Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: September 2013

Red Like Blood

Red Like Blood

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Red Like Blood by Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington. There are eighteen chapters in the book, each considering a different aspect of grace. In every chapter, the co-authors share their own stories of how God has touched and changed them through grace. Bob’s story of his extra-marital affair and subsequent divorce is the backdrop for the book. When God went after Bob, the result was an explosion of grace which touched not just Bob’s life but many others, including that of his ex-wife. Joe is the pastor who demonstrated grace by unreservedly accepting Bob back into the church.

Red Like Blood has a very conversational, easy-to-read style. I know I’ve said it before in my book reviews but you really do feel as though you are listening to these stories from old friends over steaming mugs of tea and chocolate biscuits. At times I laughed, sometimes I cried. Above all, hope and faith grew in me that God can change even me by His wonderful grace. The best thing I can do now is to share the notes I made while reading it, along with a few quotes from the book itself to hopefully show you how good it is!

I loved chapter 4 ‘The Appearance of the Unseen God’ because it reminded me of how much God loves me and the fact that He initiates ‘exquisite’ moments with me. ‘…if Jesus was here on earth it struck him that Jesus would want to hang out with him.’

From chapter 6 ‘Independence and a Toothpick Cross’ where Joe considers a tiny model of Jerusalem: ‘…a god who will come down and die on a toothpick cross in the middle of an obscure town, in the middle of an obscure country, in the middle of an obscure planet, in the middle of an obscure galaxy is exactly the kind of God I need.’

The title of chapter 9 ‘The Math of God’ could have been off-putting to a mathematical dunce like me, but it turned out to be a fantastic read, reminding me that Jesus is my treasure and the way to get to know God better is through suffering. Bob quotes part of a talk by Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic since a diving accident in her teens): ‘God happily shares his gladness, his joy flooding over heaven’s walls, filling your heart in a waterfall of delight which then streams out to others in a flood of encouragement and then erupts back to God in an ecstatic fountain of praise. He imparts a new way of looking at your hardships. He puts a song in your heart.’

I think chapter 10 on ‘Eating Work and the Search for Satisfaction’ was my favourite in the whole book and has stayed with me since reading it. Joe states: ‘Everyone needs to feel loved and everyone needs to feel important. Let’s call it security and significance.’ Using red and green M&Ms – candy-covered chocolate sweets – to represent love (red) and feeling important (green), he challenges you to ponder where your priorities truly lie and what you are really living for. Are you stingy with your red M&Ms? Do you try to get as many green M&Ms as possible? ‘Jesus claimed he came to provide us with life and that life was going to be abundant. This life would flow out of us in a river of red and green. And then he went and died on a cross to give us that life.’

Bob shares honestly about being addicted to porn since his early teens, and how he found freedom by discovering that God is infinitely more satisfying than giving in to temptation. ‘Porn addiction is a ball and chain. Neuroscience has demonstrated it has the same effect on the human mind as heroin and is equally difficult to break away from.’

Red Like Blood is summed up: ‘This is a book about brokenness and grace and redemption. There are a thousand ways to be broken and only one way to be made whole. There are two amazing things about Christianity. The first is the power and magnificence of grace and what it does as it sinks deeper and deeper into a soul. The second is the plan of God to allow us to participate in his plan to heal the world.’

I unreservedly recommend this book, which is suitable for anyone to read since it doesn’t contain any religious jargon. Thank you to Cross-Focused Reviews and Shepherd Press for providing me with a free ecopy for the purpose of writing a review.



Being Seen

We all want to be seen. No one enjoys being invisible. Even if you are an introvert, I guarantee you want to be noticed by someone. When you do a good job at work, it’s nice if a manager praises you.  When you visit the doctor, it’s important that they listen to you instead of giving you scant attention with their mind already on the next patient. We girlies appreciate it when someone compliments us on a new hairdo. (When I was walking through the city centre a few months ago, on my way to meet friends, a complete stranger stopped me and told me how much she liked my hair. She followed it up with an apology and explained that she wasn’t weird or anything. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside!)

No one is invisible or unimportant to God. He notices us. In the first book of the Bible (Genesis), a pregnant servant ran away from a harsh mistress into the desert. Miserable, hopeless and desperate, she was sitting by a spring of water when God appeared to her. He called her by name, talked with her, and gave her a wonderful prophecy about the illegitimate son she was carrying. Hagar’s life was transformed by this encounter with God and she called Him: ‘God-who-sees-me’ (El Roi). Her testimony was so powerful that from then on, everyone called that spring: ‘The-well-of-the-Living-One-who-sees-me’ (Beer Lahai Roi).

Hundreds of years later, Jesus looked up and saw a short man sitting in a tree. This man was a tax collector, much-despised because of his dishonesty and thievery. Yet he wanted to see Jesus, which is why he had climbed the tree. Maybe he was curious. Maybe he was desperate because he was realising more-and-more that a successful career and being rich didn’t give lasting satisfaction or bring true happiness. But more importantly, Jesus saw Zacchaeus. They had a meal together. The tax collector’s life was transformed through that encounter with the Son of God. He joyfully paid back everything he had stolen and then some. Old Testament laws said thieves should pay back four times the amount they had stolen (restitution) and this is what Zacchaeus did, as well as giving away half of his possessions to the poor.

Another person who Jesus encountered in first century Palestine was a woman with constant vaginal bleeding. She’d had the condition for twelve long years. During that time, she was classed as ‘unclean’ by society. She was part of a large, jostling crowd around Jesus. There was an air of anticipated excitement: the ruler of the synagogue had asked Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter, and they were on their way to Jairus’ house. This woman was certain that if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ robe she would be healed, and then she could slip away through the crowd, unnoticed. The medics of her day had tried lots of painful treatments, none of which had helped. As soon as she touched His robe He knew healing power had left Him. Despite the urgency of Jairus’ request, Jesus stopped the crowd and made enquiries. Trembling, the woman confessed what she had done. Jesus reassured her and spoke peace over her. Jairus might well be hopping from foot-to-foot, the crowd impatient at the hold-up, but Jesus took time to see a woman who dared to come to Him for help.

During the summer, I have had my own encounters with Jesus. I’ve been a Christian for thirty-one years but God saw things in my life He didn’t like. He wanted to change some of my thought-patterns and attitudes so that I would better reflect His Son’s loving, gracious nature. It isn’t an easy or pleasant process, but I’m so thankful that God is determined to pursue and change me, bringing  to completion the work He is doing in me because He loves me so much. Praying and counselling me through this period were two wise friends from church. As I was walking to meet them for my second prayer counselling appointment, I saw a Big Issue seller. To my amazement, I found myself crossing the road and rummaging in my purse for change to buy a newspaper. I must have walked past Big Issue sellers hundreds of times, but I had never seen them before; they weren’t on my radar. But one encounter with God has changed that for good. I now find myself making sure I have extra coins in my purse when I go into the city centre in order to buy a copy of the Big Issue.

Jesus is the God who sees me. And as His Spirit transforms my life to make me more like Jesus, I am beginning to see individuals too. How about you? Do you believe God sees and cares about you – just because you are you? And are you ready to let Him use you to show His love to others?

Three Decades of Fertility

Three Decades of Fertility


Three Decades of Fertility: Ten Ordinary Women Surrender to the Creator and Embrace Life was a fascinating read. Each chapter is written by a different woman sharing her story of how she and her husband decided to stop using contraception and to give their fertility over to God’s control. They are all open and honest about their plans and dreams for their lives. Some, like Natalie and Stacy, embraced the idea of children and being full-time mums, while others, like Sue, were feministic in their views and had no intention of ever having children. Indeed, Molly, who planned to go to the mission-field, firmly believed that she and her husband ‘would be most effective for God’s kingdom if [they] were unencumbered with children’.

While each woman’s story is unique, they all have one thing in common: at some point in their lives, they decided to trust God with their fertility and welcome the results. These couples recognised that children are gifts from God, and believe that it is not up to us to say: no thanks God, we’ll decide how many children we want and when. Because if children are gifts, it is up to the Gift-Giver to decide when they arrive, how many are given, and how long we may keep them.

A brave step to take, especially in today’s society where children are not always seen as precious or valued, where abortion and child abuse are common-place. These couples had to deal with other people passing judgment on them and their larger-than-average families. They have been perceived as ‘irresponsible’ in having babies into their forties. But, for all the couples in the book, it has grown their faith in God – in His promised provision as creator and Father. These are just ordinary couples who do not have huge incomes, but who have seen God provide for all of their needs. Some did not stop at having their own children but reached out and adopted others.

For someone who has never been pregnant and is infertile, this book provided an intriguing insight into that mysterious world of pregnancy and labour. I admired the women’s honesty in sharing their aches and pains and battles with morning sickness. Some of the women ended up spending the second half of their pregnancies on enforced bed rest while others seem to breeze through the whole nine months. Those who suffered miscarriage share about it honestly, explaining not only how they dealt with it individually but as a family.

Some of the women have had periods of infertility while others have now reached the end of their child-bearing years, and they discuss their feelings of grief and the need to accept each new stage in their lives. I realised that the grief over not being able to get pregnant is as real for infertile couples as it is for those who already have a family yet long for another baby.

At the end of each chapter, the women answer various (very personal and searching) questions such as: how do you deal with the fear of increased miscarriage, infant loss, or birth defects? How do you balance life with older kids and babies? Is it being greedy to want more babies at the risk of not being able to meet the needs of the rest of the family? How do I deal with extended family members, friends, and even the medical community who disapprove of our continuing to want more babies as we get older?

The last couple of chapters are contributed by professionals who look at maintaining good health during pregnancy – physically, mentally and emotionally – and the role nutrition plays in aiding fertility and supporting the body during pregnancy, post-fertility and the menopause.

I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It’s radical and compelling. What these women advocate makes sense. But they do not push their biblical conclusions on the reader, they just share their journey with God. I have already ordered a second copy of the book as a present for a friend. I think one of the most important things this book says is: it’s okay to have a large family, so enjoy your gifts from God whether they arrive through pregnancy or adoption.

I believe that each of the women who has contributed her story to this book also writes at Visionary Womanhood.

I am grateful to Cross Focussed Reviews for providing me with a free e-copy of this book for the purpose of writing an unbiassed review.

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