Category Archives: Relationships

Sacred Fire (inspired by A.J. Sherrill)

Last night, Alan and I celebrated our 46th anniversary! Such a joy!! This morning, as I was reflecting back over our marriage, it occurred to me that when I prepared my last blog (on how Christ can heal us), I hadn’t really made any particular connection to the every day struggles we all face, but I listened to two messages Sunday night that were so good, and so appropriate, that I want to share the gist of them with you. Throughout the course of my life, the two hardest conscious struggles (probably more significant unconscious challenges) relate to self control in what I eat and what I think about. I’ve always felt very “normal” (if such a thing exists), so my guess is that these almost come as standard weaknesses on most human models coming off the assembly line. Can you identify?

A.J. Sherrill (a local pastor) taught a two-part series called “The Soul of Sexuality.” I’ll put links at the end and highly recommend them as healthy soul food to help you manage your appetites (maybe not as much for food, however).  In turn, A. J. gives much of the credit for his teaching to Richard Rohr, a little monk from Albuquerque, with whom he spent a week some years ago, trying to understand life. You may think a monk wouldn’t be the best resource for understanding how to cope with our innate sex drive, but think again. Any monk who has actually been able to keep his vow of celibacy has spent his entire adult life trying to figure out how to handle his own drives.

Even as a married woman, dealing with our sexual impulses is challenging! I remember when I was mid-forties, asking my spiritual mentor (who was about 80), when men stopped making passes at women. She nodded thoughtfully and replied, “Oh, maybe sometime between 75 and 80.” I was shocked and felt doomed! Would I never be free from unwanted male advances? Men I love, just like I love women. But, men challenging my commitment to my marriage, I do not appreciate. It’s not funny, and it’s not fun. Worst case scenario, it can actually be tempting, which was terrifying when I was 40 and my husband was way too busy to pay attention to me.

So, I used to complain to the Lord, “Why did you make us sexual beings, anyway? Why couldn’t you have made us without sexual passion???” One of the most helpful resources I found was Living with Your Passions, by Erwin W. Lutzer. (It came out in 1983 but is still available on Amazon.) After reading Lutzer’s book, I came to a somewhat grumbly surrender to the thought that God must have known what he was doing and determined to learn how to live a moral life despite my immoral heart, but I wasn’t thrilled about the challenge.

After studying the Song of Solomon for ten years, I decided that God intends our chief love to be spiritual, and that as we’re drawn into a love relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we find joy and strength that surpasses human love . . . an energy and beauty that causes those around to marvel: “What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies” (Song of Solomon 6:13: the dance between our soul and the Trinity [my interpretation]).

A.J. took it a step further, and I love what he had to say. The “why” of sexuality is about “beauty, mystery, and meaning . . . Your sexuality is an echo of a larger cosmic mystery unfolding, which is the story of Christ and the Church.” “God is not a stoic force; he’s a passionate lover.” (I’m putting everything in quotation marks but they may not be perfect; I was typing as fast as I could!) God is Israel’s husband (Isaiah 34; Jeremiah 31) and in the New Testament, we learn that we, the Church, are the “bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5). From John 7 and 15, we can infer that our marriage to Christ is designed to flow into the stream of life and bear spiritual children and spiritual fruit. In John 14 we are offered the Kiddushim—the covenant of love—and now we’re just waiting for the Huppah, when Jesus comes back to receive his bride (us!).

“Information in the head is not the same as intimacy in the heart. We were made for intimacy.” “Ya had” means to throw out your hands. Let go! Let God dwell in us so much that through us He will produce fruit! Hebrews 12—throw off all false lovers and fix our eyes on our true lover, Jesus. When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating our love covenant with Christ. He wants us to understand how much we’re loved and feast with him. He has never forgotten us or forsaken us, even though we have failed him and had other lovers and idols. Come and feast with him. Let him heal you!

The first message dealt with vertical love; the second message with horizontal.  A.J. offered three scripts for how sex is handled in our culture: Erotic play, Intimate connection, and Covenental Promise. He offered some excellent quotes thinking through the value and power of sexual energy (a couple of which I’ll write out for  you below), and he ended with an invitation to reach a “higher altitude” for viewing. “Sexuality is the best instrument for learning self-control There are times when offering yourself is a gift and when withholding yourself is a gift.” If you’re in a relationship right now, he suggested that you “Talk with your partner about what you want without finger pointing, but by offering your longings, not your complaints. Complaints create emotional distance, but longings are redemptive. You’ve trusted God with your soul. Will you trust him with your body?”

“A healthy sexuality is the single most powerful vehicle there is to lead us to  selflessness and joy, just as unhealthy sexuality helps constellate selfishness and unhappiness as does nothing else . . . Sex is responsible for most of the ecstasies that occur on the planet, but is also responsible for lots of murders and suicides. It is the most powerful of all fires, the best of all fires, the most dangerous of all fires, and the fire which, ultimately, lies at the base of everything, including the spiritual life.” —Ronald Rolheiser

“The fire of sex is so powerful, so precious, so close to the heart and soul of a person, and so godly, that it either gives life or it takes it away. Despite our culture’s protests, it is not casual and can never be casual.” —Rolheiser

So, in light of Jesus healing the lame man—and offering to heal us too!— if you’re restless or unhappy with your sex life (or lack thereof), this is a great time to let Jesus heal your wounded heart! Consider watching the two messages (which together are shorter than a movie!):

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-1

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-2

I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Some Timely Tips for Doing Life with Your Adult Children

Do you (like me) find yourself wondering what you did wrong when you hear what one or another of  your adult children is thinking or doing? As would be obvious to all who are living through the honor of interacting with adult children (but perhaps not a no-brainer to young people): It’s actually a lot harder than it looks to be good parents to grown offspring, even really, really admirable grown offspring, like mine. Alan’s being the medical director of maybe the world’s largest Christian psychiatric hospital hasn’t really made us professionals either.

However, as we’ve been floundering our way through this stage of life, we came across a great resource that has significantly encouraged us, so I want to recommend it to you! We read it to each other while on our Southern Caribbean cruise these past two weeks, celebrating our 46th anniversary. Ever since, we’ve been ending our daily prayers for our kids with this mantra: “God, we release our children to your loving care and tender mercies” (from page 115).

Doing Life with Your Adult Children walks readers through the various cultural mindsets of the different generations (all five of them) sharing Planet Earth at this time, reminding us that “our job as parents is not to agree with all the values of our children’s culture but to have a greater understanding of how culture influences the way they think and act.” This has been a game changer for us. Up until now, we’ve wondered why our kids didn’t just naturally take on our values. Surprise! Faith in the Bible, love of country and family . . . even gender identity based on DNA is no longer the norm. Of kids brought up in church, some 60% will drift away in college, making lifestyle choices that would curl the hair of our parents and make our grandparents roll over in their graves.

Not to fear! Hold on. Keep being faithful to what you believe is right and good. More than half of our wandering children will come back to their roots and faith. Meanwhile, author Jim Burns offers all sorts of helpful insights into what’s going on, what the culture is teaching, and how to love your kids and grand kids in ways they can actually feel no matter what they believe. One of many principles (similar to Dr. Gary Smalley’s advice on how to treasure your spouse) is to treat your children and grandchildren with AWE: affection, warmth, and encouragement. Amen? No matter what your young adult is thinking or doing, every “child” (grown ones too) needs big doses of real, genuine, open-hearted love, the way our heavenly Father lavishes his love on us.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t set boundaries or allow our kids to struggle with the consequences of their choices. The book also gives some helpful suggestions for how to engage your “failure to launch” young adults and help them mature into responsible, independent adults. There are also tips on how to become better in-laws (such as “wear beige” . . . “keep your mouth shut and the welcome mat out”) and how to interact with your grandchildren in ways that will leave a legacy of love for them.

From the very beginning—which describes a scenario I’ll bet every couple has experienced—to Chapter 1: “You’re Fired!” (PRINCIPLE 1: YOUR ROLE AS THE PARENT MUST CHANGE) to the very end, laced with ideas for how to party down with your grand kids, the book kept us engaged and learning!

Interested? I actually had an advance copy, but the book is coming out March 26, 2019 and can be pre-ordered from Zondervan or Amazon online. If you buy it, I hope you appreciate it as much as we have! Parenting parents is a tough job!  🙂

Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psalm 71:18).

The Commands of Christ (15): Go Call Thy Husband

Do you have a husband? If not, then maybe this command is not for you . . . or maybe it is, because the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus was speaking didn’t really have a husband either. But, she had a significant other in her life, and Jesus was concerned about both of them. In fact, Jesus is concerned about all of us—regardless of gender, marital status, or even present lifestyle. The woman at the well was coy. She was practiced at the art of deception, even using the letter of the law to her advantage. When Jesus told her to go call her husband and come back with him, she responded, “I have no husband.”This was technically true, but it didn’t fool Jesus. He knew the woman wasn’t really free and single, as she might have hoped to appear. She could have competed with almost anybody in Hollywood for number of marriages attempted and failed:  “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly” (John 4:17-18). Busted! If she’d had any hope of alluring Jesus into becoming her seventh man, she realized it wasn’t going to work.However, Jesus had a better type of love to offer, but he wasn’t going to offer it to her without demanding that she share the good news with others. Faith isn’t meant for our own healing alone; God always tells us to go and call those closest to us so they can share in the love of Christ with us!Herein lies the  splendor and severity of Jesus’ command! His holy, healing love—better than any earthly love—isn’t meant to be hidden within our hearts and minds. To be genuine, it must be proclaimed to those nearest and dearest to us. Jesus calls to everyone, regardless of their spiritual condition, but he calls us to come into the light, to walk in the light, and to obey his commands. Then, and only then, can we have true fellowship with him, and with one another!This meant that, in order for the Samaritan woman to find the secret of living water to satisfy her longing soul, she would have to involve her significant other, and together, they would have to come to Jesus. Was she ready to do that?

If you are living in sexual intimacy with someone who is not your spouse, are you ready to come together to Christ and do whatever He asks you to do? I pray that you will. The commands of God aren’t given to restrict us or make us miserable. They are given to teach us how to live in holiness, which will bring true love, joy, and peace to us, to the glory to God. Don’t be afraid of “the best!” It’s better than whatever lesser option we may be clinging to!

Text for this meditation: John 4:16-18. “Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”

Other verses to ponder:If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret(Ephesians 5:1-12, ESV).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (12): Hold Thy Peace and Come Out of Him

Do you know anyone who feels like they cannot control their actions? I have known several people who, when deeply entrapped by some addiction, felt like they lost the power to choose and seemed to have no ability to stop their self-destructive habit, whether it was alcohol, drugs, porn, sex, or whatever. I’m not spiritually perceptive enough to know whether or not these people have been overtaken by “unclean spirits,” but there are clearly accounts of this happening during the time of Christ, and so it seems likely that evil spirits can possess people today. As 2018 draws to a close, I find great comfort in this next command of Christ, which wasn’t directed to a person per se, but to an evil spirit who was living within a man and causing great agony. The account is found both in Mark 1:21-28 and in Luke 4:31-37 (written out at the end if you’d like to read them). After the marriage feast in Cana, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, where Jesus began teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath days. Reading the Torah (Old Testament Law) was a common practice, but the people were astonished by Jesus, because the usual format was to ponder the meaning of the various readings, but instead Jesus was explaining authoritatively what they meant. During one of these teaching times, a man who was possessed with an unclean spirit became disruptive and started yelling for Jesus to leave “them” alone. I don’t know if the man was speaking his own thoughts, or if the “unclean devil” was actually speaking through the man. If it was the man speaking, then it sounds like he was trying to protect the evil within him . . . so like the addict who will lie, cheat, steal, and worse if necessary to protect the evil that is ruining his life. If it was the devil speaking, then the man had indeed allowed the evil spirit to take control of his body, and the man probably had lost the power to control himself.The next declarations coming from the lips of the possessed man change from plural to singular, and I believe this shows a transition from the man and unclean spirit speaking together to the devil speaking through the man: “What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” I believe that last statement—”I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God— came straight from the unclean spirit, because, at this early point in Jesus’s ministry, practically no human on earth understood that Jesus was “the Holy One of God.” Certainly the man with the unclean spirit would not have known this. However, Satan and his minions did understand this, as we learn from James 2:19: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.Evil spirits know who God is, and who Jesus is, and they fear, but rather than repenting, they are bent on destroying the works of God. Jesus—on the other hand—had no fear and had complete authority over the evil spirits. (Matthew 28:18, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”)Therefore, Jesus was able to command the unclean spirit: “Hold thy peace, and come out of him” (Luke 4:35). “Hold thy peace” sounds rather polite in the King James, although alternate translations from the Greek into modern English include “Be silent” or “Be muzzled.” The devil had no option but to obey: “And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not” (Luke 4:35).  As 2018 ends and 2019 is about to begin, here is a wonderful insight for us: Jesus can free people from addictions. Are you or someone you love caught in a trap of evil so strong that it appears there’s no hope for recovery? As long as someone is alive, there is hope! Even if someone has lost the power to control himself, God can still intervene and heal that person. Could that person be you? Could it be someone you love dearly? Ask Jesus to intervene and rescue. If it’s within your power to go (or get your loved one to go) to a facility where you can get help, please do so! However, if that is beyond your power, you can always pray fervently. Ask day and night, in faith, until Jesus steps in and changes everything. I am praying for this in the lives of two precious friends. As long as there is life, there’s hope. Let’s never give up! If you’d like me to pray with you about your own needs or those of someone dear to you, please contact me at: kathrynwarmstrong@gmail.com

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint . . . And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?” (Luke 18:1,7. Luke 18:1-7 tells the entire parable.)

  “And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. 22 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. 26 And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. 28 And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.” (Mark 1:21-28).

“[Jesus] came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. 32 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, 34 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God. 35 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not. 36 And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out. 37 And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about.” (Luke 4:31-37)

(The photographs [versus paintings and woodcuts] are courtesy of BBM’s Lumo Project.)

Choosing Joy

She had given up all hope of ever needing to make a blanket for her own baby, it had always been for a friend’s newborn. Just a few more months and she would be holding the son promised to Zachariah, her husband. The angel had appeared to him one day in the temple as he was doing his priestly duties. At first Elisabeth had almost been afraid to believe what the angel had said, yet she fervently hoped it was true.

For years she had suffered the disgrace of barrenness, which to the Jews, was always considered an indication of God’s disfavor. Despite her disappointment of not having any little one to hold in her arms, she and Zachariah had continued to faithfully serve God. Over the years, Elisabeth had learned to find her joy in her Lord, not in her circumstances.  It would have been easy to be bitter or discouraged, instead she had chosen to joyfully serve God.

Smiling again, she carefully stitching the blanket, her musings were interrupted when her cousin, Mary, greeted her as she come into the house. At the same time the baby in her womb seemed to leap for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.

Instantly Elisabeth stood up and blessed Mary, the mother of her Lord, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Mary stayed with Elisabeth for three months. Elisabeth was one in whom Mary could confide.  Yes, her cousin did understand Mary’s fears. Day by day as they worked together Elisabeth shared her life of joyful service to God. Elisabeth’s long life of trusting God was reassuring to Mary. Elisabeth’s confidence and joy were infused into Mary’s much younger heart.

Elisabeth had learned that her joy was not dependent on circumstances, children, position or wealth but in serving God alone.

What is your response when life isn’t what you had dreamed it would be?  Have you become bitter and angry?  Or have you learned to love and trust God, to obey and serve Him with joy?  Are you able to find joy in Christ alone? Joy is often a choice, it does not always come naturally.

As we study His Word and live in obedience to it, we will understand His character more deeply and find joy in Him.  Then our joy will be contagious to those around us, encouraging them in their not so desirable circumstance or time of trial.

Have you experienced a disappointment and struggling to find joy and peace?  I encourage you to allow “… the God of hope fill you with all joy…”

If you have learned to choose joy, is there someone you can encourage like Elizabeth did Mary, who is struggling in her faith or facing a difficult time in her life?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” Romans 15:13.

© Cynthia Wedge 2017 (Cynthia has a wonderful tea shop in Grand Rapids [englishcottagetea.com ]and is also a fellow member of our Blue Water Writers Group. Cynthia writes devotionals to share with her customers at Christmas time and has graciously agreed to share a couple with me because I enjoy them so much! Thank you, Cynthia!)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (9): Follow Me . . . Ignorant Enthusiasm

If you think we’ve already discussed Jesus’ command, “Follow Me,” you’re right. The first two times I read through the New Testament looking for all the places where Jesus gave people unequivocal imperatives, I counted over 400, so it was tempting to discuss the command to follow him only once. However, each instance has unique circumstances, and Jesus calls men to follow him more times than he urges people to do almost anything else, so I think each account deserves attention. The eighth time we read of Jesus commanding someone to do something, it is when he interacts with Philip, and the story is found only in John’s Gospel  (which I’ve listed at the bottom of this post if you’d like to read it now). In this instance, Philip immediately responds by sharing what he thinks he knows with Nathanael. He identifies (correctly) that Jesus is the prophet about whom Moses wrote (see Deuteronomy 18:15: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken”).

Further, Philip (incorrectly) states that Jesus is from “Nazareth” and “the son of Joseph.” The first descriptor is partially true; the second is false! Jesus was originally from Bethlehem (although he was living in Nazareth when Nathanael met him), but he was not the son of Joseph. Jesus was conceived by the Virgin Mary overshadowed by God’s Holy Spirit in a once-in-the-universe miracle to produce a sinless offspring who was fully human and fully divine (Matthew 1:20). The Gospel of Luke explains that he was born into the family of Joseph but was not truly his son: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23). Because of my own experiences as a new believer, I am charmed by this account, because Philip was so enthusiastic but clearly not well taught as yet! However, that didn’t stop him from instinctively becoming a “fisher of men!”Nathanael, who was a devout and clearly well educated Israelite, questioned Philip’s accuracy based on his knowledge that the ruler of the Jews was to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Philip didn’t know all the answers, but he had discovered the One who is the answer, so he urged Nathanael to come and see for himself!

Nathanael came, and in two simple sentences Jesus proved his omniscience. Jesus acknowledged Nathanael as without guile (deceit), which is an introductory volley no mortal could honestly lob over the net on first meeting (but was obviously true, because Nathanael knew in his heart that Jesus was correct), and then Jesus divulged that he had actually been able to see Nathanael  when he was out of eye sight, under a fig tree, before Philip had ever gone to get him! So, Jesus knew Nathanael “inside” and “outside.” If he wasn’t The Prophet, he was definitely a prophet of God, and he had Nathanael’s attention!The unique beauty of this story is that what Philip did was blessed by God, even though he didn’t yet have all his facts straight! Philip became one of the twelve Apostles and was with Jesus throughout his ministry, even sharing The Last Supper with him. He was able to lead Nathanael to Jesus—not because Philip knew all the answers, but because he urged Nathanael to come and see for himself, and Nathanael also became a follower. (We know this because  he was with the disciples at the end of John’s Gospel.) Furthermore, Nathanael was the first to acknowledge Jesus for who he really was: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Dearly beloved, if Jesus is your Savior and Lord, you don’t have to wait a minute to share him with others! Tell them as much as you know, but realize that what you say may be true, only half true, or even (unintentionally) false, like what  Philip told Nathanael! The important thing is to get your friends to come and see for themselves! Bring them to Jesus; put a Bible in their hands; invite them to church. Urge them to pray to Jesus. Jesus can draw them to himself. All we have to do is testify to what little we know (or think we know)! As Jesus taught: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

Come and See
(—Lenny LeBlanc)
“Come and see the glory of the Lord
Come behold the Lamb
Come and know the mercy of the King
Bowing down before him.
“Come and give thanks unto the Lord
Come behold the Lamb.
Come and sing the praises of the King
Bowing down before him
“For He is Lord above the heavens,
Lord of all the earth
Lord of all the angels,
Worthy to be served.
Allelujah!”
(For an inspiring rendition by the composer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIn4WG_v9m8)

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:43-51).

Monte Carlo Night: Great Fun for the Holidays…but…No Gambling or Drinking!

Anybody who thinks Sunday school is just for kids has never been to our Sunday school class! In a mega church like Calvary (with about 6000± attendees), it would be easy to get lost in the crowd, so you need to connect with a smaller group of people for friendship and fellowship. Midweek prayer meetings, care groups, life groups, youth groups, music groups…short circles…there are so many ways to engage with other people, but one of our favorites has always been via a Sunday school class. Our class, Heirs Together, has about 120 members and a wide age span, although I think we’re pretty close to the median age with a profile like most of the members, including a similar world view and deep faith although somewhat irregular attendance due to travel, family and health needs. The class has been hanging together for many years, and although the majority have probably been married for 35-50+ years, there is a growing population of singles. (Yes, we’re getting older!)  We have a monthly “event,” and last weekend it was a “Monte Carlo” game night which was super fun and perfect for getting to know people. Therefore, I want to pass it along to you in case you think it also sounds like fun. I’m hoping to try it out over Christmas break when we have many of our kids home, but it could also be used in any group of 8 or more.  I think our Monte Carlo Night was the brainchild of Ed Avink, who’s one of our class leaders and an architect. The only tricky part is that you need groups of 4 people to make it work, and probably at least 8 to make it work well. Here’s how to play: Either number people off into teams of 4 or let them gravitate naturally to a seat at any of the card tables you have set up. We had 17 tables of 4 people, but that’s way more than you need, and actually none of us got to play a hand with everybody.  To prepare, set up a room (or rooms) with one card table, four chairs, 4 score cards, a couple of pens, and a deck of cards on each table. Once people are settled:1. Have somebody at each table shuffle the cards.
2. Everybody takes a cut. The person with the highest card deals. Aces are high. If two people get the same card, then it goes by suit: Spades (highest), hearts, diamonds, and clubs (lowest) 3. Deal out all the cards by going from left to right around the circle. (Should end up with 13 cards per person.) It looks to me like it’s polite to wait until all the cards have been dealt before looking at your hand. 4. Play your hand according to the instructions on the game card. (Obviously, you could make up your own rules and number of hands. Fourteen hands took us close to three hours.) The person to the left of the dealer starts first, but after that, whoever has the highest card wins that “trick” and starts the next round.
5. After all the cards have been played, count your tricks (by team, with your partner being across the table from you) and record your score on your score sheet.  6. The tables are all numbered: 1-??? The two winners move on to the next highest-numbered table and play kitty-corner, so they have new partners for the next hand. The losers stay at the same table they were at but also change positions so that they are sitting kitty-corner and will each have a new partner
7. Play through all the hands.
8. Count up your final points.
9. The winner wins! At our Monte Carlo night, Dean won with some 2,100+ points. The next two tied at 1,900+. Alan and I were in the 1700 range, but some people ended up with 700+, so there’s a huge variation. I’m not sure if anybody needs to know who loses, but there was much admiration for our winner, so that was fun.  Nobody passed out a candy bar or anything as a prize, but everybody brought an appetizer, or a bottle of pop or juice to share, which worked out great, because sometimes you had to wait for the next table to finish before you could play again. Alan and I had several good opportunities for conversations with members of the class that we’d met but didn’t know very well, including one couple that we discovered were married just one month before us (both couples married nearly 46 years now) and had attended the same university, the same year, even living in the same married student housing, although we never met! Best of all, the next morning we learned that one of our newest members, who was widowed last January, shared that the night of our Monte Carlo game night was the night he would have celebrated his 51st anniversary, and he’d been dreading that day for weeks. He said going to the game night and enjoying everybody’s company had turned a terrible night into a blessing for him.  So, if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate and reach out this holiday season, you might enjoy throwing a Monte Carlo Night! If you do, please let me know how it goes! Or, if you’re lonely and aren’t plugged into a good group for fellowship, let me know, and I’ll invite you to our Carol Sing coming up in December. You are also cordially invited to try out our Sunday school class. Not only is it warm and friendly, the teaching is excellent, and we pray for every request that’s given each week! Let me know, and I’ll tell you when and where . . . and introduce you to everybody! And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).