Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: April 2011

April….

I’ve been contemplating how significant things often seem to happen to me in April.  The best thing of all is that I became a Christian around April 1982 when I was almost ten years old.  I was very fortunate and blessed to have been brought up in a Christian family with godly maternal grandparents; Jesus was a name as familiar to me as my own.  Not as a swear word but as a person I relied on from as young as I can remember.  But I suddenly realised at a children’s meeting that Jesus had died for me personally so that I could have a wonderful relationship with God.  I’ve never regretted that decision to ask Jesus to be the boss of my life.

In April 1998, Adrian and I started going out together which led, a year later, to marriage.

In April 2004, my Mum, brother Gary and I were informed that my Dad had aggressive lymphoma with only weeks to live.  For those few weeks, ‘normal’ life was put on hold as we spent as much time with Dad as possible.  We were all there to say good bye to him on 23rd May, when the Lord took him Home.

Two years later, my lovely twins were conceived by IVF.  Adrian and I rejoice that we became parents on 29th April; we trust that our little ones are safely in Heaven.  We’re looking forward to meeting them one day… wonder whether that momentus event will take place one April too?!

Last April I was becoming terribly ill with vertiginous migraines and a short time after I was forced to give up work completely.  And this month, after God’s amazing healing, I’ve begun working from home as a freelance medical secretary.

Some of these reminiscenses are of happy times, others of sad or difficult times.  But throughout, God my Saviour, Lord, Father and Friend has never, ever let me down.  He’s been there, rejoicing with me in my happiness, and comforting and sustaining me in my grief.

I wonder what future Aprils will hold for me?  Of one thing I can be absolutely certain, God will still be my Shepherd (Psalm 23).

When Life Begins

This short video by Pastor Mike in California gives three indisputable proofs of when life begins.  Watch now.

A Change of Heart at 74

Adrian and I were thrilled to celebrate my Uncle Les’ baptism with him yesterday.  He has an amazing testimony of God’s faithfulness and his family’s prayerful perseverence. 

Les is the oldest of a family of six.  His dad began following Jesus in his middle age (along with his wife) after going blind through diabetes.  His dad fell completely in love with the Lord; he said he’d found the meaning to life.  He constantly talked about Jesus to everyone and anyone who would listen.  One by one, Les’ brothers and sisters and their families began to follow Jesus too.  Les was kind of interested but life was going well and he didn’t see his need of ‘religion’.  But Les’ mum and dad and his siblings never gave up praying that he would one day experience the joy and peace they knew.

A couple of years ago, when Les was 74, he was seriously ill in hospital.  We didn’t expect him to live, and we all increased our praying for him, longing that he would experience God in a very real way.  One night, Les had what he can only describe as a ‘near death’ experience.  He was in a dark tunnel and saw hundreds of dead bodies.  It was lonely and frightening.  Then he heard a voice saying, ‘It’s not his time yet’, and he came back.  From then on he began to recover, but he didn’t forget the terror of being in that dark tunnel.  Les knew he had to get right with God.  He talked with his sister Janet about it and began attending church.  The church minister did a Christianity Explored course with him and Les began to understand that Jesus is God’s Son who came to die and rise again so that Les could have a relationship with God.  At long last Les was able to experience the joy and peace that his brothers and sisters knew.

How we rejoiced to see Les publicly declare his faith in God by being baptised.  He now has no need to be afraid of dying because ‘there is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).

As I watched Les go under the water and come back up – with full eyes and a full heart – I couldn’t help but see in my mind’s eye the parapets of Heaven.  Were his mum and dad, his sister Marion and my dad leaning over, jostling for position as they joyfully laughed and clapped over him following the Lord?  As I imagined their beaming faces I suddenly saw two little red-headed figures in dungarees excitedly running to have a look too; surely Two and Three have also enjoyed Heaven’s party for Les!

Now Les can look forward to reuniting with his loved ones in Heaven one day, and of finally seeing the wonderful Lord Jesus who died for him. 

Listen to I can only Imagine, a song about arriving in Heaven.

Influential Women

I read Influential Women by Wendy Virgo recently after Grace Church’s Terry and Wendy Virgo Weekend last month.  Wendy spoke at Grace’s first ever ladies’ event, where she was both helpful and inspiring.  Afterwards I bought her book Influential Women.  The tagline intrigued me:  ‘From the New Testament to today – how women can build up (or undermine) their local church’.  How true that is, women do have influence in their local church for good or for bad.  I have seen women who undermine, and women who build up.  And I know who I would rather be around, and who I would prefer to imitate.

Wendy takes a refreshing look at various well-known (and slightly less well-known) female Bible characters such as Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, Lois and Eunice, Tabitha, and others.  Wendy displays a real knack of bringing their stories to life and revealing their relevance for today.  Her book is full of down-to-earth, godly wisdom.  There is something for everyone here, and I defy any Christian woman to read it and remain unchanged.

I loved this book, it is absolutely brilliant.

A Broken Mess – Can God Help?

Tracy’s Story

‘I knew what it was like to feel shame. I had deep secrets that I felt, if they were ever known, no one would love me or accept me. Unspeakable things that I hoped I could keep from God Himself, if that were possible. I felt too damaged to ever do anything for God or anyone else, and so ruined that I couldn’t be loved or made complete.

‘We all have labels on our lives. We either put them on ourselves, or we allow others to adhere them to our hearts and minds; labels that deal with our identity, our weaknesses, failures, or even our strengths and successes.

‘I thought my labels read: “Product of Rape”, “Victim of Incest”, “Drug Abuser”, “Child Killer”, “High School Drop Out”, “Unlovable”, “Loser”, and “Worthless”.’

Read more of Tracy’s story here.

No Well-Worn Paths

I was challenged and excited reading No Well-Worn Paths by Terry Virgo.  This book is autobiographical, describing all that comes out of his simple longing for a deep, intimate relationship with God.  As a young Christian, Terry was dissatisfied with not truly experiencing the power of God in his life.  Encouraged by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones to ‘keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking’, he was soon baptised in the Holy Spirit.  Contrary to strict reformed teaching Terry realised that it is actually biblical for churches to delight in the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12 and 14) as well as in preaching and teaching the Word of God.  He writes in a very gracious and loving way about those early days of the charismatic movement, and the reactions from some of the more traditional reformed churches.

It is exciting to read how God used Terry to found Newfrontiers, a growing family of reformed charismatic churches dedicated to seeing God’s Kingdom come in the UK and the nations.  This is the fascinating journey of a man and a movement’s solid faith in a big God.  No Well-Worn Paths clearly illustrates time and time again that God is able to do far more than all we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3), if we are only willing to trust Him and be used by Him.

I personally found Terry’s account of the ‘Toronto Blessing’ of the 1990s insightful.  From a strict reformed background myself, I had always mistakenly thought of the Toronto Blessing in a very negative way.  But Terry gives a clear eye-witness account of its beginnings which was helpful; it was truly a movement of God.

If you are looking for a modern autobiographical book guaranteed to stimulate faith and to stir up a passion for God, then No Well-Worn Paths is for you.  It also contains some amazing prophecies for the UK Church….

Shocked or Singing?

This morning I sat in the sunny garden, with the birds good-naturedly squabbling over the bird feeder, reading my Bible.  I meditated on Isaiah chapters 43 and 44, which provide a beautiful description of God being the only saviour.  He says:

I have swept away your sins like a cloud.  I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.  Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.  (Isaiah 44:22)

How can He say this?  What was the price He paid?  Well, we will remember what it cost Him to set us free in just a few days, on Good Friday.  God the Father sent His Son Jesus to pay the price we owe by offending Him.  And the price demanded was Jesus’ life… which He willingly gave.  Jesus died so that we could have abundant, joyful lives, secure in a wonderful relationship with God, knowing He will never let us go and never let us down.  God is incredibly happy about this because He says in the next verse:

Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done this wondrous thing.  Shout for joy, O depths of the earth!  Break into song, O mountains and forests and every tree!  For the LORD has redeemed Jacob and is glorified in Israel.  (Isaiah 44:23)

Thankful joy rose up inside me as I considered this wonderfully generous thing Jesus has done, and realised the very sky should be singing for joy!  The budding lilac tree caught my eye; if it could, it would loudly sing because God is saviour.  I looked around at the pebbles and rocks in the rockery.  God says if we will not praise Him, then the very rocks and stones will cry out in praise (Luke 19).  Wouldn’t that be something, if our gardens suddenly burst into song praising the God who created them?  And who freely offers us salvation and freedom and a glorious relationship with Him?

It made me think back to another passage where God called on the heavens to witness our attitude towards Him, from Jeremiah:

‘Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate,’ declares the LORD, ‘for my people have committed two evils:  they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.’  (Jeremiah 2:12-13)

Ignoring God, rebelling against Him, or refusing to believe He exists is such a terrible insult to Him that He calls it ‘evil’.  Consider His language – be appalled, be shocked, be utterly desolate.  Why does God find it appalling and shocking when we go our own way, doing what we like, and ignoring Him?  Well, He describes it as if we were really thirsty and He offered us cool, delicious, refreshing water, yet we turned away and buried our faces in the dust to desperately try and quench our thirst.  Who would do that?  We would go for the water, right?  But we so often don’t because we fail to realise what a wonderful thing we’re being offered:  abundant, joyful life that will last forever.

So today, are you joining the heavens in singing?  Or, is God calling on the heavens to be shocked and appalled at your attitude towards Him?

Leota’s Garden

Leota’s Garden by Francine Rivers is excellently written, with big issues cleverly interwoven with the story.  It had me laughing, crying and staying up until 2 am to finish it!

The main character is a lonely, arthritic old lady called Leota, who has a painful past full of sacrifices that are unknown and unappreciated by her neglectful family.  Into Leota’s life comes arrogant sociology student Corban.  He has to learn to see Leota as a fellow human person with thoughts and feelings, and to realise that sociological ideals cannot replace love and responsibility, care and friendship.

Anne-Lynn is a devoted follower of Jesus who cannot understand her mother Eleanore’s cold attitude towards Grandma Leota.  Why does Eleanore believe herself to be unloved and abandoned by her obviously loving mother?  What happened in the past to make Eleanore so embittered and emotionally insecure that she drains all the love out of every relationship she has?  As Anne-Lynn gradually restores Grandma Leota’s garden to a riot of colour and life, so their relationship blossoms.  At last Anne-Lynn learns her grandmother’s terrible secret brought home from Germany by her grandfather at the end of the Second World War, something so horrific that it completely changed Leota’s life.

What is Leota’s closely-guarded secret?  Will she ever be reconciled to her precious daughter Eleonore?

Leota’s Garden is an excellent read and I can heartily recommend it.

God My Healer

It’s good to be back after a loooong break!  I’ve had a tough year with migrainous vertigo leading to cerebellar ataxia but, praise God, I’ve been completely healed!  Read the amazing way the Lord has been dealing with me.

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