Daily Inspiration

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The Gospel of John – ch9 onwards

After Ascension and Pentecost, we return to this wonderful gospel for a few more weeks…!

Note: all Inspirations are now uploaded for the week – scroll down for Friday’s, and earlier posts…

Saturday 25th May – John 9:1-41 reprise

We’ve spent a week reflecting this on this amazing chapter.  As the week draws to a close, let’s read the story in its entirety, that it might speak to us one more time. 

Sift through the key phrases: ‘this happened that the work of God might be displayed’; ‘while I am in the world, I am the light of the world’; ‘one thing I do know: I was blind, but now I see’; ‘”Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him.’

This same Jesus is at work in the world now, by his Spirit.  What do you need to offer to him today? 

Friday 24th May – John 9:34-41 ‘True sight, true blindness’

Brother Andrew, one of the great missionaries of the last century, was once stopped in his car while smuggling bibles into Communist Eastern Europe.  The bibles were not well hidden, and as the policeman opened the boot, Brother Andrew prayed this simple prayer under his breath: ‘O Lord, you who made the blind to see, make seeing eyes blind.’  The bibles were there, right in front of the policeman’s eyes, but miraculously he didn’t ‘see’ them and waved Brother Andrew on his way!

If the policeman in this story suffered a temporary literal blindness, in today’s passage, Jesus reflects on a different sort of blindness – the spiritual kind.  Chapter 9 draws a striking contrast between the healed man and the Pharisees in their response to Jesus, one that he refers to in v39: ‘For judgement I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ 

The theologian R.A. Lambourne makes the helpful observation that all of Jesus’ miracles are ‘judgement’ moments (the root of the Greek words for judgement used in the gospels, including here, mean division or decision): they are points of decision about Jesus, they draw dividing lines – what do you think of Jesus, are you with him or against him? 

And that is very true here: the wonderful healing of the man’s physical blindness led the man to worship Jesus (v38) and the Pharisees to reject Jesus, even to the extent of throwing the man out of their company (v34).  The Pharisees were generally revered by society as those who could ‘see’ – but Jesus has exposed their true blindness, rejecting the work of God and the One sent by God to accomplish this work.  In contrast, the blind man not only marvellously receives literal sight, he receives spiritual sight as well – he believes in Jesus (v36).

The kingdom of Jesus turns things upside down – the blind see, those who complacently think they can see may well find out that they are blind, after all.  This extraordinary chapter of John teaches us that what makes the difference is humility (‘one thing I do know’, v25) and worship (v38).  If we direct our love and honour to the One who alone is worthy of it, then the Lord graciously gives us eyes to see him as he really is.  We receive true sight.

Take a few moments today simply to worship Jesus.  Let him fill your heart with gratitude; and may the Lord grant us all the grace to lift our eyes and see him as he really is – that we might also see everything else as it really is, too.  Amen.

Thursday 23rd May – John 9:24-34 ‘One thing I do know’

This particular passage has a special memory for me – or rather verse 25 does.  When Alise and I got married 25 years ago, the last song we played at our service was a slightly unusual choice: it was by one of my favourite bands of the time, Primal Scream, and the song is called ‘Moving’ on up.’  It’s basically a gospel song, very different to much of their lyrical output, and (in case you’re worried) very appropriate to sing in church: it begins, ‘I was blind, now I can see.’  We had a band formed of our friends playing for us, and the vicar enjoyed singing it so much he spontaneously asked them to play it again!

Life is complicated.  Perhaps especially so in this era: alongside the very human challenges of suffering, injustice, sickness, war – the things humanity has always wrestled with – we have a whole host of very recent and new things to get our head around: technology, AI, climate change.  Most of us feel as if we can never keep up; there is always so much changing, so many threats and possibilities, it’s bewildering.

It is maybe of some comfort to recognise that this sense of dislocation is not as new as we think.  The Industrial Revolution, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, even the rapid developments brought about by the Roman Empire in many territories (including Israel) around the time of Jesus all created a sense of foreboding or uncertainty.

One of my favourite hymns was written by William Young Fullerton, a Baptist preacher born in Belfast who was friends with the great Charles Spurgeon.  Fullerton also lived in a time of great change and uncertainty – the late 19th century – and his hymn ‘I cannot tell’ captures that sense that there is so much we cannot really fathom about our faith and our world.  I cannot tell so much, Fullerton begins each verse…. but this I know… but this I know… but this I know.

It is the cry of the blind man in our story today.  Harassed by the Pharisees, pressured and unjustly accused, his dramatic encounter seems to have brought him nothing but trouble so far!  Relentlessly interrogated to admit that Jesus is a ‘sinner’, not only does he refute that quite bravely – (v31, v33) ‘God… listens to the godly person who does his will… If this man were not from God, he could do nothing’ – he also makes this simple but profound testimony: (v25) ‘One thing I do know.  I was blind but now I see!’

In difficult times, we all have things we can cling to, undeniable truths which form the foundation our lives.  You have a story with Jesus, a story of God’s work in your life.  Our world may drive you to distraction, you may feel helpless or anxious – but there are things you do know, things you can rely on, a Love that will not let you go.  ‘One thing I do know’: take a few moments to remember that thing (or those things), that your faith might rise again, and that you might stand, today and always, firmly on our Rock – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Wednesday 22nd May – John 9:13-23 ‘Persistent unbelief’

Many years ago, I visited the local prison weekly to encourage some of the Christian prisoners.  I remember one evening sharing a bible study with the group, and as we were leaving, one of them asked for prayer.  His blood pressure was so bad he had permanent tinnitus and couldn’t sleep.  So, we prayed, and left.  The next afternoon, this prisoner found a friend of mine, a fellow prison visitor, in the chapel; he was very excited and shared that he had been wonderfully healed overnight.  The tinnitus had gone, he’d slept well, and when he visited the prison doctor that morning his blood pressure reading was that of a fit young man in his 20s (he was in his late 50s). 

It was an amazing answer to prayer – but the doctor’s response was fascinating.  When the prisoner told him about how he had been prayed for the previous evening, the doctor dismissed it and told him that the medication he was on was simply starting to work.  The problem with that view, as the prisoner told my friend in the chapel, is that he had been taking the same medication every day for ten years!  Quite a coincidence that it suddenly had a dramatic effect after more than 3,000 days…

‘None so blind as those who will not see.’  You may have heard this saying, and it accurately describes the skeptical attitude of many people towards faith, even when presented with clear evidence that ‘there are more things in Heaven and Earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ (with my thanks to Shakespeare).  In the case of the prisoner above, even a rapid and medically verifiable change was dismissed, because it didn’t fit with the doctor’s worldview. 

More generally, it has been noticeable in recent years to see how many atheists have abandoned the idea of a single universe, because the probability of a planet capable of sustaining intelligent life is so infinitesimally small.  The odds are stacked in favour of a Creator, but rather than admit that, it is more prevalent now to say that there could be an infinite number of universes (or rather, multiverses) – though, of course, to make such a claim with absolutely no evidence for the existence of other multiverses requires rather more faith than most religious people!

And in today’s story, we see the response of many Pharisees to Jesus’ miraculous healing of the blind man.  There is a side issue here, in that Jesus did this ‘work’ on the Sabbath (and here the making of ‘clay’ could be classed as work, which was forbidden in the rabbinical tradition) – but, the bigger issue is that they simply can’t believe that the man had been healed.  They didn’t like Jesus, they rejected his claim that he is the Messiah – but, rather than admit that this miracle might be evidence to the contrary, they try desperately to disprove the evidence of their own eyes – even to the point of finding the man’s parents and somewhat offensively asking them if he really was born blind (v19). ‘None so blind as those who will not see….’

We may know of people we love, close to us, whose persistent refusal to believe hurts us deeply.  Let’s pray for these precious souls today.  No-one is beyond God’s love.  The Lord can light a spark at any time.  And may the Lord grant us all grace to have eyes to see his love, mercy and glory, this day and every day.  Amen.

Tuesday 21st May – John 9:5-12 ‘Dust to dust’

‘The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul (or being).’  So reads the account in Genesis chapter 2 of the creation of the first human.  We are made of the ‘dust of the earth’, something we are reminded of at every funeral or burial service: ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’  Once buried, our bodies then decompose and return to ‘dust’ once more.  It’s not something we like to think about, but it is a profound reality that we have to acknowledge, as part of the human condition.

The nature of the Fall, and what it means for our human condition, forms the backdrop to this wonderful miracle in John 9.  It is very significant that the man Jesus heals is ‘blind from birth’ (v1) – this is not an illness, or something that has developed over time, it has been there for his whole life.  Jesus is very quick to correct the disciples that it is not the result of some particular sin (v3), but it nonetheless remains a consequence of the Fall, in that the perfect life the Lord designed for humanity to enjoy in his presence is affected at every level. 

This explains why Jesus decides to act in such an unusual way.  He often heals with a word – and sometimes he uses saliva, which repels us now; but, in those times, saliva was generally thought to have curative properties.  So, the spitting is not as strange as we think – what is different is the fact that Jesus deliberately uses some dirt mixed into his saliva to make a clay paste.  We’ll see tomorrow why ‘clay’ contributed to his debate with the pharisees, but today, let’s focus on why Jesus used some ‘dust’ to heal the man’s sight.

Fundamentally, this is an act of re-creation.  Like the Lord God in Genesis 2, Jesus is forming life from ‘the dust of the earth’.  Only this time, it is mixed with Jesus’ own saliva – making it clear that Jesus is the source of life itself, the one who creates and re-creates, the one who brings renewal and transformation.

Amazingly modern science validates the ancient narrative of Genesis 2 in one remarkable respect.  If you look at the composition of the human body, it is about 18% carbon – the ‘dust of the earth’.  However, the dominant element is oxygen, which makes up 65% of our bodies (primarily in the form of water molecules) – ‘the breath of life’.  We are partly dust and mostly breath! 

This ‘breath’ is what Jesus comes to bring life to (the biblical word ‘Spirit’ means ‘wind’ or ‘breath’).  And as we read today, he brought renewal and re-creation to the man at the Pool of Siloam.  It’s what he does.  And it’s what he longs to do for us, too.  Jesus is re-creating each one of us – fragile creatures, who are partly dust and mostly breath.  Pray that his transforming power continues to be at work in you, and in all those to whom Jesus is bringing new life.  Amen.

Monday 20th May – John 9:1-5 ‘While I am in the world’

We are entering the season of the year when our days are at their longest.  Already at nearly sixteen hours today from sunrise to sunset, by June 21st – the longest day – it will be 16 hours and 41 minutes, with correspondingly just 7 hours and 19 minutes of ‘night’.  In the modern world, this makes relatively little difference to our patterns of work, since we have electronic lights to enable us to work during the dark days of winter.  But in ancient societies, working life was directed by the hours of daylight.  When night came, very few could work.

In today’s passage, Jesus uses this idea to describe his own ministry.  His presence in the world is the spiritual equivalent of ‘day’: so, (v4) ‘as long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.’  He says this in response to seeing the blind man, whom we first encountered in our previous reflection in John 9.  Jesus sees this man and knows he has ‘work’ to do.  The consequences of this encounter will be far reaching, and will take us through the next two chapters of the gospel.  But it begins with two very simple responses of Jesus: first, he saw the man. 

How easy it is to miss these opportunities, simply because we do not see the needs around us!  Our culture struggles constantly with compassion fatigue – as I suspect, do many of us.  But Jesus keeps seeing – and moreover, he is moved to respond.  It is one thing to see, but another to act.  We’ll see how Jesus does that tomorrow – but today, we take a moment to reflect on his motivations.  Jesus feels a deep sense of urgency, because he knows his time is short: (vv4-5) ‘Night is coming, when no-one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

Here, he returns to his famous saying in the previous chapter – only this time, he doesn’t use the form of special emphasis which makes it an ‘I Am’ (divine) statement.  It is simply an observation – he is called to bring the Lord’s divine light wherever he goes.  And, conscious of this calling, he is able to see and to respond to this man’s condition.

But why, you might be asking, did Jesus refer specifically to his light being manifest ‘while he was in the world’?  Did it stop after his death, resurrection and ascension a year or two later?  Not at all!  Once the Spirit is poured out, Jesus is still in the world – acting through the lives of his followers.  The baton is handed on: ‘I am the light of the world’ becomes ‘You are the light of the world.’  The light burns still, in the hearts of all his followers today.

Today, give thanks that Jesus’ light shines through you.  Pray for grace to see, to be moved and to act, according to his will, that this light would shine brightly, wherever you are. Amen.

Thy Kingdom Come 2024

Running from Ascension Day on Thursday 9th May until Pentecost on Sunday 19th May, Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement for God’s mission in our world. We join with Christians from more than 100 countries in supporting this. There are two sets of Daily Reflections, so you are warmly invited to use the Novena Reflections (novena means ‘9 days’) or the Prayer Journal during this season.

Daily Inspiration in the Gospel of John returns on Monday 20th May.

Ascension Day 2024

Ascension Day (coming up on Thursday) is the great forgotten festival of the Church.  To help redress the balance, in the days leading up to it, we’ll look at the passage in Acts where Jesus ascends into heaven, and ask ourselves: why does this matter?  And how can we be inspired today?

Wednesday 8th May – Acts 1:8-11 ‘To the ends of the earth’

As a family we’ve been enjoying watching ‘Race across the world’ again on the TV over the last few weeks.  The idea is simple: five pairs of people, with limited budgets, have to travel a huge distance. In last year’s series – our favourite, I think – the race was from one end of Canada to the other, which, with huge deviations north and south, totalled more than 16,000km.  Along the way, that series in particular showcased the kindness of strangers (many of whom were quite obviously Christians) and some lovely healing in fraught family relationships – in other words a huge amount of grace amidst the race to be first.

We also saw some extraordinary landscapes.  I must confess Canada has gone straight into the upper echelons of my ‘most want to visit’ list – both for the people and the amazing scenery.  And it was a powerful thought to remind myself, as I watched one fantastic location after another: there is nowhere we can go on earth where Jesus cannot say, ‘this is mine’.  It’s all His!

Apart from the escape to Egypt as an infant, as far as we know Jesus never travelled outside the land of his birth.  All of his work was done, and his words were uttered, within approximately a 150-mile radius.  And yet he is a global Messiah, his message is for the whole world.  How can he spread his loving and merciful rule everywhere?

We need the Ascension: so that Jesus’ kingship can be declared to the ends of the earth.  And this declaration will principally be through his followers, empowered by his Spirit.  For as long as Jesus is limited by his human body, his message can only spread effectively as far as he can, within human constraints.  But the ascended Jesus can empower his followers to witness on his behalf everywhere. 

History from the time of Jesus’ Ascension is essentially a race across the world – to share the gospel, to make disciples of all nations, to declare the love and reign of Christ to hungry hearts.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him; and thanks to Pentecost, he is powerfully with us, even to the end of the age.  As we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ Ascension tomorrow, let’s give thanks that we do so from every corner of the globe.  And as we join with Christians in over a hundred countries to pray for Jesus’ mission as part of the Thy Kingdom Come prayer movement, may the Lord grant us grace to keep running our race, for His glory.

Tuesday 7th May – Acts 1:4-8 ‘Wait for the gift’

Today’s title is one that could often be said about my present-arranging skills.  I’m not much good at remembering birthdays, I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve had to fess up to friends (or even family) that a gift was definitely coming – they just had to be patient, and wait a few days for it!

Probably my best/worst moment in this regard came when Alise and I got engaged.  I had designed the ring myself (very romantic); but the ring took longer than planned to arrive, so wasn’t ready on the weekend when I had hoped to propose (not so romantic).  After some stern words from one of my best friends, who told me in no uncertain terms that the act of proposing was far more important than whether the little box was ready, I did the deed the very next day, atop a mediaeval castle (romantic brownie points restored!).  Alise just had to wait for the gift.   (As a postscript, when the ring did arrive 2 weeks later, the fitting looked perfect, but was the wrong metal, so it had to be sent off again… d’oh!)

Nevertheless, the best gifts are worth waiting for.  Today, Jesus tells his disciples to wait for the best gift of all (v4) – his very self, poured out into our hearts, by his Holy Spirit.  It’s easy to forget that, when Jesus says these words, the disciples don’t know how long they will have to wait.  Hours, days, weeks, months, years?  All Jesus told them was to wait – and that the wait would be worth it: ‘you will receive power…’ (v8)

I wonder if that ten-day period of waiting felt interminably long, or refreshingly short?  We’re told that they remained constantly in prayer (v14), which is tiring, so am guessing that by the Feast of Pentecost, they were starting to flag a bit.  Waiting is hard. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll also have experiences of waiting for something from the Lord: sometimes it comes very quickly; and other times, it seems to take forever.  We are God-chasers, but the chase can be a variable length.  If you find yourself waiting on the Lord at present, let today be an encouragement – may it raise your faith to trust that the Lord will respond.  You may or may not get the answer you long for: but he will certainly give you his powerful, soaking presence, sufficient for whatever life throws at you.

We need the Ascension: to call us to wait for the greatest gift of all.  It’s a gift Jesus loves to keep on giving.  ‘Keep being filled with his Spirit…’ (Eph 5:18) – may that be the reality for each of us today.

Monday 6th May – Acts 1:1-3 ‘Began to do’

In 2007 Alan Hirsch published a book called ‘The Forgotten Ways’.  It posed the powerful question: when Jesus ascended back into heaven, he left just 120 active followers; when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 312AD, the Christian faith numbered approximately 10% of the entire population of the empire – or about 20 million people.  During that 280 years, followers of Jesus had been heavily persecuted, their faith was essentially an underground movement.  It had no buildings, no public officials and thousands of its followers had been executed during periodic pogroms.

So – and here comes the question – just how did this tiny group go from 120 to 20,000,000 (a 166,000-fold increase) in less than 300 years, with all those odds stacked against them?  His follow-up question, and the reason for the book, was obvious: what can we learn from them today? What are ‘the forgotten ways’?

I won’t reprise his answers here; but as we look forward to Ascension Day on Thursday, I’m always struck by this little phrase at the beginning of the Book of Acts: (v1) ‘all that Jesus began to do and to teach.’  Surely Jesus had done plenty?  More than just ‘begun’…? 

But that’s the point: yes, he’d performed dozens of miracles – hundreds or thousands probably, of which 37 were recorded.  Yes, he’d taught like no other teacher in history, and loved with a selfless, unconditional heart of humility that both amazed and scandalised those who saw it.  Yes, he’d risen from the dead, the most extraordinary act of all.

And yet… and yet… it was just the beginning. What Jesus was limited in doing by the confines of a single human life – no matter how amazing that life was – would be limited no longer, once he ascended into heaven.  After that, he could send something even more extraordinary: his very self, in the form of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ.  Once this Spirit was poured out, then all followers of Jesus would be able to live as he lived.  That’s what ‘Christian’ means – little Christ, little Jesus.

Now there are hundreds of millions of little Jesuses, trying to do and to teach, just as Jesus did and taught.  We may each of us feel but a pale shadow of the Master.  And that is true, up to a point – but even our small contributions, our loaves and fishes, make a difference. 

We need the Ascension: to continue all that Jesus began.  May the Lord graciously continue that (ascended) work in us, and through us, today.

John’s Gospel – Easter Season 2024

Saturday 4th May – Psalm 43  ‘The Postscript’

‘These two psalms [42 and 43] are certainly one and we cannot tell why they are divided.’  So begins the New Bible Commentary reflection on this psalm.  We don’t know the answer to that one: if we treat them as one psalm, then what you have are three balanced stanzas – 42:1-5, 42:6-11, 43:1-5 – each of which finishes with the same refrain, and each of which has common phrases and elements: ‘why have you forgotten/rejected me?’; ‘why must I go about mourning?’; ‘how I used to go to the house of God/then I will go to the altar of God.’

Perhaps, today, I can suggest one reason.  It’s only a guess, so this is not ‘gospel’: but maybe, just maybe, it’s because the message of this psalm is so vital, so powerful, and so common, that it deserves repetition

Israel’s pattern of worship used daily psalms, as many Christian traditions do now.  As we saw yesterday, the psalmist cries out to God in hope, but recognises that the answer – the satisfaction of his or her thirst – may not come immediately: ‘I will yet praise him.’  So why not return and ask again tomorrow?  Why not acknowledge that this is a prayer we need to keep on praying? 

This (pair of) heartfelt psalms is an internal dialogue of despair and hope.  It recognises that finding or seizing real hope is hard, and needs repeated claiming.  Just as v5 of Psalm 42 is followed by v6 – in other words, the call to put our hope in God is followed by another lament – so splitting off the third stanza into another psalm (to be said/sung/prayed another day or another time) allows for that dialogue to continue, and also allows for that repetition of the key call which concludes each ‘conversation’: to put our hope in God.

We are all weak, all prone to swings of despair and hope, doubt and faith, sadness and joy.  The psalmist’s internal dialogues feel much like our own.  Let’s not be ashamed of that, but rather acknowledge it, and keep repeating the message we need to claim, however falteringly.  We may have said it yesterday, but we still need to hear it today, and for as long as it takes:

‘Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me.  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’  Amen, and amen.

Friday 3rd May – Psalm 42  ‘The Thirst’

July last year saw record temperatures across much of Europe, and in many other places around the world, too.  In fact, a period of week or so early in the month was the hottest set of days on earth since detailed recording began, and 4th July was estimated to be the hottest day on earth for 100,000 years.  I don’t propose to reflect on the causes or consequences of that, but the dominant image of thirst which begins this psalm has a certain amount of currency in our world at present.

Our climate in the UK is more temperate, but many of us remember 40C the previous July (2022), and most of us know what a raging thirst feels like.  I think back to playing sport in the summer and the desperate need to rehydrate.  Although the time I accidentally put washing-up liquid and not lime juice into a bottle of Soda Stream (remember those?) didn’t help me much!  Tip: definitely don’t try that one at home.

Thirst is not just a physical thing – as today’s psalm makes clear.  There is such a thing as spiritual thirst; and if physical thirst feels like a compulsion, then the same can be true spiritually as well.  We can sense the desperation of the psalmist in the opening lines: (vv1-3) ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go ands meet with God?  My tears have been my food day and night….’

Like an animal pants, the psalmist cries, so they pant, too.  They are desperate for God – particularly to sense the presence of God, to encounter him directly (v2).  The context is a spiritually hostile climate, where people mock the reality of God (v3) and where worship has withered (v4).  This causes a deep depression (v6, v9), experienced as practically a physical pain (v10), where weeping is normal (v3). 

We all experience similar dry times in our spiritual lives.  Times when God seems on mute, when we feel overwhelmed either by our own troubles, or by the sense of living as strangers in a hostile culture.  I love this psalm because it gives voice to those feelings, those experiences.  It names the pain, and the sensation of spiritual thirst.

But it also focuses our eyes beyond the thirst to the thirst-quencher.  The psalmist takes himself/herself in hand in v5 and v11 – for all that their pain is real, it is not the end of the story.  We are not on our own: we have somewhere we can put our hope, or rather Someone in whom we can put our hope.  And the declaration is that we will yet praise God again.  Note the ‘yet’ – it may take time, but like all things, this too shall pass.  We will know the Lord’s presence again, our thirst will be satisfied, we will yet praise Him.

If this psalm speaks particularly to you today, claim the whole of it; name the pain, the thirst, but hold onto v5 and v11 – because, despite everything, we will yet praise him, our Saviour and our God.

Thursday 2nd May – John 9:1-3 ‘Displaying the works of God’

Human beings are innate meaning-makers.  Unique in all creation, we do not accept things as they are – we ask ‘why’.   We are wired to make order out of chaos, to find and create meaning.  This often brings huge benefits; but, when faced with things outside our control, we often struggle, or attempt to impose a meaning.  Think of Job’s friends: for a week they did everything right – they sat with Job in supportive silence.  But then… they couldn’t resist trying to work out why Job had suffered.  There must be a reason, someone must be to blame! 

Job’s friends are much like us – and much like the disciples in today’s passage, as we begin chapter 9 and reflect on another outstanding miracle of Jesus.  Despite the basic lesson of the book of Job, a sense persisted among God’s people that any form of disability must be some sort of curse or judgement.  It was partly a misinterpretation of God’s original promises in the Books of the Law (the Torah): whilst the Lord made it clear that obedience brought blessings and disobedience brought curses, this was primarily applied to the land and to the nation’s security, not to individuals.  It was the later rabbinic traditions that took this principle beyond its biblical limits, to teach that individual afflictions must have a root cause in something.

So, although it might seem shocking to us, it was perfectly natural, within the context of the time, for the disciples to ask the question that they did: (v2) ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?  Someone must be to blame!  Jesus’ answer was remarkable, even revolutionary: (v3) ‘Neither.’  Before we get onto the next part of Jesus’ answer, let’s pause there; in one word, Jesus is radically challenging the way their faith was being badly taught, what we might call ‘folk religion’ today.  It’s the wrong question, Jesus is saying – no-one is to blame, no-one is being punished.  Let’s look at this the other way round…

And so he continues: ‘… but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’  The obvious direction of this reply is to do with the miracle Jesus is about to perform.  No blindness, no miracle.  Jesus takes the man’s situation and transforms it – because that’s what Jesus does.

But we can go further.  The risk of thinking of Jesus’ reply only in terms on the miracle is that it limits the ‘works of God’ in this man.  Jesus is also challenging his friends to look beyond the man’s disability.  This man is perfectly capable of displaying the works of God, whether he is blind or not.  Blindness is no barrier, either to the kingdom of God or to a fruitful, godly and Spirit-filled life.

Whatever we carry, whatever we bear, God is able to display his work in us.  Our fallen nature (v2) does not rule it out, because we worship a God of grace and of transformation.  May the Lord continue that work of grace and transformation in us – and in all whom we pray for today.

Wednesday 1st May – John 8:48-59 ‘Before Abraham, I am!’

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is one we’ll never full get our heads around.  The idea that God is 3-in-1 and 1-in-3 – one being, three natures.  I get asked a lot about it, and why it matters so much.  And the way I generally reply is that, since we live our physical lives in three dimensions, I want to worship a 3-dimensional God. 

The Trinity gives us a rich vision of God.  It allows us to worship a God who is both transcendent and intimate – he’s not just ‘up there’ or ‘down here’, he’s both.  It also explains how we know that God is love.  The truest form of love in the biblical sense is not a feeling, it’s a practical word – it manifests itself in action.  We know that God is love because he has relationship within himself: three natures, each of whom love and serve the others in a perfect interdependent community of love.  God’s love for us and for all creation flows out of what exists within himself, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  (As an aside it also helps to explain why we as humans have a unique capacity for building community and a unique desire to love and be loved – it’s at the heart of what it means to bear the image of God.)

So, although the understanding of the Trinity developed over time, it was there at the beginning.  It was not a case that God was alone, and then along came Jesus (making two) and then the Spirit (making three).  God was always 3-in-1, from eternity.

John has a unique insight into this: he begins his gospel by telling us that the Word (Jesus) was there with God at the beginning – along with the Spirit, which is already attested in at the start of Genesis.  And now, in today’s passage, Jesus declares it openly.  He continues his debate with his opponents, whose own contributions have, by this stage, descended into lies and slander – note he is accused in v48 of being a Samaritan (untrue, he was born in Judah, grew up in Israel and is descended from one of the twelve tribes) and demon-possessed i.e. that he gets his spiritual power from the wrong source.

And the debate hinges on two inter-related topics: whether there is eternal life, and who inherits the blessings given to Abraham.  It’s worth noting that the idea that there is life after death only developed clearly in Jewish thinking quite late. There are hints throughout the scriptures, but even in Jesus’ day, many did not believe in it as a reality for all God’s people; they were led by the Sadducees, who tried to argue with Jesus about it elsewhere (see Mark 12:18-27). 

Jesus is accused of undermining, not just traditions which go back to Abraham, but even Abraham himself (vv52-53).  And Jesus contests this in two ways: first he insists that Abraham ‘rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day’ (v56).  And second, and more explosively, that he pre-existed Abraham: (v58) ‘Before Abraham was born, I am!’  This is dynamite – a clear assertion by Jesus that he has divine status, that he is not just sent by God, but is God himself.  He is using a Greek form of God’s holy name, and indicating that he already possesses (eternal) life within himself. 

No wonder they got mad!  But as we read this extraordinary encounter today, we can joyfully affirm the truth of what Jesus declared to the crowds: that he is the Son of God, who has life within himself.  He didn’t just appear ‘out of nowhere’ – he was, and is, and is to come.  He is the Alpha and Omega, there at the beginning, with us now, and reigning for all eternity.  Before Abraham was born, he is.  Before we were born, he is. And for generations to come, he is.  Before your day began, he is, and when it ends, he is.  He is your eternally present source of life.  Of course he will sustain you today!

Tuesday 30th April – John 8:34-47 ‘Disputed parentage’

In 1854, aged 25, Roger Tichborne, heir to his family’s title and fortunes, was presumed to have died in a shipwreck.  His mother never accepted that he was dead and advertised extensively in the press, offering a reward for information.  Twelve years later, a butcher known as Thomas Castro came forward, claiming to be Roger Tichborne himself.  The case caused a sensation – amazingly he was accepted by Lady Tichborne as her son, but not by other members of the family, who sought to expose him as an impostor.  Years of legal wrangling followed – the claimant was eventually charged with perjury and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1874 – the jury declaring him to be a third person – neither Roger, nor Thomas, but Arthur Orton!

It’s a fascinating piece of history, but the question that lies at the heart of the case is exactly the same as the one posed by our passage today: how can you prove who your parents are?  Although the context is very different, the answer to the Tichborne case and to Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees in John 8 is the same: it’s your behaviour which gives it away.  The assumed ‘Roger Tichborne’ was apparently coarse and uneducated, which seemed very odd for the heir to a noble family.  No amount of protesting that years as a butcher in Australia had changed his manners fooled people.  The gentle-born, privately educated young gent who disappeared could not have changed so much.

And Jesus makes the same point to the Pharisees: if God was really their Father, they would live differently – they would embrace Jesus’ teaching (v38), they would love him (v42) and listen to his testimony (v43), and they certainly would not try to kill him (v37, v40)!  Deliberately attempting to frustrate the work of God is behaviour that comes from an entirely different source: the devil (v44). 

This fairly blunt assessment, of course, does not go down well.  But in saying these things Jesus does tease out one very clear message: he tells the truth, whereas the raison d’etre of the devil is to lie – indeed, he is ‘the father of lies.’  I find it challenging that in our typical hierarchy of sins we tend to put lying quite a long way down the list.  Violence, abuse, sexual sin, theft and slander would come near the top of most people’s lists, and lying is often downplayed as fibs, whoppers, spin, alternative facts or – in a phrase attributed to Winston Churchill – ‘I did not lie, I made a terminological inexactitude’!

But Jesus, it turns out, takes lying a whole lot more seriously.  Indeed, he sees it as the critical distinction between living God’s way or the alternative.  Let’s be clear: life has grey areas and differences of opinion, and there is nothing wrong with honestly agreeing to disagree.  But today’s passage remains a powerful word to our ‘post-truth’ culture: Jesus is definitely not ‘post-truth’!

Holding fast to the truth in all situations is incredibly hard – today’s passage causes me to cry out in prayer for more grace, more divine assistance to live with this kind of transparency and authenticity.  Perhaps it does the same for you, too.  Take heart: Jesus is the truth, he gives us a permanent place in the family of God (vv35-36), and he is in the business of setting all of us free.  May God grant us all grace to live in the truth, by the truth and with the glorious truth in our hearts that if the Son (who speaks all truth) sets us free, then we will be free indeed.  Even us.  Even today.  Amen.

Monday 29th April – Psalm 34  ‘The Taste’

I’ve always loved my food.  I don’t have a big appetite, but I enjoy eating pretty much everything – finding as much joy in cheese and beans on toast as a gourmet dish.  At school it became a lunchtime ritual for my friends to dare me to taste a bit of everything together, including mains and pudding.  Like Remy in the film ‘Ratatouille’, you’d be amazed what surprising flavour combinations you can experience!

Today’s psalm reminds us of another kind of taste, albeit in many ways a spiritual version of tasting a bit of everything together in life: (v8) ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’  It was written after a particularly dramatic moment in David’s story (you can read the whole saga in 1 Samuel 21): fleeing from King Saul, and effectively under arrest with the Philistine king Achish (introduced in the starting notes to the psalm by the royal name Abimelek or Abimelech, depending on your translation) he pretended to be mad and was eventually run out of town.

What is instructive about David’s take on this escape is that he attributes its success not to his cunning, but to the Lord’s intervention and protection: (v6) ‘This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.’  In other words, although David took initiative, he knew that unless God changed the heart of King Achish, he was done for.  David was rightly afraid (v4); but he recognises another, fruitful ‘fear’ – better translated as ‘awe’ or ‘reverence’ – the fear of the Lord.  It is this reverent awe which invites both the Lord’s protection (v7) and provision (v9).

On this occasion, David wants to use his experience not just to testify but to teach (v11).  He has learnt invaluable lessons, but, in the second half of the psalm, he wants to make sure we learn them, too.  He is candid that even the righteous will have many troubles (v19), many challenges in this life – but we can trust the Lord to deliver us.

And so, back to the key verse of this psalm: to anyone who faces challenges, David’s advice is simple: ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.  In other words, give trusting God a try.  Taste and see.  See what happens, see what the Lord is able to do. 

It’s great advice, and one which increasingly I offer to those who ask me.  My years of Christian leadership and training have given me lots of arguments to persuade people; but in the end, what turns a person’s heart to the Lord most often is simply to ‘taste and see’.  If God is real – as we know he is – then he’ll come through, we will experience that reality for ourselves.  So, whatever you face today, may that be your reality, too.  And as we recognise that the Lord’s eyes and ears are turned towards us (v15), let us exalt his name together!

Saturday 27th April – Psalm 19  ‘The Voice’

No, not Tom Jones this time!  As great a singer as he is….  Here’s a quote from St. Augustine instead:

‘Some people, in order to discover God, read books.  But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things.  Look above you!  Look below you!  Read it.  God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink.  Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made.  Can you ask for a louder voice than that?’

Today’s marvellous Psalm – one of many people’s favourites – is all about the voice of God; and it reminds us that God really has two voices (or, you might say, one voice which speaks in two different ways).  The first is the obvious one: his Word.  Verses 7-11 are a beautiful exposition of the power of God’s Word, and our delight in them.  As the Psalmist says: (v10) ‘they are more precious than gold…. they are sweeter than honey.’  In essence, it’s why I write these inspirations day-by-day: because this psalm is true, and my desire is to keep treasuring the voice of God, and the sweetness of its insight.

But there is a second voice, which forms the first half of the psalm.  It is the voice of creation.  Take, for example, the awesome experience of looking up into the vast sky, to see the clouds or the stars: (vv3-4) ‘they have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’

We are in a season when we can appreciate the full ‘voice’ of creation.  Today, let’s set aside a few moments to contemplate and celebrate both ‘voices’ of the Lord: his Word, and also his other voice: the Voice of creation.  And may the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.

Friday 26th April – Psalm 30  ‘The Exaltation’

In February 2023 a 19-month old toddler was rescued safely from a 50-ft well in Thailand.  The well had been newly dug, but had been carelessly left uncovered after it failed to strike water.  The toddler spent 18 hours at the bottom before being lifted to safety, thanks to a huge team, careful digging and a strong red rope. Her successful rescue made news around the world, and thankfully she suffered only minor injuries.

Today’s Psalm is all about lifting, too. Two liftings, in fact.  What occasioned the Psalm is David being ‘lifted out of the depths’ (v1) – by God.  We’re not sure if David is referring to specific physical danger, or if the image is primarily spiritual.  But, like the toddler, David sees himself as helpless unless it is God who lifts him out: (v2) ‘Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me… you spared me from going down to the pit.’

The pit is an ancient way of understanding death, and thanks to his survival, David too does some ‘heavy lifting’ of his own.  The word exalt means to ‘lift up’, and what David wants to do is exalt (lift up) the Lord himself.  As David has been lifted by God, so now he lifts up God’s name, and his glorious qualities: his capacity for healing (v2) and for mercy (v3), his holiness (v4), and most significantly in this psalm, his favour (v5).

What David says about God in v5 is such an important message for us to hear.  We often think of God as being, if not angry, then mostly disappointed with us.  But David says that the opposite is actually true: (v5) ‘his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime.’

The Puritan writer Thomas Goodwin draws the contrast between God’s ‘strange work’ and his ‘natural work’, when describing the text in Deuteronomy that God’s punishment passes down three or four generations, but his love lasts for a thousand generations.  In other words, as Goodwin interprets, God’s strange work is punishment, but his natural work is love.  Or, as David says here in this psalm: ‘his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime.’

Wherever you find yourself today, take heart from this beautiful truth.  If it is a time for weeping, remember that, in the Lord, rejoicing comes in the morning (v5).  If it is a time to wail, then eventually we will find ourselves able to dance (v11).  May this wonderful thought cause our spirits to exalt the Lord, too, that our hearts may sing his praises and not be silent (v12).  Amen!

Thursday 25th April – John 8:31-36 ‘True freedom’

If you were to pick one word which defines our worldview in the West, it might well be ‘freedom’.  It runs through much of our culture, in many guises (and disguises).  But freedom is a slippery word, it can mean lots of things.  In modern Western society, we usually mean individual rights and the opportunity to do what I/we want (within legal limits, though not always).  It is essentially freedom from – from constraints, whether imposed by government, religion or just other people.

But does this make people free?  Imagine taking a journey across a barren landscape: perhaps you’ve experienced a wilderness area in your own travels.  How do you know where you’re going?  What we need are the ‘constraints’ of roads (or paths) and signs.  These ‘restrictions’ imposed on our journey actually make us more free, not less.

Freedom, it turns out, is only experienced within healthy boundaries.  When God gave Eden to the first humans, he only gave them one boundary – don’t eat from this one tree – and we didn’t like it, we rebelled against the idea of any restrictions and, tempted by the seductive lie of power as freedom, we crossed that boundary, too.  The result was less freedom, not more. 

So where is true freedom to be found?  Jesus’ answer is very clear: (v32) ‘the truth will set you free’.  Our culture surrounds itself with seductive lies: just as in Eden, just as in first-century Israel.  But it is the God-created ‘boundaries’ of truth which enable us to be truly free.  This truth is found in Jesus, and Jesus alone: (v36) ‘if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’  As the true human, he knows what enables humanity to flourish.  It’s not ‘do as I say and not as I do’ – but live as I live and you will be truly free.

So much of our culture asks: ‘where is the power to live well?’  Today we have the answer: the power is in the truth, the truth found in Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Word made flesh, the author of life.  And anyone who finds this truth finds real freedom.

Today, give thanks that Jesus comes to set us free.  May we rejoice again in the life-giving freedom of his truth, and, whatever seductive lies our culture whispers in our ear, let’s ask (and keep asking) for more grace to live in this freedom.  For if the Son sets us free, we will be free indeed.  Amen!

Wednesday 24th April – John 8:21-30 ‘From above’

Anyone who reads newspapers online will be familiar with the terms ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’.  For those of you who still read an actual paper (and we all need things to line our food recycling bins!), ‘above the line’ refers to the articles printed by the journalists themselves; ‘below the line’ refers to comments which readers can submit in response to the articles.  It’s like a conversation generated by reading the article.

In many ways, you could summarise the task of online journalism nowadays as being to inform, and where necessary persuade, those ‘below the line.’  Needless to say, anyone who reads the comments below the line will see a variety of responses: from thoughtful reflections and sometimes helpful corrections, to bile and blatant prejudice, where it’s quite clear that the person hasn’t read the article properly, or maybe has read it but hasn’t wanted their own view challenged – they hear only what they want to hear, anything that backs up what they thought all along.

In many ways, this idea of ‘above’ and ‘below the line’ is very much the context for today’s passage.  Jesus is debating with his opponents (the Pharisees) most of whom, it seems, have already decided against Jesus, and therefore are determined to hear only what they want to hear.  They have long since abandoned any pretence at an open mind; the questions they ask are more designed to catch him out than a genuine attempt to learn something new.

The fundamental sticking point is whether Jesus really has been sent from God.  Numerous times Jesus has referred to his Father (recently in v16, v18 and v19) as the one who has sent him, and also the one who testifies on his behalf (via the scriptures and Jesus’ miracles) and to whom Jesus is accountable.  In that sense, Jesus is – as he says here – ‘from above’ (v23).  In other words, he has come from God (the Father): he is the Word made flesh, as John so beautifully puts it at the start of the gospel.

But the Pharisees reject this, refusing to admit either the evidence of Jesus’ miracles (signs), or the references to God’s anointed in the scriptures.  This is why Jesus describes them as ‘from below’.  They are bound to earthly thinking, rejecting what you might call ‘heavenly’ evidence.  As a result, Jesus warns them strongly of the consequences of this (v21, repeated in v24).

There is, though, one final proof which Jesus refers to, one which is yet to come: (v28) ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he.’  Remarkable as it sounds, the ultimate proof of Jesus’ heavenly identity is his scandalous execution – the ultimate self-giving sacrifice paid by our glorious self-giving God.

This self-giving God turns the values of our world upside-down.  The One from above inverts the wisdom of the world below.  And, despite fierce opposition, the passage finishes in hope: (v30) ‘Even as he spoke, many believed in him.’  The glorious truth is that in doing so, those ‘from below’ are united with the One ‘from above’.  This is our truth, too: may the Lord grant us grace to hold fast to the One ‘from above’ – and, like Jesus, may we know the abiding presence of the Father with us (v29) – today, and every day.

Tuesday 23rd April – John 8:12-20 ‘The Light of the World’

Light is one of the universal religious metaphors in our world.  Jews have Hanukkah, or festival of lights; Hindus and Sikhs have Diwali; Buddhists talk about the path to enlightenment.  Light is one of the few images to have almost universally positive connotations. 1.5 million people each year even take about 12 million trips to Blackpool for its illuminations, and other attractions, making it the second most popular single European tourist destination after St Peter’s in Rome.  Strange but true.

So, what is it about the Christian understanding of light that makes it so distinctive?  What have we got to say about it that sheds any unique, well, I have to use the word, light on the subject?  Or is today’s passage just a Christian version of something which all religions can aspire to?

It all comes down to the source: lots of religious teaching on light says: ‘this is the light’.  Only Jesus says: I am the light.  And not just for my followers, for the whole world: (v12) ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

In saying ‘I am the light,’ Jesus is not just pointing to his divine identity, he is saying some other vital things as well: first, I am the source of life.  Matter needs light to grow – the ancients didn’t have the scientific proof of photosynthesis, but they knew it all the same.  As chapter 1 of John says: ‘in Jesus was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.’  We don’t just need sunlight, we need Son-light.  Today’s word from Jesus is an invitation to life, life in all its fullness.  Where is Jesus inviting you to enter more fully into his life?

 Second, Jesus is telling us that he is the source of truth. Returning to ch1, the Light is also the Word, or as Psalm 119 famously puts it: ‘your word is a lamp to my feet and a…? light to my path.’  Light and truth are connected – think of the phrase ‘to shed light’ on things.  Jesus’ light is there to guide us, to direct our paths.  So, our second invitation from Jesus for today is: is there something in your life where you need Jesus’ light for your path?  Why not ask him to shine his light, to help you see the way ahead?

Finally, Jesus is telling us that he is the source of goodness.  This is the more challenging aspect, one which Jesus refers to in chapter 3 of John: ‘Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.’  When we come into Jesus’ light, it both causes us to grow, but also shines a light into the dark places, it exposes things which Jesus wants to heal or to change.  So, our third invitation from Jesus for today is: is there something ‘dark’ in your life where you need Jesus’ light?

Jesus invites us, today and every day, to come into his light.  To experience his life, to shine his light on the paths of our life, and to expose the things which need to change or heal.  By God’s grace, will you accept that invitation today?  Whoever follows him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.  Amen.

Monday 22nd April – John 7:53-8:11 ‘The divine balance’

Well, this is good way to start the week – with one of the most hotly contested passages in the whole of scripture!  The majority of the early manuscripts of the bible don’t have it, so the million-dollar question is this: was it originally part of John’s gospel but was taken out because it was too scandalous to include it?  (There were whispers that people might incorrectly conclude that Jesus appeared to be condoning adultery.)  Or was it not part of the original text but was added later – invented or otherwise – as an example of Jesus’ radical compassion?

The truth is that we can’t be sure, this side of heaven.  However, very few bibles are brave enough to leave it out altogether – it usually appears in italics or brackets!  My own personal view, for what it’s worth, is that, if the story in its original context would have shocked its readers, it’s more likely to have been taken out than put in.  Why include it otherwise?

So, if we tentatively conclude that this was a real encounter, then what do we learn?  At this point we hit the second reason why this is such a hotly contested passage: here we see Jesus as both radically compassionate and radically holy.  Sadly, our culture has too many voices which want binary answers, even in the church: we have to be either this or that, we can’t be both.  It is a particular shibboleth in our current discourse that we can’t love people and challenge them.  Compassion and holiness are put on opposite sides of an ideological chasm, with people shouting at each other across the divide.

And this is one of those passages most used as a peg for people’s hobby horses, especially in this particular debate – which is a tragedy because what we see here is one of the best examples in all of scripture of what a God who is both perfectly holy and perfectly loving actually looks like.

When faced with the woman’s accusers, Jesus responds first with compassion.  He points out their hypocrisy and abuse of power.  Much easier to point the finger than to examine our own hearts!  But he doesn’t ignore the sin which led to her accusation, either.  Having defended and protected her, he also challenges her to change the way she lives: ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’  Great compassion and great conviction.  Radical love, radical holiness.

How we need this divine balance today!  Real discipleship involves both radical compassion and radical challenge.  Jesus’ heart always tends towards mercy – and praise God that it does!  But, having embraced us as we are, he loves us too much to leave us as we are.  We are called to a new life, which conforms to the divine blueprint the Lord has laid out for us.  So, today, if you’re aware of a part of your life that falls short of what God desires for you – first, receive his forgiveness and loving embrace.  And then, hear his voice calling you to leave it behind.  Pray for grace to keep going, and growing.  That is the way of Christ.  Amen.

Previous series

Head over to our Archive page to find previous series in the Psalms, the gospels of Mark, Luke and John, the Holy Spirit, Acts, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews, Isaiah, Daniel, Esther, Joshua, Deuteronomy, seasonal series for Advent, Easter, Remembrance, and more besides!