Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Words for Lent 2017 (page 1 of 5)

Writing a post for every day of Lent 2017 using a word prompt from #rethinkchurch. Some of the posts will be in the form of a fictional diary written by a Bible character.

Wonder

Sometimes I jump for joy,
that Jesus Christ is God and died for me.
Sometimes full of wonder,
how can the very author of life die?

What sacrifice for me….
He took my sin and satisfied God’s wrath.
Now He has made me free!
I am thankful, I exult and praise Him.

I clap my hands and shout.
Jesus is worthy of the highest praise.
 King of kings, Lord of lords:
He beat darkness and He defeated death,

In wonder I worship
Jesus the Nazarene and Son of God.
In awe and in wonder
I kneel at Your feet and give you my heart.

Hope

May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Romans 15:13

Hope is vital. Adi and I watched George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces when he and Will Hardie followed a WWII POW’s plans to build a caravan. It was incredible. Writing those plans and dreaming of being free again gave that prisoner hope in a very dark situation.

So it’s not surprising that God, in whose image we are made, is a God of hope.

I’m glad that it is He who fills us with all joy and peace in believing. Filling with all – that speaks of generosity, filled up with good things. I like Jesus’ description of a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. This is God’s nature: to give in abundance.

He gives all joy and peace in believing.

When God had broken in and miraculously healed me from cerebellar ataxia and ME in 2010/11, I pursued Him for complete healing from migraines (these have lessened in frequency and intensity but not quite gone completely). Initially, every time I asked someone to pray for healing, they asked for me to be filled with joy. I remember one motherly lady saying: ‘You’ve not known much joy, have you?’

I had a normal happy childhood, but that lady was right. I was so fearful in general and busy trying to be in control that there was no place for joy or peace in my life.

As God chucked out the clutter of fear and control and whatnot from my life, He filled those spaces with His joy and peace. The most memorable time was when He’d delivered me of a spirit of fear, that night He filled me with joyful, belly-aching, rolling around on the carpet, snorting laughter.

Joy and peace are daily companions now, I’m thankful to say. That’s not to say life is hunky-dory and all sorted. I still need to discern fear (it can be subtle), or trying to be in control or whatever and deal with it before God. But He is my hope and He restores joy and peace. In fact, He increases it.

I think the more we walk in the Spirit, the more capacity we have for God. The more I allow Him to sweep out the dusty corners of my heart, the more room there is for Him. That’s how it feels to me anyway 🙂

It’s all by the power of His Spirit. Oh that’s such a relief. I couldn’t drum up joy and peace if my life depended on it. But He gives it freely and extravagantly by His great power. Woo hoo!

The God of hope wants us to abound in hope, having been filled with all joy and peace by the power of His Spirit. Hope is a prayer away, and He is generous to those who ask.

Awake

When Jesus woke up on Maundy Thursday, I wonder what was His first thought?

He knew that day was going to bring His last meal with His closest friends, betrayal by one trusted friend, arrest, desertion, rejection and pain. I can’t begin to imagine. On days when something big is hanging over me, I’m in and out of the loo, feeling tense and jittery and wishing I was somewhere else in a different time. Jesus was waking up to the worst day in the history of the universe.

We get a glimpse of how He feels in the Garden of Gethsemane. Three times He begged the Father, ‘If there’s any other way, please take this cup of suffering away from Me. But not My will, Yours be done.’

If there was any other way of dealing with sin and bringing people back into relationship with God, the Father would have spared Jesus. But while other religions may acknowledge our problem of sin, none of them are able to deal with it. The only way was for God the Son to die in our place, representing us, and take the full penalty of what we deserve.

The Father is kind and loving and wise; He would never have asked His Son to die in our place if Jesus was one of many ways to God. He isn’t mean and cruel! No, the only way to deal with sin was through the shedding of blood.

And so Jesus got up and walked into His arrest and a night full of trials and torture before ending up nailed to a Roman cross for an excruciating six hours. Not just the physical agony, but the terrible, terrible spiritual cost of facing the darkness alone and taking an eternity of Hell on Himself so that I wouldn’t have to.

Why did He do it? Because this is how God loves. My place in God’s family is the most costly thing in the universe, and Jesus willingly paid for it. He went to the cross for the joy of having me as His friend.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isaac Watts – Hymns and Spiritual Songs 1707

Spirit

On Sunday 18th October 2009 my life changed forever.

A few months earlier, Adi and I had started going to Grace Church.  One of the things I loved about Grace was that people spoke very personally to God and sang lovingly and adoringly about Him. Although we were all Christians, Adi and I could see they had something we didn’t.  They taught about the Holy Spirit and used spiritual gifts in every meeting. They functioned naturally in the supernatural.

It was intriguing. I couldn’t deny that God was among them in a way I’d never seen before. Spiritual pictures and prophetic words spoke to the most secret parts of my heart. When someone prayed or sang out in a tongue, the meeting didn’t move on until the interpretation was given.

Adi and I had never had much teaching on the Spirit and, to be honest, we thought of Him as simply a ticket to heaven. We felt a little like the disciples in Acts 19 who’d never heard of the Holy Spirit.

I had lots of questions, and a good friend advised me to read through Luke and Acts and make a note of every time the Holy Spirit is mentioned. I couldn’t believe how many times that was. He was crucial to the plot. I was gobsmacked.

I was also reading Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Dr Deere came from a similar theological background to me and there was much I could identify with. Through the book, he took me on his own journey from cessationism (believing the spiritual gifts died out with the apostles) to baptism and moving in the Holy Spirit.

SpiritSo on that momentous Sunday morning in October, I was ready and expectant to receive baptism in the Spirit. I invited Him to come while a friend laid hands on me and prayed. Joy bubbled up inside me and I began to pray in tongues. Looking at me, there was little physical evidence that I had received the Spirit. My right hand shook a bit and a few tears trickled out. But I knew He had come.

The next morning I tentatively tried praying in tongues again. Could I still do it? Was it just gobbledegook? To my relief, I could still do it. But I didn’t value this gift for months.

Since receiving the Spirit, it’s like everything is more colourful, deeper, more precious than before. It doesn’t make me a higher class of Christian or better than anyone else. But I’m more aware of God’s presence than I ever used to be. More and more I rely on the Spirit to help me. He is the best Teacher! He opens up the Bible to me, giving me understanding and making it real.

I adore how the Spirit tells my spirit that I am a child of God. I love the prayer language of tongues, what a wonderful gift this is. When I run out of words or my heart is too full for my English to keep up, I can pour out all my desires and longings and praise to God in tongues.

I’m so thankful to God the Father for His incredible gift. Some 2,000 years ago Jesus died so that I could be forgiven and brought back into relationship with God. He has given me a new heart and abundant life. The Father has placed the Spirit of Jesus in me so that I can have full assurance I am His child, and as a first instalment guaranteeing everything He has promised. The Spirit has given me spiritual gifts and makes me a supernatural being on top of all that.

All made possible because of Jesus. Thank You Lord.

 

Deny

Two people have been on my mind today, both of whom participated in the first Easter.

Simon Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. I like Peter. He frequently opened his mouth before engaging his brain and generally jumped in with both feet. Peter blurted out deep spiritual truths that could only have been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, at other times he got it badly wrong.

Peter had an inkling that Jesus was about to walk into a whole load of trouble, and was determined to stick by Him.

Yet when the key moment came, Peter bottled it. He denied he knew Jesus. Peter’s heart must have broken when he realised he’d let his Lord down. I can identify a little bit with him, can’t you?

The other person who has been on my mind is Mary of Bethany. She too was a close friend of Jesus. She, with her sister and brother, showed Jesus warm hospitality whenever He came to their village, and He spent time in their home in the week leading up to His arrest and execution.

Mary used her two ears more than her mouth. She listened to Jesus. She pondered what He was really saying and what was the meaning behind His words.

Jesus had been open with all His close friends about His forthcoming crucifixion, yet only Mary seemed to grasp what He was saying.

A few days before His arrest, while Jesus was relaxing with friends over a meal, Mary anointed Him with expensive perfume (the value was around a year’s wages). She recognised who He was, and knew He was about to die. She may not have understood everything He’d said, but she wanted to pour out her extravagant love for Him.

Jesus loves a loyal, loving heart. He insisted that Mary’s beautiful act of worship be remembered wherever the gospel is taught – even more than 2,000 years later in a blog post.

The wonderful thing is that Jesus dealt with both Peter’s and Mary’s sin on the cross. Peter may have denied Him when He most needed a friend, but Jesus still didn’t turn His back on Peter.

I’m glad that Jesus knows we are prone to stumble along behind Him at times, often getting it wrong, occasionally getting something right. I’m so very thankful that my dearest friend Jesus died so that I could call Him friend, and so that He could call me friend. He is the most magnificent person who has ever lived, and I’m thrilled I can call Him mine.

If you’re reading this and don’t know Jesus, He is inviting you into a relationship with Him. Please leave a comment below or contact me via Twitter if you’d like to know how you can do that.

 

 

Above

As soon as I saw the Lent word prompt for today I thought of the verse in Colossians that urges us to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.’

The reason Paul (the writer of Colossians) gives is that my life in eternity is way more important than what is going on here on earth right now. He reminds me that in a sense, I have died and my life is hidden in Christ – hidden in His beautiful perfection. I now live for Him, and one day He’s going to come back and everything will be glorious.

I need this reminder. After the day I’ve had today, I was feeling tired and grumpy, and hadn’t focused much on God at all. It’s easy to think that this is all there is and get bogged down.

But it feels like enjoying a deep breath of fresh air when I lift my eyes to God and focus again on ‘things that are above’. This is where my certain hope lies: the reality that one day I’ll be moving into my Father’s house to call it home forever. That is where I belong. Here, I’m just passing through. In a hundred years’ time, my job and what happened today won’t matter at all. But my life in Christ is everything and that will still be going strong in ten thousand years’ time.

Follow

When staying in a hotel, I enjoy following the delicious smell of frying bacon and freshly brewed coffee wafting from the breakfast room.

Road signs can sometimes be a nightmare to follow. I remember Adi and I getting completely lost after a long day of running kids’ work in a church three hours drive away. We took a different route on the way home because of a long traffic jam. Big mistake. We ended up following temporary road signs that petered out in the middle of nowhere in the dark, late at night. Not great.

Still on the topic of road signs, I once spent an hour and a half trying to find my way out of rural Lincolnshire. There were wooden sign posts at every turning and I’d peer up at them trying in vain to see if any of the names on the sign posts corresponded with names of villages on my map. Nope. I began to fear I’d be driving around flat country lanes in the dark for ever before I finally – by some miracle – found civilisation again 😉

Years ago I followed my dentist from one practice to another. I trusted him and he knew never to believe me when I said, ‘Yeah, my teeth are fine’.

We follow celebrities, fashion, television soaps, all sorts of things and people.

This year I’m making a conscious effort to follow Jesus when He’s leading me out of my comfort zone and into adventure.

Blessed

For years I struggled to sing the worship song Blessed be Your name by Matt Redman. I’ve discovered I’m not alone in this. It takes the words that Job, a man in the Bible, said to his wife when they had just received the horrific news that all of their children had been killed in a freak accident. Job’s famous words were: ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’

On the terrible Friday afternoon when I lost our tiny twins, I was unable to face what was happening. It was too final. This was our only chance, barring a miracle, of having a baby of our own. I was unable to deal with the deep pain of loss, shattered dreams, and the finality of it. There was an unacknowledged sense of this particular pain never ending. Babies were delightful creatures that other people conceived. But not us.

And so for several years, I was unable to sing Matt Redman’s song without tears. Maybe for others they were just pleasant, biblical lyrics. For me they spoke of heartrending reality. God had given my life-long dream of twins and a few days later had taken it away.

But God is good. He really is. People say time is a great healer. Maybe. I’ve found God to be the best healer. He saw the grief I’d buried and the reality I’d felt unable to face and, when the time was right, He gently brought it to the surface. Together we turned and looked at the pain head-on so that He could bring emotional healing and wholeness.

I don’t know why He hasn’t given us children. I don’t know why He gave and took away. But I do know that He is good and trustworthy and loving and utterly faithful. The Bible says God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called by Him. I can question and scream and cry but I’ll probably never know why. Certainly not this side of the grave. But I hang on to the fact that God is good. Because He truly is.

Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.

I’m dedicating this post to our beautiful twins Two and Three, to my sister Gina, and to all little ones who have slipped away in the womb or been born asleep or whose lives have been far too short.

Voice

When I told Adi that I had a blog post to write on the word prompt ‘voice’ he laughed.

‘Well that shouldn’t be a problem for you, should it? The problem is getting you to shut up.’

Cheek!

But he made me think. I talk freely and easily, arms waving.

Yet sometimes when I sit down to write, I find myself writing what I think I should be saying rather than what is in my heart. If I pause to listen, I then hear the Holy Spirit’s quiet prompt to ‘just write’. Not to be so focused on the perfect opening sentence but to simply jump straight in there with what is on my heart.

When I take those few seconds to listen to Him – usually with a slightly sheepish grin on my face because this is a regular occurrence and you’d think I’ve have learned by now – and follow His wisdom, then writing flows. And sometimes I’m amazed at what has cascaded down from my mind to my fingers and out onto the screen.

But when I’m in a rush or tired (like being in the middle of this Lent word-a-day challenge), I think I haven’t got time to listen to Him and my focus shifts from Him to me. That’s never a good thing. At the end of such posts, there’s usually a feeling of frustration of not expressing whatever it is I set out to say, and even emptiness. Because I’d turned it into a striving, doing-it-in-my-own-strength, I-know-better-Lord thing.

Sometimes when I’m in striving mode, the blog post I end up with bears no resemblance whatsoever to the one I started out to write.

Of course, that can happen when the Holy Spirit is in the driving seat (so to speak) too, but when that happens it leaves me feeling satisfied and awed. Because He is using the writing gift He’s given me to bless others through me. And that’s really what we’re here for, isn’t it?

Believe

More and more, I’m coming to the conclusion that believing God is the most important thing we can do. It’s more than believing on Him – for salvation. Or believing in Him which may not have any impact on your life.

Believing God. Beth Moore, in her book Believing God, has five statements that I’ve found useful to speak aloud regularly. It helps me to think aright about God and myself, and faith rises up in me as I speak them out.

I believe that God is who He says He is.
I believe that God can do everything He says He can do.
I believe I am who God says I am.
I believe I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
I believe His Word is alive and active in me.

Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. Which means that faith pleases Him. Jesus loved it when He found someone with extraordinary faith in Him in the gospels, and He commended those people. I want to be someone who has extraordinary faith in my God.

Jesus said that for everyone who believes in His name, He gives the right to become a child of God. That’s utterly astounding. It means putting our trust in His faithful character and staking everything on Him being who He says He is.

I’m not sure whether I’m really expressing what’s in my heart. But believing God – truly holding fast to Him because He is steadfast love and faithful and righteous – is the greatest honour we can do for Him. And I think the more I believe God, the more I will grow towards extraordinary faith in Him. Because it will impact my life more and more. How could it not?

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