Jesus on Blessings and Cursing

Will you be making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday? Will you be fasting during the 40 days of Lent? Will you give up any little luxuries until Easter?  Will you mark Ash Wednesday with ash on your forehead as a visible sign of your repentance for sin?  Will you tell anyone?  In our series The Passion of Jesus, based on the Gospel of Matthew, last week, Jesus taught us how to inoculate ourselves from spiritual abuse:

Be Holy: Cultivate a Simple Faith.
Be Hidden: Content with a Secret Faith.
Be Humble: Concentrate on a Serving Faith.

In today’s passage – Matthew 23:13-39, Jesus turns from the disciples and confronts those responsible for the abuse, directly and personally. He pronounces eight woes upon them.  It is poignant to remember this was Jesus last public sermon. It stands in stark contrast to his first public sermon in Nazareth and its elaboration in what became known as the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5, Jesus describes true righteousness. In Matthew 23, He defines false righteousness.  Let us compare the two.

Lets distinguish the path to blessing from the path to cursing. The first contrast?

Jesus on Blessings and Curses from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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Will the Jewish Temple be Rebuilt?

“Mounting tension: Israel’s Knesset debates proposal to enforce its sovereignty at Al-Aqsa Mosque – a move seen as ‘an extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide’” was the ominous headline in the Independent newspaper, 27th February 2014.

Ben Lynfield writes, “The Arab-Israeli conflict took on an increasingly religious hue when the Jordanian parliament voted unanimously to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman after Israeli legislators held an unprecedented debate on Tuesday evening over a proposal to enforce Israeli sovereignty at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, currently administered by Jordan, and to allow Jewish prayer there. 500 metres by 300 metres, the Temple Mount, or Haram Al Sharif as it is called in Arabic, is probably the most disputed plot of land on earth. Hal Lindsey claims, ‘I believe the fate of the world will be determined by an ancient feud over 35 acres of land.’[1]

Many Christians share the belief that the Islamic shrines must be destroyed and that a Jewish Temple must and will be rebuilt – very soon. But this won’t be a museum replica of the one king Solomon built or be just another attraction for pilgrims to the Holy Land. No, this Temple will be built for one purpose and one purpose only – for bloody animal sacrifices, and lots of them.

What is the case for rebuilding the Jewish Temple? Does the Bible predict such an event? If so, where and how it might be built? What does the New Testament  say on the subject? What are the implications for Christians should the Jewish Temple be rebuilt?  Continue reading

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The King of Righteousness is Coming

Jesus-Christ-jesus-9917686-640-457Isaiah 32–35:  Community Bible Study International (CBSI)

 In 1919, American writer Lincoln Steffens visited the Soviet Union to see what the Communist revolution was accomplishing; and in a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I have seen the future, and it works.” If he were alive today, he would probably be less optimistic; but in those days, “the Russian experiment” seemed to be dramatically successful.

In the four chapters that conclude the first section of his prophecy, Isaiah invites us to look at four future events to see what God has planned for His people and His world. These chapters are not human speculation; they are divinely inspired revelation, and they can be trusted.

1. The King will Reign (Isa. 32:1–20)

At the beginning of its history, the nation of Israel was a theocracy. God was their King. But in the days of Samuel, the people asked for a king; and God gave them Saul (1 Sam. 8). As you know Saul failed in his divinely appointed role and the Lord raised up David who established both the dynasty for Israel’s throne and the ancestry for Israel’s Messiah (2 Sam. 7). Every Jew knew that the future Messiah-King would be the Son of David (Matt. 22:41–46). In Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah writes about “a king”; but in 33:17, he calls him “the king.” By the time you get to verse 22, He is “our king.” It is not enough to say that Jesus Christ is “a King” or even “the King.” We must confess our faith in Him and say with assurance that He is “our King.” Like Nathanael, we must say, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49, NKJV)

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Jesus Confronts Religious Abusers

Have you noticed that when a new hotel or commercial building is being constructed, the architects will invariably install large mirrors in the lobby? Ever wondered why? Apparently we complain less when we’re looking at ourselves.

We all get distracted by our reflection at times, don’t we?  We all want to be seen, to be recognized, to be accepted, affirmed, encouraged, appreciated, valued. And that’s OK. It is instinctive to want to be loved. As long as we are not preoccupied or obsessed with ourselves and what others can or should do for us.  As we emphasize on our church website “We were designed to live in community – to know and be known, to love and be loved, to serve and be served, to celebrate and be celebrated.”

But like the mirrors you sometimes find at amusement parks, our self perception can so easily become warped or distorted when we view ourselves through the eyes of other people rather than God.  It is bad enough when this is tolerated in a community and remains unchecked. But it is much worse when religious leaders encourage and exploit their image or position. Then it becomes abusive and manipulative.  I have been a victim of that kind of spiritual abuse. And if you have been a church member for any length of time, you probably have been too. Spiritual abuse ranges from the relatively benign to the lethally toxic, but usually stems from a misuse of authority by religious leaders.

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What are we to make of Jesus Christ?

When I was a child, I used to read the Daily Mail newspaper every day – well, the Peanuts cartoons, to be precise. I still remember when Lucy asked each of her friends whether she should have her ears pierced. The conversation went on for days. Schroeder was playing his piano. “Do you think I should have my ears pierced?” He replies, “I don’t mind, you pierced mine long ago.” She storms off. “Linus, Do you think I should have my ears pierced?” “I have a better idea…” he replies cheekily, “Why don’t you have your mouth boarded up?” Lucy wallops him. When he comes to, he reflects, “It was worth it!”

How do you cope with people who just don’t seem to like you? No matter how hard you try to be nice to them, they will always twist your words, they question your motives, they gossip about you, they try and discredit you, they seem to undermine you at every opportunity.  Maybe you work with them, maybe they live next door, or maybe you are related. How do you deal with them? Blank them out? Retaliate? Stoop to their level? Do you go on the defensive? How do you react?

As we approach Easter, in the first of our new teaching series, entitled The Passion of Jesus, we see how Jesus dealt with his enemies. We see his passion for them. When they ask what appear to be innocent questions, Jesus responds with a question of his own:

What do you think about the Messiah?” – “who is he?” (Matthew 22:41). Implicit in that question are two more, “Why did Jesus come?” and What is his claim on our lives?”

What are we to make of Jesus Christ? from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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What Abraham Discovered: God will Provide

Our son Michael celebrated his 21st birthday last week.  When he was born, five weeks premature, and I held that little bundle of life in my hands for the first time, I didn’t know whether the Lord who had given us a son would take him back again. Although I wasn’t quite as old as Abraham, it was the first time I could really identify with him. Twenty one years later, Mike is taller, more intelligent and more attractive than me.

At the age of 75, Abraham was called to follow the Lord. Now, aged well over 100, he was still having faith-stretching, heart stopping experiences. The lesson? We are never too old to face new challenges, fight new battles, and learn new truths. When we stop learning, we stop growing; and when we stop growing, we stop living. “The first forty years of life give us the text,” “and the next thirty supply the commentary.” The “commentary” is being written as we listen to God, and follow His directions, one step, one day, one challenge at a time.  Sad to say, many people understand neither the text nor the commentary, and their lives are ended before they have understood the meaning of life. Genesis 22 records the greatest test that Abraham ever faced. In it we also see the progressive unfolding of God’s rescue mission for planet earth. As we found in our series Christ in All the Scriptures, it contains a beautiful prefiguring of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.

In both, the lesson from this passage is this:  obedient faith overcomes in the trials of life. I want us to consider five lessons we can learn from the testing of Abraham. We can learn them the hard way or the easy way. With God or without him.


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The Stones Cry Out: Saturday 8th February: Garth Hewitt and Yasmine Perni

Stones Cry Out 8 February

The film, “The Stones Cry Out” is being shown at Christ Church, Virginia Water, on Saturday 8th February at 7:30pm. Refreshments will be served from 7:00pm.

christian-singer-songwriter-garth-hewitt-652377482-2491467Yasmine Perni, the producer, will be with us and answer questions after the film is shown and Troubedor, singer and song writer, Garth Hewitt will be singing songs of Palestine.

The Stones Cry Out gives a detailed account of the historical, cultural, and political place occupied by Christians in the recent history of the Palestinian nation, and in its struggle against colonialism.

LINKS

Covering a broad sweep of history, from 1948 to the present day, Yasmine’s documentary includes interviews with preeminent leaders, scholars, and activists, and conveys some of the very specific challenges faced by Christians living in Palestine today.

DID-YOU-KNOW

Check out the website The Stones Cry Out and on Facebook

ORDER

Watch the trailer with Archbishop Elias Chacour here

There is no charge or tickets, but a retiring collection will be taken to help cover Yasmine’s travel expenses.

Christ Church, Christchurch Road, Virginia Water, GU25 4LD

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The Liberty of Grace

The Liberty of Grace – and Why the Church is Persecuted (Galatians 5)

Last Sunday while we were holding our service, Islamist militants “slaughtered” some 30 churchgoers in north-eastern Nigeria.  The Bishop of Yola told the BBC the insurgents had locked the church and “cut people’s throats” in Waga Chakawa village, Adamawa state. On the same day, militants also attacked Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno, killing 52 people. Both assaults were blamed on the Boko Haram group. The name means “Western education is forbidden” – is especially active in the north-east of the country. Boko Haram wants to impose a severe form of Islamic law, and has been blamed for thousands of deaths in Nigeria.

The Liberty of Grace from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

The Bishop of Yola, Mamza Dami Stephen, said parishioners described how the insurgents had arrived on trucks and locked the church “towards the end of the service”. “Some people tried to escape through the windows and the [attackers] shot at them,” the bishop said. The militants set off bombs, before burning houses and taking residents hostage during a four-hour siege. The bishop said locals were gripped by terror. “Everybody is living in fear,” he explained. “There is no protection. We cannot predict where and when they are going to attack. People can’t sleep with their eyes closed.” Open Doors asks us to pray for God’s comfort and grace to reach all affected by these tragic incidents and that there will be an end to this cruel war against the people of Nigeria, and Christians in particular. But what happened in Nigeria last Sunday should not surprise us. This is the Open Doors 2013 Watch List.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32). But the truth is dangerous for many in our world today. And Christians in the South and East, it seems, are willing to pay the price to stand for Jesus. Yet in the West, we have domesticated Him. We don’t necessarily see the link between truth and freedom. We probably don’t experience opposition to our faith on a daily basis. So we take freedom for granted and we are liable to compromise the truth. When was the last time you brought Jesus into a conversation at a dinner party or meal with friends or neighbours? Die for Jesus on the streets of Virginia Water? I don’t think so. Hard to imagine. In November each year, we pause for two minutes silence to remember the names of people from Virginia Water who gave their lives to preserve our freedoms and defend us from fascism and totalitarianism. Imagine if those lists were the names of Christian brothers and sisters from our church family who had given their lives in the service of Christ? Would we honour them differently? What of those Christ followers in Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and many parts of the world, for whom the persecution Paul writes of in our passage today is the norm. Can we take it for granted that it won’t happen in our country?

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El Shaddai: The God Who Covenants

Have you seen the weather forecast for this week? Temperatures will be dropping to – 60 degrees centigrade. Winds exceeding 100 mph. No sunlight for months on end. Imagine surviving in those conditions without shelter, without heat, without clothes. Its hard to believe but some do, indeed they have adapted and thrive in such conditions. Every aspect of the Emperor Penguin’s life is tough, for the bird is the southernmost species and breeds on the ice-bound Antarctic land mass. What it takes to do this is remarkable.

At the end of the Antarctic summer, in March, the birds flop out of the Southern Ocean where they have been assiduously stuffing themselves, and begin a long trek to their mating grounds, up to 70 miles away. Thousands gradually come together, tramping over the ice in long single files like patrols of infantry. But that’s only the beginning. After courtship and pairing, the female bird produces a single egg, and then one of nature’s great curtains comes down.

A six-month [winter] dark descends, and the temperature drops with it, to minus 60 and [lower] – and the female bird departs. She has gone without food for so long – and the effort of producing the egg has been so great – that she must return to the sea to feed. The task of incubating the egg, in the harshest conditions on earth, falls to the males.  When blizzards arrive, with 100 mph winds in a nightmare of [24 hour] frozen dark, [they] huddle round together in great groups to keep a minimum of warmth…

Most survive, and so do their eggs, kept secure and warm in a fold of abdominal skin just above their feet. After 60 days of this, the eggs hatch. The male then feeds the tiny chick at first with a milky substance, then eventually the female returns to take over, recognising her mate by call. How do the penguins survive 100 mph winds and -60 degree temperatures? By taking turns at standing on the outer edge of the crowd where it is coldest, and then moving back in to the relative warmth and shelter of the huddle.

It seems to me to be a vivid natural illustration of what God intends human society to be. A supernatural window on what his Covenant people, the Church, have been called to be, to show those who are spiritually cold, lost and alone in the dark, how to find the way home to the warmth, the comfort and light of the Father’s embrace.

God’s rescue plan for the world began a long time ago with Abraham. From Abraham, God was going to build a family of faith who would become an entire nation who in turn would lead the whole world back to God. That is the context for the covenant God makes with Abraham in Genesis 17. Our series is entitled “What Abraham Discovered” and today our theme is “El Shaddai – the God who Covenants.” Lets explore the passage and ask three questions:

  1. What did the Covenant mean for Abraham?
  2. What did the Covenant mean for God’s people?
  3. What does the Covenant mean for us today?


El Shaddai: The God Who Covenants from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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A Time for Everything

You cannot see it, smell it, hear it or feel it but its all around us. We live by it. Some have more, some have less. Some do more with it, some do less. Some are passionate about squeezing the very last drop out of it, while for others it is a living death sentence. Its fresh every day but we can use it only once. What is it? Time. When we are young, (and especially in a boring lesson at school) time can seem to drag so slowly. As we grow older, we never seem to have enough. We mark time with birthdays, anniversaries, centuries, millenniums, light years and of course grey hairs – a sign that time is running out. Time is ticking away all the time and we are all growing older because of it. The Bible says

The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10).

The older we get the more this verse seems to makes sense, or at least it does for me. Average life expectancy in some parts of the world is only in the 30’s, while in Western Europe it is in the upper 70’s. This week I read that baby girls born in Britain today could expect an average life expectancy of 100.

If the average life expectancy in the UK is presently 75, that means we have on average 52×75 weeks on earth = 3,900 weeks. Some of us will have less, some will have more. If you are aged 10 you have on average 3,380 weeks left; 20 = 2,860; 30 = 2,340; 40 = 1,820; 50 = 1,300; 60 = 780; 70 = 260; If you are over 75 you have beaten the average!

A Time for Everything from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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