Tag Archives: Stephen Sizer

Jonah the Reluctant Prophet

Jonah the Reluctant Prophet: Jonah 2 from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

There are two ways to learn a lesson: the hard way and the easy way. In this sermon we consider how Jonah had to learn his lesson the hard way – inside a great fish – so that we can learn our lesson the easy way.

We will explore where, what and why Jonah prayed.

To read the sermon see here

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The Floodgates of Heaven: Malachi 3:6-12

The Floodgates of Heaven: Malachi 3 from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

In Malachi 3 we are introduced to the Floodgates of Heaven. There is an unmistakable connection in Scripture between spiritual growth and material values. Israel’s giving patterns were a consistent thermometer of the nation’s inner spiritual condition. When the Israelites’ hearts were kindled with a spirit of worship to God, they overflowed with contagious expressions of generosity. But when Israel’s hearts turned inward to ingratitude, complaint and idolatry, their hands withheld. And the more their hands withheld, the more their hearts turned away from God.

With their hearts went their wallets. Malachi challenges their behavior and explains how God’s blessings are experienced. If we want to experience God’s blessing we must do three things.

1. We must turn back to God (3:6-7)
2. We must stop robbing God (3:8-9)
3. We must start trusting God (3:10-12)

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Melanie Phillips: Beware The New Axis of Evangelicals and Islamists

Melanie Phillips’ article “Beware the New Axis of Evangelicals and Islamists” published in the Spectator last week is libellous. It contains untruthful statements about me which may injure my reputation or standing in the community.

I have never said that I wish Israel, in her words, “to be destroyed” or to “disappear just as did the apartheid regime in South Africa.” I have never believed this and categorically reject any position that threatens the integrity of Israel as a sovereign nation.

On the contrary I have repeatedly stated in writing (for example here, here and here) that I wish to see a safe and secure Israel with internationally recognised borders, alongside a sovereign, viable, independent Palestine.

I have, however, spoken out against Holocaust denial as well as religious extremism. I have also highlighted British involvement in saving Jewish people from the Nazi Holocaust. I have specifically challenged Christians who see nothing incompatible with membership of the BNP.

Far from seeking to “appease radical Islam”, I have criticised Islamist attacks against Christians in Iraq here and here, as well as in Afghanistan. I have challenged Iran’s human right’s record here and here and commended an important book about the Church in Iran here.

I have never knowingly, to use her words, “given interviews to, endorsed or forwarded material from American white supremists and Holocaust deniers”. My publisher in the USA, InterVarsity Press, occasionally arrange TV and radio interviews for me with Christian stations to promote my books. I trust their judgement.

On her use of the term “islamofacism“, I subscribe to the view of a leading authority on Fascism, Walter Laqueur, who concluded that “Islamic fascism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, each in its way, are imprecise terms we could well do without but it is doubtful whether they can be removed from our political lexicon.” The best piece of writing I have seen recently on “Radical Islam” is by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek.

I keep an extensive and growing mailing list and am no more responsible that Melanie Phillips is for how others make use of material I write, or forward, which is invariably from mainstream newspapers and journals. Unlike those who choose to use anonymous blogs and websites to express their opinions, I have made my own views plain and my external ministry public.

“we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

To clarify my position and to anticipate such criticisms, in my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers?, I wrote the following:

“It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited anti-Semitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples and oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognised by the international community and agreed with her neighbours. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself.”

I endorse the position taken by the Heads of Churches in Israel regarding the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Others such as former US President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have made comparisons between Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories and South Africa under apartheid.

I do wish to see the present illegal occupation of Gaza, the Golan and the West Bank “disappear”, but only as a result of the peaceful implementation of all relevant UN Resolutions, the Roadmap to Peace previously agreed by the US, EU, Russia and UN in April 2003, and Annapolis Agreement of November 2007 and Quartet Statement of December 2008.

I have a high regard for Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and the courageous stand he has taken on inter-faith as well as ecclesiastical issues. Indeed I helped organise and promote his recent visit to Guildford Diocese.

I also deeply regret hearing that Patrick Sookhdeo has received a death threat as a result of writing his recent book, Global Jihad. Unfortunately, it is increasingly common. I have too. Veiled threats even feature on pro-Zionist Christian websites that seem to want me dead. Another example on the same website has the author lament, “Unfortunately (in my opinion) we no longer publicly and immediately stone false prophets to death.” then a few sentences later asserts, “One of the latest in a very long line of succession is a false teacher by the name of Stephen Sizer.” Thankfully, the police take these threats seriously and have arranged a measure of additional protection for my family also.

Back to Melanie Phillips. Her inflammatory alleagations about my involvement in interfaith conferences or TV programmes, alongside Jewish or Islamic leaders, is a tried and tested method intended to alienate, isolate and silence the views of those deemed critical of her own. Prior knowledge of, or agreement with, the views of others invited onto radio or TV programmes or conference platforms is not a significant criteria I use to decide whether to participate. Gaining a hearing for an explicitly Christian perspective committed to peacemaking and non-violence is.

What saddened me most, however, about Melanie Phillips’ article, were her concluding remarks criticising the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England. This is what she wrote:

“Many will be deeply shocked that the Church of England harbours individuals with such attitudes. But the church hierarchy is unlikely to act against them. Extreme hostility towards Israel is the default position among bishops and archbishops; while the establishment line is to reach out towards Islam in an attempt to accommodate and appease it. With Christians around the world suffering forced conversion, ethnic cleansing and murder at Islamist hands, the church utters not a word of protest. Instead, inter-faith dialogue is the order of the day…”

I have been a Christian minister for just short of 30 years but have yet to meet a priest, let alone a Bishop or Archbishop who displays, “extreme hostility towards Israel” or who wishes to “accommodate and appease” Islam. Just the reverse. While there is clearly a spectrum of opinion on the best way to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict within the House of Bishops, and the most appropriate way to present the good news of Jesus Christ in a multi-faith context, they are nevertheless united in opposing racism and religious intolerance whether directed toward Jewish people or Muslims.

One has to ask what has motivated her to compose such a mendacious and libellous caricature of Christians within the Church of England concerned for justice and peace in the Middle East? Is it to deflect attention from Israel’s recent wanton killing spree in Gaza? Or was it written out of frustration at the decision of the Church of England Synod to divest its shares in Caterpillar? Or just part of the wider Zionist lobby targetting Barak Obama’s new Administration? Or is it perhaps a precursor to an imminent pre-emptive attack against Iran? Lets hope not otherwise it won’t be the libel or calumny we are debating but whether her friends who seem anxious for Armageddon are right after all.

For answers – check out Melanie’s Wiki entry – that bastion of ‘objectivity’ and truth. It alleges,

“Phillips strongly defends Israel and its actions. She argues the Palestinians are an “artificial” people who can be collectively punished for acts of terrorism by Islamist terrorists because they are “a terrorist population”. She believes that while “individual Palestinians may deserve compassion, their cause amounts to Holocaust denial as a national project”.[12] She has repeatedly claimed that footage of those injured in Israeli attacks on Palestinian areas has been “fabricated/faked”.[13][14]

She frequently accuses Israel’s critics (including many Jews) of being motivated by anti-Semitism. She has described the paper “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as a “particularly ripe example of the ‘global Zionist conspiracy’ libel” and expressed her astonishment at what she calls “the fundamental misrepresentations and distortions in the paper”.[15]

In a recent article, she criticised the membership and leadership of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in Britain, and specifically the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, accusing them of antisemitism because of remarks made by the Archbishop about the plight of Bethlehem Christians under Israeli occupation; another factor was an opinion poll showing that the majority of Anglicans were opposed to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The article ended with a condemnation of what she sees as the churches’ failure to criticise the President of Iran’s desire to “destroy Israel”,[16] and that “the churches in Britain are not only silent about the genocidal ravings emanating from Iran but are themselves helping pave the way for a second Holocaust“.[17]

I think its time Melanie came back to church and stopped telling porkies.

For the official response from the Church of England – see here.

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The Exalted Christ: Philippians 2:8-13

A teenager had just got his driving licence. He asked his father, if they could discuss the use of the car. His father took him to his study and said to him, “I’ll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up, study your Scriptures a little and get your hair cut and we’ll talk about it.” After about a month the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss use of the car. They again went to the father’s study where his father said, “Son, I’ve been real proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you’ve studied your Scriptures diligently, but you didn’t get your hair cut!” The young man waited and minute and replied, “You know Dad, I’ve been thinking about that. Samson had long hair; Moses had long hair, why even Jesus had long hair….” To which his father replied….”Yes, and they walked every where they went!”

I think we would agree that God wants us all to grow. It’s a no-brainer. But have you noticed how different the word “grow” sounds when someone adds that little word “up”? “Grow up” It has negative connotations. It implies a degree of immaturity. It suggests we are not there yet. And that is the point. We are not there yet. We have not arrived. There is work to do, growing up. The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:1 and 5, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2:1, 5)

Because we have some way to go, in our reading today, Paul introduces another “Therefore”. Verse 12, “Therefore… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Our heavenly Father’s goal is that we mature and become like Jesus Christ. But spiritual growth is not automatic. It takes time and energy. We must want to grow up and we must persevere in growing. Discipleship is another word to describe growing up or working out our salvation. Salvation is actually three dimensional. It involves my past, my present and my future. Let me illustrate this…

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The Day the Earth Stood Still: Jesus, Klaatu and Osama Bin Laden

Jesus, Klaatu and Osama Bin Laden
“Once upon a time, a supernatural being, who so loved the world, took on our DNA and became one of us. He walked among us, taught us, cared for us, walked on water, brought one of us back from the dead, and ascended into the heavens. You know the story well. And his name was Klaatu. Klaatu? Well, yes. He is the central figure in the box office hit this Christmas in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Its a remake of the 1951 classic, which was one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Klaatu is an alien who has come to earth in an attempt to save the planet—ostensibly from itself (on the brink of war in the 1951 original, and rolling toward environmental catastrophe in 2008). A representative of an alien race that went through drastic evolution to survive its own climate change, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) comes to Earth to assess whether humanity can prevent the environmental damage they have inflicted on their own planet. Klaatu himself already has a negative opinion of humans, and in the end the aliens decide to intervene pre-emptively—without any warning—and wipe out human civilization so that all the other species on our planet can survive.  If you have seen the film or just the trailers, then you know that swarms of microscopic beings—insects, robots, or both—are sent forth to bring about the apocalypse, shredding everything from giant sports stadiums to moving vehicles.[1]

Peter T. Chattaway observes, “One of the fascinating things about the original film is that Klaatu was such an obvious Christ-figure—he went by the name Carpenter when he mingled among regular people, he died and came back to life, and he professed a belief in the “Almighty Spirit.”

In the remake, the religious parallels are more subdued: Klaatu raises someone else from the dead, after killing him, but never dies himself; he never goes by the name Carpenter; and he talks of how “the universe” transforms people when they die. In the original film, Klaatu represented a certain ideal, a vision of what we humans could become, and our survival depended on becoming more like him. In the remake, on the other hand, our survival depends on bringing the alien down to our level and making him more like us. That may or may not have theological significance, but it does say something about how our culture has changed over the last five decades.”[2]

Kenneth Chan writes, “The verdict? The human race is destructive. The sentence? The human race will be terminated. “If the earth dies, humans die. If humans die, the earth lives,” Klaatu says in one scene. Although some will see a green agenda in the remake, the message goes deeper than that. It’s not just about our destructiveness toward the Earth, but toward one another. Is the human race without hope? This is what Klaatu believes after receiving his colleagues’ report.  I won’t spoil it by giving more of the plot away.[3]

The movie does help us understand why a Holy God could and one day will cleanse this world of evil.[4] Klaatu is not a type of Jesus Christ. He is fallible and fallen. But he is representative of those who believe it is their destiny to use violence to bring about God’s judgement. Can you think of anyone who believes they have a divine mandate to purify this world of evil and destroy all infidels? The man President George Bush refers to as “the evil one”. The one the newspapers call the “CEO of Terror Incorporated.” The mastermind behind the worst terrorist attacks in recent history – monstrous crimes of premeditated mass murder – Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam in 1998, New York and  Washington in 2001, Madrid 2004, London 2005, Algiers 2007,  probably Mumbai 2008.

If Bin Laden represents the most wanted man in the world what would Jesus say to him tonight? If we could listen in on a one to one between Jesus and Osama bin Laden this Christmas, what would Jesus say?

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World Peace : Isaiah 9:1-7

If you were the real Father Christmas and you happened to visit a few hundred thousand churches today on a pre-Christmas dry run, I suspect you would find a common theme running through many sermons preached this morning.

Marc Lawrence and Katie Ford wrote one of my all time favourite films Miss Congeniality. It’s about an FBI agent, played by Sandra Bullock, who must go undercover in the Miss United States beauty pageant to prevent a group of terrorists from bombing the event. It has some classic lines – like when Stan Fields asks Miss Rhode Island, “please describe your idea of a perfect date”. She replies, “That’s a tough one. I would have to say April 25th. Because it’s not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket”.  Or when Miss New Jersey is asked why it is called  “The Garden State”? Gracie Hart replies, “Because “Oil and Petrochemical Refinery State” wouldn’t fit on a license plate?” Each of the contestants is asked the same final question “what is the one most important thing our society needs?” They all reply “world peace” and the crowd cheers ecstatically. But when Sandra Bullock the undercover FBI agent is asked she replies, “That would be… harsher punishment for parole violators.” And then after a long pause, she adds, “And world peace!” and the crowd cheers ecstatically. What does this world need most?

“World Peace” will be a common, predictable message we will hear on the TV and radio, in charity adverts and from pulpits over the next couple of weeks. The question is – how to achieve it? I believe the UN Declaration of Human Rights to be the finest and most important document devised by mankind. But human words will not bring about peace on earth. I support the humanitarian work of the United Nations wholeheartedly, but the UN will never achieve world peace through passing resolutions and by intervening with peace keeping forces.

This week the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Church leaders in the UK called for military intervention to stop the killing in the Congo. I support that call, and similar initiatives in Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Palestine, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Columbia, and a hundred other places in our world where people are hurting one another, but the UN cannot resolve the underlining causes. That is because hunger, ignorance, poverty and disease are the symptoms not the causes.

Only one person can bring world peace and one day he will. Jesus Christ. Among his people, among those who recognise him, who own him, who submit to him, he serve him, we can experience a foretaste of that peace he will most surely bring one day soon.  Please turn with me to Isaiah 9:1-7 and let us meet him, let us learn from his names and learn of his purposes for us, for our families, for our world and for the future.

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My Top 5 Books on Social Justice: Tony Campolo in Christianity Today


Rich Christians in An Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity Ron Sider

Continues to make the evangelical community aware of what the Bible says about our responsibilities to the poor, and calls Christians to do something about it.

Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? Stephen Sizer

A comprehensive survey describing how Christians have embraced a theological perspective that has encouraged justice for Jews, but has also led to the oppression of Palestinian people and extreme hostility between Christians and Muslims worldwide

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical Shane Claiborne

If you want to get a glimpse of what radical obedience looks like when lived out by a Red-Letter Christian, then this book is a must.

God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It Jim Wallis

A New York Times bestselling book offering an alternative to the polarizing politics promoted by many in the religious culture wars. Wallis helps us find unity with a politics that addresses the needs of the poor and oppressed.

The Prophets Abraham J Heschel

Provides rich insights from the Hebrew prophets as they empathized with the pathos that God shows upon seeing the oppression of the poor.

See Christianity Today

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John 15:1-17 “I am the Vine”

“Jacob came for a bride from his own people. He desired Rachel, but he did not get Rachel at first, but Leah. After he learned to love Leah as much as he did Rachel, he got Rachel as well. In the beginning Leah had all the babies, her womb was most fruitful. But then Rachel conceives. Israel shall be a fruitful vine. Jesus came for Israel. He wanted to marry Israel, but He did not get Israel. He ends up with the bride He did not desire at first, the Gentile church. After He learns to love the Gentile church, then He gets Israel. In the beginning, the church has all the babies. But in the end, Israel becomes a fruitful vine.” (Jacob Prasch).

What is the relationship between Israel and the Church? Does God have one ‘chosen people’ or two? What is the relationship between God and his people? Who is the fruitful vine?

These were the subjects addressed at a conference in Johannesburg, I attended earlier this month. It was sponsored by Messianic Good News, an organisation dedicated to take the good news of Jesus to Jewish people. It was a great encouragement to spend a week with Jews who love Jesus and who have a passion to make him known within the Jewish community.  I hope we can build on this relationship and support their work in the future. Following our day with Chawkat Moucarry looking at Islam earlier in the year, and with Juge Ram on Hinduism and Sikhism yesterday, I hope that early next year we can arrange a teaching day on Judaism and learn how to share our faith with Jewish people.

Please turn with me to John 15 and let us examine the meaning of this image of the vine and the branches.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2)

Jesus makes three main assertions: God the Father is the Vineyard Owner. God the Son is the Vine. God’s People who remain and bear fruit are the Branches.

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“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14

Hands up if you own one of these? (a GPS unit). If so, do you  remember what life was like before you had one? I do. Painful. The low point for me came the day I got lost in Bedford. I had gone there for a meeting and forgot the location of the road. After a fruitless half an hour trying to find my way, I was ready to give up and drive home. Then James Hughes, the former curate, phoned. “Where are you” he said. “I don’t know” I replied.

“Let me help you” and he then proceeded to open up his computer which had street maps of England. Having identified the name of the road I was parked in and the name of the road I was heading for, he literally talked me there road by road, on my hands free phone, of course. That is what made me realize I needed a GPS. I never leave home without Sean Connery now  – or at least a digitized version of Sean Connery’s voice. You know when you have arrived because he says “shaken not stirred”.

Do you know how GPS works?  You turn it on and type in the post code. No, that is not what I mean. Do you know how it works? “When people talk about “a GPS,” they usually mean a GPS receiver. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is actually a constellation of 27 Earth-orbiting satellites (24 in operation and three extras in case one fails). The U.S. military developed and implemented this satellite network as a military navigation system, but soon opened it up to everybody else.

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I am the Light of the Word: This week’s sermon

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2). That pretty much sums up the news this week doesn’t it? Formless, empty and with lots of darkness. Although we are two weeks away from the end of European Summer Time, it seems the sun went away a long time ago. The nights are drawing in and the days shorter. But its not shorter days that has made this week seem particularly dark. Robert Peston, the BBC’s business analyst summed up the decision of the government on Wednesday to invest a cool £500 billion in the UK banking sector, with the understated heading, “Armageddon Avoided”.

In his words, “there’s been a co-ordinated global attempt to prop up the financial system and save individual economies from a deep dark recession.” It will take a while before we know whether we have avoided a ‘deep dark recession’ or just a short grey one. £500 billion is a lot of money. Considerably more than even the US government has provided for its own banking sector. On Wednesday, the US treasury secretary Henry Paulson warned that some US banks will still fail despite the $700bn government rescue package to shore up the financial system. Talking to some of you who work in the City, it seems there will be a few more sleepless nights ahead. What I find surprising is how few analysts predicted the global impact of the failure of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis. One might say, in the words of Genesis 1:2, “darkness was over the surface of the…” city. But the verse goes on to say, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3). It was on a similarly dark day that Jesus stood up in the Temple in Jerusalem and cried out, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

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