57 posts categorized "Church"

Creative Giving

Today we have a guest post from Lisa McFarland -- Our friend and a long-standing member of our community. Many thanks to Lisa for writing for us, and now I will hand over to her:

** Giving

A few weeks ago, my pastor (who is also my boss) spoke on Irrational Generosity. He shared, as a  pastor, he gets a front row seat on observing many people. He noticed that those who radiate authentic joy have two things in common: they passionately love Jesus and they are irrational givers.

If you are like me, you cringe at that word “giver” because many of us in a SUM relationship, when our pastor speaks on money we want to shrink into that pew.  We want to be able to financially give, but our circumstances don’t permit it. For me, this topic is really hard. I not only work for the church and the lead pastor is my boss, but I run the finance department!!!! My salary comes from those who faithfully give; yet, I’m not able to contribute. As I was listening to the message, God spoke to my heart and whispered, “I know your heart.” The Holy Spirit reminded me that we can be creative in our generosity. We are able to freely give of our time, our voice, a kind note, or even in making a meal.

It's not easy to allow our husbands to lead us when we don’t always agree with their decisions; especially when it comes to contributing to our church financially. My boss has said to me many times that my mission field is my spouse and God honors my obedience to my husband.

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives. (1 Peter 3:1, NIV)

Lynn also shared in Marching Around Jericho the freedom in letting our spouse lead us even though he may not be a Christian. This has been extremely encouraging to me and has opened up ways for me to bless the church and others differently. God knows our hearts and He will show us many ways to use our generosity. I like the way that Focus on the Family puts it: "Remember, it’s not the money but the attitude of the heart about which the Lord is most concerned.”

If financially giving is a sore point in your marriage, give it to the Lord in prayer and trust Him to work in this area of your spouse’s life. And, in the meantime, get creative! Lisa Macfarland

As a SUMite we have a passionate love for Jesus but how can we be creative with our giving? Share with me in the comments how you bless others with your “Irrational Generosity”.  

My name is Lisa MacFarland and I’ve been in a SUM relationship for 35 years. We have 4 adult children, one grandbaby and 2 more on the way. We live in sunny Florida on the East Coast. I have been following the Spiritually Unequally Marriage ministry for over 10 years, and I am so privileged and honored to be a guest writer. I pray that you are encouraged by this post. Thank you for the opportunity to share.


Get Back to Basics -- Guest Post by Lisa MacFarland

Today we have the blessing of a guest writer. Many of you will recognize Lisa MacFarland from the comments over the years, she has been such a solid encouragement to many, and we're so happy to have her hop on and write for us today. Over to Lisa --

**

Hello, my name is Lisa MacFarland and I’ve been in a SUM relationship for 35 years. I have been
following the Spiritually Unequally Marriage ministry for over 10 years and I am so privileged and
honored to be a guest writer. I pray that you are encouraged by this post as much as I was when writing it. Thank you for the opportunity to share. Lisa Macfarland

Over a year ago, I wrote the phrase, “get back to the basics” and posted it on my desk corkboard at work. Lately, this phrase has been weighing heavier on my heart; sensing a strong need to get back to the basics. In many churches of today, I feel we confuse experiencing God’s love in a raw, basic way. Churches create chaos with so many programs, beautiful features, incentives, themes and hoopla to get people into the doors of church or to keep them engaged. People leave church with lessons on forgiveness or who God is but they are still empty.

Individually, we cram our own lives with constant activities, to dos, and overall chaos so we don’t have to stop and face what might be really going on in our lives. Sadly, this keeps us from truly experiencing God’s love. We miss finding our identity in Christ, true joy, and our authority given to us as heirs to the throne. This lifeless chaos will cause many to lose their passionate heart connection with Christ, missing out on the blessings He wants to give us.

Between the world, our churches, and ourselves, we can find ourselves remaining in a cycle of brokenness that keeps us from a deeper, more authentic connection with the Lord. Our hearts and mind need to be cultivated into fertile soil to that the roots of our salvation grow deep and strong. When spiritual battles; storms of life come, and they do and will, WE WILL NOT BE SHAKEN!

Revelations 2:5: So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you don’t change, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Colossians 2:6-7: You accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, so continue to live following him. You must depend on Christ only, drawing life and strength from him. Just as you were taught the truth, continue to grow stronger in your understanding of it. And never stop giving thanks to God.

John 15:9-11: I have loved you as the Father has loved me. Now continue in my love. I have obeyed my Father’s commands, and he continues to love me. In the same way, if you obey my commands, I will continue to love you. I have told you these things so that you can have the true happiness that I have. I
want you to be completely happy.

I know my heart longs to get back to the foundation upon which our salvation is rooted. I don’t want to just go through the motions, or get stuck in a cycle of busyness but I want to get back to the fundamental basics and cultivate my heart soil through daily prayer, reading God’s word, serving, and sharing my story. Even when we don’t feel like it, keep showing up and eventually you will experience breakthrough of peace, authentic joy, and deep connection with God. It’s then that God can truly bless us with the fullness He created us for.

About Lisa: I’ve been married for 35 years and together with my husband, Cameron, for 36 years. Funny story…met my husband in a bank robbery! I was a bank teller that was held up and he was my knight in shining armor, aka, police officer that responded. 😊 We have 4 adult children, 1 grand baby and 2 more on the way! And I can’t forget about my empty nest 10-year-old puppy, Marley, a Chihuahua in a Rottweiler’s body, haha. I mostly was a stay-at-home mom but then started working for my church over 20 years ago as the Lead Pastor Assistant and, a few years ago, I took over as Finance Director too. I was born and raised in church, started out in a Pentecostal Assemblies of God and now the church I’m part of is Southern Baptist. I love to read, crochet, walk, swim, fish, kayak  and just plain relax. After raising 4 children, I’m finally getting to enjoy all of it. 😊


A Snapshot of Our Community

Dear SUMites Our church

We often describe ourselves as a church without walls -- Isn't it amazing how we manage to gather like this online? I love it!  Anyway, today I wanted to tell you a little bit about who is in our church.

As you know, we did a SUM community survey recently. Reading through those responses it was so good to see your names and a little more about your lives. 

So I thought you, too, might like to hear a little more about who your friends at SUM are. Below, I'll share a few of the questions we asked in the survey, and what the answers were.

Where does our community live?

All over! Most (70%) live in the USA, followed by a decent proportion in Europe. We have a smaller number in Australia and New Zealand, and some in Africa.  I can't express how much I love that spread -- it's so beautiful. 

And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations (Matt 24:14, NKJV)

How did our SUM community members become spiritually mismatched?

Here's what our community said:

My spouse lost their faith: 6%

I became a Christian after marrying: 27%

I thought my spouse was a Christian before marrying, but perhaps they weren't: 20%

My spouse and I have experienced different rates of spiritual growth to each other: 6%

I married a non-believer: 36%

Other: 5%

There is such a range of stories there and each of the above has its own distinct challenges, but I hope it makes you feel less alone seeing that there are at least some out there with the same story as you.

Do our spouses attend church?

About 20% of spouses do attend regularly, and a further 22% occasionally. But the rest don't, so if your spouse never attends with you, you're in good company.

How many of our spouses say they're Christian?

I was surprised by this one: 30% of spouses actually do say they're a Christian, which means that the couple is mismatched even though both are nominally Christians. The rest of the spouses, of course, don't yet say they're Christian, and we do know that quite a few spouses currently say they are atheist. I say 'currently' on purpose. These things change.

Are the spouses supportive?

Here's what our community said: 

A lot: 30%

Moderately: 40%

A little: 20%

Not at all: 10%

Again, I hadn't realized so many were that supportive. But clearly there is a need for our ministry even if an unbelieving spouse is supportive. The loneliness of the walk likely makes it so. For those whose spouses are not yet supportive I am praying for you specifically right now.

What kinds of churches do we attend?

Our community attends all kinds of denominations. The most prevalent is non-denominational or Baptist. After that, about 10% attend protestant denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Church of Ireland), 10% Pentecostal, and about 10% don't currently attend church.

How long have our people been with us?

About 15% of our readers found us less than a year ago. If that's you, welcome! This tells us it's important that we keep writing about some of those common issues such as attending church alone and raising kids in faith. However, almost half of our readers have been with us for more than five years, and many for more than ten years. Amazing! We are a community that has been together a long time.

And finally.... What does our community look like, faith-wise?

This last section really opened my eyes. We asked two questions here: Do you have regular time alone with God, and how often do you read the Bible? The vast majority of our readers said they spend daily time alone with God, and daily time reading the Bible.

That tells us something about our specific church. We are not lukewarm, we're the opposite. We are all passionate followers of Jesus Christ, and that's exactly why we need this ministry and why we gather here.

**

My friends, there's more to the survey and I'll share more eventually, but I hope that gave you more of a picture of who's here. 

What else would you like to know about us and this community? Pop any questions in the comments and I'll answer them.

We all love you!

Ann (and team)


A Culture of Honor

Happy Friday, SUM friends! Compass 2

In my last post I mulled over the difference between judging and discerning. Well, today I want to add one final layer:

Love.

I heard a minister of the Gospel once say the biggest thing God will ask you when you finally meet him face-to-face is this: "Did you learn to love?"

It could be so. There is so much about love in the New Testament.

There's a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world, and sometimes in the church too. This means that we surely do need eyes of discernment so that we can keep going in the right direction. We need to keep following our true north (God), as if we're holding a compass and trying to constantly gauge his direction.

But, equally, when we discern we have to discern lovingly. And what does love look like when we're trying to discern things? Here are a few thoughts:

  • In the church, uphold a culture of honor in our interactions with others.
  • When thinking or speaking, we can ask: Am I being honoring in my tone and attitude?
  • Look first for the good in others' hearts. 
  • Remember that people are growing 
  • And finally, don't speak bad things about another Christian to their fellow brothers and sisters. It puts a wedge between relationships in the church.

If we do the above, we'll do a better job at navigating some of those tricky things that happen in churches. Churches are messy, not perfect, so we are given plenty of opportunity to practice the above.

All the while, we're meant to not condone sin as Christians, and that's a biggie. Sometimes we'll see ministers step in, for example, and stop certain behaviors in the church for the sake of the wider flock. But overall we can all still uphold a love for God in a way that is gentle and kind in manner, as far as possible.

So that was a final thought. I'd love to hear any further thoughts in the comments; and let's pray:

Lord God, help us to get a good balance in our lives between standing for truth and loving people lavishly. Give us more wisdom on this one in our personal lives, and Lord help us relate to people in the way you would have related to them when you were on earth. We love you, Jesus, thank you for being here and being ours. In Your name, we pray. Amen.

Love,

Ann


The Conference Army in My City

My brothers and sisters in SUM-hood, hello! Jesus belongs in my city

It's Friday here, I'm sitting in my lounge, and I thought I might tell you about something really boosting that I did last week.

I went to a conference called Sistas, an annual women's conference run in my city. Because of the pandemic, there've been no conferences for the last two years. However, this year we have been let out (woohoo!) and it was on. What's more, for the first time the conference was being held in my suburb, Mt Eden.

Now, I had never been to this conference before; but at the last minute I discovered that two friends, both in SUMs, were to be there. Realizing I would get FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) if I didn't go, I umm-ed, ahh-ed, then splashed out on a ticket.

Thursday evening came. I walked through my suburb, entered an auditorium, and came upon about a thousand women gathered in one space!!! My eyes widened. It was a veritable army.

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 (Psalm 68:12, NKJV)

My friends, can I tell you how encouraging it was to see that sight? I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time with non-Christians. To walk into a room with a thousand Christians flooded my heart with such hope. I looked around that room and thought to myself "This army is in my city." Paula and Ann

Not just that. "This army is in my suburb!"

That wasn't all, though. Something else happened ... With Bryce. Previously, I've found conferences difficult: they take me away from my family at the weekend for a purpose Bryce is not bought into. I do go to conferences, but Christian activities like that always take some thought as I balance it with where Bryce is at.

For that reason I was going to forego the weekend parts, but this time Bryce said out of the blue, "You're going to a conference? That's nice. Make sure you go every day. You've spent the money so you want to enjoy it. Go on Saturday -- You will, won't you?"

((Sorry, what?))

I hesitated, "But it's the weekend and it'd mean leaving you and the boys ..." See, I've got memories from years ago of stuff like this causing conflict. Jess and Ann 3 

"Oh don't worry about us. GO." 

He released me to go. And so I did. I hung out with my two fellow SUM friends -- Paula and Jess (pictured here) -- and had a blast.

One final beautiful thing occurred in the last session I attended: People were invited to come forward for prayer that the voice of God will always be clear in their lives, and the voice of the enemy will dissipate. I just thought of us all, myself included, and so I went down to the front, carrying the SUM community down to the front with me (metaphorically). As one of the prayer team prayed over me, she said: "Marriage is so important in the kingdom," and as she said those particular words, I shook under the power of the Holy Spirit.

I walked home thinking that very thing --

"Marriage is so important in the Kingdom", and

"We, the SUMites, have a purpose; and we must keep listening to God's voice, not the enemy's."

What an encouraging few days. To be through the pandemic and to be with a thousand Christians I was truly refreshed and ready for whatever next thing we are to do as part of the army.

I hope that encouraged you too. How about you, do you go to conferences?

Love you all,

Ann


A Night of Holy Laughter

By Ann Hutchison Wedding cake 2

My friends, I had a reallllly interesting night a week ago. It was one of those nights where you see God move and you drive home with a head full of thoughts.

To tell you the story, I need to backtrack a little. One of our SUMites, Paula Blackie, lives about an hour's drive from me, and every now and again I meet her for coffee.

The first time we ever met in person, we randomly picked a cafe halfway between our two houses. When we got there, imagine our surprise when we saw that the cafe was decorated with model wedding cakes ... Everywhere. 

I meet a SUMite in a place where the walls are adorned with wedding cakes? ... Love it!

But God had more fun for us than that.

A few months ago (sitting in this cafe), Paula shared with me that she'd been asked by God to gather families in her neighborhood on the beach on a Sunday night. She obeyed.

Shortly after that, she was nudged by God to phone a particular man, and ask if she could use his house for these gatherings. Well, he had already been nudged by God about this too, and said yes. So began a little house church.

This house church has grown to about fifty people, and a competent team of four leaders -- amazing, sold-out, on-fire Christians -- have come around Paula to help her. As a team of three men and two women, they love this 'church' as much as Paula does and they run it as a team. 

Can SUMites do this? Well, sometimes God works in unusual ways. The Bible has many stories that demonstrate that.

Having heard all this, I needed to go and visit this house church. For me, this story of Paula's has become a much-loved extension in our SUM family; it's something one of our community is doing and it's exciting.

Here's where it got fun...

I turned up thinking I was going to just eat a meal and enjoy meeting some people; but, Paula got nudged by the Holy Spirit: "Ask Ann to join in with ministry."

They're all sitting in the room on couches, we've listened to some worship and taken communion. Paula sidles up to me and says: "We're going to walk round and give every person a marshmallow and say 'Jesus loves you'. Then, Ann, would you be happy to pray for each person and give them a blessing?"

I'd never done this before with a room of strangers ... but I really was very happy to do it, so said a joyful yes.

Each person in that room was a stranger to me, bar Paula and one other. Strangers yes, but brothers and sisters in Christ. I knelt in front of each person one by one, asked Jesus what to pray, waited to see what popped into my mind, and used that to pray.

Honestly, I couldn't tell if those prayers were resonating with them. But I do know that if you pray blessing over someone with the right heart, your words are powerful. 

It came to Paula, and I somehow got the sense of tears of laughter, so I said, "I bless you with tears of laughter." What a funny thing to pray but it was what popped into my mind.

Well ... I finished, plonked myself down on a dining seat, and turned to someone to talk to them, when snorts of laughter started to emit from Paula's corner. I looked over thinking, "She's being quite loud"... But then I saw the man next to her double over, tears streaming down his face, joy on his face. He looked over at me, said, "I feel the presence of God so thickly," then burst out laughing again. Then, suddenly, the man in the chair next to me leant forward, head in hands, and started to giggle.

It was Holy Laughter! 

Well, when we bless people, the joy of heaven comes. I love the fact the laughter came after that round of blessings. Funnily, I never felt the laughter myself -- so instead I watched them curiously with a smile on my face. 

On the drive home I said to God, "Whether or not each prayer resonated, I do pray that those blessings will come to fruition in those people's lives."

And I, for one, cannot wait to visit that house church again. 

Oh I hope you liked that story, and I wish you a joy-filled weekend, and that the joy of the Holy Spirit will fill you to the brim, overflowing!

Love,

Ann


And Finally... The Virtue of Being Considerate

My friends, Let's wash feet

It's been interesting talking about serving God when spiritually single, and I've found your comments wonderfully insightful. I have especially loved hearing your stories. Our lives certainly are different to other Christians, aren't they?

For the final post in this series, I want to finish with a story --

You might remember I'm going through the book The Love Dare, and one of the dares I had to do was ask Bryce a question, listen to his answer, and not argue back. The question was a hard one. It was this: "What three areas of my behavior do you wish I would change?"

"Do you really want me to answer this?" He said. "Are you sure you want to go there?"

"Hit me with it!" I said. Go on, just do it.

"Wellll..... I'm sorry but your driving is terrible," he said. "It really, really bothers me, your driving." That one made me laugh, even though he was being serious. 

But then he told me this, and this one didn't make me laugh. It sort of made me want to cry, but I listened: He said, he works hard bringing in the money. He works long hours and he's often tired. He comes home to see me at my computer 'blogging', and yet parts of the house-cleaning haven't been done, the laundry hasn't been folded, and sometimes important administrative things have been forgotten. He then has to spend time on those things at the weekend.

Ouch.

So the thing is, I've been serving God, but kind of neglecting other things. And that's hard because serving God sometimes takes up a chunky part of our lives.

"What do I do?" I asked God. "I can't not work on the SUM ministry, because You have called me to it and I know it's where I'm meant to be. But, I'm stumped, and I'm quite distressed now."

I reflected further and decided not to get excessively discouraged but instead work out a solution. Bryce did have a point. As the one who 'doesn't work' in his eyes, I should do my part for the family. That is, at least keep the house clean, make it a nice environment, stay on top of the dishes and do family jobs during the week so that we can both relax at the weekend.

My friends, that is the conundrum about service. And, I think the lesson is this: Even if God is calling us to serve outside our homes, we can still do it in a way that's considerate to our spouse.

Ok, here's what I did next --

I changed my daily routine. I realized my priorities are, in order: (1) My relationship with God, (2) My family, and (3) Service to others. With that in mind, I set up my daily routine to reflect that order.

I decided to:

(1) Spend the first chunk of the day with God, which I was doing anyway.

(2) Immediately after that, do a little bit of cleaning, and make sure the kitchen is tidy and laundry done.

(3) Only then, work on ministry and other service things.

(4) Each day, try to fit in some kind of task for our family, whether it's inviting some neighbors for dinner, or doing some school paperwork -- The aim being to keep our family life vibrant and running smoothly.

It's working so far. Already the home feels more orderly, and I kind of like it. I'm not a naturally neat person when it comes to my home but I'm finding this new discipline is good for me.

Ultimately, in the SUM ministry our goal is to thrive in our faith and our marriage. A big part of our marriage succeeding lies in us being considerate to our spouse. In the area of service, that truth remains: It is our thoughtfulness and love that will win them over. And while God has many fabulous things for us to do, his heart is always brooding over our marriages.

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives (1 Peter 3:1, NKJV)

So, that completes our series on Serving God when Spiritually Single. I hope you've enjoyed it like I have. I would love to hear any final thoughts you have in the comments!

Love,

Ann


Serving: What If the Church Looks at us Differently?

Hi SUM family, Ann here and we're currently in our series on Serving God while Spiritually Single. Part One is here: Let's wash feet

Serving God when Spiritually Single: Part One

Today I want to talk about how we cope when the church looks at us differently. Does it affect our opportunity to serve?

I decided to look at this because one of our SUMites recently shared that's how she feels. She said something along the lines of: "Sometimes I feel the leaders might look at me and think there's something wrong with my life because my husband isn't believing. That might make them less likely to trust me or think of me as an obvious person to serve."

Have any of you have found that?

In my experience it's certainly been harder to build social connections and trust at church, at the very least. Because my husband isn't there it takes longer for people to know me. 

That said, there's a tremendous truth here that is rather exciting: God overrides these things if he really wants you to serve in a particular area.

I experienced that in a personal way recently. Many of you know my church closed last year, and then I followed the Holy Spirit's lead in moving to a new church. The old church was mostly made up of families. The new church is mostly in their twenties. Sometimes I feel very old in this new place!

One day while back in the old church, God stirred my heart that I was to start preaching there. "Yikes, that's bold of me I thought" ((laughing)). That's not the sort of thing you put yourself forward for easily, so I didn't mention it to anybody. But, one day the leader of the preaching team came running after me as I was leaving church. "Ann, would you like to give the sermon next week?" My mouth dropped open. 

God opened that guy's heart to my desire to serve; and that's how it goes: God gives us a stirring, and then it kind of happens.

Well, I really enjoyed that season of preaching in that church. But, you know, Bryce never attended once, and I stood up there alone each time. It was tough almost as much as it was rewarding. That seems to be the nature of service, at times.

I then moved to the new church, and God said to me "Ann, now I want you to be a passenger, not a driver."  In other words, he was asking me to step back and be a behind-the-scenes support. Meanwhile, my son Miles (age 16) signed himself up for the 7:30am set-up team on a Sunday, and that's what he and I now do once a month. That too feels 'meant to be', as God also said to me "I just want you to talk to people." While setting up, that's what I do.

Now, back to our SUMite sister's comment: Yes, in my new church I'm experiencing a little of what she said. It's been difficult to get to know people. I'm looked at a little differently too, as I don't fit the mold. It's ok -- God's breath on my life has shown me where he wants me.

Overall, though, I think the following quote captures how we must walk this. It's from Dineen, our past leader, and I just happened across it yesterday. She said:

"Don’t confuse your calling or ministry or service as who you are. Those are things you do. They come from your identity in Christ. All that we do to serve must be held loosely because we really don’t know the full picture of where God plans to take us next."

A hearty amen to that. So, let's seize the adventure of where God wants to take us next. Who knows, huh! All we know is that we must do this:

Through love, serve one another (Galatians 5:13, NKJV), and --

.. in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord (Romans 12:10-11, NKJV) 

Now your turn: What's your favorite area to serve in at the moment? And have you found it looks different in different seasons?


God, Where Do You Want Me To Serve?

My friends, Let's wash feet

Today I want us to roll up our sleeves and thing about whose feet we're to wash and how! Yes, we're launching into a series on serving God while spiritually single.

I say 'washing feet' because when we serve the church, our family, or people outside the church that's exactly what we're doing: Putting ourselves aside, like Jesus did, to show love to others.

As Jesus said --

If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet (John 13:14, NKJV).

Now, I reckon for us -- The church of the unequally yoked -- God has an absolute array of things for us to be doing. What's more, the good works he prepared you for will look completely different to the good works he prepared others for. It's exciting to find out these things.

And, God equips us. For example, God might have allowed you to walk through a particular life experience so that you can later help others, or he might have given you a particular talent or area of knowledge for others' sake. OR, he might have given you a heart for a particular issue or group of people.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

But now to the elephant in the room: It is truly difficult to serve God when our spouse is not by our side in it. Their attitude to it will impact our choices and ease there, and it's a fine balance. We'll talk about that in a later post.

Ultimately, though, nothing can stop the fact that a Christian will want to serve, and will serve. When I look at my own faith life it has three areas to which I give my heart: Faith time

(1) My personal relationship with God

(2) Washing my family's feet

(3) Washing others' feet

Those three things take up much of my energy. They are like segments of a pie.

If I was to prioritize them I would put my personal relationship with God at the top; everything flows from that. Then, I would put my family and, third, serving others. But I would never not do something to serve others outside my home - however tiny. And, that's the thing: Tiny things can be big in Kingdom terms, because often tiny things are a gesture of the heart.

'Tiny', or 'low key' service towards others can be very simple, like deciding you're going to check in on people who are house-bound, or being a deliberate and regular encourager to others.

This might look quite different to the kind of service within church that's more visible. We might look at the guitar-player at the front or the kids-church volunteer and think because we're not doing something like that we're not serving. 

But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-13, NKJV)

I love that verse, and it empowers me to turn up to church and do the quiet things too, like make sure the toilets look clean, or talk to a new person and make them feel like they're valued. That's the sort of stuff nobody notices but God. 

Washing others' feet, then, is fabulously diverse and our task is to understand where God wants our energy. I went through a season, for example, where I baked cakes and biscuits for the Sunday service. Now, (in a different church) I pray a lot for my church behind the scenes and that's where my time goes. These sorts of things we do out of a fervent love for others.

And above all things have fervent love for one another (1 Peter 4:8, NKJV)

With all that in mind, then, how about we do an exercise? 

Sit with God with a blank piece of paper and pen, and ask him what are the good works he has equipped you uniquely to be doing, and where does he want your 'serving energy'? Be prepared to think outside the box, and hear outside the box!

I'd love to hear your responses in the comments if you feel like sharing.

And .. See you next time!

Ann


Serving God When Spiritually Single

Happy Friday, everyone, Ann here. Foot washing

For many of us the desire to serve God in church or some other way outside our home runs through our veins. We want to contribute, we want to muck in. After all, that's the spirit of a Christian: We're part of a global effort to spread the Gospel.

Well... We all know that serving is a little complicated with an unbelieving spouse. It's complicated on one hand, but it can be exciting too.

With this in mind, next week we're going to start a series called 'Serving God when Spiritually Single'. To kick off you might like to watch this week's live video, below. In this video, one of our SUMites Paula Blackie shares her story about she has served in ministry despite having an unbelieving husband -- Yikes! That story got my own creative juices going, and I thought "We can definitely talk more about this," because serving takes a lot of forms.

So, I will leave you with this video, and perhaps you can share in the comments if there is anything particular you're grappling with in terms of serving? It'll help us write next week's series.

Thanks for your input, and love you loads,

Ann

 


The Risen Jesus Versus Our Circumstance

Hi everyone, Ann here. He has risen

After Friday's post I've had a little thought stuck in my head that's somewhat creative but it's been speaking a powerful message to me. It's this:

When attending church alone, many of us lament, naturally. This thing is tough, and even those who have attended church alone for decades will say that. For those of us women, we think about our husband: 'He is not here,' and it can be painful enough to bring tears. For the guys, the version of that is 'She is not here.'

However, what's struck me is that those words, 'He is not here', also happen to be the words that were used by the angels who announced Jesus's resurrection at the empty tomb. For them it carried a completely opposite message -- A message of victory and joy:

He is not here, He has risen! (Luke 24:6; Matthew 28:6).

Amen, amen, amen to that.

So, for us we could say we have two versions of 'He is not here' in our life. We have the version where we're looking at our spouse's spiritual condition and seeing it as a dead situation. And then there's the version where we're looking at Jesus and his resurrection, awe-struck. These are two very different things in our life.

I wonder if we can take that little 'play on words' and think about it some more. There is a real counter-truth to our pain of doing faith alone, and that counter-truth is that JESUS is fighting for us in this situation, as are the angels. Knowing that, if we say 'our spouse is not here' about a hopeless situation we can then follow it up by declaring the same words were used by the angels about Jesus: But He (Jesus) has risen! 

In other words:

He is not here (my husband, that is).

BUT, hang on, there is power working in my family:

Jesus is risen! And that means the enemy is disarmed in this situation, death has lost its sting, and the power of God is working in my family for the salvation of all my household.

How powerful is the resurrection for our life circumstance? Can we trust God to do a miracle and raise the spiritually dead? Absolutely. Yes, our spouse has free will, but we can at least know that the resurrection power of Jesus is a force as mighty as an atom bomb. 

When the women went to the tomb on that morning of the resurrection expecting to anoint a dead body with perfume and spices, they instead got the shock of their lives to encounter angels. Angels in shining garments declare to the women:

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen! (Luke 24:6, NKJV)

And, an angel with a countenance like lightning and clothing as white as snow, says:

Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead (Matthew 28:5-7, NKJV)

That is our God! That is his truth. Whew, mighty power.

Knowing that power, I wonder if we can challenge ourselves to do the following: Next time in church when we feel that sadness of our spouse's absence, perhaps we can try to put that thought away deliberately because it is us focusing on a dead body. Instead, let's say out loud --

But, He (Jesus) is not here, he is risen! And that same power of the resurrection is working in my family.

I'd like to finish with a prayer --

Dear Jesus, thank you that you did conquer the grave and you did give us power and hope. We ask for every single person in this SUM community, that you will help us not fall into lament when we sit in church alone, but help us instead to focus on your power and the resurrection. Show us more of what your resurrection power can do in our families. Thank you, Lord.

Love you all, 

Ann


It's a Quandary!

By Ann Hutchison Disco ball

Often-times a spiritually mismatched marriage can make us feel we're in a real quandary. I wonder if that's how you'd describe it too?

Dictionary definitions of the word 'quandary' include:

A state of perplexity

A hard plight

A state of difficulty

A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.

Yes, I'd say that's how it's often been. But today I'd like to share something that God seemed to show me about that state of quandary. What he seemed to say is that a quandary has its purposes Here's the story:

Three years ago I was sat in my church's Easter service. The pastor put on some music and said "Let's sit and reflect for a while." The soft music played.

Gazing down, my eyes began to wander. They wandered over to a certain molded indentation on the plastic seat beside me, where my husband should have been sat. And still the music played. Instead of thinking about the empty tomb I began to think about a different empty thing: That empty seat, and my absent-from-church husband.

"He is not here," I thought to myself. And I wasn't thinking about Jesus now.

One thing led to another then, and yes this may sound dramatic but I threw myself forward, hurled my head into my hands, and let my shoulders heave in quiet sobs.

He is not here. He is not here.

Meanwhile, the reflection music just kept on playing.

It was at that moment that little thoughts came to me that seemed to perfectly articulate my problem, like some kind of 'eureka' moment. I grabbed my phone and began to type. Here's what I wrote:

"I can't do faith without you, Bryce.

You won't do it with me.

I can't be without you.

I can't not do faith."

"Wow" I thought, clicking the save button with a sense of resolution. "That there is what's going on. I'm in a constant quandary." Indeed, what I realized from writing those four statements is that this SUM situation was bringing me a set of tensions that seemed impossible to hold. Well, at least that's how it felt.

At that moment, however, God seemed to give me the following as a way of countering the problem I had just typed out. It landed in my heart as an analogy, a quiet answer from the Holy Spirit:

"Ann, there are numerous facets to your character, just like a glitter ball has many facets. These tensions in your life enable the different facets of your character to be examined by Me. These tensions have their purpose: They enable Me to test your heart. Know this, then: Every time you hold two contradictory things in tension in your marriage, you are being tested and refined. I am watching to see how you navigate it and what choices you will make."

Amazing. "I think I understand, Lord," I said, and I have thought a lot about that image of the glitter ball and its facets ever since. Is this whole SUM situation one big set of tests, even?

The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts. (Proverbs 17:3)

Well, that was three years ago and of course I've had numerous thoughts about spiritually mismatched marriage since, just like I imagine many of you do. But, three years on, some of those things I'm holding in tension don't seem so hard to combine any more. I can't say why exactly. Perhaps it's that Jesus has come into the middle of it and brought ease.

There is one part to that quandary that I can say has actively changed, though. My first statement that Easter three years ago was this: "I can't do faith without you, Bryce." Well, I have learned that I can do faith without him, and I do. For, after all, though I am one flesh with my husband, I do stand on my own two feet before God.

Overall, then, perhaps our lesson is today is that we mustn't despise the quandary, but instead see it for what it is: a tool for us to draw closer to God, and a tool for him to refine our characters.

Do you have a quandary you're wrestling with at the moment?

Let's chat in the comments!

Ann


The Day My Husband Entered the Small Group Scene

Ann here, and I thought the title would make you smile. Yes indeed, I have a little story to tell today. Welcome

In Monday's post I left off where my small group had said: "Do invite your husband to the Christmas dinner, we would love to meet him."

Gulp!

Now, Bryce has said to me on a number of occasions that he finds the whole 'small group' concept difficult. He has a bad experience of growing up in an unhealthy and spiritually controlling church, and from that experience he was concerned that any small group I joined would be 'cultish and weird'. Those were hard words to hear, but hey, if this is how our spouse sees these things it's probably helpful to know. If we know, then we can try to understand and try to address it. Anyway, given all of that historical 'stuff' the thought of now inviting him to a small group Christmas dinner was not easy!

I wonder, though, whether at some point we all turn a corner where things become different? Where faith or church are not so contentious any more? Anyway, the long and short of it is that I plucked up the courage and asked him.

And ..... 

He said yes. No problem at all. Just like that. He said his 'yes' so easily, in fact, that I had to leave the room to process this massive new development, which felt like breaking news.

Now here's that same scene I described on Monday where I stand at a closed front door, behind which lies a small group, and I'm wondering how on earth this thing is going to go. Except this time my husband is standing by my side.

I hold a salad, he's carrying wine, and we're ready for a good time. He's perfectly cheerful but I've got a pounding heart. Why? It's the first time we've gone through the doors of church together since those difficult church days of his. Yes, it's only a small-group dinner, but it's the church.

We enter, join the chattering crowd on the back patio of the house, and before I can barely introduce him ... off he goes. Into a happy crowd and away from my side. And so the evening continued. Ann Bryce

Later, as the sun set, he and I were sat in a circle of comfy outdoor armchairs chatting with some of the others about church and other things. He liked them, they liked him. At that moment I looked up to see a beautiful rainbow in the dusky sunset. I took it as a wink from God and thanked Him -- Seriously, seriously thanked Him -- for this moment.

Oh my dear SUM friends, it was a fascinating turning of a corner, and I know you understand the emotions around this sort of thing. It was indeed 'breaking news' for it broke some kind of barrier. It also broke away some of my own lingering angst about our spiritual mismatch, bringing us together and showing me all over again 'God's got this'.

Some of us have spouses who do visit church or its social events; others of us find that area more tricky. But however it looks now, things can always change --

"For nothing will be impossible for God" (Luke 1:37, ESV)

Does your spouse come to church or social events or not? Let's chat more in the comments.

Love you loads,

Ann


The Day I Entered the 'Small Group' Scene

Ann here! Tea and biscuits

With Bryce not attending church with me, one of the questions I've often asked myself is whether it would be a good thing for me to join a small group ... Or not, given my circumstances.

Like many churches, mine has a home-group scene where people meet weekly at each other's homes. The idea is they build connections, care for each other, encourage each other, and have stimulating discussions.

It sounds great, but I can already hear a collective sigh here because it's usually not so simple for us.

First, these groups are either full of couples, or full of singles, and we struggle to fit. Second, our spouse might feel we're already leaving them on a Sunday, and now we want to leave them for an additional evening each week. That's in addition to all the other time we spend on our faith activities.

In fact, years ago when I asked Bryce if he'd mind me attending a small group it turned into one of the worst conversations we've had. He expressed very clearly that yes, he would mind very much!! I wrote about that story recently, it was not a good day. 

Difficult as it is, we do need to be with believers regularly, we do need to build Christian friendships, and we do need to fight for that. The reason we need to fight is that our spiritual survival hangs on it. That said, church community can take many forms and a 'small group' may or may not be the right format depending on where things are at in our marriage. A regular coffee with two other Christian friends might be just as good and easier to fit with your spouse.

When I joined my new church last year I was invited to a small group and, despite all the past conversations between Bryce and me about this issue, this time it seemed right.

By then Bryce was no longer appalled by the idea. I'd worked hard over a number of years to balance church and our marriage and he, in turn, had done some thinking. He didn't miss the opportunity to tease me when he heard it was a 'small group' but I said "I love you", gave him a kiss and off I went.

So now we get to me ringing the doorbell and arriving at said small group ...

The door opens, I step in, and I get hugged by everybody: Eight couples in their fifties and sixties and one other lady on her own. There is tea, coffee and food. Yum! I'm keen, but I do wonder if I'll cope being around couples. I'm not sure if I'd have coped with this until now, in fact.

Armed with our tea, and now sitting, we start to talk about Sunday's sermon topic using discussion questions. Now I'm loving it because all I want is to talk about faith, all the time, and I'm always in need of this!

That was the first taste, and I didn't fall over from 'Coupledom misery'. But over the weeks, hearing about their faith lives in detail, I did begin to see just how different a SUM walk is to a couples faith walk. It is different.

I would find myself driving home thinking two things. (1) "I'm more intense than they are because of the SUM." And, (2) "I don't fit." 

Still, I continued, and the 'not fitting' became a lie I needed to dispel. Why? I am part of the Body of Christ. I fit.

As the months went on, I actually found surprising treasures. For one, I loved getting to see guys' faith. And, second, I noticed how different the gifts and experiences within this group are. That part broadened my view, and I began to feel I was understanding the Body of Christ better... Simply by sitting with people who are different to me. 

My verdict? Being part of a small group has been beneficial and I will continue, but it's worked because the timing and fit was right. I guess, as with anything, we just have to pray about it and always follow God's lead about what's right for our circumstances.

There's part two to this story, next. Hold onto your hats:

Christmas rolled around, it was time for the group's Christmas dinner, and up came this offer "Please do invite your husband, we would love to meet him!" What happened next I will share next time... 

Do you go to a small group, or have you done? I'd love to hear.


Seminar on the End-Times Church, 20 January

Hi everyone, Ann here. Church

You'll remember a few weeks ago on Giving Tuesday that we mentioned a seminar that Lynn would be running on the end-times church. Well, that seminar is going to be this Thursday, 20 January, at 11am Pacific time (note that's USA time -- So, it's Friday for those of us in Australia/New Zealand).

It will be a LIVE seminar, and a great opportunity to see other SUMites in person and interact. 

If you're a reader of Lynn's blog you'll likely already have seen this seminar mentioned. I've copied below a little of what she had to say about it. Note that if you donated at the time of Giving Tuesday (thank you!) your access to this is free. Lynn will send you the link to the seminar automatically and you need do nothing more. Otherwise, there's a fee of $49 and you can register by going over to Lynn's blog and signing up there. Here's the link for that.

In Lynn's words here's what the seminar will cover:

  • The initiation of the plan of God. And the Mystery of God. (Ephesians 1:9-11)
  • Lucifer's fall. I will answer this question: Why, after thousands of years serving the Lord, did Lucifer betray God. It's pride but what caused that prideful fall? I know the answer and can't wait to tell you.
  • Who is a Gentile, A Jew, the Church. and the Nepheline THESE four parts of humanity matter a great deal to the telling of the story.
  • We will cover Matthew 24, all the scriptures in the New Testament and Revelation.
  • We will gain understanding of the entire plan.
  • We will look at revelation and see how those scriptures are being fulfilled before our very eyes. 
  • We will examine the Day of the Lord, the Judgement Seat of Christ, the Day of Wrath and the antichrist.
  • We will discover the truth, based scripture upon scripture, of the last days. Understand what is to come and the purpose of the church in these days.
  • YOU WILL BE GREATLY ENCOURAGED.

Finally, it will be two and a half hours long, so come armed with Bible and make yourself comfy for the session.

I can't wait to see some of you there in person and I get the feeling we may continue to talk about some of these issues here on this blog over the early part of 2022.

Ann


A Work of God in My Home

By Ann Hutchison Central church Ann 1

Hi SUM family!

Today I'm continuing on from Monday's post, with a curious story about something God did in my home this year. It shows just how good he is, and I really do hope you enjoy this story.

As I've shared before, last year none of my family was going anywhere near church. Sigh! But one day God gave me a most unusual word. He told me I was going to be on a year-long wait for something, starting on 21 June 2020, and that something would happen at the end of that year.

Goodness, how exciting!

Over those months, then, I waited. I waited … I waited … I waited.

I kept telling myself I should not have too high an expectation about what would transpire at the end of the wait (i.e., June 2021). I figured God works mysteriously and if I were to try to guess his moves, I would almost certainly be incorrect. 

That said, I simply couldn't resist trying to guess as the wait continued and, to add to my excitement, God gave me another two things: The phrase Let’s Go, and the name of a New Zealand town Whanganui.

By now this was all feeling highly suspenseful. "Is my family going to move to Whanganui, Lord?" I wondered. I was fit to burst with anticipation.

Well, my friends, I could never have guessed what would transpire next; and it's almost a little difficult to describe. But I'll give it a go. It turns out that these mysterious words related - at least in part -- to my family's church situation.

In February (2021), my pastor told me he was going to close the church I'd been attending for the past six years. I've shared this part with you all already.

Indeed, it was a shock. But then came an immediate move of God, a swipe of his power: As I've also shared, my son Miles’s school friend suddenly began attending a new church himself and invited Miles along. A miracle, in my eyes. I began attending there too, and now here’s a photo of the three of us at church together: Me, Miles (next to me), and his best friend next to him. As I write, these two boys are now fully engaged in this church. Ann Miles at church

Well, that was amazing. Suddenly I had gone from despairing at my family's lack of church attendance to enjoying it with my son. But there’s more.

I'd not been attending my new church long when they announced this:

“We’re moving into a new venue, St Paul’s College on 20th June.”

St Paul's college? 20th June? I nearly fell off my seat. You see, St Paul's college was the venue my old church had just vacated! I would be going back there? And on 20th June? That was the date my year of waiting was to end!

"Lord? What is this about?" I whispered, sitting in my seat, there in my new church.

It could still have been a coincidence … Until I saw the Facebook announcement about the new venue, and saw what phrase they had included:

'Let’s Go' !! Central church new venue

And it got even better. That weekend I just-so-happened to look at a map and saw something I’d never noticed before: The new church venue that I was moving back to (St Paul's) sits below a road called Whanganui Street!!

At this, I sat back, gob-smacked.

All I could conclude was that this church and my family were meant to be together, and it was as if the Father had given me signposts to confirm it.

The new church's move feels like a big new season for them; but also very significant for me and my family.

How does all this relate to my SUM? Well, this move has done something curious to my family. I can’t say why, but Bryce is fully relaxed about my involvement in this new church where it wasn't like that before. It could be because it's run by young people, and he can see how they treat Miles -- They're lovely. Or, it could be the fact he is seeing Miles thrive socially there. Nevertheless, it is a clear move of God in my family, it has been a major development in my SUM, and I thank Him. 

The motto from all this: Who knows how God will move in a SUM home, but he will surely move for us. We just... Have to wait. 

(Finally, to give you a final smile after Monday's post, I have even begun attending a weekly ‘small group’. But that is another story.)

My friends, I so hope this encouraged you. 

With love, 

Ann


Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

“This isn’t what I married.” Said Bryce. “And there may come a point where I say to you enough is enough.” Rock hard place

He stood by the chest of drawers suddenly seeming distant. I sat on the bed. My heart was pounding with fear.

“Don’t you ever say to me you can’t give it up if I ask you to.”

He was talking about my church involvement. And possibly also my faith. Gulp.

One request had led to this conversation: I had told him I'd like to go to a ‘small group’ at church one evening a week. It was 2017, and I thought he was used to my faith and my church-going. But I had misread how he truly felt. As I can now see, a small group/home group is weird to someone not versed in church ways.

I was helpless and heartbroken. Helpless as to what to do; heartbroken at the fracture between us. I could not change my beliefs if he asked me to. I could change some of my behavior, but my beliefs? 

Over the next few days I scraped myself around the house, miserable. The burning in my bones wouldn’t go away. The experience of God had been too tangible for me to turn any other way except towards Him.

My friends, I'm guessing you've likely had one of these 'fracture-filled' moments at some point in your SUM? Some of us have an easier ride than others on this one, depending on how much our spouse disagrees with our faith and how much they verbalize it to us. When a spouse does verbalize displeasure at our faith it is memorably difficult and upsetting. It always calls for us to go away, think about what we can compromise on, and on what we just can't. 

Things are easier now between Bryce and me, but that day in 2017 I remember thinking to myself (crying) "I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place, the rock being Jesus and the hard place being my husband!"

What on earth do you do when you feel stuck in an impasse like this?

Well, apart from having a little cry, which is thoroughly cathartic, I'd say the most helpful thing we can do is turn our face directly towards the rock-face that is Jesus. The rock-face that our spouse is even against. There is a rock on one side, a hard place on the other. Turn our face directly towards the Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4). It has to be that way. Give some time to Jesus, go for a walk, say to Jesus 'Please minister to me in my pain,' and determine that you will keep on being a Christian.

Dear friends, if we do that (turn deliberately to Jesus), He will come through for us and change something in this situation, even if it is simply to give us strength.

Love for Jesus includes love for our spouse, so then we ask Jesus: "What does loving God but loving my spouse look like in this particular circumstance?"

I suppose the words 'rock and a hard place' aren't entirely unscriptural. After all there is a verse that says that Jesus is the rock that the builders rejected, and yet that rock became the cornerstone of the church (Acts 4:11). He is also the living stone rejected by men (1 Peter 2:4). I guess, then, if we are feeling we're in between a rock and a hard place with our Rock, Christ, being rejected by our other half, we're simply living out a scriptural truth!

The good news is, this particular story about my husband, me, and church has a rather amazing ending. God moved in a way that made my eyes widen with surprise. I will share that story next time I write.

For now, do you feel you're in between a rock and a hard place at the moment? If so, feel free to share in the comments and I'd love to pray for you.

With love,

Ann


Paul and Silas Show Us What To Do in 2021 -SUMMER Bible Study

SUMite Summer Study 2021

Vignettes of Paul

Paul and Silas

-----


Paul 2SUMites,

Lynn here. I’ve noticed that many of us are living smack in the middle of the fight. And the fires are burning molten. For me, I experience more enemy push back than in any other time in my life. EVER!!

There was a day I felt battle weary, bloody and broken. I ask you, have any of you ever thought of me as broken? I was. I truly relate to the scars that are healing on your soul. Mine are too.

And for all of us who find ourselves beaten and chained by the enemy forces of evil, I want to say one thing:

IT’S ONE HOUR UNTIL MIDNIGHT! 

Let’s take a look at the midnight story from the life of Apostle Paul. -ACTS 16:16-34

  • Paul and Silas rebuke a demonize girl and set her free. (Doing the right and Godly thing.)
  • The greed of men rocked the city and set the “government officials upon Paul and Silas (This sound far too familiar to our current day.)
  • Beaten and chained in the depths of a prison. (They were completely helpless.)

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” -ACTS 16:25-28

SUMites, we are facing a countdown to the midnight hour.  We may be rounded up.  Shut up. Denounced and abandoned by those who should love us. But midnight quickly approaches and God will show Himself and the prison doors will open. The chains will supernaturally pop off. This TRUTH is an utter mind blow!

As this hour draws near, there is no longer space for powerless Christianity. There is no place to hide our faith. Many of us are in a prison right now. A prison of our fears. A fortress of perceived failures. A marriage of iron resistance to Jesus.

BUT…….. Midnight is at hand! We have done the hard work of sanctification. Our vessels are filled with the midnight oil and we linger wide awake, waiting with anticipation for the King!

We will watch as the prison doors fling open. Then we will follow the angels as they lead us through the gates of our personal hell into the freedom Christ purchased. We will watch as Jesus sets captives free and release the oppressed from from their distorted prison of lies.

Keep singing. SING A LITTLE LOUDER. Shout to the Lord. Raise a Hallelujah.

We are not forgotten orphans. We are sons and daughters. Our Father awaits for the midnight hour at the gates with Jesus. Jesus holds the keys to death and hell. He paid the price. 

THE WAR IS OVER.

Thank you, Paul and Silas, for showing us the way. Your faith and example will save many of us from a fate worse than death.

Hallelujah.

I love you my friends. Keep marching. We will comfort one another. Bear with one another. Tend one another’s wounds and celebrate when one comes home. Love and hugs, Lynn

Paul & Silas Summer Study 2021


A Continued Testimony: My Family and Church

Hi SUM family, Ann here. Sparkles over teens

A few weeks ago I shared about how my teenage son Miles is now attending church with me. Amazing, amazing, amazing!

If you missed that story, you can catch up here.

Today I want to give you an update because I know how encouraging testimonies can be. Specifically, I want to show you a photo at the end of this post. It's a photo that says it all: It shows what God can do in a spiritually mismatched home. But first, the update:

I started out this year with none of my family attending church with me. This is how it’s been for years and, as you know, it's difficult to not only wait for your spouse, but also your children. In my case it was both of my children that I couldn't seem to bring to faith. 

Somehow, God changed that in March of this year. Since then, Miles (my youngest) has gone to church youth group every week without fail, and now attends church with me. What's more, he's super enthusiastic. I think he feels he's met his 'tribe'.

This youth group and church experience gives him the messages I so badly wanted to give him myself. At youth group, for example, they have group chats. Last week it was on ‘Identity’. This week it was about the story of Daniel interpreting Belshazzar’s dream in the Book of Daniel. Amazing! 

There’s a youth leader running it who is about 22 and on fire for Jesus. Her name is Sam. She introduces herself to them as ‘Sam-dawwg’ (Sam-dog) in a rap voice. She is relatable in all the ways that I, as a 45-year-old, am not. And he listens to her. So when she says to him “You’re coming to church on Sunday aren’t you!” he gets up at 9am on a Sunday to get there.

Honestly, praise God for this girl! I want to buy her the biggest bunch of flowers. She has no idea how much it means to me. 

Fast-forward to today and Miles now attends church with me weekly -- The new church that God led us to back in March. It's full of people in their twenties, run by people in their twenties, Jesus freaks. They even have their own t-shirt that says ‘Jesus Freak’. I am one of the oldest in the room and ... I love it! There is no age in the Spirit.

The pastor gives anointed sermons, perfectly pitched for young ears, and convicting those listening to discipleship. Miles doesn’t sit with me; instead he sits with his new friends. I occasionally glance over at him and pinch myself at what God has done. Tshirt

So, to cap off this story, now let me show you the photo I mentioned. It's of my family, taken three weeks ago. Check out the t-shirt!! I did not get Miles the t-shirt - Nope, that was Sam's doing. Nor did I ask him to put it on. In fact, I couldn't quite believe my eyes when he came out wearing it.

As for my other son? And Bryce? Well, for a start Bryce didn't mind in the slightest that Miles was walking round New Zealand wearing this t-shirt for all to see. With him in this t-shirt we looked like the poster family for Christianity ((laughing)) .. And my husband did not bat an eyelid. I actually find that quite amazing. But, second, this whole story has been a lesson that I must trust God to move in the right way for the other two. And so I am learning to not strive, to keep praying, and to wait.

Thanks for sharing this ongoing story with me, my friends, and I hope you liked that!

Ann


Reflections on Attending Church Alone

Dear friends, Ann here!Church alone

Today I want to chat about one of our topics that is an old favorite: Attending church alone. I type this with a smile, but it's a wry smile. Whether or not we've got into a routine, I think most of us would say that Church-plus-SUM is super tricky!

I shared recently that my little church closed in March. It had about 60 people, and we loved each other. But, just before Christmas two things happened: The numbers plummeted and the pastor and wife lost their vision for it. Not for pastoring, just for that place. It was as if they couldn’t help but let go.

Gulp!

It seemed God was closing a season for us all, so the pastor bravely announced “We are closing. We are so sorry … But now let's transition well.” And he cried his way through the message. What happened in the weeks since, however, is that each family went somewhere different and new things blossomed.

My Dad who is a Christian gave me a word at the time: “Whatever your reasons for joining that church initially, those reasons have now been satisfied. Allow God to do something new.”

And so I am. Happily. But I'm also reflecting on what God took me through in those six years. Because they were pretty impactful.

The day I walked through those church doors -- Well, a converted underground carpark -- I was hugged, welcomed, and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. Oh, it was wonderful, and of course I couldn’t wait to go each Sunday. But, as you know, with a less enthusiastic spouse it's not so simple: 

“Don’t tell me you can’t give it up if I ask you to!” Bryce said to me months later, fearing my absence. I guess he could see my attachment to it, and in his mind I was on my way to becoming a cult-following weirdo. Because of that comment, I became fearful myself. Fearful of what it would do to us. My attendance became sporadic and I miserably stayed home on a Sunday. Often.

“Are you alright?” My pastor asked me one day when I reappeared after about eight weeks. I whimpered back: “I just miss my husband so much …” Tears. And more tears.

He didn't say much. He just looked at me with sympathy. Bryce was the gaping, invisible hole next to me. Crap (can I say that?), this thing was hard. It was hard enough that it's making me cry to type this. That tells me how hard it was.

Time passed and I began to grow a desire to serve. “I’ve offered to go early and help on the door today ..” I said in a deliberately light-hearted voice to Bryce one Sunday. “Seriously?” He raised his eyebrows. “Why do Christians have to do that? Hellooo.” (He mimicked the sing-song voice of a Christian door-greeter, possibly teasing, but possibly not!) Maybe you can smile to read that because you know how this thing goes. But I tell you, my sense of humor had checked out. I was so sensitive to being mocked for my faith by that point, I was over it.

That was five years ago. But somehow, somewhere along the way, I began to laugh a little again. And somewhere along the way Bryce became ok with it all. Quite honestly, nothing could keep me from church anyway.

I served in different areas, but sometimes I stepped back. Sometimes I'd say, “I’m sorry – I just can’t … I have to balance it with my family.” Other times I'd say: "This I can do, yes." I followed the Holy Spirit on this one. "Yes? Or no, Lord?"

Six years in all. And by the time this little church closed I can say that, Sunday by Sunday, the whole experience grew me. God grew me, with the help of his team, his church. So, here's where I'm at now:

God is real. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life.

Church is important. And so is my marriage.

Bryce knows the above.

And somehow, these days, we make it work.

Huge, huge growth over a distinct period. Huge.

So, if you are reading this and struggling with this whole area (gah!), I think I just want to say it’ll be ok. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, seeking wisdom with each step.

How is church involvement going for you these days? Looking forward to chatting in the comments.


The Curious Move of Jesus in My Home

Ann here! Globe

When you're driving in the dark it's a great place to talk to a teen. With both sets of eyes fixed on the road nothing too intense is going on. That's probably how a teenage boy likes it, and it's where my son and I found ourselves last night as we drove home from his third time at youth group.

(Praise God! If you haven't read it, he has recently joined in at church and the story is here.)

My friends, Miles is loving youth group -- Really loving it -- and I am pinching myself at this turn of events. He laughs at that. He knows I’m excited even though I’m trying to keep it all cool. 

Last night in the car, he and I talked about the idea that God might move at a specific time in someone’s life. We talked about his grandparents, who each became Christian in their twenties. We also talked about Bryce and me. Miles has never seen me be anything but fervent, but I told him I used to be the opposite.

"But," I said to Miles, "When God moves in your life ... It’s a very compelling thing!"

Has God moved now, with this whole youth group thing? Well, something curious happened a few weeks earlier. And this 'something' is getting me thinking. I believe the following incident was God's way of confirming that this move is His move: 

A few weeks ago, Miles came downstairs for breakfast, scratching his head.

“Mum? Umm… I woke up and my globe lamp was on the floor by my bed. Did you move it?”

“No.. I didn't. Mm. That’s strange!”

We asked Travis (his big brother) and we asked Bryce. Did any of them move the lamp? Nope. They didn’t. None of us moved it. So, somehow this lamp seemed to have moved itself from his bedside table to the floor. 

Now, it’s possible he sat up and in a sleep-walking state moved the lamp. But the thing is it sits at the back of the table, so he would have had to lift it over stuff.  Surely something would have been knocked? Further, the lamp is touch-sensitive in every part, so the minute you touch any part it turns on. If Miles had moved the lamp, it would have been on. But it wasn’t. There it sat as he woke: On the floor, right where his feet touch the ground.

We all found this odd. And, of course, I had a little sneaky thought: Is God doing something fun here?

A few days later, Miles and I were chatting about the lamp and a thought came:

“Oh Miles, the Bible says Jesus is the light of the world. And His word is a lamp to your feet!“

At that, my lovely boy gave me a grin. He seemed to think that was cool. I, meanwhile, quietly thought to myself, "That is super cool. I'll assume that was you, Lord!"

Jesus is the Light of the World. And He has moved in this boy's life.

His Word is now a lamp to my son’s feet.

It was only a few weeks later that Jesus moved. In my son’s life. And he became part of Church.

"Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12, NKJV)

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm 119:105, NKJV).

When God moved in your own life so that you believed, how old were you? And how did God show you he was real? I would love to hear any stories you have of your own move.


God's Move in My Family

Dear friends, Ann Miles 2

Before I continue to share my story from Passover, I need to tell you about one of those less wondrous 'SUM moments' -- Because it forms the backdrop to what I share next.

It was one of those moments in church. All that happened was I turned around to see some kids having fun as friends. But these kids were the same age as mine. And mine were at home with their Dad. In that moment I descended into a bad space. I felt jealous of every family in that room who looked 'Christian picture-perfect' (Sorry -- I realize that's not good. Transparent post today). Oh dear!

While I've been learning to love, my children have continued to be 'unchurched' and disinterested in faith. Completely disinterested. And that's been hard.

BUT, oh what's just happened these past weeks has taken me by surprise. 

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain.” (Zechariah 4:6, NKJV).

So ... Here we go, and I hope it makes you smile:

Just before Passover, my church closed. Rather unconventionally, the pastor felt God wanted us to disband. He made a brave decision to close us, sensing that we were all to be released into somewhere new. I loved my church, but to me it felt a God thing. Certainly interesting!

At the very same time, my son Miles’s best friend Toby's family started going to a new church down the road from our house. My ears pricked up at this news, and I casually said to Miles “If I go to that church, would you go?”

“Yes.” He said.

That was the only thing we said.

Well, blow me down, I'd said nothing more, but shortly before Passover Miles spontaneously announced: “Mum, I’m going to youth group tonight, can you drive me over?”

I nearly choked on my biscuit.

(At this point my face took on a stunned expression).

A few days later the next thing happened: “Mum, can I go to Easter Camp?”

Easter camp is a nationwide Christian camp for teens. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening before my eyes … How does a teenage boy, age 15, become interested in church like this?

So we signed him up. I say ‘we’, because Bryce was part of it. And here you may be wondering what his reaction was? The answer: Happy. 

(Stunned expression, again).

The Passover lamb meal came and went, and then the day of camp came around. That morning, I went out and bought Miles a Bible, which I showed Bryce on my return. It was the last thing we got ready, and in the front cover I wrote: To Miles … I stopped. From Mum? My pen hovered. Then, I continued: From Mum and Dad.

Three days he was at camp. I drummed my fingers. The disciples’ three days of waiting were perhaps not too much more suspenseful. Well, ok, their suspense was bigger. But, would Miles be deterred or captivated at this camp? There’s free will. It could go either way.

I drove to pick him up; and there he was, cheerfully playing frisbee with Toby. Chatting with the other teens. We bundled him into the car with all his bags, and began to drive home. But within 200 metres this came:

“Mum, my favorite session was the Holy Spirit session.” And he looked over at me with seriousness in his eyes.

He continued:

“We all felt it. I mean, I got chills …”

I turned to him, taking my eyes off the road. I put my hand to my heart, and declared: “Oh Miles. I love the Holy Spirit.”

There we sat at the traffic lights, grinning at each other.

Later, he sat at the table -- Bryce on one side, me on the other -- telling Bryce about a healing he'd seen. Bryce nodded, "Some people have the gift of healing .. Don't they Ann?" "They do," I said, "But I think God invites every believer to pursue that gift."

Oh my heart.

Today's story ends here: This past Sunday, a certain teenager got himself -- quite remarkably -- out of bed early. That day I didn’t go to church on my own. No, I walked through those doors with my handsome son by my side.

And as I write those last few words ... I’m crying.

Love you all,

Ann


Holy Week Here at SUM

Hi SUM family, Ann here. 

Lamb of GodThis time of year is ever so special. It’s a time when we lift our eyes collectively to the cross of Jesus.

There’s such value in faith routines, and I know many of you have routines that you follow, year after year. For me, one treasured routine is to follow the events of Holy Week, day by day, across all four Gospels. That is, I read the events of Palm Sunday on Palm Sunday, Monday’s events on Monday, and so on.

It is a bit to keep up with as a busy Mum. But I find I always see something new, and I love comparing the different accounts across Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In the back of my Bible, there’s a ‘Harmony of the Gospels’, a table showing how the Gospels align with each other. And so I make myself comfy and settle in for more reading than usual. Harmony page final

The Jewish calendar also comes in here, as Passover falls close to the Church's commemoration of Jesus's death and resurrection. This year, Passover evening is this Saturday night, the 27th of March.

The story of Passover in Exodus 12:1-28, where the Israelites killed a lamb and painted the blood on their doorposts, always pointed to Jesus. As John the Baptist cried out,

"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the Sin of the World!" (John 1:29, ESV)

Jesus ate that lamb on the very day he was arrested and crucified -- Passover. I can't imagine how that would have felt: Eating the Passover lamb and knowing that he would be slaughtered in the same way.

Then, we have the Christian liturgy layered on top (Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and so on), showing how the Church has remembered these events for centuries. Together, what a rich picture.

With all that in mind, then, it's Holy Week here at SUM. And we are a church without walls. So, what we're going to do is have a little something each day on this blog, beginning with Palm Sunday. We might have a video or two, or a song. We'll see ... Most importantly, it's an opportunity for us to remember the crucifixion and resurrection all over again, and connect with each other as fellow Christians.

Do you have any routines that help you remember the cross at this time of year?

Love you all loads, and see you next week!

Ann