When pastors hear that I am part of a church in Reno, they commonly follow up with a question about whether gambling shapes our ministry.
A popular game in the local casinos is craps. As the “shooter” you toss two dice down the table in hopes of certain combinations, but not before you place a bet on the "pass line" in front of you. In other words, no one plays the game without having a vested interest in the outcome. New players are coached to bet small until they understand the rules of the game. This is a way of protecting against foolish loss, because the result of any round is unpredictable.
Going All In
Some treat discipleship in a similar fashion. The problem I see is that many people seem willing to bet less as they get older. I suspect this is why most revivals in Christian history start with university students; they are just the right mix of hopeful and poor to go all in with Jesus.The refrain that appears in all four gospels is simple, "Whoever saves his life will lose it."
Gambling is a dangerous vice, but it's also a helpful picture of the gospel. You can’t win anything if you have nothing on the table. Like the rich man in Mark 10:17-31, many can’t bear the thought of losing everything because a life of faith means big bets on a big God. It can be scary, but also life-giving.
I'd be willing to bet there are folks in your church that don't have anything on the table. Maybe it's because they are wounded from a previous round. It could be that they are rebellious and want to rewrite the rules of the game to suit their whims. Maybe it's because you have never explicitly shown them what it looks like to go all in (notice I didn’t say told them).
What Betting on Jesus Means
To be clear, we must explain to everyone the "rules of the game." God created, we rebelled, and now our only hope is in the atoning work of Christ. That said, we have to provide more clarity on what betting on Jesus means and what it doesn't mean. Let’s crush the notion that says faith means wellness. Let's lift up the truth that the person of Jesus is the greatest prize, not the things he provides.
By convincing people to ease in, bet small, and play it safe, we unintentionally build a cul-de-sac instead of an on-ramp. Don't implicitly show your people that a slow sanctification process is the same thing as putting a little down now when Jesus says, “Go all in.” Let's show people that they actually have very little to lose in comparison to getting God.
The writer of Hebrews says when this life ends, you don't get to say, "I knew that would happen" and claim your prize. You have to decide now whether Jesus is who he says he is. You’re betting big no matter what you believe.