The Poker Table
The table sat in the back corner of my parents' large family room, surrounded by the paneled walls and sitting on the shag carpet so prevalent in the seventies. Seated on a wood base, the octagonal top had a vinyl pad with felt underneath to protect the wood. Four low-set wooden chairs, with oatmeal colored padded backs and seats for cushions, were set on caster wheels that did not function all that well on the shag. Though occasionally we used the table for a game or snack, its greatest use seemed to be for Dad's poker games.
A teenager, in those days I was sent to bed just as the beer and snacks were put out and Dad's friends arrived, but before the real action started. Lying in bed, the laughter, rattling of poker chips, and smell of cigar smoke would float down the short hallway to my room. Curiosity would often get the best of me, so I would occasionally sneak out of my room and peak around a corner, just able to see Dad's jovial face enjoying the company of his buddies around the poker table. Far from the seedy poker games of movies or high stake affairs on ESPN, these games were more social events. The night was filled with good-natured ribbing about a bluff that went through or who was that evening's loser, jokes that carried through the week when they would see each other downtown or at a softball game. Sometimes Dad would catch me spying, call me over to let me watch for a minute, then send me back off to bed.
Seeds sown in a young boy‘s heart germinate and bloom. In high school and into college, I had my own poker games. Sometimes they were around that table, when Mom and Dad were not there, but most were at friend's houses or on a dormitory room floor. Excitement over winning large pots in the middle caused me to expand my bets far beyond my ability to pay. What looked like fun imitating what I saw in my living room around that table turned into expressions of the greed and misery of the sin in my own heart.
Today the poker table sits in my study at home. The pad on top has been removed, and the cushions are recovered in a deep blue more fitting to my study. The days of it serving as a gaming table are long over, though occasionally it hosts a game of Euchre or Yahtzee as a fire blazes nearby. Now it more often sees men enjoying one of Miriam's breakfasts as we study and pray, counseling sessions with hearts opening up about their pain and struggle, or numerous books spread across it as I study, write, or prepare another sermon.
Some of my favorite Old Testament "obscure" verses are the last two found in the prophet Zechariah's book.
In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “HOLY TO THE LORD.” And the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the bowls before the altar. Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of hosts; and all who sacrifice will come and take of them and boil in them. And there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts in that day.
These verses remind us that in the days of the Christ everything - not just the dedicated vessels in the temple - is deemed holy to the Lord. For everything a Christian is and owns, every gift and possession that he has, is dedicated in service to the Lord. The righteousness of Christ given to the believer consecrates him, and consequently all that he has, to the Lord.
Today is Dad‘s birthday. He would have been 78 years old if the cancer had not taken him from us over three decades ago. Yesterday, as I readied to preach another sermon at that table, I reflected on how the Lord not only redeemed it, but both Dad and me. For Dad, salvation came at the end of a life seemingly too short, yet by His grace the cancer brought forth a trust in Jesus not evident during those poker-playing days. For me, redemption came earlier in life in the midst of those wild college days. By His grace, He gave me years to serve Him and minister His Word around and from that table.
As I rubbed my hand across the smooth wood of the table yesterday, I quietly gave thanks to the One who redeems dying fathers and foolish young men, along with all that they have, for His own glory.