Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: church

Taking Off The Mask

We all have a tendency to wear a mask. There is a need to hide who we really are. Maybe we have been badly hurt by someone we trusted in the past. Or perhaps we’ve been told at some point we were no good. Whatever the reason, we put on a mask to try and fit in and make ourselves acceptable or protect ourselves from further hurt.

As we hide our innermost self from others, we can end up hiding even from our own self.

Taking off the Mask by Claire Musters is a helpful new book dealing with this whole area of hiding who we are from others and ourselves. Claire talks openly and honestly about serious problems in her marriage and church life that arose because of wearing a mask and were made worse by continuing to wear it. Only when she was prepared to let the mask drop and face who she really was could she experience freedom to be the beautiful woman God made her to be.

We need to realise that it is what God thinks of us and says about us that is important, not what others think and say, or even what we think about ourselves. Our own thought lives are often so damaging to us and are indicative of deep pain hidden inside, keeping us trapped behind a mask.

Claire opens the book with her own story before, in subsequent chapters, taking the reader gently step-by-step through a process of learning to see where and in front of whom we hide ourselves and how to work through that to freedom. At the end of each chapter are searching questions designed to help the reader gain insight and benefit from working through the book. It would be possible to read and work through this on your own, though probably better with a trusted friend or counsellor.

I found it helpful to journal my way through the book by making a note of particular points that spoke to me:

Spidergram of Taking off the Mask…too often we can act out a part that we believe is expected of us, rather than truly living in the freedom that God’s love brings.

He [God] delights in us and wants us to enjoy the experience of being ourselves, and yet so often we can be trapped in an unnecessary cycle of pretence.

Let go of the fig leaves of shame and guilt. Accept God’s covering of forgiveness and righteousness.

We need to learn to stop looking to others for validation, and spend more time gazing on our Father’s face.

…sometimes we …can look at the difficult circumstances we are in and allow them to colour our view of God and ourselves.

The adventure of embracing all that He [God] has called me to is really liberating.

I have given Taking off the Mask 4* on Amazon. I was provided with a free copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review for the book’s launch today.

 

Ordinary Miracles

Challenging, exhilarating, faith-raising, adventure-stirring, full of ouch moments.

Ordinary Miracles: Mess, Meals and Meeting Jesus in Unexpected Places by Chris Lane is about making friends and being church on an inner-city estate. The author is open, honest and real, telling it like it is. Sometimes you are blown away by what God does, other times there are no happy endings. It’s messy and complicated but heart-warming.

I was struck by God being at work in every place at all times. So often I pray asking him to be at work in this and that. This book opened my eyes to the fact that He is already at work and it’s we who need to tune in to what He is doing in any given situation. I find this really exciting: being able to show people where God is already at work in their lives (I’ve already been able to put this into practice with a lovely woman I met in the red light district). Chris writes:

I now get offended when I hear a place or a person being described as ‘godless’, because I think it is an offence to our God who is always reaching out, always seeking the lost, always bringing His light into the darkest places. He asks that we follow Him to those people and places.

I think this makes life more challenging (in a good way) because we can’t just write off people of whom we disapprove. If our God is already reaching out to them, we need to be big-hearted enough to follow Him. Challenging!

This book also raises my faith for miracles to happen. Chris is open and honest about how hard it is to step out of your comfort zone to offer to pray with strangers in the pub or in the street. Yet when he made the effort, things happened. People were healed physically and emotionally, and situations changed. God’s presence fell on the least likely people and they were astounded to discover He loved them.

Your church may run a food bank,
but who sits around your dinner table?

Finally, I was hugely challenged by the need to share life with people different to me. It’s not enough to do a few acts of charity, and retreat. Jesus didn’t work that way. He shared life with people. As Chris points out in the book, a lot of the Gospels is about Jesus eating and spending time with ‘sinners’. He didn’t have projects, He had friends. Chris’ church is based around a dinner table and everyone is welcome. Not just a nice ideal, but a messy reality. This particular passage has stayed with me:

When all our connections with those different to us are based on the modern idea of charity, we are able to hold people at arm’s length, while easing our consciences that we are making a difference in the world. Jesus goes much further than this, and challenges us to do the same. Your church may run a food bank, but who sits around your dinner table?

Ouch. That last sentence makes me deeply uncomfortable…. And it’s right that it does. But what are Adi and I going to do about it…?

Ordinary miracles should come with a health warning. If read thoughtfully, life may never be the same again….

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

 

 

Open

When I was a young teenager my then church joined up with a church in Derby for a joint youth camp on the Gower Peninsula in south Wales. The Derby youth group were old hands at camping on that particular site: an old army barracks (from what I remember).

The leaders had prayed much for the week of camp and thought that all the young people would become friends.

That first weekend proved them wrong. They prayed desperately on Sunday night for God to move.

He did.

The next day, Monday, the Lord opened the heavens. Literally.

There was a terrific storm with lightning, wind and flash flooding. Rain fell in sheets, drenching everything. Our one road in and out of camp was flooded such that we were cut off from the mainland for a day or two.

At lunchtime the leaders gave up on trying to keep us dry and organised a football match in the rain.

There are some experiences where we can’t help but end up friends with the people with whom we’ve shared them.

God sent rain and changed the atmosphere.

The following summer, we teens eagerly anticipated meeting up again with our good friends for camp.

 

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.

Have

What do I have?

A magnificent friend who adores me and can do anything.

Since knowing Him, my life has changed almost beyond recognition. I’m not the woman I was a few years ago.

Then, I didn’t think God was willing to heal today.

Then, I wasn’t sure what He had to offer other people. I wasn’t even sure what He had offered me.

Then, I had little confidence in myself and amoeba-sized faith in God if you squinted very hard through a microscope.

I’m thankful to say that that is changing 🙂

God has healed me from cerebellar ataxia and ME/chronic fatigue. I had one significant breakthrough when friends prayed for me ten months into the illness, and Jesus completed the healing four months after that, just me and Him in my living room. I have confidence that God is willing to heal today.

I know my God offers Himself to other people, just as He has done to me. That gives me confidence in telling them about my wonderful friend.

My faith is now fractionally bigger than amoeba-sized. I’m trying things I’ve never done before. Let me tell you a story.

When I started helping at my church’s food bank three years ago, I was too scared to offer to pray with clients if they were ill or in pain or feeling low. My team leader gently encouraged me and for weeks I longed to offer but was too scared. Then one afternoon with my team leader eye-balling me across the room, I finally plucked up the courage to offer prayer. The client accepted and I prayed. Probably not well, but I did it. From then, offering to pray into difficult situations became more normal for me.

Right up to this afternoon at our church’s community Easter Party in the local pub. I prayed for healing for a lady with a chronic illness. She sensed God’s peace as I prayed. We’ll wait to see the outcome.

It feels good, taking baby steps of faith and going on an adventure with Jesus.

All because I have a magnificent friend who adores me and can do anything.

 

Heal

For years I didn’t believe God healed today. Now I do.

For years, I didn’t see miracles so I didn’t think God did them any more. But stories like the one I’m about to tell changed my mind.

About a year ago, a man visited our church one Sunday. During the worship time, an invitation was given for anyone needing healing to go forward for ministry. This man had a damaged knee. It was painful and he’d been struggling for months. He was due to have major surgery that week. He decided to go forward for prayer. Adi went to him, laid hands on his knee and prayed for healing. The man said it felt better and they both went back to their seats.

The following week, our pastor had an email from the man. He had gone to see his orthopaedic surgeon as planned but when they did pre-operative scans, they could find no damage at all. In fact, the surgeon was astonished to see that the knee was in such good condition, it looked as if it belonged to someone twenty years younger.

One of the names God uses for Himself is: God your Healer (Jehovah Rophi). He hasn’t changed. He is still able and willing to heal, far more than we are willing to ask.

Look

Day three’s word prompt for blogging through Lent is:  LOOK.

I’m one of those people who can’t see for looking, who frequently misses the obvious. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve embarrassed myself in shops by asking an assistant, ‘Can you tell me where whatever is please?’ only for them to point it out on the shelf directly in front of me.

A couple of years ago I went to an ACW writers’ day in Bath. I planned to get there nice and early to get the registration table set up before all the delegates arrived. I drove round and round the one-way system. My written directions and Sat-Nav both confirmed that the church was just off the one-way road I was on but I couldn’t see it. Then I spotted a church with a steeple on a hill so I exited left and drove up to it. Wrong church. Oh well. I got myself back into the one-way system and drove round for another go. Again, the only church I could see was the one with a steeple on the hill. Maybe I’d misread the name on the sign outside last time. I exited left and drove up the hill. Same name, still the wrong church.

Would you believe I spent almost an hour doing the same thing over and over again? (Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting to this so freely in public….)

CatOn the seventh or eighth attempt, I sat in my car with the church-with-a-steeple behind me and gazed out over Bath. ‘Lord, open my eyes.’ And He did. The church I needed (without a steeple) was almost opposite me, slap-bang in the middle of the one-way road I’d wasted an hour driving round and round.

Sometimes my looking is so skewed I can’t see straight. This is also true spiritually. There are all sorts of unhelpful things I believe about myself because I’m not seeing straight.

‘I’m stupid.’

‘No one ever listens to me.’ = I’m worthless.

‘I can’t…. because….’

The great thing is that God is waiting to open my eyes spiritually, emotionally and mentally as well as physically so that I can see straight. I think there are two things that run side-by-side for this to happen: I need to ask, and I need to look at Jesus. Because the more time I spend getting to know God and being with Him – gazing at Him – the more I am changed. God is the one who changes me from glory to glory, making me more like Jesus every time I look at Him.

When I look at Jesus, I see clearly because I see things from His perspective.

‘I am loved.’

‘God waits to hear me and bless me.’ = I am precious and my life has worth.

‘I can, because all things are possible for one who believes.’

Linking up with:

Missional Women

Ron

On Sundays Ron was usually at the church door, waiting to welcome people with a firm handshake and shy smile. He worked wonders with the old boiler, knowing just how to coax heat from it, so that we could enjoy warm radiators during the sermon in winter. No one else was ever quite able to manage it. When he was away for a six-week-world-holiday-of-a-lifetime,  we shivered our way through meetings huddled in coats and scarves. Oh the relief when Ron The Master Boiler returned and we had a warm building once more.

Ron arrived early on Sunday mornings to turn on the electric heaters in the cold, damp rooms we used for Sunday School so that when the teachers and children turned up, the rooms were toasty and welcoming. Before leaving, he made sure the timers were set on those self-same heaters to ensure they came on in good time for the pre-meeting prayer time in the evening.

When my keys refused to work in stiff locks, Ron was my go-to guy. Even in the pouring rain, he gave every appearance of being happy to help.

He took charge of filling the baptistery with a hose pipe whenever it was needed (doing his utmost to ensure the water was warm), made tea and squash for holiday Bible clubs and Bible exhibitions, and collected up hymn books and newssheets at the end of the service.

Dependable and stolid, faithfully getting on with the next thing, contentedly chewing his mints, an amused chuckle, twinkling eyes, a well-worn Bible: these are my memories of a special man.

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