Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: food bank

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.

 

 

I, Daniel Blake

I’ve just watched a disturbing film I, Daniel Blake.

It’s based on true stories, and reminded me of things I’ve seen and heard – and experienced personally to a certain extent.

My brief synopsis is that Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old skilled carpenter who has worked all his life until having a heart attack. Despite doctors telling him he’s not ready to go back to work, he falls into the black hole that sometimes (often?) exists in our flawed benefits system. He spirals down through frustration, unfair sanctions, and trying to get his appeal heard. Through all of this he meets Katie, mother of two, who is new to the area. She too falls foul of the system through no fault of her own and ends up being unfairly sanctioned. After starving herself to feed her kids and having no electricity or heating, she eventually turns to sex work out of sheer desperation.

I heard similar stories so many times when volunteering at Grace Church’s food bank. I meet women through the Jericho Road Project who feel they have no alternative to provide for their families. These are good people. They are not monsters. They are not undeserving poor. They are people. Just like me.

Me in ChiChiI’ve learned that anyone can end up on the street. Everyone has a story to tell. I’ve met people who were well-off and had their own business, but through various circumstances – including sudden serious illness – have found themselves needing to be referred for a food parcel.

I was briefly in the benefits system myself and although my experience was largely good (a safety net), it was still a scary place to be. What came out tonight was that people on benefits are treated as guilty until proven innocent. That was true in my case, though quickly resolved.

I, Daniel Blake reminded those of us watching tonight of the harsh reality faced by thousands in our country. We were uncomfortable inside. It made some angry. There was emotional pain. We wanted to do something. Because how can such things happen in the UK in 2017? How?

God used the film to reopen my eyes to what I’ve forgotten or become used to.

At the entrance to the car park sat a man wrapped in a grey blanket. He’d given up asking for money. He just sat. And my heart broke for him. I only had 27 p on me. But I couldn’t walk past and do nothing. As I looked into his eyes and touched his dirt-grimed fingers, I saw someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s grandson.

My God has a big heart for the poor. Jesus was adored by the homeless people and sex workers of His day. May God break my heart with what breaks His until His streams of living water flow out through me and make a difference.

Jesus Loves Prostitutes

For most of my adult life there was a wide gulf between prostitutes in the Bible and the ones I saw working on the streets of Nottingham.

Those in my city are often despised because of what they do, or ignored.

But many of the prostitutes I’ve met in the pages of my Bible became women who were honoured and loved by God.

It’s almost like the Father went out of His way to make sure a prostitute (Tamar) featured in His Son’s family tree. Rahab, who presumably worked out of a brothel on the walls of Jericho, demonstrated such faith in God that she is mentioned in the heroes of faith line-up in Hebrews 11.

Jesus didn’t shun them, but welcomed them. He showed unconditional love and acceptance to the broken women working the streets of towns and cities He visited. I love the opening words of Luke 15: ‘…the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.’ But the religious people weren’t happy about that, which led Jesus into his three famous parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Religious people looked down on the prostitutes and outcasts. Jesus valued them.

When God really got hold of my heart in 2013 and I began to have the first inklings of what grace is (it’s all about Jesus, not me; I am loved more than I can imagine simply for who I am and because He wants to love me), an immediate change was the way I saw other people.

I crossed the street to talk to a Big Issue seller – such people had never been on my radar before. I got involved with my church’s food bank and social hub, revelling in chatting with fascinating people I wouldn’t normally have opportunity to rub shoulders with including ex-prisoners, refugees, the homeless, drug addicts.

From there, it was a small step to getting involved in an inter-church charity reaching out to women working in the sex trade.

I love spending time with these amazing women: gutsy, brave, struggling, desperate, broken. So many words can describe them. The Father says of them that HeAshamed loves them like He loves Jesus. His blazing heart of love overflows with compassion for them. He is as crackers about them as He is about me. God is adamant that it was worth Jesus giving up His life for prostitutes, so that He can invite them into His Kingdom and call them daughters.

I’m writing a blog series on prostitutes of the Bible. When I read their stories, I see the faces of the women I meet and am getting to know. There may be several centuries between then and now, but God’s love for broken people will never change.

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.

 

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

 

Photo credit

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