Tag Archives: Jesus

What’s your ‘fishing’?

Part 2 of a 3-part series reflecting on the ending(s) of John’s Gospel, ch20 & 21.

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Last week we began exploring the ending(s) to John’s gospel with its first ending (John 20:19-31). The disciples are gathered in a locked room together, surrounded by anxiety, fear and uncertainty, and into that space Jesus appears and offers them peace and breathes Spirit upon them, to encourage them and continue to teach them more of the story, to help sustain them as they keep on believing.

Now into chapter 21, the start of the second ending to the gospel, some of the disciples are gathered again, not in a room, but on the shore of Galilee. Peter says, ‘I’m going to fish’, and the others who are with him say they will come too.

Peter, and many of the others, were fisherman. So going to fish was familiar to them, and perhaps, after 3 years following Jesus, had become something of a past-time. Sometimes this moment can be described as the disciples going back to old ways, perhaps even turning their back on Jesus’ call to them to fish for people, and instead fishing for, well, fish.

Fishing: Life-giving fun

There can be merit for us in reflecting on that interpretation, but I’m not sure that’s the only way to hear the story. I wonder if Peter and his friends are not do much going back to old ways, but going off to spend time looking after their wellbeing. Why? Because I think we could quite equally read and hear the story as one about a group of friends going off to spend time doing something from their past that they love, enjoy and in the past found life-giving.

But yet, they have a bad night, this band of friends, and catch nothing.

As dawn comes, a voice comes from the shore – ‘children, you’ve not got anything to eat have you?’

‘No’, comes the reply.

cast on the right side of the boat’ says the stranger.

And so they do, and FISH! – the nets are bursting.

And Peter dives into the lake – for ‘It is the Lord’.

Once the rest of the disciples manged to drag the net of fish ashore, Jesus has a fire going, and says ‘bring your fish, let’s have breakfast together’.

and so they spend time together, in dawns morning light.

My Paraphrase, see John 21:1-14 for the full story
Fishing: A Children’s game

I love the fact Jesus, intially as a stranger to them, calls children to them. They weren’t children as we would see them, they were probably young adults by all accounts, but I love this image it leaves me with of someone standing on the shore, watching a group of friends playing around like children, having fun fishing together, despite the fact they’d not yet caught anything.

But then, with a bit of encouragement from this stranger, the disicples are blessed with nets a-bursting, and their fun and games bear fruit.

Fishing: Jesus in our everyday

I reckon this story demonstrates to us just how interested Jesus is in us, in our wellbeing, and our every day. Jesus blesses his friends with direction to get a bumper catch after a long and relaxing night as friends on the lake, doing something they love and enjoy.

Then what happens? Jesus invites them to bring what they have, and to share breakfast together. To enjoy the fruits of their leisure. There’s no teaching here, no lesson to learn, no parable told. Jesus just spends time with them, enjoying a meal together as the sun breaks on the shore.

For the disciples, their life-giving, enjoyable, fun-time-together activity was fishing, and Jesus was with them as they did so, enjoying its fruitfulness with them. What’s your ‘fishing’? What is life-giving for you? What fun is Jesus enjoying the fruitfulness of, with you?

Easter Shockwave

Reflections on the shockwave that Jesus’ Resurrection brought to the world and continues to bring to us today.

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Happy Easter! We’ve journeyed through Lent, through Holy Week, and now we’re here. We can eat an Easter Egg – if you haven’t already that is and celebrate the story of the resurrection of Jesus.

Have you ever been treated for shock? Perhaps sat with a sugary tea after something that you have witnessed or has happened to you? I remember having to lie down in the woods after breaking my wrist in my teens and going into shock.

Well the story of the Resurrection begins with shock. After a tumultuous week where their leader had been taken from them and crucified, you can perhaps begin to imagine just how emotionally and spiritually vulnerable they were already. Some of the women had journeyed to the tomb that morning and found Jesus body gone, and an angel greeting them.

“Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here, he is risen. Go tell the disicples that Jesus goes ahead of you to Galilee and you will see him there.”

(Paraphrase of Mark 16:5-8)

We might think the women would be filled with joy and celebration – Jesus is alive! But we are told, they are seized with amazement and terror – and so ‘they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ I think they were in shock. Needing some time to let the news sink in.  

Eventually the women do tell the disicples – and the disciples meet the risen Jesus and are filled with joy and wonder!

In very different circumstances, we have had a year that has shocked us and shaken us. But the truth of Easter remains the same. Jesus has risen – and that sends shockwaves around the world until the end of time.

God knew the world was a mess, God could see the mess. And so God sent Jesus, and while some of the reasoning is surrounded in mystery, and quite a lot of debate, somehow, through Jesus’ life, and death and resurrection, the deepest and strongest love that has ever existed is outpoured onto the world, and onto us. Friends – hear me today – share with you this shockwave that comes to the world, and to you – you are loved. You are forgiven. You can find freedom. Yes you.

The Easter shockwave does all that – with hope and with certainty.

But it doesn’t end there. Jesus invites us into a relationship, a partnership, a journey. To be partners in the shockwave of a story that is filled with mystery and wonder. Joy and celebration. Where we are loved, forgiven and free.

And just as we are a diverse human race, that journey looks different for all of us.

Ask anyone who has partnered with Jesus – and they will tell a different story of mystery and wonder and joy. But threaded through them all, is the truth that we are loved, forgiven and free.

Folks, today I invite you into the journey that is the shockwave of Easter.

If you want to know more, and I really hope you do, get in touch with me or your local church to share your story, and discover the threads of love, forgiveness and freedom that Jesus has already woven for you.

Happy Easter!

Playing Power, Playing God

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. You can read the story for yourself in all the gospels, including Luke 19:28-40.

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This week is Palm Sunday, so named after the palm branches people picked up from the ground or cut from trees to wave and shout with triumph as Jesus’ rode on a donkey and entered the city of Jerusalem.

But this week my mind has been as much on the Christmas story as it has been on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Why? Well, last Sunday was Census day here in England and Wales. And as I filled in my census, I was reminded that according to Luke’s gospel it was a census called by Emperor Augustus that led to Mary and Joseph taking a journey from Nazareth in the north, the Bethlehem in the south to register. (Luke 2)

There is no mention of a donkey in Luke’s gospel, but it is perhaps a faux-pas that is helpful for us today – linking these two journeys – Christmas and Palm Sunday – together for us.

You see, I was thinking about how the call for a census, in some way, can be seen as the people in power using that power to play God – by seeking to know who is who. For Joseph and Mary it was the first census, the first time people had been asked to ‘register’. By registering, the ruling powers now knew who was who, and perhaps even where they were – certainly, because the people had to go to their hometown, where they had come from was now known.

Living in 21st Century we’re quite used to other people having details about us. Type “Dan Balsdon” into a Google search and it will soon tell you much about me!

But up to this point in history to be known was not something that would be seen in the same way. You might be known by your local community, a few traders in other places perhaps, family if they lived elsewhere, and for the faithful – by God. The idea of being registered in a society or country was not normative.

The opening line of Psalm 139 hold much more significance when we recognise that to be known had a very different emphasis and meaning before that first census.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

And so I wonder, given all of time and space, why God chose this moment, when a census was to be taken that would make the unknown known, that would change the societal and economic map, that would have an impact on the dynamics of power for the future, as the time for the Word to be made flesh and dwell amongst us. (John 1)

30 or so years on, Jesus journeys on a Donkey into the city of Jerusalem. Depending on which gospel account you read there are palms waved (though not in Luke’s account) and cloaks laid on the ground (but not in John’s account). And it is commonly titled something along the lines of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

But actually, it’s not the triumphal entry we might expect. The moment is once again a particular one, because as Jesus entered Jerusalem by the east gate, Pilate was entering by the west, in full military procession, with soldiers in armour and sword, probably horses and chariots.

Jesus’ entry is distinctive and different, almost to the point of comedy. Instead of swords there are tree branches. Instead of soldiers in clothed armour, people de-clothed and laid them down on the ground. Instead of horse and chariot, there are disorganised crowds and Jesus rides a donkey.

Jesus is playing with power by subverting expectations – saying ‘I’ll be king, I’ve be a Saviour, but not the king or Saviour anyone will expect – just you watch’.

Jesus had been challenging power in many ways for many months, and it finally comes to a head in Jerusalem, where Jesus is arrested, put on trial and crucified. But while Jesus can be said to be playing with power, he was not playing with God. Jesus was God.

For mere days later – what happens – well, spoiler alert – Jesus’ shows the true power of God – and is raised to life again. Much to the surprise of everyone!

While the sort of society we live in today is a far cry from that of Jesus day, Jesus’ call continues to us, to pick up our palms and challenge misuse of power, to challenge institutions and regimes that play God, and put our one true God who truly knows us for who we are, beautiful and wonderful beings made in God’s image, with capacity to love and do amazing things, at the centre of our very being.

So friends, what palm are you going to pick up and wave today?

My Soul is…

A reflection based on John 12:20-33.

Reflect: how does your experience of ‘feeling’ through the pandemic echo with or conflict with what you believe or know to be true of God?

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In John 12, after being approached by Andrew, who has been approach by Phillip, who has been approach by Greeks wanting to come to the Passover festival (are you still with me!?), Jesus begins to talk about his coming death. Or at least, we know that he was talking about his coming death. The author of the gospel of John knew. The disciples, the Greeks, the crowd? Perhaps not so much.

In a moment which, in the text, takes us from a conversation with those around him to a conversation with his Father, Jesus says ‘Now my soul is troubled’. (John 12:27)

Though troubled is perhaps an understatement and under-interpretation of the truth of Jesus’ feeling here. A more literal interpretation of the Greek might be agitated, or more crudely, in shock, turmoil or distress.

Jesus wasn’t troubled in a trite and simplistic way. it wasn’t simply that the shopping delivery had arrived and they had swapped your beloved smokey bacon for your less favoured unsmoked.

Jesus was feeling turmoil and anguish in the depths of his soul because of what was looming on the very near horizon. He was soon to be glorified – which to the Author of the gospel, Jesus’ being glorified was the being ‘lifted up’ – the cross.

As Christians we talk of glory, often, as a good thing – ‘To God be the glory, great things he has done!’ goes the popular hymn. But Jesus was not feeling good – despite knowing what was to be gained through this moment.

Jesus has already talked about how useless a single grain is unless it falls into the earth and dies, to then come forth and bear much fruit. (John 12:24)

Jesus seems to know here, what needs to happen – but his feeling – his feeling was pain. His feeling was turmoil. His feeling was fear. His feeling was urging him to say to his Father ‘save me from this hour, this time that I know is at hand’ John 12:27.

In a moment of pain and fear, Jesus was honest with God about how he felt, despite what he knew was to come.

Friends, when was the last time you told God how you feel? How you really feel? Asked ‘where are you God?’ when you’re struggling to feel God with you, despite knowing that God is there?

Jesus’ experience shows us that it is ok to be feeling something that is contrary to what we know, or think we should be feeling. We can’t deny the truth. Can’t suppress the reality of our feeling – if we do, we start to be dishonest with God, and dishonest with ourselves.

Friends, be honest with God today, just as Jesus was, because through being honest with God about how we feel, we are honest with ourselves.

Socks, Shirts and Skirts

Each of us, daily, clothe ourselves. At least, I think we all do!

What we wear each day is often influenced by the activity of the day, though over the last 12 months that fact has likely been diluted for many of us!

In ‘normal’ times we might put smarter clothes on if we were going to a party or the theatre; more casual clothes if we’re catching up with a friend; older, more worn out clothes if we’re gardening or decorating; more comfy clothes if we’re relaxing with a book of in front of the TV.

With the daily ritual of clothing ourselves, comes the purpose we are clothing ourselves for.

In Colossians, we read words that encourage us to clothe ourselves, not in socks, shirts and skirts, but virtues that help us to live fruitful lives which nurture and build us and each other up.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:12-15

The Hebrew verb that can occasionally be understood to mean a change of clothes is more commonly translated as renew. I wonder, when these words in Colossians were written in Greek, if this Hebrew word play was also in mind.

These virtues were alternative and subversive in the militaristic society where power and dominance were seen as the signs of success.

But the call to live in the fruitfulness of these virtues was because of a new activity and purpose – one that would lead to a renewed and transformed way of living that was disticntive and alternative, and intrinsically intentional.

These virtues are not simply about niceness, the niceness and goodness that perhaps comes somewhat naturally and passively. They are about real, intentional discipleship. Being committed and disciplined to clothing our character around the life and character of Jesus – with the ever-present help of God’s Spirit.

And through that renewing of ourself, the constant attentiveness to how we clothe ourselves in light of the renewing Spirit of God in us, we bear fruit which nurtures and build us and each other up.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

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Faith in the fog

Faith in the Fog
I drew away this morning, thinking I was going to a quiet place.
When I got there I could see only a few metres, the wind was howling, the rain soaking in.
Where was God in all this?

Then I realised. My life is a bit like that at the moment. I can’t see where I’m going.
This blowing at me from all directions.
Yet I hear the Lord say ‘have faith in the fog’.

So I will. I will have faith in you Lord. I believe.
I believe you will provide for me. I believe you have a plan for me.
I believe you hold my life in your hands.

So I stand in the cold.
The wet, the wind, the fog and say here I am. I am listening.
I will have faith in the fog.

Habits

What habits do you have?
Habits can be both good and bad – and sometimes that’s different for different people…

For me, in the last year because I’m working from home more I’ve definitely got into an unhealthy habit of snacking, but I have spent more time reading and walking, which is, I think, a good habit for me.

The important thing when it comes to habits, is are we in control of it, or is the habit controlling us?  

I was reading information on a study this week that suggested adults look at their phone every 6 and ½ minutes. I made me aware how often I look at my phone, and made me wonder whether I’m in control of the habit, or if the habit is controlling me.

In Mark 8 Jesus says to his disciples and the crowd around them:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Mark 8:34b-36

This call to deny ourselves initially might feel like Jesus is saying ignore your own thoughts and desires they don’t matter when you follow me. But I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus is saying. Actually, I think Jesus is saying we do matter, and it’s because we matter, that Jesus wants to help us to keep our desires and habits in check and under control – and guided by the life that Jesus lived on earth – that becomes a blueprint for how he calls us to live.

To deny ourselves is not about us not mattering, quite the opposite – it’s about ensuring we develop healthy habits that benefit the physical and spiritual wellbeing our ourselves, and those around us.

During lent we sometime stalk about giving something up – chocolate is common – but that’s not really what Lent is about. The period of Lent is really about self-discipline, and reflection – asking ourselves are we developing and living in healthy habits that help our physical and spiritual wellbeing, and asking God to help us.

Jesus goes on to ask what benefit there is to have the whole world, but forfeit life. In his worship song, Tim Hughes words it “What good is it to gain the whole world, But lose your soul?”.

If we don’t work to ensure we develop healthy habits, we can fall into a hole of building up our earthly, worldly kingdoms – healthy bank accounts, homes filled with treasures, but loose sight the Kingdom of God – which trades not in cash and material possessions – but in justice and love.

Pray today, and ask God to help you reflect on what healthy habits to nurture and developed to benefit the physical and spiritual wellbeing our ourselves, and those around us.

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Love, No Distance

This week I talk about God’s love for us and how Jesus came because God wants to be close to us.

Last week was exciting in our houshold because I became an Uncle for a second time – and had a wonderful video call with my second niece, who at the time was just one and a half hours old.

Even through a video call, we just wanted to reach out and have a cuddle, but of coruse we can’t. We’re in lockdown, and our niece is in Ireland, sadly it’s going to be some weeks before we are even able to begin conteplating the idea of a visit.

We heard the news of the pregancy on a video call, we saw the scan pictures by messenger, now we’ve seen her on video calls, but we’re stuck at a distance and can’t reach out our arms and hold her. We can’t feel her heartbeat, or feel hands wrap around our fingers. Yet.

One of the most familiar verses in the Bible is John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.                 

Because of God’s love for the whole world, God was not satisfied with our feeling that he was at a distance from us – and so sent Jesus, to be close to us, and not just close to us, but to live as one of us, to experince human emotion and feeling and relationship.

Through Jesus coming to live with us on earth, God makes crystal clear that his heart is first and foremost for the world, and for us. God is interested in us. God wants us to believe in him, to experirence the fullness of life we can experience with him – now, and in eternity. God loves us, with depth and care.

The following verse in John 3 is perhaps a little less well known:

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.                                   

  John 3:17

There’s sometimes a belief that God sits up at a distance from us, on a throne somewhere in the clouds, pointing his finger at us – but that’s just not the truth I find in the bible, and in my relationship with God.

God sent Jesus not to bring condemnation, not to point a finger, but to save the world – because God loves the world, and God’s heart is to love us too.

If you want to know more about God’s love for you, or have questions about God, church or faith, please get in touch on any of our media channels – we can’t promise to have all the answers, but we’ll listen, and we’ll try.

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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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