Thursday, October 30, 2014

Right Track, Wrong Track

Our last post mentioned how we stepped out of the way of a "train" - a player with three 6's which topped our two pair.  We told the man who had us beat: "I don't go riding on that long black train."

Some people at the table recognized that reference.  Unless you're into country music, you might not understand it.  Long Black Train was a hit song for Josh Turner several years ago -- and it talks about the "rails of sin," with an "engineer" willing to let you climb aboard.  What's all this about?
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. - John 8:44

Jesus said all this about "the devil," known by some as Satan.  Not exactly a five-star "player of the night" review.  But go farther....
He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.... - I John 3:8

Ouch.  Now we're the ones getting bad reviews, because....
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23

You may be on Satan's train without even realizing it - by doing things or living a lifestyle God opposes.  We're entering a weekend where people will do or promote demonic "dark side" things.  They might make such things look tempting or fun - but God considers them evil.

(Of course, we realize some people consider poker evil - but we have posts about that issue elsewhere.)

But Josh Turner's song includes a reminder that you don't have to ride that "long black train."  God offers us redemption - an escape door, if you will:
For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. - Colossians 1:13-14

God can forgive your sins if you repent of them, and accept Jesus as your Savior.  That can put you on a better route....
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. - Matthew 7:14

Are you willing to be one of the few - and walk a road that leads to eternal life?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Poker Day 435: Running Down Chicago's Line

The crowds have been sparse at the Sunday poker games we've attended lately  Then again, we've been sparse at those games.  Today's tournament at Arrowhead Poker was our first in four weeks, due to vacation and things surrounding it.  But only seven players were at the table when it started - so anyone could come in late, sit right down and do what they pleased....

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: 3-9 offsuit

The day has been going very well, thanks to big gains from a full house on the river and a surprise win with pocket 5's.  We're near our high of 50,000 chips.  But there's only one reason we'd play these cards -- and we're in that reason: the Big Blind.  The table of seven checks to us, and we get in for free against three other players.

ON THE FLOP: 9-4-6

Top pair and early position gives us a chance to seize the pot right now.  We offer 6,000.

Two players fold -- but a young man who showed up late wearing a big "Chicago" hat (White Sox colors) says, "I'll look at one more card."  He calls.


Now we have two pair, and have the feeling our opponent is looking for something bigger than this.  We try 10,000.

"Raise it to 30,000," Mr. Chicago says.  "Do you think a train's coming?"

At most tournaments in our area, this would qualify as a major-league tell.  But if he's going to be talkative, we might as well try for more details.  "Is a train coming?"

"Yup, a train's coming.  You want to get out of the way."

"What's the engine number on this train?" we ask.

"Number 6-6-6."

"Oh - that's one beast of a train, if you've got that."

"I know.  And I don't like the devil."

"I don't like the devil, either," we admit.  "So I'd better get out of the way."

We turn over our two pair and fold.  Mr. Chicago them slams down a 6.

"I don't go riding on that long black train," we tell him.  This draws a laugh from two people around us, including the poker room manager.

"Did I tell the truth?" Mr. Chicago asks.  Yup, he sure did -- to our loss.

This ranks our most humorous and fun poker moments since moving to our current location - if only because most of the players don't have this man's boisterous personality.  But we never recovered from that loss, as our stack slowly diminished from poor cards and rising blinds.

Finally forced to go all-in with the Big Blind and 10-7, a 10 came on the flop -- but a Queen on the river gave the Small Blind a better pair.  He won the race, and we finished fifth; only the top two players were paid money.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Let's go back and analyze that conversation.  We've noted the "beast" number here before....
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
 Why should we avoid the beast's number?  This chapter of the Bible explains....

The beast.... opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. - Revelation 13:6

Verse 8 adds in the future, "all inhabitants of the earth" will worship this beast -- unless your name is "written in the book of life."  That book belongs to "the Lamb," as in Jesus....
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" - John 1:29

This is way believers consider Jesus "the lamb of God".  He gave His life like a sacrifice, paying the death penalty of sin in our behalf.
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth".... The Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. - Acts 8:32, 35

Have you accepted this "lamb's offering", by repenting of your sins and asking Jesus to take them away?

(There's more to analyze from this conversation; we'll do that in a future post.)

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 155 final tables in 435 games (35.6%) - 25 cashes.  Today was our best finish since mid-June and our fourth final table in a row, but the last three were one-table tournaments.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Teaching Time

Did anyone teach you how to play poker?  Maybe it was your older brother or sister at the kitchen table.  Maybe it was a buddy in a poker room.  Maybe you went through an instructional book or video.

However it happened, we have a suggestion. Do NOT assume you know it all. Former World Series of Poker Main Event champ Jamie Gold once admitted on TV he still felt he had a lot to learn about the game.  He didn't say exactly what -- maybe strategy, maybe reading an opponent, maybe something else.

One of the nicest things we've heard people say about basketball legend Tim Duncan is that despite his stardom and championship rings, "he's willing to be coached."  We all need to be -- and not only in the fine points of poker:
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. - II Peter 3:18

The Bible suggests we grow in the "knowledge" of Jesus. We think that means not believing everything you've heard about Him, just because someone said it was so.  That even goes for church ministers, because we've found some of them might have personal or denominational agendas.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

This verse comes from the early days of the Christian church, which had roots in the Jewish synagogue (verse 10).  The people in this city listened to what the apostle had to say -- but they went to the Bible (they only had the Old Testament at that time) to verify whether it was accurate.

Read through the Bible carefully, and you may find some surprises.  It's helped change our thinking over the years about going to poker rooms or casinos -- much less playing games there.

So tell us: what's the best piece of poker advice you ever received?  Who gave it, and how did it help you?  The comment box is open.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Just Another Day?

We've been away from this blog for vacation time - and that allowed us to finally watch some of ESPN's World Series of Poker coverage.

Everyone seemed to be struck last week by the player (sorry, we didn't catch his name) who reached Day 5 of the Main Event, yet told the interviewer it was simply another game.  He treated poker's biggest contest like another day at the office.

We can understand having that kind of mental approach -- but at some point, you'd think the "thrill of the moment" would kick in.  We'd guess it's like reaching the 20,000-foot mark in a climb up Mount Everest.  It's a big milestone, even if you don't make it all the way to the top.

How do you approach a poker tournament -- or for that matter, the dawning of a new day?  Has it become ho-hum and "old hat"?  If it has, maybe you need a fresh perspective....
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

Believers realize God has made every day.  And one of the background dramas of life is that we don't know how many days He's given us.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. - Psalm 90:12

Have you ever stopped to count how many days old you are, as opposed to years?  We've done the math -- and by the time you reach "age 55," you'll have lived more than 20,000 days.  We should be thankful for each day God gives, and live as if that daily gift is valuable.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man's life is but a breath. Selah. - Psalm 39:5

Our only hope for a breath beyond this life is through God resurrecting us -- and he offers eternal life to those who will believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Is that offer so valuable to you that you'll accept that great prize?  Or is it nothing special?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Coming Clean

"Is there a place around here that has poker during the week?" we asked the motel attendant.  We were on vacation in a resort area that we knew had no casinos or full-fledged poker rooms.  We would have settled for a small game at a bar, to do some surprise poker ministry.

But the woman behind the desk said there was no such place -- not even in a bar.  She named a big tourist attraction in the area, and told us the managers exert a lot of influence to keep any sort of gambling from starting.

That woman at the motel seemed a bit annoyed by that approach.  We accepted it -- and we respect it.  Those managers are trying to keep things "G-rated" and family-friendly for visitors from around the country.

How do you "clean up" an area of things which might be considered sinful?  It starts with people cleaning up themselves....
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.  He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior, - Psalm 24:4-5
But the better approach to cleaning is really not to do it ourselves.  We should ask God for help in the clean-up job:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. - Psalm 51:1-2
This step is known in "church-speak" as repentance. Ask God to lovingly show your unclean areas. Confess them.  Seek God's forgiveness.  Then strive to walk a different way, seeking God's help in doing it.  II Peter 1:5-8 outlines several steps in doing that -- leading to this:
But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. - II Peter 1:9
We encourage you to review the steps listed in that chapter.  If certain things are missing, ask God to help you find ways to grow in those areas -- and to be "carried along by the Holy Spirit," as the end of the chapter puts it.

Will there be poker games when God's perfect Kingdom comes to earth?  We're honestly not sure -- but if there are, they'll be cleaned-up ones.  How about taking steps toward that now?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

By Any Means Necessary?

One of professional poker's biggest stars is defending his actions in a British courtroom right now.  Phil Ivey is being denied more than 12 million U.S. dollars by a casino, which claims he played a form of baccarat unfairly.

Ivey, as you might guess, denies he is a cheater.  Instead, he is an "advantage player" -- looking for anything that might give him an advantage over the house.  To quote a statement he made in court: "As a professional gambler, my job is to seek to lawfully reverse or reduce the perceived house edge...."

Isn't playing poker a bit like that -- especially when you're in a bad situation?  You might miss a straight or flush draw.  But you can still win a hand through "lawfully reversing" the situation -- perhaps with a big bluff bet, after everyone else checks.

We also think life is a good bit like that.  Whether you realize it or not, the "house" of this world tries to get an edge on all of us.
In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God., should shine unto them. - II Corinthians 4:4 (KJV)
Who is "the god of this world"?  This verse indicates it is not God the Father or Jesus Christ.  It must be someone or something else.  Note what Jesus said it is:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. - John 8:44
Those are tough words -- but they're the words of our Lord.  He came to "lawfully reverse" that edge, by keeping the Law of God perfectly and giving His life for our sins.
.Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.... He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. - Galatians 3:13-14
To borrow from a radio sermon we once heard, God turned the tables.  You get an advantage over Satan by claiming Jesus as your Savior -- especially at the ultimate showdown, which we call death:
"Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?'.... But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - I Corinthians 15:55, 57
Try as you might, you can't defeat Satan and the devil's tactics on your own.  You need Jesus to claim the greatest win of all -- eternal life.  Will you put your faith in Him, to get the win?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Big Stack

Let's go back to the man we mentioned in our last post, who offered a theory about why Jesus possibly could have had long hair.  We asked him if Jesus was his Savior - and after thinking for a moment, he said yes.

"What's Jesus been doing for you?" we asked.

The man thoughtfully began naming several things, starting with good personal health.  Hopefully he's doing that God's way....
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. - Proverbs 3:7-8

"Giving me a job that I love," the man said next....
Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God. - Ecclesiastes 5:19

The man also mentioned his family.  If yours is functional and not dysfunctional, that's also a blessing from the Lord....
God sets the lonely in families.... - Psalm 68:6

Perhaps you can add to this man's list, with how Jesus is working in your life.  It's good to consider these things - and we're entering a great time of year to do it.  Some church groups will mark a fall "harvest festival" beginning next week, and Canada will mark its Thanksgiving Day a few days after that.
I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. - Psalm 7:17

If you have the things mentioned by the man next to us, you have a "big stack" of blessings.  May you take time to realize it - and be thankful, to borrow from a familiar song, to the "God from Whom all blessings flow."