Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Thoughts (page 1 of 4)

Personal devotional thoughts

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.

 

Coffee with Jesus?

‘God loves you.’
I taught it every week.
But did I really know it?
Sure, He forgave me;
was He just being kind?

I thought the Father didn’t like me.
That Jesus and I could never have coffee together.
And the Spirit lived in me under protest.

But then.

The day the Father came into the room
His eyes fixed on mine,
as if I were the most precious thing He’d ever seen.
He scooped me up
and tossed me into the air.
Arms and legs flailing,
a toddler’s happy laughter:
‘Do it again Daddy, do it again!’

Have coffee with Jesus?
Oh yes.
Anyone can be friends.
Wandering in the woods together,
chilling on the patio,
enjoying a good book,
living the life He’s called me to.
He was once a man who cooked breakfast for mates –
He hasn’t changed.

And the Spirit?
Even when I hit the pearly gates
He’ll stay with me.
He won’t sigh with relief and go off to find someone more interesting.
Not dump me in eternity,
lonely and alone.
He sees me, He knows me.
He tells me truth and makes the unseen real.

God doesn’t just love me.
He likes me.

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.

 

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!

What’s That Smell?

When [my daughter] was a baby I used to carry her with her head on my chest and I would breathe in her baby smell and I remember offering her to another family member to sniff because she smelled so beautiful. From the moment I took my first breath as a mummy, it’s my favourite fragrance in the world, matched only by that of her little sister. 

My friend Helen Murray wrote those words and they got me thinking….

To the Father, I smell like Jesus.

What does it mean to smell like Jesus? We’re not talking aftershave here.

Jesus: Scents of Justice and Mercy

Before Jesus came, God’s people had to offer animal sacrifices as a temporary payment for their wrong-doing. The payment for wrong-doing is death but God accepted offerings of sheep, goats and cows so that the people wouldn’t have to die and be separated from Him. Such offerings smelled of God’s justice and mercy and are described as being a pleasant scent to Him.

CrossAll those temporary sacrifices pointed to the one perfect sacrifice: Jesus. When He willingly gave Himself up for me, the Father saw it as a fragrant offering and accepted His sacrifice. Jesus paid for my wrong-doing fully. There’s nothing left to pay. And that smells good to the Father.

Smell Like Jesus: Live Like Jesus

The Bible urges me to imitate God.

Why?

Because I’m His beloved child.

How?

By walking in love. Love looks like what Jesus did, giving up His life. Jesus said that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends.

Smell Like Jesus: Love Like Jesus

For most of us, love won’t look like dying for someone. Although it might….

It means thinking and acting more like a community than an individual. This is something my church is focused on at the moment, building authentic community.

For example, between Christmas and New Year our old washing machine died. Aaaaggghhh! What to do? Friends from church had recently moved into the area and happily gave me a key to their house so I could pop round and use their washing machine for the next eight weeks. There was some sacrifice on their part and lots of gratitude on mine.

Washing MachineSacrifice can mean having a little less ‘me’ time so I can focus on others.

Someone said recently that the opposite of love isn’t hate but selfishness. That makes a lot of sense.

When we love like Jesus, it smells nice to the Father.

Smell Like Jesus: Give Like Jesus

Jesus is my treasure. He has generously given me forgiveness, peace, freedom, love, joy. But best of all, He has given me Himself. I know Him and He knows me. I love Him because He loved me first and showed me what love really is. Jesus likes me. Wow! (Whoop! Whoop!)

The more I grasp this, the less I want to hold onto my money and the more I want to give because of this amazing God who loves me.

Yes, it’s important to be sensible and plan for the future.

But when we give joyfully and sacrificially out of an overflow of thankfulness to this wonderful God who loves us, it smells beautiful to Him.

Smell Like Jesus: Be Like Jesus

God says that His children are a fragrant aroma to people around us. Wherever we go, people get a whiff of Jesus.

The next time you squirt on your perfume or aftershave, remember that you already smell heavenly. You smell like Jesus.

 

Loved and Secure

I gazed at the television screen in awe. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Everyone else in the surgical theatre – and there were a few – was tuned out as I drank in the beautiful sight of our two-day old twins.

The surgeon was talking, nurses and technicians bustling about getting everything prepped, Adi snapping away at the screen with our non-digital camera.

Long before I was ready to stop gazing, the screen was switched off and I was arranged on the edge of the operating table, legs akimbo, for our babies to be transferred back to me.

ZygoteI’d been unprepared for the rise of strong maternal feelings that exploded inside me when I called the hospital the day before to find out whether my eggs had ‘taken’. As soon as the lab technician assured me that both had taken and were dividing well, a lioness inside me lifted her head and roared.

I was a mother, and I would do anything to protect my kids. If it had been allowed, I would have spent the next twenty four hours in the lab gazing at those two tiny, fragile lives in the petri dish. They were mine and woe betide anyone who dared to be careless around them.

I loved our tiny twins, who we nicknamed Two and Three, from the second I knew they were conceived. I still love them and can’t wait for the day I will finally meet them face to face and wrap my arms around them for a lifetime of missed hugs.

It hit me this morning that God feels the same way about me.

Except He loved me long before I was conceived. In fact, He loved me so much before I existed that He made sure my parents met so I could be conceived.

He loves me. Just as I couldn’t tear away my eyes from my little ones, He gazes at me with love and delight. He sits beside me and counts every hair of my head. He watches over me when I sleep and is with me in every activity.

I am loved. And so are you.

Read the full story.

Father of Lights

During the recent brief spell of hot weather, Adi and I headed for a department store and air-con. The lights in the store looked like wrapped Christmas gifts and reminded me that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights.

I love the Father of Lights because He is who He says He is: the creator, the saviour, the Father, the only true God. He never gets moody or changes His mind. He always sees things through, and I can trust Him absolutely. He gives me everything I need to live an abundant life. That doesn’t mean no problems. Abundant life is the life within: having peace and joy deep inside that are real and present despite circumstances.

The Father pursues me with goodness and mercy. Even when things go awry with illness or job loss or whatever, I can trust Him because everything has to pass through His hand first. Nothing is able to get to me unless He allows it so that He can grow faith and hope in me, always developing my character.

SunsetThis Father’s heart blazes with such immense love and purity that it’s no surprise He is keenly interested in mine. What are my attitudes and thoughts? Are they pure and lovely like His?

There is no darkness in the Father of Lights. For one who suffered from demonic nightmares, oppression and evil presences, this is of vital importance and a great comfort. He is Light. Just as He is Love. It is impossible for Him to do anything wrong or badly. If anyone thinks He does, they don’t know Him.

I never knew how father-like this Father is before last week. But He has pursued me over the years, culminating in Him drawing near to this much-loved daughter in a bungalow in Norfolk. He entered the room, His eyes locked on mine, a huge smile on His face. I lay in awe, almost unable to breathe at His magnificent presence. He scooped me up in His arms and tossed me in the air like a loving dad having fun with His child. I giggled delightedly as He did it again and again. And then He gave me a glimpse of His burning heart, red-hot with love for me. I don’t think I will ever be the same again.

The Father of Lights, the one from whom comes every good and perfect gift, has adopted me as His daughter. One day I will shine like the sun in His Kingdom. This isn’t airy-fairy stuff; this is real; this is truth. I love the Father because He first loved me and has shown me what is love.

Rights

Face down on the dusty carpet while Adi prayed for me to be freed from a spirit of hatred I realised I had no rights.

I’d always known hating was wrong but I’d metaphorically shrugged my shoulders at God anyway and chosen to please myself. And now I was in a desperate situation, longing to be free, and not entirely sure I would ever rid my life of hatred.

In that awful moment, the Holy Spirit reminded me that God loves me with an everlasting love and is determinedly faithful to me. Years before, I’d chosen to hate even though I knew it was wrong. With my face in the carpet, I knew I had created the problem and that I didn’t deserve to ever be free of it. Jesus knew all about my sinful choice. He was well aware of my rebellion against Him. Yet He chose to die for me – to take away my sin and to pay the full price of committing it – so that He could set me free from the consequences of my wilful wrong choice.

LoveFor many people in our society, ‘Jesus’ is just a swear word. But God has given an invitation that anyone who believes in Jesus’ name has the right to become a Child of God. To believe in Jesus’ name is to believe that He is who He says He is – and He says He is God the Son. Some 2,000 years ago, the Son of God became a human being. He knew all about the restrictions of having a body. He felt hungry, thirsty, tired and probably was desperate for the loo on occasions. Just like us. Jesus experienced rejection, pain and death. He did it because it was the only way we could know who God is, and so that we could have true freedom and abundant life – to enjoy peace, love, security, acceptance.

John, the man who wrote about God’s invitation to believe in Jesus’ name, also wrote about God being light and shining in the darkness. When God’s light shines into situations, there is nowhere for darkness to hide. When you walk into a dark room, you don’t waste time chasing the darkness out of the room, you simply switch on the light. That is what happens in our lives when we accept God’s invitation to turn to Him and live to please Him. Darkness goes and God fills us with His light.

God’s light versus darkness and God’s love versus hatred seemed to be a theme of John’s life after He had met Jesus and become a follower. John wrote that we can have assurance that we have eternal life – eternal life is simply to know Jesus and the abundant life He gives that is full of joy, peace and hope – if we believe in Jesus’ name.

As people who deliberately choose to please ourselves and don’t really give a toss what God thinks or wants, we have no rights. Yet God is so bursting with love for us that He gives us the right to become His children if we believe in the name of Jesus.

Jesus: there is no other name through which to know God and to experience real freedom.

Linking up with:

Renewed Daily - Recommendation Saturday

Keep Reflecting The Son

A minute felt like an hour, an hour like a day. A day seemed like an eternity. The nights were even longer – dark, lonely, slightly alien.

When I was ill, time seemed never-ending. By lunchtime, I had completely forgotten breakfast, and by mid afternoon, the morning seemed to belong to another day in the far distant past. And night was another creature entirely. The night had a strange feeling all of its own, as I wandered aimlessly from room to room in the darkness, peering out of windows – was anyone else awake at this unearthly hour? Oh, the relief when dawn finally began to break in silver streaks across the sky!

Through it all, I don’t recall losing sight of the fact that God was with me and that He was in control. He was the One who, on my weakest days, gave me strength to breathe and faith to keep trusting that He was working it all out for my good. I didn’t think I would ever get better; I assumed I would always need a wheelchair when out and about, and was accepting my ‘new normal’ of being physically and mentally restricted. As my body and mind disintegrated, my hope in God grew stronger. He was my strength. There were tough moments when I felt I couldn’t go on, times of sobbing out the pain and distress to Him, of grieving for the life I’d lost, but He never let me go.

I didn’t know when the night-time of my illness would end but I trusted God to keep working in me, using the circumstances to make me more like Jesus. And then one wonderful day, dawn began to break in my life as God broke through and dispelled the illness.

As the moon reflects the sun, God promises the same for His children. It is the Father’s deep desire for us to become more and more like Jesus. He often uses the night-time circumstances of our lives to do extensive work in us. I look back over my life and see how I grew in God through various horrible things happening that I would never have chosen for myself but which my loving Creator used for my good.

ClockThe endless wait of a life-saving organ transplant for my dad who was slowly dying before my eyes.

The heartbreak of a close relationship ending.

The news that we could never have children.

Long-term illness.

Maybe you can identify with some of these.

Perhaps it feels that dawn will never come, that your night – whatever that means for you – is never going to end. But it will end and dawn will come. The darkest hour is just before dawn, but dawn is coming. The moon shines most clearly and brightly against a dark sky. It keeps reflecting the sun, even during the longest night (which is coming up in a few nights’ time). Be encouraged to keep trusting God. It is a choice and one that only you can make. Keep trusting Him so that all His loveliness can be reflected in your life.

Keep reflecting the Son.

Linking up with The Sunday Community.

 

Clock picture credit: freedigitalphotos.net and Suat Eman.

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