Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: General (page 1 of 6)

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Lessons From Truffles

I sat on the stairs on Tuesday feeling grumpy. It had been a long, busy and frustrating day at work, and my back was aching.

Lord, I know I haven’t spent time with You today but I don’t feel up to it right now. I just want to collapse and read. We’ll spend time tomorrow, I promise.

But I couldn’t just collapse and read as I longed to do because of a small furry visitor called Truffles. This was his usual play time, a chance to get out of his hutch and enjoy a little freedom. He’d be expecting to play and I couldn’t let him down.

I opened the hutch door and began rolling his current favourite toy around to entice him out: a wooden ball containing a bell. There’s normally an immediate response but not on Tuesday night.

Truffles sat in his hutch ignoring me.

Truffles 3

So I sat on the stairs trying to read and keeping an eye out in case he changed his mind. I was hopeful; playing with Truffles is a fun part of the day.

Why is he sitting in his hutch? Silly bunny…. it’s a lot better for him out here. I’m sat here waiting for him and we always have fun. So why is he stuck in his hutch?

Then it hit me.

I was like Truffles. The door was open with a better invitation and here I was sat in my circumstances refusing to meet with the Lord because I didn’t ‘feel up to it’.

Oh.

Then I heard the gentle invitation to ‘come’.

With a sheepish smile, I got up and went to get my Bible. Jesus and I enjoyed some time together; my achey back eased and the frustrations disappeared as I saw them for what they were: small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Feeling tonnes better – refreshed and restored – I went back downstairs. And Truffles and I played together.

 

Not Just For Christmas

I was knocked out by some familiar words this afternoon:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth PEACE to men on
whom His FAVOUR rests.
Luke 2:14

Every Christmas I’ve skimmed over this short song the angels sang thinking, ‘That’s nice.’

But this is incredible news.

God is so crazy about us that the only way He could show us what He’s like and invite us into a relationship with Him was to come to earth Himself. In Jesus, God became man (human mum, God dad), and spent His whole life showing us what God is like. Upshot of that is: we know God is nice and He likes us. He loves us passionately.

When Jesus was born, God offered peace to us.

Peace. Wow. Only recently have I discovered the seven-fold blessing of God’s peace:

*peace*
*completeness*
*wholeness*
*harmony*
*welfare*
*prosperity*
*tranquillity*

This is God’s heart for us. Roy Godwin, in his book The Way of Blessing, asks what it would look like if this peace was evident in our home, family, street, church? It took me all of a second to realise the difference it would make – and ever since, I’ve been speaking out this blessing over the people I love and live near.

When Jesus was born, God was saying His favour rests on us. We are a blessed people. We all love a hero, whether it’s Jack ReacherJames Bond or Katniss Everdeen. Jesus is the ultimate hero. He is God, come to earth so that we can know what God is like. More than that, He became the Way for us to come into relationship with God ourselves by dying and then rising again. He took all the wrong stuff that we think, say and do, and served the death sentence that was ours, so that when we accept what He’s done, the Father will look at us and see the perfection and beauty of Jesus.

This is awesome news that makes me want to yell WOOO HOOOOO! It’s not just for Christmas, it’s for now 🙂

1,000 Gifts

When my friend Elizabeth and I went away earlier this year for a prayer retreat, we started our week by writing a list of things for which to thank God. These could be anything from salvation and deliverance to blowing bubbles and chocolate biscuits. We set ourselves a target of 50 each and laughed a lot as we called them out to each other. We lost count at around the 200 mark and jumped right in to praising and thanking God.

More recently, I’ve read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. Ann started to write in a notebook all the gifts – large and small – that God was giving in each situation every day.

I purposed to do the same. Because every single day God gives gifts. The Bible says that every good and perfect gift comes directly from the Father. But if I’m not looking out for them I miss them.

For instance, Adi and I were on holiday a few days ago near Battle (East Sussex). We fell in love with the wooden lodge we were staying in. Before going I’d been praying for peace and quiet, I was desperate to get away from the noise of everyday life. God gave peace and quiet in abundance. And lots more beside.

View East Sussex

We had a front row seat to a wonderful view of trees and greenery, and could see as far as the South Downs. From my comfy two-seater (Adi took possession of the other two-seater), I simply had to lift my head to enjoy the sunset. If you know anything about me, you know I love hills, trees and sunsets. This view felt like a gift-wrapped package from my Father. ‘There you go, thought you might enjoy this,’ as He dropped it into my lap.

The psalmist urges us not to forget all God’s benefits, to thank God always because His love lasts forever. God hates grumbling, moaning and ingratitude. And to be honest, it’s not nice being around people who are negative and ungrateful.

I believe that looking out for the lovely things God gives and does for us can help with getting a healthy mind and more positive attitude. During a tough period of heartbreak in my early twenties, I made the decision to look for two or three good things that had happened that day and write them down. I could easily have gone under with my grief but focusing on the positive that God was doing/giving helped me through.

So now I’m scribbling down and thanking God for the gifts I’m learning – with His help – to spot each day:

A squirrel in the garden.

Chilling on the swing-seat.

Spotting Becky and Ellie Downie in Tesco.

Sunlight on wet grass, making it sparkle.

Fresh coffee.

That Jesus’ Dad is my Dad.

 

Darkness

Light is most clearly seen when darkness is at its darkest.

The darkest day in history was one Friday a couple of thousand years ago in the Middle East. A young man in his early thirties was unjustly executed. Talk about the biggest miscarriage of justice. His mangled body was laid to rest in a friend’s tomb.

Saturday was silent, dark and hopeless.

But on the Sunday, light exploded into that tomb as Jesus came back to life. He rose from the dead in glorious might and power.

Jesus went down into the darkness of death and beat it. He emerged as the ultimate victor holding the keys to death and the grave. Jesus defeated the one who has the power of death – the devil – so that He, Jesus, could deliver everyone who is afraid of death. He doesn’t want anyone to be enslaved by fear; He came to set us free.

Jesus is life. His life is light. This light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot – ever – overcome it.

 

 

 

Are you in a Service Station?

I’ve been pondering on how life and ministry can feel like driving on a motorway. Traffic is moving, things are good, you can be alongside the same vehicles for a few miles, then they move further on or you speed up and pass them, or one of you turns off. There can be an occasional hold-up, but you’re all in it together and that brings a sense of shared trouble and solidarity. You have purpose, you’re moving with intent, you have somewhere to go.

But after you’ve been on your journey a while, especially a long distance one, you need to pull over into a service station.

Service stations are places to be replenished, rested and refreshed. You leave the busyness of the motorway behind, it almost feels like a different world. When I first enter a service station, I feel dazed and not quite with it after focusing on driving (or dozing while Adi drives). My first port of call is usually the loo, then I head for coffee and food.

Service stations are temporary. They do what their name implies: they serve us so that we can get back on the road feeling strengthened, more alert, and ready for the next stage of our journey.

Service stations are necessary. Without them, journeys would be hard and unpleasant. Some of us would be crossing our legs and desperately hoping for the journey to end. We couldn’t take a break when we’re tired and that would be dangerous for ourselves and others.

In life, we all spend time in service stations occasionally.

There have been times in my life when God has brought me out of ministry and laid me aside for a period. When I was ill for a year, I lost my job and ministry and felt pretty useless. But God kept reminding me that He had a purpose in it, things do to that He had planned just for me, and that I wouldn’t be in the service station for ever.

When Jesus was on earth, He sometimes withdrew with His disciples from the crowds to have rest from ministry. Even He spent time in service stations, like immediately after He’d been baptised.

JeepWhen you’re in a service station, it can feel like you’ve been overlooked by leaders, that you’ve been forgotten or are useless, that you’ve had your day and now there’s nothing. It can be painful. Or you may feel drained and exhausted, as if you never want to get back on the road again ever.

But this season will not last for ever. It’s temporary. God has good plans for you; He has a purpose in all of this. He chose you to go on unique adventures with Him.

God would not take you into the service station without good reason. It’s necessary. Ask Him what He wants you to learn through this time. Let Him heal ministry wounds. Go deeper with Him. Enjoy Him. Rest and be refreshed.  He will take you back onto the road at the right time.

 

Sheer Delight

Interacting with animals is one of life’s good gifts. (Warning: this is a post that only animal lovers will truly appreciate!)

My guinea pig Pickles used to love racing me up the stairs. I showed him how to do it, then initiated us racing side by side. Always me initiating.

Then one day, I felt pressure on my mid-calf. I turned and looked down. There was Pickles on his hind legs, nudging me with his front paws. When he saw he had my attention, he got into the start position at the bottom of the stairs. It was a proud and emotional moment as I took my place on all fours by his side, and then we galloped up together. I forget who won, it doesn’t matter, my little furry boy had come to me to play, and my heart was full.

These days, I look forward to having Truffles the rabbit to stay. He loves cuddles, especially having his head and face gently stroked and his nose kissed. When I stop, he butts me with his head, wanting more. It’s a delight when he responds by licking my nose, and then he sits back expectantly waiting for me to resume kissing and fussing over him.

Animals don’t have to respond. They could just put up with me fussing over them before trundling back to whatever truffles-and-methey were doing prior to me coming along. Sometimes they do just that. But when they respond with pleasure, or even initiate contact, that brings me joy.

I think it’s similar to the way we interact with God. He pursues all of us everyday with His goodness and mercy. But when we respond to Him, that delights His heart.

To be honest, I don’t always feel like praising God or spending time with Him. Sometimes work is busy, life feels pressured and stressed, and I’m tired. But I know that when I do come to Him, it delights and blesses His heart.

For me, this looks like walking or bouncing or dancing (depending how I feel) up and down the kitchen, singing and praying in tongues. I read the Bible with pleasure, as if He had written it just for me. That makes even the hard bits that I don’t understand precious, because my Friend wrote them.

Other times we go for a meander together through the woods or in the countryside. I even go running with Him.

The pleasure I have in playing with a rabbit or guinea pig is nothing in comparison to the sheer delight the Father has in me whenever I come into His presence.

All His Resources

[They] came to request a message from the Lord. They sat down in front of me to wait for His reply.

Yesterday, I read these words written by the prophet Ezekiel and they caused an impromptu worship time.

Before Jesus was born, if people wanted to hear from God they generally had to go to a prophet and hope he or she (mostly ‘he’ but sometimes ‘she’) was a godly person.

But with the coming of Jesus, everything changed. Jesus came to usher in God’s Kingdom, and that means we have full access to the Father and all His resources, blessings and gifts.

One of the many things I love about Grace Church is the way my pastor Nick Sharp is able to explain deep spiritual truths simply. He often reminds us, for example, that we have the privilege of being able to speak in the prayer language of tongues because Jesus died to give us this gift.

Another spiritual gift that we highly value at Grace Church is that of prophecy. I love that we no longer have to go to a prophet to hear from God because He speaks directly to us when we become His children.

He does this in different ways: through the Bible, other Christians, in dreams and visions, in pictures and impressions. (The measure we use to check we are hearing from God and not just our own imagination is whether or not it holds true to the Bible. If it does, then it is most probably from God as He never goes against His Word.)

What a privilege we New Testament saints have: to know God as Father, Friend, Deliverer, Master, Saviour, Brother; to be able to talk to Him without fear of condemnation; and to be able to hear from Him freely.

What an amazing, truly awesome God!

Prayer for the Government

Give Your love of justice to Theresa May, O God,
and righteousness to her Cabinet.
Help them govern UK citizens in a right way;
let the poor be treated fairly.

May the City yield prosperity for all,
and may the country be fruitful.

Help the Government to defend the poor,
to rescue the children of the needy
and to bring their oppressors to justice.

May they fear and respect You as long as the sun shines,
as long as the moon remains in the sky.
Yes, forever!

May the Government’s rule be refreshing like spring rain on freshly cut grass,
like the showers that (constantly) water the UK.

May all the godly flourish and live in peace under this Government.
May there be abundance and prosperity for all.

Keep our country safe from evil influences,
seeking to destroy all that is good and right.
Keep our people safe from terrorist attack,
and ruthless enemies who show no mercy.

You, God, rescue the poor when they cry to You;
You will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
You feel compassion for the weak and needy,
and You will rescue them.
You will redeem them from oppression and violence,
for their lives are precious to You.

Bless Theresa May and the Government!
May we always pray for her.
Bless our country and pour out Your Spirit,
How we need You!
We long for You, come and revive us, O Holy One.

Praise the Lord God!
He alone does wonderful things.
Praise His glorious Name forever!
Let the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Yes, let it be, let it be.

Praying for our rulers is a command; we are told to pray for them so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. But I must confess to forgetting about this most of the time.

Recent events – it feels as though our country has been tipped upside-down and given a thorough shaking – have brought it to the forefront of my mind.

When reading this psalm (72), I thought it would be useful to turn it into a prayer I can use regularly.

Whatever you may think of Theresa May or the Tory Government, praying people are called to pray for them. No one could envy her this job right now with so many huge decisions to make and implement, and more pressures than I can begin to imagine.

So let’s pray.

Photo by Susie B courtesy of Free Digital Photos used with permission.

Build

God built a perfect world for people to enjoy,
But Eve and Adam’s in-built pride sent everything awry.

Noah built an ark and kept his family safe,
Job built his faith by trusting God through trials,
Leah built a nation, though Rachel was the favoured wife,
A divine architect gave Moses plans to build a place of worship.

Proverbs says that a wise woman builds her house,
But a foolish woman tears it down.
Hmm, easy to give way to anger…. followed by regret
Than to wisely go a peaceful way.

Dear Elizabeth built up Mary’s faith,
Who would have thought a virgin could be pregnant?
And with the Chosen One!

Jesus builds His Church,
She is a glowing Bride,
No spot or blemish in her,
Looking to the day when God will build a brand-new world for Her to enjoy.

Rest

You may have woken up today rejoicing at the outcome of yesterday’s vote. Or maybe you are disappointed and wondering what on earth is going to happen now.

To be honest, whatever the outcome you were hoping for, it’s all rather unsettling. There are big changes ahead as we go forward; we don’t really know what to expect. What promises will hold true and what were lies?

I’ve been pondering today on various truths, just to anchor myself in all the uncertainty.

I woke up today feeling somewhat overwhelmed. But to God, the nations – the UK and the whole of Europe – are like a small drop of water in a bucket. This comparison puts things in perspective! Yet it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care, He loves each individual in every nation.

When God promised the birth of the ultimate ruler and deliverer several hundred years before Jesus actually arrived, God said that the government would rest on Jesus’ shoulders. His government and its peace will never end. Jesus will rule with fairness and justice forever.

I don’t know what exiting Europe will look like. I don’t know how it will affect me personally or how it will affect the UK as a whole. But I do know that one day all of this will come to an end. One day, King Jesus will appear in the clouds (it may sound fanciful but this is no fairy tale) and take His rightful place as supreme ruler. He will be the perfect king who will work everything for everyone’s good, and there will be no dissatisfaction or disappointment ever again. His is a kingdom that could not be any better: full of love, peace, rest, light, joy, fulfilment, fairness.

A couple of things before I finish.

Some of us on Facebook are using Friday 8th July as a day of prayer for our nation. Our government needs much wisdom for the days ahead. Please join us: https://www.facebook.com/events/1098981783507359/

If you’re rejoicing today, please be sensitive to friends who are disappointed at the outcome. Rejoice but please don’t rub it in.

If you’re disappointed today, talk it out with someone you trust (and to God if you are a praying person), take time to process it and grieve. Don’t let it eat into you and take root.

Rest in the truth of who God is and the glorious future on offer with Him.

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