Saturday, March 3, 2012

All In

Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your strength. 

-- Deuteronomy 6:5
Click through the cable TV channels on just about any given evening and you're likely to come across one or two Texas Hold 'em poker tournaments. If you're unfamiliar with these mainstays of popular culture, they're events that attract some of the world's top gamblers, who compete head-to-head for huge cash prizes. Televised tournaments are much like a sporting event, with veteran commentators delivering the play-by-play while their sidekicks discuss the players' backgrounds, strategies and mindsets.

It doesn't take long to learn that holding the best cards is no guarantee of winning in Texas Hold 'em. That's because savvy players can fool their opponents about the real strength of their hand. For instance, one player may hold a pair of twos while another may have three queens. But if the first player can convince the other that he really has a much better hand, his opponents will often concede ("fold"). One well-known strategy--used either to hide a hand's weakness or emphasize its strength--is to go "all-in"--or bet all your chips for an all-or-nothing outcome. Whether the poker player does so with a "junk" hand or even four aces, it takes supreme confidence and commitment. And it's often the difference between leaving the tournament as a millionaire or with nothing.

Gambling is hardly a biblically-prescribed activity for Christ-followers. But even a Texas Hold 'em tournament can be a venue for learning about faith-based commitment. For instance, Joshua--one of the great servant leaders of the Old Testament--demonstrated plenty of it when he challenged the tribes of Israel to choose their master: either the false gods of their ancestors or the only one True God. "But as for me and my household," Joshua declared, "we will serve the Lord."

Jesus also seeks this same level and attitude of all-in commitment from His modern-day followers. Rather than would-be believers who might help build His kingdom if it's not too inconvenient for them, Christ demands an all-or-nothing relationship from those willing to give the little they have to eventually gain everything.

Does this sound unrealistic? Jesus' closest friends once thought so. One day, a rich young man asked Christ what he had to do to gain eternal life. Knowing what was in the man's heart, Jesus reminded him about God's commandments covering theft, adultery, murder, lying, and honoring one's parents. When the man replied that he had kept them all since childhood, the Savior told him that he lacked just one thing: the need to sell all his possessions.

Jesus knew that rather than loving God with all his heart, soul and mind (the first of the 10 Commandments), the rich man was actually devoted to money. And crushed by Christ's harsh call for total commitment, the would-be follower turned away. The spectacle also amazed Jesus' apostles. "If this is the way it is," they asked, "who can ever be saved?"

Jesus' response was both simple and reassuring.

What is impossible for man," He explained, "is possible for God."

The takeaway here is that Jesus seeks undivided loyalty from His followers--those special people who are willing to give and serve using the gifts, talents and resources entrusted from God. But to make this vital commitment, we must go all-in with our lives and put it all on the table. 

The stakes are huge. And He can tell when we're bluffing.

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