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12 entries from December 2021

Fasting: How Can We Prepare?

Hi everyone! Fast and pray 2022

Well, our annual community fast begins this Monday and I thought we could chat about how we prepare.

I wonder if you're like me in that every time we do this fast I look forward to it -- Some amazing things have happened in past fasts. But I also feel thoroughly nervous. Going without food is no small thing. For me it's as hard as, say, scuba diving would be, or climbing a very difficult mountain. 

For that reason I find I have to prepare mentally for it as much as physically. So, how do we do that?

First of all, we can be praying for ourselves ahead of this week. It's better to pray when we are feeling fine than when we are hungry and challenged. Quite simply, then:

Lord, help me do this fast. Strengthen me when I'm tempted to break the fast this week. Give me stamina. And please let it be a special week for us all.

Second, we can prepare practically by getting plenty of liquids into the house. For example, on Sunday I'm going to go down to my local foodie shop to buy in some things like protein shakes, bone broth, and juice. I'm also going to buy in some ready-made meals for my family so that I don't have to cook quite so much this coming week.

Third, in spiritual terms, we might want to make a list of things we want to talk to God about over this fast, or things we want to fast about. That said, I'll probably do that on Monday morning once the big week is here.

And finally, consider whether to tell your spouse. It is a good idea to tell them, but it's not always easy to do and it does take some courage as the practice of fasting might seem weird to them. For me it took a couple of years before I told Bryce but eventually I did and I'm glad he knows.

So, those are just a few thoughts. All the best over the weekend as you plan for this, and we'll see you again here on the eve of the fast to kick things off.

Much love to you all

Ann


STOP Praying Powerless Prayers For Your Unsaved Spouse

Hi SUM Nation,

Equipped Chris BrooksLynn Donovan here. STOP praying powerless prayers for your unsaved spouse. Do you need encouragement. Practical help to THRIVE in your unequally yoked marriage? 

Listen in today, as I'm on the radio Broadcast, Equipped, with Chris Brooks. Dec 27th Noon to 1 PM CT. Here is the link: Equipped, with Chris Brooks, Guest: Lynn Donovan.

 


There Once Was A Man Who Didn't Believe

There was once a man who didn't believe in God, and he didn't hesitate to let others know how he felt about religion and religious holidays, like Christmas. His wife, however, did believe, and she raised their children to also have faith in God and Jesus, despite his disparaging comments.

Snow_church One snowy Christmas Eve, his wife was taking their children to a Christmas Eve service in the farm community in which they lived. She asked him to come, but he refused.

"That story is nonsense!" he said. "Why would God lower Himself to come to Earth as a man? That's ridiculous!" So she and the children left, and he stayed home.

A while later, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard. As the man looked out the window, all he saw was a blinding snowstorm. He sat down to relax before the fire for the evening. Then he heard a loud thump. Something had hit the window. Then another thump. He looked out, but couldn't see more than a few feet.

When the snow let up a little, he ventured outside to see what could have been beating on his window. In the field near his house he saw a flock of wild geese. Apparently they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn't go on. They were lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter. They just flapped their wings and flew around the field in low circles, blindly and aimlessly. A couple of them had flown into his window, it seemed.

The man felt sorry for the geese and wanted to help them. The barn would be a great place for them to stay, he thought. It's warm and safe; surely they could spend the night and wait out the storm. So he walked over to the barn and opened the doors wide, then watched and waited, hoping they would notice the open barn and go inside.

The geese just fluttered around aimlessly and didn't seem to notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them. The man tried to get their attention, but that just seemed to scare them and they moved further away. He went into the house and came back out with some bread, broke it up, and made a breadcrumbs trail leading to the barn, but they still didn't catch on.

Now he was getting frustrated. He got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, but they only got more scared and scattered in every direction except toward the barn. Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where they would be warm and safe.

"Why don't they follow me?!" he exclaimed. "Can't they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm?" He thought for a moment and realized that they just wouldn't follow a human.

"If only I were a goose, then I could save them," he said out loud.Geese winter

Then he had an idea. He went into barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese. He then released it. His goose flew through the flock and straight into the barn - and one by one the other geese followed it to safety!

He stood silently for a moment as the words he had spoken a few minutes earlier replayed in his mind:

"If only I were a goose, then I could save them!"

Then he thought about what he had said to his wife earlier. "Why would God want to be like us? That's ridiculous!"

Suddenly it all made sense. That is what God had done. We were like the geese - blind, lost, and perishing. God had His Son become like us so He could show us the way and save us. That was the meaning of Christmas, he realized!

As the winds and blinding snow died down, his soul became quiet and pondered this wonderful thought. Suddenly he understood what Christmas was all about, why Christ had come.

Years of doubt and disbelief vanished like the passing storm. He fell to his knees in the snow, and prayed his first prayer:

Mangercross "Thank You, God, for coming in human form to get me out of the storm!"

~Author Unknown

 


A Date for your January Diary

Hi everyone, January

It's Ann here, and I just wanted to give you a heads up about the next thing coming up for us:

Our annual fast is happening from Monday 3 January to Friday 7 January -- And, even though fasting is challenging there's something very exciting about that week. So yes, put those dates in your diary and start to think about how you might take part.

For those new here, this fast is something we've done for a number of years and many of us find it a deeply impactful experience. One SUMite even said recently it's the spiritual highlight of her year. What we notice, I guess, is that it brings us closer to God, and we'll often have something novel happen during the fast to us personally, or to someone else in the comments. It's very much an 'in-it-together' thing. 

If you're new to fasting, a good way to start is to fast from food each day from sunrise to sunset, with a small meal each evening. But, if you've built up some fasting stamina over past years you might try a stretch further by going liquids-only for the whole week, Monday sunrise to Friday sunset. Eek, that is very challenging indeed!

However you challenge yourself, things do shift, change, and break open. Guess what happened the first time I took part in this community fast? At Friday sunset I walked into my bedroom to find Bryce lying on our bed reading a Christian book!! I couldn't believe my eyes; and yet I could because of the week I'd been through.

Jesus said to his disciples when they were trying to unsuccessfully cast out an unclean spirit, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29). 

... And to that I say, "Right then, let's roll up our sleeves and take the plunge all over again this January, for we need this in our homes!"

After Christmas we'll write a little more about how we can prepare for the fast. But for now it'd be good to start asking God "How would you like me to fast this time?" and perhaps pray for the stamina and preparedness to do it, because it does take some thinking.

I'm really looking forward to doing this with you all again.

Much love,

Ann


A Personal Word for Next Year

Dear SUM family, Ann here. 31 Dec

We have certain routines in this community, and one of these routines is that around this time of year many of us will ask God for a word for the year. For ourselves, that is, as individuals.

Asking God questions about our own life is such a good way of drawing near to him. He so desires to be our friend and talk to us about our unique lives.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

Whenever I’ve asked God for a word for the year I've actually never received it as a solitary word, though I know that some of you have. Instead, for me it’s been a concept, a phrase, or an analogy. We're all different.

One year, for example, I asked and then later received a phrase in the night: “Jesus Christ, first and foremost, all the way for me.” That year (2018) did end up being a year where I focused on Jesus and asked a lot of questions about the Gospel.

Another year I asked for a word and the next morning had a symbolic dream in the early hours. It was about moving in a boat, along with others in the SUM community, towards a new destination. That was for 2019, and a lot happened to us that year together: Most notably, Lynn's husband's baptism and a subsequent book, 'Marching Around Jericho', which was a huge shift in our ministry.

Then this past year, the word I sensed was “Crossing over.” Crossing over into what, I still do not fully know, but I know that I am crossing over into something and it certainly has been a year of personal transition. Most of my conversations with God this year have been about preparing for the 'more' of ministry in the future, and preparing for what God wants to do beyond this COVID shaking. Our world is being shaken but when the dust settles God has work for us to do. My head has been there, in the future, and it's certainly a ‘crossing over’.

So with all that said, how about we each go ahead and ask God for a word for the year? It might not be a single word that you hear back. It might be a dream, a picture/analogy that lands in your head, a concept, a phrase, or a scripture. Just ask, and see what happens.

He may give it to you immediately if you are on your knees and being quiet. Or, he might give it to you in the night hours later, even a day or week later. But ask and see if anything does come to mind straight away. Even if it feels like a fleeting whisper, I’ve often found ‘whispers’ turn out to be accurate. God's voice is usually not a dramatic thunderclap.

I do know that when we ask he delights to answer.

If you do have a word for the year, perhaps you can share in the comments? It'd be great to hear about it.

Lots of love to you all, and I hope your Christmassy count-down is going well.

Ann


The Puzzle of the Gospels

By Ann Hutchison Baby in manger

Jesus. There is so much swirling disagreement about him that my eyes sometimes widen at that. But this is all part of the package. Long ago, at Jesus's birth it was prophesied by a man called Simeon (Luke 2:34-35) that Jesus would be a "sign that would be spoken against."

And so he is. We roll with the punches.

For the first few years of my faith it seemed that I had an unusually intense group of people around me who disagreed with me about Jesus. Why did there seem to be so many?! It was pretty tough but I look back and think "Actually, those challenges to my faith were not a bad thing."

Not only did I have Bryce who was not on the same page as me but there were others in our family. Added to that, I had a friend of a different faith who expressed vehement views. And then there were two particularly interesting friends from a little social group I was part of  -- Two older men who had once been fervent Christians and had now developed a set of 'logical reasons' why they were not any more. What a crowd of influencers! 

With the two men who left their faith, I did genuinely want to hear their reasons. So I asked them. It's interesting to talk to someone about why they left their faith and it can lead to some good conversations. 

Now many of us here have spouses who also lost their faith, so perhaps you'll be familiar already with this key reason the two men gave: They said they felt the four Gospel accounts had inconsistencies. It was not clear to me how much they had asked God about this, but I decided to look carefully into it.

It's interesting, but instead of what those men saw in the Gospels, I saw something completely different. I saw nothing but a miracle when I looked at the Bible, and the Gospels in that context. It stood out to me that despite there being so many different authors, there was one thread that worked through it all: The salvation of Jesus Christ. The Gospels were, essentially, the 'big reveal' after centuries of writing. 

Could I tell these men that's how I saw it? Well we would probably agree to disagree there... And that's the way it often happens. 

With the Gospels themselves, those inconsistencies are not many but they are interesting. Instead of being flawed I saw the Gospels as being like puzzle pieces that slotted together. On their own they tell one slice of the story, but when you put four accounts together up comes a richer, more comprehensive story. For me, it wasn't necessarily inconsistent, instead a fuller story.

That 'puzzling' aspect of the Gospels has become what I most enjoy about reading them. I often slot the different accounts together when looking at a particular event (e.g. the nativity narrative) and turn the details this way and that, thinking: "What else can I see here?"

The 'inconsistencies' are discussed by apologetics experts and there are explanations. But at the end of the day, I suppose I landed on the fact I did find the Bible to be a miraculous piece of work and so I settled on following Jesus. Added to that, I had some compelling personal experiences that convinced me Jesus was real.

So, back to Simeon's prophecy:

“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35, NKJV)

My friends, I'd love to chat in the comments, as always.

Ann

p.s. The photo in today's post is of my advent calendar, where one figurine comes out a day. Hence just Jesus!


When Jesus Enters Our Home ...

By Ann Hutchison  Lion of Judah

Recently one of our SUMites sent me a lovely word that I believe is relevant to all of us and I want to share it today. It's a great analogy of the work Jesus does in our homes.

Here's what she said:

"Ann, does Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia mean anything to you?

I got a lovely picture of how he walks through and all the snow melts and things come to life. That's what I saw for your household."

That was from Libby Finan from the UK, who many of us know as she has been with our community for several years. It's always a treat when she sends something like this. Yes it was a message to me, but as I sat with it yesterday I felt "It's for us all!" So, if she's reading today, thank you Libby. And, I'm guessing most of us know the story of Aslan the lion from C S Lewis's book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe? If not, it's a great read.

As for the picture of Aslan that she shared above, isn't that a beautiful analogy of how Jesus works in our families?  We welcome him in, he enters our families, and things do start to change. Often the wait is far longer than we are comfortable with, but we start to see glimmers ... sparkles. It might be seen in the fact your marriage gets that little bit more harmonious. Or that your spouse begins to verbalize acceptance of your faith instead of the opposite. Lynn lion

Jesus is indeed to us like a strong, majestic lion, and He has the power over anything the enemy can throw at our families. Because of that, the following verse is such an important one for us:

And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (Romans 16:2o, NKJV)

Indeed shortly, shortly God crushes the enemy and he turns winter into springtime for us. But 'shortly' for God can take a while. And the work of Jesus might take the form of a gentle thawing, like the dew of Heaven lightly settling onto different areas of our lives. It's a blossoming here, a blossoming there. 

Last month one of those little glimmers happened in my own household. It might seem small but it felt big to me:

It was my birthday and I'd asked God for something nice. Why not huh (I'm smiling).. And yes, something special did happen that day. That evening our son Miles decided he'd like to go to a church social event, and Bryce offered to drive him. It was a 10-minute drive. The next thing I know I get a text from the pastor's wife: "I've just met your husband."

It turns out that when they'd arrived no one was there except the pastor and his wife and so Bryce had got out of the car to meet them. They had a lovely chat and he enjoyed it. They sound to have covered a lot of ground, including his own church background and their own sense of calling, and they chatted a while.

The sweet pastor's wife (her name is Olivia, and she is 28, so young and non-threatening) then said ever so nicely, "You'd be so welcome to come to church if you like," At which point Bryce threw his head back and laughed, "Well ...."

It was all good natured and low key, but it was the first time Bryce had actually gone near a church event and got out of the car. Further, the friendliness and ease of it all felt to me like a new blossoming. That day Bryce met 'my church' and liked them. It prompted a quiet hooray in my heart, and a thawing. Just like the Aslan picture above.

Yes, when Jesus is welcomed by us into our household, things do change. Have you found that in any area yourself, I wonder? Let's chat in the comments.

Ann

p.s. The lion painting above was done by Lynn. I thought it was a good fit!


Be Present - some thoughts on Advent

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Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve always loved December. Living in Australia, it’s summer, the end of the school year so we always had our long summer break over December/January. It’s also my birthday month and … it’s Christmas.

I still recall those days approaching Christmas when the presents used to begin to pile up under the tree. Most of them were for dad, he’s a doctor and all his patients bought him presents. Every year. But my sister and two brothers were more excited by what Santa would put in the pillow slips that sat at the end of our beds.

We’d struggle to sleep we were that excited. But mom always warned us that Santa wouldn’t arrive until we were fast asleep.

And then when we woke, far too early for mom and dad, we’d have to wait until they arose before we could open all the goodies in those magical pillowslips.

We had to wait.

The anticipation. The excitement … was electric.

Advent

The season of Advent has commenced. Advent simply means: “coming” or “arrival” – of Jesus.

But as most of us know Jesus took a long time to arrive. Four hundred years in fact. That’s how long the Israelites had to wait.

The four-week season of Advent reflects a time of waiting. We don’t like to wait, do we? Especially if it’s for something important or critical, a test result, an answer to prayer, our pre-believing spouse to meet Jesus, and so on.

“While God rarely comes at our appointed time, he comes at the right time.” (Louis Giglio)

A Different Kind of Waiting

Many of you know how I’ve spent a lot of this year caring for Mum and Dad. Dad moved into palliative care two Thursdays ago. He made that decision which was a great relief for us. At the time of writing, Dad is still with us. Over the past two weeks I’ve learnt a lot about waiting and the dying process.

Immediately after the Doctor advised me that Dad had expressed his wish to move into palliative care, I sat with Dad. I took his hand as I do each day, and he told me how he’d had a premonition a few days ago about dying. Interestingly, I said to him that a few days ago the Lord had given me this wonderful picture of many witnesses taking a hold of Dad’s frail body and carrying him to the finish line. Standing before the finish line was Jesus, ready to receive Dad and take him onto the next adventure. You see Dad isn’t really a man of faith, he has a notion of God but not Jesus.

During these ten days or so of Dad’s body gradually slowing down and he increasingly unable to communicate, the Lord has shown me this beautiful picture of how much He loves Dad. It’s glorious and simply irresistible. Every time I look at Dad I weep because of how beautiful he is. It's like God has let me see Dad through His eyes. His love for each one of His children is breathtaking and incredibly reassuring for those of us who wait for our loved one to pass.

Before Dad stopped communicating, we chatted about him seeing his Mum and Dad again, feasting on the best meal he’s ever eaten. And he smiled so contentedly. I believe I’ll see Dad again one day.

How do we Wait?

December is often a frantic month. Besides finishing end of year projects there is the added weight of present buying, parties to attend, gatherings with family and friends. All around us there are reminders of what is coming: the lights, the decorations, the music, the extra crowded malls and our own stress levels.

For many, December is a month full of sadness for a variety of reasons and simply getting any time to reflect only brings back sad or negative memories. And so we enjoy the busy because it keeps us from reflecting on those memories.

But what is the gift we are expecting? Or more precisely, who is the gift? Who is arriving?

Jesus.

A little challenge

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

In amongst the busyness of December may I encourage us all to find some time to sit in the Lord’s presence. And be still. Shut the door both physically but also to your inner sanctuary. “The voice of God is very gentle; we can’t hear it if we let other voices compete.” (Robyn Wrigley-Carr)

It's just you and God. Picture God, the lover of your soul, gazing at you with immense love, such love that only He can give.

And breathe it in. You don’t need to talk, say anything, perhaps invite Jesus in by whispering His name or anything else that takes your fancy. And if you start thinking about all the things you should be doing, just say ‘Jesus’ again to go back to Him and His love.

It might last two minutes, maybe five or ten. You might experience nothing. May I encourage you to do it again a few times and before long you’ll be longing to get away and sit with Jesus regularly.

We wait actively. By being present in the moment. Sitting with Jesus helps us to discover both more of Him but how to be present.

Wishing all of my SUMite friends a joyful Advent season full of Jesus wonder and anticipation of His constant presence in our lives.

PS. My family (especially Mum) are all doing okay about Dad. We’re sad but we’ve been preparing for this season for a while now. And thank you for the love (and prayers) you’ve shown me over the past year. It’s been a such blessing for me. And I've felt everyone of those prayers.


December Rhythms and Routines

Hi my dear friends, it's Ann here. Writing

Well, it's December (hooray!) and today I wanted to chat about personal rhythms and routines over Advent.

With the cosiness of Christmas in the air, I just love December. And one of the reasons for that is I have a few little special things I do to connect with God. These things are special enough to me that I start to look forward to them in November!

Centuries ago, the Western church developed a liturgy to help their congregations connect through the year with the Gospel. Specific scriptures were read on certain dates, and specific stories from scripture were celebrated. I imagine that was a very helpful thing for those who loved God but couldn't necessarily read his word. Well, these days I think we can do the same in our personal lives: We can find some special personal routines throughout our year that help us remember and connect with aspects of God.

When it comes to Advent and December, I thought I might share with you my three special practices, and I'd love to hear from you in turn if you have any special Christmas faith routines. I'm sure I'll adopt more routines as the years pass, but for now here are my three:

First of all, on 1 December I pick up my heavy leather Bible, open up its beautiful pages to the nativity sections in Matthew and Luke and start to read. I say Matthew and Luke because they're the only two out of the four Gospels that cover Jesus's birth. I take my time over them, marinating in them, piecing them together like a jigsaw puzzle, and reading one section a day. 

They are fascinating narratives; they never get old. I find I look back sometimes on the Old Testament prophecies that go with certain parts. I shake my head in wonder at the Bible and this part of it -- The nativity story. It is truly a mind-blowing thing, and also a very surprising thing that God did here: A baby in a manger. A messiah born to an 'unmarried' woman? Bemusing. Mesmerizing. Full of symbolism. 

The second thing I do is crack open my own journals for the whole past year and start to re-read them over the month of December. Now this one involves a lot of sitting around with a whole lot of coffee; which, to Bryce, does look a little lazy. But it's amazing to look back on what God has done. I find I've asked God a lot of questions and have written down everything I've prayed for, so sometimes I find myself startled to see within the pages of those journals that "Wow, Lord, you really did answer that."

And finally, as Christmas approaches I book myself a hotel room for the night and take 24 hours away with God. It's indulgent, I know, but sometimes a mother's got to do what a mother's got to do. I tell my family it's 'Mum's strategic planning day', at which they burst into laughter. But truly it's to talk to God about the coming year. 

I guess I'm writing this because the success of our walk as SUMites is so heavily driven by how deep our intimacy with God is. And now, our ability to cope with this pandemic is also going to be impacted by the same. Yes, we have at least two tough things we are enduring (the SUM, the pandemic) .. And if we have tough stuff in our lives, oh how we need Jesus like we need air!

How about you? I'd love to hear of any routines you have at Christmas time. Yours might look completely different to mine but hey, variety is just great, and so I'm looking forward to chatting about this one.

Ann


I Need A Prayer

Post A PrayerHi Friends, Lynn Donovan here:

I'm coming to you today in the midst of a very busy season and yet hopeful you will take five minutes to step along side of me and especially my husband, Mike. 

I would love to receive a short, one-to-two paragraph prayer, for healing. I want to pass these short prayers to Mike, one a day, throughout his treatment with begins December 13. Read About it here.

Please take a minute to login here and post in the comments, a SHORT prayer, from your heart, that Mike could pray to build his faith for healing. 

I am absolutely leaning on you and your love during this season. 

I love you. I feel surrounded by your goodness, your love and your faith. Hugging you with a full heart today, Love, Lynn


A GIANT THANKYOU!

GT 2021 Thank youLynn here:

I'm overwhelmed by your generosity. Your gifts and your words of encouragement are a balm to my heart this season.

I can't wait to see all of you in the seminars about the End-time church and also the Journey around Jericho.

Watch for your email regarding the seminars. It's not too late to participate in either or both. Donate today. 

DONATE NOW <------

Read about the content here: Give AND Receive