Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: freedom

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.

 

Lessons From Truffles

I sat on the stairs on Tuesday feeling grumpy. It had been a long, busy and frustrating day at work, and my back was aching.

Lord, I know I haven’t spent time with You today but I don’t feel up to it right now. I just want to collapse and read. We’ll spend time tomorrow, I promise.

But I couldn’t just collapse and read as I longed to do because of a small furry visitor called Truffles. This was his usual play time, a chance to get out of his hutch and enjoy a little freedom. He’d be expecting to play and I couldn’t let him down.

I opened the hutch door and began rolling his current favourite toy around to entice him out: a wooden ball containing a bell. There’s normally an immediate response but not on Tuesday night.

Truffles sat in his hutch ignoring me.

Truffles 3

So I sat on the stairs trying to read and keeping an eye out in case he changed his mind. I was hopeful; playing with Truffles is a fun part of the day.

Why is he sitting in his hutch? Silly bunny…. it’s a lot better for him out here. I’m sat here waiting for him and we always have fun. So why is he stuck in his hutch?

Then it hit me.

I was like Truffles. The door was open with a better invitation and here I was sat in my circumstances refusing to meet with the Lord because I didn’t ‘feel up to it’.

Oh.

Then I heard the gentle invitation to ‘come’.

With a sheepish smile, I got up and went to get my Bible. Jesus and I enjoyed some time together; my achey back eased and the frustrations disappeared as I saw them for what they were: small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Feeling tonnes better – refreshed and restored – I went back downstairs. And Truffles and I played together.

 

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.

Celebrate: My Life

Adi and I have just been watching the documentary He named me Malala. It made me realise again how much I have for which to be thankful.

I had an education. Maybe not the best (my senior school has since been bulldozed), but I got my GCSEs and went to college.

There is freedom of speech in the UK.

I’m free to be a follower of Jesus and to pursue His present calling on my life to write and to work with women in the sex industry.

I’ve never been in a war or had to flee my home in fear. There is a scene in the documentary where Malala meets Syrian refugees on the Jordanian border. She could relate, having become a refugee inside her own country before seeking asylum in the UK. It’s so far out of my experience that I can’t begin to imagine what they are going through. But Malala knows, and it showed through.

So today I’m celebrating my life, thankful to God for the generous benefits He’s given me. I am who I am by His grace alone.

Spirit

God sent Jesus to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law,
so that He could adopt us as His very own children.
And because we are His children,
God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts,
prompting us to call out, ‘Daddy Father.’
Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.
And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.

These verses from Galatians are precious. They tell me how loved I am, how cherished by God.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all 100% committed to me.

I was a slave under God’s law but Jesus fulfilled the law for me. God the Son bought my freedom on the cross.

Why?

So that the Father could adopt me as His daughter. Imagine… the King of Kings wanted me in His family. Wow…. Just wow!

Father and Son were keen that I should know this in my heart, not just believe it in my head. So God sent the Spirit of Jesus to live inside me, and the Spirit tells me that this is true. God’s Spirit in me makes my heart leap for joy that God is my Daddy. Such knowledge sets my heart ablaze and powerfully changes the way I think.

I’m not a slave. He welcomes me into His palace and I get to sit on the best chairs. I belong.

As if that weren’t enough, I am a co-heir with Jesus. Everything He enjoys, I get to enjoy.

I love the Spirit. He gives me assurance. He brings me God’s presence. He gives me spiritual gifts. This glorious third Person of the Trinity loves me!

Celebrate: Freedom

My piggies’ favourite thing in the world was to play in long grass on a sunny day. The second they heard me moving their run to a fresh patch in the back garden, all eight of them set up loud squeaks and squeals of excitement. They could barely keep still in my arms as I lifted them carefully from hutch to run. As soon as they landed on the grass, they raced around before settling in for a day of contended grazing.

Another favourite activity was having the run of our long living room. Once they had gotten over being in such a spacious place, I delighted in watching as they celebrated their freedom: racing around in circles and bunny hopping across the carpet.

They had simple faith in me to meet their needs. So long as the fresh broccoli and carrot came their way every morning along with dry food and water, they were content. But having their freedom was cause for celebration and, boy, did they know how to do it.

Jesus bought my freedom 2,000 years ago. When I get trapped inside a hutch of my own making, He is always willing to open the door and set me free. Over and over again.

Today I’m celebrating freedom in Christ.

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.

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Bunny Hops

I love looking after my friends’ rabbits and guinea pigs when they go on holiday. Truffles the rabbit is a regular visitor at Hotel Mandy and stays for a few weeks every summer. We are good friends now though it takes him a couple of days to settle in. At first, he is hesitant and clings to the familiar safety of his hutch. I open the door and try to coax him out, longing to fuss over him and have a game. He stares at me. Then, with all four paws firmly rooted in the sawdust, he stretches his head towards me, ready to withdraw immediately if I make a sudden movement. Soon, his front paws appear on the edge of the door and then I know it won’t be long before he jumps out and submits to having his ears and cheeks stroked (which he loves). For me, the best part is when Truffles suddenly starts racing around the carpet bunny hopping for sheer joy at his freedom.

Truffles reminds me of my friendship with God. I chose to follow Jesus while still in junior school. I quickly began serving in the church and in a Christian youth group, but I experienced no real joy or peace. If you had asked me what I believed, I would have said that God loved me and that He’d sent Jesus to die for me to take the punishment for the wrong things I had done. But what I actually believed in my heart was more: Jesus felt sorry for me and died for me but God was still angry with me so I had to work my socks off to try and earn His favour. I made life all about me rather than all about Jesus. The problem was that I didn’t really believe that God was who He said He was, or that I was who He said I was.

Thank God He loved me far too much to leave me in that state. In 2009, God led Adi and me to Grace Church where we were baptised in the Spirit. Things slowly began to change until last summer Bible truths I’d never understood before finally began to click. God has always loved me. He created me because He wanted me to be part of His Family. He isn’t angry with me. Jesus died for me so that His Dad could adopt me. I’ve been rescued out of the enemy’s domain of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son Jesus. (Woo hooo hooo!!!)

Truffles in hutchMy life with God began with me stuck in a hutch, imprisoned by the enemy’s lies. God had opened my hutch door and beckoned me out to freedom. It took thirty-odd years of me looking at God and wondering if He really was who He said He was and if I was who He said I was. For three decades it looked attractive – oh desperately attractive – but unattainable. Then I started craning my neck for a better look. Could God be trusted?

To experience God and all that He has for me, I had to make that leap out of the hutch. As soon as I believed that He is who He says He is and that I am who He says I am – that I’m His adopted daughter, a princess in His Kingdom, a joint heir of spiritual blessings with Jesus, someone He delights in and ‘woo hoos!’ over – I began to know increasing peace and joy in my life.

As I laugh aloud and love to see Truffles bunny hopping for sheer joy in his freedom, I am positive that God laughs with me and rejoices over me as I enjoy more and more of the freedom Jesus paid such a high price to give me. I relish my friendship with God and the complete security I have in Him.

 

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