Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: January 2013

Suffering Well

In my opinion, Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond is a vital book that every Christian should read.  Paul has a very readable style that is accessible to readers and non-readers alike.  The book opens with looking at two scenarios:  Simon is struggling with persecution for his faith and Sally is suffering with a terminal illness.  Paul asks the reader:  ‘If an angel appeared to you tonight in a dream and said that you had to choose between experiencing either Simon’s suffering or Sally’s suffering, which would you choose and why?’

Paul then goes on to ask and address pertinent questions.   He encourages Christians to consider what the Bible says about suffering, rather than simply trying to answer the question of why there is suffering from society’s point of view.  It is easy to think of God as some weak being who cannot do anything about suffering in the world, whether persecution of His own children, natural disasters, or mass shootings  We can sometimes be tempted to make excuses to our non-believing friends for Him.  But Paul considers what God Himself has to say about suffering.

There are different kinds of suffering.  There is the suffering of persecution for being a Christian, natural suffering such as flooding or illness, and the suffering that comes with Christian maturity of longing for those around us to know God.  Paul explains from the Bible that ‘suffering is at the very heart of God’s plan to create a perfect world and to glorify Himself through His Son’.  It is through suffering that Christians mature and deepen their intimacy with God.

After considering the whys of suffering from a biblical perspective, Paul shows the reader – again, from the Bible – what our response to suffering should be.

I found this book to be encouraging and challenging.  It is very helpful in preparing for suffering (we all go through hard seasons from time-to-time, it’s part of life).  It has blessed and edified me, strengthening me to keep going in the face of adversity.  In a time when the health, wealth and prosperity gospel is popular, it is invaluable to have this excellent book teaching God’s viewpoint on the issue of suffering.  It is a book that every Christian should read and refer to regularly.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  If I had to describe it in two words, they would be well-balanced and biblical.

If you would like to hear more from the author, listen to his interview with Shaun Tabbatt at Cross Focused Reviews.

I am grateful to Cross Focused Reviews and Matthias Media for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.

All Day Long

I watched Sir Trevor McDonald’s documentary ‘Inside Death Row’ last Thursday.  It provided some disturbing insights into the reality of a life term meaning ‘life’ and the death penalty.  I was struck by Sir Trevor’s interview with a prison barber, who was serving a life sentence for murder.  When asked how he coped with his sentence, the barber replied:

You do time a day at a time, or an hour at a time, or a minute at a time.
Whatever it takes to get through.
And then one day, you look up and 37 years have passed.

This reminded me of a Bible verse I clung to when I was ill with chronic fatigue:  ‘Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me.  All day long I put my hope in You.’  This is my journal entry for the day I read that verse:

‘All day long’ – how appropriate.  Everyone has the same amount of time but when you’re ill the days seem very long.  I deliberately choose to put my hope in God when I need to get out of bed, when I’m in the bathroom, when I’m making a cup of tea, when I’m sitting in the lounge.  Through every minute of every hour – in the highs and the lows – I choose to put my hope in God.  Why?  Because He is God.  And because He never lets me go.  And because this isn’t all there is, there is so much more to come.

Prison is prison.  You may not be in a cell with bars across the window and a door with a handle on the wrong side, maybe you have an illness or painful memories that are keeping you locked into yourself.  All kinds of things can make us feel imprisoned.  Maybe your circumstances right now are tough.  For example, my neighbour has started having her television on loudly – the only rooms where I’m not disturbed by the noise is my kitchen, which is too small to sit in, and my spare room which is full of furniture while we redecorate the lounge, having had sound proofing installed because of the noise from her television.  If I think of having to endure months and possibly years of this disruptive noise, I lose my peace of mind and feel tense, angry and despairing.  But if, each day, I purposely put my hope in God and take it one day at a time (sometimes one hour or one minute at a time if that is what is needed), I can get through.  With God’s help, today I can cope.  And I’ll try not to worry about tomorrow!

When missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham were kidnapped by extremists in the Philippines a few years ago, they had to learn the valuable lesson of coping with their ordeal day by day, hour by hour.  Martin often encouraged Gracia, ‘This time will seem so short when we are free’.

Whatever your situation, your spirit doesn’t have to be in prison.  Put your hope in God.  All day long, hour by hour, for as long as it takes.

Loving The Church

Loving the Church: God’s people flourishing in God’s family by John Crotts is divided into two sections, the first looking at what God’s family is, and the second considering how the reader fits into that family.  Each section comprises six chapters.  The setting is a coffee shop where a group of characters at differing stages in their church lives begin meeting together regularly to study how Jesus designed His Church to work.  Each character has a different view of what church should be like, and their experiences are varied.  Through their regular studies over coffee, John Crotts shares with the reader biblical principles for church life.  The coffee shop setting of this group of unlikely friends provides a strong framework to paint a picture of what church should be and the responsibility for each believer to be a part of the local church.  The author argues his points persuasively and well from Scripture.

This book would, I think, be useful for any Christian struggling with their local church.  While no church is going to be perfect, John Crotts explores Jesus’s blueprints of how local bodies of believers should function.  Two chapters are dedicated to the different roles of elders and deacons.

Whether the reader is no longer part of a local church, actively involved, or struggling with ungodly leadership and unbiblical teaching, John Crotts raises food for thought in each chapter.  The reader can be left in no doubt that the church needs each believer; where a Christian fails to be involved in their local church for whatever reason, the whole local body of believers misses out.  Each one has a vital role to play in serving their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Loving the Church is a thoughtful and well-presented book about the crucial role of church life in each believer.  I couldn’t agree with John Crotts on his teaching on baptism in the Spirit, but this was a tiny part of a biblical and helpful book.  I happily recommend it to anyone wondering what church is all about.

My thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Shepherd Press for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of writing a review.

 

 

‘Z’ Is For… ZZZZZZZ

Do you ever have nights when you can’t get to sleep, no matter how hard you try?  I do.  After yawning my head off all evening, I’ll go up to bed, and close my eyes, expectant of sleep.  Only to have my mind suddenly wake up, rushing from one thought to another:  from planning household chores for the next day to going over past situations, to praying into future ministry opportunities, to pondering tasks on my work ‘to do’ list.  I toss and turn, get up and go to the bathroom, come back to bed and try to settle down, but nothing works.  I used to go downstairs for a cup of tea, which can work, except I would get buried in whichever book I was reading at the time and end up not going back to bed until three in the morning.  Not a great way to get a good night’s sleep!

Over the last couple of years, whenever I’ve been afflicted with a sleepless night, I’ve tried going through the alphabet to find a name or characteristic for God for each letter.  I try to find a different one each time, although that can be tricky depending on the letter.  ‘Q’ is a nightmare….  I always started at ‘A’ and worked my way to the end, and found by the middle of the alphabet I’d drifted off into the land of nod, feeling happy and peaceful inside because I’d been meditating on God.  Recently, I decided to start at the opposite end of the alphabet.  That was tough.  I couldn’t think of any attributes or names of God beginning with ‘Z’ or ‘X’.  I had to get creative.

The next time you can’t get off to sleep, can I recommend my alphabet game?  It works every time for me and I never get beyond the middle of the alphabet before I drop off to sleep.  Could it be that the great enemy of our souls hates us to meditate on our wonderful and glorious God?

And I challenge you to come up with your own names or attributes for God beginning with ‘Z’, ‘X’ and ‘Q’.  Let me know what you come up with, and I’ll share what I’ve thought of!

Image used courtesy of shutterstock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

God Is Great!

But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you.
May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, ‘The Lord is great!’
As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts.
You are my helper and my saviour.
O my God, do not delay.
Psalm 40:16-17 (New Living Translation)

These words are a great conclusion to this Psalm, it’s the outpouring of a heart brimming over with happiness in God.  He is the one who rescues us from ourselves and from sin, who brings us into glorious relationship with Himself.  An overflow of that is that we share this good news – this brilliant, amazing news – with others.  When opposition, temptation and trouble come, God again helps us in, and rescues us from, difficulties.  No wonder King David pens these words of exuberant worship.

Exuberant worship…..  I used to think that raising arms, and allowing any part of my emotions into worship was wrong.  I disliked the fact that other people did it and thought of them as inferior Christians.  In my heart I think I suspected they were often connecting with God in a way that I wasn’t, and that made me uncomfortable.  Maybe I was angry and jealous that they didn’t fit into my sedate, sterile way of worshipping God.  It was during autumn 2010 through to the following spring that the Holy Spirit began drawing my attention to the kind of whole body, whole mind, whole heart worship that God wants.  As it says in many of the Psalms, to worship God is good.  The Psalms command that we should sing, shout, raise arms, dance, play instruments in our worship.  This speaks to me of exuberant worship.  A New Testament reference to whole-hearted worship is where a prostitute washed Jesus’s feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and then poured perfume on them.  All this before a group of religious men at a meal!

I am so grateful for my church, which has showed me how to truly engage with God in Spirit-filled worship.  A Sunday meeting where I haven’t met with God or known His presence is wasted time now as far as I am concerned.  I’m not talking about emotional hype (which I still despise) but about truly engaging with Jesus through His Spirit.  Sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is laughter, sometimes physical ‘side effects’ like shaking or falling over.  But these, to me, are simply just an outward demonstration of the fact that the Spirit is on me and I’m meeting with God.  Sometimes it’s just a heart bursting with joy at being in His presence.  There is power and healing in His presence.  Healing covers so much – emotional, physical, mental, spiritual.  God makes whole!


Exuberant worship….  What does this mean for me?  What does it mean for you?  Every part of our lives, every day of our lives, should be an act of worship.  I think the more we get to know God and comprehend His love for us, the more our hearts leap in worship.  The more we know and enjoy Him, the more satisfied we are with Him, the more we want Him.

In conclusion of this mini series of Psalm 40:

* Be filled with joy and gladness in God (ask the Holy Spirit if you don’t have this or want more because it’s something He is committed to giving you).

* Love His salvation.

* Worship God with extravagance because He is great.

* Remember you are nothing without Him.

* Remember you’re always in His thoughts.

* He is your helper and saviour.

Why not take a moment to thank God and praise Him for an aspect of His character or for something He’s done for you?  He loves to be praised, thanked and worshipped.  Because He is great!

Help!

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.
Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles surround me – too many to count!
My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out.
They outnumber the hairs on my head.
I have lost all courage.
Please, Lord, rescue me!
Come quickly, Lord, and help me.
May those who try to destroy me be humiliated and put to shame.
May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace.
Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, ‘Aha!  We’ve got him now!’
Psalm 40:11-15 (New Living Translation)

Working in a mission organisation, I know that opposition follows evangelism like night follows day.  When we talk about Jesus, the enemy doesn’t much like it.  Actually, that’s an understatement – he hates it.  He will use all sorts of ways to stop us sharing with our friends, work colleagues or family how wonderful Jesus is.  Trouble, temptation, fear, technology not working, illness, misunderstandings, etc, etc.  Jesus described the enemy as a thief, a liar and a murderer.  His ambition is to do as much damage as possible by stealing, killing and destroying.

As Christians, we need to take spiritual warfare seriously.  Paul wasn’t merely teaching theology when he wrote about putting on the armour of God, it’s meant to be a regular, practical exercise.  But our focus shouldn’t be on the enemy or on spiritual warfare, our focus should be on the Lord Jesus.  If the enemy wants to steal, kill and destroy, Jesus wants to give us life to the full.  What is this life?  It’s to know God.  Life to the full, or eternal life, starts for us here and now as we get to know Jesus more and more intimately and He becomes increasingly precious to us.  Jesus is powerful enough to rescue us from the enemy.  Jesus gives back far more than what has been stolen from us or destroyed by the enemy, and He is a shield, a strong fortress, a mighty tower to protect us.  As God said to Abram, ‘I am your shield, your very great reward’.

Psalm 40 begins by reminding us of the victory we have in Jesus.  He is the one who lifts us out of the pit of despair, out of the sticky ooze of sin, sets us on solid ground and helps us every step of the way through life.  So, if you’re struggling right now and feel unequal to facing this New Year for whatever reason, why not use these verses as a prayer?  King David, who wrote them, clearly prayed this kind of prayer a lot because we find almost identical verses in Psalm 70.  Why not trust in God and allow Him to fight for you?  And if you would like me to pray for you, please get in touch (below) and I will gladly do so.

Look out for the last post in this series in the next couple of days!

Image used courtesy of shutterstock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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