Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Month: January 2014

Fred

The ACW committee had our annual retreat at the weekend.  We converged on a Christian conference centre in Northampton for a full weekend of meetings, discussions, and fun. On Friday evening we relaxed with a light-hearted question and answer game. One of the questions was about a piece of memorabilia from our childhood. I immediately thought of Fred.

Fred

Fred was my best friend. He went everywhere with me, even sharing my bed at night. His tummy and paws split open in several places but my mum always managed to carefully sew him back together. Later, I practiced my own sewing skills on my little furry pal. I rushed home from school at lunchtime and at the end of the day to cuddle and play with Fred.

One day, he went missing and I had to go to school without saying goodbye. Brought up to know Jesus as a friend and as someone I could talk to in my heart, I asked Him desperately that morning to keep Fred safe and bring him back to me. I expected to see Fred when I got home, but no, mum shook her head when I burst through the kitchen door to ask if she’d found him. I sat down in the big armchair to watch Rainbow with a heavy weight in my tummy and a lump in my throat. Tears rolled silently down my cheeks as I gazed at Geoffrey, Bungle, Zippy and George larking about on the television screen. Mum renewed her search. A few minutes later a small, threadbare mouse with no tail and a tattered, chewed up nose dropped into my lap. Fred and I danced and jumped around the lounge. I couldn’t bear to part with him even to eat my lunch, so he sat proudly on the table next to my plate where I could keep my eye on him.

When I was four, my dad took my mum and me youth hostelling in Colwyn Bay with the church youth group. Fred and I loved exploring and playing in the big hostel, and sometimes Fred stayed behind on a windowsill or on the polished wooden stairs to have a little adventure all by himself. The longsuffering warden seemed to spend the entire weekend making sure Fred got back to me safely!

Although Fred will always have a special place in my heart, my first love for him was replaced long ago with more sophisticated toys, books, and human friends. He is now enjoying a quiet retirement with a handful of other tattered, furry friends, sitting on a shelf in the study.

I’m glad God treats us better than I treated Fred. I love that the relationship God offers us will never come to an end; it’ll keep getting better and better. The Father’s plan was always to adopt us simply because that is what He wanted to do, and Jesus made certain of that plan happening by dying on the cross. Although Jesus rose again and has a glorified body, He still has the scars of His brutal death. The permanency of His scars confirm the permanency of our relationship with God – He is never going to change His mind, never going to get tired or bored of us, never going to regret saving us. When we become friends with God, our position in His family is absolutely secure. He doesn’t pencil our names into the Book of Life, they are written there for all eternity!

Life in Christ

Life in Christ

Life in Christ by Jeremy Walker looks at what it means for someone to be ‘in Christ’. It is a relatively short book of 176 pages with eight chapters, each chapter considering a different aspect of being in Christ:

* Looking to Jesus
* United to Christ
* The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
* Sons of God
* The Jewel of Assurance
* The Marks of God’s Children
* A Work in Progress
* A Life in Review

Walker builds a foundation of salvation before considering the wonderfully rich benefits of being in Christ and warning of the very real danger of Christians – even people who have followed Jesus for many years – not comprehending the ‘jewel of assurance’ and their sure standing before God.

Walker quotes extensively from the writings of the Puritans throughout and, indeed, his own style of writing is remarkably similar to that of the Puritans, with what may seem unfamiliar turns of phrase and choice of words to the modern reader. The book tries very hard to be both informative and practical, with questions for discussion and reflection at the end of each chapter. While it is aimed more at the mature believer, it could be adapted for group study/discussion as well as individual study.

I enjoyed Walker’s chapter on assurance:

Assurance will take away those crippling doubts and crushing fears which hinder the saints…. The assured believer is also a convinced and courageous believer. When we do not know where we stand, we do not know how to act. To know who we are helps us to follow a right course without quibbling or cavilling.

In his final (inspiring) chapter, Walker examines the life of Paul and what being ‘in Christ’ meant to the apostle. Walker encourages Christians to be grounded in Christ, make certain of who they are in Christ, and then devote themselves fully to Him, so that at the end of their lives, like Paul, they can finish well.

Walker has given two interviews about Life in Christ on the Janet Mefford Show and the Confessing Baptist Podcast.

I am grateful to Heritage Books and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free copy of this ebook for the purpose of writing a review.

 

 

You Knitted Me Together…

O LORD, You have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up….
For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!

Psalm 139:1,2,13-17 (ESV)

A Father’s Love

A few evenings ago I finally caught up with the Call the Midwife Christmas Special while simultaneously catching up with my (huge) ironing pile. It was good: plenty of drama with an interesting storyline.

Call the Midwife

But what really caught my attention was Dr Turner’s reaction on learning that his only son Timothy was dangerously ill with polio. He burst through the hospital doors and tore up the ward – I got the impression he would have moved heaven and earth to get to his son if he had to.

That led me to pondering another father and only son…. Jesus is the beloved only Son of His Father. They have always delighted in each other’s company, they’ve never had an argument or fallen out, they love each other with a perfect love.

Yet when Jesus was bullied, beaten up, mocked and – in a massive miscarriage of justice – hung on a cross to die, a father’s natural instincts did not kick in. You would have expected the Father to race to Him, scoop Him up in His arms and rescue Him before destroying the enemies who’d put Him there. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the Father turned out the lights of the universe and turned His back on His beloved Son.

Why?

The reason was so that Jesus’ Dad could adopt you and me as His children, and Jesus’ death was the only way that that could happen.

The Father chose not to run and rescue His hurting Son so that He could rush to deliver us in our need. In Psalm 18, it says (in poetic language) that God virtually tears apart the universe in His hurry to rescue and comfort His hurting children.

I love that I have a perfect Dad in heaven who loves me this much and who planned to adopt me even before I was born!

Faith

I’ve sometimes thought it would be good to choose a meaningful word for the year. It seems better than making New Year’s resolutions because they usually get broken within days, if not hours, of making them. But a word should inspire and spur me on. Hopefully.

So, my word for 2014 is: FAITH.

All of my life, I’ve been shackled by fear – fear of what people think of me, fear of being rejected, fear of being attacked, fear of losing the people closest to me, fear of spiders…. to name but a few. I hadn’t realised until last summer how fearful I was, nor of how much I’d lied to myself in order to try and hide it. I didn’t know how to deal with fear, so I pushed it down deep inside, and put on an act. I did this so well that I even had myself fooled…. some of the time anyway.

Thank God He had no intention of leaving me that way. During prayer counselling last year, my fear came up time and again. As we began praying into it, small changes became evident.

Suddenly, I was comfortable going for walks in the woods and local park without constantly being afraid of someone attacking me. It sounds crazy to a rational mind, but fear often isn’t rational, and I hadn’t walked in the woods nearby since I was a teenager accompanied by the family dog, Ben. It was liberating. I felt like I could breathe. It was great.

Woods

Another change (small to anyone else, huge to me) was that I lost my fear of spiders. Ever since a hideous spider-infested holiday when I was thirteen, I’ve had a spider phobia. It got so bad in my early twenties that my family doctor arranged counselling after I almost crashed my car in panic because of a money spider dangling from the rear-view mirror. That improved things, but didn’t take away the fear. If Adrian wasn’t around to deal with an eight-legged monster in the house (anything bigger than a few millimetres was huge in my eyes), I’d put my faithful Henry vacuum on the highest suction setting, stand as far away as possible, stop breathing, and point the nozzle with sweating palms while gasping out a panicky prayer for help. But suddenly, they were just annoying insects with which I could deal without thinking about it – even the larger ones that appear in the autumn.

While thanking God for these small yet significant changes He has made in my life, I am aware that there’s a long way to go until I’m completely free of unhealthy fear. I’ve also realised that there are layers. When one layer is dealt with, there’s a lull and then God’s Spirit starts nudging me about facing the next, deeper layer.

Through all of this, I’ve been understanding in a more experiential and real way that God is my Father. Yes, Jesus’ Dad has adopted me. He chose me before He created the world. For no other reason than that He loved me and wanted me to be part of His family so that He could show me how generous and loving and glorious and wonderful He is. (And this can be real for you as well as for me!) Jesus the Son has made it possible for His Dad to adopt me by living a perfect life, dying and coming back to life. Through His death and resurrection, I can know peace with God and the peace of God, as well as hope, joy, love, security.

Beginning to understand how precious I am to God and having His Holy Spirit constantly reminding me and showing me that I am God’s adopted daughter, has lessened the hold that fear had on me. Why should I be afraid of anyone rejecting me when I know that God has completely accepted me and enjoys my company? Why should I be fearful of what people think of me when I know that God sees me as His treasure, His royal daughter?

Like I said, I still have a long way to go before I’m completely free. But God is committed to setting me free and I have faith in Him that He will finish what He has begun. Faith is the antidote to fear. Faith in this wonderful, loving God who is revealing more of Himself to me, giving me a security I never knew existed. It would be an insult not to have faith in Him, and my heart’s desire is for my faith in Him to grow until I overflow, not with fear but, with thankfulness.

PS   I’ll let you into a secret: I was paralysed with fear at the thought of writing this post. I knew I had to write it and got as far as switching on my laptop, but then procrastinated by checking Facebook, Twitter, email, making a cup of tea…. You get the idea. But since faith is my word for 2014, I determined to face fear head-on and go for it!

Happy New Year!

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