Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Waiting on Kings

"The poker gods aren't liking me right now," said a frustrated player at our table the other day.

At other times, we might have corrected his usage on the spot.  But this time, we played along a little.  "The dealer gave you those cards....?"

No, he didn't want to blame the dealer -- simply "the poker gods."

A previous post noted the curious hint by Jesus in the Bible that humans could become gods.  The Lord quoted from the Psalms....
God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the "gods".... "I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.'" - Psalm 82:1, 6

Read the entire Psalm and you'll find this seems to be instruction for people -- as opposed to correction for angels or some other kind of being.  Who are "sons of the Most High" supposed to be?
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. - I John 3:2 (KJV)

The apostle John indicates here believers can be "sons of God" -- or His "children," as other translations put it.  That means we can be in God's family.  That may sound strange, but it's Biblical.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.  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 8:16-17

An "heir to the throne" in Europe suggests someone who's a future king or queen.  And the Bible indicates we can inherit a throne as well -- but not God's almighty throne, since He will not die as human royalty does.

This is a deep subject, and we may explore it further in coming posts.  But this sermon explains the concept in detail (although we should note we don't agree with every detail of it).

In the meantime, when you're dealt a King at the poker table, don't dismiss it lightly -- think about how it could reflect you one day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Poker Day 410: He Shoots, He Scores

So where was the crowd today at Arrowhead Poker?  Were people saving their money for the "big game" of the month next Sunday?

Actually, that was part of our plan -- to show up on an "off Sunday" with fewer players, thus increasing our chances of making the final table and winning money.  But does it really count as a "final table" when there are only enough players for one?  Ten players gathered for action, with two winning money.  The play was leisurely - but still dramatic at times:

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000


After some early setbacks, we've won a couple of modest pots -- and with a couple of other players already out, at least we won't finish last.  We start this hand with 18,000 chips (from a starting 25,000), and sense it's time to make a move.  We raise to 5,000.  A couple of players ponder it for a moment, then decide to call.


Perfecto!  The first man to act checks, but we certainly do not.

"All of it," we say -- offering our last 13,000 chips with three of a kind.  A talkative man down the table from us calls; the third player folds.

"I've got a big 4," our opponent says as he shows his cards.  Bottom pair?!  Well, a closer look shows he has two clubs -- and two clubs are showing on the flop (we forget which ones).

"I have Gretzkys," we say.  After a moment, the rest of the table seems to understand the hockey reference.  But can we dodge a flush?


We don't recall the exact suit, but it thankfully was not a club.


Whew!  We escape the fatal club, and gain more than a "double-up" - advancing to more than 40,000.

Two pair with a 6 in our hand brought us another big pot later, and we hit a high of 77,000 chips with six players to go.  But we couldn't hold on from there, taking a sizable loss with K-10 to a man who ran us off his own K-10 with big bets.

With five players remaining and rising blinds, we went all-in again with A-10 of clubs and 45,000 chips left.  But the man we beat in that earlier hand turned over pocket Kings.  No Ace came to rescue us, and we finished fifth -- only mid-list in a ten-player game, but still competitive.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "That's the most original card protector I've ever seen," a man two seats down from us said.  We brought with us a worn-out battery (actually a AA, not the 9-volt in our photo).

"I brought it to remind me," we explained, "that I receive power from the Holy Spirit."

We asked the man if he believed in the Holy Spirit.  He quietly said yes.  "But I don't see what that has to do with your battery."

We told him batteries are used to power all sorts of devices.  But sadly, the conversation tailed off after that.  Here's the Spirit comparison....
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. - II Peter 1:3

Who calls?  Jesus said God the Father does (John 6:44).  Then we are chosen as disciples by Christ (John 15:16).  The Holy Spirit then enters believers, to help them do life-promoting and godly acts.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. - Galatians 5:16

If you say you believe in God and Jesus, that's a good start.  But is the Holy Spirit guiding your life?  Are you letting the Spirit lead you in a godly path?
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. - Galatians 5:17

To borrow from an old tale: the one you feed is the one that will grow and thrive.  Feed yourself with godly things (such as reading from the Bible every day), and hopefully a godly lifestyle will increase for you.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 143 final tables in 410 games (34.9%) - 23 cashes.  Yes, we're scoring it a "final table" finish -- especially since we finished in the top half.  In six tournaments at Arrowhead, we've finished in the top five three times.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Children of a Poker God?

Here's an interesting discussion (slightly edited) from a recent online tournament at National League of Poker:

Dealer: flopblogger wins Main Pot ($4970) with Flush, jack high....
_warren_: ptl
gunn3r11: ptl
Dealer: raysab wins Main Pot ($8795)
_warren_: PTL
gunn3r11: what is that
_warren_: yea
Me: Glad you asked. Praise the Lord.
gunn3r11: oh cool
_warren_: got ya
Me: Hoping Jesus is everyone's Lord here. :-)
_warren_: he is mine
gunn3r11: hes mine and I want everyone to know it
Me: Amen!
_warren_: i heard tht

We should stop here and ask: who is your "Lord"?  Perhaps you think you don't need one.  The Bible inspired by God disagrees....
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.... For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile -- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. - Romans 10:9, 12

We could go deeper into that topic -- but our main point here is how another player at the online table responded to the discussion:

raysab: i pray to the poker gods lol
_warren_: lol i bet you do
gunn3r11: lol
Me: Trouble is, there's only one God.
gunn3r11: even when I win I know I didnt do it by myself
raysab: not in poker
gunn3r11: and its never just for me
Me: Very true, Gunn.

We've heard many players refer to "poker gods" over the years.  Many Christians (and for that matter many Jews) believe there's really only one God:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. - Deuteronomy 6:4

Yet sometimes you come across verses in the Bible which challenge your thinking.  Right now we're studying these fascinating words:
Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'?  If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came -- and the Scripture cannot be broken...." - John 10:34-35

What's going on here?  Is the Lord Jesus saying other people can be "gods" as well?  Could you become a "poker god," somehow influencing the outcome of a big hand or tournament?

We'll make these open questions.  What do you think about them?  Leave comments with your thoughts, and we'll share ours as we continuing studying this.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Big Bucks and the Big House

There are all sorts of ways to play poker these days -- online in tournaments, in person at local club nights or cash games in casinos.  All sorts of legal ways, we should say.

Yet sadly, the poker news this weekend is dominated by a couple of illegal games.  Guilty pleas in New York City and a police bust in Virginia indicate the legal version may not be enough for some people.

What drives people to that sort of activity -- to think they have to play high-stakes cash games for bigger bucks?  The Bible offers one possible answer:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. - I Timothy 6:10

.Human nature tends to be a selfish, greedy thing.  People who win a little hope to win a lot.  People who win a lot dream of pressing their luck to win a lot more.  It's hard to do what some beer ads advise -- and "know when to say when."  And sometimes as a result....
A greedy man brings trouble to his family.... - Proverbs 15:27a

What we need to learn instead is the opposite of greediness.  Is that doing without, or going bankrupt?  Not at all.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. - Philippians 4:12

Did you catch the key word?  It's being content - which dictionaries define as being satisfied with what you have.

If you risk bringing ruin on your household to get a fancier sports car or vacation house, is that really a good tradeoff?  Isn't it better to "count your blessings," as an old song says, and thank God for what He's provided you?  It's certainly better than risking a free trip to jail.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Give It Away

Our last live poker day included a discussion with a woman about her church congregation's community service projects.  We pointed out here that it's good to do such things -- but noted the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 indicating such efforts could be flawed.

It's important to realize the "good works" we do do not qualify you for salvation, and eternal life with God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9

To paraphrase an example we heard on Christian radio: if a dealer gives you 5,000 extra chips for showing up at a poker tournament on time, do you feel compelled to return 2,500 of them?  Do you automatically give 2,500 to someone who shows up ten minutes late?  You could do that -- but why?

If you do those things, you're trying to pay for a gift.  And so it is with God.  Salvation is His gift to us, through the life of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10).  Doing good deeds to claim a gift is illogical.

But on the other hand, we can do good works along the lines of that woman's congregation.  But we shouldn't do it to add to our "tote board" with God, hoping to have a big enough stack of "goodness chips" to reach His ultimate final table.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. -- Matthew 6:3-4

We think these words of Jesus mean not only doing good works without self-promotion -- but establishing a giving habit.  It should become so regular and "second nature" to us that we'll be surprised to hear at the judgment....
The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for me of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." - Matthew 25:40

So do good.  Often.  So often that you might wind up helping a poker player achieve great things, without even realizing it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hoping for the Best

A recent post referred to an online poker player who used some puzzling shorthand during hands -- shorthand we still haven't figured out.  Admittedly, we sometimes use texting shorthand as well. Take this moment from later in the tournament:

Dealer:  flopblogger wins Main Pot ($3,150) with Two pair, nines and sevens
Me:  good game friends
Me:  PTL
Dealer:  JOKER69 wins Main Pot ($30,830) with Two pair, sevens and fives
sootedone:  poker tard league
Me:  Uh, no
Me:  That means praise the Lord

Regular readers may notice we don't play poker as much as we did earlier this year - and we don't post as much about it, either.  The main reason for that is a new non-poker job, which is keeping us very busy.  In fact, sometimes the work can be a bit personally frustrating.  But even at those times, we must remember....
Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. - Psalm 42:5-6

Some people put their hope in winning money at poker.  That thought has crossed our mind from time to time, too -- but then we realize how risky that can be.  Some people become "poker stars" with exclusive access to TV tables.  Many others go bust early.
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.  When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. - Psalm 146:3-4

That applies to ourselves, as much as anybody else.  If you dream of striking it rich at a poker cash game, you could well be deceiving yourself.  So for the best advice, keep reading....
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them -- the Lord, who remains faithful forever. - Psalm 146:5-6

All the saved-up poker winnings in the world can't guarantee you'll avoid death forever.  God is truly our only hope for a life beyond this one.  If your ultimate hope is not in Him, where is it -- and why?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Left Behind

Sunday was a rainy day in our city.  But when one of our activities ended, the rain had stopped -- so we left the event and went home, leaving an umbrella behind.

We didn't realize what we had done until Monday afternoon.  There was no time to pick it up then.  But we returned to the site Tuesday afternoon, and found the staff had graciously set our umbrella aside, waiting for us to retrieve it.

And would you believe.... the place that did this was a poker room?

You may think of poker players as greedy cutthroats, out to take whatever they can by any means necessary.  But we give credit to the Arrowhead Poker staff (and by extension the regular players) for leaving that sort of conduct at the table.  Outside the game, we haven't seen them act that way.
Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right. - Proverbs 20:11

In our era of blogs and social media, reports of bad conduct by a person or business can travel very quickly.  So it's important for all of us to treat each other with courtesy and respect -- even poker players.
By their fruit you will recognize them.... Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. - Matthew 7:16-17

Jesus's harshest critics had to create trumped-up charges to have Him arrested, and eventually crucified.  That's because....
....God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how we went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. - Acts 10:38

You may not be able to heal anyone physically.  But are you trying to do good today -- even when you're at a poker table?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Poker Day 409: Big Risk, Big Reward

Even though it was a rainy Sunday and there was flooding down the street, we were ready to plunk down $20 for a Sunday game at Arrowhead Poker.  But lots of other people had the same idea -- and they showed up with more money.

We'd forgotten the first Sunday of the month is a "big game."  As in $50 to enter, longer blinds and a $1,000 first prize.  So we reluctantly pulled out money from an on-site ATM, and joined about 70 other players in a crowded room.

BLINDS: 500/1,000


We've won a few early pots, and advanced above our starting 20,000 chips.  But we've had a few setbacks as well, so we're not that far above 20,000.  Now we have this small pocket pair in the Small Blind, and decide to simply "lay low" by calling.  No one at the full table raises, and about half the table is in.

ON THE FLOP: 4-3-2

We don't need a "1" for blast-off here.  With three of a kind and a clear straight draw tempting other players, we try a "go away" bet sitting first in the order.  We bet 2,500.  That doesn't work.  A man across from us raises to 10,500.  A player to our right calls.

"I have to call," we say -- and do.  But then a man down the table who had simply called our 2,500 decides to go for it.  He pushes all in for an additional 24,500.

"Twenty-four thousand 500?!?" we ask in disbelief.  That's more than we have -- yet do we have much of a choice here?  If that man is playing 5-6 or A-5, we're clearly sunk.  But some players at this table have been making large bets with little more than speculation.

"I'm going to do it," we finally announce.  About 12,000 more is added by us.

"I have the best hand possible," the man down the table declares.  Except he shows 4-5.  So no, he doesn't.

"Three times three," we say as we show.  That's not what the two all-in players wanted to see.  One is hoping for an open-ended straight draw; the other needs a big miracle (although we forget what he had).


That's good.  Now one more....


It's a massive payday for us, as we eliminate one player and jump up our stack to more than 60,000!

There was more drama as the afternoon unfolded.  We dropped to 28,000, went all-in with pocket Queens and outlasted A-K.  Then we won a couple more big pots.  At one point, our chip stack hit 280,000.  A speculative open-ended straight try failed at the second break, leaving us with 200,000 and two tables left.

The top nine players were paid money at this tournament -- but we didn't quite get that far.  We defended a Big Blind to stay alive at one point, but rising blinds and marginal cards proved too much.  We finally pushed again with 3-3, but other players paired 7's and 9's on the flop to eliminate us.  We missed the final table by finishing 12th.  But in a field with that many players, we felt good about our final result.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We struck up a discussion with a woman sitting to our right about faith matters.  She attends a United Methodist church, and told us about a weekly project her congregation does to feed homeless people in our city.  By doing this, the group seems to do what Jesus recommended....
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...." - Matthew 25:34-35

But as we consider this parable, we can't stop there.  The people who received the King's blessing had a response to His comment:
Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?".... The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." - Matthew 25:37, 40

Think carefully about this.  Doesn't the church group which helps the homeless every week know it's helping "the least of these" -- especially if it's read this parable first?  Wouldn't the members be able to bring up those actions at Christ's judgment seat, to make an argument for entering God's Kingdom?

Don't misunderstand -- these "good works" projects are nice to do.  But we think there's a deeper message from Jesus here.  What would you guess it is?  Offer a comment, and we'll compare notes in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 142 final tables in 409 games (34.7%) - 23 cashes.