Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Comfort

To continue my thoughts in Philippians 2….

The next part of verse 1 reads: ‘So if there is… any comfort from love,…’

When I was a little girl, the Love is… cards with a cartoon boy and girl were popular. Well here, Paul seems to be saying that love is comforting. It certainly is. When my dad was at death’s door, he said his ‘official goodbye’ to me one night as I left the hospital. I held it together until I reached the car park, and then sobbed the entire drive home (from Sheffield to Nottingham). By the time I got to our front door, almost blinded by tears, I was incapable of finding my key in my handbag. But Adi had heard the car pull onto the drive and was ready to wrap his arms tightly around me. Although the circumstances hadn’t changed, Adi’s hug gave me comfort.

In another letter, Paul writes: ‘Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.’

Love and comfort go together.

The dictionary defines comfort as being a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint, and the alleviation of grief of distress.

In God, I am loved and comforted. Sometimes He takes away pain here and now; I’ve known physical healing from pain as well as healing from emotional pain. But one day, I will be completely free of all pain forever. God promises that when He wraps up this world like an old cardigan and introduces a brand new earth, He will wipe away every tear from my eyes.

There’s a lot I don’t understand…. When babies are stillborn, when friends are diagnosed with cancer, when bad things happen. I don’t know why. But there is still this: in Jesus there is comfort from love. Despite unexplainable and terribly painful circumstances, I am loved by God and I am comforted by Him. When I have no answers, I must hold onto the anchor of this truth.

Loved and comforted. Now, and perfectly in the future.

You Just Never Know….

Isn’t it funny how one thing leads to another?

In June 2016, I went to the ACW weekend at Scargill House with a half-formed resolution to write the homework set by the speaker and maybe even read it out. Scary…. Could I do it?

I teetered and wobbled, then inspiration came.

Oh blow it, I thought, I’m going to do this.

In a moment of madness, I [read more]

Taking Off The Mask

We all have a tendency to wear a mask. There is a need to hide who we really are. Maybe we have been badly hurt by someone we trusted in the past. Or perhaps we’ve been told at some point we were no good. Whatever the reason, we put on a mask to try and fit in and make ourselves acceptable or protect ourselves from further hurt.

As we hide our innermost self from others, we can end up hiding even from our own self.

Taking off the Mask by Claire Musters is a helpful new book dealing with this whole area of hiding who we are from others and ourselves. Claire talks openly and honestly about serious problems in her marriage and church life that arose because of wearing a mask and were made worse by continuing to wear it. Only when she was prepared to let the mask drop and face who she really was could she experience freedom to be the beautiful woman God made her to be.

We need to realise that it is what God thinks of us and says about us that is important, not what others think and say, or even what we think about ourselves. Our own thought lives are often so damaging to us and are indicative of deep pain hidden inside, keeping us trapped behind a mask.

Claire opens the book with her own story before, in subsequent chapters, taking the reader gently step-by-step through a process of learning to see where and in front of whom we hide ourselves and how to work through that to freedom. At the end of each chapter are searching questions designed to help the reader gain insight and benefit from working through the book. It would be possible to read and work through this on your own, though probably better with a trusted friend or counsellor.

I found it helpful to journal my way through the book by making a note of particular points that spoke to me:

Spidergram of Taking off the Mask…too often we can act out a part that we believe is expected of us, rather than truly living in the freedom that God’s love brings.

He [God] delights in us and wants us to enjoy the experience of being ourselves, and yet so often we can be trapped in an unnecessary cycle of pretence.

Let go of the fig leaves of shame and guilt. Accept God’s covering of forgiveness and righteousness.

We need to learn to stop looking to others for validation, and spend more time gazing on our Father’s face.

…sometimes we …can look at the difficult circumstances we are in and allow them to colour our view of God and ourselves.

The adventure of embracing all that He [God] has called me to is really liberating.

I have given Taking off the Mask 4* on Amazon. I was provided with a free copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review for the book’s launch today.

 

Undivided Heart

Undivided Heart by Lucy Mills is a thoughtful book based on a verse from Psalm 86 in which the psalmist prays: ‘… give me an undivided heart…’

In the first half of her book, Lucy explores what makes us who we are and what motivates our actions. She looks at the many different things that give us a divided heart: our drives and desires, issues, circumstances, boxes we squeeze ourselves into, social media, and labels we put on ourselves or allow others to give us. All of these things can limit us, create unnecessary burdens, and keep us from enjoying the abundant life God has planned for each one of us.

The second half of the book, Lucy considers what has motivated God’s people in the past (from the Bible) and looks ahead to our glorious future with God, and how abundant life is offered right now. Our incentive is to enjoy some of the benefits of knowing God now, not in a ‘health, wealth, prosperity’ way, but in going deeper in our relationship with God and seeing His kingdom come.

If kingdom is about the royal reign of God… then the ‘requirements’ of living under this reign emphasise how we live together under the kingship of God. … being generous… acting with fairness and justice, forgiveness and mercy.

In the kingdom, treasures are found in unexpected places, the poor are considered rich and the weak are made strong.

Somewhere, right now, two people with two different viewpoints are praying together in the name of Jesus, under the banner of love. Such is the kingdom.

Having an undivided heart results in God being so crucial to us that we are able to face suffering that has no answers here. Lucy looks at Job, and how God did not answer his ‘why?’ but gave him a vital encounter with Himself. God didn’t give Job answers, He gave Job Himself. Lucy also considers how Jesus – the Son of God – came to fully identify with us in our suffering. He became our sin so that we could have God’s righteousness. In our sufferings, God gives Himself.

In her final chapter, Lucy sums up what it means to ask God for a united or undivided heart.

An undivided heart is not soft, pink romantic snuggliness. It’s a fierce, focused, even suffering heart, which looks towards its one redeemer. A heart which longs and thirsts and waits.

Each of the twenty chapters is short. Included within most if not all of the chapters is a Bible verse or passage and a poem. Each chapter concludes with a few helpful questions to aid the reader in gaging where their own heart may be divided and how this can be changed.

I thought Lucy incredibly insightful in this book, which is uncomfortable at times and helpfully illuminating at others. I certainly had one or two light bulb moments in reading it.

I have given it 4* on Amazon. I was provided with a free copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review for the book’s launch this week.

I Have Encouragement

Back in August, I read an online article by John Piper that challenged me with the words Philippians 2 would change my life. It’s a chapter I’ve tended to avoid in the past…. So far out of my realm of experience and with the potential to be deeply uncomfortable, I’d always read it without reading it (if you see what I mean).

But, I was challenged in a positive way. I want to change, to be more like Jesus, because He’s fantastic and to be even a tiny bit like Him is amazing.

Over the next few weeks, I’m planning to share on here some of what I learned. It’s taken from my journal so may be a little rough around the edges. But I was blessed by my study and I hope you will be too. I fell a little more in love with Jesus, who is truly extraordinary.

In verse 1, Paul writes: ‘So if there is any encouragement in Christ…’.

Paul seems to be me to be writing from an assumption that there is encouragement in Christ. Present tense: is. Now, for this time.

If encouragement comes from God, surely discouragement comes from the enemy. So I don’t want anything to do with discouragement. I will remember that in Jesus, I have encouragement. Have, have, have.

En-courage = to put courage into.

It puts courage into me when people say truthful things to build me up. They tell me I can do this, that I’m good enough, not to be afraid. Courage helps me step outside of my comfort zone and try new things. (My latest ‘stepping out’ is to dance with a rainbow-coloured ribbon during worship – a huge step for me but I’m doing it because someone has put courage in me.)

God does this. He tells me I am hidden in Jesus – literally hidden in His perfection. I am loved and accepted by the Father who sings loudly and exuberantly over me and dances around me because I am His.

Encouragement in Jesus? Oh yes!

Out of Silence

I’d been looking forward to the second of Annie Try’s books in the Dr Mike Lewis series and I wasn’t disappointed. Out of Silence gripped me from the first page and kept me guessing right to the very end with its twists and turns. Absolutely brilliant.

Bearded Dr Mike Lewis is the central character, a clinical psychologist suffering from depression and struggling to keep on top of his busy and demanding job. He lives alone in a soulless flat following the death of his young son and subsequent break-up of his marriage. You get the impression he has lived in a vacuum for the past five years from which he is now beginning to emerge. It is almost funny watching this loveable bumbling man’s bachelor-type ineffectual attempts at everyday life. He comes across as caring but quite naïve at times, very human in fact and someone I could relate to.

Another key character is Mike’s young client Johnny Two, a teenage asylum seeker who is so traumatised he is unable to speak. Helping to unlock Johnny’s voice with pretty art therapy colleague Anita helps Mike to come to terms with his past and finally allow himself to grieve the loss of his son.

Working with Anita involves Mike in a bit of a love triangle featuring the two of them and his ex-wife Ella. Mike’s bewildered confusion and efforts to make things right is all rather endearing.

Add in a grumpy, stressed social worker who is extremely sceptical about Johnny Two’s alleged trauma, medical secretaries who don’t hesitate to let Mike know their approval (and disapproval) of his treatment of Anita, and a dangerous psychopathic patient stalking Mike’s colleague, and you have a fascinating read.

I loved this book and have given it 5* on Amazon. It’s a novel where you think, ‘Just one more page and then I’ll go to bed,’ and an hour later you’re still avidly reading. I’m looking forward to more in the Dr Mike Lewis series.

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

 

There was complete silence…

There was complete silence as she entered the pastel-painted room. She was aware of two pairs of eyes following her as she sat in the upright chair angled towards the sofa where they sat, hands entwined. This was a place where hopes were realised and dreams fell into the dust.

‘Hello Mark and Louisa, thanks for coming today. I’ve had the results of all your tests.’

Their eyes were fixed on her, their mute hope tangible. It was hard but necessary to meet their collective gaze.

‘I’m so sorry.’

Pause.

‘I’m afraid you will never have children of your own.’

 

 

Ordinary Miracles

Challenging, exhilarating, faith-raising, adventure-stirring, full of ouch moments.

Ordinary Miracles: Mess, Meals and Meeting Jesus in Unexpected Places by Chris Lane is about making friends and being church on an inner-city estate. The author is open, honest and real, telling it like it is. Sometimes you are blown away by what God does, other times there are no happy endings. It’s messy and complicated but heart-warming.

I was struck by God being at work in every place at all times. So often I pray asking him to be at work in this and that. This book opened my eyes to the fact that He is already at work and it’s we who need to tune in to what He is doing in any given situation. I find this really exciting: being able to show people where God is already at work in their lives (I’ve already been able to put this into practice with a lovely woman I met in the red light district). Chris writes:

I now get offended when I hear a place or a person being described as ‘godless’, because I think it is an offence to our God who is always reaching out, always seeking the lost, always bringing His light into the darkest places. He asks that we follow Him to those people and places.

I think this makes life more challenging (in a good way) because we can’t just write off people of whom we disapprove. If our God is already reaching out to them, we need to be big-hearted enough to follow Him. Challenging!

This book also raises my faith for miracles to happen. Chris is open and honest about how hard it is to step out of your comfort zone to offer to pray with strangers in the pub or in the street. Yet when he made the effort, things happened. People were healed physically and emotionally, and situations changed. God’s presence fell on the least likely people and they were astounded to discover He loved them.

Your church may run a food bank,
but who sits around your dinner table?

Finally, I was hugely challenged by the need to share life with people different to me. It’s not enough to do a few acts of charity, and retreat. Jesus didn’t work that way. He shared life with people. As Chris points out in the book, a lot of the Gospels is about Jesus eating and spending time with ‘sinners’. He didn’t have projects, He had friends. Chris’ church is based around a dinner table and everyone is welcome. Not just a nice ideal, but a messy reality. This particular passage has stayed with me:

When all our connections with those different to us are based on the modern idea of charity, we are able to hold people at arm’s length, while easing our consciences that we are making a difference in the world. Jesus goes much further than this, and challenges us to do the same. Your church may run a food bank, but who sits around your dinner table?

Ouch. That last sentence makes me deeply uncomfortable…. And it’s right that it does. But what are Adi and I going to do about it…?

Ordinary miracles should come with a health warning. If read thoughtfully, life may never be the same again….

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

 

 

Words, Words, Words….

Words, words, words. As wordsmiths, we dabble, we play, we agonise, we yearn over the tools of our trade.

When we speak, our tongues can drip poison and hurt people, or our speech may be seasoned with salt to bless. There’s often little time to think about the effect of what we say. How many times do we wish we could take back the words that have left our lips?

Even bad news [read more]

Lessons From Truffles

I sat on the stairs on Tuesday feeling grumpy. It had been a long, busy and frustrating day at work, and my back was aching.

Lord, I know I haven’t spent time with You today but I don’t feel up to it right now. I just want to collapse and read. We’ll spend time tomorrow, I promise.

But I couldn’t just collapse and read as I longed to do because of a small furry visitor called Truffles. This was his usual play time, a chance to get out of his hutch and enjoy a little freedom. He’d be expecting to play and I couldn’t let him down.

I opened the hutch door and began rolling his current favourite toy around to entice him out: a wooden ball containing a bell. There’s normally an immediate response but not on Tuesday night.

Truffles sat in his hutch ignoring me.

Truffles 3

So I sat on the stairs trying to read and keeping an eye out in case he changed his mind. I was hopeful; playing with Truffles is a fun part of the day.

Why is he sitting in his hutch? Silly bunny…. it’s a lot better for him out here. I’m sat here waiting for him and we always have fun. So why is he stuck in his hutch?

Then it hit me.

I was like Truffles. The door was open with a better invitation and here I was sat in my circumstances refusing to meet with the Lord because I didn’t ‘feel up to it’.

Oh.

Then I heard the gentle invitation to ‘come’.

With a sheepish smile, I got up and went to get my Bible. Jesus and I enjoyed some time together; my achey back eased and the frustrations disappeared as I saw them for what they were: small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Feeling tonnes better – refreshed and restored – I went back downstairs. And Truffles and I played together.

 

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