenty-four of the thirty-six states sponsored government-run lotteries.

Some Puritans, Quakers, Baptists and Methodists waged vocal battles against gambling. The professor of ethics at Harvard College, William Ames, defended gambling and Harvard financed construction projects with a lottery. The University of Pennsylvania financed its operational budget through gambling.

Francis Scott Key, author of our national anthem, was one of the great church laymen of his day. He introduced a resolution to the general convention of the American Episcopal church in 1817, calling on that body to condemn gambling as "inconsistent with Christian sobriety, dangerous to the morals of the members of the church, and peculiarly unbecoming to the character of Christians." But the Episcopalian church declared his resolution unnecessary. The church struggled because the Bible doesn't say, "Thou shalt not gamble."

Today, many schools, universities, colleges, and even churches conduct their own lotteries to raise funds for buildings. The Roman Catholic Church and several liberal protestant denominations still have a vested interest in gambling to finance their operations.

The three classes of sin all start with a "P": They are the lust for Pleasures, for Possessions and Power. In Deuteronomy 17, God warned future kings of Israel about these three dangers. They were warned not to multiply to themselves horses (power), wives (fleshly pleasures), or silver and gold (possessions). It was in these three areas that Christ was tempted by Satan in Matthew 4.

Under pleasures, we can include alcohol or drug addiction, gluttony, sexual excesses of all kinds and even the lust for entertainment with music, shows, sports and video games; whatever satisfies our fleshly lusts.

The lust for possessions or wealth needs no explaining here. Greed and materialism are probably the most predominant identifying characteristics of America in the eyes of other nations. Interestingly, Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 declare that the sin of idolatry is coveting (greed).

Let's be honest with ourselves and stop being hypocritical. Whose money is saved and how is that savings spent? Do you honestly keep a record of your savings in order to increase charitable giving?

Admit it! It's all about getting.

Ralph V Harvey