Foreigners and Nomads

Recently I finished a book called The 21st Century Card Counter (see: Amazon link). In case you’re wondering, I was interested in this not because I plan on playing Blackjack professionally but because I’ve been fascinated by the idea of card counters. Sometimes you gotta let curiosity lead you.

Fun fact: one of the things the author is famous for is running the “Church Team” that won $3.2 million from casinos. The team was named for the fact that they all knew each other from church. There’s even a documentary about them called “Holy Rollers.”

The logic in the book is fascinating and can apply to a lot of areas in life. One of the themes is that card counters are looking to generate something called ‘positive expected value.’ Expected value is the “amount you expect to win over a given time period, based on the pure math of your playing decisions and the variables of the game that don’t change.” This is what gives a card counter an edge over a casino and why they are technically an investor rather than a gambler.

You can look for expected value in other things as well. One interesting example he gives is to apply it to basketball. It gets a little mathy, but consider the following breakdown:

The league average for 2-point shooting is roughly 50%, meaning that every shot is worth about 1 point. Since a 3-point shot is worth, well, 3 points, you would need to be averaging only 33.3% from the 3-point line to generate the equivalent [expected value]. But the league average for 3-point shooting is actually 36%, so every 3-point shot is worth nearly 1.1 points. And for a top 3-point shooter life Steph Curry (with a career .436% make rate), each shot is worth over 1.3 points. A valuable 3-point shooter results in roughly 5 extra points per game.”

Regardless of your views on casinos and gambling, consider the way the logic works. Here’s an intriguing statement: “Results follow math. At the end of the day, you want to celebrate the math, not the results.” Basically, if a card counter played the right way they should feel good about their efforts, regardless of whether they won or lost on a particular day.

Could the same be true of life? Could we focus on living the ‘right’ way and then release our sense of control on the results it produces in any given moment? If you’ll permit me to make a spiritual application from a book on Blackjack, I’d even go so far as to suggest this is the way we should live. Consider what the author of Hebrews says in a conversation all about people who lived out their faith the right way.

“All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.”

Hebrews 11:13

Ever felt like you did not receive what was promised? (Is there a better way of describing 2020 as an entire year?)

But maybe you feel this way toward God. Does that mean you made a mistake? Does that mean the promise was fake? Perhaps it just means that it will take a bit longer for you to see the math play out. Maybe the math won’t even play out in your lifetime. If you read through the Scriptures you find many people who found themselves in this situation.

Can we celebrate ‘the math’ rather than the results? (I’m speaking metaphorically here, as anyone who knows me knows I hate math.) Could we create a community of people who give up our obsession for results and the quick fix and instead look to encourage one another to be faithful in the small things?

Perhaps this is indeed what it means to live as foreigners and nomads. To say ‘no’ to that which drives so many people. To put our trust in Jesus and release the story to Him. To be willing to die still believing what God has promised.

Could we create a community of people who give up our obsession for results and the quick fix and instead look to encourage one another to be faithful in the small things? Share on X

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.