Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Diamond Life

In a recent post, we talked about the four suits of playing cards in a poker deck. We noted the Bible doesn't mention spades and clubs, but it does mention diamonds.

Yet consider this: have you ever thought of yourself as a diamond? It's the stuff of old country songs. But we were reminded of a sermon we heard nearly 30 years ago on this topic (apparently based on an old book) - so we looked up the notes to see what the Bible might have to say:

And they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him. - Malachi 3:17 (KJV)

Some Bible translations have different wording for "jewels". But the original Hebrew refers to "wealth" - and someone with diamonds has a wealth-building item. So who are the "jewels" the "Lord of hosts" is talking about here?

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. - Malachi 3:16

These "diamond" people fear God, yet don't fear humans - because they're willing to talk about Him. What else do they do?

Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. - Proverbs 1:8-9

These are people who fulfill the Biblical command to "honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12). Yet one Bible concordance surprised us here - as the Hebrew word for "chain" can mean "as if strangling". That's a very tight relationship!

So God would like to think of you as a diamond, or perhaps some other jewel. And He can provide what you need to accomplish that:

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoiced in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. - Isaiah 61:10

God offers you salvation and His righteousness. If you choose to accept them and His way of life, then a more current song can come true - and He'll make a diamond out of you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When a 2 Will Do

Poker's biggest tournament this year came down to two players - and a 2 of hearts.

Scott Blumstein may forever have A-2 attached to his name, the way 10-2 is to Doyle Brunson's. Blumstein called an all-in bet by Daniel Ott, who held A-8. The board didn't pair until that 2 of hearts came on the river - making Blumstein the World Series of Poker Main Event champion, winning more than $8 million.

Blumstein seemed quite humbled by his moment of victory. For one thing, he only had a seven percent chance of hitting that winning river card. Blumstein called it a "normally inconsequential" card.

Sometimes we make decisions that don't seem to matter, only to find they eventually do. That may really be the case at the end of our lives:
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, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." - Matthew 25:34-36

Jesus Christ, the coming "King of Kings," indicates His Kingdom will be given to those who do good deeds all the time. But the attitude goes beyond that....
Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?" - Matthew 25:37

It's as if the helpful, giving approach is second nature to them. They do it without much thought. But God sees and keeps track of it.

In Blumstein's case, it may have been as simple as letting people pay part of his $10,000 buy-in. Four people paid $60, and will wind up with more than $40,000. So much for "building wealth slowly" on Wall Street.

Blumstein had more to say about his win. We'll comment on what he said another day - but for now, we offer congratulations to poker's new "Ace," and his willingness to share the wealth. Even if he needed a deuce to do it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Poker Day 504: Create Your Breaks

Poker tournaments sometimes can be a test of patience. When you sit down at the table 70 minutes later than everyone else, that's even more true. That was our challenge Sunday at Kansas Star Casino - arriving more than 20 minutes before the start of the big weekend tournament, yet sitting seventh on the "interest" list waiting for other players to be tossed.

It helped that the Sunday tournament is "deep stack," with everyone starting at 10,000. So we still had time to try to make something happen....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-J offsuit

A few nibbles haven't worked due to pre-flop raises and missed flops. We reached the first break at 9,125. Now we're "chipped up" to 9,200 and looking at our best cards of the day.

Sitting one off the button, we decide to try something creative for us. When no one raises ahead of us, we simply call instead of raising. About five players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 2-2-10

Did anyone hit that? When the players in front of us check, we conclude they did not. So we offer 500. As we recall, two other players call. Our Ace might be best.


Now we're more confident it's best. With two pair plus an "over-kicker," the other players' checks lead us to bet 1,000. One man folds, the other across the table calls.


The runners come around to score for us. A check by our opponent brings another bet of 1,000 from us. Again he calls.

"Three pair," we declare. (Of course, in Texas Hold 'em there's no such thing.)  But that Jack on the river matters, because our opponent has A-Q. We would have been outkicked, but we wind up with a big gain to 13,000.

That kept us going for awhile.... until he dropped 3,000 in a big hand where two players clashed all-in.  We never recovered from that, finally going all-in with A-Q with 3,600 to go. A man called with K-9, and he made a 9 on the flop while we never paired. Our standing improved from our last casino trip, but still only finished 37th out of 70 total players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: For once, our card protector was one-upped.

"I have to say, I've never seen anyone with a cross at the table," we said to a man across from us. It looked like a magnet - small, with no markings on either side.

"And he brought it on Sunday," a man down the table noted.

"You can have a cross every day," we responded. While many people think of crosses as symbols inside church buildings for Sunday worship, it actually refers to an event which happened on another day of the week.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). - John 19:16-17

This happened during "the day of Preparation of Passover Week" (verse 14). The timing of events from Jewish calendars indicates Jesus carried the cross on a Wednesday, since He was discovered to be resurrected on a Sunday:

...And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. - Luke 24:21b

But what about us? Are we only supposed to "carry a cross" on Sundays? Jesus said no....

Then he said to them all, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." - Luke 9:23

What sort of cross is this? We don't think meant the tall wooden kind like He carried to Golgotha (better known as Calvary). But we also don't think it means a small magnet.

We think Jesus meant carrying the things that weigh us down in this life, much as He bore the sins of all humans and their penalties on our behalf. It can mean denying ourselves, as Jesus put a death for all of us above His own life. What do you think it means? Your comments are welcome.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 184 final tables in 504 games (36.5%) - 37 cashes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Kid on the Block

Poker's biggest tournament quickly has moved to its final table. The "July Nine" at the World Series of Poker Main Event was settled Monday night, and will return for the decisive concluding hands beginning Thursday night.

The man currently in second place is standing out in more ways than one. John Hesp of Great Britain is considered an "amateur" - someone who normally only plays in tournaments once a month. He's 64 years old, which is considered ancient in final table history. And he's wearing a borrowed jacket that looks like it was passed along from the late sportscasters Bud Collins or Craig Sager.

Hesp told he went to the main event because it was an item on his "bucket list." A movie ten years ago made that phrase popular - but we wonder how many people take it seriously.
The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.... Like the fool, the wise man too must die! - Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16

Some people want to play poker before they die. Others want to tour the world. But are they forgetting something?
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.... - Hebrews 9:27

The Bible warns a judgment day is coming. Your skills at playing poker probably won't matter then. But other things will....
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. - John 5:28-29

If your "bucket list" contains things that are good in God's sight.... well, perhaps then the whole idea of a "bucket list" will be a misnomer.
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." - Matthew 25:34
As a part of God's Kingdom, you'll get to live forever! You'll be able to serve and rule under Jesus Christ - and maybe even make lists of buckets, if you wish.

We wish everyone well at the final table. But we can understand why the casual poker fan is drawn to John Hesp - if only for his "technicolor dreamcoat". But that's another Bible topic for another time....

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gambling Town?

With a title like that, you might think we're going to comment on Las Vegas. Or Atlantic City. Or maybe Monte Carlo. But we're not.

We heard a radio preacher say this morning that Antioch was a place where people "loved to gamble." Antioch was a major city in the Roman Empire as the early Church developed.

Yet when we did an online search for "Antioch gambling," we didn't find a New Testament place - we found a town in northern California with a casino. When we added "Bible" to the search, ancient Antioch came up. But Bible resources didn't mention anything about the city's gambling history. And the preacher didn't give a source for his statement - simply "historians."

So maybe ancient Antioch isn't famous for gambling after all. But it became famous for other things:
Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. - Acts 11:20-21

Perhaps some people were persuaded to give up gambling and start serving God. The Bible doesn't say. If they did, they made a good choice. But it may not have been easy....
...Persecutions, sufferings - what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. - II Timothy 3:11

A church group developed in that city, with this Biblical note....
The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. - Acts 11:26

This may explain why many church groups today have "Antioch" in their names. Skeptics may have thought the believers took a wild chance with their lives. But the Christian way is the path which leads to eternal life - a grand prize, if ever there was one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Perfectly Timed

The more we ponder our last poker tournament, the more we think about the hand we saw, but couldn't play - the "bad beat" shown on ESPN. We mentioned how Vanessa Selbst had pocket Aces, and developed a full house with Aces over 7's.

But Gaelle Baumann (pictured) had pocket 7's which turned into quads by the turn. One bet led to a raise, and Selbst was put all-in and eliminated. Selbst was wise enough to ask Baumann if she had quads after calling.

The timing of the cards was terrible for Selbst. But it was perfect for more than Baumann. It was perfect for ESPN, which had the two ladies at a feature table playing "live" on a Sunday afternoon (tournament rules require a 30-minute delay). A lot of poker hands can be mundane, but that was great TV drama.

We can think of Someone else who has a tremendous sense of timing....
...A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light.... - Titus 1:2-3

God lives beyond time and space. He had no "beginning" in eternity past, as hard as that is for humans to understand. Yet God timed out a "season" for bringing meaning to Old Testament scriptures - especially the prophecies of a messiah.
...This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus.... - II Timothy 1:9-10

When the time was right, Jesus came. In fact, some Bible scholars say Jesus's ministry began in exact timing to fulfill prophetic times of Daniel 9 - a topic too complex for us to explain here.

But there's one remaining time mystery in the Bible. It's one many have tried to figure out, sometimes to their own embarrassment....
"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." - Acts 1:11

When will Jesus Christ return? Lots of believers want to know. While we don't know for sure, it's a good idea to be ready for Him now....
So you must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. - Matthew 24:44

The Boy Scouts would say, "be prepared" - even for the return of Jesus. To miss out on that could be the worst play of all.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Poker Day 503: The Best of Intentions

"See ya, Vanessa!" someone said at the Kansas Star Casino poker room today as the first few hands unfolded.

It wasn't aimed at anyone in the room, but the big screen TV on the wall. The opening round of the World Series of Poker Main Event was on ESPN, and Vanessa Selbst was being bad-beat eliminated -- A-A for a full house falling to Gaelle Baumann's 7-7 for quads.

It was easy to be distracted by the high-stakes poker game on the big screen. But we tried to learn some tips from the ESPN coverage, as we competed in our own Sunday tournament.

BLINDS: 300/600


We've won a few modest pots during the day, but taken some chances that didn't work. We've never been above the 12,000-chip starting point, and start this hand at 6,600. Sitting in the leadoff seat, we quietly call and wait to see if others jump at a fairly active table. No one raises, but five players are in.

ON THE FLOP:  J-4-7 (third card might not be precise)

An overpair will work for us. After the blinds check, we bet 2,000. A man wearing a Missouri sweatshirt calls, while everyone else folds. We suspect he paired the board, but nothing more.

At this moment, the dealer notices our card protector - so our MINISTRY MOMENT will be mixed in with this.  "That looks like the last supper," he says.

"It is," we respond.


"Well, this could be my last supper," we remark. We go all-in for the last 4,000.

"You've got me," our opponent says. Yet he reaches for chips and calls, anyway.  He shows what we expected - a Jack, with a 10. He's being courteous to us, so....


OUCH!!!! Our opponent really didn't expect that. But he gets a third Jack on the river, and a handshake from us. It's not quite Selbst v. Baumann, but the result still hurts. We're knocked out the hard way, finishing 54th out of 77 players.

Now back to the Ministry Moment. Do you know why Christians refer to it as the "last supper"? It's because of these words of Jesus:
And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." - Luke 22:15-16

The meal was an evening Passover feast - something Jesus kept as a Jew by birth, but also as the God of creation:
The Lord's Passover begins at twilight on the 14th day of the first month. - Leviticus  23:5

After that "supper," Jesus was arrested and executed. So it was His last one as a human on earth. But here's the good news - Jesus was resurrected, and is preparing to come back to earth. When that happens, another supper is coming!
Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are they who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' And he added: 'These are the true words of God.'" - Revelation 19:9

This is the "Lamb" once described this way....
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

Jesus's execution actually fulfilled God's great plan - as a human "Passover lamb." His blood can remove your sin if you accept Him, then clear the path for you to be part of His great wedding supper in the Kingdom of God. If you're not sure how to secure your place at that magnificent banquet, leave a comment and we'll be pleased to help you.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 184 final tables in 503 games (36.6%) - 37 cashes.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On the Diamonds

As poker hands go, a flush is pretty good. It's slightly better than a straight, because it's mathematically tougher to achieve. And it beats any pair, or even three of a kind.

In classic Texas Hold 'em, only one suit in a hand can be a flush. Other games open the door for more than one, and that's when suit rank might matter - with spades at the top, followed by hearts, diamonds and clubs.

But let's ask a silly-sounding question. If you were a flush, what suit would you want to wear? A spade might be more impressive at the table, but you won't find the word "spade" anywhere in the King James Bible. You won't find "club" there, either. But you'll see a reference to the other suits:
You have been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, the sardius, topaz and the diamond.... - Ezekiel 28:13 (KJV)

Some Bible translations replace "diamond" with "emerald" (which appears later on the King James list). But if diamond is correct, how nice it would sound to be covered by fancy jewelry. Someone was long ago.... but then:
You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.... - Ezekiel 28:15-16

God discovered this well-jeweled being was a sinner, so He cast it out of Eden. Here's the root cause of it:
Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. - Ezekiel 28:17

Other Bible references indicate this "guardian cherub" (verse 16) was what we now call Satan, or the devil. Satan let beauty get to its head, became corrupted with sin, then was tossed away by God.

Does that mean diamonds and other jewelry are wrong? Some Christian groups think so, but they overlook another place in the Bible where diamonds come up:
And you shall make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work.... And you shall set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones.... the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond. - Exodus 28:15-17 (KJV)
This breastplate was worn by ancient priests, when they did ministry service. God instructed the stones on the breastplate to be made that way. This indicates diamonds are OK, and not something to be avoided. They're as good on your body as they are in a poker room, as long as you let God position them as He wishes.

And here's the amazing thing: some people say we are to become diamonds. We'll get into that in an upcoming post.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wise Guys (and Gals)

The World Series of Poker seems to have something for everyone. There are tournaments in games most people probably have never played, such as Razz. And this year, there were two events for "seniors."

The Seniors Championship, for people 50 and older, had almost 5,400 entries. The "Super Seniors" contest was smaller, at 1,720 entries - but perhaps that was because you had to be 65 or older to play. It's interesting to compare those tournaments with the WSOP Main Event, where the final table tends to skew younger; it's a rare year anymore when someone in "senior" range is there.

It's easy to assume older poker players would be smarter and better than younger ones. As a famous book puts it:
Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? - Job  12:12

Of course, we should note that some people start playing poker in their "aged" years. So game experience matters as well. But in general, older people have seen and experienced more of life - so they can pass on their lessons to younger people.

And yet the Bible also says....
I thought, "Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom." But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. - Job 32:7-9

These words came from Elihu, who described himself as "young in years" (Job 32:6). Read the book of Job from beginning to end, and you'll discover his comments about Job's trials made more sense than the "counsel" of Job's older but close friends.

To be wise in playing poker, or in anything else, it's best to consult a God who was around before any of us:
For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. - Proverbs 2:6

Ask God for His wisdom, and it may come at times you don't expect it. Even in the midst of a poker game.