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Dear Teacher,

We've all heard that the biggest jackpot in Powerball lottery history will be split between three winners. While few of us expect ever to become sudden multimillionaires, most of us receive unexpected blessings and unanticipated windfalls of other kinds. How we deal with such things is often a measure of our faith and character, so handling windfalls will be the topic of this installment of The Wired Word.

Our thanks to those TWW users who suggested this topic in The Wired Word forum.

If you'd prefer a different lesson, look at the material under "Other News This Week," which begins with the 105th birthday of a nun who considers the letters she has written to inmates during the last 21 years the most important work she has ever done. We explore what it means to minister out of one's own weakness and vulnerability.

Remember, if you wish to provide your class members with an abbreviated copy of the main lesson, click here, and you can send them a copy via email today.

May God bless you as you teach the scriptures this week.

The Editorial Team of The Wired Word.

Massive Powerball Jackpot to Be Split Between Three Winners

The Wired Word for January 24, 2016

In the News

This past week we learned that the largest lottery prize ever -- the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot -- is to be split between three winners: one each in California, Florida and Tennessee. Not all of the winners have yet come forward, possibly because they are first making arrangements to handle the sudden wealth and protect themselves from the possible onslaught of schemers and others hoping to get some of the money.

News about big winners who become multimillionaires overnight typically brings out stories in the media about how previous winners have fared in the long run, and this time is no exception. Some of the tales about previous winners are little more than anecdotes or urban legends. Statements about previous winners -- such as one heard this week from the lips of a talk-show host that "Ninety percent of lottery winners go bankrupt within three years" (perhaps part of the 87 percent of statistics that some say are made up on the spot!) -- are hard to verify.

A January 12 article in The Atlantic says that researchers have tried to answer the question about how recipients of great windfalls do in the long term by "looking into two questions whose answers lottery players assume to be affirmative: Does winning the lottery make people rich in the long run? And does an influx of tons of cash make people happier?" What these researchers learned, however, is that the answers aren't straightforward.

That article cites various studies, but also mentions shortcomings with each study and says that "the overall picture of how lottery winners fare is still very hard to determine. First, many of these results are found by surveying winners, and self-reported data is notorious for its low quality. Second, it's not exactly easy to get lottery winners to surrender their financial records for research, so there are likely large holes in even the most scrupulous research. And finally, the fates of the lottery winners who researchers have the easiest time tracking down might skew negative, because tales of financial ruin are more publicized in the media than tales of stability."

More on this story may be found at these links:

We Have Powerball Winners! CNN Money

What Becomes of Lottery Winners? The Atlantic

Experts Shocked by Powerball Winners' Behavior. WND

Applying the News Story

A first thought many of us may have is that stories about lottery winners have little application to the rest of us. That's because, with the odds of winning big so high -- 1 in 292 million in the most recent jackpot! -- we will never be among those who have to deal with such a windfall. Likewise, we may not be expecting a big inheritance to drop into our lap. And our chances of getting a massive raise or a tremendous cash bonus at work seem remote.

Well, perhaps. But in fact, nothing stays the same forever. We may not be very happy with our present circumstances. We may be simply plodding along, feeling that the sky is closing in on us and past blunders have robbed tomorrow of its promise. But then, something changes. Job opportunities open up, the children grow up and move away, your skills suddenly come into demand, some old stock you bought years ago suddenly takes off, a job buyout occurs, a divorce happens (which, in some cases, can be freeing), retirement comes, and so forth. Any one of those things -- and many more -- can be a windfall of, if not of money, then of time or opportunity. (One man we know spoke of how his life suddenly seemed freed up when his last child left home and the dog died.)

Some of our bonanzas may be large and some may be small, but in either case, one test of what our faith is how we behave when unexpected blessings or new freedoms come upon us. In the context of faith, how we handle great blessings and sudden opportunities can be just as revealing about our faith as how we handle great pains and sudden troubles.

The Big Questions

  1. What values, already present in your life, might be enhanced by a sudden influx of wealth? What values in your life might falter under such an influx?
  2. How does faith in Christ assist us in those times of life when everything changes in a moment: the birth of a child; the death of a child/parent/spouse; beginning in a new job/city/school/church that may be accompanied by a change in status/ego state/self-image, etc.?
  3. How does Jesus model for us dealing with sudden changes of circumstances?
  4. Some form of gambling is legal almost everywhere in the United States. How should Christians regard gambling? Why? Is the lottery right, wrong or neither?
  5. If you play the lottery, do you also tithe to your church? Why or why not? What value structures are behind those two actions?
  6. Speaking of windfalls, Christians have received the free gift of salvation from eternal death through trust in the promises of God declared in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is surely a gain in wealth worth much more than the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot. How have you handled this great gift? What else, if anything, should you do or be doing?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope

Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:

Proverbs 10:22

The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. (No context needed.)

Proverbs 11:28

Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves. (No context needed.)

These verses are typical of the biblical view of affluence. Notice that neither one condemns being wealthy, but both clearly call for making the things of God a priority. Both also proclaim that the riches that really matter are the blessing of God and the righteousness of those who follow him.

Questions: How has the blessing of the Lord enriched your life? Would having a lot more money change your answer? In what way? Do you count money among your blessings? Why or why not?

Luke 12:13-15

Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." (For context, read 12:13-31.)

When a man in the crowd asked Jesus to arbitrate in a family inheritance dispute, Jesus declined. But he used the occasion to make a comment about "the abundance of possessions" and then to bolster it with a parable about a rich man who, upon harvesting a bumper crop, decided he had it made. Unfortunately, the man had not tended to his spiritual needs as well as he had his crops, and that night, he died, unprepared for eternity. The parable shows that Jesus was making a statement about priorities -- and also about handling windfalls.

Where the man in the parable went astray was in believing that now having plenty on hand, he owed nothing to anyone, not even God, for his good fortune. He was materially blessed, but his soul was impoverished.

Questions: Assume you had the opportunity to recommend the reading of Luke 12:13-31 to the Powerball winners. What would you want them to gain from reading it? What do you gain from reading it? If you suddenly came into great wealth, what are the first things you would spend it on? Why? When we make declarations about someone else's money, does this text admonish us or encourage us?

1 Timothy 6:6, 8-9

... there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; ... if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.(For context, read 6:2b-11.)

These verses are a statement about values. We don't think they're intended to predict that everyone who wins big materially will necessarily "plunge ... into ruin and destruction," but they certainly highlight that possibility, especially where godliness is missing in the person's life. And at least some lottery winners have found that plunge to be part of the consequences of the win.

We recall a comment from the character Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevya's future son-in-law compares riches to a curse, and Tevya replies, "May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover." He also sings "If I were a Rich Man," cataloging all the things he would do if he were rich, but the thing he desires most is time to spend in the synagogue talking about the scriptures with the rabbis.

Questions: What is your level of contentment regarding your own life? What do you think are the most accurate predictors of whether a huge windfall will turn out to be a blessing or a curse? How is the nature of the winner's life before the win connected to the effect of the win on his or her life?

John 19:24

So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." (For context, 19:23-25.)

When it comes to the subject of gambling, there isn't much in the Bible that speaks directly about it. There's no commandment that says, "You shall not buy lottery tickets."

This single incident (reported in all four gospels), is the only biblical example of using a game of chance to win a prize -- Jesus' seamless tunic -- but here, the participants didn't have to invest anything personally. There are several other examples of casting lots in scripture, but in those cases, the activity was not used to gain a prize, but to discover God's will or make a choice (see, for example, Leviticus 16:8; Jonah 1:7; Acts 1:26).

Nonetheless, by looking at the effects of gambling on not only winners and losers, but also on the communities where gambling establishments set up shop, at least some of the verses included in this lesson apply.

Question: What effects, negative or positive, can you think of related to gambling? What biblical principles speak to those things? Does gambling income to game sponsors, including states, Indian tribes, casino owners and others do any good? How do you know?

When voters have been urged to vote to allow gambling in their states, arguments often include that the income will be used to support schools and other important services. Yet seldom does the addition of gambling revenue result in lowered taxes. Why do you think that is?

Matthew 13:44

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (For context, 13:44-45.)

Interesting, here the windfall treasure is a metaphor for the kingdom of God, and Jesus' point is that that kingdom is so valuable for our soul that it's worth giving up everything we have to obtain it. In this context, that is not sacrifice, but a joyful spending of what is worth less to receive that which is worth all. Or as Paul put it in Philippians 3:7, "Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ."

Question: Here Jesus is telling us that finding him and following him into the kingdom of God is the biggest windfall ever, one that we ought not let get away. What, if anything, convinces you that is true? What makes you doubt that?

Matthew 25:29

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. (For context, 25:14-30.)

This passage is from the well-known parable of the talents. A man entrusted his slaves with various amounts of money. The two who received more used what they had in business, and made a fine profit for their master. The one who received the least, however, didn’t even bank the money for interest, but hid it in a hole in the ground.

In this parable about Judgment Day, the master represents God, and the slaves represent people -- represent us. God has given each person wealth "according to his [or her] ability." The wealth is not only monetary, but all our abilities (our word "talents" comes from this parable and the Greek monetary unit talanton used in the parable). The slaves who use their money to gain more for the master are richly rewarded by entering "into the joy" of the master. The slave who ignores and doesn't use what the master has entrusted him, that slave is punished -- cast into "outer darkness."

Each of the three slaves in the parable started with nothing. All they had was what the master had entrusted to them. They were judged not by what they received, but by how they used and increased what they had been given.

Question: What are some things -- big or small -- that God has entrusted you with? How have you used them? How have you failed to use them? What might you do in the future to better use them?

For Further Discussion

  1. Someone who had experienced both sides of the financial street once said, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better." Respond to that statement.
  2. If you have enough money that you do not have to work, how should you spend your time?
  3. According to Wikipedia, "Prior to the 20th century, lotteries were used in New York to raise revenue for non-educational needs. New York City Hall was built in part with lottery proceeds. Other lotteries helped build and repair canals, roads, ferries, and bridges. Lotteries also were held for non-public needs. They helped develop New York City's manufacturing industries. Churches were built, rebuilt, or improved with lottery funds.

    "On November 8, 1966, New Yorkers voted to approve a constitutional amendment authorizing a government-run lottery. The referendum passed with over 60 percent in favor. The proceeds of the lottery were to be "applied exclusively to, or in aid or support of, education."

    In light of that information, respond to this comment from TWW team member Liz Antonson: "The above methods do not strike me as kingdom of God methods to social order."
  4. Respond to this, from TWW team member Frank Ramirez: "Mike and Mike, on ESPN radio, talked among themselves and their buddies what they would do if they won the lottery. My question is, what is stopping you from doing those things now? You may not be able to write a million dollar check to your church, but you can tithe what you have."

    TWW team member Ed Hortsch adds, "People talking about what they would do if they won. What are they doing with their money now? How many people actually tithe 10 percent? Or help someone with a five or a ten when needed? Our help to people doesn't always have to be something big. We should be doing what we can with what we have. After all, whatever we have is from the Lord."
  5. Comment on this: For some, the prospect of a windfall apparently can reveal a dark side. For the 1991 book, The Day America Told the Truth, some 2,000 Americans were polled about what they'd be willing to do for $10 million. Below are some of the poll results, but like any poll, it only tells what those who were willing to answer the questions said, and there's no guarantee that they did, in fact, tell the truth. Nonetheless, the following percentages of people polled reportedly said tha t for $10 million, they'd do the following:
    • 25 percent would abandon their church
    • 25 percent would abandon their entire family
    • 23 percent would become prostitutes for a week or more
    • 16 percent would give up their American citizenship
    • 16 percent would leave their spouses
    • 10 percent would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free
    • 7 percent would kill a stranger
    • 3 percent would put their children up for adoption
  6. Respond to this, from TWW consultant James Gruetzner: "The lottery has some benefits. It is the only tax that people volunteer to pay, and it is a tax that you don't have to pay. One downside is that many who volunteer to pay the tax are those who can least afford it. Another downside is that it encourages greed, not merely on the part of those buying lottery tickets, but upon the part of politicians and bureaucrats who desire the income from the lottery to increase their own power or fame."

Responding to the News

Consider Psalm 16. If you read it with the idea of having received some kind of sudden good fortune, Psalm 16 is very apropos. Imagine that you have some opportunity where you can throw over all that you have declared important and change your life in a self-centered but profitable way. Or, you can do something else with the opportunity, something where the benefit is shared. And now think of yourself praying about that using the words of Psalm 16, but with some other thoughts (included in parentheses) going on beneath the surface.

  1. Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. (Though I'm considering taking refuge in this expected good fortune.)
  2. I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you." (But if I use this opportunity as I am considering, I will be separating myself from you.)
  3. As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. (But I won't be among that holy if I do as I am tempted.)
  4. Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. (Will I really multiply my sorrows if I use this windfall for my own good alone?)
  5. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. (Yet here I am, rethinking whether I am going to keep you as my chosen portion. Lord, help me.)
  6. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. (But I am tempted to take a chance and step over the boundaries anyway.)
  7. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. (Yes, Lord, please do give me counsel.)
  8. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. (That's what I would like to be able to say. I don't want this unexpected opportunity to change me from whom I have committed myself to you to be.)
  9. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. (May it be so.)
  10. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. (Even now, O Lord, even in the face of this opportunity for blessing others or caring only about myself, do not give me up to my temptation.)
  11. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Yes, I believe that there is a path of life, a way you have established on solid ground that leads between terrain that is not good to tread upon. You've shown me where that path is. Help me to stay on it.)

Closing Prayer

O God, grant that we might experience the richness of your blessings. Help us to be responsible and righteous in our use of our material blessings. And if we come into great material blessings, help us to go forward with humility and generosity, seeking your leading. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2016 Communication Resources

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Your subscription will also provide you with a student version of the weekly lesson, which you can freely edit prior to sending it out to your class members. Here's a sample of what your students will get:

Dear Class Member,

We've all heard that the biggest jackpot in Powerball lottery history will be split between three winners. While few of us expect ever to become sudden multimillionaires, most of us receive unexpected blessings and unanticipated windfalls of other kinds. How we deal with such things is often a measure of be the topic of our next class.

If you wish to start thinking about our topic in advance, below is some introductory material.

Massive Powerball Jackpot to Be Split Between Three Winners

January 24, 2016

In the News

This past week we learned that the largest lottery prize ever -- the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot -- is to be split between three winners: one each in California, Florida and Tennessee. Not all of the winners have yet come forward, possibly because they are first making arrangements to handle the sudden wealth and protect themselves from the possible onslaught of schemers and others hoping to get some of the money.

News about big winners who become multimillionaires overnight typically brings out stories in the media about how previous winners have fared in the long run, and this time is no exception. Some of the tales about previous winners are little more than anecdotes or urban legends. Statements about previous winners -- such as one heard this week from the lips of a talk-show host that "Ninety percent of lottery winners go bankrupt within three years" (perhaps part of the 87 percent of statistics that some say are made up on the spot!) -- are hard to verify.

A January 12 article in The Atlantic says that researchers have tried to answer the question about how recipients of great windfalls do in the long term by "looking into two questions whose answers lottery players assume to be affirmative: Does winning the lottery make people rich in the long run? And does an influx of tons of cash make people happier?" What these researchers learned, however, is that the answers aren't straightforward.

That article cites various studies, but also mentions shortcomings with each study and says that "the overall picture of how lottery winners fare is still very hard to determine. First, many of these results are found by surveying winners, and self-reported data is notorious for its low quality. Second, it's not exactly easy to get lottery winners to surrender their financial records for research, so there are likely large holes in even the most scrupulous research. And finally, the fates of the lottery winners who researchers have the easiest time tracking down might skew negative, because tales of financial ruin are more publicized in the media than tales of stability."

More on this story may be found at these links:

We Have Powerball Winners! CNN Money

What Becomes of Lottery Winners? The Atlantic

Experts Shocked by Powerball Winners' Behavior. WND

Applying the News Story

A first thought many of us may have is that stories about lottery winners have little application to the rest of us. That's because, with the odds of winning big so high -- 1 in 292 million in the most recent jackpot! -- we will never be among those who have to deal with such a windfall. Likewise, we may not be expecting a big inheritance to drop into our lap. And our chances of getting a massive raise or a tremendous cash bonus at work seem remote.

Well, perhaps. But in fact, nothing stays the same forever. We may not be very happy with our present circumstances. We may be simply plodding along, feeling that the sky is closing in on us and past blunders have robbed tomorrow of its promise. But then, something changes. Job opportunities open up, the children grow up and move away, your skills suddenly come into demand, some old stock you bought years ago suddenly takes off, a job buyout occurs, a divorce happens (which, in some cases, can be freeing), retirement comes, and so forth. Any one of those things -- and many more -- can be a windfall of, if not of money, then of time or opportunity. (One man we know spoke of how his life suddenly seemed freed up when his last child left home and the dog died.)

Some of our bonanzas may be large and some may be small, but in either case, one test of what our faith is how we behave when unexpected blessings or new freedoms come upon us. In the context of faith, how we handle great blessings and sudden opportunities can be just as revealing about our faith as how we handle great pains and sudden troubles.

The Big Questions

  1. What values, already present in your life, might be enhanced by a sudden influx of wealth? What values in your life might falter under such an influx?
  2. How does faith in Christ assist us in those times of life when everything changes in a moment: the birth of a child; the death of a child/parent/spouse; beginning in a new job/city/school/church that may be accompanied by a change in status/ego state/self-image, etc.?
  3. How does Jesus model for us dealing with sudden changes of circumstances?
  4. Some form of gambling is legal almost everywhere in the United States. How should Christians regard gambling? Why? Is the lottery right, wrong or neither?
  5. If you play the lottery, do you also tithe to your church? Why or why not? What value structures are behind those two actions?
  6. Speaking of windfalls, Christians have received the free gift of salvation from eternal death through trust in the promises of God declared in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is surely a gain in wealth worth much more than the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot. How have you handled this great gift? What else, if anything, should you do or be doing?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope

We will look at selected verses from these Scripture texts. You may wish to read these in advance for background:

Proverbs 10:22
Proverbs 11:28
Luke 12:13-31
1 Timothy 6:2b-11
John 19:23-25
Matthew 13:44-45
Matthew 25:14-30

In class, we will talk about these passages and look for some insight into the big questions, as well as talk about other questions you may have about this topic. Please join us.

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