Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Page 3 of 36

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?

Hear

When I stop and think that the Creator of the universe listens to me when I talk to Him, wow. It’s beyond comprehension! I’m so small and insignificant; He says the nations are like a drop in a bucket compared to Him. But He hears me. Just wow.

I spent March reading almost daily Isaiah 58. There is so much in this chapter that I’ve made the decision to linger awhile. The Holy Spirit is the best Teacher and I love that He is showing me more and more in this passage and taking me deeper.

But what I really wanted to say from Isaiah 58 for this particular blog post is that when I delight myself in God – truly enjoying Him, not trying to impress Him or strive for His attention – He promises that when I talk to Him, He will answer me. When I cry out, He says: ‘Here I am.’ As comforting as a mum (or dad) taking her young child in her arms and soothing them with the reassurance that she is there when they cry out in the middle of the night.

It’s not just my voice He listens to either. He hears the inarticulate cries of my heart. When I’m unable to voice what I think or feel, He hears the silent plea. So many times I’ve seen my Father answer my wordless prayers, when He’d simply heard the longings of my heart.

Breath

We sometimes say that there’s nothing like a breath of fresh air, usually if we’re in a room that is stuffy and hot, or if we’ve been really busy. To have a breath of air can feel so refreshing.

Spiritually-speaking, the Holy Spirit is rather like a breath of fresh air. He brings the presence of God, and that is refreshing. The Bible says that those who wait on the Lord renew their strength. How many times I’ve dragged myself to home group or a prayer meeting, feeling tired and achey and wishing I could spend the evening in the bath. It’s amazing how much better I feel – refreshed, rested, exhilarated – afterwards.

Even spending a few minutes praising God in my kitchen during the day makes such a difference. Sometimes I bounce into the kitchen, excited and looking forward to meeting with my Father. But on other days, it’s an act of the will. I never regret it and often emotion follows as my will urges my soul to focus on God.

The words of this song express it so well:

Let Your breath come from heaven,
Fill our hearts with your life….

Light

Your light is brighter
than the sun in noon-day strength.
In You, I see Light.

I’m a child of light.
You’re changing me from glory
to glory – whoop whoop!

Trying to Fly

I loved this new book by Annie Try. The first chapter reminded me of a cross between Emma Donoghue’s The Room and John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. A chilling event is seen through the eyes of six-year-old Jenny Drake, whose life is forever changed by what she witnessed and experienced.

From chapter two onwards, we follow fifty-six-year-old Jenny as she works with her psychologist to try and find healing and wholeness by facing her past. The tragedy she witnessed as a child left her with all sorts of problems, probably the most significant being agoraphobia. An important part of Jenny becoming free is to return to the beach where the event took place.

At the beach, Jenny meets Jim, who witnessed the same event as an eleven-year-old boy.

Jim becomes a solid friend for Jenny and he persuades her to join him in a spot of sleuthing to get to the bottom of the mystery. The police had closed the case but there are many loose ends. Together, they begin to search for the truth and to clear the reputation of a good man.

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. As well as the mystery-factor, my eyes were also opened to the hidden issues people around me may have. As I followed Jenny’s progress in battling the fears that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her, it helped me to see that people act oddly for a reason. She evoked my sympathy, though at times I got frustrated: You’ve come so far, don’t give up now! I also wanted to scream at her not to be so trusting (no spoilers!).

Annie Try is a psychologist as well as an author and she really knows her stuff. Her expertise when revealing Jenny’s mental and emotional struggles shone through, and made this book all the more special.

It’s a gripping read and I heartily recommend it.

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing a review, but I will also be purchasing a paperback copy that I can lend to friends.

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