Pastoral Messages | February 8, 2016

A Powerball official told this Munford, Tennessee couple that they’d have to be content with an immediate check for a couple million dollars until the lump sum payout can be processed. That processing requires about 10 business days. It’s hard to imagine the delay posing a serious problem for their weekend grocery needs.

Lottery winners often share the distinction of leading ruined lives after they win the jackpot. Friends easily exploit their windfall. Financial crooks and conmen (and women) swoop in. The illusion of spending the rest of life on easy street quickly disappears as winners discover that large sums of money do not provide any guarantee of happiness.

The Robinsons may fare better than many other winners. They’re off to a strong start, by way of perspective, at least. The couple speaks of having no desire to alter the rhythm of their current life. They love their modest one-story home. John is a supervisor in a local warehouse. Lisa works in a dermatologist’s office. Both of them returned to work on the Monday after their winning ticket came to light.

“That’s what we’ve done all our lives,” said John. “We’ve worked. You just can’t sit down and lay down and not do nothing anymore. Because how long are you going to last?” He’s right, if by work he is implying that meaning comes from doing one’s best on the job. One gets the sense that Robinson is not thinking of take-home pay as the sole reason for going to work.

As for sharing from his now fattened wallet, Robinson speaks of wanting to give to the Children’s Research Hospital in nearby Memphis. He also has a strong desire to donate to the family church. “I’m a firm believer in tithing [10 percent of household income] to my church,” he said. Since the $327 million prize is the after-tax sum this couple received, the volunteer treasurer at the church may want to recruit an assistant or two to help with the books. The church’s mission committee can now make plans to buy up every piece of available real estate in Detroit, should they be on the hunt for an urban outreach project.

I know of Christians who launch an all-out assault when they hear the very words lottery or Powerball. They see the purchase of a ticket as morally reprehensible. As far as they’re concerned, it is the epitome of living in sin and failing to trust God for daily sustenance. The Bible verse, “Love of money is the root of all evil,” proves a favorite for these critics.

Many of us who have never bought a Powerball ticket still love money more than we should. And even though I’m no fan of the lottery, my disfavor is mostly due to the misshapen hope of ticket buyers with limited means who hold on to the dream of a windfall. I can’t find a verse in Scripture that reads, “Do not gamble.” There must be plenty of jackpot wannabes who are less worried about getting rich quickly than simply paying off immense medical bills.

More than anything else, though, the fanaticism generated by the large Powerball is striking. To stake so much on such infinitesimally small odds – one in 292 million – is humorous. The odds of getting struck by an asteroid sometime this week exceed the chance of winning the next big Powerball. Then too, what an interesting phenomenon that larger jackpots drive greater ticket sales, as if a paltry $300 million payout isn’t worth it, but a $1.6 billion one is.

If given the choice between cultivating faith in luck, and being inspired by the constancy of God, I know where I tilt. Maybe my trust in the Lord is too serene. Yet to rely on the steadiness of God in all circumstances of life strikes me as a better bet than leaning into the lottery, at least when it comes to that deep happiness we all want.

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