Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: abundant life

Given

It’s that time of year again and I am taking part in Rethink Church’s Lent word-a-day challenge. Sometimes it will be a photo on Scamper’s Adventures blog and other days, like now, I will write a short blog post.

Today’s word is GIVEN.

I am broken,
but You give wholeness.
My life is ashes,
for which You give beauty.
My heart is heavy and I am in mourning,
You give me a garment of praise and oil of joy.
You give me comfort.
You give me peace.

When I am afraid and overwhelmed,
You are my strong tower where I hide.

Father, You have given me everything I need.
You have given Your Very Best.
Your own Son,
betrayed, abused, tortured, shamed, killed.
For me.

Because of Jesus given at the cross,
I can be forgiven,
I can be free,
I can live abundant life,
I know You.
You are my Father, Friend, Saviour, Lord, Comforter, Prince of Peace, Strong Tower, Place of Refuge.

Undivided Heart

Undivided Heart by Lucy Mills is a thoughtful book based on a verse from Psalm 86 in which the psalmist prays: ‘… give me an undivided heart…’

In the first half of her book, Lucy explores what makes us who we are and what motivates our actions. She looks at the many different things that give us a divided heart: our drives and desires, issues, circumstances, boxes we squeeze ourselves into, social media, and labels we put on ourselves or allow others to give us. All of these things can limit us, create unnecessary burdens, and keep us from enjoying the abundant life God has planned for each one of us.

The second half of the book, Lucy considers what has motivated God’s people in the past (from the Bible) and looks ahead to our glorious future with God, and how abundant life is offered right now. Our incentive is to enjoy some of the benefits of knowing God now, not in a ‘health, wealth, prosperity’ way, but in going deeper in our relationship with God and seeing His kingdom come.

If kingdom is about the royal reign of God… then the ‘requirements’ of living under this reign emphasise how we live together under the kingship of God. … being generous… acting with fairness and justice, forgiveness and mercy.

In the kingdom, treasures are found in unexpected places, the poor are considered rich and the weak are made strong.

Somewhere, right now, two people with two different viewpoints are praying together in the name of Jesus, under the banner of love. Such is the kingdom.

Having an undivided heart results in God being so crucial to us that we are able to face suffering that has no answers here. Lucy looks at Job, and how God did not answer his ‘why?’ but gave him a vital encounter with Himself. God didn’t give Job answers, He gave Job Himself. Lucy also considers how Jesus – the Son of God – came to fully identify with us in our suffering. He became our sin so that we could have God’s righteousness. In our sufferings, God gives Himself.

In her final chapter, Lucy sums up what it means to ask God for a united or undivided heart.

An undivided heart is not soft, pink romantic snuggliness. It’s a fierce, focused, even suffering heart, which looks towards its one redeemer. A heart which longs and thirsts and waits.

Each of the twenty chapters is short. Included within most if not all of the chapters is a Bible verse or passage and a poem. Each chapter concludes with a few helpful questions to aid the reader in gaging where their own heart may be divided and how this can be changed.

I thought Lucy incredibly insightful in this book, which is uncomfortable at times and helpfully illuminating at others. I certainly had one or two light bulb moments in reading it.

I have given it 4* on Amazon. I was provided with a free copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review for the book’s launch this week.

Freedom in Christ – Part 2

How will knowing who I am in Christ affect things?

Worship

Knowing I am a child of God frees me from being self-absorbed. Magnifying Jesus (focusing on Him) puts everything else in the right perspective.

Show emotion in worship. Remember the woman who wept over Jesus’ feet. God has given us emotions; it’s right to use them when worshiping Him.

Go to war in worship. When I’m shrivelling up inside with fear or rejection or feeling ‘down’ for no apparent reason, I need to choose to worship God. I try to take myself in hand and go to the kitchen and sing. I have to be deliberate about it. And usually the negative feeling either lifts enough to give me some breathing space or disappears altogether like sun on mist.

Truth

Believe that God’s promises are for me, not someone else. Jesus invitation for is for ‘anyone’. If you are anyone, then you qualify.

Renew my mind with truth. Old thought patterns creep up on me when I’m vulnerable. I used to wish I’d never been born or that I could sink into oblivion. Thanks to God persistently showing me how loved and precious I am, I no longer think that way.

All the positive things God says about us are true. Pick a verse like Romans 8:1 about there being no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Instead of thinking negative stuff (lies) about yourself, focus on the truth that God doesn’t condemn you. He loves you and has made you secure in Christ. Focus on the truth until it becomes a part of who you are.

Thinking lies about myself brings condemnation and fear. Thinking truth about myself brings peace and freedom. Training ourselves to think truth about ourselves is an on-going process, but we must pursue it if we are to know anything of the abundant life Jesus offers.

White flowersPurity

Am I living in purity so that I can enter in to everything God has for me? Living in purity isn’t a passive thing.

Giving in to small temptations leads to big temptations, and big things can destroy you. Especially secret things; things you hope no one ever finds out about. I know, I’ve been there. Telling someone you trust breaks the power of sin. The Bible urges us to confess our sins to one another.

The Holy Spirit is the holiness expert. If I’m holy, I’ll be attractive to be around because my life will point people to Jesus.

Fruitfulness

Fruitfulness is not what I do, it’s how I live my life. Believing and living by God’s promises makes me fruitful. The Holy Spirit will grow His beautiful fruit in my character: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If I am living in grace and am at peace with myself, if I’m living as a daughter of the King and confident of who I am in Christ, then my behaviour will be affected.

 

Based on my notes from a talk by Liz Holden. Used by permission.

Freedom in Christ: Part 1

We are made to live in freedom.

I get upset when I see animals and birds in cages, whether in a home or in a zoo. They are meant to be free.

Before God began setting me free from emotional and mental baggage three years ago, it was like being squashed into a tiny space where I couldn’t breathe. But He had a far better plan for me than that; He has brought me out into a spacious place where I can stand with my arms outstretched and breathe deeply.

Jesus came to bring abundant life. The thief steals, kills and destroys anything good in our lives. Jesus doesn’t want that for any of us.

The key to freedom is identity. It’s vital to know who I am. More than thirty years ago, I was born of the Spirit (became a follower of Jesus). This meant that I had a noble birth.

It doesn’t matter that I was born to working class parents on a council estate, had an average education and didn’t go to university. Why? Because I became a daughter of the King of kings, making me a princess (in the best sense). Nothing can change my position ever. I am fully accepted by God, now and for always.

As a member of God’s royal family, I get to use the front door of the palace and sit on the family seats. I don’t have to creep in like a servant through the back door.

This is His tremendous gift to me. I could never earn His favour. It’s something He gives because He loves me.

Knowing who I am makes a difference. If I have a wrong view of myself, I think that other people see me like that.

LocustWhen the Israelites spied out the promised land, they said: ‘…we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’ They felt small and insignificant in the eyes of their enemies, leading to doubt and fear. That generation of Israelites never did make it into the promised land.

Jesus’ desire is for us to live in on-going freedom every day. He hides us in His perfection.

When God began having a good rummage in my life, chucking out the rubbish I didn’t need, and bringing me into a freedom I’d never known, it felt as though I was expanding to be the person I was always meant to be. There were unexpected changes: a sudden liking of the colour pink (I’d always despised pink in the past), and enjoying baking and knitting. I also have a freedom in worship that I never experienced before. He is growing in me compassion, resulting in inclusive friendships rather than jealousy and exclusivity.

If you are reading this, know that God is absolutely crackers about you. Ask Him to show you any areas in your life where you don’t have freedom so that He can come and break chains. Jesus wants you to be yourself.

Be content in who you are and in who God made you to be.

 

Based on my notes from a talk by Liz Holden. Used by permission.

Featured image used courtesy of stock images at freedigitalphotos.

Live

What do you live for? What’s your motivation?

It might be family or your career or cats.

Jesus came to raise our expectations. He invites us to abundant life.

When I was ill with ME/chronic fatigue and some days all I could do was breathe, I knew abundant life inside. Jesus gave me an impossible joy that had nothing to do with circumstances and didn’t take energy. He gave it. While I would never want to go back to being ill, I wouldn’t have missed knowing the nearness of God for anything.

Abundant life is all about knowing Jesus. He invites us to follow Him and to put Him first in our lives. I’ve found asking myself this question helpful: ‘If Jesus were living my life right now, what would He do?’

Jesus said that if we seek first His Kingdom, the Father will provide everything we need. We don’t need to worry about what will happen because we have a Daddy in heaven who has endless resources, is richer than we can begin to imagine, and has promised to take care of all of our needs. In the last couple of years, I’ve been daring to believe this is true. It is. It may not always look like what I expect, but He does provide.

Seek first His Kingdom. What does that look like?

When Jesus sent out His followers on a preaching trip, He urged them: ‘Proclaim as you go saying the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received with paying, give without pay.’

His commission hasn’t changed. God still wants us doing these things. How else can people see Him? In some parts of the world, seeing the dead raised is normal. I can testify to God’s healing power in my own life. I’ve also had demons cast out of me.

If God is who He says He is, why wouldn’t He do these things?

He loves us, He reveals Himself to us, He is the one who pursues us. It’s not the other way around. We know love because He shows us what it looks like. We live because He is the source of life.

Hand2,000 years ago, Jesus’ friend Peter saw Jesus walking on water and said to Him, ‘Lord if that’s really You, call me to join You.’

With a smile (I’m sure), Jesus said, ‘Peter, come.’

Peter scrambled out of the boat and walked on water. Just like Jesus.

But then he saw the waves and freaked out. What am I doing?! Aaaaggghhh! Peter began to sink and yelled for help. Immediately Jesus grabbed his hand and pulled him up, back onto the top of the water.

Jesus offers us abundant life and He invites us to get out of the boat and go on Kingdom adventures with Him. Are you up for it?

 

 

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

Christmas Party

I received an invitation to a party. Was it really meant for me? The people inviting me seemed certain they wanted me there. Not sure I should go, it’s not my thing, I don’t think I’d belong….

It was bitterly cold today and I couldn’t get warm. That party to which I was invited began looking like a good idea. Maybe I should go for a bit, just to get warm. I didn’t have to stay.

As soon as I walked through the doors, I was met with big smiles – not cheesy or weird, just friendly. I accepted some mulled wine and sat in a corner to people watch but someone joined me, chatting and drawing me in so that I wasn’t just watching but a part of what was happening.

We all moved through into a long room with a tall Christmas tree at one end and twinkling fairy lights strung from the ceiling. We sat at large round tables, still chatting, while being served a delicious, hot Christmas dinner with all the trimmings: turkey and stuffing, sprouts and pigs in blankets. This was followed by Christmas pudding or chocolate gateau with cream. We sang carols and laughed a lot.

In laughing till my sides ached at the ridiculously funny audience-participative nativity, I forgot that I didn’t think I belonged and simply enjoyed being part of this fun family atmosphere.

Food Bank Christmas BagsThere were even party bags to take away with important Christmassy food items: mince pies, chocolate coins, tinned soup, cheesy nibbles. We were each given a beautifully wrapped gift for Christmas. Tears blinded me for a moment when I unwrapped mine. It wasn’t some second-hand tat that had been set aside for someone like me, but was a decent gift that had been generously bought for someone like me. I’d done nothing to deserve it, I’d simply turned up and accepted all the love and generosity showered upon me.

Grace Church held our first Christmas Party for Social Hub users this afternoon. It was an absolute joy to be able to host Christmas dinner for some of the people who have used our food bank this year. It’s something the Social Hub team have been looking forward to for months, and to see our guests relaxing and enjoying themselves was really special.

As someone said in the pre-party prayertime, Jesus knows how to party. His enemies made snide comments behind His back and called Him a drunkard and a glutton. Not that He was ever greedy or got drunk, but He didn’t hesitate to spend time with people who were looked down on and called ‘sinners’. We wanted to be a little bit like Him.

Food Bank Christmas PresentsAs I gazed at all the presents and Christmassy food parcels to be given out, I was struck with the similarities between me and our guests.

I, too, have received an invitation to a party. I, too, have been welcomed in, and given a gift.

Jesus has invited me to a party that He has promised to host at the end of time. It’s a major event on His calendar – He died and came back to life to make sure this party will happen. And everyone is invited. For everyone who accepts His invitation, Jesus welcomes us. He brings us into His Kingdom and into His Family; in fact, His Dad adopts us and makes us His heirs. He provides for all of our needs and He sets us free to enjoy Him more and more. He has given us the most astounding gift of eternal, abundant life.

And that gift is something that we can start enjoying right now.

 

Photo credit

Not Ashamed

Hood up and head down, he quickly checked the sign. Yes, he was in the right place. He slipped inside the double doors, hoping no one had seen him. Despite the friendly ‘hello’ from the lady at the reception desk, he would not make eye contact. He handed over his form and was directed through the inner doors where the smell of toasting bread and fresh coffee wafted over him. Without looking at anyone, he perched on the edge of the nearest chair and prayed his parcel would arrive quickly. But what was this? A friendly face approached and sat beside him.

‘I’m sorry,’ he blurted, ‘I’ve never used a food bank before. I’ve worked all my life. I’m not sponging. I lost my job…’

‘It’s okay.’ The face smiled.

Twenty minutes later he left with his head up. He had enjoyed homemade cake and hot coffee, he hadn’t been judged or criticised, and had an invitation to pop back anytime for a drink and chat, maybe even join the game of Scrabble at one of the tables. There was no need to be ashamed of his situation.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

She eyed the white van with lilac butterflies and Jesus is Lord printed on its side in dismay. She’d heard of these people. She kept her head well down and hoped she hadn’t been noticed. But the van stopped across from her and two friendly-looking women jumped out.

‘Hi there! Are you okay? Would you like some hot chocolate or a cheese roll?’

‘I’m not working y’know!’

Who was she kidding? Why else would she be loitering on a street corner at one in the morning? She was in her twenties but could pass for forty. That’s what a life of alcohol and drug addiction will do for you. She was too ashamed to admit she was working, too ashamed to accept their offer of friendship and sanctuary on the back of the van. Just plain ashamed.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

ASHAMED: the dictionary gives two definitions – ’embarrassed or guilty because of one’s actions, characteristics, or associations’ and ‘reluctant to do something through fear of embarrassment or humiliation’.

I guess we’ve all been in situations or done things that make us want to curl up and die of shame. I have. Times when I’ve said the wrong thing, or been manipulative, or indulged in something I wouldn’t want anyone to find out about.

AshamedOr maybe something has been done to you that has made you ashamed, even though it’s not your fault. For years, I was ashamed of the fact I couldn’t have children. It’s no one’s fault, but I still felt ashamed.

The great news is that we don’t have to stay ashamed and guilty over what we’ve done or of the situation in which we find ourselves. Regardless of what is causing us to feel ashamed, there’s a way to be rid of it. That way is a person: Jesus. When He died, He took ALL of our shame – every single bit – on Himself and it died with Him. He took our shame, and in return He gives us His purity and right-standing before God. There is nothing left for us to pay. When we accept His gift of peace and joy and righteousness, He sets us free from sin and shame. That sounds like a fabulous deal to me!

When He was a man on earth, Jesus was nicknamed the ‘friend of sinners’. He was friends with poor people. He fed those who were hungry. He healed the sick. He laid His hands on people with disfiguring skin conditions. He hung out with prostitutes. I don’t know if there were drug addicts in first century Palestine, but if there were, you can guarantee Jesus was their friend. He welcomed those who were outcasts and downtrodden, and showed unconditional love. He took their shame away because He loved them.

I love that He loves the little people like me!

God doesn’t want us bowed down with shame there is no need for us to bear. Jesus came to give us abundant life. If you know Jesus, He has already set you free from sin and shame. So believe what He says about you and say thank you!

Jesus is not ashamed of you:
He calls you brother or sister.

God is not ashamed of you:
He calls Himself ‘our God’ and He has prepared a safe, secure place for us.

I love that when I’ve screwed up yet again, God isn’t ashamed of me. He will never wish He hadn’t bothered with me, will never wonder if He made a mistake in loving me. He still calls me His child and exults in the fact that He is my God. WOO HOOO!

Linking up with Fellowship Fridays and

Womanhood With Purpose

 

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