Surviving the Storms of Life

There is deep inside each one of us a subconscious awareness that life is precarious. It is implicit when we kiss the children goodbye on their way to school with the words ‘Take care’ or to an adult friend, “Hope you keep well.” The fact is, disease can strike, accidents do happen, and unforeseen events interrupt our carefully planned and manicured lives. Naturally, we do everything we can to reduce the possibility. And in our relatively affluent, peaceful community, we can convince ourselves that we really are in control of our lives, cocooned from the world outside. Bad things happen to other people, and we’re confident they won’t happen to us.

When we live calamity-free for long periods of time, when the big issues have to do with the length of the grass at the golf course or whether the trains are running on time, or the availability of our favourite products at the local supermarket, not only do we feel a kind of invincibility, but we slowly begin to take life itself for granted. We stop thanking God for the daily blessedness of it – for sunrises and sunsets, for spring rains and autumn mists, and for our very own lives. We so easily grow complacent with our partners, our children, our parents, our friends. We get accustomed to the privilege of living.

Then a day like Tuesday September 11th 2001 or a Thursday like Thursday 7th July 2005, or a Tsunami floods whole countries or a Hurricane devastates an entire city, and our world is turned upside down. With biological contagions like Ebola seemingly out of control and terror extremists like ISIS radicalising our world, we realise no one is immune from danger, fear and even death.

Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in Bible, Theology | Comments Off

Ambassadors Needed

Heartened by the recent historic meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at the United Nations, signaling a long-overdue thawing of Anglo-Iranian relations, I was delighted to attend the New Horizons interfaith conference in Tehran last week, as a member of a UK delegation.

The conference addressed issues where faith and politics intersect in the Middle East such as Israel’s war on Gaza, Islamophobia in the West as well as the rise of ISIS and those sponsoring extremism.

“There is no teleology in western society, no guiding morality, only an obsession with materialism,” argued organizer Arash Darya-Bandari. “We believe it is necessary to control the negative tendencies in culture, such as pornography, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, to strive towards a more moral and justice society.”

One of the contributors, Eric Walberg wrote, “Contrary to the shrill cries in the western media that the conference was anti-Semitic, it was unique in my experience in addressing Zionism and US imperialism forthrightly and intelligently, without a hint of racism. The issue of anti-Semitism was addressed and dismissed, as “There is no issue with Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” explained Darya-Bandari, “but rather with Zionism, that secular distortion of Judaism that itself is racist, and has been used as a pretext to dispossess and kill Palestinians.”

He went on to report, “The conference issued a resolution condemning ISIS, Zionism, US unconditional support of Israel, Islamophobia, and calling for activism locally to boycott Israeli goods and to promote understanding between the West and the Muslim world, and to fight sectarianism. “This was a great opportunity to meet anti-imperialist activists from around the world, to bring Russians, Poles, western Europeans, North Americans together with Iranians and other Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, in a forum without sectarianism, truly supporting peace and understanding,” said delegate Mateusz Piskorski, director of the European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis in Warsaw and former MP in the Polish Sejm.”

I was invited to contribute to the opening ceremony and present a biblical perspective on Jihad and in particular, a Christian refutation of the Islamic State (IS). Later in the conference I was asked to present a paper on the impact of the Israel Lobby in the UK, especially in parliament and in the media, ahead of the publication of my new book on the subject.

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Ambassadors, of necessity serve in foreign countries, where perspectives may be different and at times even hostile to one’s own. But given the dire consequences of any breakdown in relations between countries, dialogue and diplomacy are always to be preferred over war and strife.

In the journal Diplomat, Michael Binyon asks,

“Are Christian church leaders becoming the world’s most active peacemakers? Only a week after President Peres of Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the Pope’s invitation to pray together with him in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a dramatic flight to Nigeria to pray with President Goodluck Jonathan and encourage him to make every effort to find the schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.

The Archbishop’s impromptu trip came hard on the heels of a visit to Pakistan, where he visited a small embattled Christian community and praised their efforts to forge closer links with the wider Muslim community, despite regular attacks by militants, the threats of mob violence and the increasing use of the notorious blasphemy laws to force Christians from their land and property…

Peacemaking and reconciliation – within the Anglican Church and between the world’s main faith groups – were the declared priority for Justin Welby from the moment he became Archbishop. He is well qualified for the role. As an oil executive who visited Nigeria often before his ordination, he has seen at first-hand the conflict raging between Christians and Muslims in Central Nigeria that is now taking a deadly toll. As a former head of Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation, he has himself conducted delicate negotiations between militant groups in an effort to free hostages, often risking his own life.”

A walk through the deserted US embassy in Tehran last week was a poignant reminder of how a failure to pursue diplomacy has fueled not only decades of missed opportunities but also perpetuated misunderstanding and animosity between our countries.

Ironically, the leaders in Jesus day, tried to dictate whom he could and could not meet with, criticizing him for eating with “tax collectors and sinners”.  Clearly they considered his actions “conduct unbecoming” a rabbi. Thankfully for us he did not listen to them.

Critics of conferences such as New Horizons should think more carefully about how their inflammatory words will negatively impact on their own communities in Iran.

They would be better served following the examples set by our Prime Minister, the Pope and the Archbishop who, as true ambassadors, are working for peace and reconciliation.

Share Button
Posted in Anglicanism, Bible, Christ Church, Christian Zionism, Church of England, Evangelicalism, Human Rights, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Theology | Comments Off

Christian Jihad: A Biblical Response to the Islamic State

I hope that we would all agree ISIS is no more representative of Islam than Zionism is of Judaism, or the Crusades and Inquisition are of Christianity. But the reality is ISIS has attracted at least 3,000 young idealistic Muslims from Europe. And apocalyptic Christian Zionists are the dominant supporters of Israel’s colonialist expansionist agenda in Palestine.

ISIS has made their vision for the world very clear. Carl Medearis says,

“We know what it is – evil personified. They have morphed out of Al Qaeda who were ironically too liberal for their most radical Islamic interpretations, namely that there should be a new national Muslim identity – a Caliphate. They have chosen Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant) as the territory from which this new “state” will emerge.

ISIS has brutally killed 1000’s, mostly non-Sunnis, in this quest for power. Ethnic Christians and a small people-group called Yazidis have found themselves in evil’s path, but so have the armies of Syria (both the national army and the various rebel groups), Iraq and even Lebanon.  It seems anyone who isn’t willing to lay down their “flag” and join the newly self-appointed ISIS Caliphate is deemed a traitor and deserves to die.”[1]

Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in Anglicanism, Bible, Christian Zionism, Theology | Comments Off

Harvest Festival

Why do we celebrate Harvest Festival? The Bible mentions Harvest a lot! Lets consider Harvest past, present and future.

Harvest Past – When did Harvest Begin?

Do you know when the first Harvest Festival took place?

“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” (Genesis 4:3-4)

From the very beginning and right through history, people have given back to God some of what he has given them. Harvest Festival began as a way of saying “thank you”.

Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in Christ Church, Sermons, Theology | Comments Off

Jesus and Climate Change

Three sermons on Jesus and Climate Change

Jesus is Lord of all Creation (Psalm 24)
Jesus is Lord of the Covenant (Genesis 7)
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6)

Share Button
Posted in Bible, Creation, Evolution, Sermons, Theology | Comments Off

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

unnamedRemember when you were at school and you were told that science and religion were incompatible?  You were told to choose between scientific facts and religious faith? Well, not any more! “Scientists turn to God to save the planet” was the headline in the Independent on Friday.

“Two of the world’s leading scientists have made an unprecedented call on religious leaders to spark a “massive mobilisation of public opinion”, insisting that only through God can we save the environment.

Writing in the journal Science, Cambridge University’s Partha Dasgupta and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, of the University of California, have made an impassioned plea for help in curbing the “potentially catastrophic” effects of what they call “the ongoing abuse of the planet’s natural resources”.

Naomi Oreskes, professor of history of science at Harvard University, said the call was a remarkable development in the world of climate science.

“This is a watershed moment. For 20 years, scientists have been reluctant to speak out on the need to change business as usual for fear of being labelled ‘political’ and reluctant to address the moral dimensions of climate change for fear of being labelled ‘unscientific’,” she said… “I think a lot of people see the religious contribution as a cosy topic which we should only discuss on Sunday mornings, but it could prove decisive.”[1]

I think you will agree that so far, this sermon series on Jesus and Creation has been far from a ‘cosy topic’ only for ‘Sunday mornings’. Some of us have been troubled and disturbed as we have considered the devastating consequences of climate change globally, especially on the poor and vulnerable. From the scriptures we have been reminded that Jesus is Lord of Creation, and that we are responsible to him to be good stewards of the earth entrusted to us. Jesus is also Lord of the covenant God has made with the earth. All of creation is connected, all of creation is significant and all of creation is to be cherished.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6) from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Howard Snyder says:

Here is the biblical basis for a theology of creation care. In the biblical view, earth’s creatures and species are to be “stewarded” for four key reasons: God created them; God delights in them; we depend on them; they are part of God’s larger plan…. [because] Salvation Means Creation Healed.” Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath rest too.  Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in Sermons, Theology | Comments Off

The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction

The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

We are going on a journey this term.[1] A journey back to the first few years of the life of the early church, from its small beginnings in Jerusalem to the day the gospel finally reached the centre of the known world, Rome. We will be discovering how the Holy Spirit inspired and energised the followers of Jesus to fulfil the Great Commission to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of all nations. Standing between the Gospels and the Epistles, the Book of Acts is a bridge between the life of Jesus and the ministry of the Apostles. As such, it provides invaluable insights into the Missionary strategy and methodology of the early Church. In this introduction we want to consider the authorship, the purpose, the themes, and an outline of the Book of Acts.

The Title of Acts

The title of Acts is somewhat misleading, for only a few of the apostles of Jesus are mentioned in the book. In reality, Acts relates primarily to the missionary journeys of Peter and Paul, and involves a time-span of about 32 years– from the Ascension of Jesus (about A. D. 30) to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (about A. D. 62).

It could however just as easily be titled “The Acts of the Lord Jesus” or more accurately “The Continuing Acts of the Lord Jesus” for Acts 1:1 reads,

Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in Sermons, Theology | Comments Off

Jesus is Lord of the Covenant: Genesis 9

Global sea levels rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century. But that is only one indicator of global warming. CO2 levels reached record levels in 2013, according to new figures published by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). They show that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years, and currently 142% higher than levels in 1750, before the start of the industrial revolution. Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the WMO said, “We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions … We are running out of time.” Atmospheric CO2 is resulting in the increased acidification of the seas. Every day, the oceans take up about 4kg of CO2 per person. Globally that equates to 24 billion kilos daily. Based on ice samples taken from deep under the Antarctic surface, the current rate of acidification is unprecedented in over 300 million years. What is the effect of all this? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 report insists that, at our present trajectory, we could see a devastating 5C or even 6C of warming by 2100.[1]

Want to know what 5C would look like? Not for the faint hearted.

Such a rise … would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation… It would cause a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles… Very few species could adapt in time… With the tropics too hot to grow crops, and the sub-tropics too dry, billions of people would find themselves in areas of the planet which are essentially uninhabitable… Hundreds of millions will also be forced to move inland due to rapidly-rising seas. As world food supplies crash, the higher mid-latitude and sub-polar regions would become fiercely-contested refuges. The British Isles, indeed, might become one of the most desirable pieces of real estate on the planet. But, with a couple of billion people knocking on our door, things might quickly turn rather ugly.”[3]

To avoid this, we need a dramatic reduction in fossil fuel use replaced by the use of renewable energy. Jarraud says, “We have the knowledge and the tools … to try keep temperature increases within 2C to give our planet a chance and to give our children and grandchildren a future. Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting.”[4]

Last week, we began this short series of studies on “Jesus, Creation and Climate Change”. We read Psalm 24 and discovered “Jesus is Lord of all Creation”.

Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in Sermons, Theology | Comments Off

Garth Hewitt, Reem Kelani, Beth Rowley, Blake – Gaza Benefit Concert: Saturday 13th September

All funds raised will go to humanitarian relief in Gaza via Amos Trust Partners.

Share Button
Posted in Christ Church, Palestine | Comments Off

Psalm 24: Jesus is Lord of all Creation

Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century. All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880… the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and all 10 of the warmest years occurred in the past 12 years. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa. NASA data show Greenland is losing between 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice every year. Antarctica is losing another 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice per year.[1] The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC (2,500 of the world’s top climate scientists) predicts temperature rises of between 1.5°C and 4.8°C by the end of this century. If global warming of more than 2°C is not avoided, impacts from extreme weather will lead to significant food shortages, large-scale migration and inevitable wars and conflict.[2]

But not everyone is convinced. Dave Bookless in Planetwise writes,

“Many people say climate change is the biggest threat our world faces today. I beg to differ. Its not that I doubt the scientific consensus on the threats posed by melting ice-caps, changing weather systems and warming oceans. Nor am I blind to the terrible effects these … are already having, on wildlife, the poor, and ultimately all of us. The reason is this: Climate change is a symptom of a far bigger problem. Imagine if… science had discovered a ‘cure’ for climate change: a magical solution to absorb all the excess greenhouse gases. Imagine that the … clock was turned back … 200 years of industrial pollution were no longer going to cause ice-caps to melt, oceans to expand, forests and coral reefs to die and hundreds of millions of people to be forced to migrate. Would we then have a perfect world with no environmental problems? Sadly… ‘no’. Forests would still be destroyed, oceans over-fished, resources over-exploited… Dangerous pesticides and chemicals would still be causing huge problems to ecosystems and human health. People in rich nations would still be consuming enormous amounts of the earth’s resources and living energy-hungry lifestyles, while those in poor countries would struggle just as hard to find food and water… Climate change is simply the most obvious symptom of a much, much deeper sickness… we have got our relationship with the planet all wrong… we have been living in a way that simply cannot continue. We cannot solve this problem simply by better technology and a few hard political choices. It goes deeper than that, right to the heart of who we are. We need to rethink not just how we treat the planet and its creatures, but who on earth we think we are as human beings.”[3]

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was our biblical “duty” to confront climate change.

“Our faiths are inextricably linked on the environment. For many of us, respect for God’s creation also translates into a duty to protect and sustain his first creation, Earth, the planet. Confronting climate change is, in the long run, one of the greatest challenges that we face, and you can see this duty or responsibility laid out in Scriptures clearly, beginning in Genesis. And Muslim-majority countries are among the most vulnerable. Our response to this challenge ought to be rooted in a sense of stewardship of Earth, and for me and for many of us here today, that responsibility comes from God”.[4]

Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in Bible, Sermons, Theology | Comments Off