Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Samuela and the Captain

‘Samuela nooo!’

My ima’s heartrending screams filled my ears as the tall soldier dragged me away. I stumbled along beside him, unable to see through my tears, until he pushed me to the ground with a stern ‘Wait here.’

My best friend Deborah wailed next to me and I put my arm around her, ‘Surely Yahweh is still with us.’

When the army had finished ransacking our village for valuables, they roped the captives together and forced us to march. We walked for days. Deborah and I stayed together, helping each other as much as the ropes would allow.

The captain looked me over. He had already chosen the best of the male prisoners for himself. I stared at the ground, scared of what might happen. 

‘You’ll do for my wife,’  he said.

His friend liked the look of Deborah and pulled her into his tent that night. I held my hands over my ears to block out the sound of her distress. I was terrified the captain would do the same to me but he left me alone.

The sun was setting when we finally arrived in the big city of Damascus. The soldiers untied the captives, and Deborah was led away by the man who had forced her into his tent each night. Tears made muddy tracks down my dirty cheeks when I saw my only friend being taken away. I knew no one.

‘Come.’

black-horseCaptain Naaman on his majestic black horse led the way to his house, we his slaves trying our best to keep up with him. I shivered with cold and fear, having been captured in my thin dress which was torn and dirty from the long journey.

A well dressed servant came out to greet his master.

Captain Naaman commanded that the male slaves be taken to the outside dwellings. Then he turned to me. ‘And this one is for my wife. You had better clean her up before she comes into the house.’

I was led to a room where I could wash, and a clean tunic was brought for me.

One of the household servants led me into a large and beautiful room. It was the richest place I had ever been in. Reclining couches were laid out here and there on the marble floor, and I could hear water tinkling in the background. I found out later it was a fountain.

‘Come here little girl,’ said a woman’s voice.

I raised my head and saw a dark-haired lady reclining on one of the couches. She held out her hand and I went and stood before her.

‘What is your name?’

‘Samuela.’ I whispered.

It was the first word I had said since comforting Deborah when we were first captured weeks ago.

Odd that my name should be the first word I said in this new, strange place. My abba and ima had given it to me because they thought they could not have children. They pleaded with God for many years. When He answered their prayers, they planned to call the baby Samuel which means ‘God hears’, but when I – a daughter – was born, they changed it to Samuela.

    *     *     *     *     *     *     *

mop

My mistress was kind, and though I had to work hard as her maid, I was never mistreated. Captain Naaman was a fair man and his servants had no need to be afraid of him unless they had done something wrong.

It was awful when the captain noticed the small discoloured patches on his arms. The doctor confirmed leprosy. We thought his army career was over but the king wanted Captain Naaman to stay in charge of his army because the captain was a formidable soldier who had led many victories.

But over time, he began to lose feeling in his limbs. It was dangerous for a soldier to go into battle unable to feel pain when he was wounded. We knew it was a matter of time before he lost a limb or went blind.

One morning, I stood behind his wife brushing out her beautiful long, dark hair. I heard a sniffling noise and quietly stepped across the bed chamber for a piece of linen which I handed to her.

‘Thank you Samuela,’ she said. ‘I am so worried about my husband. We have prayed and made sacrifices to our god Rimmon but his leprosy is getting worse.’

‘My God, Yahweh, could heal him.’

My mistress turned round so quickly I jumped.

‘What did you say, Samuela?’

I cleared my throat. ‘I wish my master would go to Yahweh’s prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of the leprosy.’

My mistress eagerly pressed me for details and I told her all I could remember about the prophet Elisha, and how Yahweh worked miracles through him.

‘Naaman! Naaman!’

I could hear them talking. Then the captain left the house. My mistress told me he had gone to see the king.

The captain returned with a letter from the king and made preparations immediately to travel to Samaria. There was an expectant air in the house. Could he really be cured of this horrible skin condition?

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Less than a month later, Captain Naaman returned home. His skin was as clear as a baby’s.

muddy-riverMy mistress told me the whole story, of how the master had caused panic in the king of Samaria’s palace when he turned up there asking to be healed. Thankfully, Elisha the prophet heard about it and sent a message with the instructions for the captain to wash seven times in the Jordan River.

My master was furious at first because he thought Elisha should chant incantations and wave his hands over the leprosy. But some of his trusted servants who had accompanied him convinced him to give it a try. The Jordan is nothing like the clean rushing waters of the rivers flowing through Damascus. But my master did as he was instructed and was completely healed of leprosy.

Now my master and my mistress worship the one true God. My God: the One who heals.

Five

I got quite excited when I saw Five Minute Friday’s word for this week:  Five. I immediately scribbled ideas of everything I could think of in five minutes to do with ‘five’. Here is the result – enjoy!

I’ve always preferred even numbers to odd ones. This applies to all sorts of things: I’ll make myself six crackers with cheese for supper; I love symmetry. Having said that, I’ve always liked the number five.

When I was younger and made up stories in my head, I would often choose names with five letters (and preferably only two syllables): Chloe, Robin, Bella, Poppy.

I used to love reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. For an animal lover, it was great that someone else would count a dog as part of the gang. Except that I don’t like ginger beer and the idea of eating tongue out of a tin does nothing for me, I thought it would be fun to hang out with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy. I wanted to be a George but suspected I was an Anne (I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with all things pink but I think I’m there now).

When I started my first ‘proper’ job at eighteen, there were five of us medical secretaries in the Ear, Nose and Throat Department. We were a great team and most of us are still in touch today, a couple of decades later.

And here ends my five minutes on ‘Five’ for Five Minute Friday 😉

 

All His Resources

[They] came to request a message from the Lord. They sat down in front of me to wait for His reply.

Yesterday, I read these words written by the prophet Ezekiel and they caused an impromptu worship time.

Before Jesus was born, if people wanted to hear from God they generally had to go to a prophet and hope he or she (mostly ‘he’ but sometimes ‘she’) was a godly person.

But with the coming of Jesus, everything changed. Jesus came to usher in God’s Kingdom, and that means we have full access to the Father and all His resources, blessings and gifts.

One of the many things I love about Grace Church is the way my pastor Nick Sharp is able to explain deep spiritual truths simply. He often reminds us, for example, that we have the privilege of being able to speak in the prayer language of tongues because Jesus died to give us this gift.

Another spiritual gift that we highly value at Grace Church is that of prophecy. I love that we no longer have to go to a prophet to hear from God because He speaks directly to us when we become His children.

He does this in different ways: through the Bible, other Christians, in dreams and visions, in pictures and impressions. (The measure we use to check we are hearing from God and not just our own imagination is whether or not it holds true to the Bible. If it does, then it is most probably from God as He never goes against His Word.)

What a privilege we New Testament saints have: to know God as Father, Friend, Deliverer, Master, Saviour, Brother; to be able to talk to Him without fear of condemnation; and to be able to hear from Him freely.

What an amazing, truly awesome God!

Listen

Yesterday I treated myself to a day in Derbyshire. Just me and Jesus. I wanted to take time out to be with Him, to listen and see what He would say.

On the drive to the beautiful village of Hartington, listening to worship music and pondering on the lyrics that reminded me that I am a child of God who is accepted for who I am, I invited Him to be with me. I know in a sense He is always there – He lives within me and has promised never to leave me. But I wanted to welcome Him like I would any good friend.

hartington-path

I set out along the path with anticipation. The whole day was ahead of us, me and Jesus in the beautiful countryside. There were no distractions, I had no phone or internet signal.

He led me beside rippling waters, the soothing sound washing away the everyday tension of the last few weeks.

I meandered through green pastures. My soul was restored.

I sang softly in tongues and English. Several times I stated: ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ and recalled how He had led me through dark valleys at times. He has anointed me with the oil of His Holy Spirit and my cup of joy overflows. He has indeed prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies. He is a good, generous God.

I couldn’t keep from smiling as I reminded myself of how His goodness and mercy pursue me every single day. His mercies are new every morning. His steadfast love will never fail me. And I will one day live with my God in His house. His home will be my home. Wow, wow wow.

still-waters

Jesus reminded me yesterday that He is my shepherd. He is the Living Water and I need to continually drink in the life He gives. He is completely satisfying while making me thirsty for more. And as I unpacked my tomato roll for lunch, I was reminded how He is the Bread of Life. Jesus is all I need. I wish I would remember that more often.

Jesus 🙂  I took time out to listen to Him yesterday, and my soul was restored.

Gospel Transformation Bible

Do you like bargains?

Some people are fab bargain hunters, I’m not normally one of them. But today I am.

10ofThose are doing a one-off promotion of the new ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. The usual retail price is £50 or £60, but 10ofThose are selling them for £7 and £9. Wow. It’s first come, first served, so I’d advise you to get in there quick!

There are lots of great study Bibles on the market, but this one is unique in that it traces each Bible passage back to Christ. A number of Bible scholars have contributed to this product and the study notes are full of both scholarly insight and pastoral wisdom.

I enjoy using different versions of the Bible in my personal studies and readings because I can get slightly different insights, so I’m looking forward to getting my own copy of this ESV Gospel Transformation Bible.

The cover designs are also appealing to me: there is a choice of attractive leather-look and genuine leather covers in different colours, as well as in Tru-Tone. What’s not to like?

It’s also worth thinking about the fact that Christmas is only 104 sleeps away, and these would make great presents…. 😀

Here’s what Jonathan Carswell at 10ofThose and Adrian Reynolds of the Proclamation Trust have to say about this fantastic product:

It’s Winter…

Six years ago this autumn, I received a termination letter from my (then) employers.

The letter wasn’t a shock. I’d spent most of the previous ten months off work ill and was showing no signs of being able to resume my job in the foreseeable future. They had discussed it with me. Their tone was kind and I knew they would continue praying for my healing.

But…. [read more]

Path

Life is like a path, you never know what’s around the next bend. It leads through dark valleys and takes you to exhilarating mountain-tops.

It can be scary, not knowing where my particular path of life is leading next.

I don’t much like being the leader on the path. I much prefer having someone to follow.

Last summer while on a prayer retreat with my friend Elizabeth, I had a powerful picture of walking along a beach. I felt alone and vulnerable, out in front. I didn’t like it. But then I looked again and saw Jesus just in front of me, glancing back over His shoulder, beckoning me forward with a smile. He made me to be a follower.

Within four days of arriving home, mine and Adi’s path took an unexpected turn through a short valley. Adi was given notice from his job. Suddenly Fear and Anxiety leapt onto the path determined to be my companions.

But I remembered that I was following Jesus along this path of life. And He has promised to provide for all my needs, including peace in place of anxiety. So I cold-shouldered Fear and Anxiety whenever they got too close, and fought to keep my eyes on Jesus. There were times when ‘what if we can’t keep up with the mortgage?’ filtered through my mind. Then there were moments of real peace when I actually managed to trust God.

Within two and a half weeks, Adi was offered a new job with a great firm. We never even missed a pay cheque. It was his one year anniversary in the firm yesterday.

God knew what was ahead of me, and gave me a powerful experience of Him mere days before I would need to lean on Him completely.

Loyal

‘What’s the first thing that comes into your head when I say the word loyal?’ I asked Adi.

‘Dog.’

Strangely enough, it was the first word that came into my head too.

The most loyal dog I can think of is Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. If I remember the story correctly, Bobby was so loyal to his master that even after the man had died Bobby remained by the grave and had to be fed by the kind people of the city.

I googled the meaning of loyal: giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance.

Synonyms (other words meaning the same thing) for loyal are faithful, true-hearted, devotion.

Those words describe the loyalty of a dog, who is often called a man’s best friend. Certainly my brother’s dog Ben had eyes for only one master, my brother. Even after my brother married and passed Ben onto me, whenever he visited Ben would leap around him barking and yelping, tail wagging till it nearly came off. We were left in no doubt where Ben’s true heart lay.

Change the letters of the word dog and you get God.

Loyal, faithful, true-hearted, devoted: all words that describe God’s character and the way He feels about us.

He is devoted to us long before we’re aware of Him. I read a beautiful story online recently of how a girl suffering with anorexia bulimia was aware of Jesus’ presence beside her as she was sticking her fingers down her throat over the toilet. This was before she knew Jesus the Person who loved her.

I had the amazing privilege of being able to tell a group of women in the sex industry how Jesus is crackers about them and how He would have chosen to hang out with them when He was a man on earth (not to use them or get anything from them but simply to be with them because He saw precious people made in His image).

The more I realise how intensely faithful God is to me, the more I fall in love with Him. He’s the Best. Whoop!

Happy

Happiness is sprawled on the sofa reading a good book, nibbling goodies and drinking something nice,
Having a date day with God to enjoy His presence,
Looking round a new city with Adi,
Going for a run by the sea or riding a horse through the woods in summer,
Praying and chatting with my ‘twin’ Elizabeth.

Happiness is devouring a new book by a favourite author, several hundred pages thick (mmmhhhhh),
Playing with Truffles the rabbit and seeing him bunny hop for joy,
Prayer meetings at church when God’s presence comes….
Enjoying fulfilment in a God-given ministry and satisfaction with my work,
Drinking a large mug of tea after a long journey.

These are some of the things that make me happy, inspired by today’s Five Minute Friday prompt. But that set me to wondering what makes God happy? He gave emotions, and feels happiness, just like me. So what makes Him happy? I love Him so I want to know what brings a smile to His face. This is worthy of diving into the Bible to see what happy treasures I find….

What’s That Smell?

When [my daughter] was a baby I used to carry her with her head on my chest and I would breathe in her baby smell and I remember offering her to another family member to sniff because she smelled so beautiful. From the moment I took my first breath as a mummy, it’s my favourite fragrance in the world, matched only by that of her little sister. 

My friend Helen Murray wrote those words and they got me thinking….

To the Father, I smell like Jesus.

What does it mean to smell like Jesus? We’re not talking aftershave here.

Jesus: Scents of Justice and Mercy

Before Jesus came, God’s people had to offer animal sacrifices as a temporary payment for their wrong-doing. The payment for wrong-doing is death but God accepted offerings of sheep, goats and cows so that the people wouldn’t have to die and be separated from Him. Such offerings smelled of God’s justice and mercy and are described as being a pleasant scent to Him.

CrossAll those temporary sacrifices pointed to the one perfect sacrifice: Jesus. When He willingly gave Himself up for me, the Father saw it as a fragrant offering and accepted His sacrifice. Jesus paid for my wrong-doing fully. There’s nothing left to pay. And that smells good to the Father.

Smell Like Jesus: Live Like Jesus

The Bible urges me to imitate God.

Why?

Because I’m His beloved child.

How?

By walking in love. Love looks like what Jesus did, giving up His life. Jesus said that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends.

Smell Like Jesus: Love Like Jesus

For most of us, love won’t look like dying for someone. Although it might….

It means thinking and acting more like a community than an individual. This is something my church is focused on at the moment, building authentic community.

For example, between Christmas and New Year our old washing machine died. Aaaaggghhh! What to do? Friends from church had recently moved into the area and happily gave me a key to their house so I could pop round and use their washing machine for the next eight weeks. There was some sacrifice on their part and lots of gratitude on mine.

Washing MachineSacrifice can mean having a little less ‘me’ time so I can focus on others.

Someone said recently that the opposite of love isn’t hate but selfishness. That makes a lot of sense.

When we love like Jesus, it smells nice to the Father.

Smell Like Jesus: Give Like Jesus

Jesus is my treasure. He has generously given me forgiveness, peace, freedom, love, joy. But best of all, He has given me Himself. I know Him and He knows me. I love Him because He loved me first and showed me what love really is. Jesus likes me. Wow! (Whoop! Whoop!)

The more I grasp this, the less I want to hold onto my money and the more I want to give because of this amazing God who loves me.

Yes, it’s important to be sensible and plan for the future.

But when we give joyfully and sacrificially out of an overflow of thankfulness to this wonderful God who loves us, it smells beautiful to Him.

Smell Like Jesus: Be Like Jesus

God says that His children are a fragrant aroma to people around us. Wherever we go, people get a whiff of Jesus.

The next time you squirt on your perfume or aftershave, remember that you already smell heavenly. You smell like Jesus.

 

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