John was a gifted maintenance man. He was a valued member of the church staff were I served in pastoral ministry. He was dependable and willing to work long hours as needed for special church events.

Then John began to report to work late or call off sick. His work performance suffered from his frequent absences. It was my job to supervise him. At first, John responded positively and we met periodically for review of his job.

On Friday afternoon John asked to leave early for a doctor's appointment. Later, I received a call from Mary his wife with a desperate tone in her voice. She had called for him but, of course, he was not at work. When I told her that he had left early for a doctor's appointment, she called the doctor's office, only to find that he didn't have an appointment that day.

Late that evening Mary called back asking for help. John was home, having returned from several hours at the race track. He had literally blown his entire paycheck on the horses. She was ready to leave him as she was fed up with his addiction to compulsive gambling and financial stress on their family.

It was very clear that John was consumed by his gambling addiction. It was too late to save his job as I was forced to terminate him. This crisis however, became a turning point for John. He was admitted to a treatment center for compulsive gamblers.

I stopped to visit with John and had prayer with him. There was hope that his life could be changed and his marriage might be saved.

I don't know the outcome as I haven't seen John in more than fifteen years. However, like most compulsive gamblers, he may struggle with addiction recovery the rest of his life. Pray for those in our community, like John, who are caught in the addictive cycle of compulsive gambling. Offer them a way of HOPE for recovery through faith in God.

It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans are problem gamblers. It will soon be comparable to alcohol and smoking addictions. Treatment programs and Gamblers Anonymous groups are growing across the country to address this crisis.

It is ironic, however, that churches, community agencies and non-profit organizations in our community are promoting so-called softer forms of gambling, such as bingos, casino nights, fairs, raffles, and other games of chance, to support their budgets or to fund charitable causes. Yet, the same persons who are addicted to compulsive gambling, turn to these same charitable organizations for help in their time of crisis and financial need.

As Christians we are called by God to promote personal lifestyles and standards that make it undesirable to resort to any forms of gambling. As an act of faith and reliance upon God to supply every material need, Christians are called to abstain from all forms of gambling, yet, also to provide ministry to those victimized by the practice.

The Scripture declares,
“They are experts in greed....They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity...a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” (II Peter 2:14, 19, NIV)

The hymn writer has penned these powerful words,

    Once I was bound by sin’s galling fetters,
    chained and enslaved I struggled in vain.
    But I received a Glorious Freedom
    when Jesus broke my fetters and chains.

    Freedom from fear and selfish ambition,
    freedom from envy, hatred and strife.
    Freedom in Christ, my blessed Redeemer,
    Glorious Freedom has transformed my life.

    Refrain: Glorious Freedom, Wonderful Freedom,
    no more in chains of sin I repine.
    Jesus, the glorious emancipator,
    now and forever, He shall be mine.

(Excerpts taken from an original article written by David L. Cowles and published in the “Your Faith” page of the Newark Advocate, 2000)