Wednesday, September 20, 2017

First Hearing

Our last post mentioned a poker championship in Ohio exclusively for "deaf" people - players with hearing impairments. It's good that those players can be out and active. But we'd like to ask: what if something could be done so they can hear?

Modern science is making it possible for children to hear, where they otherwise might not. But a man once walked on Earth who restored hearing in a more amazing way:

So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." - Luke 7:22

This was the report of Jesus Christ, given to disciples of John the Baptizer (as one well-known minister calls him). John had baptized Jesus (Luke 3:21), yet somehow developed doubts about whether He was the real Messiah. Jesus's answer was that the proof was in the miracles that He did.

There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears.... He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. - Mark 7:32-35

Jesus not only healed the man's hearing disability, but allowed him to speak clearly.

Some poker players long for a one-off card on the river to stay in a tournament. Yet Jesus accomplished greater miracles than that. And the Bible shows a time is coming when that will happen again....

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.... - Isaiah 35:5

This will occur when people see "the glory of the Lord" (verse 3). Tonight some believers will enter a season of the year that pictures the future time when that will happen - when Jesus returns to Earth:

...They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. - Matthew 24:30b

The season begins with what Jews call Rosh Hashanah, and some believers call the "Feast of Trumpets." Read more about it by clicking here. Perhaps God wants you to join the celebration, and look forward to the time when a Deaf Poker Championship is something in the distant past.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

There Are No Words

Poker rooms can be quiet places. Sometimes that's what the players prefer; even writing a few comments in an online game can get you called out for talking too much. But sometimes, the players can't speak at all.

A casino in Ohio held a poker tournament this weekend for hearing-disabled players. We'd never heard of a "Deaf Poker Championship" before. But the one in Toledo had 59 players, a $1,605 top prize - and apparently some intense play, as it took nine hours to determine a winner.

As we thought about this, this idea made a lot of sense. As one dealer said at a recent tournament we entered, "Poker is a visual game." Players might "announce a raise," but in truth they don't really have to say a thing. You tap the table to check. You set chips in front of the line to bet. The dealer can move cards forward and back to show which hand is best.

Believe it or not, we've heard some ministers say hearing-impaired people cannot become real Christians. They might turn to Bible verses like this....

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. - Romans 10:17

Their logic is: if people cannot hear, how can they have faith? But we think this logic is misguided. Here's why....

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. - Psalm 119:18

Thanks to the printing press, and more recently the Internet, "wonderful things" about God can be read as well as heard. People can come to understand God's plan of salvation by carefully studying the Bible.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. - I Timothy 4:1

That's a scary warning, but we'd like to focus on the start of that verse. The Holy Spirit says things?! Yes - not audibly, but through the written word speaking to the hearts of people seeking God.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. - Revelation 2:29

If you're paying attention when you read the Bible, the Holy Spirit of God may be "speaking" to you through its words. That's why it's good to ask God when you read for the Bible's words to be made clear - so you know exactly what God would have you do.

Come to think of it, something might be even better than having hearing-impaired people "hear" God through print. Can you guess what that might be? We'll get to it in our next post.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rage Against the Machine

The word "poker" can mean different things in different places. In our part of the U.S., it usually refers to a table game with cards and chips. But other countries have "poker machines" which are really more like slot machines.

A trial involving those machines is underway this week in Australia. A casino player named Shonica Guy claims a casino and a "poker machine" company misled her about her chances of winning at one particular machine - and she went on to lose a lot of money.

One phrase struck us right away when reading this story. Guy is described as a "gambling addict", who says "poker machines took over my life for.... 14 years." If that's true, that's sad - and it's a reminder that even regular poker players can become addicted to the game. Some timeless advice applies here:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. - I John 2:15

Would anyone be addicted to poker or "pokies" (as the Aussies call them) if there was not a little "love" involved? Many addicts (gambling or otherwise) probably wouldn't put it that way. They might say something inside draws them in - something they think they can't control. But that "love" of the addiction needs to be replaced. And the love of God is the best possible replacement.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. - I John 2:17

The hope of eternal life in God's Kingdom is offered to those who, for lack of a better term, become addicted to Him and to Jesus Christ. We think you can still play those games (yes, we realize others would disagree). But as Jesus said, borrowing from a message we heard at church last weekend....

You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life. - Luke 14:26 (CEV)

Love Jesus more than anybody. More than anything. More than any game. A good church group can help you with that....

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. - Hebrews 3:13

For more specialized help with addiction, a support group might be the answer you need. But don't blame the machine or a casino for your problem. We don't really think they're holding you hostage. Go to God in prayer, and begin moving toward a better life - even toward eternal life.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hope and Faith

At our last poker tournament, we brought up our hope at one point of making a big hand. That hope fell short. But we have a hope of receiving something much bigger, and more important....

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from the bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. - Romans 8:20-21

There are some big concepts here, so let's simplify things a bit. We're all God's creation, if you're humble enough to accept it (Genesis 1). But we face the frustration of eventual death....

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. - Genesis 3:19

Yet the good news and the hope of believers is that we can be liberated from death's bondage! That takes something beyond mere hope, though. It takes faith in Someone bigger than us, who can make it happen.

Having faith in God making a flush or full house for you is asking for something relatively insignificant. God wants you to have faith for something much bigger....

Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. - Romans 8:17

You can become a child of God by putting your faith in Him (the Father) and His Son, Jesus Christ.

....So that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. - I Corinthians 2:5

If you need help in developing this faith, please leave a comment. We might be able to help. In the meantime, express your faith in God by walking in a godly way (James 2:26) Sometimes the best message you can send is the example you set.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Why Words

We asked in a recent post one of the most basic poker questions. It comes up after a lot of crazy hands - the question of why.

There are some standard answers about why poker players take the actions they do. We like to joke that the famous last words of some players is, "They were suited." And we'll confess in a couple of cases at this week's tournament, we chased hands with marginal cards simply because we had a hunch about them paying off. (In every case we recall, they didn't.)

When it comes to our lives, we pointed out previously that "why" matters - especially to God:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts... - I Chronicles 28:9

This is advice from a departing King David to his son and successor. He doesn't stop there....

If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. - I Chronicles 28:9b

So it's better to seek God - and best to serve him in a wholehearted and willing way. That brings us to two critical four-letter words:

He [Jesus] replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." - Luke 11:28

It's important to obey. But let's be honest: you can obey every instruction from a poker dealer and Floor Manager, and still do it with a sour attitude and approach.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. - James 4:3

OK, so what's the right motive? It's that second four-letter word....

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. - John 13:34

If you love me, you will obey what I command. - John 14:15

Jesus said "love" and "obey" are words which go together. They're words we've mentioned often in this blog, as they apply to poker and life. Do a word search for them. Consider the verses we've found about them. And see if the "why" behind your actions becomes less muddled, and more honorable.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Poker Day 506: Push to Talk

On a day set aside to "pray for Texas," we went to a casino and played Texas Hold 'em. Yes, we prayed first for the people affected by the hurricane. In fact, we put a little Texas lapel pin on our hat - perhaps too small, because no one mentioned it. But would our Sunday tournament have sunshine or clouds?

BLINDS: 75/150


We were originally the 14th alternate on the casino list, even though we arrived 25 minutes early. Thankfully, the top ten were placed in a separate table. Then we sat down about 35 minutes into the tournament.

Some nibbles have failed, mainly due to a man with a huge stack at our immediate left who is raising early and often. We now sit two seats off the button with great cards. We smell a chance to gain, so we check to wait for raisers. Sadly, there are none; about four players are in.


Jackpot! we say to ourselves. It's a "rainbow" flop of three different suits. We hit the top straight, so let's sit back and wait. A man across the table moves first, trying a pre-emptive 675. Fine, we'll call. Then Mr. Big Bettor to our left goes over the top, raising to 4,500. Other players fold.

"He wants me to go all-in," we say - recalling his pushes of minutes before. "So I will." And Mr. Big Bettor insta-calls!

"Did you hit a straight?" we ask him.

"Did you?"

"I'm asking you."

He turns over.... Q-10! That's bottom two pair.

"Because I did hit a straight." We show our cards, and he mutters about his fate. Then he roots for a Queen, to hit a full house.


We actually pair. As if that matters.


We couldn't have dreamed it any better: a big hand, and a big bettor walking right into it. Our push of 8,775 turns into 19,200 chips!

We were quiet from there, taking 19,050 to the first break. But then, attempts to gain ground failed over and over.  We won one pot, only to give back most of it in the very next hand. We staggered to the second break at only 5,700.

A rally started to come in the third term - first when we pushed with A-9 and everyone folded. Another A-9 with diamonds took out a player when we hit a flush. But not enough big cards came - so we finally pushed a third time with A-9. This time, two players had A-K. No one paired the board, so they split our last 5,500 chips. It wasn't a bad day - 21st place out of 84 players. But we left dreaming of what might have been.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Your turn," the man to our left said later when we played a hand he folded pre-flop. Trouble was, our cards missed and we had to fold on the turn. Then he chided us for not pressing on.

"I had hope," we explained to him. Then we quoted part of a Bible verse, whether he realized it or not:

...Hope that is seen is not hope.... - Romans 8:24 (KJV)

We don't think he understood that - but do you understand it?  It's different from that other hand, where we hit the straight on the flop. We don't need to "hope" we hit it. We can see the board and see our cards, and know we did.

Look at the entire verse to understand this better:

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is not seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? - Romans 8:24 (NIV)

Paul is writing here about salvation. Note this version has it in past tense - "we were saved." The King James Version has it in present tense: "we are saved." And the Moffatt paraphrase puts it, "We were saved with this hope ahead." This indicates both a past and a future aspect.

So what are believers hoping for, and has it arrived yet? Read all of Romans 8 if you'd like for a head start, and we'll get back to this in another post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 184 final tables in 506 games (36.4%) - 37 cashes.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Why Factor

Make a smart read in a poker room, and some people might consider you a genius. Make a bad move that costs you all your chips, and a simple question may come up. Why did you do that?

Why do some players take an aggressive approach to hands? Why do others lay back and wait for the big moment?

An article posted this week gets into the psychology of poker, and what motivates people to do what they do. The author puts it in terms of winning vs. losing - that some hot players are more likely to quit while they're ahead, while losing players want to recoup at least some of their losses.

Perhaps your decisions in poker are more muddled than that. But outside the table, our motivation ultimately matters....

All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord. - Proverbs 16:2

Or to put it another way, all of our whys seem innocent. At the moment of decision, we may think our decision and logic are wise. But time ultimately shows whether or not we're right. And deep down, God often knows the "why" of our actions better than we do. As one prayer put it:

...Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men).... - II Chronicles 6:30

Does our motivation behind our actions really matter? The Bible indicates ultimately, it will....

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. - I Corinthians 4:5

This speaks of a coming judgment of all humans by Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:11-15). So what should our proper motive be? Ponder your answer, and leave a comment if you wish. We'll get to that in a future post.