Kenny Rogers the Gambler

Lyric Talk

Gambler's Royal Flush

The hand shown is a royal flush, the highest poker hand possible. As Kenny Rogers put it, in his song The Gambler, "Every hand's a winner/And every hand's a loser." If a guy is too nervous to bet on it, it won't help him at all.

Even an avid poker player can go his whole life without ever seeing such a hand, it's so rare, so a preacher should not feel deprived if it's outside his experience.

Anyway, since I was required by my job at a country radio station to develop an appreciation for country music when that song was popular, I took the trouble to find its lyrics representation in Proverbs. (Prov. 30:29-31) "There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going: A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up."

"A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any," is the hand that "goes well, yea, [is] comely in going" when, as Kenny Rogers says, "you hold 'em." Some hands, you play--like a royal flush.

"A greyhound," is "when to run," obviously. These applications are not all that hard to figure out.

"An he-goat also" is "when to walk away," a billy goat simply climbing up the rocks, no hurry.

    He doesn't even move like a copper, he thought. Coppers don't skip down hills like mountain goats. Coppers move like ... ambulances.
--Mark Billingham, Sleepy Head211

An ambulance runs, a billy goat skips.

"And a king, against whom there is no rising up." That's "knowing when to fold 'em." But why would a king who has supreme power need to fold 'em when his word is law? Ah, that's just the point; if he doesn't press his subjects too far--chastising them with scorpions when he should be lightening their load--they won't rise up against him. That is also "comely in going."

In my college days on my co-op work assignment I played my share of poker. I had my share of winnings with the cards I had, never a royal flush though.

Then home on break I was over at my girlfriend Nancy's house. I was like totally infatuated with her. Anyway, these two fellows came over with the express purpose of trying to make me look bad. I had supposedly stolen her from the one, and there was also history between us. I was the big college man, but one of them just got a job, and he flashed his wallet to let us see what his first paycheck netted him.

A hand lyrics are
made for He decided he would play me at poker, so we sat down at the kitchen table, me, Nancy's younger brother and he. It was all nickel and dime stuff. And then ... I was dealt a hand that four out of five cards were lining up for a royal flush (the one in the picture) in hearts. I asked the dealer to replace one of my cards, and I ended up with a royal flush.

The guy might have had a fat wallet from his paycheck, but I was on an errand to pick up something for my grandmother who had given me the cash from her social security check. Now, ordinarily I wouldn't recommend gambling with your grandmother's social security check, but I knew my opponent's bankroll, and I had the highest hand in poker, so I went for it. After his bragging the guy couldn't back down, and I impressed the dickens out of my girlfriend. I was a high roller.

Actually, I got an education from that girl that money couldn't buy. She eventually broke up with me on account of I wasn't seeing other girls at college but was concentrating too much on her, a mistake I'll not make again. One is better balanced playing the field, shopping around, and then absolutely faithful to his pick in a mate.

When I became a Christian after college, I had a deep consciousness of my erstwhile sinful life, including a sin of omission. Nancy had properly broken up with me on a date where she explained her reasons which were valid. I neglected to smooth it over with her brother who idolized me. He gave her a hard time after that, I am sure. I don't think that's how God wants us to treat each other. I know it's not. Sometimes sins of omission can be worse than sins of commission.

After accepting Christ I was really appreciative of His efforts to come get me his lost sheep. Nancy was a "good Catholic" and I saw in that liaison an effort of the Lord to remind me of my spiritual heritage (I had briefly been a Christian in high school). As part of my appreciation to the Lord, I try to see to it that I am dating some nonchristians to maybe help them. It seems such a little thing, but it's important to me, not to omit it if I've got opportunity.

Of course, we judge all our actions by the Bible, and I know enough not to date someone from a class I could never marry into, so I wouldn't be doing "missionary dating" unless mixed marriage is allowed.

Paul in 1st Corinthians very strongly allows mixed marriage--where you have a spouse, your spouse isn't saved, and your spouse is content to stay with you. Then he goes on to the variations: where you have a spouse, your spouse isn't saved, and your spouse doesn't want to stay with you. You are to let him or her depart as God has called us to peace. Where you have a spouse, your spouse gets saved and stays with you, naturally. And the final in the series is implied where you don't have a spouse yet, your espoused isn't saved, and your espoused is content to stay in the relationship. There every man is to remain as he is called and in the distribution he's been given, Paul ordaining it so in all churches.

Of course that's what they had to have been talking about as in their culture one is called to be married to so-and-so to cement relationships between and within families, and to keep the distribution of wealth likewise. A new sister I knew from Singapore having been engaged for nine years was in approximately that same situation, ordained by Paul, when her fellowship group convinced her from their (NIV) bible to break up with her unsaved fiancé, and she mentioned her complaint to me. I was sympathetic enough to try to do something, late though I might have been.

In practice that meant belonging to a Chinese church for a number of years so I could learn how they regarded marriage and such. In the end I found when we studied 1st Corinthians (in the native English speaking group with people from Singapore included) that the NIV twists Paul. The translators didn't particularly understand the culture he was addressing in the first place, when they tried to put it into modern terms, and then when Paul who elsewhere cautions against a widow marrying wantonly against Christ, makes the necessary caution that she is supposed to marry only in the Lord--as opposed to wantonly against Christ--they paraphrase that to say she is to marry only somebody belonging to the Lord. Completely against what he earlier ordained for all churches! And with the group's (NIV) "Bible" saying that, they could not be convinced otherwise, not by me and certainly not by a new convert unversed in the scripture.

Now, how was I supposed to do anything about Zondervan twisting Paul?

Eventually I joined a men's TLC group at church studying a book published by Zondervan recommended to us by the assistant minister. And what do you know, it used a Disney song as a major theme for a whole chapter without crediting the source, much less getting permission. I wrote to the editor to complain and he sent me back a letter admitting what they did, even referencing the song which I couldn't quite place.

My complaint still stood, only in our continued study of the book we found that the author then twisted the Disney song in a way that puts down men, and especially put down Mr. Walt Disney himself. It was like something out of Mad magazine. Really! My continued complaint had a couple witnesses from the men's group.

I had a clear case, I had presented it to Zondervan, and then before a couple witnesses, and I had an admission from their publisher. See what I am getting at? It's like being one card shy of a royal flush. If I could somehow get the case presented to the church at large as a witness, then I could demand satisfaction or else per Matthew 18 treat them like a heathen or publican in which case I could take them before the unbelievers and have Disney sue them.

Come current events class and we went over the way the Salvation Army in California was having to give benefits to unmarried (homosexual) couples in order to receive some state grants. We concluded in class that they were guilty of disobeying the injunction to not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.

Soon a grass roots movement started to boycott Sally because of it. Why, here I had the third witness of the church that they wanted that injunction obeyed, not messed with as some like Zondervan do, applying it to marriage which Paul was not talking about. I only needed the least esteemed in the church (grass roots movement) before going to the unbelievers, and there I had it. It was just a matter of having the cajones to play the hand.

Guys like to impress girls. They will even do favors for them if they've been asked to. Ordinarily it would not be a good idea to bet your grandmother's social security check in a poker game to try to impress your girlfriend, or to try to sue the Bible in order to do some girl a favor. Not unless you have a really top rate hand, which I did.

It's perfectly natural for a men's group to be involved in doing favors for women; that's how men are. If the church wants to close down a men's group after they do so, well, I just go back to the men's group in another church I used to attend. No big deal to me; I'm just trying to illustrate Kenny Rogers' song.

"You've got to know when to fold 'em." Some hands are best not played. The king prevents the rising up by acceding to his subjects' wishes. Even though the KJV is superior to the NIV, I don't press the point indefinitely for its use in our services. Doesn't do me any good to get into a dispute with our minister. If he wants to preach largely from the NIV, I just try to follow as best I can from my KJV.

Sometimes it's easier than others. In our 2003 "church in the park-ing lot" service, he did use the old versions which were better. Be that as it may, we've been tackling the Book of Acts, chapter by chapter in church. Eventually we got to where the King James version says, (Acts 4:36-37) "And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet," and the older (1526) Tyndale version put it, "And Joses which was also called of the apostles Barnabas (that is to saye the sonnne of consolacion, beynge a levite, and off the countre off Cipers) had londe, and solde itt, and layde the pryce doune at the apostles fete."

Now, because there's such an impetus any more for really modern translation I also have in my library, the J.B. Phillips New Testament, which I only use on the rare occasion that quoting a modern English version rather than the King James has some benefit.  Phillips says, "It was at this time that Barnabas (the name, meaning son of comfort, given by the apostles to Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus) sold his farm and put the proceeds at the apostles' disposal." Barnabas here is given to mean son of comfort rather than of consolation.  My dictionary defines consolation 1. comfort. 2. a comforting person, thing, or event.  So Phillips gives the same thought with an easier word.  In fact Phillips' introduction states that he is translating so that his version has the same effect on the reader as the first Greek manuscripts did way back when.  Since Barnabas was a single nickname, not several, and since modern readers are already, and had been for centuries, familiar with the name the son of consolation, Phillips could hardly give him another name and expect it to have the same effect; the most he could do was a variation.

There's probably little reason in my opinion to quote the son of comfort instead of the more widespread the son of consolation; the latter doesn't seem at all a difficult word.  Except, say, I had a real slow learner to whom I was trying to convey that Barnabas was a fulfillment of Isaiah 12, "And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me.  Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.  Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.  And in that day shall ye say, Praise the LORD, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.  Sing unto the LORD; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth.  Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee."

preacher talking But just because I am cozy with J.B. Phillips, doesn't mean it will be accepted by others. The itinerant campus preacher brother Jed sure doesn't want preaching on that comfort level.

He That Hath An Ear, Let Him Hear212

    The apostles effectively used the miraculous in the Book of Acts to gain attention to their message, minister to the needs of people and witness to the power of the Resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit in their lives. But their main concern was to proclaim a message that would transform lives; this is what is so often lacking in our generation. The gifts of the Spirit have been used to expose sickness and disease, but not sin. Ministers who have proudly proclaimed the presence of the Holy Spirit in their services, have themselves, time and time again, been exposed as hypocrites. Churches have been founded primarily to give people an opportunity to express the gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy or healing, but rarely has this gift been used to bring forth a message that will convict and judge the sinner.

Paul admonished the Corinthians that when the whole church comes together, "If all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth" (I Cor. 14:24-25).

Typically, in churches where prophecy is given free reign, we hear only words of approval and acceptance. Of course, Paul did teach that "he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation and comfort" (I Cor. 14:3).  However this should not eliminate a rebuke, a strong, or even a harsh word.  These words are also edifying and comforting, when received and acted upon.

If brother Jed expects the comfort to be coming out of exhortation, then he'd rather the son of comfort be called the son of consolation in the first place. That's similar to James Dobson advising dating couples not to be too carried away with pseudo-visions leading them to precipitous marriages as would be encouraged by Phillips' "let her be guided by the Lord" rather than simply marrying "in the Lord." Both these translatings by Phillips illustrate Marsh's warning:

    Whoever substitutes for an old word of well-understood signification a new vocable or phrase, unsettles, with the formulas into which it enters, the opinions of those who have habitually clothed their convictions in those stereotyped forms, and thus introduces, first doubt, and then departure from long received and acknowledged truth. Experience has taught jurists that in the revision or amendment of statutes, and in sanctioning and adopting by legislative enactment current principles of unwritten law, it is a matter of the first importance to employ a phraseology whose precise import has been fixed by a long course of judicial decisions; and it has been found impossible in practice to change the language of the law, for the purpose of either modernizing or making it otherwise more definite, familiar, or intelligible, without at the same time changing the law itself. Words and ideas are so inseparably connected, they become in a sense connatural, that we cannot change the one without modifying the other.
--George P. Marsh, Lectures on the English Language213

Because the Phillips translation of the Bible keeps giving us suspect renderings that look good on the surface but find objection from those familiar in their respective areas, we must in the end use it as commentary, not as authority.

Then there would be the purists who might go all the way back to the (2nd) Wycliffite version (mid 1300's), "Forsothe Joseph, that was named Barsabas of apostlis, that is to seie, the sone of coumfort, of the lynage of Leuy, a man of Cipre, whanne he hadde a feeld, seelde it, and brou3te the prijs, and leide it bifor the feet of apostlis."

Let's try The New English Bible: "For instance, Joseph, surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means 'Son of Exhortation') a Levite, by birth a Cypriot, owned an estate, which he sold; he brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet." Here Barnabas means son of exhortation rather than the son of comfort/consolation.

The Book of Acts balances some firebrand preachers with Barnabas the son of consolation. To make Barnabas into a son of exhortation too is to unbalance the book from what it was. And how are we to reconcile the two? Well, edification, and exhortation and comfort are brothers just as faith, hope and charity are sisters in the word. According to brother Jed, "a rebuke, a strong, or even a harsh word (exhortations) are also edifying and comforting, when received and acted upon." In other words comfort is a son of exhortation. So Barnabas is the grandson of exhortation but the son of comfort, and since in the Bible sometimes a son is actually a grandson, the two names correspond.

Or we might try the Catholic approach. Since exhortation and comfort are brothers, the son of exhortation and the son of comfort are cousins. We know--or at least the Catholics tell us--that Jesus' brothers were really his cousins. So if we may call these two cousins brothers, we're saying they have the same father after all and the son of the one is the son of the other. Who's on first?

I Timothy 1:4 tells us: "neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do." To track various words and their genealogical relationships over and over again so we can accommodate each and every new Bible version moves us away from godly edifying, and at any rate it probably is just not expedient to change the names all of a sudden, although son of exhortation does at least rhyme with the son of consolation, so we'd still have the mutually edifying bonding with names from both versions.

"Know when to walk away." That's an easy one to apply. I've been going to a current events class. Since it occurs concurrent with the second (contemporary) service, it is populated by people who have opted for the earlier "traditional" service before it and who are therefore more likely to be reading traditional Bible versions. When our class material calls for reading scripture, I hear either the KJV or some other version not too far removed from it. I've been getting something out of that class without too much bother.

If we go to the format of having just one Sunday school period with the two services widely spaced, then what will happen is that people who go to the contemporary service will be in that class reading out loud from their contemporary versions. I don't want to have to go the bother of sorting it all out, so I would just go home--"know when to walk away." "To skip."

Then there's "know when to run." That's the time when more than one's ego is being threatened. Let's see. Adam was first formed, then Eve. If woman started being the teacher of man, that would certainly threaten his ego, and James Dobson in a bulletin insert explained how surprisingly fragile man's ego is. Still, it might not in itself be enough cause to run from women teachers.

But it was woman who was deceived, not man, at Adam's fall. I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty scary to me.

I'd been visiting a new convert, helping to establish him in good habits like daily Bible reading. He'd only heard the King James Version all his life, and that was the only version he could understand, so at least we agreed on that.

Then the other day at church fellowship time he showed me a NIV someone had given him which he said he liked. I recommended against it, and he sought an elder's opinion who said something else. I needed to key down the conflict at that point, but the woman sitting next to him piped up with an emotional "What's wrong with the NIV!" and started defending it. Completely tore the trust between the brother and myself. That's okay, if someone else wants to take it upon himself to visit him and take over.

I really hadn't expected a woman to start teaching like that. I've had to readjust my expectations. Actually, this church isn't all that bad, and except for making tracks when we had a woman teacher on the TLC groups at the maturity seminar where I split to listen to the preacher's sermon instead, I haven't found knowing when to run much of a best option at my current church.

The community at large is worse where I immediately tune my radio to another station when a woman preacher or teacher comes on, and at some Christian functions I come across, I will split when they use one too.

The country song used in the sermon is one I had thought about.


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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403


Copyright © 2003, Earl S. Gosnell III

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