Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: Grace Church Nottingham

Spirit

On Sunday 18th October 2009 my life changed forever.

A few months earlier, Adi and I had started going to Grace Church.  One of the things I loved about Grace was that people spoke very personally to God and sang lovingly and adoringly about Him. Although we were all Christians, Adi and I could see they had something we didn’t.  They taught about the Holy Spirit and used spiritual gifts in every meeting. They functioned naturally in the supernatural.

It was intriguing. I couldn’t deny that God was among them in a way I’d never seen before. Spiritual pictures and prophetic words spoke to the most secret parts of my heart. When someone prayed or sang out in a tongue, the meeting didn’t move on until the interpretation was given.

Adi and I had never had much teaching on the Spirit and, to be honest, we thought of Him as simply a ticket to heaven. We felt a little like the disciples in Acts 19 who’d never heard of the Holy Spirit.

I had lots of questions, and a good friend advised me to read through Luke and Acts and make a note of every time the Holy Spirit is mentioned. I couldn’t believe how many times that was. He was crucial to the plot. I was gobsmacked.

I was also reading Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Dr Deere came from a similar theological background to me and there was much I could identify with. Through the book, he took me on his own journey from cessationism (believing the spiritual gifts died out with the apostles) to baptism and moving in the Holy Spirit.

SpiritSo on that momentous Sunday morning in October, I was ready and expectant to receive baptism in the Spirit. I invited Him to come while a friend laid hands on me and prayed. Joy bubbled up inside me and I began to pray in tongues. Looking at me, there was little physical evidence that I had received the Spirit. My right hand shook a bit and a few tears trickled out. But I knew He had come.

The next morning I tentatively tried praying in tongues again. Could I still do it? Was it just gobbledegook? To my relief, I could still do it. But I didn’t value this gift for months.

Since receiving the Spirit, it’s like everything is more colourful, deeper, more precious than before. It doesn’t make me a higher class of Christian or better than anyone else. But I’m more aware of God’s presence than I ever used to be. More and more I rely on the Spirit to help me. He is the best Teacher! He opens up the Bible to me, giving me understanding and making it real.

I adore how the Spirit tells my spirit that I am a child of God. I love the prayer language of tongues, what a wonderful gift this is. When I run out of words or my heart is too full for my English to keep up, I can pour out all my desires and longings and praise to God in tongues.

I’m so thankful to God the Father for His incredible gift. Some 2,000 years ago Jesus died so that I could be forgiven and brought back into relationship with God. He has given me a new heart and abundant life. The Father has placed the Spirit of Jesus in me so that I can have full assurance I am His child, and as a first instalment guaranteeing everything He has promised. The Spirit has given me spiritual gifts and makes me a supernatural being on top of all that.

All made possible because of Jesus. Thank You Lord.

 

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.

All His Resources

[They] came to request a message from the Lord. They sat down in front of me to wait for His reply.

Yesterday, I read these words written by the prophet Ezekiel and they caused an impromptu worship time.

Before Jesus was born, if people wanted to hear from God they generally had to go to a prophet and hope he or she (mostly ‘he’ but sometimes ‘she’) was a godly person.

But with the coming of Jesus, everything changed. Jesus came to usher in God’s Kingdom, and that means we have full access to the Father and all His resources, blessings and gifts.

One of the many things I love about Grace Church is the way my pastor Nick Sharp is able to explain deep spiritual truths simply. He often reminds us, for example, that we have the privilege of being able to speak in the prayer language of tongues because Jesus died to give us this gift.

Another spiritual gift that we highly value at Grace Church is that of prophecy. I love that we no longer have to go to a prophet to hear from God because He speaks directly to us when we become His children.

He does this in different ways: through the Bible, other Christians, in dreams and visions, in pictures and impressions. (The measure we use to check we are hearing from God and not just our own imagination is whether or not it holds true to the Bible. If it does, then it is most probably from God as He never goes against His Word.)

What a privilege we New Testament saints have: to know God as Father, Friend, Deliverer, Master, Saviour, Brother; to be able to talk to Him without fear of condemnation; and to be able to hear from Him freely.

What an amazing, truly awesome God!

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