Gambling continues to grow, though it slowed a bit during the last recession. More women are gambling, and some say they like slot machines because it's one of the few things they can do where they don't have to deal with men.
But the growth of gambling is not good news. It's not an answer to our economic problems, and it is not a harmless game. Gambling is still threatening, economically for sure, socially or personally too. Gambling does not produce anything and contributes nothing of redeeming social value to our culture. And there's no such thing as luck.
Here are a few more thoughts on what's happening with gambling, a bad bet no matter how you cut the deck:
What is it, really, that distinguishes a good from a not-so-good sermon? Is it the condition of our own heart or our personal taste? Or is it something independent from us within the sermon itself? And I recognize that a sermon one might not like can be used of God in a powerful way, if not in our lives than in the lives of someone else. But aren’t there some qualitative differences identifiable, one sermon to the next?
There’s another major consideration I haven’t addressed before: the speaker’s personality and/or personal gifts. It seems logical to me that we’ll rank a sermon higher on our scale of rhetorical and spiritual beauty if we like the person delivering the message. And/or we’re likely to rank a sermon higher if the person sharing the message is a gifted speaker, talented platform presence, and/or polished presenter (“performer”?).
But our heart matters and preferences, the speaker and his or her persona aside, it still seems to me there are a few things we could list that distinguish the good from the not-so-good sermon.
Here’s my list:
--Are we listening to something new, or is this the “same sermon, different text”? In other words, while the speaker is delving into a different passage of Scripture is he pretty much giving you another summary of what he’s said numerous times before? Repetition per se is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a tool of good pedagogy. But then again, if you’re hearing the same themes over and over it’s likely a sign the speaker hasn’t or isn’t studying new material.
--Is the sermon just a recitation of the same themes: be a good boy or girl, don’t do bad things? Now is this wrong or injurious counsel? Of course not, but if the speaker has presented basically this same refrain ad infinitum, than you’re not going deeper and you’re not likely maturing in the faith.
--Sermons focusing upon personal-behavior-only can fairly be described as pietism. Much of this approach isn’t hurtful in itself; in fact it’s good. But if this is where the sermon stops than the speaker is missing an opportunity to teach a Christian worldview, to integrate Scripture in contemporary life and culture, to demonstrate how Scripture not only enriches and blesses our inner faith and personal life but also offers enormous positive reinforcements for our culture—“way of life”—whether social, political, economic, civic, artistic, and more.
--Is the sermon simply an elaboration of a Scripture passage? We have to be careful here. The Word of God, simply read, is in itself a great sermon. God promises his Word will not return to him empty or without impact. What I’m noting, though, are the times a speaker reads a passage of Scripture than simply works back through it telling you what it means. Again, this isn’t a “bad thing” in itself. Perhaps this method is needed to assure understanding. But I think far too many commonly presented passages are repeatedly presented, talked about, and that’s it. Something’s missing.
--Does the sermon lack illustrations? This is what’s often missing in the previous scenario: a lot of Scripture but no illustration from contemporary life painting a picture of what the passage means and how it might change your life. I’m amazed how often I hear sermons that make no connection to life, to news, to what’s going on in the world outside the church.
--Similarly, does the sermon lack application? It’s one thing to read the Word and understand what it says. It’s another thing to be able to apply it in your life. I think I’ve met young people who can tell you the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den but have no idea what the story means for them in 2012. They can talk about miracles but someone missed the opportunity to teach them about the sovereignty of God. Here again is the opportunity to get outside the church—apply doctrine in a real world.
Well, this is enough. I think a good-to-great sermon rightly divides the Word of Truth, illustrates it, and draws upon a Christian worldview to apply it to or “integrate” it in both our personal lives and culture.
What’s the difference in a good and not-so-good sermon? Is it us, you, me? Is it our own hearts and attitudes more than the details, construction, or delivery of the message? Perhaps, but for now I’ll leave that thought for another day. I’ve been thinking about “What makes a good sermon?”
Have you ever listened to a sermon and thought it was one of the best, most moving you’d ever heard? Or maybe you heard a sermon that you thought was a masterpiece, constructed in a way that hit a spiritual and maybe an oratorical home run?
On the flip side, ever listened to a sermon and wondered what the speaker was trying to say? What was his point anyway? After awhile, do you even care? Or have your ever listened to a sermon and wondered what the speaker was thinking when he put it together?
Now I’m not a theologian or a preacher. I’ve not attended seminary and I’m not ordained. So maybe I’m not one to address the question “What makes a good sermon?” On the other hand, I’ve listened to thousands of sermons and I am a speaker, having presented a few hundreds of sermons along the way—hopefully a few good ones and undoubtedly more than a few not-so-good ones.
But before I dive in, I must acknowledge two other considerations that get in the way of an unbiased evaluation of sermon quality. It’s possible that, along with the heart matters I mentioned earlier, determining what makes a good sermon is a matter of taste or preference. Like everything else, I suppose there are some things about a sermon that makes it likeable and appreciated by one but not another listener. If this is so, than what I’m going to say suggests more about my preferences than about the independent merits of a given sermon.
Finally, there’s the possibility that the whole question of the “likeability” of a sermon might be the wrong question. Certainly it’s possible, in fact I think I’ve experienced it, that a perceived "un-liked" sermon can indeed be a needed, convicting, and beneficial one in the providence and work of the Holy Spirit.
So with all that, heart matters, taste, and the spiritual potential of “un-liked” sermons, it seems like I’ve talked myself into a corner that admits to no criteria for identifying a good from a not-so-good sermon. But still, I don’t think so. What do you think?
A few years ago I wrote a book on gambling--not pro but con. I'm against gambling in all its forms. I thought then and still think now that gambling is an ingenious way to bilk people out of their money. Just design a game in which people give you money to play. There you have it. Pay to play and pay you do if you gamble very much.
My book is entitled "Gambling: Don't Bet On It" and it's still available in print in a revised edition. I wrote the book mostly in 1996 just before the Internet became publicly available. By the time I revised the book in 2005 I had to add an entire chapter on Internet Gambling. Such is our dubious progress.
Here're a few more thoughts on this most postmodern, i.e., irrational, pursuit:
Americans, if not Westerners in general, view the Middle East and North Africa through what I call "filters." We see through a lens darkly. But then again, Middle Easterners and in this case specifically Arabs also hold a set of misconceptions about Americans that affect their view of who we are and what we are about.
Every presidential election cycle seems at some point to be a contest of "I-Am-More-Patriotic-Than-Thou.” Each candidate claims a higher degree of fidelity to the nation’s ideals, zeal for Americanism, and patriotic holiness.
In one sense, this is to be expected, and it is a phenomenon the world over. Politicians in nearly every country proclaim their patriotic commitment to the fatherland. Perhaps if that is as far as it goes there is nothing inherently wrong with this. In fact, one could argue that there is a lot right with this because it helps to reinforce the nation, which is to say the people’s identity and community.
In another sense this rush to patriotic holiness can be threatening. For one, politicians and people, if not also pundits, too easily wrap the Bible, or whatever holy book they affirm, in the nation’s flag. Religion and politics get confused one with the other, a particular danger for religion and an unhealthy situation for politics.
But religion, and I would say especially Christianity, should stand above and apart from politics. Why? Because in doing so Christian values and principles can be brought to bear in critical review of politics. Religion in general and Christianity specifically provide a moral standard against which politics may be evaluated and one would hope corrected and improved.
Another danger of patriotic holiness is that it gives the politician a heightened and ill-advised sense of personal rightness and righteousness. Politicians tend to believe their own press and tend to think they have a corner not only on the best policy positions but the only, and holy, ones. This attitude leads to hubris for the politician. And it dampens debate.
Patriotic holiness is mostly about posturing and parade. It’s not so much about philosophic presentation or prescient pronouncements. It’s a malady that afflicts the election process and certainly one we’d all be better off without.