Mammonite Messiah

28 03 2009

I once declared that I would never again play the state lottery unless God sent me a dollar bill floating on the waves of the ocean with which to buy the lottery ticket.  Before that, I had only played twice.  The first time was my way of celebrating my eighteenth birthday, and the second time was because my coworkers wanted to do a lottery pool, so I joined just to be a good sport.  After the pool at work won a minimal prize and they refused to give me my share, I swore I would never play again, and if I did, then I would never do it through a pool.  I know that the math behind the gamble is a fool’s wager.  The odds of losing outweigh the average jackpot.  It’s not an investment.  It’s a complete waste.

At the time, I was fresh out of college and making a beginner’s income.  My only hope of owning my own home or having the level of prosperity that I wanted would have to come through the winnings of the lottery, as ridiculous as it sounded.  Eventually, I got a better-paying job with excellent security, and I still couldn’t afford to buy a home.  The hardest aspect to this was knowing that I was working for one of the best-paying employers in my field.  Any hope of advancement beyond this point seemed unlikely.  The state lottery seemed like the only solution, even if it was a bad one.  Despite this, I declared to my wife that I would not play it unless God sent me the dollar with which to buy the ticket, and he’d have to send it to me on the waves of the ocean, just so I would know that it was him.  That sounded like a fair test at the time.

Then one morning I approached the surf on the north side of Cabrillo Beach, and I noticed that there seemed to be a small rectangular thing floating in half an inch of water, gliding in and out with the flow.  Upon closer inspection I saw that it was a one-dollar bill.  When I picked it up and looked at it, I was reminded of what I had said less than a year earlier.  I wondered if this meant that God wanted me to play the lottery, which might mean that he intended for me to win.  At the same time, I wondered if I had the courage to test that idea.  I mumbled, “Very funny,” under my breath and put the sopping wet bill in my pocket.  I wondered and debated with myself for a long time as to whether or not God would really want me to waste it on a lottery ticket, thusly squandering the one little thing he had given me.  Perhaps it was just a test.  Perhaps he really planned for me to win.  I even considered that it might be something of a supernatural practical joke.  I asked my wife what she thought I should do with it.  She told me to buy something I wanted, because then I’d at least have something to show for it.

The thing that bothered me most about it, though, was the realization of what money had become to me.  Vast riches might be in store, and the only cost was a small sum of one lousy dollar, and even that cost was covered for me.  All I had to do was spend it.  If it lost, then I wasn’t out anything.  If it won, then I’d be set for life.  Something in me, though, said, “Buddy, you spend that thing on a lottery ticket, and you’re putting your faith in money, not God.  Where does your loyalty lie?  In whom do you trust?  God has provided for all of your needs so far, and he’ll keep doing it if you put your faith in him.  Put your faith in that thing, and I don’t know what’s gonna’ happen.”

It’s funny, because it parallels Christian theology, but in a worldly way.  All of Heaven is offered to us at the cost of one person’s death, and that price was already paid.  It costs us nothing.  We’ve got the dollar.  All we have to do is spend it.  Yet, many people don’t take it.  It’s free, and it’s easy.  It’s a no-risk situation.  You can’t lose.  Unless you think you’re going to be damned to Hell for believing in the Jewish messiah, there’s no good reason why not.  Yet, they won’t buy the ticket and take a chance on God, as will I not buy their ticket and take a chance on mammon.

There’s just something about being served daily by people who work hard to make a living, earning their daily bread, for some lazy man who did nothing to deserve their service.  I could eat out more, and the waitress would deserve her tip, but I would not deserve my meal.  I could live in a nice neighborhood, but my neighbors would have done something desirable for someone else to get to where they were, while all I did was pluck a bill from the sea.  I tried to rationalize that this was capital for a business venture, but I knew better than that.  I wouldn’t waste time and energy trying to use money to make money, when I already had enough to be set for life.  Why would I spend precious hours of my life running a bookstore, when I could be relaxing by the pool with a book?  Yet, as a storeowner I would be doing something useful to justify my membership in society, but otherwise I’d be living like a leech, enjoying the fruits of other people’s labor.

The cells in our bodies all have the same genetic code.  The skin cell has all of the information it needs to be a nerve cell.  Every cell has the blueprint to be any other cell, yet they each know which parts of that blueprint to read, and they ignore the rest.  Therefore, each cell takes on a very unique shape, producing specialized enzymes and serving a specialized role.  It’s like all of the different jobs held by different people in a functioning economy.  They’re all human, and most of them could do a variety of roles with the proper training, but they each learn to do something better than most other members of society, and we all benefit from the increased efficiency and effectiveness, as a result.  Cells are like that, but not the cancer cell.  Oh, no, the cancer cell was once a functional member, but it lost its distinctive shape.  It stopped performing its special function.  It became round and fat, and it took what it could get, simply because the resources were made available by all of the other hard-working cells.  When the brain cells are hungry, the other cells deny themselves of nutrients for their sake, but not the cancer cell.  It takes, because it can.

I looked at that dollar and I saw a lottery ticket and a fortune, and I saw myself as an economic cancer cell.

Unbelievers look at Christianity and see a spiritual lottery jackpot.  The Messiah is, to them, a get-out-of-Hell-free card.  They imagine that Christians would do with this spiritual windfall what they would do with a financial windfall, like the lottery, that we would squander it.  To some extent, their accusation is not unwarranted.  Paul had a certain difficulty with the early church thinking that because their sins were paid for that they were free to continue sinning.  It’s akin to a man winning a million dollars and spending himself into oblivion.  It happens all the time.  On the economic side, the lottery winners turn into a financial cancer, living lavishly at the expense of others until it ruins them.  On the spiritual side, Christians often live lavishly at the expense of the grace of God until it ruins them.

Don’t waste the grace of God.  Reinvest it.  Use it for the benefit of others.  Be a functional member of the body of Christ.  Live with discretion and self-control.  Be the person that God meant for you to be.





2 responses

29 03 2009

This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

30 03 2009

One unfortunate thing I see is postmodern Christianity using the “get out of jail free card” as a sales pitch.

Basking like a fat walrus in the grace of God is now in vogue. I like your statement…reinvest. How true.

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