Thursday, February 27, 2014

Friday Night Lights, Part 3

This series of posts began with an unusual Friday night for us -- as we deliberately went to a casino and played Ultimate Texas Hold 'em poker on a Friday night, to avoid doing anything that might show love for God on Valentine's Day.  But we realized the only way this action would accomplish anything is by sharing it with other church members.

So we had an awkward worship service the following day -- telling people we'd broken God's seventh-day Sabbath the night before, and why.  But that action had Biblical backing....
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. - James 5:16


If you do something at the table which upsets other players, do you walk out and hope the whole thing will blow over?  Phil Hellmuth once did that for a few minutes on national TV.  But good poker players have long memories -- and if they remember classic hands, they probably remember the attitudes of the people playing them.

Many a politician has learned the hard way that confessing faults and sins resolves matter faster, and may even improve their career chances.  So we all need to admit we're not perfect.  It keeps us all on the same level relationally -- even if our chip stacks are very different.

One woman at church took issue with how we interpreted the magazine article which started all this.  She said if anything, it was poorly worded.  On that, we agreed.  All of us need to be careful about that, because....
For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned. - Matthew 12:37 (KJV)


It's interesting that no one in our congregation condemned us, after we admitted to sinning on the Sabbath.  Perhaps they were too stunned by the news. Or perhaps they practiced the instruction of Jesus, when a supposedly-adulterous woman was brought before Him:
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." - John 8:7


No one threw stones at that woman.  Everyone left, perhaps convicted of their own sinfulness.  Are you able to do that, when trouble happens at a poker table?  It beats pointing fingers and making the "I never would...." claim.

As it happened, the sermon that day was about "The Commandment of Men."  It included this reference, which seemed to directly challenge what we'd been doing:
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.  Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. - Romans 14:22


The context of this chapter involves eating habits and the observance of certain days (such as Valentine's).  The message seemed to be: if you choose not to do what we preach, shut up and don't talk about it.  To which we'd respond: how else is bad teaching or Biblical guidance to be corrected?.

Another person took our issue directly to the magazine's editors -- and was told via e-mail we should review the author's sentences about expressing love on Valentine's Day, in relation to the entire article

We invite you to do that, and tell us what you think about all this.  Were we wrong to hit a casino for Friday night poker?  Were we wrong to bring it up to others -- or even to you here?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Who Is This Man?

"I need Jesus to clean me up," we said to the player on our left the other day during a tournament.  We'd taken a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use as our card protector and conversation-starter.

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked the man.  "Is He your Savior?"

"I think Jesus existed."

"But is He your Savior?"

"I didn't come here to discuss that."

Clearly the question caught him off-guard, and made him uncomfortable.  But that's the thing about Jesus.  Many people came face-to-face with Him when He walked on Earth.  They knew He existed.  But how many really accepted the fact that Jesus was more than a man?
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. - John 20:30-31


Jesus came from heaven to Earth to fill many roles.  He was the Son of our Father God....
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.... And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." - Matthew 3:16-17


Jesus's disciples saw something more than that:
The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). - John 1:41


And here's the curious thing about what that poker player told us -- the name "Jesus" in Greek means "savior," according to the notes in one of our King James Bibles:
And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. - Matthew 1:21 (KJV)


Some people have made a big deal about President Obama's middle name "Hussein."  Few apparently noticed the middle name of former Federal Reserve Board chair Ben Bernanke - Shalom, as in "peace."  (Have you felt at peace with the U.S. economy the last eight years?)

But Jesus's name actually refers to one of the things He came to Earth to do - save us from our sins. Do you simply think someone by that name existed?  Or do you accept and embrace what that Name means, to have eternal life through Him?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Friday Night Lights, Part 2

When we left a previous post, we had $30 left at the casino - only enough for one more Ultimate Texas Hold 'em hand at the $10 table.  Since the $5 table was full (proving more casino gamblers are economy-minded than you might think), we did something we hadn't done it years. We sat down at a blackjack table.

With $30 to spend and a $10 table, we figured we'd finish things quickly.  But a remarkable thing happened.  We won a hand.  Then another.  Then another. It wound up being a run of five wins and one push -- and suddenly we were $20 from breaking even!

But when the dealer dealt himself A-K, we knew it was time to get out near the top.  We left with only a $30 loss, stopped for a burger dinner, drove home and worked on our tax return a bit (even turning on TV for some of the sin-laden 10:00 p.m. news) before going to bed.

Keep in mind why we did this -- because we were consciously not showing love for God on February 14, including the start of a seventh-day Sabbath.  We admittedly had prayed Thursday night (the 13th) explaining to God why we were doing what we did.

The next morning was Saturday, the 15th -- and we resumed our normal routine, praying to God first thing in the morning.  We sought His forgiveness for anything we may have done wrong in the process.  (We could have acted much worse -- but we didn't curse, or even eat "unclean meats".)  And we have confidence from the Bible that it was granted....
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. - I John 1:9


We should stop here and ask: have you done this?  Even poker players sin, you know....
....For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23
We all need God's loving forgiveness -- and that's admittedly one big problem we have with the magazine article which started all this.  Does God suspend His love for humans on February 14, simply because some people have turned that day into a pagan "love feast?
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. - Lamentations 3:22-23


If God can forgive our "love is wrong today" fling, even if it's suggested by a church group's teaching which seems to be ridiculous, He can forgive your sins at the poker table.  But you must confess them -- which we think means admitting they were wrong, and asking God to forgive them.

There's one more part to this story.  A worship service Saturday afternoon allowed us to share our actions with other church members.  Could we start a conversation on exactly what love means -- including when to do it?

(NOTE: This story will continue in a future post.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Poker Day 419: Against the Big Talker


"The tightest man ever to come in the door," a man across the table from us at River City Poker Room said Sunday.  He's a dealer most of the time, so he "knows our works" (to borrow from Revelation 3:8) when it comes to playing poker.

He's also a man who talks a lot, and doesn't care where his words fall.  In many jobs, his comments about ethnic communities would get him fired.  In this tournament, he actually was one of the players -- and we tried to quiet him down right away:

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 3-3

It's practically the first hand of the day.  The Big Talker tries to get things going by raising to 900.  With a small pocket pair and 22,000 starting chips, it's worth taking a chance -- because he could simply be raising for the fun of it.  Three or four of the ten at the table call.

ON THE FLOP: K-J-8

Mr. Big Talker makes a continuation bet of 900.  Even though face cards are showing, we sense he has two other cards and is trying to bluff them as long as he can.  So still holding a pair, we call.

ON THE TURN: 9

Our opponent now raises the stakes to 1,600 - and now we're more certain than ever he's bluffing.  He knows how we play, and he wants us to get scared and run away.  Not this time; we call again, and we're heads-up.

ON THE RIVER: 8

This advances us to two pair.  But Mr. Big Talker has controlled the pot to this point, and we let him do it again.  Now he bets 5,000 -- one-fourth of our stack.  This makes things serious.  But we still think it's a "fraidy-cat" bluff, with something like A-Q or A-10.  We call.

"You got a boat?" our opponent asks.  No, we don't.  Trouble is.... he does.  He turns over 9-9.  He led us all the way, made a full house o the river, and showed us we didn't read him very well.

That hand set the tone for a come-from-behind first hour.  Our efforts to rally fell short, until we went all-in with A-6 and two pair on the board.  A man called us, and we chopped a pot which led to a gain for us.  That opened the door for a big comeback, including three of a kind to get back to the starting line -- then a couple more big pots, including a 10-10 which took out two players.

Only ten players showed up for this tournament -- but we recovered from being all-in with 4,500 chips to 92,000.  That led us to the final three, which put us in the money!  Another push with K-Q fell short after that, but we won $40 on our investment of $20 - our first cash in a live tournament since late September.

MINISTRY MOMENT: One key hand in the comeback came when we went all-in with 6-6 -- and a third 6 fell on the flop.  As the play rolled around, we gestured for a push to show what we'd already done.

"He wants to push again," Mr. Big Talker said.  "We're all probably in trouble."

Sure enough, they were.  When the showdown came and King-high seemed to be winning, we announced: "I've got a beast!"

As the big pot was moved our way, we added: "A little Revelation moment there."

Some players at the table knew what we meant.  Mr. Big Talker didn't.  "I don't go to church that often," he admitted.

Come to think of it, maybe you're like him.  What did we mean?  The book of Revelation explains....
This calls for wisdom.  If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number.  His number is 666. - Revelation 13:18

What kind of beast is this, and what does the number mean?  These are deep questions which have caused a lot of debate and speculation over the years.  Let's start by noting this chapter actually mentions two beasts:
Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth.  He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon.  He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. - Revelation 13:11-12

Is this a literal beast -- like something from Monsters University?  We doubt it.  Modern society puts so much emphasis on good looks that we can't imagine a bizarre-looking creature being worshipped by everyone on Earth.

Beast #2 will order people to set up images to Beast #1 (verse 14), give that beast speaking ability, order non-worshipers put to death (verse 15) and require marks for trading (verses 16-17).  It seems safe to say this will require governmental powers -- and Beast #1 will wear "ten crowns" (verse 1) while having a "throne and great authority" (verse 2).

Another verse offers a dead giveaway for identifying this Beast:
He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. - Revelation 13:6

If you're staying close to God through prayer, Bible study and worship, these acts will repulse you -- but also make you one of the Beast's targets.  We suggest keeping close to your Creator, so you can tell who or what that Beast is -- and ask God to help you understand the numbers involved.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 147 final tables in 419 games (35.1%) - 25 cashes.  There was only one table in this tourney, but it's still a "final" for us.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Friday Night Lights

The setting seemed strange -- and for us, it certainly was.  We sat at a blackjack table at a casino, well after sundown on a Friday night.  No one had dragged us there against our will.  We'd made the decision to go.

But we should start at the beginning.  Last Friday was Valentine's Day, and the church movement we attend has taught for many years the "holiday" is wrong.  It's based on pagan Roman traditions, as opposed to the Bible....
Thus says the Lord. Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. - Jeremiah 10:2 (KJV)


Yet in recent years, the church association we attend has taken this view of Valentine's to what we considered an extreme.  An article posted last winter was moved up to the association's top-level magazine this year.  It says....

What about showing love on Valentine's Day if I'm not doing it for pagan reasons? Isn't that okay? No, because the expression of that kind of "love" is still rooted in a former pagan holiday. True Christians must not adopt pagan festivals as holidays, for they are to strive to please God in everything they do.

Based on this paragraph, any display of love on February 14 is wrong.  And it continues....

It's a good thing to express your love toward others through a card, flowers, dinner out or any number of other ways. But don't do it under the trappings of a pagan holiday like Valentine's Day!

So with this instruction in mind, we try hard not to love people on Valentine's Day.  This year we sounded gruff at work -- even shouting in frustration at one point.  We grunted or mumbled when we met people, as opposed to saying friendly such as "Hello."

But this year was different, because the night of February 14 included the start of God's seventh-day Sabbath:
Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.... the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. - Exodus 20:8-11

If it's wrong to express love toward others on February 14, we said to ourselves, shouldn't it be equally wrong to express love toward God on that day?  After all....
This is love for God: to obey his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome.... - I John 5:3
So, we logically concluded, it's wrong to love God on February 14.  We responded by not praying on that day, studying our Bible or listening to Christian radio.  And as a 6:08 p.m. sunset approached for Sabbath, here's what we did:

5:55 p.m.: We exercised with a two-lap 24-minute speed-walk at a relatively empty mall.  With no socks on, a big blister developed on our left foot which made us limp a little the rest of the night -- but then again, we shouldn't love ourselves on Valentine's either, right?

6:30 p.m.: With a loud rock station playing on our car radio, we went to an ATM and withdrew $100 -- the sort of money-handling we'd normally do on Friday afternoon.

6:35 p.m.: We drove toward the casino south of town -- but had to change the radio station when it cleverly followed the song Deal With the Devil with Living On a Prayer.  We moved to a Spanish-language station - wary of any song with too much "amor."

7:00 p.m.: We "limped in" (literally) at the casino and entered without problems.  A big crowd was on hand -- with an especially long line for the buffet restaurant.

We walked slowly around, especially looking for the "heads-up" poker machine we'd played at another casino the previous weekend.  But it wasn't in the small area with poker machines, so we concluded this casino didn't have it.  After pondering what to do, we sat down at an Ultimate Texas Hold 'em table (barely acknowledging the dealer) to see what would happen.

BLINDS: 10 (+ 10 ante)

IN THE POCKET: J-3 of clubs

We had an early small win, but this is nothing to get enthusiastic about.  We simply check.

ON THE FLOP: Jd-9d-7d

Wrong suit -- right top card!  It's worth a "double down" $20 bet, freezing our hand.

ON THE TURN/RIVER: 7x-6d

Uh-oh -- a fourth diamond hit the board.  We have two pair, but if the dealer has a diamond, we're sunk.

After a last round of betting, the dealer does not show a diamond.  Instead he shows.... 7-5.  That's three of a kind, and we're sunk anyway.

Another loss left us with $30 from our starting $100 -- barely enough to play another hand at the $10 table.  So we left there and walked around some more....

(NOTE: This entry will continue in a future post.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Truth Squad

"Poker is a game that was created by liars, played by liars...."

So begins an online article about "ten lies" poker players use during games.  But we have a problem with that claim.  While we're not sure who created the game of poker, not everyone who plays it is a liar.

Actions in a poker hand can send all sorts of signals -- some of them true, some of them deceiving.  But your words at the table don't have to do that.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. - Ephesians 4:15

We believe this should be done in a poker game, every bit as much as in a worship service.  And no, it doesn't have to reduce the fun of the game.  But it might challenge you to be more creative in the words you use.

Let's say the board shows A-K-J.  You have Q-10.  Someone figures out you have a straight, and asks directly if you have it.  You don't have to lie by denying it.  And you don't have to confess you have it.  Here are some answers we've used, and have heard others use:
  • "Maybe I do.  And maybe I don't."
  • "You'll have to pay to find out." (Said to an opponent facing a tough decision to call.)
  • "Wow, it was cold outside today."  This is the most absurd response of all, and might leave your opponent feeling overconfident about his guess.  But it might give the table a good laugh -- and make the atmosphere a bit more fun.
But then again, there's this verse to consider....
Let God be true, and every man a liar. - Romans 3:4

What do you think that quote means?  Offer a comment if you'd like, and we'll offer our thoughts in a future post.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Man Vs. Machine

It's probably not good for a casino when its ATMs aren't working properly -- especially on your busiest night of the week.

That's what we encountered over the weekend when a family road trip led us to stop at the Hollywood Casino.  It's not located in Hollywood, but next to a Kansas City racetrack -- and it has a Hollywood movie "theme" to it, somewhat like a theme amusement park.

We didn't want to risk all our cash at a table game, so we tried using our ATM card.  And tried.  And tried.  All the machines turned us down, and apparently turned down other players as well (although not all).

We could have taken it as a sign from God, watched some Saturday night college basketball on a big screen and gone on our way.  But then we saw it -- a "Texas Hold 'em Heads Up" electronic machine, somewhat like a slot machine.  You play poker one-on-one against the machine's computer.

Suddenly we were back in college, when a crude computer version of this was set up at one of our workplaces.  The computer wasn't random at all, so we figured out a pattern to beat it with ease.  How much more difficult would the 2014 model be?

We inserted $20 into the slot to find out -- and quickly won a few hands.  We reached $49, then dropped to around $33.  Then came this hand:

BLINDS: $2/$4 (it's set up technically as a limit game)

IN THE POCKET: Q-8 offsuit

The machine tends to raise pre-flop more often that not.  We play along, and call with $4 invested.

ON THE FLOP: A-Q-Q

Ooo - this looks like fun!  We didn't write down every detail -- but as we recall, we checked here.  The machine bet, and we called.

ON THE TURN: 4

No harm done.  Now as best we remember, we bet the standard $4.  The machine was "thinking" for a moment -- then raised to $8.  We called, of course.

ON THE RIVER: 8

Our house is full, and we think our wallet will be as well.  We check here, to lure a bet.  It does.  We raise to $8. (The machine is smart enough to check-raise from time to time as well.)  It calls.

The computer has.... A-10!  Our boat beats its two pair, and we claim a massive pot.  Our $20 investment is now at a high for the night of $69.

And at that point, we press the white "cash out" button.  We tripled our investment in less than 15 minutes.  How easy could that be?

Of course, we had to find out how easy.  So on the way out of town this morning, we stopped by the casino again (a casino with lots of open space at 8:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning) and went to that very same machine.  This time the tables turned on our $20 bill.  We won one all-in hand to get above par, and reached a high of $33 -- but the computer made a couple of big hands to top us.

We cashed out in less than 10 minutes for a $2 consolation prize, and drove home realizing we still had a $31 gain for the weekend.  That's still a profit of better than 150 percent.

But even as we drove to our weekend lodging Saturday night, we realized something was missing from our poker experience.  That something was people -- and these days, that's a main reason why we play poker at all.

A poker ministry (and for that matter, most ministries) requires interaction with people.  You can't ask a machine if Jesus is its Savior.  In fact, you couldn't even type a text message to this machine at all.  Yet Jesus said....
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. - Matthew 28:19-20

You can program a machine to play poker.  But can you really program it to obey the words of God?  You might fix it to shut down for the Sabbath, or not "lie" (as in bluff") during a hand.  But machines can't do this....
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you. - Deuteronomy 5:16

If you want a quick poker experience, and perhaps some fast cash for other tables, the Heads-Up machine is worth a try.  But table games are far better for sharing things with other people  -- especially the deep things of God.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Five-Dollar Come Along. Part 2

So we sat down at the Ultimate Texas Hold 'em table -- but not the one we wanted.  The $5 table was full and seemed to have several people waiting.  So we went to the $10 table and turned in our lottery coupon.

We took only $60, and had to plunk down $20 at the start of every hand -- $10 for the blind, $10 for an "ante."  We made an early gain with two pair.  Then came this hand....

IN THE POCKET: K-3 offsuit

Unlike the other players at the table, we have NOT put down an extra $10 on the "trips" option.  If you make three of a kind or better, you win money no matter what the dealer shows.  We're choosing to follow the old advice of financial counselors and "build wealth slowly."  There's little reason to think we'll build here, so we check with these cards.

ON THE FLOP: A-10-3

A pair of 3's isn't bad -- especially considering we're only playing the dealer, whose cards are face-down and cannot be changed.  Even though it's bottom pair, we decide to be daring with a surplus.  We bet $20 more, locking in our hand.

ON THE TURN/RIVER: 3-7 (last card may not be precise)

Three times three equals win for me?!  We feel very good about this.  But if we had put $10 on "trips," we'd feel even better -- because that option alone would have assured us a $40 payout.

Now comes the showdown, and our dealer turns over.... 10-10!

That's a heartbreaking full house, which tops everyone at our table.  That's the peril of everybody playing any two cards -- although in regular Texas Hold 'em, the dealer probably would have raised pre-flop with his pocket pair and chased us away.

.We had a surplus for awhile, but would up quitting when out $60 dropped to $30.  It was a small loss, with a five-dollar lottery ticket offering hope for winning some of it back.

"I won $10," another person at our table said about his lottery ticket.  But alas, we did not.  None of the five games had matching numbers to win money -- although most of them came tantalizingly close.

What can we learn from all this?  Many things, probably.  We're reminded of how fleeting riches can be....
For riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. - Proverbs 27:24

A church elder told us years ago he considered the stock market gambling, every bit as much as a casino trip.  Stock prices indeed can go up and down every day.  We've found there are long-term gains in the market, as long as you don't panic at the low points.  And even if they drop....
He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.  He provides food for those who fear him; he remember his covenant forever. - Psalm 111:4-5
God can meet your needs, even in tough times -- especially the spiritual ones.  We can speak personally of God doing that for us in recent years, during job trials.  Are you trusting in a savings account to help you through -- or in a God who can provide all that, and the even more valuable gift of eternal life?


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Five-Dollar Come-Along

To many people, the invitation probably seemed strange -- a promotion to visit a casino in the heart of America to mark Chinese (or Asian or Lunar) New Year.

Yet that's what Kansas Star Casino sent us a few weeks ago.  A mailing had two coupons.  One was for a Friday late-night Chinese buffet; the other offered a five-dollar lottery ticket.

From our previous trips to Kansas Star, we know there's a corner of the casino which has an Asian-American following.  Table games with an Asian theme such as Pai Gow poker are played there.

But we rejected the buffet out of hand.  It was on God's Sabbath day (which we've explained in recent posts).  And besides, who said the "Lunar New Year" falls at the end of January?
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.  Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household." - Exodus 12:1-3

Read the rest of chapter 12 and you'll find God is describing a Passover event, followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread (verses 17, 27).  Most Jews will tell you this "first month" traditionally does not occur during Winter, but during Spring.

But what about that other coupon?  It was valid from 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. on Saturday -- but you had to present it at a gaming table.  So we drove to the casino Saturday night, sat down for some Ultimate Texas Hold 'em and did that.

"But wait," you may be saying; "you just quoted from the Bible - yet you went to a casino and played games?!"

Yes, we did -- but we did it carefully.  We didn't take a lot of money.  And we did not take an ATM card to pull out more.  We think this follows Biblical guidance....
Let your moderation be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)

This verse does not say "abstinence."  It says "moderation."  Just as the Bible shows a little wine is acceptable to drink (I Timothy 5:23) and Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:7-10), we've concluded a little "action" with our money is OK.... as long as it's a little.

So what happened from there?  Stay tuned for our next post.