Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Hands of God: Making Straight

Did you know some common poker terms can be found in the Bible?  Here's one....
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" - John 1:23

Poker players make a straight, with five numerical cards in a row (4-5-6-7-8, for example).  So why did John say this phrase?

The word "straight" in the original New Testament Greek can mean to keep things level, or head directly toward something.  We think John was trying to point people of his day directly to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Others of that era did the same thing:
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. - Acts 4:12

As we prepared to write this post, we learned about a TV comedy starring a man who supposedly "saves the world."  Except his show was cancelled this week, after less than one season.

The name being discussed in Acts is the same One John mentioned....
..It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but who God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. - Acts 4:10

The name of Jesus heals people. The name of Jesus brings salvation.  That's putting it as "straight" as we can.  Do you believe it?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Play Or Stay Away?

"Are you playing?" a man asked us at work the other day when we brought up the state poker championship.

Participants play a hand during the Cards for the Cure event on Saturday at Beech Activity Center. 

We would have joined a big crowd -- about 1,000 people competing in all.  And that's with the schedule divided into three tournaments; a ladies-only event and a "high roller" night with a $500 buy-in were added this year.

Yet this charity fundraising event had a critic or two this year.  We read about one complaint challenging its legality, in a state with tight gambling laws.  We understand the organizers cleared all the details through the District Attorney's office.  But that's not why we stayed away.

"They're playing on the Sabbath," we told the man at work.  Every tournament was like that -- either on Friday night or Saturday during the day.

"I put the King of Kings above pocket Kings," we added.  We think he understood -- but perhaps you don't.
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord.... - Isaiah 58:13-14

We mark the Sabbath as the Bible originally did -- on the seventh day of the week, from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (Genesis 1:31-2:3).  We're aware of some Bible verses which might open the door for some latitude.  For instance:
Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." - Mark 2:27-28

Jesus said these words -- and Jesus should be Lord of every life (Romans 10:9).  But we choose to not "go our own way" on the Sabbath.  And playing poker would be exactly that for us.  Instead, we give the Sabbath back to God with worship, study and prayer.

Oh yes -- who's the "King of Kings" we were talking about?
....Keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time -- God, the blessed and only ruler, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.  To him be honor and glory forever.  Amen. - I Timothy 6:14-16

Is Jesus your King?  And are you honoring Him, above any deck of playing cards or stack of poker chips?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Poker Day 418: Omaha, Hike

There may have been competition before, when it comes to poker rooms in our city.  But there certainly is now.  After seeing a front-page ad in a weekly newspaper, today we went to Winners Cardroom - a room which has been open only about a month, and still had things being installed as we waited to play.

The set-up is similar to River City Card Room - with "free" tournaments every day, if you pay a $20 "chair rental."  One big difference is that food and drink costs money at Winners, instead of being free.  Another is that you can buy five "tip chips" to pay the dealer during the games, in exchange for 5,000 bonus chips.

Call us a cheapskate, but we plunked down only $20 to take our chances -- at what turned out to be a one-table "Dealer's Choice" affair:

BLINDS: 100/200

FORMAT: Omaha Hi/Lo


Someone else selected this format.  We certainly would not, because we've had no success at it.  But three connectors in a row seems "good to go" for us, so we call.  Keep in mind, Omaha rules only allow players to use two of their pocket cards in building hands -- and in "Hi/Lo," the highest and lowest hands will split the pot.


We have a pair, but hope for much more.  Our 5-6 gives us an open-ended straight draw.  We've lost a little of our starting stack, so we want to stick around.  As best we recall, a player to our left bet around 700, and we called.


No, that's not it.  Now, as best we remember, the player to our left put out 1,200.  With that straight draw still possible, we call again -- as a man to our right who's already folded mumbles something about having a 9-8.  Uh-oh.  That would be a higher straight than ours.


That's it!  At least, we hope so.  Now we bet 1,000 (as best we recall).  A couple of people call.  Then we announce, "56 Straight."

Our two "hole cards" wind up succeeding!  The straight wins the "high" side of the pot.  Then the dealer declares we also have the "low" side -- apparently from the 5-6 joining with 3-4-10?! (We invite readers to help us understand this.)  We take every chip in play, and a pot in the thousands.

This started us on a run to take several hands in the first hour.  We reached a high of 50,000 chips (from a starting 15,100).  But then the winning stopped, as our chip stack slowly eroded due to rising blinds.

We stayed alive at one point on an all-in bet with three Jacks.  But then another Omaha hand came with five players remaining, and were forced to go all-in for our last 10,000 chips.  The cards gave up a club flush -- but our clubs were 3-2, and someone else had two higher clubs to defeat us.

On a day with an estimated 12 players floating in and out, we wound up fifth.  Only the top two players won money, but it still was a rather satisfying finish in a format we admittedly don't feel comfortable playing.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Before the game began, two men were talking about recent bad beats they had in cash games.  One man described having J-J, and feeling thrilled about a flop of J-10-10.  Then he was shocked to see 10-10 on the turn and river -- and another man with a King wound up with the better quads!

"That's a sign from God that's it's time to get out," the other man told him.  Interesting.

"But doesn't God give signs that things are going well?!" we asked moments later.

The man seemed reluctant to accept that -- but let's consider this issue.  Signs are discussed many times in the Bible.  Take this example given by Jesus:
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.... - Matthew 24:30

If you saw this sign of Christ, what would your reaction be?  Would it be positive or negative?  Jesus continues:
....and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. - Matthew 24:30b

The nations will mourn when they the sign of Jesus's second coming.  Why?  Probably because the nations as a whole have doubted God's existence, or didn't think the Bible meant what it said.  Yet those who believe in Jesus will have no reason to mourn....
And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. - Matthew 24:31

Other verses show God's "elect" will meet Jesus in the air, at His second coming (I Thessalonians 4:16-17) - and they'll live with the Lord forever.  The sign of the Son of Man will be absolutely positive for them.  So it comes down to a simple question: how do you look at Jesus -- and do you believe His promise about a second coming?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 146 final tables in 418 games (34.9%) - 24 cashes.  Today marked our first final table in the last six live tournaments, and the first since late September.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Grandest Theft

A recent tournament at National League of Poker had this chat:

Dealer:  knightfan2 wins Main Pot ($14,400)
TJFill:  thief
knightfan2:  like stealing candy from a baby
TJFill:  *** low life
Me:  Thief in the Knight :-)
TJFill:  pc oc rap
Me:  Straight outta the Bible

We did a play on words to bring up a phrase of Scripture.  Perhaps you've never thought of Jesus this way before....
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. - I Thessalonians 5:2 (KJV throughout)

It's tempting to conclude Jesus will come like a thief -- but that's not really what this verse says.  After all, would a Lord who opposes stealing (Matthew 19:18) come back to Earth that way?

It actually says the "day of the Lord" will come like a thief....
For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. - I Thessalonians 5:3

If you think our modern time is peaceful and secure -- well, some might call you hyper-optimistic.  We've seen confident poker players lose big stacks in a hurry to a couple of bad decisions.  And our blessings of life could erode in the same way.

Paul's point is that we should all live carefully -- and perhaps even play poker the same way:
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.  You are all the children of light, and the children of the day.... let us watch and be sober. - I Thessalonians 5:4-6

Are you guarding against potential theft by keeping your "light" on -- the light of Jesus Christ in you?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Stealing More Than The Blinds

When we moved to our new home last year, we played a couple of tournaments in the World Poker Tour Amateur Poker League.  Perhaps that was two too many.

We received word this past week that the WPTAPL database was hacked.  While the league's President dismissed the hacking as a gain of "pretty much worthless" and old information, an email alerting us to the breach called it "Important Account Information" -- and added:

Our main concern is if you use the same password for your email account as the password on your WPTAPL account.

We think our account became disabled in recent months from lack of use. When we tried to contact WPTAPL about something several months ago, we never received a response -- and then found what we thought was our password wouldn't work anymore.

Some people hack as a hobby, claiming they're alerting websites to security problems. Others undoubtedly do it to steal personal information. We'll be watching closely to see what happens in our case. In the meantime, it's a reminder to pray for the day when this isn't a worry anymore.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. - Isaiah 11:9

This refers to a coming Kingdom of God, which Jesus will bring to the earth.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. - Isaiah 11:10

Jesus calls Himself a "Root" in Revelation 22:16. We root for Him to come back -- and in the meantime, offer this advice to any hacker who might pass this way:
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. - Ephesians 4:28

Thursday, January 9, 2014

All Means All

"I'm halfway in."

When was the last time you heard someone say that during a poker tournament?  Maybe you have, but we haven't.  The very sound of it seems wishy-washy and indecisive   And as they sometimes say in poker rooms, it's not good television.

No, the common phrase is to be all in.  In fact, we recently played in a tournament where the poker dealer pulled out an "all in" button to note the first player to push during a hand.  Every chip you have is at stake -- along with your future in the game.

Are you that way when it comes to other things in your life?  Do you live with an "all in" mentality?  Or are you like some players in other casino games -- and think it's more fun to straddle?

In one famous Biblical showdown, it was the God-fearing man who challenged people not to straddle:
So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel.  Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing. - I Kings 18:20-21

These were people from all over Israel (verse 19) -- and to borrow from cricket, they watched quite a one-day "test."  Read the entire chapter and you'll find the prophets of Baal tried to summon their god, but nothing happened.  Then Elijah called on his God, and fire dramatically came down from heaven.
When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The Lord - he is God!  The Lord - he is God!" - I Kings 18:39

There's nothing like a momentous miracle to turn people into believers.  But we need to keep faith toward God all the time -- even on ordinary or bad days.  That's when you're really "all in" with Him.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth. - Revelation 3:15-16

The Bible shows Jesus said these words to a church, after His resurrection (verse 14).  You'd think church members would be all in for God.  But admittedly, sometimes lethargy can develop -- even with ministers:
Wherefore I put you in remembrance that you stir up the gift of God, which is in you by the putting on of my hands. - II Timothy 1:6 (KJV)

You can ponder this idea some more by watching or reading an "all in" devotional.  It has part 1 and part 2.  And it might even get you thinking about how to use chip stacks, the next time you're tempted to push.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The First Part

A recent post noted a tax lien placed on professional poker player Phil Laak, because he owed back taxes in California.  We checked news websites this morning, and there's no update on whether he paid off or not.

But we noted a statement of Jesus that people should "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22:21).  What should poker players (and, for that matter, everyone else) give to God?

Jesus was talking in Matthew 22 about money -- and the Bible challenges readers to give some of that to God:
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." - Malachi 3:10

Some poker players put together or compete in charitable tournaments, and there's nothing wrong with that.  But God expects a tithe to go to him -- a donation of ten percent.
Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.  But you ask, "How do we rob you?"  In tithes and offerings. - Malachi 3:8

God's talking tough here -- saying if you don't pay Him a tithe, you're robbing Him.  Yet He also says you're robbing yourself of blessings.

So where is this storehouse where the tithe should go?  In ancient days, the "house of our God" had storerooms for grain and other offerings (Nehemiah 13:4-5, 12).  Since there's no main house for worship in our world today, we think it's acceptable to pay the tithe to the place where you're worshiping.

But of course, this assumes you are worshiping God.  If you're not.... well, you're robbing God there as well.
But the Lord, who bought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship.  To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices.... and do not worship other gods. - II Kings 17:36, 38

Why worship God?  Because without Him giving you life, health and a working mind, you can't play poker in the first place.
But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.... - Deuteronomy 8:18

Note also God expects an offering over and above the tithe.  The amount of that is up to you -- but ask yourself: how much has God done for you?  How much has He blessed you in poker, and other areas?

One fringe benefit of paying tithes and offerings is that in the U.S. (and perhaps other countries), many ministries allow you to deduct the gifts at tax time.  It's too late to make such gifts for your 2013 taxes -- but it's not too late to give God His share of your poker success.