Author Archives: Stephen Sizer

What is True Worship?

10497-woman-worship-group-lsIf you have travelled abroad on holiday or for work, you will no doubt have observed a variety of places of worship. Synagogues, mosques, temples, shrines, churches, chapels, cathedrals. Some permanent, some temporary. Some very ancient, some modern. Some ornate and some very simple. And within them, if you have ventured inside, you might have seen Muslims prostrating, Shia’s lamenting, Buddhists meditating, Voodoos dancing, Shintos chanting, Hindus sacrificing, Zoroastrians lighting fires, Jews rocking, Sufis whirling, Shakers… shaking, Catholics kneeling, Mystics contemplating, Pentecostals slaying, and Anglicans doing everything, decently and in order. Colourful, vibrant, diverse. Worship is universal.

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Jesus Christ Foretold In All the Scriptures

names-of-jesusYou are invited to discover what the Hebrew scriptures reveal concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Amazingly, every central character, every key event, every prophecy, every Feast and Festival reveals ever more brightly the person and work of the Messiah, God’s anointed Son.  You will see conclusively that His coming was no accident but part of God’s redemptive plan, revealed from the very beginning and progressively through history and Scripture.

And if you would like to read the book that inspired the series, it is appropriately called Christ in All the Scriptures. Written by A. M. Hodgkin, and first published in 1909, it has rightly become a classic. You can also read the entire book digitally here.

Hodgkin observes, in his introduction “Abraham rejoiced to see My day.” ”Moses wrote of Me.” ”David called [Me] Lord.” (John 8:56; 5:46; Matthew 22:45). We have in these words of our Saviour abundant authority for seeking Him in the Old Testament … To those of us who believe in Christ as truly God, as well as truly Man, His word on these matters is authoritative.”

Christ in all the ScripturesIn the Gospels, Jesus refers to 20 Old Testament characters and quotes from 17 Old Testament books. In Genesis, for example, Jesus refers to creation, the institution of marriage, to Noah, Abraham, Lot, to Sodom and Gomorrah. From Exodus, Jesus speaks of Moses, the burning bush, the Mannah in the wilderness and the Ten Commandments. From Leviticus, the ceremonial and moral law. From Numbers, the bronze serpent. From Deuteronomy, the law of Moses. Then there are references to David, Solomon, Elijah and Zechariah. He confounds his critics not just by quoting Scripture but by identifying himself as the one the Scriptures are speaking about.

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27; 44-45)

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21).

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 5:39).

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Jesus’ Great Expectations: A High-Demand Faith

my-faith-demands-i-do-whatever-i-can-jimmy-carterTwelve years ago, when our son Michael was 11, we had a difficult decision to make. Which secondary school would we choose? We didn’t have a lot of choice. There was Magna Carta or… Magna Carta.  And at the time it didn’t have the excellent reputation it has now. Louise was leaving Charters that Summer so we could not benefit from the sibling rule. We decided to apply for Magna Carta, Charters and Ranelagh. Not surprisingly we were turned down for Charters and Ranelagh as we lived outside the normal catchment area. Moving house was not an option. So we appealed – we had nothing to loose. We went to the appeals hearing at Ranelagh and discovered there were about 20-25 other families present. Having never done it before I didn’t know what to expect. Quite soon after the hearing began, the lady chairman asked the appeals panel, made up of several clergy, to retire to another room. I tried not to look at the other parents. I felt bad that we were competing with other families for a handful of places that might be granted on appeal. All would have good reasons for wanting to send their child to the school. After what seemed an age, the panel returned. The chairman made an announcement. The appeals had been upheld – all of them. The chairman closed the meeting.

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The Unpopular Message of Jesus: An Inclusive Gospel

jesus-fulfillment-isaiahs-prophecy-949039-galleryI don’t know what your memories of school were like but I was bullied at school and as a consequence I have a low tolerance of bullying when I witness it – and intervening gets me into trouble sometimes. And having helped raise three lovely daughters, I have a low tolerance of discrimination against women as well. The Bible says we are created in the image and likeness of God. This means that it is sub-Christian to mistreat, abuse, or denigrate any person, irrespective of their race, colour, age, religion, or gender. When Christians are a minority, or society is volatile, there is great pressure on us to avoid offending other people. The temptation therefore is to soften or compromise the exclusive claims of the gospel. How can we avoid being offensive in witnessing for Jesus? How can we share our convictions with compassion? In our Gospel reading we observe Jesus doing so and showing us how.

Last week, in Luke 4, we learnt about Jesus’ manifesto.

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

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Don’t All Religions Lead to God?

prayer_jpg_2541873bToday it seems uncertainty and agnosticism are more valuable than conviction and commitment. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. The suggestion that a particular faith is the only way to God is synonymous with narrow minded intolerance, fundamentalism or with religious extremism.

Sincerity and Truth
Many people think all religions lead to God because they assume that all religions are essentially the same when you reduce them to their core beliefs. They liken the religions to different paths up a mountain, believing that as we approach the summit we realise how much we have in common. But this just isn’t true and only shows they have not looked deeply enough at what the various religions teach.

If you let each religion speak for itself, you find they differ greatly on the basic concepts-God, truth, reality, the basic human dilemma and the solution to that dilemma. They differ so much that many of their statements contradict one another. For example, God cannot be both personal, as Christians, Jews and Muslims believe, and impersonal, as Buddhists and Hindus believe. Jesus cannot be a false Messiah as Judaism teaches, a prophet as Islam teaches and the eternal Son of God as Christians believe. Those are contradictory statements. According to the rules of logic, contradictory statements cannot all be true. Therefore, all religions cannot possibly be true. It is a logical impossibility. And if they are not all true, and if they lead us in different directions, then not all of them can lead to God. The sincerity of followers is not in question. You can be sincere but sincerely wrong.

How-Other-Religions-Started-2

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A Biblical Model of Jihad and Peacemaking

PeacemakersPost-300x156Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). What did he mean?  I want to give a simple, personal reading of the teaching of Jesus the Christ and his Apostles on the Christian jihad and peacemaking. The most important point I will be making is that peacemaking is not primarily something we do, but rather something we are becoming. I have five headings.

1. The Nature of Christian Jihad.
2. The Extent of Christian Jihad.
3. The Strategy of Christian Jihad.
4. The Weapons of Christian Jihad.
5. The Purpose of Christian Jihad.

1. The Nature of Christian Jihad: “Against Spiritual Forces” Continue reading

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Why Does God Allow Suffering?

sufferingI have a problem with suffering. I am sure you do also. A couple of years ago I experienced some of the worst pain in my life and I ended up in hospital. I knew the medical reasons why I was suffering but that didn’t make it any easier. If God wasn’t going to answer my prayer and take the pain away, I wanted to die. When the pain had gone I changed my mind. We struggle to keep their faith when confronted with pain or illness or death.

The problem of suffering is therefore a question we have something in common with our friends. The answer to our question should therefore help them as much as ourselves. For some it is an intellectual and theoretical question about the existence of God and problem of evil. For others it is a present and personal experience. The answer we give will greatly depend on the context. Our culture finds the issue of suffering a huge problem. The presence of pain and evil in the world leads many to question the existence of God. David Hume, the philosopher put it like this:

“Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” (David Hulme)

Here is how C.S. Lewis framed the dilemma,

‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.’ (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

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The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?

Papyrus_Bodmer_VIIIAbout five years ago, I was invited to give a series of lectures at universities in Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran and dialogue with Islamic scholars in Qom. The Q&A session after each presentation was a lively affair. The most frequently asked question was about the reliability of the Bible. What did I think about Mel Gibson’s film The Passion? What did I think about Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code?

Over 1 billion people apparently believe the views popularized in The Da Vinci Code. They believe the message of the Bible has been corrupted and distorted, that Jesus is not the Son of God, but simply a Prophet and that he did not die on the cross or rise from the dead. They believe that there were many other accounts of the life of Christ suppressed and destroyed before and after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. They believe that the Emperor Constantine commissioned the writing of the New Testament we now have which portrays Jesus as a divine figure. Dozens of other “gospels” were censored.

They believe the Gospel of Barnabas is the only known surviving account written by a disciple of Jesus and accepted as authentic before Nicea. It was supposed to have been rediscovered by a monk named Fra Marino, who came across an Italian manuscript in the Pope’s private library in 1590. He smuggled it out of the library, read it and became a Muslim.

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The Prophetic Manifesto of Jesus: a Liberating Gospel

Jesus-Luke-023
When you think of the future, what do you long for? What is your vision? Your motivation in life? Here’s mine:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

As my body wears out and as I see more and more pain and suffering in our world, I long for that day. But how will God’s glorious vision of the future be realized?  Our gospel reading tells us. Please turn with me to Luke 4. Observe:

The Messiah Preaching: God’s Spirit who leads
The Messiah Predicted: God’s Anointed has arrived
The Messiah Presented: God’s Timing is fulfilled Continue reading

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The Bible on Singleness, Marriage and Homosexuality

traditional_marriageThe Primates of the Anglican Communion met in Canterbury in January to reflect and pray together concerning the future of the Communion. The majority of those gathered reaffirmed that “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.” A small minority of Anglican Primates were however, unable to do so. This in itself has serious implications, for what divides them is the question of ultimate authority in matters of faith and doctrine. Does it lie with church tradition, with experience, reason, secular cultural norms, or with the Scriptures? Our presuppositions inevitably shape our thinking. Here are five assumed in this paper.

Article 6 of the Church of England

“Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

The Scriptures are God-breathed

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Ann Atkins has observed, “Scripture is not important enlightenment about God, but infallible revelation from Him. So we interpret our lives in the light of scripture, instead of the other way about.” Continue reading

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