Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: Jesus (page 1 of 6)

Refuse to do Nothing

Homeless people are human.

You may think that is obvious but at one time they were invisible to me. They first came on my radar when I read John Grisham’s The Street Lawyer. The idea that they are far more than a vague figure covered by a tatty blanket percolated away for a while, and then God added a little of His compassion to the mix. I eventually found myself chatting with Big Issue sellers and getting involved with social justice.

Francine Rivers in Redeeming Love made prostitutes human. It’s never as simple as just seeing a woman selling herself on a street corner late at night. There’s a whole back story of gut wrenching misery that drove her to that dark place. No little girl dreams of growing up to be a prostitute.

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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.

Water-Walker

I want to walk on water in 2017.

No, I haven’t gone mad. This desire is based on the occasion when Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, climbed out of a boat in the middle of a storm and walked on water with Jesus.

There were twelve disciples altogether in the boat that night. But only one had the exhilarating and terrifying experience of walking on water. The other eleven missed out on the walk of their lives. I bet that walk was one Peter remembered for the rest of his life; the others didn’t have that.

I want to be like Peter.

He didn’t take risk for risk’s sake. He made sure this was what God wanted him to do: ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.’ And Jesus immediately invited him to come.

Even then, it must have taken a lot of courage to climb out of that boat. Crazy enough if the water was calm, but these were big waves and a strong wind. But Peter heard Jesus’ call to adventure and stepped out of his comfort zone.

All went well at first. But then he suddenly realised what he was doing. Aaagghhh! I’m walking on water. And the waves are big. Woah, just look at that wind! Oh fiddlesticks, I’m sinking.

When Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked at his circumstances, it began to go wrong. But as soon as he called out to the Lord for help, Jesus grasped him with His strong arms and lifted him back up so he could be a water-walker once again. Jesus didn’t berate Peter for failing, He lovingly showed him where he’d gone wrong.

toddlerWhat will walking on water look like for me? I’m not entirely sure right now though I have one or two ideas…. It will involve God’s call, stepping out of my comfort zone in obedience, of being in a position where I’m 100% reliant on God to do whatever it is He’s asking me to do. I’m certain it will involve failing too (maybe water-toddler is a better expression than water-walker, I’m bound to end up on my bum at some point!).

Every time I choose to walk on water, I will be more likely to climb out of the boat again. Every time I decide it’s safer in the boat, I lose out and become more likely to stay within my comfort zone next time. Walking on water means a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus – something I can only gain by getting out of the boat.

I want to climb out of the boat. I want to go on adventures with Jesus. I’m going to walk on water in 2017.

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!

Listen

Yesterday I treated myself to a day in Derbyshire. Just me and Jesus. I wanted to take time out to be with Him, to listen and see what He would say.

On the drive to the beautiful village of Hartington, listening to worship music and pondering on the lyrics that reminded me that I am a child of God who is accepted for who I am, I invited Him to be with me. I know in a sense He is always there – He lives within me and has promised never to leave me. But I wanted to welcome Him like I would any good friend.

hartington-path

I set out along the path with anticipation. The whole day was ahead of us, me and Jesus in the beautiful countryside. There were no distractions, I had no phone or internet signal.

He led me beside rippling waters, the soothing sound washing away the everyday tension of the last few weeks.

I meandered through green pastures. My soul was restored.

I sang softly in tongues and English. Several times I stated: ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ and recalled how He had led me through dark valleys at times. He has anointed me with the oil of His Holy Spirit and my cup of joy overflows. He has indeed prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies. He is a good, generous God.

I couldn’t keep from smiling as I reminded myself of how His goodness and mercy pursue me every single day. His mercies are new every morning. His steadfast love will never fail me. And I will one day live with my God in His house. His home will be my home. Wow, wow wow.

still-waters

Jesus reminded me yesterday that He is my shepherd. He is the Living Water and I need to continually drink in the life He gives. He is completely satisfying while making me thirsty for more. And as I unpacked my tomato roll for lunch, I was reminded how He is the Bread of Life. Jesus is all I need. I wish I would remember that more often.

Jesus 🙂  I took time out to listen to Him yesterday, and my soul was restored.

Path

Life is like a path, you never know what’s around the next bend. It leads through dark valleys and takes you to exhilarating mountain-tops.

It can be scary, not knowing where my particular path of life is leading next.

I don’t much like being the leader on the path. I much prefer having someone to follow.

Last summer while on a prayer retreat with my friend Elizabeth, I had a powerful picture of walking along a beach. I felt alone and vulnerable, out in front. I didn’t like it. But then I looked again and saw Jesus just in front of me, glancing back over His shoulder, beckoning me forward with a smile. He made me to be a follower.

Within four days of arriving home, mine and Adi’s path took an unexpected turn through a short valley. Adi was given notice from his job. Suddenly Fear and Anxiety leapt onto the path determined to be my companions.

But I remembered that I was following Jesus along this path of life. And He has promised to provide for all my needs, including peace in place of anxiety. So I cold-shouldered Fear and Anxiety whenever they got too close, and fought to keep my eyes on Jesus. There were times when ‘what if we can’t keep up with the mortgage?’ filtered through my mind. Then there were moments of real peace when I actually managed to trust God.

Within two and a half weeks, Adi was offered a new job with a great firm. We never even missed a pay cheque. It was his one year anniversary in the firm yesterday.

God knew what was ahead of me, and gave me a powerful experience of Him mere days before I would need to lean on Him completely.

What’s That Smell?

When [my daughter] was a baby I used to carry her with her head on my chest and I would breathe in her baby smell and I remember offering her to another family member to sniff because she smelled so beautiful. From the moment I took my first breath as a mummy, it’s my favourite fragrance in the world, matched only by that of her little sister. 

My friend Helen Murray wrote those words and they got me thinking….

To the Father, I smell like Jesus.

What does it mean to smell like Jesus? We’re not talking aftershave here.

Jesus: Scents of Justice and Mercy

Before Jesus came, God’s people had to offer animal sacrifices as a temporary payment for their wrong-doing. The payment for wrong-doing is death but God accepted offerings of sheep, goats and cows so that the people wouldn’t have to die and be separated from Him. Such offerings smelled of God’s justice and mercy and are described as being a pleasant scent to Him.

CrossAll those temporary sacrifices pointed to the one perfect sacrifice: Jesus. When He willingly gave Himself up for me, the Father saw it as a fragrant offering and accepted His sacrifice. Jesus paid for my wrong-doing fully. There’s nothing left to pay. And that smells good to the Father.

Smell Like Jesus: Live Like Jesus

The Bible urges me to imitate God.

Why?

Because I’m His beloved child.

How?

By walking in love. Love looks like what Jesus did, giving up His life. Jesus said that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends.

Smell Like Jesus: Love Like Jesus

For most of us, love won’t look like dying for someone. Although it might….

It means thinking and acting more like a community than an individual. This is something my church is focused on at the moment, building authentic community.

For example, between Christmas and New Year our old washing machine died. Aaaaggghhh! What to do? Friends from church had recently moved into the area and happily gave me a key to their house so I could pop round and use their washing machine for the next eight weeks. There was some sacrifice on their part and lots of gratitude on mine.

Washing MachineSacrifice can mean having a little less ‘me’ time so I can focus on others.

Someone said recently that the opposite of love isn’t hate but selfishness. That makes a lot of sense.

When we love like Jesus, it smells nice to the Father.

Smell Like Jesus: Give Like Jesus

Jesus is my treasure. He has generously given me forgiveness, peace, freedom, love, joy. But best of all, He has given me Himself. I know Him and He knows me. I love Him because He loved me first and showed me what love really is. Jesus likes me. Wow! (Whoop! Whoop!)

The more I grasp this, the less I want to hold onto my money and the more I want to give because of this amazing God who loves me.

Yes, it’s important to be sensible and plan for the future.

But when we give joyfully and sacrificially out of an overflow of thankfulness to this wonderful God who loves us, it smells beautiful to Him.

Smell Like Jesus: Be Like Jesus

God says that His children are a fragrant aroma to people around us. Wherever we go, people get a whiff of Jesus.

The next time you squirt on your perfume or aftershave, remember that you already smell heavenly. You smell like Jesus.

 

Create

I loved making up stories with my teddies and dolls when I was little. I even created a family made from empty toilet rolls at one stage. My imagination was fertile and fun. After Christmas when the balloons were taken down from the ceiling, I made up all sorts of stories as the air slowly leaked from them, leaving them deflated bits of uninteresting rubber.

Growing into adulthood, my imagination remained as fertile as ever but became unhealthy rather than fun. My secret stories were fit more for a cesspit than my mind, and fear became even more embedded into who I was. It was as bad for my soul as air leaking from a balloon. But, thankfully, Jesus got hold of me, gently but powerfully cleaned up my mind, and rescued me from fear.  He blew in life-giving air, inflating me to be more the person He created me to be.

We’re all creative in some way, whether it’s scribbling stories, designing skyscrapers, or finding a better way of using limited space in our kitchen cupboards. Not surprising really, since we are made like the One who created us.

To believe in God as creator is to have the security that life has meaning; we are important to Someone; Someone loves us.

Refusing to believe this, we think, lets us off the hook: if we arrived by accident, we don’t have to answer to anyone, therefore we can do as we like. Life ultimately becomes meaningless and, deep down, we don’t believe we have any value at all. What a sad lie.

God created you because He loves you. He has always loved you, and He has good things planned for you.

 

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.

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