Frans van der Lugt, a 75 year old Jesuit priest, was a well-known figure in the Old City of Homs, respected by many for his solidarity with residents of the rebel-held area under a government siege for nearly two years. He refused to leave insisting that Syria was his home and he wanted to be with its citizens in their time of need. “If you stay, you stay for the struggle” he told the Independent in February. Last Sunday he was abducted and then murdered in his monastery garden. Another clergyman Ziad Hilal, described Frans as “a ray of joy and hope to all those trapped in the Old City.”
If you want to know someone’s heart, observe their final journey. The scale of the devastation in Syria is apocalyptic. The UN estimates there are 9 million refugees. If you want to help, see Embrace the Middle East, Tearfund or World Vision. I was in Tehran this week to publicize a Peace Pilgrimage to Syria taking medical supplies. I hope to welcome one or more of the participants on their way home next Sunday. If you want to know someone’s heart, observe their final journey. In the verses before us today we learn three things about Jesus’ final journey.
“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.’
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
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.
Yasmine 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.
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.
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.
Reading this book may seriously put some at risk – at risk of facing latent prejudices and stereotypes caused by selective reading or biased reporting on the Middle East. I am delighted that Hodder has had the courage to publish Brother Andrew’s book Light Force in Britain, because it could not have been an easy decision. There will be many who will wish this book does not receive the wide readership it justly deserves. Elizabeth Elliott, for example, lost many ‘friends’ when she wrote her similarly controversial book, Furnace of the Lord (published in 1969 also incidentally by Hodder & Stoughton), in which she describes her empathy for the suffering of the Palestinians and her overriding concern for people rather than so called ‘prophecy’.
In his first book, God’s Smuggler, Brother Andrew describes how the Lord provided an open door through the Iron Curtain enabling Western Christians to sustain and equip the suffering Church in Eastern Europe to withstand the onslaught of atheistic Communism. Eventually, however, he became too well known, a marked man. Brother Andrew was therefore led to focus his ministry on supporting another persecuted Church, this time in the Middle East, caught between Jewish Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism.
While many have succumbed to the temptation to make an all too brief visit and write yet another superficial account of their impressions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Brother Andrew has waited 35 years to publish his diary, revealing with great candour, his many unpublicized visits to strengthen the suffering Church.
My dear Bishop Christopher,
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
I am encouraged to write and share my heart with you because I know your graciousness, fairness and great pastoral heart so I am writing to you in support of my friend Revd Dr Stephen Sizer to express my concern that the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) complaint brought against him has not yet been resolved. I understand that this complaint, brought by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has been hanging over Stephen for almost a year. This has undoubtedly caused him considerable stress, especially given the serious nature of the complaint, and he has also been obliged to cover legal fees running to several thousands of pounds. Justice would surely demand that this complaint is dealt with speedily and is not allowed to drag on any longer. Stephen shared with me that you have been pastorally very supportive of him.
I met Stephen in Egypt on several occasions. When I have heard him talk or translated for him on the subject of Christian Zionism he has always spoken with great Biblical insight and sensitivity on this important but controversial topic. Indeed, we are pleased to have been able to publish his books in Arabic through our Anglican Publishing House and make them more widely available in the Middle East.
I am quite clear in my own mind that Stephen is not anti-Semitic, nor has he said or written anything that could possibly be construed to be anti-Semitic. Thus the central thrust of the Board of Deputies’ complaint – that Stephen has made anti-Semitic statements and/or republished the anti-Semitic sentiment of others –simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
I would appeal to you to dismiss the CDM complaint, which from my perspective – and indeed the perspective of many others – has no basis whatsoever. This will allow Stephen to concentrate on his ministry in Virginia Water, where he is a much-loved pastor, and on his wider ministry, including his prophetic writings and balanced teaching on Christian Zionism and the biblical call to justice, peace and reconciliation, which we all work for in the Anglican Communion.
Please know that this letter comes with my heartfelt prayers that you will act wisely and choose the course of justice.
May the Lord bless you!
+ Mouneer Egypt
The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis
Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
President Bishop of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East
nb. This letter was written before the conciliation process was concluded and permission for its publication was given by both + Mouneer Anis and + Christopher Hill.
I am very happy to announce that following meetings with conciliators appointed by the Bishop of Guildford, the complaint brought against me by the Board of Deputies of British Jews has been resolved on terms set out in the Conciliation Agreement.
Whilst pleased that this matter is now concluded, I am saddened that it has taken so long to reach this stage. Towards the end of 2011, concerns were raised about an article on my Facebook page which linked to a website named “the Ugly Truth.” In recognition of those concerns, I offered to meet leaders of the Jewish community but this offer was never taken up. Instead, in October 2012, Mr Arkush on behalf of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, made a formal complaint against me alleging “a clear and consistent pattern” of misconduct “unbecoming or inappropriate to the office a work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.
The Board of Deputies also took the unprecedented step of publishing it in full on their website. I refrained from publishing my formal Response until the complaint was resolved. I am therefore doing so today.
The complaint alleged that I had made anti-Semitic statements and had deliberately introduced my readers to anti-Semitic websites. I have always maintained that these allegations were untrue and am confident that I would have been vindicated had I been forced to contest them at a clergy disciplinary tribunal. That said, I am pleased that these issues have sensibly been resolved.
As many will be aware, I have long been an enthusiastic user of new media. The internet allows us to communicate with a mass audience at the press of a button, but with it comes the risk that we might publish our thoughts without adequately reflecting on our choice of words or how they might be interpreted. I will do all I can to guard against this risk in the future. Whilst the web is a rich source of reference, it also contains a great deal of material with which one would not wish to be associated. It is important that those using new media to conduct political debate ensure that they do not inadvertently associate them with such material. It is for this reason that I have undertaken to take greater care over links in the future. In addition, my blog now contains a disclaimer identical to that which appears on the Board of Deputies’ Fair Play website.
It is my sincere wish that disputes such as this will be avoided in the future. The conciliation agreement includes a number of principles that we agree those engaged in political debate should follow. They emphasize that free speech does not cease to be legitimate simply because it might cause offence to some, whilst at the same time affirming that care and sensitivity should be employed in the use of language. As someone who has been virulently attacked in the past for my political and theological views, I will do my best to abide by these principles, but my hope is that my critics will do so too.
I care passionately about the safety of the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist within internationally agreed borders. I have always opposed racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial as well as Islamophobia and the denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination and will continue to do so.
Jesus calls his followers to be peacemakers and to fulfil a ministry of reconciliation. The New Testament reinforces the mandate of the Jewish prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
Revd Dr Stephen Sizer
Christ Church, Virginia Water
23rd October 2013
Jeremy Moodey of Embrace the Middle East writes “Stephen … has an outstanding legal bill of almost £4,000 as he has sought to respond to the BoD’s bullying. The defence fund is in my name, audited by Steve Leah. Please give what you can to support the right of free speech.”
Sort Code: 08-93-00, account no 80407856.
For international money transfers, the additional details are:
Co-op Bank SWIFT number CP BK GB 22.
Bank’s head office address: The Co-operative Bank PLC, 1 Balloon Street, Manchester, M60 4EP.
I recently attended a lunch in the House of Commons to honour the work of Elam. During the meal, Magda, a young Christian lady from Iran shared how she had been lured into a marriage with a man pretending to be a Christian. When he divorced her and took their 2 year old daughter, Magda went to the court to gain custody. According to the Iranian constitution a little girl can stay with her mother up to the age of 9. But the judge told Magda that the law did not apply in her case.
“The judge told me: ‘There’s only one way you can take custody of your daughter: If you come back to Islam and recant your Christian faith, we will give you your daughter.’ My lawyer was very happy. He urged me to accept the court offer and pretend I was not a Christian. It was a nightmare moment. On the one hand I really loved my daughter and wanted to get her back at all costs, but on the other hand I loved Jesus and had felt His living presence with me throughout my life. There was no way I could bring myself to deny Jesus. Deep in my heart, I felt peace that God was in charge. During those tense moments, I felt as if Jesus was waiting for my answer. Would I choose Him over my daughter? I told the judge that I would never deny Jesus. So the court ruled in favour of my husband and took my daughter away from me. This was the darkest chapter of my life. I missed my daughter terribly. I spent my days smelling her clothes, thinking of what she might be doing, and weeping. I became more isolated and was easily offended. I felt wronged and became depressed. I spent hours alone in my room crying.”
What would you have done? What will you do if you are faced with that choice in the future? Deny Jesus or lose your children? Deny Jesus or lose your job? Deny Jesus or go to prison? Deny Jesus or lose your life? What is the wise thing to do? The Bible was given to make us wise. The Book of Proverbs gives us the key that unlocks wisdom:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7)
The Bible divides the world in two: Those who fear the Lord, and fools who do not. A fool is not just someone who is a couple bricks short of a load, or is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. The Bible defines a fool as someone who doesn’t follow God’s ways. Someone who knows the right thing to do but instead does the opposite, or simply does nothing. Proverbs says that the “complacency of fools will destroy them.” (Proverbs 1:32).
In the New Testament, the contrast is made between the believer and unbeliever, between those walking in the light and those walking in darkness, between those following Jesus and those ignoring Jesus.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Wisdom doesn’t come with age either. As the saying goes, “We can only be young once, but we can be immature indefinitely.” What will you pay to get wisdom?
“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7)
What sacrifice will you make to become wise? “For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” (Proverbs 8:11)
Do you feel Magda paid too high a price? Was she wise or foolish? We make decisions every day, many trivial, some significant and a few life-changing. But do we choose wisely? How can we choose wisely?
So how did Magda respond to the Court taking her daughter way from her? In her own words:
“I was forced out of my isolation by one of the worst tragedies in our history: the earthquake in the city of Bam in southern Iran. I saw horrible scenes of devastation on TV: people wailing and mourning the loss of their loved ones. I could easily identify with them, as I was also mourning the loss of my beloved daughter. One day, a friend of mine who is now in prison for his Christian faith, called me and asked me to work with him and others helping the people of Bam.
I told my Christian friend that I couldn’t be of any help, thinking that if I had been a good mother God would have let me take care of my own child. After his telephone call, my mother came to my room. She said: ‘I want to tell you something: When you trusted God in the court and did not deny Jesus, God was with you. He is also with you now and has not abandoned you. Put your trust in Him, and like Moses’ mother, commit your daughter to the caring hands of God. He will take care of your daughter and will guide her in the river of life, and one day He will bring her back to you.’
My mother’s words greatly encouraged me, and I decided to call my friend and let him know I would be coming to help. I stayed in the city of Bam for one year, and while helping the orphaned children, God taught me many valuable lessons. He did wonderful miracles in my life, the most important of which was that He brought me to believe I am a valuable instrument in the hands of God.
He allowed me to shower my motherly love on children who had not only lost their mothers, but their whole families. We had the opportunity to sing Christian songs for them and tell them about God’s love for them. And despite the potential dangers, we also had the opportunity to pray with the people of Bam and tell them about Jesus. I was mother to many children, and God was abundantly making up for the dark days of my life. God gave me a chance to re-discover myself and my talents, and realize that I can use my talents for His glory. Most important of all, He put songs of joy and gratitude on my lips, things that had been absent from my lips for a long time.”
Read more of Magda’s story here
At least one in four American Christians surveyed recently by Christianity Today magazine said that they believe it is their biblical responsibility to support the nation of Israel. This view is known as Christian Zionism. The Pew Research Center put the figure at 63 per cent among white evangelicals. Christian Zionism is pervasive within mainline American evangelical, charismatic and independent denominations including the Assemblies of God, Pentecostals and Southern Baptists, as well as many of the independent mega-churches. It is less prevalent within the historic denominations, which show a greater respect for the work of the United Nations, support for human rights, the rule of international law and empathy with the Palestinians.
The origins of the movement can be traced to the early 19th century when a group of eccentric British Christian leaders began to lobby for Jewish restoration to Palestine as a necessary precondition for the return of Christ. The movement gained traction from the middle of the 19th century when Palestine became strategic to British, French and German colonial interests in the Middle East. Proto-Christian Zionism therefore preceded Jewish Zionism by more than 50 years. Some of Theodore Herzl’s strongest advocates were Christian clergy.
Christian Zionism as a modern theological and political movement embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism. It has become deeply detrimental to a just peace between Palestine and Israel. It propagates a worldview in which the Christian message is reduced to an ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.