70 posts categorized "Ann Hutchison"

A Donovan Clan Update - Thanksgiving 2020

Hi My SUMite Family,

I’m so proud of Ann Hutchison and how she has stepped up to help me with the blogging. She really filled in a space that was desperately needed when Dineen stepped out.

Mike & LynnToday, I feel like it’s time for a Donovan Clan update. The last update was Thanksgiving 2019 when Mike had been unemployed for months and I was so desperate for your financial support to keep this little place on the web alive.

TRULY, if you hadn’t helped the SUM blog and ministries would have closed down. Your great generosity revealed God’s hand in this place. God LOVES our space here. He knows the thousands that visit here need a word of hope for their faith and marriage. I’m so humbled to be part of the voices of hope here at SUM.

Thank you as so many of you donated and many became recurring monthly givers. I lack language to adequately express how your gifts reached people and brought truth and hope to them!!!

The Donovan update is this. Interestingly following Mike’s baptism not much more has changed with regard to his faith journey. I’m still wrangling with this, but the Father has told me to leave it alone. Jesus is working there, and I must pray and believe.

As far as our finances, we aren’t in the same place as we were prior to last year’s unemployment. But when I look at so many who became unemployed this year, I’m so utterly thankful Mike is working. I’m deeply grieved for those who are truly in need.

Yet, I’ll be vulnerable, without you there isn’t enough to pay all the expenses. And trust me I’m absolutely frugal with the funds of this ministry. NOTHING is used but to support the online presence and to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, I’ve prayed a lot about all of this. And decided to participate in Giving Tuesday again this year. But I hope to offer some incentives that I couldn’t offer last year.

Stay tuned because your giving will also be giving back to you!

Elise & Avery & NanaAs far as my family. My son remarried in August. His family is precious, and I love them so much. They are well and prospering in Las Vegas.

My daughter, Caitie, is now 25! SAY WHAT?? How many of you remember her as a little girl? We packed up her LA apartment in September and she moved to Portland. She is very happy there and her apartment is absolutely quaint. She lives in the same building as her BIOLA roommate and her husband. She’s doing well.

Mike and I are empty nesters and loving our life with our crazy and barkety-bark-bark dogs!

I love the many ministries I’m involved in.

My friends, my testimony is your testimony. You can find love, peace, and joy in a marriage that turned out very different than you thought or dreamed.

It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about OUR faith. It’s all about living the truth of the Word of God. We can do all things because of Christ Jesus who is our strength.

Keep marching. Keep believing. Keep coming here and finding encouragement with others on the journey. Your life and faith matter so much in this world.

Know that I truly love you. You are my brothers and sisters with whom I will live forever. And that thought gives me great JOY!

Hugs, Lynn


When a Spouse Leaves the Faith -- Part 3

Hi friends, Ann here! Tears

When a spouse leaves the faith -- part 1

When spouse leaves the faith – part 2

I’d like to thank those SUMites whose stories have helped inform the last two posts on this topic. It is an intensely difficult path.

The grief of a lost shared faith in marriage is an extreme thing to live with, but several of the SUMites I talked to said they can look back and see how much they have learned through it all. So I thought it might be nice to finish with a few ‘tips’, or insights, from these SUMite soldiers.

If I can summarize, what most said – in one way or another -- is this:

Once you realize the battle is spiritual, a shift takes place.

Once you realize that it's a blinding of your spouse's heart, the fight changes its flavor.

Once you realize that your spouse is not the enemy but the prize worth fighting for, then you begin to battle as an overcomer.

I guess those comments point to this well-known verse:

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NKJV)

With that in mind, here are some final insights -- pieces of wisdom -- from those SUMites:

(1) Winning without words is the way to go.

Yes, 'Winning him without words' is one of our favorite mottos, from 1 Peter 3:1. In this scenario, it most likely means not bashing the faithless spouse over the head with arguments. In fact, those ones who have lost their faith probably know every argument there is and will not appreciate a head-walloping. A couple of our SUMites said they tried hurling apologetics at their spouse for a good few months; then gave up. It didn't do any good. A gentle and quiet spirit was the better formula.

(2) Upgrade your spiritual warfare

Several SUMites said how much their journey changed once they enhanced their understanding of spiritual warfare. There are quite a few resources out there, and several mentioned the book Marching around Jericho had been a big help. Many of our blog posts on here in the archives also cover the topic of warfare.

(3) Fight for that marriage

Said one SUMite: "I learned how to fight for my marriage. I learned that the entire situation was because the enemy wanted to destroy my marriage and destroy our family. I stopped contending for my husband's soul with angst because, frankly, it was exhausting, and it wasn't MY JOB to save him!”

(4) Your faith will never be the same again – And it's a good thing!

Several SUMites said this situation has changed their relationship with God for the better. This statement was pretty powerful:

“If God gave me the choice for my husband and I to each go back to the faith we had before all this, I wouldn't choose that. My husband's faith was obviously lacking and built on shifting sand, and my relationship with God was also lacking. So, if I don't want to go back, then the only way to go is forward, and God's already there.”

(5) Finally, God is not surprised by any of this!

It's true -- He knows. He knows all about it. And he will use it. In the words of one SUMite:

“And then it dropped that He is good and this is not a surprise or an 'oh crap, I didn't see that coming' moment for Him. And that was a turning point for me.”

So, my friends, that brings our series on this topic to an end for now. I can't help but feel there's so much more we could say. For example, what is it like for the spouse who loses their faith? How can we walk it with compassion? I'm sure we will be back to revisit this. But for now, we'll leave it there. 

To conclude, are there any other key tips that you would share with someone walking behind you on this path?

Till next time,

Ann


When a Spouse Leaves the Faith -- Part 2

Ann here again! Tears

When a spouse leaves the faith, Part 1

Today we're going to continue with the above topic, and I thought I would start with a little story:

Last year, I attended a ministry conference. We were a small group, perhaps 100 in the room, and Auckland is a small place so we often see family faces. There we were in an interactive session, when the conference leader asked a question. A man on the far left of the room shot up his hand as if to say ‘Over here! I have something to say!’ The mic was carried to him, and for the third time that day he spoke something super insightful into it. All the while, his wife sat beside him, nodding. 

I looked over at this couple from over on my side and quietly did a happy dance (inside!) In fact, I just kept on looking over, grinning. See, I knew their story. He was one of those husbands who’d fallen away. For eight years, in fact, he’d stayed home every Sunday while his wife carried on -- Dismayed, determined, confused. But now he was back -- And honestly, everything he said into that mic was so good.

The Come-Back Kid!

My friends, this isn’t the only story I know of a spouse coming back to faith. It might be natural to think that this situation looks particularly impossible. If we're going to really not sugar-coat this thing, you might even fear what your spouse has done. For sure, we know free will is a big part of this, and this thing is no game.

But there's also this: The fruits of the Holy Spirit are joy and peace. This alone tells me that God -- who grows these fruits within us -- will be encouraging us to NOT walk through this situation peace-less. Only God knows the destination of a given soul, but if our spouse has fallen away He actively encourages us to grow joy and peace. Somehow we have to let God bring peace to this terribly difficult situation, but of course fruit grows slowly and usually within the opposite circumstances.

The Lord led me to this amazing verse this morning, which speaks of how He sometimes works two or three times in a person’s life to bring them back from the pit.

“Yes, his soul draws near the Pit, and his life to the executioners.

If there is a messenger for him, a mediator, one among a thousand, to show man His uprightness, then He is gracious to him, and says, ‘deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ‘ransom’;

His flesh shall be young like a child’s, he shall return to the days of his youth. He shall pray to God, and He will delight in him, he shall see His face with joy, for He restores to man His righteousness. Then he looks at men and says, ‘I have sinned, and perverted what was right, and it did not profit me.’

He will redeem his soul from going down to the Pit, and his life shall see the light.

Behold, God works all these things, twice, in fact, three times with a man, to bring back his soul from the Pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life.” Job 33:23-30 (NKJV):

What a wonderful verse for those who are hoping for a ‘fallen-away’ spouse to be restored! I guess it tells me that this thing is far from impossible, and these spouses are certainly not the 'least likely' or a hopeless case. In fact, I will say that I also feel my husband is the least likely to convert, and he's never yet been a Christian. So perhaps we all feel it: 'Mine is the least likely!'

Least likely does not mean impossible!

Ultimately, God has given us a tremendous shared testimony here in this community. This blog has over one thousand readers, and many were once prodigals. Even Lynn, our founder, describes herself as the ultimate prodigal child, and now she is one on-fire Christian. We know from the parable of the prodigal son what kind of excitement lands on the one who comes back. And so many of the SUMites themselves are living, breathing, walking examples of God's miraculous restoration.

It's hard huh? We will carry on with this topic on Monday. But in the meantime, if you would like to share any thoughts in the comments, please do!


When A Spouse Leaves Their Faith -- Part 1

Ann here! Tears

Today I want to talk about a path that is walked by so many here, and it's a really difficult one: ‘When a Spouse Leaves the Faith’.

In our community we have many a story to tell about how we found ourselves in a SUM. In my case, for example, I was far from God when I married, then turned and changed. That's a common scenario. But there’s another story within our ranks that seems especially weighty: The situation where one spouse falls away. 

It looks something like this: A husband and wife intimately share their relationship with Jesus. They pray together, dream together, and serve together. Faith is the bedrock of their shared life and they are wedded to church. Then, out of left field one loses their faith and the other has to stand by and watch. The sense of loss is profound.  

In these next couple of posts I'm going to write about that. It’s not my path, so I asked several other SUMites for help with this. The following words come from their shared stories. And, as I have written it up I realize all over again what brave soldiers they are.

Why is it so hard when a spouse leaves the faith?

Most challenges in a spiritually unequal marriage are commonly experienced. For example, almost all of us battle loneliness, find it difficult to be open about faith at home, and church is complicated. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But when a spouse loses their faith there’s something extra: Grief.

These are seriously lost dreams. The spouse who leaves their faith might have been a vibrant disciple of Jesus at one time. That is perfectly possible, it happens. So, the remaining one knows what it is to be spiritually matched. And they cry tears of grief -- Tears that may well be mixed with a bitter sense of betrayal.

Then it happens: Their spouse’s character begins to change before their eyes, and this can happen quite quickly once they've decided they no longer believe. Their priorities shift and it can extend into some quite contrasting areas of behavior and opinion. They might even start to despise their prior faith.

“This isn’t the person I married”, sobs the believing spouse into their pillow at night.

The unbelieving spouse may or may not question the marriage itself. In most cases they will still love and want their spouse. And if that's so they'll just want to be loved back. “Just love me please, the way I now am.” Alternatively, they might actively despise their old life including everything the believing spouse now stands for. In that case it's more precarious. Or there’ll be some mixture of hostility and love. Either way, it’s tumultuous change. 

In terms of their mindset, the unbelieving spouse might hold a strong belief that they have excellent ‘insider knowledge’ of Christianity. If that's the case, Christian apologetics arguments, or even testimony, will be especially unlikely to help. Intellectual debate is futile, and testimonies are rejected. Possibly these spouses have had testimonies of their own and now somehow those testimonies have become a distant memory. "What will it take to change their mind?" one wonders.

Well, is it their mind, or is it their heart? So much of this is about the heart.

Meanwhile, Christian friends will treat the unbelieving spouse (their friend) as a ‘fix-it’ project that they most likely can’t fix as easily as they hope. And it’s hard to stay connected to these friends because the dynamic has changed and they probably don't really understand the full story. The couple might slowly lose their friends, bit by bit. By bit.

Of course, it looks different in different couples. Some have spouses who now are active atheists after having been elders. For others, it's simply a case of the spouse having gone quietly lukewarm. That one is a more placid situation and perhaps slightly easier to handle than a full-on missionary-turned-atheist who has 'all the answers' (I know one of those myself, he lives down the road and remains married to a very strong Christian lady!)

So what would God say to us about this particular path? And what practical tips are helpful here? There is more to share so we will continue in the next post. And, again, I thank the SUMites who have helped with this post -- so much.

In the meantime, if you are walking this particular path, what is the hardest part for you?


Church, We Are Crossing Over!

Dear friends, Ann here! Crossing the Jordan

I had a different post planned today, but that can wait until next week. Instead, I thought I'd share a few impromptu thoughts given the present events. We're watching wide-eyed as the US election plays out, and then across the Atlantic many Europeans are entering their second lockdown. It's all pretty intense.

However, many believers - friends of God -- across the world will be sitting in their living rooms asking, “What does this mean, Lord? What do you want us to know?”

Sitting … waiting … watching … seeking Him. 

"I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected."

(Habakkuk 2:1, NKJV)

We hear in part, and we put the pieces together as a body. So, in that spirit I thought I might share what I've been hearing from God these past few months. And when I say 'hearing', I can say He has spoken this particular thing to me quite a few times this past year (even before COVID began), and quite clearly. The hard part is believing it (because it feels abstract) and knowing what to do with it. It's along these lines:

The Church is crossing over to a new era like the Israelites crossed the Jordan. 

This crossing over involves moving from one era to another. From one way of being, to another. From old routines, old ways of doing church, and old mindsets to a brand new 'thing'.

Specifically, the Lord has led me repeatedly to the story of Joshua and the Israelites who crossed the Jordan river collectively. They crossed over from the wilderness to the promised land (Joshua 1:1-3:17) and this involved them completely leaving their old place. Even though it was the dysfunctional wilderness, it was what they knew so there was comfort there. The wilderness had a certain set of routines: They ate manna, for example, and they were led by Moses. In the new land, the manna stopped and Moses died just before they crossed. Their main focus was now to follow the 'new' -- Joshua -- into new battles. The whole package was completely different. And the process of crossing over took months, the river being only a small part of it.

The good part was that once they had crossed over, they experienced victory - Well, as long as they were obedient and listened to God's voice.

I believe what God is saying is that we are moving, and we need to be prepared for the same magnitude of change as the Israelites had, unbelievable as that might sound. When we emerge from this pandemic, things will be different in our faith lives and perhaps in the Church. I have no idea how, but I do believe God is asking us to prepare our hearts for that. He is asking us to be open-hearted to change, be prepared to embrace something new, be prepared to be obedient, and hold on tight to him.

Right now, the year 2020 is an experience that feels something like walking through the riverbed of the Jordan. It's hard to be straddling this in-between place, this 'no-man's land'. But in that story of the crossing over, the Ark of the Covenant went ahead to show God's people where to put their footing, for they had not been that way before (Joshua 3:3-4). In the same way, God will be leading us through this. We just need to keep talking to him -- And listening.

Here is the key scripture God has been giving me for this time, and I love it. It fills me with hope!

"But the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year."

(Deuteronomy 11:11-12, NKJV)

SUM family, let's be strong and of good courage, for God is doing something new in our midst. Hold on tight, he has us buckled in and safe!

In the meantime, how are you doing? I'd love to hear, even if you are finding it tough. Let's pull together as a community.

Love to you all,

Ann


On Shedding the 'Unequally Yoked' Badge

Hello friends, Ann here!Badge

It's been a couple of weeks since I last wrote, but in my last post I shared a story from our archives where the Holy Spirit had given us a caution about using the ‘unequally yoked’ label too much. To catch up, you can read that post here. Today I'm interested in chatting a bit more about that -- the 'unequally-yoked' badge.

I certainly can relate to the issue of using the 'spiritually mismatched' label a little much. As a woman, I share my feelings easily with others, and when I’m with other Christians I talk about my faith challenges. Well, the spiritual mismatch is the major challenge, right?

Except … it’s easy to mention this thing to any Tom, Dick or Harry at church and suddenly we’re allowing them into our marriage, which is a private space. That thought makes me sad. I think my husband would hope that doesn't happen.

I guess over the years I’ve become more wary about sharing this precious and difficult thing that Bryce and I walk. But guarding the tongue takes practice, especially if you are naturally a bit talkative!

As for the label itself, which we do use in the SUM community, what are we to make of the words that the Holy Spirit gave us (mentioned in my last post)? Let's take another look at those beautiful -- and perspective-changing -- words:

Beloved SUMites:

Your marriages are not mismatched or unequally yoked.

Your marriages are Mine.

Your husbands are Mine.

They are Mine.

Words like these are designed by the Lord to give us the mind of Christ. He always sees things differently to the way we naturally do and he will often ask us to lift our eyes above the circumstances. He wants us to walk in hope, peace and joy!

Of course, we can't deny the battle. If we were too euphemistic in our words, people wouldn't be able to find this blog and know we're here to help them deal with spiritual mismatch in marriage. The Bible uses the term ‘unbelieving wife’ and ‘unbelieving husband’ (1 Corinthians 7:14) with honesty. So, we do the same in this ministry to articulate the challenge for others who need help. Even then, I have to say I use the label cautiously (Proverbs 18:21).

Perhaps the issue is not so much about using the label as much as it's about our hearts. If the label is used to minister to other SUMites it's a different thing to us using the label widely and without respect for our spouse. So, while I'm open with SUMites I've become much more guarded when talking with other Christians. If I do talk about it I'll say something like this:

"My husband and I do have a difference in what we believe, but we're still happily married."

“My husband doesn’t go to church with me, so I tend to do that side of things by myself.”

In fact, I had this role-modelled to me a few years ago when I sidled up to an older woman at church. I wanted to ask her about her non-attending husband. All she said was this, smiling:

“You're right, he doesn't come to church. But you know what, he is the most amazing man. It's not ideal, but he's a fantastic husband.” 

I liked that.

Ultimately, what I know is that God sees the end from the beginning. This present moment is not the final answer and when God looks at our marriage he sees its final day and every day leading up to that. As he sees the bigger picture, his word on the matter is this:

Your marriage is not mismatched. It is Mine.

If we can believe these words, our job is then to 'call things that are not as though they were' (Romans 4:17). That is, we can go so far as to say verbally to others: "My husband -- He belongs to the Lord", or "My marriage -- It belongs to God", or perhaps we can even smile to ourselves and think about that declaration of the Holy Spirit: Not mismatched.

My friends, I hope you've found that interesting -- It's been food for thought for me. For now, here's a question: How do you approach this issue when talking with other Christians about your situation and your life? We'll chat in the comments.

Ann


Taking Off the Badge

Hi friends, Ann here!Record

We’re currently looking at past words that God has spoken to our community. To catch up, here are the recent posts:

Part one - 'Museum of SUM'

Part two - 'God is Calling our Spouses'

Now, this next word I’m going to share is one where the Lord gave us an adjustment. In it he was encouraging us to adjust a particular aspect of our walk. It’s shared with warm humor by Lynn but when I read it I did nod and say all over again, 'Yes, Lord.' 

It happened at the conference that Lynn and Dineen attended on 12 October 2012. Lynn tells the story, which I’ve copied below. It's a longer one, so perhaps make a drink and settle in ... Then we can chat in the comments.

**

Lynn's Story, 2 November 2012

"Sometimes are you overcome and overwhelmed with the sheer love and patience God bestows upon you? 

Ya? 

Glad it’s not just me. 

His relentless persistence to get through to my heart and more, my thick-head, is astounding. In the weeks since the conference, I feel like I’m reading scripture for the first time. I’m in love with the book of Luke right now and can’t get enough. I’m reading that book like it was personally written for me. Scripture verses have new meaning, depth and POWER in my life. 

I’m not sure how long this post will be but I’m writing until the entire story is out. Because it is HIS-story and all for His glory. 

I think I mentioned in the post about Maria that God was intentionally selective about the conferees that He placed around us during the three day event. Our God did not waste one minute of the conference. He sent Helen to us at lunch and Maria next to me in the audience and Laura prayed with us in the bathroom. That story still makes me chuckle (a tale for another day, I promise). 

But God also used Heidi, Dineen and me as we spoke truth and love into each other’s lives. A bond of love formed between the three of us that is impenetrable, powerful, perfect and sealed in eternal love. I hope all of you experience this kind of Kingdom friendship and love. 

Onward. It was the last day of the conference and all throughout the day, through people like Laura, Darlene, and Helen God was trying to talk to Dineen and I. He wanted to speak about something Dineen and I wear. You see we kinda promote this badge on our chest. I’m still struggling to figure out how it comes to rest on my chest and why. But the badge we wear says this: 

I’m unequally yoked. 

Truly we have moved past wearing this badge as martyrs. It’s just easy to say, “I’m unequally yoked” because in Christian circles people always reply to our declaration with a serious nod of understanding accompanied by eyes full of concern or pity and they utter one word, “Oh.” As if to say, I see, I get it, poor you. 

Sheesh, just writing that makes my stomach turn. Onward. 

Well after three days of proudly wearing our invisible but very discernible badges around the place and after God sending people to us to speak gently about our malady of unequalness, God was sick of us. So He sent in Heidi. 

We were walking along the road to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Now I don’t recall the conversation specifics at the moment. I think we were talking about Laura and the words she prayed over us in the women’s restroom. And Heidi with trepidation in her voice says, “Did you hear what she was saying to you?” 

“Ya, I thought I did.” 

Heidi looked at me and Dineen with uncertainty in her eyes and then she ventured, “I really don’t know how to say this and I’m not saying this to be hurtful or anything but I don’t think you are hearing what God is saying to you.” 

I froze in my tracks on the side of the road with cars passing by. I stared at Heidi and Dineen was standing right there frozen as well. “I just hear God telling me to tell you this. ‘Your marriages are not mismatched or unequally yoked. Your marriages are mine. Your husbands are mine.’” 

Gulp! 

Instantly I felt chastised by our most loving and Holy God. 

Heidi rushed on, “Please don’t be mad but I hear God telling me to say to you, ‘They are mine.” 

That instant my heart broke wide open. I felt ashamed that I had not believed God about this and even more shame that for so, so long I’ve worn this stupid “spiritually mismatched” badge about my person. 

She said, “Your words have created a prison where you have held your husband in a cell.”

Pain. O, the pain. 

However the pain and shame instantly left me as I said to Heidi, “Oh Heidi, you are right. God is so right.” 

It was at the moment that I opened the doors of the prison. I tore off the badge and I surrendered it to God. I remember saying to Heidi and Dineen, “This changes everything. Even our ministry. Perhaps we are to even change our ministry name?” A million thoughts rushed into my head. And those thoughts Dineen and I are still wrangling with today. 

Out of this entire exchange what has remained profound and clear to me are three words that the Father spoke to me and Dineen, “They are mine.” 

My friends, deep calls to deep. Step into this deep with me and see if you can uncover the truth of those three words in your life. What are the implications? Why it is God would say this to Dineen and I, “They (our husbands) are mine.” 

Now I have to also be clear in this. Heidi spoke these words as they were placed upon her through the Holy Spirit and they were intended for Dineen and I. However, I also believe they are intended for our community. But there is a progression or a spiritual shift that happens within us that allows God to speak these words to those of us who live with an unsaved spouse. And it’s this development, this shift that changes everything. And I’m desperate to share this with you so that you don’t have to be hit upside the head from a close friend on the side of the road."

**

Well, that’s the story! We'll build on it in a future post, but in the meantime I'd love to hear your thoughts. See you in the comments.

Ann


Waging War With God's Words

Hi SUMites, Ann here!  Rings

As you know, we’re currently looking at past words that the Holy Spirit has spoken to this community. In our archives there are places where the Lord has said something specific to equip us, and I’m in the process of pulling these words out, in date order, to see how the Lord has progressively spoken to us as a body.

What does God want us to know? Where does he want us to focus our minds? What wisdom does he have for us?

On Monday I shared the first of these words. It was the simplest of words that the Lord gave Dineen for this community but sometimes he gives us simple truths to digest, especially as a first step. Dineen described the word as this:

He is calling our pre-believers with His salvation.

We need only lift our face to Him and trust that He is doing it.

When we receive such a word, our role is then to engage with it. Believe it. Turn it over in our minds. For example, we could go about our week asking 'What does it mean or look like for the Lord to be ‘calling’ my spouse?'

One way of engaging with a word from the Holy Spirit is to write it up and pop it somewhere accessible, at least for a little while. So today I have a post-it stuck on the wall by my washing-up sink. It says:

“He is calling my husband. Keep lifting my eyes heavenward!”

This is what Paul advised his younger believer, Timothy, to do in 1 Timothy 1:18: Wage war with a prophetic word. Speak it out in faith. God has said he is 'calling', and so we can align our thoughts with it and consider it carefully.

There is a scripture in the Psalms that vividly depicts how a body of people, like us SUMites, can 'wage war' with God's words. That scripture is super interesting, and I might unpack it a little. It says this:

"The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those who proclaimed it:

‘Kings of armies flee, they flee, and she who remains at home divides the spoil. Though you lie down among the sheepfolds, you will be like the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.'

When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Zalmon."

(Psalm 68:11-14, NKJV)

What’s interesting here is that the first sentence uses the Hebrew word o'mer for ‘word’, which can mean promise. In other words, the Lord gave a promise and then a company of people proclaimed that very promise themselves. They were a great company too: Like the SUMites!

The middle lines are the promise itself: That kings of armies would flee, and it has a wonderful air of mystery with visions of gold and silver feathers. When God speaks, there may well be some mystery included. Anyway, it is this promise that the company of people declared. And then the final line (verse 14) documents that the Almighty did scatter the kings, just as he had promised. Exactly as the company of people had proclaimed.

SUMites, we are like that great company of people in Psalm 68 who received promises straight from the Lord, declared them, and eventually would see victory. Let’s keep on waging war with the things he has shown us.

On Friday I will share another word from the archives. Lovely chatting, and see you then! 

Ann


A Word: God is Calling our Spouses.

Hello friends, Ann here.Record

Today I’m continuing from my post last week about this blog being like a wonderful museum of God stories. If you missed it you can catch up here. In that post, I described how God has given our community the occasional prophetic word over the years: words of wisdom or promises specifically for us, the SUM Nation.

It’s such encouraging stuff. We have the Bible, but we also have access to hearing his voice. When we do receive a word from the Holy Spirit, it’s helpful to go back and re-examine it. For example, there might be an instruction for us in there that we'd forgotten and by reviewing his words we can make sure we're doing all we can to partner with him. 

I guess it’s all part of what it means to be in relationship with him. What an adventure!

Today, I’m smiling so much as I share with you the first prophetic word I could find on this blog. It’s from 2012, and it’s just a few words that the Lord spoke to Dineen; in fact, it was shortly before the turning point that I mentioned last week. Here are the words:

Tell the SUMites that I am calling their spouses.

You can read Dineen’s explanation more fully here. But, very simply, this is his promise to us: He is calling them. He is calling them.

Now we might be bouncing up and down, thinking, "Yes, but I’d like to know whether my spouse is going to become a Christian any time soon?" [laughing] It’s as if God asks us instead to pause, take a breath, and just listen to what he wants us to know. He wants us to know that he is calling them. [Deep breath]. So what does that mean?

As I read Dineen's write-up of the word, I understand from it that we are to trust and rest. We know that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them, and this thing is in motion. Our response can be: “Thank you, Father. You are calling them. And I know that in time your voice will become louder, your knock will become louder.”

The Lord will often leave space for mystery when he speaks. But sometimes he will give us a bit (as he did here) and then more later. Indeed, a few years later he gave us some clearer promises about our spouses' salvation and I will pull those out soon.

Back to 2012, a most curious thing happened next: Just three weeks after writing up that word, Dineen was driving in the center lane of an 8-lane road at 8am when out of the corner of her eye she saw a man cross the road from the opposite side. He stopped in the middle of the road, fell to his knees and lifted his arms in a gesture of worship. Here's the story. It was totally startling and strange. Could it be that it was a little extra confirmation as we look back? It was primarily a personal blessing for Dineen at the time, but for us SUMites I wonder if we could also use it as a visual of a spouse crossing over, from unbelief to belief.

All I know is that God is calling. 

Now, there was a second part to this word about God calling, an instruction for us:

Lift up your faces!

“Lift up your eyes, and look to the heavens” (Isaiah 40:26, NIV)

My friends, this is to be our way of walking, to lift up our faces and look at Heavenly things. That is something for us to ask God's help with, and perhaps we can linger there by re-reading Dineen's posts above. For now, here are some fitting words from those posts:

“What if that lift of our eyes is a constant state of awareness – constantly looking for God in our everyday lives? What if we looked for God’s hand and provision each day for the prayers we sent up just that morning. What if we waited expectantly for God to just show up in some way each and every day?”

I will leave it there. I guess I take from this that we are to marinate in the idea that God is calling our spouses, and we are to lift our faces. And perhaps we are to take a little time to chew over these two ideas. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Nice chatting!

Ann


Our Coatings of Protection

Hi SUM family, Ann here. Coat

Last week I had a ‘moment’ in my SUM life, as we do, that turned into a good wisdom lesson for me, so I'm going to share it today. It was about God's protection.

I was reclining in my favorite armchair before bed one night, cocoa in hand, when something occurred to me and my face fell.

It was this: Recently I’ve developed a routine where, once dinner is in the oven at about 5 or 6pm, I go to my bedroom and pray for my family. That includes Bryce, and I’ve been praying various things for him with gusto. I like that new routine, it's a happy one; but on this day a thought struck:

“I would love it if it was the other way round. I'd love it if he prayed for me.”

Aggh, and that thought snowballed. I got thinking about the fact that a praying spouse would be a strong source of protection and I'm perhaps missing some kind of 'protective coat'. Or am I?

To be fair, my family has plenty of people praying for us. And actually, it's possible my husband prays more than I realize. His levels of belief have inched up lately, and I do believe there is a quiet blooming that I shouldn't be quick to disregard. But that evening I got tangled. I eventually went to bed, and the next morning the Lord seemed to want to correct my thinking. He said this to me:

Ann, go to the Bible and look at what coatings of protection you currently have.

I love it when God gives me something to explore, so the minute the boys left for school I made myself an enormous pot of coffee and rolled up my sleeves, ready to take a look at what it was he wanted me to see. 

My pen scribbled furiously that morning. I came up with quite a few forms of protection that I have, but here - listed below - are four of the key ones. And these apply to all of us SUMites. In fact, once I had finished working through that task I quickly realized that I had no need to fret whatsover. And I should leave my husband to go at his own pace when it comes to his own prayer life. Here, then, are some of the ways in which we are protected:

Layer of protection #1:

The shadow of Almighty God is so powerful we may as well be sitting under a nuclear bomb. If we make every effort to stay in that secret place, there's this:

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

“He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
 You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day.” (Psalm 91:1, 3, NKJV)

Layer of protection #2:

The blood of Jesus Christ is our source of victory. I imagine it sprinkled on our homes like the Israelites smeared lamb's blood on their doorposts.

"They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:11, NKJV)

Layer of protection #3:

Head to toe, we wear special spiritual armour at all times. This includes a helmet, a breastplate, a shield, a tool belt, and strong shoes (Ephesians 6). This keeps us safe and sound, and then we easily fight for our families.

Layer of protection #4:

The many prayers of other saints, past and present, is a force-field. This includes those who sowed seeds in times past, some in our ancestry, some who are now in the cloud of witnesses, and some who are currently shepherds to us -- And those shepherds who are in our lives know their authority and pray powerful prayers. All these prayers protect us and our homes from the enemy and plant faith seeds that will surely grow.

**

With these coatings of protection, then, we never need to worry about being victorious in our own lives. In turn, as fighters we are equipped to care for our families. And, of course, a big protective mechanism is this community, and its many prayers for each other. 

Friends, in that spirit, if you'd like prayer today, put a post in the comments, and we'll gather round you. In the meantime, here's to fewer and fewer of those wobbly 'moments'! 


The Museum of SUM

Hi SUMites, Ann here! Museum

Lately, I've been thinking about how much this blog is a museum full of interesting stories. I wonder if any of you find it so? And, within it there are places where God has answered some of those questions we talked about in our last post. That's what I wanted to share today. Hope you can follow me as we take a little walk through the SUM community's story.

Most of us will know this ministry was started by Lynn as just a little blog. Her time of being spiritually mismatched had only just become easier when God nudged her to start writing publicly about this sensitive topic. This was a huge ask: Would her husband mind? Miraculously, Mike said yes, and fourteen years later here we are. Mike's baptism last year brought us full circle. It is truly one of my favorite stories ever.

This blog, for me, is a treasure trove of God stories. It's a living, breathing parable. A record of God's faithfulness. A story of a little one becoming a thousand (Isaiah 60:22). And, a story of a nation that God loves deeply: The SUM nation.

Last year, I decided to read through the SUM nation's story from the very beginning, starting with Lynn’s maiden post on 1 May 2006. With the spiritual equivalent of museum-curator gloves, I read carefully, post by post, turning the events over. It was as if certain threads were like specific exhibits. Hindsight adds extra insight to some of these threads.

I noticed quite a few things. One part I love is that when Dineen joined soon after the blog started, she instantly brought a strong message about Jericho. She wrote about that a lot. It was as if the Marching Around Jericho book and testimony was foreshadowed in some of her posts. God had a story here that he was writing, and we were all along for the ride. 

As I scrolled through, I was keen to read any words from the Holy Spirit that had featured in past posts. By that, I mean directly spoken words or visions that God had given to the leaders for this community. But as I read, from 2006 onwards I could not find much. In 2012 that changed. It was only after October 2012, a personal turning point where Lynn and Dineen each had a deep encounter with the Lord, that they began to receive clearer promises from the Holy Spirit for this community. They would pen these words, turning them into posts. As a reader at that time I recall how strengthening those posts were.

Hearing God speak, and then conveying his words to others, is a huge learning curve. Looking at this blog I can see that God used many ways to teach us to hear his voice. He would usually speak in the still, small whisper, a barely-there conviction; but sometimes he would give Dineen a dream, vision, or a picture; or Lynn would hear a phrase drop into her spirit. It was exciting. They grew in hearing God's voice, and so did we.

Paul said we should use these kinds of words as part of our spiritual battle:

"This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare" (1 Timothy 1:18, NKJV)

These words, then -- words from the Holy Spirit -- are powerful tools. They might include promises and/or direction and strategy, and they can completely change our outlook. Importantly, they can also answer some of those questions we have.

So with this in mind, I’m going to dig out some of these prophetic words that are sitting in our archives, some from as early as 2012. They are words of wisdom and/or prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:8-9), and their purpose is to edify, exhort and comfort us (1 Corinthians 14:3). I would describe them as gifts to help us. So, I'd like to dust them off and take a look at them again. Would you be keen? I’ll start with a couple next week, and then will revisit others here and there over the months as time permits.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your story: How long have you been reading this blog, and what has been your most memorable post, topic, or series of posts?


What's Your Biggest Question for Jesus About Your Marriage?

Hello friends, Ann here. Question

Recently, I popped a question onto our Facebook page, asking ‘What’s your biggest question for Jesus right now concerning your spiritual mismatch?’

Many of you will have seen that post, but some won’t. I found the responses so helpful in relation to my own path, that I thought you might too. I guess I realized I have asked God every single one of those questions. And when we see others face the exact same things, we remember we are not alone.

So, here goes. From our beautiful community, here are the biggest questions we SUMites wrestle with:

How long, Lord? How much longer? When? When, Lord? I’m waiting!

Why doesn’t my spouse come back to you? What is standing in the way?

Why me?

Will my spouse ever choose you? Or, am I always to be in an unequally yoked marriage?

Show me please, what I need to do? Do I need to do anything different?

How do I know when to submit and when to stand my ground on gray areas?

How do I disciple my children in this situation?

We’re so different, how can this work?

What can I do better to sow good seed into my spouse’s life? How do I witness? How can I speak to their heart about you, Lord?

How do I wait well?

How do I love my spouse unconditionally?

***

This is just a condensed version of those questions. They represent an awful lot of 'stuff', and we can all nod our heads at the many, many topic areas that a SUM raises. I imagine any Christian who is not in our shoes would be surprised how much there is to this situation. It touches almost every area of our life.

As for questions, I believe God loves them because that's where we begin to try to hear his voice. Like a questioning child, I do go there with the Lord. In fact, it's a daily thing here: Question question question question. Question diary 2

In fact, I’ve even got a ‘question diary’. Having been given a lovely hardback diary for Christmas a couple of years ago, I thought I would use it to jot some key questions for the Lord as a record of my relationship with him. It sits on my shelf and sometimes I scribble a question in there and pop it straight back. Other times I pick it off my shelf and flick through. It’s amazing how many answers I’ve received to the quirkiest questions!

However, God sometimes leaves a question unanswered. There are some pieces of information that are just not in our best interests to know. We understand only in part. Sometimes, perhaps the Lord wants us to pursue the answer and grow wisdom rather than receiving a thunderclap response from him. He knows what is best for our souls.

My friends, it’s these questions that lead us to pursue Him. And though the above cries for answers are birthed out of our serious wilderness season, they propel us into greater wisdom.

On Monday I want to share one way that God answers questions that is specific to us as a community. I’ll be back then to chat about that - I'm looking forward to it.

In the meantime, which question is your biggest one right now?


The Day God Surprised Me

Hi friends, Ann here! Man photo

We can walk through this SUM path feeling weary, right? But there are moments where God brings us a surprise gift to cheer us up. Today I want to encourage you with a little story: It's about the day I discovered Bryce’s favorite friend had unexpectedly become Christian. If you need a boost I hope you enjoy this one!

Now, this guy was unusual in that I never would have imagined it. Not because he was off the rails. I just wouldn't have picked it. I’ll call him David.

Bryce and I were friends with Dave in our early twenties. He was one who lived life hedonistically and he became unusually successful in the business world. He is very funny, with a dry wit that my Bryce particularly enjoys. Over the years the two of them would laugh their way across the golf course, squash court and pub.

Eventually, he moved away. Then, a spiritual earthquake hit our home: I turned to follow Jesus, Bryce wasn't thrilled, and our spiritually-mismatched situation began. Aggh! In those years, I desperately craved Christian friends but had few. It was in this miserable condition that God landed me with a surprise: Dave had converted.

I found out on the day of Dave’s mum’s funeral. His mother was a lovely Christian, and we set out that sunny morning to farewell her. Dave lived in another country by then but had come home to nurse his Mum; and now on this day he gave her an honoring eulogy. He took to the podium and in true form had us even laughing at points with his humor, but then I nearly fell off my seat at what came next:

“I know I will see Mum again because she is in the arms of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour. And that is all that matters.”

What?

My wide eyes followed Dave as he left the podium and sat back down, head heavy. I watched the back of his head, curiously, wondering about what I’d just heard.

Later, Bryce and I stood opposite Dave and his wife, cups of coffee in hand. The conversation was light and warm, but suddenly Dave cut across us with a strange focus in his eyes: “Ann, are you still reading the Bible?” My eyebrows raised, and I was just about to answer when Bryce spoke for me: “Yes she IS! She certainly is!” He followed this by saying: “And she can’t put it down.” Perfectly cheerful, he was, biting into a sandwich. Given our tension about faith I was pleasantly surprised, even by that. Dave’s eyes stayed on mine and he said quietly: “I’m so happy about that, Ann.”

There was no opportunity to say more. But did I possibly have a friend there in Dave?

After that, I so wanted to text him. I badly wanted to know more. What's more, I wanted to text him to say ‘Can you convert my husband please?’ (I’m laughing). But no. I didn’t. I left him be.

It was months before we saw Dave again. There at a dinner table one evening he shared his conversion, his wife by his side chiming in just like Bryce did at the funeral. Bryce and I sat listening. We talked about church. Dave’s wife piped up at that point: ‘I hate going to church!’ I cast her a sideways glance and thought ‘Ok, I know all about that.’ Clearly they had the exact same dynamic as us. And hard as it was for Dave it made me feel a bit better. I guess I saw it was a normal outworking of this difficult situation.

Since then, Dave and I have snatched the odd faith conversation. He moves in a friendship group that is entirely non-Christian; and in his professional life he is a rare believer. It is not easy being an adult convert: You end up being lonely in your social world. But I look at his conversion story and know he will make a difference to his wife, colleagues and friends. It's easier to see that bigger picture in someone else's life than it is in your own.

As for Bryce, well, it's all part of God's planning. I imagine the two of them walking across the golf course or at the pub sharing their faith as friends someday. Wouldn't that be interesting? For now, I just enjoy it as the gift that I know will keep on giving.


Wrapping Up Our Series on LOVE

Dear friends, Ann here. Did I learn to love

Today we wrap up our series on love. 

Here in our SUM community there are many different marriages. Some have spouses who are easy to love; others have extremely challenging situations. But in every relationship – easy or hard – love is not easy. Nor is it simple. And even with the easiest marriage a faith difference brings a huge challenge.

Our love challenge is not just about loving our spouse. It can be equally hard to love those who are an extended part of our SUM situation. For example, I’ve been frustrated at times with Christian family members and the church because they don't understand. It's all been one massive exercise in love.

Love is, to me, like the diamond engagement ring on my finger. I hold it up in front of my eyes and examine it from different angles, for there are different facets to it. ‘Love’ looks kind and gentle on the one hand, but if I hold it up again I can see it also involves obedience, which might mean speaking truth or walking forward into a specific call from God (as Tiffany shared). 

Love is also a learning curve with inevitable failures or humbling experiences. As Lynn said, at 3am in the morning it might not go so well. 

And then we know that God is love. So we can take 1 Corinthians 13, hold it up like that diamond and ask ourselves 'What is God like?' Except there are tensions. Love is not easily provoked, and yet we see Jesus was provoked to anger. To delve deep into love, then, involves examining these tensions carefully.

When it comes to my marriage, I often think about the end game. I imagine coming face-to-face with Jesus, and being asked: ‘Did you love your husband well?’ When I think about that question, it’s less relevant to me what my husband is doing than what I am doing. 1 Corinthians 13 is the blueprint. And, I guess I hope the Lord will say this when we review my marriage and family:

‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ (Matthew 25:23, NLT)

There is lots to think about. Personally, I’ve loved hearing from Ian, Tiffany and Lynn with their love insights this month, and have enjoyed writing my bits too. Now, it's time to move on to some new topics on this blog, so I will be back on Wednesday with something different.

My friends, it's been great journeying on you through 1 Corinthians 13. What has spoken to you most in this love series?


When Love Makes You Unpopular

Hi friends, Ann here!
Did I learn to love

As we sit in 1 Corinthians 13, it occurs to me how many facets this little word ‘LOVE’ has. It’s easy to think of love as being kind and patient; it’s easy to think of it as being something like a hug. It is truly that. But there’s another side, and it’s this:

If we love someone, we will put their spiritual health above our own popularity. That is, we'll speak truth when needed.

Now that is hard.

I love to embrace people’s life stories and if someone’s battling dysfunction in their lives I find it easy to be nice to them. That's important, but sometimes we have to speak truth to stop them going around the same mountain any longer.

So, on that happy note, my friends, let me tell you about one of my hardest faith moments, a time when God asked me to do something very unpopular indeed. 

Before I go further, this story involves a particular toy in my house, which you may also have. If that’s the case, ask the Holy Spirit about it for yourself. For now, I'm sharing it as a testimony of love.

It was when my boys were about age 11 and 12. They're gentle little souls and don’t often need a firm hand, so I'm not usually 'strict Mum'. But sometimes we have to change our approach, and I was about to find that out.

The boys had become obsessed by pokemon cards. They had invested their money, hearts and souls into this game. Their social world revolved around it with their friends. They would spend hours with the cards spread out on the floor, enacting battles, and they talked about little else. I thought nothing of it, but one day I began to have a strange conviction: Those cards need to be removed from my house.

I wasn’t sure if this was really God, or my imagination. I went upstairs several times to sit and pore over the cards to figure out what it was. “Is this you, Lord?” I asked.

Honestly, sometimes God doesn’t tell us why, he just asks us to obey. So 'why' was perhaps not the most important question. Anyway, looking at the cards they seemed to be encouraging my children to play-act elements of witchcraft. And the conviction only became stronger and stronger.

One day, I heard a clear phrase in my spirit: “Playing with pokemon is like your children handling poo.”  Yikes. Really, Lord? A few hours later I went upstairs to find a hand-drawn picture of poo on one of the cards. “Why did you draw that?” I asked the boys. They didn’t know.

Another word came: “Ann, it’s like them being upstairs with prostitution. That’s how important it is that you remove it.” In my mind, this thing was becoming crystal clear and it was uncomfortable. I knew how much the boys would hate having these cards taken from them. “Ok, Lord,” I said. “I’ll do it. But they’ll dislike me for it.” To be disliked by my children was -- still is -- the worst thing possible. But who was I going to idolize - My children or God?

I fasted for three days, saying to God, “Show me if this not you. And if it is, help me do it.”

The fast cemented my conviction. And so the day came: I gathered Bryce (whom I had forewarned) and the boys, and we sat on the floor with the Bible. I explained it as far as I could, and said, “I’m really sorry, boys.” Bryce supported me, though he did wonder if I was nuts. On this count he decided to let me take the lead as he didn't know what to think. 

It went down like a sack of cold potatoes. The boys were very unhappy. They still talk about it sometimes: “Mum made us chuck out those cards.” Grr. Eye roll. Mum. Grr.

What else could I do? Sometimes love means being unpopular. I love my children fiercely. What else could I do?

So that is what it means to me to 'not be self-seeking' as per 1 Corinthians 13:5.  In my mind, 'Love doesn't mind being unpopular'.  The comforting thing is, the Holy Spirit guides us as to when it is right for us to step out and speak truth; and if we do that we know that it's a good thing.

Friends, have you ever taken an unpopular step for love? I'd love to hear about it.


Dealing with a Difficult Person

Hi friends, Ann here!

With our coffees at the ready, how about we take a look at this challenging gem today in 1 Corinthians 13:

Did I learn to love

"Love keeps no record of wrongs"

(1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

It is a noble thing to not keep record of wrongs. But do any of you have an ‘extremely difficult person’ in your life? How easy is it, really, to not think about the many annoyances or offences? I’m smiling because I suspect we all have one or two such people. Honestly, with a difficult person it's near impossible not to ruminate a little. Or, a lot!

Today I thought I would share a story about a challenging relationship that I've had in my extended family. This is a relationship my husband watches quietly, and he sees me learning to love. Sometimes he even tells me I've done good. Now, at those moments I break into a big smile. Those are the moments he sees my faith and quite likes it.

This particular person in my family has historically rubbed me up the wrong way. And if I'm honest, often I've felt like thumping them. Grrr!!

In the midst of it, the Lord has told me:

“This is an intense battle for you. And it's a love battle. Your job is hit back with the opposite spirit: Love. You can do it!”

This family member and I, we're not together often. But when we are I have to get through it. The conversation is wounding, there’s a clear demonic influence, it comes out in his words and those words have, in past times, left me bruised black and blue.

The Lord extends his comfort to me but he also sees the opportunity for reward if I can get my response right. He says:

“RISE UP daughter, swing your sword, and apply love! For love is your most powerful force, your vehement flame, and your weapon.”

When we have a difficult relationship, sometimes the Lord will show us what's really going on spiritually. In this case he showed me that this relationship is a place where the enemy is using that person's tongue to try to derail me faith-wise. I must fight accordingly (not with the person themselves; 2 Corinthians 10:4); and much of that fight involves God's powerful force: Agape love.

There are many ways to swing the sword of love. After all, 1 Corinthians 13 has many verbs. For a start, blessing is powerful, so when I think of this person I bless them quickly before my mind can rehearse the negative experiences I've had with them (i.e., go over the record of wrongs):

“In Jesus’ name, I bless [name]’s mind; I bless his heart; I bless his finances; I bless his body with physical health; I bless his hands, and his work; I bless his friendships; I bless his marriage. And most of all I bless his relationship with you, Lord.”

However, that's not quite enough to heal the bruises in my heart. Even if I move in swift forgiveness, which I really do try to, it seems that some bruises are so raw that only Jesus can take them away. When a bruise comes to mind, then, I get on my knees and say, “Jesus, this bruise is here. Please heal it.” 

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget and then let the person do more of the same. There is certainly a place for protecting ourselves from too much negative conversation; and God doesn’t want us to be a doormat. Still, with family we can’t help but sit at their table and we may have to endure darts. In those cases our job is to say quickly in our minds: “I do forgive you. And I’m not going to keep a record of wrongs.”

I love the recent words of a minister I heard speak. She said: "When it comes to others, I keep short accounts, short accounts." In other words, "I'll forgive instantly, bless quickly, and do my best to move on."

That said, we are a total work-in-progress, right? None of this is easy. At all. We know our weapons, but we need the strength of Jesus Christ. And so, equally, we give ourselves grace for all the ups and downs. Perhaps in time it can even become something of an adventure. Let's hope so.

Friends, do you have a difficult person or two in your life? How do you practice love?


Clashing Cymbal or Lapping Ocean?

Hi friends, Ann here. Did I learn to love

Today we begin our series on LOVE, and in a moment I have a light-hearted story to share.

But first, speaking of love, I wanted to take a minute to thank you for your loving support after Lynn's announcement this week. This community is pure joy to me and I look forward to us having more good times together. I hope you know you can reach out to any of us on the team, any time. 

I'm also delighted for Lynn that she can work on some new projects after all she has poured into us. I say thank you to her. She's not leaving us, but is simply branching out a little wider. So, we cheer her on and onwards we march!

Now for today's thought: 

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." 1 Corinthians 13:1 (NKJV)

Now, many of us have had practice at 'winning without words' in our home. So we're not usually clanging cymbals. But there was one time where maybe I was, just a bit.

One Saturday morning, shortly after I'd had my 'turning-to-Jesus-life-changing-moment', my husband and I were tucking into a lovely cooked breakfast. In those days I just couldn't help but bring up faith. And so I brought it up, and heartily began to tell him about the changes wrought in me by God. I began to list traits like ‘less anxious’, ‘more at peace’, and so on, which was fine. But somewhere among that, perhaps I mentioned that I was a little bit more humble these days. A little more kind, perhaps. I’m laughing.

“Mm.” he nodded, smiling and rolling his eyes. Here we go again. Then he let out a cough and quietly said into his hand, “Congratulating yourself.”

He was chuckling; but I stopped instantly. Of course I didn't laugh; it was all super sensitive for me. But afterwards, in a quiet moment to myself I did manage a smile. "Point taken," I thought, "Maybe I was congratulating myself a little."

What is it like for others to be on the receiving end of my faith? That is a question I ask often. Because honestly, I’ve sometimes been on the receiving end of another person's beliefs and there's been something cold or unloving about it. It's a lesson.

A clashing cymbal is a hard sound that can’t be listened to for long. I'm not saying I was being the full clashing cymbal that day; I think we learn not to be this way in our marriage. But it is a reminder that if a Christian is self-righteous that’s the sound that hurts our ears and makes us not want to partake of their table. On the other hand, other Christians are like a lapping ocean, a gentler experience. On reflection, I think the ones like that are those who have meditated on the character of Jesus and who focus on Jesus's righteousness more than their own.

I imagine the sound of love to be something like a bird singing, an orchestra playing, a mysterious wind, or a beautiful cello. It is a sound, for sure; it's not quiet. But even if it is a voice speaking unpopular truth, it won't have the self-righteous edge of a metallic, hard cymbal.

On Wednesday, Ian gave a wonderful analogy of Billy Graham, who said that he wanted people to see nothing but the cross of Jesus when they looked at him. That was exactly what was in my head as I thought about this post and my husband's little chuckle at my being 'self-congratulatory'. I suppose in our conversations with others, it can be a great thing when our verbal testimonies do this:

  • Point to the healing power of Jesus
  • Point to the cross of Jesus, and our need for it
  • Point to Jesus as a source of life and abundance
  • Point to Jesus as a real presence

Hmm, I may well practice this a little more. Next time I'm at breakfast with my husband, perhaps?

Nice chatting, friends, and here's a prayer for us today:

Lord guard my tongue, make my voice a sweet sound to others, and let every word that comes out of my mouth honor You. Season my tongue with mercy, justice and humility. Let me always be an ambassador for Love. In your name, Jesus. Amen.

Have you experienced someone who was the opposite of a clashing cymbal? What did that look like?


ANNOUNCEMENT & CONGRATULATIONS

SUMites, Lynn here.

I can't do this alone.

IMG_1841I can't run the SUM ministry by myself. I need help just as Moses had Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms when he couldn't, I've been blessed by tremendous people to assist in ministry throughout the years. 

And in the past year or longer, Ann Hutchison, from the great nation of New Zealand, has assisted me in so much. Most of you know Ann, as she is a writer and a regular broadcaster on Facebook. But I know Ann as a woman sold out for God and on fire to help others on the path of the spiritually mismatched. Truly she's wholly here because she loves you and love Jesus.

So, I'm making it official, today Ann is stepping into the Director role here at SUM. She's already been carrying this responsibility for a year or more. So, I'm way behind in acknowledging her. 

Congratulations Ann. I adore you and I know you are bringing hope and help to others through Jesus Christ.

Take a look at Ann's videos on YouTube. Also, support her on our Social Media. Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Give her a high five and encourage her as I lean more upon her to march our ministry forward. Also, I'm not going anywhere. Your stuck with me. I'm merely dividing my time between here and my Kingdom blog.

Love you SUMite Nation. You are the most courageous and love-filled people I know! WELL DONE! Hugs, Lynn

 


In My Circumstances Did I Learn to Love?

By Ann Hutchison Did I learn to love

I grinned at my friend, Amy*, as we sat cradling cups of steaming coffee, delighted to be together again after weeks of social distancing. How good it had felt to give her a hug hello an hour earlier. Now, happily reunited, here we sat in a bustling café.

Amy was one of my all-time favorites. Her faith is deep, she makes me crack up laughing, and our coffees often extend into hours. This time was no different. Chat chat chat, we went.

Then it happened. The conversation turned to her church, and she began to share how much she and her husband were enjoying their ‘small group’. Cheerfully, she began to describe the group: A group of couples. Each of the couples was so supportive, deeply connected to God, and yet there were no pretences there, they were very real about their struggles. She went on to describe how much they did together and the meals they had on Saturday nights.

This beautiful friend of mine was sharing with me her blessing. I knew the back story: She and her husband had previously struggled to build a couples social life. Given that, I should have been thrilled for her. But you know what? At the risk of sounding like a terrible person, I'm going to tell you: Something appeared in my heart that wasn’t of God. It was a prickle. A thorn. It bubbled up and I felt myself go Grr.

Envy. From my struggles of attending church alone I’m sorry to say that some unhealed prickles in my heart came to the surface. Uggh.

Envy hit me; and I could have batted it away. But instead I fed it a little. I sat there at that café table and began to feel it: Frustrated with the church social scene -- Well, frustrated with my inability to take part in it.

Oh dear! 

I suspect a few who are reading this can imagine the prickles. As SUMites we struggle to fit. We don’t blend easily with the couples crowd at church, and social events can be no-go zones. But that being what it is, once I got home I realized something from this café-table moment: I realized that I need to learn to be gracious within my own circumstances. I had a friend in front of me and she deserved my cameraderie. 

Importantly, God tells me to LOVE. 

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV).

In fact, God is love. And then, here's the deal: 1 Corinthians 13:4 says "Love does not envy." Love does not envy. I suppose when we envy we are not appreciating our own blessings, and we are failing to rejoice with others.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice." (Romans 12:15, NIV)

Putting this together, then, I have a way forward: The next time my dear friend shares with me her blessing of this small group (which is a blessing), I'm going to do something different: Celebrate it!

This is just one story of my own, but I thought it was a good way of introducing our next series for September. Starting next Friday, the series is going to be called Did I Learn to Love?  and we'll be taking some of the words from 1 Corinthians 13 to chat about what they look like practically in our circumstances: SUM circumstances. 

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NKJV)

In these posts there might be the odd war story or two. After all, SUM living has a lot of material to work with, and it's pretty edgy. Our love challenge is not just about our spouses; it's also about learning to love the church, and others. So, let’s fasten our seatbelts ready for next Friday. Before then, though, Lynn and Ian will be back on Monday and Wednesday.

Which of those words in the passage above (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) is most challenging for you, and why? I'd love to hear a little of your own experiences.

Until next week!

Ann

* Not her real name


Our Summer Study: It's a Wrap!

Hello friends, Ann here. It's a wrap

Today I wanted to write a final word on our Summer Study to properly wrap it up. We’ve spent the last few posts looking at Jesus and the Church as the ultimate spiritual mismatch. And prior to that we raced through so many Bible characters. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Truly, I won’t ever read those stories the same again.

Which story did you enjoy the most? Perhaps it was David who danced nearly naked while his wife, Michal tut-tutted? Or Abigail who had to dig deep living with one who was militantly against her cause? For me, it was Mary, who carried a ‘crazy story’, hoping to share it eventually. Sometimes that one feels like my life.

We talked about the fact that a spiritual mismatch can be mild or extreme. This reminded me that in church circles I don’t own the corner on spiritual mismatch. It’s tempting to walk round thinking I do, but in fact, Christian couples face aspects of it all the time.

You know, I have at least three Christian friends who have an intense call to ministry. Their Christian spouse doesn’t share the same call and would be perfectly content if it was all given up tomorrow. Where does that leave these friends of mine? It leaves them desperate to move forward. In love, of course.

In fact, when I do spend time with Christian couples, the more I realize that a relationship with God is a deeply private thing that many don’t fully share with their spouse. My parents are a case in point. Both are deep believers, but they do business with God separately. They read different resources and focus on different things. Sometimes it seems to me they’re in completely different spaces to each other, each on their own personalized path.

Marriage is a quirky thing. And the work of the Spirit is unusual.

How do we walk out faith when it feels so deeply individual? Our summer study has shown me one wonderful ingredient that I am seizing: A can-do attitude.

See, here's what I notice from the characters in our summer study:

  • David took a can-do attitude by deciding to continue playing his Christian music despite his wife's criticism.
  • Elizabeth took a can-do attitude by believing in her pregnancy despite no clear evidence for months.
  • Jael took a can-do attitude by smashing a nail into an army general’s head, despite the fact he was her husband’s ally.
  • Mary took a can-do attitude by saying “I’m in.” Enough said.
  • Abigail took a can-do attitude by loading up her goods and donating them to King David despite her husband's position.

My motto today, then, is “I’m in!” Ask of me what you like, Lord. And I have to say I see so much 'can-do' in this community here that it inspires me. In fact, here's to many more moments of us going for it, and saying to God: "Yes, I can do that!"

So friends, how did you enjoy the study? What spoke to you the most, or what was new for you? We'd love to hear your final comments now that we've wrapped it all up.

Apart from that, have a great weekend, everyone. Lynn will be back on Monday with our next post.


A Royal Wedding and Our Earthly Marriages

Hi friends, Ann here.

I remember, as a 5-year-old girl, being mesmerized by the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles of England in 1981. Little girls are funny like that. They can be the ultimate dreamers. Knowing this, my mum bought me a little hard-backed book about the wedding and I would pore over it.  Ladybird book

Now, sometimes God romances us. I’d forgotten about that little book, but last night he brought it back to me by popping images of Lady Di's dress into my head. He seemed to be saying, “Remember this? Remember how much you liked it?” It was a sweet Father-God moment. "You're still that little girl to me."

Every detail of Lady Di's preparation was exquisite. It surely brings to life what it means when the Bible says Jesus is preparing for himself a glorious 'bride' (Ephesians 5:25-27).

It also brings to life a lesser known passage in scripture that has recently caught my attention. Ezekiel 16:9-13 describes the care that God takes when he is preparing a people who are his. It's worth reading a few times over: 

“ ‘I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine’ says the Lord God. 'Then I washed you in water; yes I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty' ” (Ezekiel 16:9-13, NKJV)

Sadly, this passage is followed by a description of how God’s people turned their back and it is yet another caution to us. As I said on Monday, 'Help us, Jesus!' But for today's post I think this scripture is a great one for illustrating the amount of effort and care Jesus puts into our beauty.

Often we won't see what Jesus is doing. During this COVID time, for example, we're having tough tests. But in it I am sure he is adorning us in different ways. He might be strengthening our faith, sharpening our eyes, refining our tongues, softening us in our mercy towards others, or making us more obedient. All of this happens through a shaking. Whatever needs doing in our faith lives, he will be doing it. If we yield to it, we will come out more beautiful than before.

As for our marriages, is there a lesson there? Well, it tells me that if Jesus makes that much effort to make me beautiful, shouldn't I also put the same effort into my husband?

What effort can I make? Here are a few thoughts that spring to my mind from scripture:

1. Pray for him every single day (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

2. Respect him with the words I speak to and about him (1 Peter 3:1-2)

3. Bless him with the words I speak about him (James 3:1-10)

4. Bring him truth with wisdom and kindness (Proverbs 31:14 & 26)

For sure, none of these points are easy because marriage is a place of growth. But with Jesus Christ adorning us and propping us up, we can give this thing a good go. 

How else can we put effort into our spouse’s spiritual life?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments.


Jesus and the Church: The Ultimate Marriage Story

Hi friends, Ann here!Bride of Christ

I hope you've enjoyed our race through different Bible marriages this summer. We had much to look at and there were some marriages we didn’t even cover, such as Hosea's. Alas, summer is nearly over.

In the middle of this summer study I received a message from one of our friends, Libby Finan. Libby often has great words for this community, and what she said was this (paraphrased by me):

“I think I hear the Holy Spirit say that Jesus and the church are the ultimate unequal relationship. You could write about that next?”

“Sounds great!” I responded, ready to rise to the challenge. But where could I start? The one question I have is, "Lord, what are you wanting us to know?"

In scripture, as you know, there are a few passages about our Lord, Jesus, and his church, but we'll start with this one:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to Himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church." Ephesians 5:25-33 (ESV)

Marriage, the joining of a man and woman surely is a mystery. It's delicious and difficult all in one go. But Jesus and the church being unequal? That is an interesting truth: Positionally, we are sanctified through our union with him. But in practice we might not always walk in line. Help us, Jesus! 

In our summer study we've considered different kinds of spiritual mismatch. We’ve noticed a mismatch can be nuanced or extreme. Sometimes it is simply that one partner is quicker to recognize the Holy Spirit than the other. Other times it’s more extreme. Perhaps it is like that for Jesus in his relationship with different Christians.

Jesus loves us. And he is not going anywhere. That we know. But just because he loves us it doesn’t mean he isn't grieved by some of his church's choices. This is hard to say, but in the New Testament it is a clear message. Revelation chapters 2 and 3, for example, set out various problems in the church, from being 'lukewarm' to 'loveless' to 'lawless' to 'dead'. It is a hard truth. In the midst of all this, Jesus wants a spotless bride. 

“Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8, KJV)

If I reflect on this, I think about our heavenly bridegroom being delighted by parts of the church's progress, but also feeling her faithlessness in other parts. At times he will sit back, watch the church face the consequences of its choices, and grieve. 

And so, my friends, could it be that our experience of tenderly caring for a ‘more worldly spouse’ is exactly what Jesus does with his church? Does Jesus watch his church and think “I love them so much. I'm fully committed. But I wish their focus would be adjusted?” 

That’s convicting. In fact, when I started writing this post I didn't quite expect it would turn out this way. But hey. I will listen for more of his voice. Truly, listening is the best thing we can do, especially at this time when the world is going through something of a wake-up call and we need to represent him.

My prayer today, then, is this:

Lord Jesus, help me take care how I hear. Create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit in me. And Lord, make me the bride you want me to be. Always yours. Amen.

I'll be back on Friday, to talk about a different facet of Jesus and his church. Meanwhile, feel free to share in the comments any thoughts that come to mind. 

Ann


This Woman in the Bible is a One-Hit Wonder

Hello friends, Ann here! Sumites in the Bible

Today I’m going to write something different than what we hinted at in the last post. The Holy Spirit changes our plans sometimes, and I believe he wanted us to look at this Bible character next.

Are you ready to meet her, this next one, this dark horse? Well, here we go: It’s Jael, who hammered a tent peg into the head of Sisera, Israel’s enemy, in the book of Judges.

Let’s read her story in Judges 4:1-24. The setting is Israel and it’s a dark time. It’s like the time we’re in now, actually, in that village life has ceased and the highways are empty (Judges 5:6-7). That’s eerily close to home. The evil King Jabin has oppressed Israel for some time but God’s servants are going into battle against the commander, Sisera, and they know they’ll win.

Now, the prophet Deborah foretells something sharp and curious:

“The Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” (Judges 4:9, NKJV)

It is unlikely she had any idea what this meant. But it was Jael. She was the one. And she was a SUMite.

Here’s how we know Jael was in a SUM: Scripture says specifically there was peace between the house of Jael’s husband and the evil king. To be fair to her husband, we can understand his choice. Alignment with Canaan seemed the safer option. But Jael’s heart held quiet allegiance to beloved Israel. 

Because her husband had aligned his house with the enemy, this made Jael a hidden weapon. My friends, have you ever thought of yourself that way? As a hidden weapon?

Here’s what happened next:

“Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Hebert the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.” (Judges 4:17)

Having the army general Sisera arrive would have been crazily intimidating. I'm picturing a big guy with muscles, uniform, and a hard attitude. But Jael was on the winning side and had three humble tools: (1) a bowl of milk, (2) a blanket, and (3) a tent peg.

At this point it's like a riddle: How can a bowl of milk, a blanket and a tent peg win the battle?

Here’s how. Sisera, having been drawn to her home, thinks he can camp there. Jael knows this and goes straight out to ensnare him. He comes in, she gives him the milk, and he’s like a cat with cream. Purrr. Her blanket comes out, and she covers him gently: "Here -- Hide here." THEN the time is right. Her shaking hands reach ... softly, softly ... (oh Lord God, I'm scared) ... for the tent peg and SMASH!! Her blow is targeted and the tent peg drives through his head into the ground.

This woman of power made impact. Through her tools and her courage.

SMASH.

What does the Lord say next? Not only is she blessed among women, but she is most blessed (5:24). Blessed is she among women in tents (v. 24) It’s similar to the words spoken to Mary: ‘Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ (Luke 1:28).

My friends, this speaks volumes about our strength as SUMites. And perhaps these lessons apply:

  1. Sometimes it’s because of the placement of your spouse that you can rescue more than just your household.
  1. You can become a hidden weapon against the enemy.
  1. Spiritual warfare involves us recognizing simple and humble tools. 

I’ll finish with the following song verse about Jael, which celebrates her. There is much to celebrate. My prayer right now is, "Lord, make me like her when I grow up!"

“Most blessed among women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; Blessed is she among women in tents. He asked for water, she gave milk; She brought out cream in a lordly bowl. She stretched her hand to the tent peg, her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; she pounded Sisera, she pierced his head, she split and struck through his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead.” (Judges 5:24-27)

Now for your comments: Do you relate to Jael? What speaks to you in this story today?


The Story of David and Michal

A warm welcome to any new readers of the blog today! My name's Ann, and we are in the middle of a study of marriages in the Bible with a faith difference. I hope you enjoy it as you read along.
Sumites in the Bible

As for our regular readers, I so enjoyed reading your comments and insights on Monday's post. Keep them coming!

Now, today's couple is David and Michal. Unlike Elizabeth and Zacharias (from Monday's post), David and Michal seem to be a classic couple with a clear faith difference. If we turn to 2 Samuel 6:16-23, we see David dance to the Lord, a whirling passion that came straight from his hunger for his Lord. Michal, meanwhile, looks out of an upstairs window and despises his faith. I wrote a little about that back in March -- You can re-revisit it here.

Essentially, Michal sees David dance and comes out with a cutting comment about his worship. She was not right to do so. But today I wanted to ask the question: Could it have been avoided?

Here's the thing: Michal had a raw deal. Her relationship history with David is shown in the Bible, and we can see that somewhere along the way it turned into a bit of a disaster. The day she looked out of the window and despised David might have been the culmination of a few things.

Early on she loved David (1 Samuel 18:20). These are sweet words. Perhaps he loved her too: To win her hand he was asked by King Saul (her father) for 100 Philistine foreskins (1 Samuel 18:25-27). That's some commitment. 

They started out settled, but then disaster struck: David had to go on the run from Saul; Saul married off Michal to another man. David was busy surviving for so many years, and then when he became King there were wars to fight, alliances to make. Years went by before he saw Michal again, and by that time he'd married six new wives!

Only AFTER marrying the six wives does David manage to get Michal back, snatching her from her new husband who follows her weeping (2 Samuel 3:13-16). We don't know if she loved the second husband, or what her will was; but as I write this I think to myself, 'Would any woman be happy to be one of seven, when previously she was the only one?' Biblical times were different, but I just can't imagine this being fun.

The thing is, men were meant to be husbands of one wife. God gave Adam one woman: Eve. It wasn't Adam and six women. Centuries later, admittedly the heroes of faith like David and Jacob did have more than one wife; but while God honored them for their open hearts of faith and their many acts of obedience, their sexual actions did have some dysfunctional consequences. Perhaps it was simply that they were products of their society.

My hunch, in any case, is that all this drama that Michal went through didn't help.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself." Ephesians 5:25-28 (NKJV)

Could it be possible that Michal's heart may have been hardened more than it otherwise would have been? She had the choice to receive God or reject him, as we all do, and scripture makes it clear that God made her barren because she rejected David's worship (2 Samuel 6:23). She was certainly in the wrong. But, could it have looked different?

As a man after God's own heart I imagine that David constantly grew in his honor of others, including his wives. After all, in this very story he moved straight away to bless his house after dancing for the Lord (2 Samuel 6:20). But I just wonder about that history and the brokenness it might have caused Michal. For me, I guess it's a reminder to cherish my own husband at every single turn, so that nothing I do -- oh I hope nothing -- gets in the way of his ability to love God.

Over to you, friends, for your insights. I'm looking forward to chatting more.


Summer Study: Let's Look at Elizabeth and Zacharias

Hello SUM family, welcome to our summer study! Sumites in the Bible

It’s Ann here, and this whole month we’re going to be looking at different couples in the Bible who had a faith difference. Today, I have the pleasure of kicking it off, and so let’s turn to Luke 1 to meet our first couple: Mr and Mrs Zacharias – That is, Elizabeth and Zacharias. We know the story well, but is there a SUM twist to it?

We find them living a settled life with friends and neighbors. Having each grown up in tradition they were always on the same page (Luke 1:6), but one day – Oh SHOCK– the power of the Kingdom broke in and divided them. Aggh!

That 'breaking in' involved the barren and elderly Elizabeth receiving a miracle pregnancy. The Lord put a seed of faith inside her, she conceived and, SUMites, we all know what happens next. A seed of faith comes into a marriage and it does interesting things – One spouse can respond quite differently to the other, which then has different consequences for each.

Now, Elizabeth and Zechariah were each given the opportunity to believe this miracle, but faith is belief in things unseen (Hebrews 11:1) and for Zacharias it was just such a stretch. His go-to response was to say a ‘logical’ “Yeah? ... er....  Nah.” An angel was right in front of him telling him the GOOD NEWS, and yet he questioned it. Not even the visible presence of the supernatural could crack him. I'm smiling a little at that because I know what that looks like.  

He says: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And he receives a response:

“I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” (Luke 1:19-20; NKJV)

Now, here's the SUM part: In the same passage, Elizabeth’s response is pointedly different. She says, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (v. 25), choosing to hide herself -- go deep with God -- for five months in wonder. Although it is unclear what then happened with Zacharias, the contrast between the two of them is a symbolic part of the story.

Elizabeth and Zacharias are then catapulted into strange things, and who knows how much is seen by the relatives and neighbors. Often a SUM situation is kept quietly in a home, a deeply private thing between man and wife. It’s something you often can’t explain to others. All the while, Elizabeth endures a spiritually intense time: Five months of believing something with no physical evidence is probably very difficult but does something profound to her. Emerging from her secret place (Psalm 91:1), she eventually begins to pour out the Holy Spirit:

“ ... and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice –" (Luke 1:41-42)

She speaks. He stays mute. My friends, how much is this like our life? But then the effortless way in which the Holy Spirit pours out of her is her visible reward for time spent believing.

The words Elizabeth spoke, in turn, were a banquet for the lonely teenage Mary, who had herself been divinely connected to Elizabeth for Kingdom purposes (Luke 1:26-36). Elizabeth’s faith propelled Mary into being able to understand her own difficult walk and to say: “My soul magnifies the Lord!” or, "Oh, Praise God!"

It occurs to me that God took Elizabeth on this lonely path so that she could support another. And so I ask, today, “Who am I here for, Lord, during this SUM time?” It doesn’t matter that my beloved Zacharias is on his own path; God has stuff for him ahead, but he also has stuff me to do so I will roll up my sleeves and get on with it.

I love this story and hope you enjoyed this first post in our study. Now over to you -- It would be great to chat in the comments. What thoughts would you like to share?