46 posts categorized "Church"

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


Top Three Tips for Thriving in a Spiritually Mismatched Marriage

Ann here! Mountain

Today I had an interesting faith conversation with a man with whom I cross paths occasionally. I know him in a professional rather than social capacity, but whenever I see him we have a good chat. So, I'll call him a 'friend-acquaintance'. 

Anyway, today I saw him for the first time in a year and we found ourselves talking about one of my favorite topics (and a topic I don't talk much about): A faith difference in marriage.

Well, who would've thought it, it turns out he’s kind of there too. He is finding himself in that place at home. And so we had a light-hearted (but on-point) chat about it.

Our conversation came about because he asked me if I was still working at the university. I said “No, these days I volunteer in Christian ministry!” “Oh!” He said, “Tell me more!” And so, I told him about this little ministry of ours on the web. I said, “Bryce and I have been through a lot there – There’s a lot to it. You have to learn how to stay happily married, and not annoy each other!”

My friend then shared that he had re-entered church and reconnected with his faith in recent years. His beloved had not. He said, it’s something he’s been wrestling with, especially recently. With that, I told him we had 1,000 + readers on our blog, and I said, “It’s a big need. It’s not uncommon. And, yes, it’s hard.”

Indeed. It. Is. Hard. The church often doesn’t know how to help us. We don’t fit the mold so we stay on the periphery. But the truth is, we’re a big segment of the church -- the Body of Christ -- and we need support. Some of us have figured out how to fit church with home life, and how to follow Jesus in our home. Others of us are still working that out.

My friend/acquaintance asked me a good question today, and one that I think is valuable for anyone new to our blog. He asked: “Ok, so what would be your top three tips for someone in this situation?”

It was on the spot, but here’s what came out of my mouth:

  • Win without words – That is, live your faith out without using a whole lot of words (1 Peter 3:1). 
  • Treat your spouse as the top human in your life. Make sure they know you prioritize that relationship.
  • Pursue your relationship with God above all else, even if your spouse doesn’t like it. You’ll get the most strength and peace if you keep moving forward towards God.

Mm... Those were my thruppence, on the spot. A few hours later I look at this and obviously would put point three at the top. Pursue God -- Jesus -- above all else and everything else will follow. But apart from that, yes those remain my top three.

How about you, what would you have said when asked that question? How would you have worded it? Interested to hear your thoughts, as always.

Great chatting, and have a good weekend!

Ann


In My Circumstances Did I Learn to Love?

By Ann Hutchison Did I learn to love

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh dear! 

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

Importantly, God tells me to LOVE. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week!

Ann

* Not her real name


JESUS AND THE CHURCH ARE THE ULTIMATE MISMATCH

Wedding Supper of the LambLynn here. THIS IS FROM THE LORD!

The entirety of our years on earth are rushing, headlong toward ONE SPECIFIC DAY! A Day that’s been destined in our future for eternity. A day the has been promised before time began. The greatest day of all eternity!!!

The wedding supper of the Lamb!

And SUMITE NATION, we have been given a beautiful gift that most the rest of the world completely cannot grasp.

We have been walking this spiritual mismatch with a human spouse for years. AND, OH, WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW!

  • We understand what it feels like to be a spouse who loves in the face of pain, rejection, and disappointment. —Just like Jesus loves His Bride.
  • We feel deeply the struggle to build a moral family life, raise children and grow in our faith without the support of the one we chose to be our life partner. —Just like Jesus!
  • We pray without ceasing for our spouse of this world to be awakened and embrace the Living and True God. —Just like Jesus!
  • We sacrifice dreams of life together in harmony, church attendance, strong family and ministry with our spouse. —Just like Jesus!

WE THE UNEQUALLY YOKED. We understand Jesus. He lives in this scenario with 7.5 billion human souls that He died to save, heal, and set free. We see it so clearly. We understand Jesus. We know how He feels. He grieves over the lost and broken of this world, the spiritually mismatched Bride.

But through the long years of faithful perseverance we comprehend the heart of Christ for us, our family, our spouse, and humanity.

  • And just like Jesus, we will never surrender hope and will fight hell itself for the souls of those we love.
  • And just like Jesus, we will always believe a heart and a home can and will be redeemed and changed.
  • And just like Jesus, we know without-a-doubt that all things are working for our good to the glory of the Father.
  • And just like Jesus, we believe that it’s the goodness of God that leads to repentance.

Today, and every day, we continue to stand in the gap for a lost generation of spouses that are cloaked in darkness. And we stand alongside Jesus.

My SUMite brothers and sister, we know this better that any other person on the plant. Because we live this out every…..single…..day.

Jesus always believed for us. And in response we have followed His example in very challenging and extraordinarily difficult marriages. And in seasons when our heart breaks and disappointment vows to swallow us up, just like Jesus, WE WILL NOT RELENT! Jesus will never stop hoping, interceding, protecting and believing for us.

We can, AND WILL, do the same for a lost and broken man or woman.

AND YOU KNOW WHY? BECAUSE WE ARE THE CHURCH!!!!!!!!

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” —Revelation 19:6-9

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. —Hebrews 12:22-23

So what say you, Church??? Will you be at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Will you be standing by your spouse, your children, grandchildren and their children’s children?

This is this your legacy! YOU are the one person who took one small brave step into faith and you changed an entire family line for a thousand generations. Let revelation bring this profound truth of your life’s impact for the Kingdom of God into your reality today. Then sing, praise, and walk in complete faith.

We have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony!! THAT is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  Hallelujah!!!

I love you SUMite Nation! March ON!!!  The world is the Lords and we shall see every knee bow to the name of our beloved, Jesus Christ. Hallelujah. AMEN Hugs, Lynn


A Royal Wedding and Our Earthly Marriages

Hi friends, Ann here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jesus and the Church: The Ultimate Marriage Story

Hi friends, Ann here!Bride of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My prayer today, then, is this:

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

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

Ann


The Day My Church Friends Came to Dinner

By Ann Hutchison

“How would you and your husband like to come for dinner?” A dear church friend threw her arm around my shoulder one Sunday, extending her hospitality. You prepare a table for me

My heart began to pound. Not this again. Inwardly, one word hit my brain. “Nooooooo!”

I smiled as best I could and said, “That’s really nice. Um. Can I just think about it?” She looked puzzled. “Sure.”

Here’s my deal: My husband loves people, and we don’t find it difficult to talk to strangers. But, when it comes to church I personally have a mountain of complexities in my head. Truth be told, the idea of us going to a church friend’s house made me feel sick with nerves. Why on earth, I wonder? This needed to be analysed, and so here’s what I realized:

‘Church’ represented something that came between me and Bryce to such a degree that it jeopardized our marriage. Since then I’ve feared bringing church people into our lives in case it jeopardizes ‘us’ again.

That’s what’s been in my head; and consequently I’ve kept that part of my life neatly separate. Non-Christians have long been my preferred dinner guests because that felt more comfortable. I always thought it was for him, but perhaps it was really about my comfort levels.

That was until a few weeks ago when a chain of events led to us welcoming into our home the pastor and his wife for dinner. This was certainly the crossing of a new frontier, and as they say in space terms, ‘a giant leap for Ann-kind’. Or SUM-kind.

The leap was sparked one night after we’d come home from dinner out with our usual friends. As always, I felt slightly sad from the evening, purely because of the unbelief. You know how it is. It’s normal these days so I didn’t say anything to Bryce, but he could tell. This particular evening, he watched me from across the kitchen and seemed to resonate more than usual. Eventually, he came out with a suggestion:

“I think we should hang out with a wider variety of people. Different kinds of people.”

Wary of seeming like I didn’t love our friends I began to protest, but he pressed me again, suggesting I invite someone new over, and then these words came:

“Why don’t you ask someone from church? Just make sure it’s no one weird, ok?”

Even though I myself am reasonably weird, weirdness seems to be his main concern. So, ok, it seemed we had a deal. And I laughed.

My task was thus set and I thought I’d better do it quickly before I freak and back out. But who at church should I ask? Well, one couple seemed obvious. They had boys the same ages as ours, and the male of the family likes sport, as does my hubby. Importantly, there wasn’t a shred of weirdness there. “Right then,” I decided, drew my phone to me, and did it quickly. I texted an invite and clicked SEND.

Here’s the fun bit: That couple also happen to be the pastors of my little church. So, after they’d texted back “Yes!” I realized this could go one of two ways: Very well, or quite awkwardly.

As I write, the dinner has come and gone, and I’m pleased to report I have a smile on my face. Here’s my spiritual observation of the day: When God gave pastors to the church, they were a gift from Christ. I hadn’t really thought of this before, but on the night it was clear that these two were the perfect ones to be sitting at our table. Pastors have strong, sensitive hearts for people. They were to my right at the table. To my left, there sat Bryce, relaxed and, in true extravert form, enjoying the fact there were some new and interesting people at his table.  

Indeed, on the night of the dinner, with so many boisterous boys in the room, our guests, and my cheery husband, the air was filled with chatter. I was left feeling that ‘the church’ had done us some good. In closing, I will say I couldn’t imagine this happening any earlier. However, in God’s perfect timing things happen seamlessly. What a relief!

Now your turn: Have you socialized yet with church friends?


One Flesh: Stop Tugging Me!

By Ann Hutchison One flesh  SUM

I have an analogy that I often use when I begin to feel challenged by spiritual difference in marriage. It’s this: My husband and I are like conjoined twins. We're one flesh.

Does that resonate with you? I pull in one direction, spiritually; he might say ‘No!’ and before we know it we’re yanking and straining, stretched beyond possibility. Sometimes it gets too much; then one of us will yell: “Stop it! Ouch!” Being one flesh, we are knit together intensively.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 (NKJV)

Thinking about this whole 'one flesh' thing, I decided to watch a documentary on conjoined twins. It might sound bonkers, but that is genuinely how I feel in spiritual terms. He is my other half. Anyway, others’ paths are good to watch, and wow what a path. In this documentary I was struck by one particular pair who were middle-aged and clearly different to each other. In the documentary, it interested me that they have taken decades to work together. I think a SUM can follow this progression too: with time we get a little gentler.

For example, I look back and cringe thinking about the time I said to my husband, “I’m so lonely being a Christian!” Good one, Ann, how did that make him feel? He threw a shocker back: “You’re a supernatural junkie!” At that, I bawled. These were not our finest days.

There are many curious ways ‘one-flesh’ plays out in a spiritually different marriage. There's the fact our resources are joint. If I spend my time on anything related to God, something at home gets waylaid. Often, the washing up or laundry. We all know that it’s busy running a home, so my use of time matters. Essentially, my stewardship of what God has given me affects my husband.

This one flesh thing is shown here, also:

The wife hath not power of her own body but the husband: and likewise also, the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife. 1 Corinthians 7:4 (KJV)

Although that verse is about sexual intimacy, it does reveal our conjoined condition.

So far, ok. But now here’s the added curve-ball that has – at points – sent me over the edge: We’re also one with the church (Ephesians 4:16). And how on earth does that work, when our partner doesn’t want in? I genuinely feel a connection with other believers, but it is Catch 22. Are we conjoined triplets: husband, wife, church? One thing's for sure, it's not comfy. Is three a crowd, or a three-fold cord?

Here's one little way I tense up: I can talk about God with other believers until the cows come home. But, when that happens there’s sometimes a check into my spirit. I become mindful of not being too tight with Christian friends at the expense of my husband. I suppose I make sure those friendships fit into my life with him, and this is a balancing act that I think carefully about.

On the topic of Christian friendships, though, I did have an a-ha moment that helped me. It came from Genesis 1:24: God designed a man to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. From this verse I was able to see that my Christian friends are brothers and sisters, but like father and mother they are secondary family compared to my husband. My relationship with him is tops. After God, of course.

Another thing that helped me was this: God made the wife-husband relationship to be physically intimate, which is something no other relationship has. That intimacy tells me something about the degree to which my relationship with my hubby is beyond any other. It’s in my power to protect that secret place that mirrors the intimacy we have with God (Psalm 91:1). And, if I protect that secret place in marriage, I’m honoring God’s design.

So, those are my musings today. I will be the first to say I have made many silly mistakes in my marriage. Bryce and I have been married twenty years now, which is ample time to accumulate successes and some less fine moments. But one flesh we are, and we try to walk it well.

Now over to you, my SUM friends: What challenges does the 'one flesh' condition raise for you, and how do you tackle them?


MORE From The Summit...

Hey SUM family, Tiffany Here! 

During the leader's meeting on the Friday morning before the conference I said I would share a spoken word piece during the offering time. I didn't have anything prepared at the time of volunteering. In fact I just heard the words come out of my mouth. You know those moments when you realize after the fact that you were pushed into things by the Holy Spirit? Maybe it's just me. It happens quite often. *grin*

The rest of the day seemed to fast forward pretty quickly. Filled with fellowship, food and fun. I was exhausted after the meet and greet at Lynn's house - in a good way - and went to bed shortly after everyone left. Saturday morning I wake up and realize that I didn't take time to prepare a spoken word! Out of desperation I laid flat on my back with my arms outstretched (my body in the shape of a cross) and said, "Holy Spirit, I need You to give me a spoken word for today. I want those who hear it to feel your deep love. I want them to know that they can have a close relationship with You. Give me something."

In that moment of asking Him, I could feel the atmosphere change in the room. It was like He was waiting for the invitation to share what was in the deep recesses of His heart. The following is the spoken word. I have posted it on Facebook so it may be a repeat for some. In my humble opinion, Holy Spirit really delivered!

More, Tiffany Carter, 4/6/19

 

Remember when I first revealed myself to you?

The relief you felt?

Just wait there’s more.

 

Remember when you heard me speak life into your bones?

The comfort you felt?

Just wait there’s more.

 

Remember when you received my loving embrace?

The warmth you felt?

Just wait there’s more.

 

Remember when you needed Me and cried out for help?

The deliverance you felt?

Just wait there’s more.

 

Remember when you sought me for clarity?

The answers you felt?

Just wait there’s more.

 

More. Love that is unendable. River w SUM logo

More. Passion that is unshakable.

More. Desire that is unquenchable.

More. Joy that is uncontainable.

More. Intimacy that is unthinkable.

More. Wisdom that is unmatchable.

More. Peace that is uncontrollable.

More. Power that is undeniable.

More. Faith that is unbeatable.

MORE.

 

Remember when you stepped into your destiny and calling?

The freedom you felt?

My beloved child…

Just wait.

There’s MORE.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (TPT) - Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you.  Now we offer up to God all the glorious praise that rises from every church in every generation through Jesus Christ—and all that will yet be manifest through time and eternity. Amen!

Do you want more? I know that I sure do!

Let's talk in the comments. In these weeks since the conference, what are some things that God has been showing you? How has He shown up in your life personally? In reference to Libby's visions, how have you been feeling the residual affects of the river flowing from the conference? I love you all.


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


Deliverance After YEARS Of Torment! Hallelujah!

Hello SUM Family, Tiffany Here!

The last couple of months I have been sharing a bit about what I have learned from reading a book called From Dream to Destiny by Robert Morris. I was assigned to read this book in class and I am so glad that I read it! This book has been truly amazing. To read the previous two posts I've written in this "mini-series" click on the links below.

This Is Just The Pits!

Do You Want Evidence Or The Truth?

In September I began to take steps to transition into a new church. As you read this, I have now been at this new church for 3 weeks. Each and every week has been so powerful and effective. Today I want to share with you a recent experience unlike anything I've ever had. It happened a little over a week ago on October 14, 2018. The following is what I posted the next day on Facebook (sharing here as well since a lot of you may not have Facebook or seen it because we aren't "friends"):

 Worship at Hub is amazing. God is there. Holy Spirit presence is thick and tangible. We were singing a song I had never heard before. The lyrics were powerful and the words that floored me at the time were talking about laying my whole life down before Jesus our Savior. I was already worshipping on my knees but I couldn't help but crouch face down before God. I felt so heavy and overloaded. I was just crying and crying before God. My words spoken in tears and sobs. All of a sudden it was like God said, "get up." Not in an angry way but an empowering way...if that makes sense. I sat up and it was like I saw myself in the place of the woman caught in adultry that was brought before Jesus. The crowd, stones in hand set to stone her. Jesus calmly and matter of factly said, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone." Slowly, one by one the people left. Once everyone was gone, I pictured Jesus Freedom foreverlift up my chin so I would look him in the eyes. Crouched on the ground seeing His eyes intent on mine. Looking into my soul. Just like He did with the woman that day, He said, "who condemns you?" Looking around I reply, "No one Sir." In that instant...I felt all the weight of condemnation lifted. It was like I had an hour long deep tissue massage. Every fiber of my  being, relaxed and stress free. I realized later after worship and after the service...reflecting on what happened in that moment. Those people standing and surrounding me so quick to condemn and judge...were different versions of ME. How often I have shot myself down, I have stoned myself for a mis-spoken word, a harsh tone, a forgotten task, a wrong thought...I have been stoning myself for years and as God clearly told me to get up - it was giving me my life back. It was His GRACE UPON GRACE. His mercy. His true love. He doesn't keep record of wrongs...and neither should I. NO LONGER DO I. This morning, as life went on as usual...I reacted in ways I am tyring to change (short with my daughter when she cries about everything she wears - meltown after meltdown this morning and my shortness with her, attitude from tired children, etc) but the major difference was this. No one condemns me...not even myself. I made a mistake, asked for forgivenenss and moved on. The first instance my flesh tried to condemn me I heard the words "no one Sir." Loud and clear and it reminded me of the freedom that I was given. Once and for all. I will never go back. Once that transaction was finished Jesus said, "Go and sin no more." Can you image the freedom, the joy, the apreciation she felt with that moment? I can...because I do.

 You may have to click on the picture to better see but I found the moment in worship where this exchange happened. Today I stand free from years of mental torment. As I think about this moment it still brings tears to my eyes because every moment since then has been a blessing. Please know that it doesn't mean that I am perfect or care free. I still have some struggles that God is working on in me. Holy Spirit is still pruning and I've got a lot of work to do. However, I am no longer hopeless.

I've gone a little long this time so let me wrap up with this:

I have been blessed to be a blessing. So today, I bless you with joy unspeakable; freedom from weight (even YEARS worth) of torment - mental, emotional, spiritual, physical; victory beyond belief; confidence in your Daddy; hope to weather the storm; faith, life, salvation for your spouse and loved ones; light in the darkness; advancement in the Kingdom where you feel backslidden; fire shut up in your bones; fight and fierceness; and love beyond compare.

Below is the song that brought me to the feet of Jesus and ushered me into freedom.

See you in the comments. I would love to pray over you for your own deliverance.