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God’s Gamblers

Acts 15:25-26

25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Deacon Chairman Bob Cox and I were talking and he shared with me that there are three stages or phases that most individuals and most institutions pass through in their lifetime. They begin as risk-takers, they move to become caretakers, and they eventually wind up at the undertakers. If you think about your own life and most of the institutions that you know about, you will see them pass through those three phases. They start out as risk-takers with the sense of adventure. They have visions and dreams, and they are willing to launch out. But then maybe because they realize that they have failed up until that time, or maybe because they have succeeded and they want to preserve what they have obtained, they cease to be risk-takers and they become caretakers. They sit on what they’ve got. They protect what they have achieved and they settle down to be at ease in Zion to live out the rest of their days until they eventually are taken to the undertakers.

The people of God are ever and always to be risk-takers. It is a part of our heritage and the teachings of our Lord that we should be people of faith. Faith always involves an element of risk. The Bible says that without faith, it is impossible—not just difficult, but impossible—to please God. If we do not put our faith in him, if we do not trust him with all of our hearts, minds, and souls (and that involves our lives and activities as well), then we cannot please the Lord.

But faith is always dealing with that which has not yet been realized and that which cannot be seen. In fact, the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. Now if faith is dealing with things that are hoped for, then it is dealing with things that have not yet been realized—things that have not yet become a reality. It is dealing with things unseen. So faith by its very nature deals with the unrealized and the unvisualized, and it must always involve an element of risk because we cannot yet see it. We have not yet attained it. We are hoping for it. We are looking toward it. It is not yet become a reality to us.

The Bible says without that kind of faith, without that kind of risk taking, and without that element of chance in our relationship with God, there is no way we can please him. The early Christians were characterized by that kind of faith—that risk-taking kind of faith. See the scripture from the book of Acts 15:25-26 that begins this sermon: “It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our own beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That word hazarded in the King James Version is a gambling term. It means to make a wager. It means to place a bet, to lay something on the line. When Luke described these New Testament missionaries Paul and Barnabas, he was basically saying, “These are God’s gamblers. These are men who have laid their lives on the line for the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul and Barnabas risked their life. They took a chance. They wagered everything they had and everything they were on the presence of the living Christ, the power of the inspired word of God, and the promises of God’s word. With that belief they laid their lives on the line for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their example—as well as the teachings of the Bible concerning faith—say that the people of God ought always to be risk-takers and ought never to come to the place—at least in their relationship with God—where they are content to be caretakers just waiting for the day when they will be approached by the undertaker.

Why should we be risk-takers? Why should we be God’s gamblers? Why should we always be ready and willing to lay something on the line, to make a bet, or to wager our lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Let me share with you three things about being a risk-taking gambler for God.

First of all, I’ll share the reasons why we ought to be risk-takers.

Second, I’ll share the alternative to being a risk-taker. If we decide that we will not live by faith, if we won’t venture, and if we won’t attempt anything new and fresh, what is the alternative to that?

And then finally, I’ll talk about the reward that comes to us when we become one of God’s gamblers—one of God’s risk-takers.

1. You need to be a gambler.

All around us there are people who take great risks every day. People in business are continually taking risks with some new venture, some new scheme, some new idea, or some new project. They are people who are continually launching new programs, borrowing money, making investments, and attempting new things. They risk for money. They risk for notoriety or fame. They risk for success or for some other purpose. The people of God are to be risk-takers for one single purpose—for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are risk-takers, but not to make money for ourselves. We are risk-takers, but not to gain notoriety, fame, or attention for ourselves. Instead, we take risks that the name of Jesus Christ might go forward in a greater and more dynamic way in this community and in the world.

This church is attached to the name of Jesus Christ. We bear his name and as we go forward, as we risk, as we gamble, as we take chances, and as we exercise faith, we are doing it for his name’s sake. This church is the body of Jesus Christ on earth. We are here on a great mission. It is our mission to preach and to teach the name of Jesus Christ to all men everywhere, starting here at home and reaching out in an ever-widening circle until we reach to the uttermost parts of the earth.

We are to minister in the name of Jesus Christ. We are his hands to reach out to a hurting world. We are his feet to rush to the needs of those who need our help. We are his lips to speak a word of encouragement, hope, and faith to men who are living without those things. We are the body of Jesus Christ on this earth, and we have been given the great mission of carrying on his work until he comes again. We are not here just to occupy. We are not here just to be caretakers. We are not here just to pass our time away. We are not to sit like some old person in a rocking chair with our hands folded across our stomachs and twiddling our thumbs until Jesus Christ comes again. We are his body here on this earth. Our name is linked with his name and he expects us to stay everlastingly at the task of ministry and evangelism until he comes again.

One of the reasons this church has been and is such a great church is that in its beginning days it was started by some risk-takers—some people who had faith in God. They came out here and they started a church when nobody thought it would ever amount to anything. There came a time when they needed to enlarge. They needed to build and they borrowed money to build this building when no one thought they could get the money. They weren’t sure they could ever pay that money back, but they had faith in God, and faith in the living Christ. They had faith in his work and his promises. They launched out in faith and some other people had faith in them.

As a result of their risk-taking and the exercising of their faith, this church has become one of the great churches in America today. It is looked to by people who are “on the go” for God all over our state, all over our convention, and all over our world. I do not know of a church anywhere that is more directly involved in missions than this church. In the last 10 years we have either built by ourselves or assisted in building 10 other churches in the United States or in foreign countries. God willing this next year, we will build at least four new churches in foreign countries—one in Brazil, at least three in Belize, and maybe more beyond that. This is a great missionary church and we are seeking to blend together ministry here at home and missions around the world. We were born out of that risk-taking spirit—that faith that launched out to take a chance in believing God and believing his promises.

Dear friends, if we are going to continue to be what God wants us to be, we must not lose that risk-taking spirit. There is always the danger that we shall become complacent and satisfied. You may say, “We are big enough. We have enough. We have reached enough, so we will cease to be risk-takers and we will become caretakers waiting for the day the undertaker will come to take us away.” Most of the churches in America today have a maintenance mentality. That is to say, they have come to the place where they are satisfied with where they are and what they are; they are not willing or ready to launch out in faith and try anything new. When that maintenance mentality ever comes over a person, they are dead whether they know it or not. It is because we refuse to adopt that maintenance mentality of becoming caretakers who are waiting for the undertaker that we are ready to launch out on a new and fresh venture of faith.

That is why we are going to have a building for progress and growth program in our church. We will expand this sanctuary, knock the side walls out and almost double the seating capacity of our sanctuary. We simply cannot continue to operate for any extended period of time with three worship services. The staff could not and would not stand up to it for a long period of time, and neither would the people. It is imperative that we move into a building program and expand this sanctuary in order to take care of people whom God has given to us.

But in addition to that we are anticipating growth in the future. If we continue to grow in the next five years as we have in recent years, we could well be running 3,000 in Sunday school attendance in the next five years. We must be ready for those people. We need space for them now, and we are going to need more space in the future. We need not only to expand this building and this sanctuary, but we also need to build an additional educational building for adults. That means that we need to build buildings that will cost between two and three-and-a-half million dollars.

In the next few weeks you are going to be given an opportunity to play a part in pledging over the next three years that three-and-a-half million dollars, to enlarge this sanctuary, to build an additional educational building, to house adults, to take care of a growing Sunday school, to purchase additional land that is needed for parking, and to provide more shuttle buses to take care of the people who park great distances from our church, especially the elderly, those with young children, and those who try to come to church in bad weather. You are going to be given an opportunity to be involved in that and the other needs that our church has, and we are doing it for our name’s sake. We are not doing it to make a name for ourselves. We are not doing it just to try to make Green Acres big. We are doing it because God has given us a special and a unique ministry in this community and around the world, and because his name is linked to our name and our name is linked to his name. It is for his name’s sake that we do what we do.

That is going to require a sacrifice on our people’s part. There is no way that we can raise three-and-a-half million dollars without somebody making a sacrifice. It means simply that we are going to have to lay something on the line. We are going to have to take a chance, and when we call on people to pledge three years into the future, that will always involve an element of faith. Nobody knows what the economy is going to do, but they never have. I’ve been involved in churches for 27 years and I’ve never been in a church that didn’t build a building. We never went to build a building where somebody didn’t say, “Well, we don’t know about the economy. We don’t know what the interest rates are going to be. We don’t know what inflation is going to do.” I’ve never yet built a building where somebody didn’t say that. You must always operate on the element of faith. You must act not knowing what the economy is going to do, and not knowing whether we’ll even be here in three years or not. But by faith we say, “God, you are blessing me now. This is what I can do now. I will trust you for the future. I will lay it on the line. I will make a wager. I will risk. I will gamble. I will make that commitment.”

I’ve never asked you to do anything beyond what I was willing to do myself. I have discussed it with my wife, and we are going to pledge above and beyond our tithe and offerings between 10 and 12 thousand dollars for the next three years. We have always tithed. When I was a boy in high school, I started tithing. I grew up in a home that was not a Christian home, and when I became a Christian they told me that Christians ought to tithe.

So I started. When I worked my way through Baylor University without any help from my family, I was still a tither. When I pastored my first church making $67.50 a week, I was still a tither. When I went to the seminary, traveling back and forth, I was still a tither. And God has blessed us down through the years. I’ve been able to tithe all of those years. Since we’ve been here in this church, we have always been in a building program and we’ve been able to give above and beyond our tithe to help to build the church of God. Now you are going to have that same kind of opportunity to invest something in the great missionary work for God right here in this church in this community.

Nobody is going to tell you how much to give. That is between you and God. You have to weigh your income over against your outflow, and then you decide what is a sacrifice for you. Ask yourself, “What can I give, and what ought I to do?” For some of you it will be less than what I’m going to give. But if it is a sacrifice, then it is an equal gift. Some of you will have to multiply the amount I’m doing many times—10 times, or maybe 20 times for it to ever be anything close to a sacrifice. The motto of our program is not “equal gifts,” as that would be foolishness. The motto is “equal sacrifices.” If we will all make a sacrifice based on what we have and the way God has blessed us, there is no doubt in my mind that we can reach those goals, build the buildings, and provide for the needs so that we can continue the ministry and the mission that God has for us.

You know that as the ministry of our church increases, and as the mission of our church reaches out, we must at the same time build the church stronger right here at home. A tree must have branches. The farther out those branches reach, the deeper the roots must go into the ground. A tree that has branches without roots can be tumbled over by a strong wind. We must reach out, but the roots must go deeper down into the soil. You know that a building is not only a superstructure—it must also have a foundation. The higher it reaches into the sky, the deeper and the stronger the foundation must reach down into the earth. High-rise buildings require strong foundations. This church reaches upward toward God in ministry, service, and commitment, so we must also deepen the foundation of our work right here at home. That’s why we must always think about growing stronger and larger right here as we reach out to do mission work in the name of Jesus Christ.

Why do we do it? Why do we work? Why do we labor? We do it for his name’s sake. It is because he has put us here. It is because we are his people. It is because we have a mission to accomplish. It is because the task has to be done. God has given us the responsibility to do it, and we are willing to lay something on the line for the cause of Jesus Christ.

You will be asked to lay something monetarily on the line in the next three years, as well as laying your own life, your own influence, your own witness, and your own service on the line. We do this to see that the church of God that bears his name goes forward in a great way.

2. You can’t be complacent.

We do it for his name’s sake. But what if we should decide we are big enough? Imagine if we were to say, “We don’t need any more buildings. We don’t need to reach any more people. We don’t need to do any more mission work. Let’s just settle down and take care of what we’ve got. Let’s cease to be risk-takers and let’s become caretakers.” Do you know that’s exactly what most churches have done today?

That’s what an awful lot of people are doing. They are losing that spirit of adventure, challenge, risk, and courage. They have settled down with that maintenance mentality to be caretakers, waiting for the day when Jesus comes back to the earth again. It was Dr. Albert Schweitzer who said, “The supreme tragedy of most lives or most men is that we outlive ourselves.” He meant very simply that something inside of us dies a long time before we die physically. That something dies spiritually and mentally inside of us before they ever put us in the ground.

It was George Bernard Shaw who said the tombstones of most men ought to read, “Died at 30, buried at 60.” There are a lot of folks who lose their spirit of adventure, their spirit of conquest, and their moral and spiritual courage. They settle down to brilliant mediocrity until the day they die. God deliver us—and God deliver me—from ever having that caretaker spirit. I’ve asked him to either take me out by death, or I’ll quit and walk away if I ever get to the place where I feel like we have arrived, or I feel like we don’t need to go forward or we don’t need to do anything else.

Take me out of that kind of scene. I don’t want to be a caretaker for a spiritual nursing home where people die. There is too much that needs to be done. I read a parable about a tribe of people who lived in a fertile valley. There was an abundance of game, fresh water, and green grass. They had everything in that fertile valley that they needed. As time passed, the tribe grew and the game became scarce. The water became scarce and the land was taken up by people. Some of the young men in that tribe decided to scale the mountain on the side of that valley and see what was on the other side. They went over to the other side and came back, and they reported to the people in that village, “On the other side of that mountain there is a more fertile valley, with abundance of game and fresh water. The grass is greener over there. Let’s cross the mountain and go to the new valley.”

There was in that tribe a group of men called “The Counsel of the Old Men Who Know.” They said to those young men, “It cannot be. It cannot be that there is more fertile land over there.” They refused to believe them. They sat there and grew old and they died. Those young men took their wives and their children, and they scaled that mountain and went to the other side to get to a larger, fertile valley with an abundance of game, water, and greener grass. They built a new civilization.

But in time, it grew, and they needed more game, more land, and more water. Some of the young men in that village decided to scale the next mountain and they came back and said, “Beyond that mountain, there is a larger more fertile valley. There is an abundance of game and water flowing everywhere. The grass is greener over there.” Would you believe that in that second village they had formed another Counsel of the Old Men Who Know?

They said to those young men, “It cannot be. It cannot be.” They refused to believe them. They sat there and grew old and died. God deliver us from being members of the Counsel of Old Men Who Know. God deliver you from ever getting to the place when you say, “It cannot be. It cannot be.” For when that time comes, will you have become a caretaker waving to the undertaker.

Dear friend, the greatest church has not yet been built. The greatest missionary work has not yet been done. We have not seen our finest hour, and by God’s grace, if we remain as men of faith—risk-takers for the name of Jesus Christ—we shall conquer greater territory for him. I for one intend to be a part of it, and I want you to be a part of it also.

3. You will be rewarded for taking risks.

What are the rewards of being a risk-taker? The rewards are simply that you find life to be exciting, thrilling, and meaningful. Most bored, miserable, empty people in this world are people who have it made. They have no reason to risk. No reason to take a chance. They are satisfied with what they’ve got, and they sit there and wait until they are buried because they are already dead inwardly. If life is not an adventure, if life is not a challenge, and if life doesn’t involve a risk, then it produces a boring, grueling effect. Bertrand Russell observed that the “most insecure people on Earth are those who forever playing it safe.”

Thank God there is always a challenge for the people of God. There is always new territory to conquer. Once we have won the world to Christ, Jesus will come again. That means until he comes there are still greater things to do. If we don’t as a church and as individuals become risk-takers and exercise faith, something vital and meaningful inside of us dies.

The same thing that will happen to your business will happen to a church. We maintain vitality and enthusiasm by looking to the future. If you ever become content to move into a nursing home, then that’s the end. Where is there to go beyond that? Would you rather be in a nursing home or on an exploration expedition?

If you want the church to take on the stench of death, be content with where you are—be a caretaker until you meet the undertaker. It is much better to work in a nursery or to be on a children’s playground where there is life, growth, excitement, and energy than it is to spend your days in a nursing home. The church is ever a kindergarten and an army. It’s a working force and not a retirement village. The church is to be those who have hazarded their lives for the Gospel. They laid it on the line, and that’s what I’m going to do.

That’s what I’m asking you to do, and in doing it, we will find something exciting and meaningful in life. May we be Jesus’ disciples who risk our lives for the presence of the resurrected Christ who is with us, and for the power of his inspired word. May we be a church that is alive and dynamic, and standing on the promises of his great hope. May we be willing to risk all for his name’s sake.

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Today's Devotional

Major on the Basics

Knute Rockne was one of the greatest football coaches ever. In his 13 years at Notre Dame, his teams won 105 games, lost 12, and tied 5. He never had a secret practice. In fact, he sometimes put up a sign for visitors that said, “Secret practice. Come and bring your notebooks.”

On one occasion when an Army scout missed a train connection and didn’t get to the Notre Dame game he was to cover, Rockne obligingly sent him the plays he planned to use against the West Point men. He explained his actions by saying, “It isn’t the play that wins; it’s the execution.”

All great coaches agree: champions are made by majoring on the fundamentals – blocking and tackling. They execute well. Teams seldom win by trick plays or gimmicks.  

The same is true of life. Tricks and gimmicks will seldom get you to the top in any endeavor and can never keep you there. Major on the basics in all of life – work hard, honor God, be honest, kind and helpful to others, and go to church regularly.

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