Category Archives: Bible Study

Palm Sunday: Three Barriers to Surrendering to God

Surrender is not a popular word, is it?  Almost disliked as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. In today’s competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in. So, we don’t hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, to surrender is unthinkable. We would rather dwell on winning, succeeding, overcoming and conquering not yielding, submitting, obeying, or surrendering. It is ironic then that surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Palm Sunday is all about surrender. Jesus rode on a donkey not a horse.  Jesus came in peace not war, to surrender not conquer. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom sacrifice, to be the Passover lamb, to make atonement with God. And when some in the crowd laid their coats on the ground, it was a sign of their surrender to him. Because surrender is the natural response to God’s grace and mercy. Our surrender is called many things in scripture: consecration, taking up your cross, dying to self, yielding to the Spirit, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. What matters is that we do it, not what we call it. 

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Are You Ready to Boldly Go? (John 11)

“To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!”  I’m sure you know these are the opening lines from the iconic TV series Star Trek. At the beginning of every episode, Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise says “Space: The final frontier”

Most of us will never get to test that frontier but there is another frontier we all face with a 100% certainty. Death is usually the last thing we want to talk about and yet it comes to us all, sometimes prematurely. And too many people are ill-prepared. When a loved one in mid-life is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, your world is turned upside down. Your faith is tested. Your priorities and hopes for the future are changed, instantly, radically, irrevocably. And so by the way does your circle of friends. Invariably it gets smaller, but I’m thankful for those who have stuck with us over the past five years, who have encouraged us to persevere.

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Believing is Seeing (John 9)

I woke up the other day and couldn’t see properly. I could see a blurred object like a large hair moving around in one eye. When I looked in the mirror there was nothing on my eye, but I could still see something moving around. That was when my curiosity turned to mild panic. Was I losing my eyesight? Was it cancer? 

I phoned the medical helpline 111 and was referred to the local Accident and Emergency Eye Hospital. A nice person triaged me over the phone and made an appointment for me to visit the next day. I was seen quickly by an eye specialist who did numerous tests, one of which is not for the faint hearted. It involved smearing my eye with aesthetic jelly and then placing an instrument on the pupil to explore the inside of my eye. Her diagnosis was that I have a vitrous detachment or ‘floater’. 

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An Antidote to Religious Extremism

I am sure like me you have been shocked at the eruption of violence in Palestine this week. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz invariably goes for the jugular with its headlines where Western media normally fear to tread. On Tuesday, for example, Haaretz ran the headline, “Israeli Settlers’ Hawara Pogrom was a Preview of Sabra and Chatila 2”  In case you were born after 1982, in  September that year, after invading Southern Lebanon, the Israeli military allowed the Lebanese Phalangist Militia to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and massacre over 3,500 Palestinian men, women and children. Haaretz drew the comparison, “This week in the West Bank, no one stopped the extremist settlers from running amok in Hawara.” 

On Wednesday alone, 30 homes were torched, 40 cars and a fire engine burned and the hospitals filled with over 100 wounded civilians. The Guardian ran the headline “Israeli Settlers on the rampage isn’t a shock – its daily life for Palestinians in the West Bank.” 
The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem went further pointing out, “This isn’t “loss of control” this is exactly what Israeli control looks like. The settlers carry out the attack, the military secures it, the politicians back it. It’s a synergy.” 

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The Jesus I Never Knew

They say you never get a second chance at a first impression. But first impressions can sometimes be rather superficial. And that is also true when people think of Jesus. What were your first impressions of Jesus? 

My first memory of Jesus was around the age of six when I first attended Sunday School. I remember two things: Singing the chorus, “Jesus loves me this I know…” and a large painting of Jesus on the wall. Jesus was holding a lamb in his arms surrounded by lots of little children my age – except strangely unlike my Sunday school class, they were all different colours. There was an African child, a Chinese child, an Indian child, a Native American child and many others that were different to me. But I do remember, reassuringly that Jesus had long golden hair and a blond European complexion. My first memories were of a white Jesus and for many of us that is our unconscious default view we carry we carry with us through life. Comforting it may be until we encounter someone with a different religious heritage.  William Blake described the dilemma we face. 

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Anger Management for Beginners

What is it that makes you angry? At a trivial level, I get angry when I see someone drop litter or see a dog owner allow their pet to soil the path. More seriously I get angry when I see graffiti sprayed on a wall, or a tree sapling vandalised. I get angry when I hear climate change deniers, or when companies discharge waste into rivers. I get more angry when I see someone being bullied or harassed, especially if it’s a child, a woman, someone with a disability or person of colour. I get even more angry still over child abuse, sexual harassment or physical violence. I feel very angry with holocaust denial, Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism. Above that, those who justify apartheid, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide. That’s me. What about you? What about Jesus? What did Jesus get angry with in the gospels? Surprisingly it was none of the above. What was it? Religious hypocrisy. Worth reflecting on that isn’t it?

In our gospel reading today Jesus’ instructs us on dealing with anger and with conflict resolution. Here are three headings: 
Unjustified anger is always destructive (Matthew 5:21-22)
Unsettled disputes are invariably costly (Matthew 5:25-26)
Pursue reconciliation to resolve conflict (Matthew 5:23-24)  

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Strong Reproofs for a Scandalous Church

My first parish as a young enthusiastic priest was St John’s, Stoke, in Guildford, Surrey. It is situated next door to Guildford College. In my time there as Rector, we held occasional events for students and faculty.  Previously I had spent four years working as a student pastor so when the chaplaincy of the college fell vacant I asked my Bishop whether the two posts could be combined. We heard nothing for months. Eventually when I pressed the Archdeacon, I was told that it was considered inappropriate for an evangelical to be appointed as the chaplain to an academic institution. Then when I proposed undertaking a part-time post graduate degree I was asked by the Director of Training, rather cynically, was I going to buy it from America? That was all the motivation I needed to pursue a Masters from Oxford and then eventually a PhD.

I can therefore relate to how the Apostle Paul must have felt when he was mocked by the Christians in Corinth for his lack of eloquence or oratory skills. Let me read to you from John Stott’s book “Calling Christian Leaders” (IVP)

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Becoming a Person of Extraordinary Influence 

“I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr, D. L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.” Who said that? Woodrow Wilson, the former President of the United States.

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Challenging Apartheid: Four Bible Studies

In Advent last month, I prepared four Bible studies for Sabeel-Kairos UK as a resource to enable churches to engage with scripture and challenge apartheid. Although prepared for Advent, it is hoped you will find them a useful resource at any time.

Zionism and Apartheid
Colonialism and Apartheid
Militarisation and Apartheid
A Future without Apartheid

This is a more detailed resource tracing the history of apartheid in South Africa

A Biblical Response to Israeli Apartheid

The Beatitudes: The Christian Manifesto

This is a poignant week for me. The 31st January is the 70th anniversary of the 1953 floods that devastated the coastal communities of East Anglia. A confluence of two weather systems – one in the English Channel and the other in the North Sea, caused a a storm surge. The abnormal rise in sea levels brought death and destruction all along the East coast, the worst floods in living memory. During that raging storm out to sea, the Lowestoft trawler Guava sunk without trace. My uncle Edward Sizer was one of the eleven crew who never returned home. 

Where do you find your security in the storms of life? Where do you find peace of mind in an uncertain world? How can you experience joy in a scary world?  

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