47 posts categorized "Ann Hutchison"

A Road Well Worth It

Hi friends, Ann here!

Have you ever looked in the rear-view mirror, glimpsed the road behind you, and realized that something’s changed? That happened to me recently in relation to a friend who didn't want to know about faith. I thought I'd share the story today.Rear view mirror SUM

When I first turned to God, I began to tell my friends my testimony. Little did I know how unenthusiastic they would be. In their eyes it was a ‘fairy tale’. I realize now that this is normal, but at the time I was perplexed: “How can you not believe me?" 

I had a particular friend who epitomized this. At the mention of my faith she literally had a physical reaction. She raced to the other side of the shop we were in, and starting looking at shelves with her back to me. The months that followed brought honesty about her feelings towards Christians. Then came her husband, with similar reactions. They warned me off the ‘danger of religion’, shaking their heads as if I was a weakling who’d been sucked in. It was pretty painful to be viewed this way. Nevertheless, I stayed friends: I liked them.

Eventually they moved away but recently, after a couple of years' absence, I got a surprise email: “We’re in town, can we meet?” It was a big “YES” from me, we set up a time and day, and time found us gathered round a homely kitchen table with cake and tea.

Now, my heart at this point had become quite bruised. For some time I’d been feeling like I was lying in the corner of a battlefield, enduring atheist swipes. Anti-Christ sentiments among those near and dear had become bruising thumps against my shield of faith. Bang. Bang. Bang. I was tired – I’m sure you know the feeling. Yet:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 (NIV).

Indeed, that day as we sat at the same table with cake and tea, the swipes seemed to disappear and something altogether different happened. As I took a sip of tea my dear friend came out with a question that had clearly been brewing:

“Ann, tell me, are you still a Christian? If so, how has that affected your marriage?  And Bryce, how are you coping with it?”

Woah. What? Of all our friends, none have ever asked me about my faith; they don’t want to know. None have asked that honest question about our life and marriage, and Bryce and I had never, up to that point, had the opportunity to talk about this situation to someone else, side by side. In essence we were being asked to tell our shared story.

And so we talked. I gave my testimony. Bryce joined in. I put my hand on his leg. We talked about the fact that you experience it or you don’t. We talked about a sense of calling. We talked about church and denominations, churches being clubbish, relationship versus religion, about how you can’t give up your faith, about how we still love each other, and about respecting each other within a marriage.

Our boys sat munching cake. Everyone at the table had open ears, including me.

Later, tucking the boys in, some childlike wisdom came, sweet and helpful: “Mum, don’t worry about other people. If you like something, you just do it.” Then: “I like Minecraft but it’s not cool any more. I don’t care though, I go with what I like.” Good words fitly spoken. 

That day represented a shift. Someone who had been so opposed to my faith actually listened. What’s more, my husband and I sat together, talking authentically about it to others. These friends of ours would never go near a church but what they were willing to hear is our story and reality, because it is a raw and real account. In that way, we did it together, he and I. Thank God for my husband's place in all this; and yes, we feel the blows, but we also keep going because who knows where it goes!

How about you? What rear-vision experiences have you had, looking back and seeing that something shifted? 


How Amazing

Ann here! Lynfield lion

Lynn’s news last week was so amazing and today I just feel like speaking from the heart and sharing a little more about last week’s summit.

Our summit intersected with a long-awaited baptism. What an almighty ROAR this was, one that we will now carry into our future.  

Our summit was called ‘Hear the Roar’, and our logo for the event was a lion. Well, the 'God winks' began when we arrived at Lynfield School and saw that its logo was a lion. We had fun taking photos of the lions adorning the school’s walls (here are a couple) and I still just keep coming across that word 'ROAR'.  

The whole

Shortly before the event I developed a strong sense that this event was about the ‘whole’ of the SUM community. Alongside this, something crazy happened: Lynfield lion 2

Before I arrived at Lynn’s house, God gave me a picture of a swathe of bright red, fluffy fabric. I didn’t know what that was about but it became clear: SUMite Libby had recorded a video for us, which we watched together in Lynn’s home. Having carried this event in her heart, Libby spoke about the SUM whole. When I saw her video, my jaw dropped: She was wearing the bright red fluffiness I’d seen a couple of days earlier!  Believing, then, that her video contained significant words, I'll be revisiting it (here) She also posted about the summit before it happened back in 2018 (here). I think her words speak of the season we are now in.

Lynn’s Mike was at home for the event, and chatted to several of us. On the Friday Lynn needed help with the technology so he was the one who put Libby’s video on. As he did so I thought, “We are actually in ministry with our spouses, we just struggle to see it. Their doubt has been important for the whole.”

God’s goodness everywhere

At the event, I sat down in the front row and my eyes rested on a classroom whiteboard just in front of me. There, written on it, was a scripture that I had recently emailed to Martha. “Martha,” I thought. “You’re part of the whole.”

I then met two SUMites who told me extraordinary stories. One had received a promise that her husband would turn to God; it's now happened. The second had got divorced and then received a promise that her marriage would be restored. She held to it; it happened. In both cases it became clear they were to be at the summit: one had a vision about the summit a year earlier, the other received a free flight to the event. I’m sure their stories were meant to be brought to that day; I won't be forgetting them in a hurry.

Could it possibly get any better?! Lynn testimony

In the day's final session I had thought Lynn was going to speak on 2020 but that was not exactly what she had for us. I couldn’t believe my ears when, in the last fifteen minutes, she started to tell us a baptism
had been booked. Having been through so much, my initial reaction was “Oh it won't happen!”  But NO!  NO. God promised, it happened. And so, in this amazing, life-filled moment, the Father's Name was glorified.

“Father, glorify your Name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” John 12:28 (NKJV).

In the passage, when that voice came from heaven during Holy Week, some heard it as a thundering roar. I'd say that's what we've heard this week.

Home

Once home, over a cuppa I told my husband about the event. There was a peace in that conversation. We laughed at the fact that the whole point of the event was that spouses 'don't believe' and then one goes and gets baptized. It was the most light-hearted we've been about it.

SUMites, do you catch the sound of the roar? What else are you sensing or seeing happening?  There's more I could tell about shifts in my own home, and perhaps I’ll do so in my next post.

Here’s what I hear from God now, in relation to this ROAR:

There are many birth days ahead!

I believe we have days ahead where promises will be birthed in great numbers. I seem to hear that it will be ‘amazing’, and ‘many’. Lynn's testimony fires up my hope and so I'm buckling up for the ride!


"And My Hands Dripped with Myrrh"

If you were to open Google earth right now, you’d see a picture of earth from on high. Zoom in, and you’d see New Zealand, Auckland, then a suburb. Zoom in. You’d see a house. Oh, and there inside that house, there’s a girl, me, where God placed her. Unlock the door  SUM

Zoom out. Zoom in again. India. Another believer. Another location. Another heart.

Sometimes I wonder why on earth I’ve been placed in New Zealand and how to live with the fact that my life here is so seemingly comfortable while other locations are less so. As I’ve lived with that question, though, I’ve come to see that everything in the Kingdom is topsy-turvy, and in Kingdom currency, the most comfortable people don’t have it easy.

The important question is “What is my heart’s response to my circumstances, to this place God has me?”

SUMites, in this post today I feel I’d like to share something that has spoken to me strongly since April last year. The way it came was unusual, which always makes me sit up and take notice. Here’s what happened:

It was 20 April last year, I came on here to check a post I’d written. As I opened the post and saw the opening sentence, I became puzzled. “I didn’t write that sentence,” I thought. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was still there. “Huh…. I didn’t write that! … That’s strange”. I grabbed paper and pen and wrote the words I saw. I then looked again and – blow me down - the sentence had gone and the post had gone back to normal!

Was I seeing things? Nothing like that has happened before, but sometimes when things are a one-off they stick out. These are the words I ‘saw’:

He has placed us around the world to love Jesus.

Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about this sentence, us, and our placements. The whole time I’d thought it was about the fact we’ve been placed where we are to love other people. Yes, Lord? But this week, I saw it differently. It’s a long story, but over the weekend He spun me in a different direction, and here’s what I was led to instead:

Wherever we’ve been placed, whatever the ease or discomfort, the primary thing in life is to love HIM. Jesus. For Himself.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9, NKJV).

After all,

“The first of all commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30, NKJV)

And the second commandment, like it, is to love people; but the second flows from the first. If we are placed for the sole purpose of loving Jesus, then, here’s what’s on the tip of my typing fingertips:

To love Jesus means to find Him enough. To find Him everything we could ever want. To hunger and thirst after Him. To want to worship Him only, in the privacy of our homes. To spend thoughts on Him. To sit in His company and ask Him who He is. And more.

And if we don’t feel we’re good at it, it is even just about taking a baby step forward, saying “I unlock the door that lets You in, Jesus”, much like the graphic imagery of opening for a lover:

“I arose to open for my beloved and my hands dripped with myrrh.” (Song 5:4, NKVJ).

Perhaps this word is, in fact, an encouragement about the sweet spot SUMites have. Because of our unique circumstances, we know, clearly, what gaps we need Jesus to fill.

We need Him as co-parent, protector, friend, and encourager as we walk solo in our faith. We need His hand gripping us. How we need it: That we know! When our faith is challenged, we hurtle towards the secret place (Psalm 91:1); and that’s what it's all about: After all, the secret place is a space that is not shared.

If that’s our placement and a strength of ours, perhaps we can share some thoughts on this. What does it look like to love Jesus? How do we do even more to let Him in?

Nice chatting, SUMites. I, for one, am sitting with this thought.


A Full Coffee Measure

Hi everyone, Ann here! Coffee measure

Some SUM moments are so tough they’re funny when you look back, and I couldn’t resist sharing one with you. It was the time a well-meant speaker at church said these words from the pulpit:

“Every year my wife and I sit down and decide how much to give to church.” 

I'm afraid that did it for me. I crumpled into a self-pitying heap in the back of church. See, I’d been attending for months, and gave nothing. Not a dollar. I hadn’t felt able to ask it of my husband.

It was painful, I guess, because my heart badly wanted to give. I knew the pastor needed to at least eat. I knew God wants us to financially support the one who sacrifices their life for that work, so that they can survive (Gal 6:6).

Eventually, I asked, saying to my husband, “Look, I at least need to cover the cost of the teabags I’m consuming.” Point taken. “How much are you thinking?” he said. I put forward an amount the size of the widow’s coin (Mark 12:42). “That’s substantial,” he said. Any money going to a church was a sacrifice on his part.

Both of us made a sacrifice that day out of love. We agreed on that small amount.

This was step one in my giving. But months passed and a new conviction came. I wanted to support some of the other ministries that have helped me: They too need money to function. But how could I?

I went for months feeling convicted and frustrated until, one day, I seemed to hear God whisper: “How about you give me $5, Ann?” I had a sense this had something to do with coffee.

It took a while to get it, but eventually an a-ha moment came. It seemed God was saying this:

“Why don’t you go without a latte and give that amount to a ministry?”

What a great idea! My daily latte was a highlight. I could still get a coffee in the kitchen at work; but the bought latte was the ‘fat’, like Abel’s best sheep in Genesis 4:4. "Ok, God," I said. “It’s a deal!” 

Once again I approached my husband. “Um, you know I like lattes. I’d like to do without those and donate the $5 to some ministries that have helped me.” Graciously, he agreed. So it began. He would see the occasional bank item for “xyz ministries,” sometimes he’d ask me, and I’d say “coffee money.”

It was always nerve-wracking, but one night I couldn’t believe it when he thanked me. Thanked me!?  He said, “I really appreciate how you’ve thought about my feelings. Thank you.” My heart soared. I felt like God had given me a strategy to give my best: not just to Him, but also to my husband. As we often say here, honoring our spouse is honoring God.

That was a while ago now, and I’ve moved past the coffee method to other ways of giving. But lately I’ve felt God show me something about that situation that brought new perspective. It came in the form of a vision. In this vision, all I saw was a little coffee scoop and that scoop was filled with oil, pouring over.

I wonder if you’ll see the meaning of this picture quicker than I did, but I didn’t get it (that’s always a sign to me that I couldn’t have made it up!) It took me a few days, and then I went “Ohhhh, Wow!” It’s a visual of this:

“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38 (NKJV).


I struggle to convey everything this means to me, but oil, in scripture, symbolizes the Holy Spirit, His anointing, His light, His glory, His crowning. SUMites, for some of us our giving feels as small as the widow’s penny in Mark 12:42. Yet, God knows exactly what it cost us. His eyes fall on us in return. Pressed down. Overflowing. A latte looks small but, to me, it wasn't; And I now know what follows.

I’d love to hear your adventures with giving. What kinds of things have you learned, or how are you finding it?

Lovely chatting

Ann


The Power of Receiving God's Love

Hi SUMites, Ann here!

I've been praying about what to write this week after our wonderful communal fast. I'm sure you're still reflecting on it as I am. Anyway, a phrase has kept coming to me for today's post, and it's this: I receive His love

One of the most important things you can do, in your place of commissioning, is receive God's love.

This phrase is one that I've been carrying around for a while now. It was spoken to me by a visiting pastor who I met briefly at a university student gathering organized by some campus missionaries. At this gathering, he went person by person round the room and spoke a blessing over each of us. There were at least thirty of us, so it was a labor of love to give such personalized prayers despite not knowing any of us. It took a couple of hours and we all listened intently to each prayer. When it was my turn he paused in silence and then said:

"I seem to feel that you are surrounded by those who have very comfortable lives. In this 'comfortable' place you're going to help a lot of people - but you're going to have to be out of your comfort zone to get into their zone. It's humanitarian work."

"Too right," I thought to myself, thinking of how deeply uncomfortable I am living in a place where atheism surrounds me. But to see it as humanitarian work? That put a different lens on it. Then, the pastor finished with this:

"The main thing you must do, to make sure you don't get weary, is receive God's love. Just focus on receiving His love, and you're not going to get weary."

Ever since that day I've been chewing on what it looks like to deliberately receive His love. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this too.

One thing I started doing, after receiving that pastor's wisdom, was to look back on the year each December, re-read my journals, and jot down moments where I experienced God's love. I would reflect on what those moments told me about how God perceives me, and I would write it up into a testimony with the heading 'How God has loved me this year'. These beautiful write-ups are things I pull out and read often.

That's one way I receive God's love; but another idea might be to meditate on 1 Corinthians 13 and think about what those features mean for my relationship with Him. He is, for example, patient and kind with me, is not easily angered by me, hopes and bears all things when it comes to me, rejoices in truth around my life, and more.

It's perhaps easier to focus on what we are to do - love others, and love God (Matthew 22:37-39; James 1:27) - than it is to sit back and receive; but like any kind of love relationship the giving and receiving go hand in hand. Hebrews 4:11, for example, tells us just how important it is to enter the rest of receiving Jesus Christ, and when we make deliberate efforts to do so it will protect us from falling.

Not only that, but making room for God's love brings power to our faith walk -- Something that is desperately needed during an intense season of humanitarian work. You could say that's the season we're all in right now!

… And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV

SUMites, I'd be keen to hear more from you on how we can practice receiving His love. Feel free to share ideas in the comments, along with any other thoughts you might have.

Till next time,

Ann 


Who Wrote the Gospels?

Hi everyone, Ann here!

This morning, I want to share a special story that happened to me last Christmas. It was an event that wowed me and as we're deep in the gospels it seems timely to share. Joy to the world

The story began when I sat sipping coffee with a favorite colleague. He’s twenty years older than me, a lovely man with a sharp mind. He also happens to have different views to me about Jesus. We agree to disagree, and we stay polite. Yet, this particular morning he couldn’t resist throwing an argument my way:

“Ann, the gospels weren’t written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

I did not hold the same view, but to my surprise, out of my mouth came this: “I know.”

Why on earth did I say that? As I left him to go back to work, it bothered me. Grrr. I could have engaged in a debate, but I didn’t. Perhaps I was just too fatigued by the constant pressure to not believe, pressure that was coming from so many close to me.

I continued to be bothered by my response until Christmas, when God turned that moment on its head and reminded me how genius He is compared to men. Here’s what happened:

I was lying in bed, found myself thinking about the 'gospel comment' once again, and said to God: “What would You have said to him? Can you tell me?” Then I drifted off to sleep…

The next morning, as I woke to birds singing, an inaudible voice hit me, clear as day, with these words:

"Which author wrote the Augustus books?"

“Augustus?  Augustus?” I went, rubbing my sleepy eyes. “Who’s that?” I’m chuckling as I write this, I’m probably one of the few who didn’t know. As a teenager I messed around during history lessons, missed a lot, and Roman history was never my thing. This meant I had to look Augustus up. Here’s how my Wikipedia search went:

Who was Augustus?  Augustus was Emperor of the Roman Empire during the time of Christ.

Did Augustus write any books?  Yes. He wrote a series of books about himself, a multi-volume set of memoirs.

How can I get hold of these books? The books are lost (sorry, did Wikipedia say lost?? How on earth?!) Only fragments remain. According to one website, they might have been one of the most revealing texts of Roman history, had they survived. But they didn’t.

Ok, here I paused my search: The leader of the Roman Empire, Caesar Augustus, wrote a set of memoirs, which would have been historical gold, and yet they were lost. In contrast, four biographical accounts of a homeless carpenter survived intact from the same period with this much manuscript attestation?   

In conclusion:

Who wrote the books of Augustus?  Augustus did. And they got lost.

Who wrote the four gospels?  God did.  And for that reason: 

“Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:18, NKJV)

Indeed, the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Bible, is the world’s best-selling book, having spread just as Jesus prophesied when He said that the woman who broke her flask of oil over him would be celebrated throughout the world:

“Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Mark 14:9, NKVJ)

The four gospels are a beautiful gift to us; they are like four puzzle pieces that, when put together, bring to life the most beautiful tidings of great joy which will be to all people (Luke 2:10). Their genius is only magnified by their differences that so cleverly fit together; and I can never get enough of them.

So like the woman with the alabastar jar, I hope I never stop wasting my life on Jesus and digesting the beauty of his birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.

No, Matthew, Mark Luke and John didn’t write the gospels. God did.  And that's why those words came out of my mouth so readily: "I know". 

"Marvellous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well." (Psalm 139:14 NKJV)

SUMites, do you have any further thoughts about these amazing gospels? Let's keep sharing our insights as we wander through the gospel together this Christmas season.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas!

Ann


A Note for the SUM Thanksgiving Tablecloth

Hi everyone, Ann here, I hope you are all having a wonderful Thanksgiving break!  SUM thanksgiving

I always love Lynn’s story of the Thanksgiving table-cloth, and this time it hit me even more: I seemed to hear God say ‘Get a mountain-sized table cloth ready!’  This is for us: Over time, I know our SUM community will have many thankful comments to share, many mountains that move, and many things to write. In some ways, this blog is our own communal giant tablecloth of thanks!

Anyway, I have one piece of thanks to add today, and it’s a cool story. I hope it will encourage any of you who hope to get to this year’s SUM Summit, because – get this – two weeks ago my husband and I sat together and booked my flight there -- A trip that will not cost me a penny. True story!!

Here’s how it happened:

When Lynn first started talking about the summit, a little thought bubbled up for me that hadn’t happened the previous time there was a conference. This thought was that I was to go, and that God would provide. With a big dose of optimism, then, I went onto our Facebook group and said:

“For the summit let's believe in miracles!” 

It would take a miracle indeed. I live in New Zealand, a 12-hour flight away, and can only leave my children for a few days. That wasn’t the most difficult aspect though: How on earth would I explain to my husband that I want to fly twelve hours for this?!  In his eyes it could be weird, and given the content, even slightly offensive.

A couple of hours after writing on the Facebook page, I found myself needing to do a bank transaction. This is something I do often, but that day I noticed something I’d previously ignored. At the very bottom of the screen there was a $$$ figure with the label “True Rewards”.  My husband and I had been collecting these reward points ever since we got married almost 20 years ago but ignoring them. My jaw dropped as I realized that we had over a thousand dollars in points, I could spend them at a travel agent and I had a way to California!

Wow.

This still left a hard part, though. I had to talk to my husband about it. I looked up tickets to L.A., and my heart sank. At US$1,300 the points would cover it but it was so much money for a 2-day trip. Shouldn’t I spend it on something we could enjoy together instead?

Time passed and Lynn announced the date. At this point, out of the blue my husband started mentioning these points for the first time in years, suggesting we buy a kettle with them!  Wanting to shout “No!” at him, “Don’t spend those points!!!” I figured God was dropping me a hint to pluck up the courage and ask.

It took a few days, but I finally did it. My husband has a kind heart, but our faith difference is not an easy situation for us. Nevertheless, he looked straight back at me with an affectionate smile and said, “Sure.”  Just like that.

Later, he surprised me again, “Come on then, let’s book it now,” he said. “Okay,” I squeaked, still feeling self-conscious. This was where one more surprise awaited: We went online to see that ticket prices had halved since I last checked, now being only $600. This meant that there would be points left over for transport and accommodation for me, and – better still -- enough points for my husband to get something nice for himself.

I know I’m to thank God for this, but I also feel gratitude for my husband's good heart. Today I have my thanksgiving going and am believing in more.

So, thank you, Gillian, for inspiring us with your story last week, and thank you, Alyssa, for sharing yours in last week’s comments. Both those stories help my faith in all this. These are three stories for our tablecloth of thanks representing three mountains that moved, and there will be more. “For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

Let's keep believing!  Share in the comments what you're hoping for, and let's pray for this summit.

Ann


When the Crowd Roars

By Ann Hutchison

“Away with Him!” roar the crowd. I open my curtains and peek out. In the crowd I see people I know: Atheists, agnostics, those who’ve left their faith, and some of other faiths.

I stand and watch for a while. My eyes scan them, person by person. Some of these people are my friends. Finally, I go back to the calm of my living room and sit on the couch. I pour myself another tea, and say: “Jesus, help me again: Show me You're real?”  Cling tenaciously  2

Sometimes, I word it differently: “God, can I check again that I'm on the right path?”  

His response always comes in some way or other:

It is Jesus.

Jesus.

Jesus.

Jesus.

Once, I had a night I'll never forget: It was a few years ago, and I'd been reading a book about another faith. I didn't know what I believed. That night, God interrupted my sleep with crystal-clear words. His voice made me sit up: Cling tenaciously to the risen Jesus Christ, your Savior. “Ok,” I whispered back; and from then on I went with Jesus. 

Like many SUMites, I’m surrounded by strong-minded people of differing beliefs. Even if they are placid, their disinterest can be strong. The whole thing requires discernment: I examine their reasons, but the most useful thing I do is go back to my couch, have another cuppa, and ask God.

There is a fabulous analogy to all this, in an unlikely character of the Bible: Pontius Pilate. He might be a surprising one to compare ourselves against, but he had a real encounter. It’s an encounter like ours, in that Jesus was right there, real as anything, and yet those who had not had the encounter were exerting incredible pressure on Pilate to reject Him. Like the SUMites, Pilate's spouse was not by his side. Her conclusions were reached in a different time and place. Standing alone, then, he had a big call to make: yes or no.

I love Pilate’s process. Over and over he asks “Are you the King of the Jews?” and each time Jesus urges him on non-forcefully: "Are you speaking for yourself about this?" 

Later, Pilate brings up a valid point: “The crowd is accusing you of so many things” (Mark 15:4). It bothers him, so he goes back to the crowd: “Why are you accusing Him? What evil has He done? Help me understand!” (Matt 27:23). The crowd can only give an ill-informed answer. 

In culmination, Pilate asks the most important question a person can ever ask: “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

This story holds a gem that has helped me discern the crowd in my own life. It’s this: The crowd never once bothers to ask Jesus what is true. Instead, they only accuse, reject, and make a lot of clamor. Clamor is boisterous and grabs our attention, but it can be folly:

The woman Folly is loud;
    she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
    she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by,
    who are going straight on their way, (Proverbs 9:13-14, NKJV)

Like many SUMites, I sometimes face clamor in my social life. But now I ask: "Has this person asked God if He is real?" And "Have they asked God what is true?" Because if they haven’t, they've missed a crucial step. Believers have often had a different experience altogether. When the crowd roars, then, I will always go back inside and ask God. I guess I'm learning to speak for myself, regardless of the crowd's roar. 

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'we will not walk in it'." (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV)

Do you have a loud crowd in your life? If so, I'd love to hear how God has shown you He is real. Perhaps we can encourage each other with our stories.

Nice chatting!

Ann


The Finest Food and Drink

Hi everyone, on the last day of our fast - we are so close to the finish line!Somewhere over the rainbow  SUM

It’s been wonderful adventuring with you and, as always, we’ve made memories. I often think of this site as a memorial of where we’ve been. I can just imagine sitting in a rocking chair as an old lady, looking back.

Today we’re going to take communion together; it is the finest food and drink. In giving us this bread and wine, it is as if God has set us the most wonderful table; one we really cannot imagine.

In today’s post I’d like to tell you about a treasured item that frames my home. I’ll tell you about it, and then we’ll have communion.

Several years ago, when my husband and I bought our house, we decided to put in a new front door. We wanted one with a stained-glass window, and so we drew a picture and had the window made. That was before ours became a Christian home. With the window and door in place, we then moved in. It was only four months later that my heart began to turn to God. It was as if the new house came with a turning point in our family’s faith life.

WindowI’ve included a photo of the window. Maybe you’ll be like me and won’t see it straight away – In fact, I have lived with this window for six years, but only recently seen it: It’s the cross, with the blood at the bottom, and new life (green) in the middle. My husband and I, as unbelievers, agreed that picture and had it made. It was a foreshadowing: God always knew what our home - all SUMite homes -- would stand for. Now, I often sit on the couch, see colors shine through the window, and smile. 

"For as for me and my house we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

Would I declare that verse so determinedly if I wasn’t a SUMite? Possibly not. For me, it has taken a great deal of resistance-training to make a declaration like that so firmly.

Now for our communion time.

His Blood

“Then He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant., which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matthew 26:27 (NKJV)

His blood, liberally poured, flows abundantly to the foot of the cross. Full of Life itself, its levels rise, overcoming all that it is meant to cover. The joy set before Him at the foot of the cross is brought to fruition.

His Body

“Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Matthew 26:26 (NKJV)

His body, resurrected, brings verdant Life to all who digest it. Like the green at the cross’s heart, it represents all things new: New creations, new growth, that ‘something new’. Like the diamond, it is the most precious of substances, and it sparkles as His covenant to His precious Church.

SUMites, have a beautiful rest of the fast, and I'd love to hear in the comments how this week has been for you. What has your experience been this time round?

In love,

Ann


Five Smooth Stones

Hi everyone  Somewhere over the rainbow  SUM

As I write, it’s Thursday morning here in New Zealand, and I'm a hungry girl. Each fast I do more than I did before; and yet, this fast, like my others before, has been an imperfect one.

Yesterday, for example, I went to work hungry. By 1pm it was awful. I left my office where I was putting on a cheerful front, shut myself in the toilet cubicle and said to Jesus, “HOW did you do this for 40 days?” It made me realize I hadn’t ever considered Jesus’s 40 days of no food or water.

At 2pm, I freaked, I had a class to teach: “What if I faint in front of the class?” That was it. Seizing control of my situation, I reached for my bag, pulled out a small wrapped bar called ‘one square meal’, and gobbled it up. My hunger disappeared and I missed it instantly – “Oh no, come back!!”

Fasting. What does it do?  I still don’t understand it, but this time round I’m feeling it crash me to my knees – if not physically, in my heart. In my fasting state, there are no first-world problems. I’m hungry, that’s it. I bow my knee to the Father.

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Ephesians 3:14, NKJV.

Fasting has got me thinking about the five smooth stones that God gave David to fight with. David knelt in obedience, gathered the stones, and stood up. Then he simply popped a stone into his sling, and - plop! - down went Goliath. Obviously, there were emotions around it, but the fact was he held these precious little stones in his hot hand. They were like secret treasure.  Five smooth stones

These five smooth stones were gentle weapons: small, rounded, easy to pick up, simple to hold. They make me think of fasting, rest, delight, dancing, and worshipping; things that represent a lifestyle of intimacy. Little lightweight stones.

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV.

On Tuesday I woke with a picture of myself and my kids sinking colored pool balls by connecting with the white ball. Plop, plop, plop, went the balls. It made me think, “For victory, you have to get your connection with the white right.”  Similarly, to sink the giants, we seek first – above all else -- our connection with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That's what I'll teach my kids.

This SUM community is a place I have been learning how to do that. The example of all of you has made me grow. For that I’m enormously grateful.

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”

Ephesians 3:14-21, The Message

Tomorrow I’d love to take communion with you, the SUMites, who I find to be my happy place. So, if you would, come to the blog with bread and wine and we'll eat the best possible meal together.

Love to you all.

Ann


A Very Special Rescue

Somewhere over the rainbow  SUMHi friends 

How’s the fasting going? This one's ambitious for me – soup only for dinner has made me starry-eyed! But I'm enjoying the afternoons where I can just sit.

I hope you enjoyed yesterday's clips. Amazingly, there is a part two to that story, which I've been excited to share. I'll start with this scripture, which I believe is for us today:

“In that day, there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; ... And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea.” Isaiah 11:11 (NKJV) 

Now to the story:

Remember back in June the twelve Thai boys and their coach in the cave? People across the world, regardless of race, extended their compassion. It was a testimony of love.

When the boys were found, my tears flowed for these little children who needed to be tucked up in a warm bed by their mums and dads. I was compelled to pray, and I saw that others were too.

A week in, the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper something to me about these boys: I seemed to hear the words baptized and memorialized, and then, Adding up to twelve. I couldn’t help but quietly believe that all twelve children would be saved.

As we know, the rescue looked impossible. There was dwindling oxygen and rising flood waters. Then, suddenly, we heard “The rescue is ON!” Hours ticked by, then the news came: The first boy is out!  Half an hour later, the second boy!  Then, the third boy!  And then the fourth! 

Overnight, more would come out. Five!  Six! A seventh! More of a wait. Then: Eight! Nine! Ten! Alive alive alive!

Finally, the eleventh, the twelfth. All alive, adding up to twelve. Then came the coach, who had got them on this adventure, and endured it with them.

Just as the last rescue was completed, workers in the cave came racing out – A pump had failed and water had risen suddenly. Thinking Moses and the red sea, my ears pricked up - Coincidence, or miracle?

Later, I learned that the rescuers had first traced the boys’ path within the cave by seeing hand prints on the walls.  Something in my memory jogged and I remembered I'd had a dream about hand prints! Racing to my journal, I found that dream: It was of Lynn finding hand prints, the prints showing who had been where. There was a sense that they were like individualized fingerprints, except hand prints. The date of the dream, 23 June, was the very day the boys entered the cave. Underneath, I had written this:

“Lord, help me lead my boys to you, please give me the words. It needs a miracle. Be with me like you were with Moses.”

Wow. It sounded prophetic. Of course, it was a prayer about my own boys, but could it be these Thai boys symbolized something? See, that night, I had also dreamt of a person who was so stuck in unbelief they could not even be in the same room as Christians, so great was the distance of separation. Further, that very same night I had dreamt of people talking about their favorite recipes, foreign recipes. Well, blow me down, in the media, the boys were seen listing their favorite recipes! Just like yesterday's story, it seemed so unusual. What did it mean? Here's an initial thought:

Like these hand prints, God knows exactly how people got stuck where they are, and how to get them out. These people who are separated from Him are starving, and they may be thinking other food besides the Bread of Life is going to satisfy them. No matter, God will get them out. Indeed, He will set His hand again, and again to recover those who are left, whatever their area of difficulty (Isaiah 11:11). After all, they’re precious children, and they're loved. 

SUMites, I hope this encourages you, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. What else do you see in this story? 

Lord, help the SUMites lead our precious ones to you, please give us the words. It needs a miracle. Be with us like you were with Moses. May their story be a memorial and may many be baptized. In Jesus' name, Amen.


Rosh Hashanah Fast

Hi everyone, Ann here.  Somewhere over the rainbow  SUM

Next Monday it is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This day, also known as the Feast of Trumpets, was a festival given to the Israelites by God, commemorated by trumpet blasts (Leviticus 23:23-32). Trumpet blasts in scripture often symbolize gathering the people together for victory. To that I say, yes please! 

In past years the SUM community has honored this time by fasting together for the week. We’re going to continue the tradition this year, starting on Monday the 10th at sunrise, and finishing at sunset on Friday the 14th.

I always find this fast a beautiful time. It seems to knit us together and bring breakthrough to different parts of our community. We’ve had some amazing things happen in these fasts, and I still get a high when I look back on the comments and remember those moments.

Personally, because this time is one for reflecting on a new year ahead, I like to dig out my journals at Rosh Hashanah, read over the last year, remember things that I’d forgotten, and ask God about what’s next. Fasting, somehow, slows me down and helps me to sit at His feet, just like Ian mentioned on Wednesday.

As for the fast itself, we all fast in different ways. The most common one, for us, has tended to be a sunrise to sunset fast from food each day. I’ll be doing that, and this time I’m going to try having just soup for dinner. Each year I get a little bit braver! If this is your first time, pray about it and see what God is leading you to do. You might also find these links helpful:

Why Should You Fast

How to Fast Safely

How Long and What Type of Fast is Right for You

It'd be great to hear in the comments how/if you’re going to fast, and what is on your heart for this upcoming week. I'll be praying for you as I read your comments, and am really looking forward to this time together.

Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday.

Ann

 


Go to the Nations!

By Ann Hutchison

It was a Saturday night. The wine was flowing, and my husband and I were laughing with our friends. Then it happened: The host rolled his eyes, and said “Yeah, believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus.”  SUM nations

Oh dear. That was it for me. After five years of spiritual loneliness, I’d had all I could take. “Excuse me,” I said, and left the table. When I returned, I did not exactly bring a cheerful mood with me. 

It was not my finest moment, and by the time I got home I was regretting it. “Why couldn’t I just have been gracious?” I thought. The truth was, my heart had just got too sore.

I talked to my husband about it later and he didn’t think it disastrous, but he did say one thing that stuck: “Ann, I know this is hard but please don’t ask me to change my social life because of your faith.” I hugged him and promised I wouldn’t.

I know many SUMites are in the same boat: We’re as far from a Christian bubble as a couple can be. Tricky as it is, though, I’ve come to see it’s right where I’m meant to be. This beautiful statement has helped:

The glorious Gospel of the blessed God has been committed to my trust.

(from 1 Timothy 1:11)

This makes me take a long pause. And commit to keep going.

As I began thinking about the entrusted Gospel, and the phrase “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), it occurred to me that to be effective in a nation, it's helpful to intimately know the mindsets. And with my own ‘nation’ (atheist friends and neighbors), I can say this is how we’re rolling. I’m right there, intimately involved in their stories. I love the same things they love, I love them, and I understand the reasons for their disbelief. 

As a mission field, though, I will say it feels impossible -- Partly because of the culture, but mostly because it seems that hearts aren’t up for God. Where there is no will, there is no Way.

Finding this impossibility tough, I decided to look at some great missionaries. “How do they do it?”, I wondered. I’d say the answer is that the Holy Spirit’s power pours down onto years and years of people's prayers. But there’s also a process and, to help me see that, God led me to one particular book: Millie Dawson’s ‘All the Day Long’. It was so good I want to tell you about it.

In 1953, Millie and her husband Joe moved from their comfortable, all-American life to the depths of the Amazon rainforest. They moved in with the Yanomami people, had their children there, and never left. It was primitive, dangerous and, best of all, impossible.

The book reveals how, over fifty years (fifty!!) the impossible became possible. Today there is a thriving Yanomami church right there in the Amazon, and for the Dawsons, it’s home. In amongst those fifty years, however, were many, many years where nothing was happening and no one wanted to know about Jesus. Hearts weren't ready.

What they did want was friendship, and the Dawson kids mixed and mingled in places where witch doctors were cooking up their stuff. Scary? Nope. The influence went one way only: The occasional witch doctor turned Christian. As I read the book, it seemed to me the kids were all part of winning the nation.

The other thing I realized was that culture is not the obstacle -- Hearts are. While I have fretted over the cultural strongholds in my neighbors' lives, I realize that culture is no match for Jesus. The real issue is whether people’s hearts are willing to accept Him and change their life trajectory.

The Yanomami nation was seemingly ‘impossible’ but for God, of course, nothing is impossible. Having seen and read about many impossibilities now, I do believe the same will happen for my nation. In the meantime, my husband and I are right in the action.

Do you have a nation that’s on your heart, whether it’s a group, aspect of society, geographical area, or family?  Feel free to share in the comments and I'll pray for you. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this beautiful Kiwi worship song and blessing over the cities and nations -- from my nation to yours.

Nice chatting!

Ann

 

 


Church - My Hardest Act

Hi everyone, Ann here!

My husband and I have been 'spiritually different' for almost five years now, and it’s become easier for us both. However, there is one thing that continues to floor me and I thought I’d share it with you today. 

It’s this:  Backpack pic

The act of giving my husband a kiss goodbye on a Sunday morning, getting in the car, and turning on the ignition to go to… church. 

Hubby and I are like peas and carrots, we’re a packaged pair, and this whole walking out the door on a Sunday feels somehow wrong. Or is it?

Each Sunday morning I drive through the quiet city, and the minute I turn on worship music it sends an oomph to my heart. At that moment the disconnect between that music and the breakfast clatter I've just left feels stark.

I reach the church car-park and walk towards the hall. The sound of singing wafts out. It occurs to me every single week how weird he would find that.

And then I walk in.

“Do I need to be doing this?” I ask myself quite often. “Will I look back and regret having left him for so many Sundays?” 

Last week I asked those questions again, just as I was getting out the car at the supermarket. A phrase came to mind: Lean not on your own understanding (From Proverbs 3:5-6). I paused, took a breath, and changed tack:

“God, I need to acknowledge you in this. Help me?”

Seconds later, I walked into the supermarket and right there in the entrance was someone from church. He said, “Great to see you, Ann, see you on Sunday!” Um.. Ok.

This journey of whether to go to church is one that has evolved over five years. Initially, 'church’ was a couple of Christian acquaintances on Facebook who helped me with my questions and thoughts. Bryce called them my ‘Christian cronies’, he didn’t mind. More importantly, I spent hours with God on my couch, scripture on my lap, with endless cups of tea. It was a time of learning.

However, the Holy Spirit began to urge me to go and be physically present with the Church where it gathered. It was a gentle but growing conviction.

“Mm?” I responded. “Yes, I suppose I am a wanderer, with a backpack on my back. Perhaps I do need to settle.” One thing led to another and I found myself visiting a church that met in a converted carpark building. It was a bit unpolished round the edges, and I liked it. Sitting at the back, I thought I’d be unnoticed. Yeah right. Not when God is in charge. Suddenly, the pastor says into the mic:

“I feel there’s someone here who has a backpack on their back and God is saying to them, now you can unpack. Make yourself at home!”

Hilarious! So I did. I tried to join small groups and such things. And it was at this point that Bryce expressed how profoundly he disagreed.

He never stopped me from going, nor did he question my faith; it was purely about how he felt about churches. I became extremely uncomfortable pursuing something he fundamentally disagreed with. Over the months, then, I repeatedly stopped going.

Ultimately, I could stop no longer, though. Why? Because God made it clear that He wanted me at that little church on a Sunday morning. The pull was unavoidable.

So church it is, and we've had to learn to cope. I’ve begun to get inklings about why God wants me there. There are specific people for whom I'm there. One of them is a fellow SUMite. We wave at each other across the room. If it's just for that wave, it’s worth it.

As I've grown attached to these people, I've started to invest in them, whether it’s speaking hope to someone at coffee time, passing a scripture to them, or being someone's prayer warrior. I never conceptualized that this was what church was about.

Finally, perhaps this one weekly act of walking out to worship God conveys something of importance to my family. Even though it feels oh, so risky.

So that’s me. Do you relate to this story at all?  If so, where have you got to with it? Or, if you've been through this season, what wisdom can you share?

Thanks for listening.

Ann


Our Bottom Drawer

Hi friends, Ann here!

In preparation for today’s post I’d been asking God what to write. I had a head full of ideas but in the early hours of this morning those went completely out the window as I woke with a pounding heart and a picture of a cavernous wooden bottom drawer!  Drawer As I lay trying to make sense of it, words from the Holy Spirit landed in my head:

SUMites, as you fill your bottom drawer you’re providing for those who have been named ‘clear and bright’, and you are evangelizing through a microphone.

This, it seemed, was to be today’s post: A bottom drawer, provision, and a microphone, what fun! I’ll describe where it took me, and I hope this word encourages you today.

The Bottom Drawer

In times past, hopeful young women used to collect special things in a ‘bottom drawer’ to bring to their marriage. It included beautiful linen, tea-cups, and other treasures that would be both pretty and useful for their home.

As I write, I’m looking straight at two tea cups that sit on my piano, bottom-drawer items: One belonged to my great-grandma, Lucy, and the other to her mother, Elizabeth. I know for sure that Lucy’s was part of a set gifted to her by church when she turned 18. 

Setting up a bottom drawer was an act of imagination and anticipation. There was an element of the great unknown. Who would the husband be? What would her home be like?

SUMites, I relate to this as I carry a whole bellyful of hope for my family these days! While we wait, we can fill our own spiritual bottom drawer and do it with a whole lot of hope and imagination; yet, there’s a leap of faith, and perhaps a little anxiety there. I well remember as a teenager, thinking ‘what if I don’t get married?!’ In the same way, thoughts creep in: What if the three people I love most in the world never say yes to God? It can floor me, that thought.

But NO. The fact we have this word from the Holy Spirit says to me don't go there. It’s as if He says, ‘Go ahead and fill your bottom drawer, SUMites!’ These are bottom drawers to be brought not only to our physical homes, but also our eternity with Jesus Christ (Rev 19:6-9), bottom drawers that will eventually provide for those who are going to be ‘Clear’ and ‘Bright’ – Does He mean our families? I’ll gladly receive that as a promise.

CupsBut what are the special things we’re collecting? As I chew on that, it seems that they’re items that support rest, beautify the home, and help us feed our family and invite others in. They’re things that will be passed down to generations -- enjoyed in the immediate family, but also beyond.

As I think of all the comments I’ve read on this blog over the years, I picture each SUMite’s bottom drawer being filled with the prayers they’ve prayed and the promises they’ve believed. I see family records they’ve kept, and acts of church giving that have been so tough to pull off.  Most of all, I visualize each, and every, choice to love – often against the odds or against popular opinion.

Whatever they look like, these drawers of ours are full of things that are carefully curated, ready, and just waiting. 

But wait, what about the last words, As you fill that drawer you are evangelizing through a microphone? As someone who finds it hard to speak up against opinions, can I say how much that surprises me and shocks me into a different way of seeing things? See, I’m surrounded by friends and colleagues who are verbal in their opposition to Jesus. In that environment, I tend to be the quietist one on the block. I often feel, ‘I don’t even have the words...’ 

“O my Lord, I am not eloquent..” (Exodus 4:10)

But, quiet as I am, this word now says something different: Every time I invest in my, and my family’s, future I'm out and loud. Others will hear it as clear and bright as day and will catch the light. After all, it's the loudest sound in the room.

“Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.” (Acts 10:4)

SUMites, what are your thoughts? How does this word speak to you? Let’s chat - I can’t wait to hear your insights.


Asking for an Egg

Hi everyone, Ann here   

Recently, Lynn shared a wonderful video about how she asked God for an egg and literally got an egg!  
This story made me smile broadly. After all, if we ask for an egg God does not give us a scorpion (Luke 11:12). But it got me wondering what it means, exactly, to ‘ask for an egg’?  

EggAn egg holds life, a scorpion brings death, and if we ask for life we do not get death. That is a profound truth, but what about the times God seems silent? As I pondered this, some aspects of my past came back to me, times when an ‘egg’ was asked for. They showed me God was there all along.

To begin with, there was my mum, who prayed for me throughout my childhood. Every morning, I would rise to see her on her knees in the living room, wrapped in a robe. Sometimes I’d hear the muffled sound of prayer. But did I take notice? Nope. As a teenager, my reaction was something along the lines of whatever. 

My twenties passed without incident. I got married and had two beautiful boys. And then came Christmas Day 2010. Here's the scene:

On that day, the family gather in my brother’s tiny house in the South of England. A break in the chatter comes and Mum, who has watched me ignore God for years, jumps up and rummages for her gift. She hands me a small package and wraps me in a bone-crushing hug.

I peel back the paper to see a book on my lap: ‘Journey into God’s heart’ by Jennifer Rees-Larcombe. “Thanks, Mum,” I smile.

On the plane home, I yawn and reach into my bag. “Meh, I’ll give this a go”, I think, cracking open the book. It looks so harmless but this, it turns out, is no normal book. Ten hours later, still travelling, I have just read a life story like no other. I won’t spoil it, I’ll just say the book showed me God speaks to people.

Now comes a part I’d forgotten:

After reading that book, I snuck to the bathroom, sat down, and said this:

“God. If you’re there, can you speak to me?”

I was met with complete silence, but for the first time in my life I’d asked for an egg.

Two years passed, during which time I did not think much about God, and then came 13 April 2013. That day found me on my knees reading the Saturday morning newspaper in a fluffy robe. The scene is freakily like my mum years back, except I’m not praying. It’s like every other Saturday, except the article I’m reading happens to be about Christians, death, and life. And right there, in that moment, I hear Him:

You’ll never be the same again.

Wha- wha- what????????  I sit up with a start, and at that point know something in my life is going to change. 

I was still far from God and it is fascinating to me that even in that moment I didn’t recognize Him. I chalked it up to the universe. “The universe tells me something is going to change.”  But something did change, alright. Boy, how things changed: By December that year I found myself in a full-on, all-in-for-God space.

I still have no idea why it took two years to hear His voice.

Towards the end of that year, I started my first prayer journal. The first prayer I wrote was this:

“God, I notice that other Christians are fervent. I’m fervent for my three lovelies (my family), but I’m not fervent for you. Can you make me so?”

This time I did not have to wait years, I did not even have to wait a day. Since writing those words I have never been able to get God out of my head again.

To me, all this is what it means to ask for an egg and not receive a scorpion. Whether the answer comes instantly or decades later, it seems God answers in ways that hold Life (an egg) and negate death. None of it looks like what we expect, though -- It’s all a bit of a surprise package. Just like an egg!

So now I’m interested to hear more thoughts on the topic of asking. What adventures, delays, instant responses, or lessons have you had?   


I See Two of You

Ann here!  Last month I wrote about how God had been having some fun with me using figs. If you missed that post you can read it here. Well, today I wanted to share part two of that story. It includes a further promise for us SUMites. I hope you enjoy it:

One day last year it occurred to me to ask God a curious question: “Lord, what do you see when you look at my situation?” Twinbabies SUM

I'm sure God prompts such questions and, sure enough, the answer came the next morning:

I see two of you.

I'd been expecting an answer that would refer to me, but two of us? That gave me something to ponder.

A month later, on the topic of ‘two of you’, an unusual picture landed in my head. The picture was of me and my husband as babies strapped in a baby-carrier, one in front of the other. I was the one at the back, my husband was in front. Along with the picture, God seemed to say this:

Ann, you and Bryce are My two babies and I’m carrying you. Right now, you’re the one next to My chest hearing My heartbeat but he’s the one people will notice. You’re both held firmly in place but one day you might wake up and find you’ve been swapped.

For real? This is not the first time I've felt the Holy Spirit speak of the SUMites' spouses as His babies (Luke 13:34), but what this picture meant most to me was that God adores my husband, and there is some deliberate placement on the Father's part with our two separate-but-joined stories (John 6:44).

This ‘journey of two’ brings me back to our salvation promise from 2016, where God promised us that our spouses are like the 'very good' figs in Jeremiah 24:1-7. Recently, I've been thinking about that promise and especially the words ‘very good’.

Had you noticed those words are the same words used to describe the male-female partnership that God created in Genesis 1? As God created the oceans, stars, animals, and so on, He saw that each thing was good (Gen 1:1-25), but once He had created people, male and female, it was very good (Gen 1:31). With the ingredients of an Adam, an Eve, light, darkness, and free will, creation would fall. Still, it was very good.

The same words, very good, are relevant to our situations which, right now, might not look at all good. Not only does God describe our spouses as very good (Jer 24:3). He also says, “I have sent them out of this place for their own good” (v. 5) and “I will set My eyes on them for good” (v. 6). I can't help but be cheered along by what seems to be a clear promise of full restoration, back to the way He always intended things to be.

This sense of things being 'very good' for both parties in a SUM leads me to one final piece about the figs that I’ve been looking forward to sharing. It’s a phrase from the Holy Spirit that I heard:

A strong basket denotes fig season.

Hearing this phrase reminded me that the figs in Jeremiah 24 are, in fact, held by a basket, and I believe God is saying that the basket symbolizes us: A community of interwoven believers made up of many strands and carrying our spouses very deliberately.

This phrase also tells me that fig season will surely come! We've been waiting a while now, but ripening takes time as does the strengthening of the basket. When salvation finally comes our strength will denote the season, meaning that it will be a mark, sign, and characteristic of that time.

And so we are being strengthened and our spouses are being ripened, and when the perfect time has come there will two outcomes: A strong SUM community, and spouses with whole hearts for God (Jer 24:7). Those are two very good sides to one story. And that's what I believe God sees in this: Many, many stories of two.

So now I’m curious to hear: What does your story of two look like, and in what areas are you becoming strong? I'd love to ask about your spouses too, but it's hard to know what their story will be!  All in good time.


Very Good Figs

FigsHi everyone, Ann here.

My husband would freely admit that the chances of him turning ‘exuberant Christian’ of his own doing are a great big zero. I’m laughing. It’s a funny thought to him and to me. 

It’s impossible. And yet I believe with all my heart it'll happen. I’m not the sort who goes around being sure about things, but ... I just have my reasons. Today I can't resist sharing just one: 

Some time ago, I had a dream. In it I held a fig. I wanted to plant it, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. That was it, the whole dream. ‘Exciting dream,’ I hear you say!

Not exactly exciting, but it did strike me as unusual and so I wrote it down in my journal along with the date. I even looked up figs in the Bible, but nothing gelled. 

Imagine my excitement when a few short weeks later (in our January fast, 2016), Dineen posted that the Holy Spirit had told her our spouses were like the figs from Jeremiah 24:7! Her word laid out for us an enormous promise of our spouses’ salvation. I'll paraphrase it here, but you can click here to read the whole word:

He will return our spouses to Him, He will give them a heart to know Him.  He will plant them and not pluck them up.  He will build them and not tear them down. And this is a promise: Salvation is coming.  

Even the word ‘plant’ was in there, just like my dream. It was striking. But that was just the beginning.

Months later, 4 July 2016, Dineen wrote another inspired post for us. We were being lavished with promise as a community. This time, she felt God was saying that He is constructing the SUM community into a spiritual house and that latter house will be better than the former. Some of you will remember that Dineen was building an actual house and so there was an exciting series of posts where her house-building reflected what she was hearing spiritually. In fact, the very day I read Dineen's first house post I’d woken with a picture of a house in my head. Yet another ‘coincidence’, but that’s not even the part I’m coming to.

The part I’m coming to happened on a bad day, I’m afraid. One day, while on holiday the aloneness of my faith overwhelmed me, and I ended up hitting my pillow in a desperate mess. “Please,” I called to God, “I am really struggling here. Please help me.”

He helped me. The next morning I woke with a single word in my head: Bethphage. 

I grabbed my iPad and typed ‘Bethphage’. I discovered it was the place Jesus took the Palm Sunday donkey from. But mm, that wasn’t quite it. “Let me just look up the name meaning,” I thought. And here’s what Bethphage means ……{drum roll}:

House of figs!

True story!  

A few weeks later, I was skipping along, much happier. ‘Bethphage’ had helped. “What shall I pray for?” I asked God. This was an improvement on the paralyzed ‘help’ prayer that I had only prayed weeks earlier. Now I was strong enough to do something productive. As I asked that question, my eye caught something on the ground.  What’s that?  I peered over it. And then I realized: It was a fig! A lone fig. My eyes lifted upwards, there was no fig tree in sight. Only later would I realize that it wasn’t even fig season: it was the middle of winter. I picked that fig up, popped it in my pocket, and held it all day. It felt like I’d just been given a bunch of flowers.

What should I pray for? His answer: Pray for the figs.

So here’s a prayer for us today:

Lord God, I dare to believe that you will do the impossible for with You nothing is impossible. 

I know that for all the times we've been carried away You deem us and our spouses 'very good', we are sanctified. 

I believe that You will give us all a heart to know you, we will be Yours, You will be ours.  

Help me to know how to pray for my life partner, and help me to never stop praying - 24/7.

In Jesus' name, I receive these promises gladly. Amen.


God Changed My Lens

 

By Ann Hutchison

“It’s excruciating”, I murmured to myself, munching on my toast and staring out the window. As usual, I was mulling over the fact that my husband and I had found ourselves in this … 'horrible' … spiritually mismatched situation. 

It happened to us late in life.  There we were hitting forty, and life had been going according to plan. Then, one day, God landed in our home – through me.  It shook us to the core. 

My husband is a good planner, so this one blindsided him. “I'm not the one who changed and this is not what I married!” He sounded almost angry. 

I couldn't blame him; I was the one who'd changed. I felt so bad.   Open

Bad, that was, until God nudged me differently. Don’t, Ann. However it looks and whatever the hiccups, this conversion will only cause home improvement (Proverbs 31:10-12). 


Ok, I really wasn’t seeing said improvement, but I took the nudge and did something symbolic: I left Proverbs 31 open on my kitchen bench and walked past it as I pottered – back and forth, back and forth. I peeked at the promises occasionally. It’s good that I changed. It's good.

That was helpful. But one night soon after, things took a terrible turn. I came back from a church event and told my husband how very up for God I was – very up for God! I wasn’t prepared for his response: “I don’t know you anymore!” he despaired, putting his head in his hands. 

That night neither of us slept. The next morning, I was resolved, and it wasn't in the right direction. “God help me,” I thought, “I need that man in my bed and I’m not going to lose him for anything.”  And so I shut myself in the bathroom, and crumpled on the floor: “God, I can’t follow you. It’s too hard. I’m out.” 

Ouch. That was an awful day. 

The problem was, I couldn't opt out that easily for I knew by then that God was real. Once you know, where else can you go? Soon after, I took a lone car journey. It gave me the chance to talk to God. As the countryside sped by, my tears flowed, and I whimpered: “I don’t really feel I have much choice here but to say yes to You. But will Bryce leave me?” To my amazement, He answered, and this is what He said:

“Your faith brushes against him like a feather.”  

Wow. I started to think about what a feather feels like: soft, gentle and nice.  And then, slowly I cracked a smile. But there was more:

“The more you love Jesus, the more your husband will love you.” 

Wow again. This was not what I saw but I could choose to trust it (Prov 3:5). 

I wish I could say my choice to follow Jesus was settled then, but it wasn’t. Soon afterwards a fiery battle hit my mind. I began to feel tormented by the fact I was ‘one’ with other Christians (1 Cor 12:27; Psalm 16:3) and with my husband (Mark 10:8). I suppose I felt like I was having an affair with a whole group of other people and that my husband would hate it. I tried repeatedly to run away from the pull of church, the pull of His body, and the pull of Jesus. That was when the Holy Spirit cut through my mess:

“Your husband doesn’t need to feel threatened by My Body.” 

BAM!  Those words came like a shot. Once again, it was a choice to trust what seemed utterly counter-intuitive: His truth. 

As I trusted those particular truths, the battle disappeared. It took a couple of years, but victory came. Those truths were ultimately a sword to my heart – they plunged deep, killing the old me. It was as if God gave me my way out, my victory (Rom 8:37). All I had to do was receive His lens. Now that I look back I don't just crack a feeble smile, I beam from ear to ear. And my husband is coping perfectly well too. My faith was not the marriage disaster I feared it would be. In fact, it's been quite the opposite.

So, that's my story. If yours is similar to mine and you would like prayer, please share in the comments or get in touch -- I'll gladly pray, as will others. 

In friendship,

Ann


Staunch, Skeptic, and Special!

“I’ve never met a Christian I liked!” declared Seamus* to the rest of us at his table. I frowned at him quizzically. Personally, I had no problem with Christians; my thing was sheer indifference. I just couldn’t relate to their fervor. SUM Hand of friendship

By the end of the year, however, the unexpected had happened: I had gone from indifferent to fervent. Yikes!

Indeed!  It was amazing, and with it came healing, joy, and a very real experience of God; but it left me in a strange place: I was now a lone Christian in a friendship group of atheists. Seamus was one of those friends, along with his wife.

I know 'couple friends' are something to be thankful for … but … mm … it hasn’t been roses. Let’s just say that while Seamus’s wife is extremely easy-going, Seamus himself is not a tactful man, and he is convinced Christianity is untrue. This combination of traits is not easy for me. If I was atheist, of course I would enjoy Seamus’s verbosity, but I’m not.

“Do you hear this, Ann”, he recently cackled as I fetched him a beer, “People who believe in Jesus are crazy.”

I wanted to give him a smack.  

“How on earth do I handle him?” I asked God. “He’s so ANNOYING!”

Over and over I battled feelings of offense at this guy who was supposed to be my friend. Quite honestly, I wanted to leave the friendship but (oh dear!) God seemed to want me to stay. Stay, and live these words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt 5:43-44, 46, NKJV) 

I’ve only just noticed how pragmatic those words are: ‘Bless’, ‘do good’, and ‘pray for’. You don’t need to feel love to do this, you just take baby steps. And so that’s what I did, baby step by baby step. It’s been four years now.

Today, I can happily say Seamus and I remain friends. God has put other believing people in my life, but this friendship with him is, perhaps, particularly special. It’s special because it’s a friendship surviving on love. 

Bless. Pray for. Do good to him.

More recently, that love has got me thinking about what my responsibilities are as Seamus’s friend. How do I carry the gospel? He is my friend, not my spouse, so is ‘winning without words’ still applicable? Or should I be more aggressive?

As if in answer, I stumbled across a wonderful book about how skeptics convert. You may find it as interesting as I did – especially if you live right in the heart of skeptic-land.

The book is called ‘I once was lost: What post-modern skeptics taught us about their path to Jesus’. The authors, Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, interviewed numerous adult converts and found that there is a common series of thresholds that skeptics have to cross when faced with faith. What’s more, these thresholds seem to be crossed in the same order by those who do convert.

I’m guessing there are spouses in our community who are sitting at any of these five thresholds. In fact, the authors argue that someone can sit at any given threshold for years.  Too right – I myself sat somewhere between the first and the second for the first 38 years of my life.

The thresholds are:

(1) Learn to trust a Christian

(2) Move from complacent to curious

(3) Become willing to make changes to your life

(4) Become an active seeker of God, and

(5) Step into the Kingdom.

It’s possible my friend Seamus is only just crossing threshold one – trusting a Christian. Perhaps I’m the one he’ll finally bring himself to… like?!  And then perhaps I can finally use words. For now, the Holy Spirit seems to tell me to stay wordless until He tells me otherwise.

How about you? How have you handled others (besides your spouse) who struggle with your faith?  And how do we witness to those who are staunchly opposed?  I look forward to hearing your insights!

Ann 

*Seamus is a real person, but I’ve changed his name


Fellow Laborers

“It’s hard being a girl guide!”

Those words, inaudible but clear, woke me one morning, just as the birds were beginning to sing. It felt like a word from the Holy Spirit, but I struggled to understand. Only months later did a sudden ‘a-ha’ come: SUM Girl guide

I am the ‘girl who guides’ my husband, the one who spiritually leads. It’s not the way God intended. That’s why it's so hard.

God had just explained my hurting heart to me. It doesn’t sound much, but it was really helpful. 

I thought that was it, but last week, quite unexpectedly, this ‘girl guide’ word unfolded into something more: A promise for our community! I feel led to post it here, and I hope it encourages you, as it has me.

Here’s what happened:

Last week, one of our SUMites, Jan, had a dream featuring boy scouts. She described it on our Facebook group and asked, ‘Does this mean anything to anyone?’ My ears pricked up (girl guides ... boy scouts), and the minute I read it a meaning came. In fact, the dream was one of two she had:  

In the first dream, we (the SUMites) were diligently working away at desks. Lynn came in to meet with us, but first had an interview with CNN to complete. 

In the second dream, we were at an outdoor venue and were showing a movie about Jesus. One person, a spouse, was attempting to compare Jesus and a Greek god as dying on the same day. Lynn had to leave to go to another event, but we ended up having a large group of boy scouts from Maryland show up, and we began the movie again. 

The first thing I thought of was that two dreams can mean "the matter has firmly been decided by God, and God will do it soon" (Gen 41:32). Well, here we had two dreams - What fun! In both, we were working as a team, with Lynn leading us while also ministering elsewhere. These dreams, to me, seemed to address something intentional about our work.

I can't help but think we’re watching Lynn’s reach extending and expanding -- it's exciting. And perhaps these dreams suggest that the rest of us also have new work ahead! Like the outdoor movie, we evangelise outside the church walls -- and we show more than tell. We have begun that work, but our effectiveness will really bloom once our spouses join us.

Currently, our spouses issue a voice of challenge. But we do know that will change. Where the spouse in the dream was initially arguing that Jesus was no different to a myth, that sentiment can change so that our spouses declare 'the day Jesus died so did everything else false!' Just like Haman’s plans were turned (Esther 6:10-11), the voice of resistance can turn to the voice of persistence!

And the large number of boy scouts?  I believe they represent our spouses, our other halves: boy scouts joining their girl guides. They will come from a place of deep intimacy, a place where people sit at Jesus’ feet (Maryland!) And once they join us, the show will really start.

Pulling it together, then, could it be that our evangelism in the home is only the start of a bigger job -- a wider evangelism -- ahead of us? A job in which we will co-labor with our spouses?

Indeed, 2017 was to be a year of promises revealed (see 9 January) and here it feels like we've gone from being told 'it's hard being a girl guide' to being told the boy scouts are on their way!

It reminds me of this verse:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.

He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard.

He will tell you about the future (John 16:13, NLT).

As 2017 closes, have you any further thoughts on this and/or any of the other promises we've been given as a community? It'd be great to hear your thoughts! 

Ann


Martha's Vineyard

Hello everyone

It's Ann here, and I want to share something that's been sitting in my journal for some time. I loved it. I hope you do too.

It was August last year, I was sat in bed armed with a mug of cocoa, pen, and journal. Absent-mindedly, I leafed through the Bible and came across the verse, "Call to me, and I will answer you and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known" (Jer 33:3 ESV). I scribbled it down and said, "God, tell me something great that I don't already know!" SUM rocking chairs with SUM logo

That night turned out to be a little bit strange and wonderful. I could feel the Holy Spirit as I slept. I kept drifting towards wakefulness and each time it seemed He was speaking about the SUM community. There were words that I couldn't catch. Finally, as morning came a phrase landed in my head: Martha's Vineyard.

Now, I knew nothing about Martha's Vineyard. Being British and now living in New Zealand, Martha's Vineyard had never come across my path. "What is it?" I thought. Wikipedia was needed, and what did I find out?  That it is a place of mixed marriages!

Here's the story: Martha's Vineyard (a beautiful island community off the US east coast) had an especially large deaf community. They lived with an inherited deafness from generations past. The majority of these deaf were married to hearing people, hence the term 'mixed marriages'. Because of these marriages, deafness dissipated - both in the way they lived, and among future generations who now hear.

There, the deaf looked different to elsewhere. They were not treated as outcasts. Instead, they were perfectly integrated. Because of the closeness of the deaf-hearing families, sign language was spoken widely across the community, even by the hearing.

Even today, the community's citizens work hard to protect their lifestyle while extending welcome to outsiders. It is a balance that is hard to achieve. This balance makes it a warm, attractive place.  It's such a nice place that others want to live there too.

This is our SUM colony, and I think that's what this word meant -- Martha's Vineyard. I feel God wants us to celebrate our strengths and know how unique and lovely our community is. To us, those who hear less easily are not left out. We love them so much and we 'get' their perspective even though it's not ours. We use their language when speaking about faith. That skill alone is huge for the Kingdom.

Most importantly, though, Martha's Vineyard reminds us that our spouses are integral citizens. They're citizens of the SUM community, and precious citizens of God's household. They add flavor, they are sanctified, and they are part of this beautiful place.

As for us 'Marthas', the ones who work so hard to protect our own, it is interesting to me that the name Martha means 'bitter' in Hebrew and 'woman' in Aramaic - and, yes, our bitterness of soul runs deep. But I believe that God wants us to celebrate the beauty of what we're doing. If we lift our eyes we can see how lovely our island community has become. Isolated, yes, but surrounded by Him. We live in a spiritual place where the homes are beautiful, the residents are rich, and the ocean sparkles all around, bringing the promise of good things.

Lift up your eyes all around, and see:

They all gather together, they come to you;

Your sons shall come from afar, And your daughters shall be nursed at your side.

Then you shall see and become radiant,

And your heart shall swell with joy;

Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,

The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you.

(Isaiah 60:4-5, NKJV)

We Marthas, the SUMites, have a beautiful vineyard: It's a place where we keep tightly hold of others, where hearts turn, and where people want 'in'.

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts - especially from any who have been to Martha's Vineyard, or from those who have looked up and seen the beauty of our island community in more metaphorical terms!