All posts by danbalsdon

Christian. Methodist Minister (Presbyter) serving in the Bognor Regis area, South East, UK. Husband, Father of 2. Book hoarder. Wanna-be chef. Heart for living in community and for seeing the presence and activity of God in day to day life.

Snowdrops

I wanted to share these snowdrops with you. Over the few days more and more of these beauties have been appearing.

I always look out for them each new year. My Grandparents would always look for the first snowdrops of the year, and as a farmer who was always out first thing every morning Gramps would usually spot them first and pick a few to bring into the farmhouse to show Gran as evidence that spring was on the way.

What I find most intriguing about snowdrops is how fragile they look. How easily they can be trampled, how vulnerable their drooping blooms appear.

Yet, they are among the first flowers of the year and despite their fragile appearance, on the inside they are strong and able to withstand the cold weather and harsh winds of winter.

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul has been writing to the Church in Corinth about his ‘thorn in the flesh’, something that is tormenting Paul, and makes him feel weak.

We don’t know what – probably not an actual thorn, maybe some sort of health issue, or something about his character he doesn’t like.

Whatever it is, Paul has pleaded with God to have rid of this thorn.
Yet God says:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 1 Cor 12:

2 Corinthians 12:9

Paul discovers that in weakness, God’s power and strength are made perfect.

I would quite like God to get rid of the thorn that is coronavirus. I’m wearied by the constant challenge of living within restrictions, the sometimes heavy burden of responsibility I feel and bear with others, the vulnerability and fragility of life that this virus takes advantage of.

Yet through these snowdrops God has reminded me that things are not always as they appear. While things make appear fragile and weak and vulnerable, inside God’s power and strength is made perfect.

While the darkness of this winter may still bear heavily upon us, spring is coming, and hope is with us – because through acceptance of our vulnerability, God’s power and strength is made perfect.

May you know the hope and strength of God in your life today.

Reflect

What do you find is a thorn in your flesh?

Where do you feel weak or vulnerable today?

Pray, and ask God to help you know his strength and power being made perfect in you.

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Follow me, come and see

Have you ever struggled to decide whether to believe something or not?

I saw an advert for what looked like a really good deal on some Lego sets the other day but wasn’t sure whether or not the advert was legitimate. I’m usually quite cautious but this time as I weighed up my desire for the Lego with the uncertainty of whether or not it was legitimate – I placed an order. I’m still waiting to know whether I should have steered clear rather than getting involved!

In the early stages of Jesus ministry, as John’s gospel tells is, Jesus finds Phillip and says ‘follow me’. (John 1:43-51). Phillip seemingly does, but not until he’s gone off and invited Nathanael too.

‘Nathanael, we’ve found the promised one, the one that law and prophets wrote about, Jesus from Nazareth – he’s here’.

‘Nazareth? Phillip – can anything good come from there?’

‘Nathanael, come and see…’

The texts tells us little about Nathanael, but it seems to me that from the little we do get, we see a man was struggling to know whether to believe the murmurs he was hearing. Perhaps he was nervous about putting his hopes into this Jesus bloke he knew so little about himself. Weighing up the situation – steer clear or jump in? Believe, or hold out for certainty?

Phillip’s invitation makes its impact. Nathanael does jump in – though how much he believed at that moment is not clear. Then Jesus sees him coming. 

‘Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ says Jesus.

‘How on earth can you day that?’ Asks Nathanael, ‘you don’t know me!’

‘I saw you, even before Phillip called you’ responds Jesus.

‘You are the Son of God, the King of Israel’ declares Nathanael.

Nathanael seems to move from scepticism to declaration of believe at an inconceivable pace. Seemingly through Nathanael’s coming to see, he discovers that Jesus knows of him, and that is enough for him to believe Jesus is the Son of God.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this short story about Nathanael comes in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. This invitation: ‘follow me, come and see’ was not only an invitation to Phillip and Nathanael, but to the readers and hearers of the gospel – and to us as we engage with the text today.

The call to ’Come and See’ invites us to make that choice to get involved, to read on and discover the signs of awe and wonder that the gospel serves as a witness to. To discover who Jesus is and that Jesus does not steer clear of us.

At the other end of John’s Gospel, after the resurrection, we read Thomas’ story. Thomas had missed Jesus’ first appearance in the upper room and declares ‘unless I see, I will not believe’. A week later Jesus appears before Thomas and he declares ‘my Lord and my God’. (see John 20:24-29)

Thomas and Nathanael are characters I think many of us can relate to – struggling with weighing up our own tussles between belief and certainty. For both Thomas and Nathanael Jesus offers signs that give them confidence to believe.

Jump in and get involved.
Hear the invitation – Come and see.
Hear Jesus voice saying follow me – giving confidence to believe.

Reflect
When has Jesus offered you signs that lead you to belief?
Think about Nathanael – How have you chosen to ‘jump in’ and get involved with Jesus?
Think about Phillip – When have you invited someone to ‘come and see’ Jesus?

Respond
How are you getting involved with Jesus?
How are you inviting people to come and see Jesus?

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Oceans of justice

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re privileged. You’ve got an internet connection.

If you’ve food in a fridge, freezer or kitchen cupboard for the next few days, that’s privilege.

If you’ve got money in the bank, a pension or stable income, that’s privilege.

If you’re white, heterosexual or from an ethnic majority, you’ve got privilege.

This week we’ve been reminded yet again of injustice in our society, driven by inequality and division. Digital poverty is having a massive impact on schooling and the learning of young people at home.

Community larders and Foodbanks continue to see increasing demand. Some supermarkets have been reporting shortages of some food due to bulk buying , leaving others without.

In America we saw what’s been described by many media outlets as an attempted coup by white extremists. Many have rightly pointed out that only months ago black protestors in America were met with extreme force on their demonstrations – yet these extremists easily overcame the small group of officers on duty to maintain order.

All these, and many other injustices are present in our communities and societies and all to easily can be ignored or taken for granted. The pandemic has, helpfully, made these injustices and positions of privilege more obvious – if we’re willing to notice them.

But to do we notice? Do we even recognise our privilege? And more importantly, do we step out of our glass houses to stand with and alongside those without that privilege?

The prophet Amos was probably a farm hand, sent by God to call for social justice, and condemns those who’s power and privilege comes at the cost of others. The call is to step out of the glass house, and work for justice.

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

Amos 5:21-24, The Message

Oceans of Justice. that’s what I want.

Where there is water, life can be sustained.
Where there are oceans of justice, life is sustained.
Togetherness, community, equity and love grow and flourish.

Reflect

Are you privileged?
Are you suffering injustice?
How can you work for justice?

Act

To find out more about injustice and privilege, and ways you can play your part in bringing about oceans of justice visit the JPIT Website. http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/

The Joint Public Issues Team is a multi-denominational team who offer excellent analysis of current social issues and ways we can act at local, national and international level to use our privilege to stand for justice.

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Interrupted…by Christmas

However you’re spending Christmas this year, I pray you have a safe, hope-filled and blessed one.

A wife posted her Christmas wish list on the fridge for her husband to see. Rather than a list of items of desire, she simply wrote, ‘something that will make me look beautiful’. When Christmas rolled around she expected to open a package with some fancy jewellery of clothing. Instead, she unexpectedly received an exercise bike.

Christmas this year is not what we would have expected back in January.
Christmas has been interrupted.
There’s things we can’t do.
Places we won’t go.
People we won’t see.
We may feel frustrated, disappointed,
hopes have been dashed, people are hurting.

2020 has been a year of change, restrictions and interruptions. And if you’re anything like me, I’m not a great fan of interruptions to my plans and routines.

We’re all marking Christmas differently this year in one way or another…

As we do, I wonder if living through an interrupted Christmas might help us see the Christmas story differently – and afresh for us.

Because the Christmas story itself is filled with interruptions.
Christmas is an interruption.

Mary’s day in interrupted when an angel appears before her and says she will have a child. How does Mary respond? Does she head out stockpiling loo rolls and pasta? No, she said ‘I am the Lord’s servant, let it be’.

The whole land was interrupted with a census called by a foreign dictator that sent everyone back to their hometowns – their own lockdown – so to speak…what do mary and Joseph do? Do they head to Barnards castle for an eye test? No, they comply and head to Bethlehem.

When they get there there’s nowhere to go. Everywhere has already filled up, social distancing and the rule of 6 mean there’s no space for Joseph and a pregnant Mary…they find some shelter…

And then, the biggest interruption of them all,
A baby is born.
Immanuel, God with us.

A baby that is God, and is human, and turns everything upside down. Who enters the mess of the world and be with us in our pain.
A gift that challenges injustice.
A gift that is full of forgiveness.
A gift that shows the world true love.
Because God became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14)

Shepherds on the hillside watch their sheep – their night interrupted with light and the songs of angels…

Townsfolk’s sleep interrupted as shepherds run through the town praising God…

Magi’s studies are interrupted by the appearance of an unusual light…

Herod’s confidence interrupted by unexpected news a new king had been born….

All because God interrupted the world and interrupted the status quo, through a vulnerable babe in a manger.

This Christmas, may the worldly interruptions we face be insignificant to the kingdom interruption that Christmas is all about.
A holy interruption.

Love is with us,
Hope is with us.
God is with us.
Immanuel.

May your life be interrupted by Christmas – God with us.

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Interrupted…by love

Week 4 in our journey through Advent reflecting on a year of interruption.

Where have you found love this year?
How are you sharing love today?

Comment below with your thoughts….

2020 has been a different year to how any of us had imagined it would be back in January.  And Christmas 2020 is no different – Christmas is going to be different this year.

The story is told of a Dad who called a family conference. He’d decided their Christmas was going to be different. They had been getting carried away with frivolous festivities. And so he told them, they were to be more disciplined.

Cutting down on excessive spending on gifts. they were going make sure there was a better atmosphere between visiting relatives. His speech came to a crescendo with a  final rallying cry – let’s make this the best Christmas ever!

After a few moments of quiet, the youngest son nervously spoke up – “but Dad, I don’t see how we can ever improve on the first Christmas”

I think many of us are aware how we can sometimes get caught up in what we could call the culture of Christmas – the commercial call to buy as many presents as we can, to stock the kitchen to the hilt, to spend time with family and friends, eating together, playing games together…

Familiarity can sometimes breed complacency. And this year I wonder whether the fact we are having to think more carefully about how we spend Christmas might cut into the familiarity, and make us think more carefully about what Christmas is really about.

Because let’s face it, pandemic aside, we shouldn’t need an excuse to spend time with family and friends, to give gifts to one another to show our love and care for them. This should be a normal part of life as human beings, created to be in relationship with one another.

Christmas is about something more important.
Something no matter of family conference can improve on.
Something no restrictions can take away.
Christmas is not, cannot be, cancelled.

At Christmas we celebrate the world being interrupted by a gift of love. Because God shows his love for us through the life of Jesus, who as Christians we believe demonstrates true love to us, welcoming the outcast, caring for the stranger, loving us for who we are.

Advent is a time of watching and waiting – leading us to Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But Advent is also a time of realising what we are watching and wating for is already with us. Jesus is already here. And is a gift of limitless love for us.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I get a gift at Christmas, or get a Christmas card in the post, I feel a bit bad if I’ve not sent them a gift or card. I want to reciprocate – to give back – and I feel it’s not fair.

Well God’s gift of Jesus isn’t fair either – because God gives and gives, and doesn’t expect anything from us, just to receive. We call it grace. God giving when we don’t think we deserve it, and expecting nothing of us except to receive it.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8

In this year of interruption,
This Christmas interrupted,
May your life be interrupted… by God’s gift of love.


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Interrupted…by Joy

What has given you joy this year?
What is giving you joy today?

This week I had a bit of an interrupted week, because the car broken down while doing shuttle runs for Bognor Foodbank. It was about 1:30, I called the RAC and they said 90mins to 3-4hours.

Louise was working til about 5, so I thought I didn’t have much option but to wait, the car was on double yellows, and wouldn’t be easy to move, and I’m no mechanic, I had no clue what the problem was.

Well, 90 mins came and went.
3 hours came and went.
4 hours came and went.

Every 30 minutes or so I would get a text saying, we’re on the way, sorry for the delay, we’ll be in touch within the next half hour…
It was hard to keep waiting and waiting….

By the time it had been 5 hours, I called again, they couldn’t tell me how long it would be, and said they’d escalated the breakdown and someone would be in touch shortly.

This few hours of waiting reminded me of the thread of God’s story and love for the world we find in the Bible. The Bible is filled with promises that God is faithful to us, loves us, cares for us.

Well by 7:30 my rescuer, the recovery truck, still hadn’t turned up and I was starting to get a bit hopeless. I’d called a number of times and they couldn’t give me an ETA, I was starting to get quite cold, and my phone battery was on 8%. I realised I had jump leads in the boot and thought maybe it’s worth trying to jump start the car to see if it is the battery.

At which moment, a friend pulls up – totally unexpectedly – we wire the cars up, they gave me a jump – the car starts – and then they followed me home.

My waiting was finally interrupted by Joy – in a way I didn’t expect!

I wish now I’d look for the jump leads earlier,
I wish now I’d taken more action,
I wish now I realised I had the tools I needed to journey onwards, and journey home.
But I kept sitting and waiting, because ‘it’ll just be another 30 minutes.’

I talked last week about John the Baptist who was a cousin of Jesus, who God called to prepare the way for Jesus to arrive. John kept telling people the promised one was coming, but the people had been waiting for so many years, they’d got so used to life in the waiting, some were losing hope, others started thinking John was the coming one.

No-one seemed ready for God’s promises to come true in the way they did.

Jesus came to earth, interrupted the world, in such an unexpected way – as a little, vulnerable baby – to rescue us, to show God’s faithfulness to us. To journey with us. To give us joy.

So don’t be like me, don’t keep waiting thinking rescue is coming.
Jesus has already interrupted the world.
Friends Jesus is here, Jesus has rescued us.
And Jesus is with us, journeying with us, and that wonderful truth, gives us joy.

May your life be interrupted… by joy.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice;
tender to me the promise of his word;
in God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.[1]


[1] Words of Timothy Dudley Smith, based on the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55

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Interrupted…by peace

Looking back on the interruption of 2020, and the interruption that the season on Advent encourages us to look towards.

What has given you peace this year?
What is giving you peace today?

Comment below, I’d love to hear your experiences.



Lydia, my youngest daughter, is 4 and an early riser – it’s unusual if she wakes up after 6am, usually, around 5:30 in the morning we’re awoke to Lydia coming into our bedroom asking ‘is it morning’, ‘can I have a cuddle’,
‘can you help me put my tights on’, or ‘wake up’!

Louise, my wife and I often respond with something of a grunt, a groan, or a go and play in your bedroom, but Lydia has none of it, she’s wide awake and she wants our attention.

During Advent, Christians often read some of the story of John the Baptist, an older cousin of Jesus who was himself called by God to tell people of the coming one, who would bring signs of the kingdom of God.

Right at the beginning of Marks gospel we read some words that we also find in the Old Testament – which point to John the Baptist as a messenger preparing the way for the Lord – the coming one.

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

Mark 1:2-3

The message at the start of Mark’s gospel is – ‘wake up – make space for the coming one!’ Pay attention to the signs of the coming kingdom.

The use of the words that are also in the Old Testament make a link with the words we find there. Some of them come from Isaiah 40, which is a chapter that begins with the words:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says God.

Isaiah 40:1

They are reassuring words, because they remind us that God cares for us, loves us and wants to comfort us. That in making space for God in our lives, the turmoil of life is interrupted by the coming one who came to bring peace to the world.

There’s a myth that God is sat on a golden throne looking down on use little humans wagging his finger in judgement, saying we are awful people who deserve to be punished. There’s even been Christian leaders suggesting that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on us. That’s codswallop.

God doesn’t sit on high, at a distance, judging us. God is among us and with us.

God knows the mess that the world is in, knows we, the human beings God made, are not always the best at looking after the world and one another.

But God knows we try our best and doesn’t focus all effort on punishing us. God loves us and wants our living together to be interrupted by peace, that we might live in peace with one another.

We’ve seen that interruption this year as we sacrifice our own wants and desires, to limit our activity and care for one another through pandemic.

Christmas reminds us that God came to live among us and show us signs of the kingdom of God now. One day Jesus will return and establish an even greater kingdom where all is well, and filled with peace.

But as we journey towards Christmas and hear the message wake up, make space for the coming one – we discover that the coming one, Jesus, has come to make God’s love and care for us more real for us today. The kingdom is now.

So while we know the world isn’t perfect, We know we’re not perfect – perfection isn’t want God is asking of us right now. What God is asking of us is to wake up and be open to be interrupted with peace, to let God’s peace flow into our lives, and flow out into our relationships with one another.  

May your life be interrupted… by peace.

All shall be well in his kingdom of peace;
freedom shall flourish and wisdom increase;
justice and truth from his sceptre shall spring;
wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King:

Sing we the King who is coming to reign, verse 2, by Charles Silvester Horne

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In this Advent Season…

In this advent season,
waiting & watching,
Known & unknown,
Certainty & uncertainty,
Hopeful & hopeless,
Stability & instability,
in the now & yet to be,
We pray for peace & love,
Grace & wisdom,
Justice & hope,
For all those who make decisions now, which impact what will be.

Originally written on 12th December 2018, in light of the Brexit ‘meaningful vote’

Interrupted…by Hope

Looking back on the interruption of 2020, and the interruption that the season on Advent encourages us to look towards.

What has given you hope this year?
What is giving you hope today?

Comment below, I’d love to hear your experiences.


I should have been in Ireland this weekend for my brother-laws-wedding.

My girls were going to be flower girls and my future sister-in-law was so keen that back at the beginning of 2020 they got the dresses…but all that’s been interrupted how, and chance is my daughters will have grown out of them by Autumn 2021 when the new wedding date is.

2020 has been filled with so many interruptions and delays, and I know some of you have been saying you’re just looking forward to 2020 being over. But before we get to 2021, we journey through Advent and into Christmas.

Advent is a season on watching and waiting…Remembering the waiting of God’s people, who were longing for the Messiah to come and save them, hoping God’s promised one would transform their lives and society.

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we might be saved.  Psalm 80:3

These are hopeful words from Psalm 80, expressing the people’s longing for the shining light Gods face to bring hope and release. Little did they know that years later Gods face really would interrupt the world as a baby in a manger.

I got this Christmas decoration when I was at school. I’d been asked to be a part of a group from school going to put on a Christmas concert in a local town, I think for a charity working with elderly and isolated residents.

I think I was reading a poem and I started well, microphone in hand,
filling the vast hall, and then my nose started to run, big time!

All eyes were on me, and so I didn’t want to wipe my nose, and thought that maybe, if I just ignore it, with the occasional gentle sniff, no-one will know.

I felt embarrassed, and deeply wanted that moment to end as fast as possible!

To this day I don’t know if people did notice, but the one thing this Christmas decoration always reminds me of is no matter how uncomfortable a situation I am in, hope will interrupt it.

The discomfort will come to an end. Restoration will come.

2020 has been a year of the unprecedented.

But nothing compares to the unprecedented truth that Advent leads us towards, that Jesus is coming to interrupt the status quo, and bring us hope.

I pray you day is interrupted…by hope.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free,
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Words of Charles Wesley (1708-1788)

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