Gambling
Posted on February 23, 2014

I don’t know a lot about betting. Gambling has never appealed to me. The only reasons I would have for visiting Las Vegas would be (a) the shows and (b) the buffets. Come to think of it, we’ve got all the shows anyone could ever want in New York, so let’s revise my list. I guess the only reason I would visit Las Vegas is for the buffets. Anyway, I don’t gamble.

A friend of mine bets on sporting events – not large bets, certainly not anything that would jeopardize the household budget. He just places little wagers, as he puts it, “to make it more interesting.” So, he gathered to watch the Super Bowl with his extended family, and all the members who had made wagers were as eager to get started as he was. In football, you want to get multiples of three and seven. Or numbers ending in zero, like when you add three and seven together. Why? Because a field goal is three points, a touchdown plus extra point is seven, one of each equals a number with a zero on the end, etc. The only thing that can totally derail the formula is if anyone scores a safety, which is two points – and safeties almost never occur. As the game was about to begin, my friend laid his several sheets of numbers on the coffee table, as did the other family members who had wagered. He said to them: "I’ve got multiples of three, multiples of seven, several numbers ending in zero. These are the best numbers I’ve had all year. I'm in great shape so long as there isn't a safety!" If you watched the game, you know that the very first play was, in fact, a safety. My friend said after the first play of the game, he was done for the night.

We never know what the future will hold. But often, it is filled with surprises. We anticipate something, look forward to something else, and fantasize about other things as well. We dream. We hope. We pray. And we cross our fingers that there isn’t a safety, a hiccup, a derailment. But, life is full of unexpected twists and turns. And that’s why we need to do more than simply hope, dream, and fantasize.

One of the leading church visionaries of the twentieth century was Herb Miller. He was the first person I ever heard use the phrase: "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail." And Herb always meant by that, “careful” planning... planning with specifics and contingencies.

My older son, Adam, is a substance abuse counselor. As he assists clients in the effort to get clean and stay clean, one of his goals is to help them create a new approach to the future so that they don’t fall back into old habits from the past. Often clients will say, “I want to do this,” or “I hope to do that,” and Adam will answer: “So, what’s your plan?” If they have one, he takes it a step further: “And, should that not work out, what’s your backup plan?” “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

So, to borrow a phrase from my son: “What’s your plan?” And, “What’s your backup plan?” What do you want to do, become, or accomplish in the future? How do you want this new year to progress? Without a plan, your dreams are no more than fantasy. And, without a backup plan, you’re gambling that somewhere along the line there won’t be a safety. A future worth having is a future worth carefully constructing. That is not to deny either the magic of spontaneity or the mystery of God’s serendipities for us. It is, however, to say that if we want to make a successful journey, most of the time we need a map. Where do we want to go? And, what will it take to get there?

Personally, I do not want to live my life at the mercy of whim or happenstance. Our church doesn’t, either, which is why we spent an entire year in Think Tanks, mapping out where we think God wants us to go and painstakingly discerning how to get there. There’s a verse in the gospel of Luke that says about Jesus: “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) He had a calling, a vision, and so he made a plan and carefully decided how to move forward.

A friend of mine said: “For far too long I began each new year by praying, `God, here’s what I hope for.’ And then I would add my `Amen,’ never waiting in silence long enough to hear God answer, `And here’s what I hope for you – and here’s how we can make it happen together’.”

We made our resolutions a month ago. Now, it’s probably a good time to revisit them, revise them if necessary, and construct some plans (and even backup plans). The future is too sacred to make it a gamble.

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