Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: May 2011

Are You Looking Forward To Heaven?

Are you looking forward to Heaven?  Jesus wants us to look forward to it.  He used positive language and colourful word pictures to show us something of how fantastic Heaven will be, so that we will eagerly anticipate being there.   

A Wedding Reception (Revelation 19):  Whether we are one of the key people or simply a guest, we all look forward to a wedding.  But if we happen to be the bride or groom we eagerly count down the days.  I remember Adrian wrote a simple piece of software that did a big countdown in the corner of his computer screen in the months running up to our wedding.  Everything revolves around the big day.  Jesus wants us to feel this way about Heaven.  It is the consummation of the marriage between Him and His Bride, the Church.

Treasure (Matthew 6):  We can store up treasure there.  Whatever we do here for Jesus’ sake, we will gain there.  And nothing, no matter how small, is lost if we offer it up to Him.

Rewards (Matthew 16, Mark 9):  Adrian and I took my Mum to a London show for her 70th birthday.  The performance was brilliant; some actors had greater parts than others but all played their part faithfully.  As they bowed at the end, each one received praise and acclamation from the appreciative audience.  Some received louder claps and even whistling and shouts, but all were rewarded for their superb performance.  It made me think of Christ; one day we (if we know Him) will hear Him say to us:  ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.  And He has promised generous and amazing rewards that we cannot even begin to imagine, if we are faithful and obedient.

Home (John 14):  Have you ever been away on a business trip or a holiday?  As it draws to an end, you just long to get home – to somewhere familiar, comfortable, where you can completely relax, where the people that you love are.  I frequently felt that way when I did a lot of travelling for the Christian charity I worked for.  In March 2009 I flew to the Arabian Gulf for a week.  It was the furthest distance I had ever been away from Adrian and, while I had a great time on the trip and met with some wonderful people, I missed him.  Whenever possible I exchanged emails with him.  Half-way through the trip, I stayed at a friend’s home who had skype, so I pre-arranged a time with Adrian to chat.  But when the time came, I just could not do it.  I knew that to hear his voice would increase my home sickness to such a painful degree that I would not enjoy the rest of my trip.  As I travelled home at the end of that week, the flight seemed much longer than it had at the beginning of the trip.  Driving home up the M1 seemed so slow.  I could hardly wait to see Adrian.  It was a wonderful moment to suddenly spot him waiting for me and to be able to run to him and feel his strong arms tightly around me.  Heaven will be even better.  It is the place where we truly belong, and the Person we love the best in the world will be waiting at the gates to draw us into His loving embrace.  Are you homesick for Heaven?

With Jesus (2 Corinthians 5, John 17): Do you enjoy amazing times with the Lord where His presence is incredibly real and you wish it could never end?  Well, it will be even more wonderful in Heaven, where it never will come to an end.  We will be able to enjoy Him forever.  Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is that we will be with Him and see His glory.  One day, we will see Him in all His glory and just revel in it!

With Friends and Family (1 Thessalonians 4):  It is right and normal to look forward to reuniting with our friends and family in Heaven.  We enjoy spending time with them here and look forward to being with them.  That should not change just because they have gone before us.  In Heaven, everyone will be our best friend and no one will feel shy or awkward.  The fellowship and friendship there will be truly out of this world.

Jesus warned that this world will not last forever.  So let’s not get caught up with the ‘here and now’; let’s look forward to Heaven.  May the God of hope fill us with joy and peace until it overflows out of us to those around – who may not know our wonderful Saviour and the glorious, homey place He is preparing for those who love Him.

This article was first published in Insight in April 2010.

A Tailor-Made Bride

I think A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer is rather cleverly written, the story being anchored to the name of one of the main characters, Jericho ‘JT’ Tucker.  JT hates his name because it is associated with the mother who thought of nothing but her own vanity and wants, selfishly deserting him and his sister as children.  As a result, JT has cared for his younger sister Cordelia since the tender age of eleven, and has developed a passionate hatred for female frills and fashions, anything that might promote vanity.

Enter dressmaker Hannah Richards.  A modest, beauty-loving, God-honouring, caring young woman, Hannah finds herself up against JT’s narrow-minded views right from the very first day she moves to the small mid-West town where he lives.  As far as Hannah is concerned, Jericho lives right up to his name.  Like the biblical city, he is so sure of himself and his strength that he is unable to ‘acknowledge the possibility that someone else might succeed with methods that appear foolish and wrong’ in his sight.

Jericho struggles with Hannah’s growing friendship with his lonely little sister Cordelia.  But under Hannah’s womanly influence, frumpy Cordelia gradually blossoms into an attractive young lady; beautiful on the inside as well as outwardly.  How will Jericho react as Cordelia ceases to be invisible to the young man she desperately loves?  Will he be able to let her go?

Jericho has some tough lessons to learn on forgiveness, trust and love before the walls he has built around his heart can come crashing down.

May Book Giveaway from Christian Focus

Christian Focus are running a contest from now until 30th May for you to win one of these two books:

Enter now to have a chance of winning!

It Happens Every Spring

I loved reading It Happens Every Spring by Gary Chapman and Catherine Palmer.  The book is anchored around Patsy’s ‘Just As I Am’ tea rooms and beauty salon.  The people frequenting the salon are likened to the seasons; some, like Esther and Charlie, are enjoying the easy summer of a long, contented marriage.  Newly-married Ashley is in the blossoming spring of a marriage full of hope for the years ahead.  Brenda and Steve are in the winter of their marriage.  Since their children grew up and left home, Steve has become married to his job, causing Brenda to become bitter and cold towards him.  Feeling that she’s been forgotten by her children, by her husband and even by God, Brenda turns her back on what she once treasured – creating a happy home life, caring for her husband, and enjoying attending church – and is tempted into another man’s arms.  Steve won’t listen to Brenda; Brenda constantly freezes Steve out.  What will be the outcome for them?  Can they work together to salvage their marriage?  Is it possible they could find their first love again?  Or will it all end in the divorce that beckons them so alluringly?

As Patsy witnesses the alarming cracks visible in Brenda and Steve’s marriage and does what she can to try and help, Patsy is trying to cope with cracks of her own.  She has spent years building up her beauty salon and tea rooms, fulfilling her God-given ministry of providing a safe, cosy atmosphere for people to unburden themselves and receive prayer.  But now all of that is threatened by the arrival of Pete Roberts and his ‘Rods-and-Ends’ shop.  Loud, shaggy, big-hearted Pete has taken to repairing noisy lawn mowers and chain saws right next door to the tea rooms with devastating affects.  First, Patsy’s entire antique collection of cups and saucers is smashed from the heavy vibrations, then deep cracks begin appearing in the walls.  Patsy regularly races next door to yell at Pete, but finds it impossible to stay angry with him for too long.  Just this side of forty, Patsy has never married because the right man has never come along…. until now?

And then there’s Cody, the sweet homeless boy trapped in a man’s lean, unkempt body.  Learn to love Cody, with his constant refrain:  ‘My daddy told me that anyone might give you food, but only a Christian would give you chocolate cake, too’.  That’s chocolate cake in squares, not triangles, because you get more icing that way!

It Happens Every Spring is the first in a series of four.  I will definitely be buying the other three.

A Novel + A Skull = Unexpected Worship!

I was reading the latest Michael Connelly book this afternoon when I came across a piece of courtroom dialogue discussing the thickness of the human skull.  Like a bright shaft of sunlight breaking through cloud, it hit me that it was God who gave me my skull.  He lovingly and skillfully wove me together in my mother’s womb, and the skull He so carefully developed from my parents’ chromosomes is the one I still have!  I’d always taken my skull for granted, it’s just there protecting my brain and giving my face its shape.  But this afternoon a huge smile lit up my face as a wave of pure joy and a feeling of awe swept over me, and I lifted my hands and heart in a brief moment of worship.

How wonderful that God is intimately involved with the conception and development of human life.  He is the one who sets all the processes in motion, developing the human embryo from conception through the foetal stage to birth.  The Bible describes Him as being intimately and actively involved in this process (Psalm 139:13-17).  Marvellous though this is, it is not just a physical work He is doing.  He also knows all about the person we are from conception, our childhood, our teenage years, our choices as adults.  He knows what job we will do, all about our career, whether we will marry and have children, our disappointments and the things we will enjoy.  Even before our conception, God knows us (Jeremiah 1:5):  whether He will become precious to us or whether we will choose to disregard Him and suppress the natural human belief that He exists (Romans 1:18-23).

Your skull was woven together by God specifically for you, perfect for the life that He planned for you to live.  Ever thought to thank Him for your skull?

A Mother’s Gift

Let me tell you about a young woman I admire tremendously.  I don’t actually know her, but I expect to meet her one day.  Her name is Jessica, she’s married with a young son.  Last November she was diagnosed with throat cancer, and needed treatment immediately to have any chance of overcoming the disease.  But Jessica was also three months pregnant with her second child.  Cancer treatment would severely harm or even kill the little one.  Doctors advised her to have an abortion so that she could start her life-saving treatment.

If Jessica was your friend, what would you advise her?

I’ll let Jessica’s husband Clint tell you their story.

‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father….’

I was marking my young pupil’s Postal Bible Club papers a few days ago when I was struck by Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene on the very first Easter Sunday morning.  Jesus had just risen from the dead after His brutal crucifixion.  At first Mary didn’t recognise Him, she thought He was the gardener.  She was in distress because she thought someone had stolen Jesus’ body away.  Can you imagine how awful that was for her?  I guess most of us have stood beside the graveside of someone we love.  The added pain of believing the body has been maliciously tampered with is almost incalculable.  But in Mary’s case, light suddenly dawned for her as Jesus said her name, ‘Mary,’ and she realised who it was.  But what struck me afresh in this account is the message Jesus asked Mary to give to His disciples:

‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’

What jubilation must have flooded through Jesus as He gave Mary this wonderful message.  Because of all He had suffered at the cross – the physical agony, the terrible shame, the revolting, dark mess of our sin, an eternity of Hell compressed into three excruciating hours – Jesus now had the joyful authority of announcing that the Door to Heaven was finally open for sinful humanity to go through.  To those who love Him, trust Him and utterly believe that He is the Son of God and the only Way to God, He triumphantly announces that His Father is now our Father!

This is what eternal life is, to know the one true God, ‘and Jesus Christ whom [He] sent’.  Doesn’t your heart burn within you as the Holy Spirit makes this truth real to you?!  God the Father entrusted everything to Jesus.  No one truly knows the Father apart from Jesus the Son, and no one truly knows Jesus apart from the Father.  But Jesus came in order to reveal the Father to us so that we can be drawn into their embrace, and know the same eternally intimate relationship that the Father and the Son share.  Do you get it?!  May the Holy Spirit illuminate our thinking more-and-more so that we will take hold of this great and glorious hope (Matthew 11:27).

Jesus died, rose again and ascended to Heaven with an announcement and an invitation:  His Father can become our Father; His God can become our God.  Come to Him, you who are weary and burdened.  Take His yoke upon you and learn from Him because He is gentle and humble in heart.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

For Every Little Miracle…. Pampers?

I came across this great pro-life advert from Pampers via Twitter recently.  You have to watch it, it’s great!

Thicker than Blood

Thicker than Blood by C J Darlington is a gripping story of selfishness, cowardice, regrets, temptation, guilt, manipulation, violence, forgiveness, love and grace.  The main character is Christy, a rebellious and guilt-ridden older sister.  Strangely vulnerable, she is gifted at choosing the wrong kind of men and ending up emotionally-wounded and abused.  Alcohol offers temporary anaesthesia of her emotions and pain but ultimately leaves her empty.  Christy remains haunted by terrible mistakes in the past and struggles to cope with the demands of the present.

Then after many years, Christy reluctantly and hesitantly reconnects with May, the younger sister she abruptly deserted after their parents were killed.  May is gutsy, determined, follows her dreams and makes them happen.  Christy is astounded that May is now a follower of Christ, which adds to her strong feelings of guilt and worthlessness in May’s company.  As for May, she struggles with Christy’s selfish and cowardly desertion at at time when she needed her big sister the most.

Will Christy remain in May’s life this time?  Or will she run away for a second time, leaving irreparable damage behind her?  Can May learn to forgive Christy from the heart?

And what of the men in their lives?  There’s Hunter, Christy’s employer who constantly stands up for her in the workplace.  Is he right to believe in her?  Is she worthy of his trust?  Vince is another employee and is also Christy’s abusive ex-boyfriend.  He is manipulative and cruel, dishonest and violent.  Is there anything Vince won’t stop at to get Christy back?  And then there’s reliable, rough and ready Jim, May’s much-trusted ranch-hand.  An ex-alcoholic and follower of Christ; in Jim, Christy finds a friend who understands her battles at the deepest levels.

This is Christian fiction at its best, an excellent read.

The Ascension: The Shout of a King

Today I finished reading Derek Prime‘s The Ascension: The Shout of a King.  It is a book full of Jesus.  I was constantly drawn in by Derek’s writing style and by the subject matter.  Derek teaches the importance of Jesus’ ascension; the role He now plays in Heaven and the benefits He gives to His people because of that.  Again and again, I was in thankful awe of God for the wonderful blessing we have as believers by the Man in Heaven who joyfully represents us.

To remain spiritually healthy and able to serve God, we need to keep our eyes fixed on our ascended King.  To do less is to risk bringing Him dishonour, and disaster on ourselves.

Before I read this book, I had not appreciated all the blessings Christ’s ascension has brought to believers.  Until Jesus ascended, the Father could not send the Holy Spirit.  And if we did not have the Holy Spirit, how could we experience His daily power in our lives?  How could we enjoy fellowship with God?  When Jesus ascended, the promise was given that one day He will return in the same manner that He left:  in the clouds (Acts 1:1-11).

Right now in Heaven, Jesus has many roles in which He blesses us.  He is our Priest, our Intercessor, our Advocate (who will never lose a case!), the Great Shepherd of the sheep, His people’s Captain, our King and our Governor.  And something very important that He does for us is to prepare a place for us.  Isn’t it wonderful that He wants us to be with Him where He is?  As Derek writes:  ‘There is room for all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.  The Lord of the universe has no problem when it comes to space!’

I was blessed by this book.  I trust you will be too.

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