Tag Archives: Jesus

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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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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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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Jesus and your Confirmation Bias

Bertrand Russell once said, “Most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so.” A recent research study at the University of Iowa, seems to confirm that. Researchers found that people are reluctant to change their minds and adapt their views, even when new information has been presented. This holds true even if they stand to lose money.

The phenomenon is called “confirmation bias” and apparently operates at a subconscious level at all times. The new research confirms numerous previous studies which show people invariably stick to their original viewpoint even when new facts contradict those beliefs.  When faced with facts that don’t fit, we tend to ignore or change them to fit our beliefs.[1]

In our gospel reading this morning, Mark 3:20-35, we see confirmation bias at work. Faced with the same facts, people reach very different conclusions about Jesus. Continue reading

360 Degree Leadership

[vimeo 6668133]

60 Degree Leadership from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

A couple of weekends ago I went a delightful morning sailing on Strangford Lough, the largest inlet in the British Isles. It is a stark, beautiful, open stretch of water, surrounded by the rolling hills of County Down, in Northern Ireland. It was the first time I have been sailing since I was a teenager and learnt all about maritime navigation at school. Coming from a coastal town, I would often listen to the daily BBC shipping forecast the weather conditions around the British coastline. Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger Bank, Humber, Thames, Dover, White, St Catherine’s Head.  Now sitting in the stern of the yacht, waiting for my turn to steer, I was surprised at how sophisticated sailing has become. There was a digital compass and an impressive TV monitor displaying a real-time digital maritime map of Strangford Laugh. There was a depth gauge monitoring the river bed, and there was a speed gauge. There is a lot more to sailing these days than sticking a wet finger in the air, hoisting the sail and letting the wind take you where ever it wills. If you have a specific destination in mind, or want to come back, you have to take account of the numerous forces intent on driving you in other directions. There are the wind, the currents and the tide.  But there are also the weather conditions to consider, forecasts, the time, high tide, the current, the length of day light, the time of year, known underwater hazards, reefs, wrecks and cables. There are safety instructions, emergency procedures, maritime regulations and directions from the coastguards. You must also consider the location, speed, heading and experience of other boat users. You must employ 360 degree vision at all times. Now you may consider that all these dials, charts, regulations, hazards  and threats, take the fun out of sailing, but considering them ensure you will more likely make it to your destination alive. These days you have to be a 360 degree sailor. You need to be mindful of what is above you, what is below you and beside you, to the north, to the south, the east and the west.

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The Welcoming Committee in the Kingdom of Heaven

I defy you to watch this video without tears coming to your eyes. As BabyBlue put it on her blog, “the Lord doesn’t leave us where He finds us, but lifts us up and transforms our lives – therefore is anyone is in Christ they are a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, all things become new (II Cor. 5:17).

She writes, “If we were to write a cardboard testimony, what would it say? What do we want it to say? Do you believe God can do it? Through you? In you? Yes, He can. Yes, He will. All we need to do is ask – that’s all. We simply ask Him to come into our life and make us new. “Come into my life, Lord Jesus, and make me new.” No matter how long, or how short we’ve been following Jesus – or even if we haven’t followed Jesus at all – that prayer changes everything.” I can’t better that so I won’t.

Christmas: God’s Indescribable Gift

Hands up if you have already opened all your Christmas presents. Hands up if you haven’t opened your Christmas presents yet. Hands up if you have only opened some of your Christmas presents. Hands up if you don’t know if you have opened all your Christmas presents yet. In our family we have a tradition that although Father Christmas may leave some small edible gifts in the night by our beds while we are sleeping, we try really hard to restrain ourselves and open our larger gifts after lunch. But why do we give presents at Christmas? Is it because Nicholas gave gifts to a poor family? Is it because the wise men brought gifts to Jesus family? What were the gifts they brought? I like building traditions and so I’d like to suggest that as you share gifts today, or play with the ones you have already opened, you remember the most important gifts of all.

1. God’s Gift of Life

The Apostle Peter speaks of “The gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:7). We are alive today because God created us. If you have held a new born baby in your arms then you know what I mean.

2. God’s Gift of Food and Drink

“That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

There are two very ancient prayers prayed by people of faith for centuries: “Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, who brings bread up from the earth. Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” These two prayers, prayed during the festival of Passover are at the heart of our desire to thank God before we eat. None more so than today when we will probably eat one of the loveliest meals of the year.

If you don’t normally say grace before your meals, why don’t you start today? Thank God for the gift of food and drink.

3. God’s Ultimate Gift of His Son Jesus

Jesus describes himself in this way.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

Jesus’ name means Saviour. And that is what he is and that is what he has done. One sentence in the Bible sums up God’s ultimate gift.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Jesus came at Christmas to that we might be forgiven. He came to make us good. He came that we might go to heaven, saved by his precious blood. So when you open your Christmas gifts today, remember the most important gift God has given you. Jesus.

Have you received God’s gift of Jesus? With Jesus, God has given you many other gifts also.

The Gift of a Relationship
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

The Gift of his Grace
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast… the gift of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, 3:7)

The Gift of Eternal Life
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

The Gift of Righteousness

“how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

The Gift of the Holy Spirit
“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

God has given us everything we need to serve him and become like him.

“Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” (1 Corinthians 1:7)

All of these gifts – a right relationship with God, sins forgiven, eternal life, righteousness, His Holy Spirit – all of these are ours in Christ Jesus.

This is why the Apostle Paul could say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15). Indescribable!  This is what makes Christmas so special.  This should make us want to give gifts and use our gifts to serve others, not just today but every day. As Peter insists:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

This is what will show we are thankful for God’s gifts this Christmas. When we thank God for the gift of life. When we thank God for the gift of food and rink. And above all when we thank God for the gift of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are not sure about all this take a copy of the booklet, “The Real Christmas”. If you would like to find out more, you are invited to a special supper on Thursday 5th February when we start our Christianity Explored course.  But if you are sure and you want to receive God’s gift of Jesus today, there is no better day in the year. The day that we celebrate when Jesus was born the Son of God can be the day you celebrate when you were born again as a child of God. Pray this prayer with me now silently.

“Lord Jesus, I recognise you as God’s greatest gift. Thank you for coming to earth to enable me to know God as my heavenly Father. Thank you for dying on the cross in my place so that I could be forgiven. I repent of my sin and all that has displeased you. Thank you for rising again so that I can have eternal life. Come into my life to be my Saviour and Lord, so that I can be born again. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to help me serve you and please you for the rest of my life. I ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.”

If you prayed the prayer for the first time, then tell someone today. May we all treasure the gifts God has given us in Christ Jesus.  May God bless you and those you love this Christmas and for ever more.

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Super Hero’s Nativity

This morning we have been thinking about heros. Who is your favourite hero? Here’s one of mine. Can you guess his name? “This mighty-muscled, super-powered strongman can single-handedly rescue a little old lady’s cat from a tree while apprehending bank robbers – and along with Elastigirl, a super heroine with amazing stretchability, protect all the citizens of the great city Municiberg. Mr Incredible. I wonder who your favourite super-hero is? Can you guess the three most popular super-heros of all time?  Superman is #3. He was created in 1938. Batman is #2. He was created in 1939. But the youngest of the three super-heros and currently the most popular is Spider-Man, created in 1962.

Why are we so attracted to heros? Why do many people seem to prefer fictional super-heros who save the world from evil? And why do we seem to need new heros like Mr Incredible to replace those who have faded in popularity?  Does a society where evil and injustice is unknown seem like a dream? Can we really imagine a place where crying, and pain, and death and mourning will ever cease?  Is hope to be packed away, like the super-heroes in the movies, along with the Christmas tree and decorations on the 12th night? No, because the long promised hope that became human that first Christmas is more powerful and long lasting than all our super-heros combined.
What have we learnt about Jesus this morning? What makes a real H-E-R-0?

Help the helpless
and defeat the forces of evil
lost sinners
back into God’s universe

Jesus came to:

Rescue God’s world from evil
Redeem God’s children for heaven
Restore God’s rule for ever

The Angels – remind us we have a saving hero
The Shepherds – remind us we have a suffering hero
The Kings – remind us we serve a sovereign hero

And, like the angels, shepherds and kings, the Bible tells us that we who follow Jesus Christ have a purpose driven mission, a calling and destiny more awesome and more captivating than even that of Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl.

Our powers may not be as spectacular but we have been given the Holy Spirit of God who is transforming us into God’s children. That makes us – through the power of God – more than equal to any task, more than conquerors, to use St Paul’s words.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:36-38)

As long as there are hungry ones, lonely ones, poor ones, as long as there are sick people or imprisoned people, abused or marginalised people we have work to do. As long as evil reigns we have a mission to fulfil. As long as injustice exists we have a Gospel to proclaim. As long as people remain captive to sin, we have a Saviour’s love to share. We are not called to “save the day” or overcome the world – Christ has already done it. We are not even called to bring in the new heaven and the new earth –  for that is His role, but we are called to join the family business.

We are to use the talents and gifts God has given us to show a sceptical world that Jesus is the ultimate hero worth following and that through Jesus, God is building his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

And if you are not sure of God’s will for your life, if you need more information about Jesus in order to decide whether to serve him, then talk to one of our staff team after the service. Pick up one of the booklets on the meaning of Christmas from the table, and join us for our next Christianity Explored course starting Thursday 5th February.

Join us next week and every Sunday in 2009 to find out more about the incredible, supernatural life God wants to live in and through you. God’s will to create and redeem will not be stopped. Hope will not be suppressed. Justice will prevail. Peace will come.  If we live in this way there may be ridicule, there will certainly be hardship and possibly even imprisonment – but, like the Incredibles, when at last we lay down our lives we will know we have fulfilled our mission and will be ready to serve our hero in eternity to the glory of God in the highest. Lets pray.

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“I am the Resurrection and the Life” John 11

Are you ready to boldly go? We’re bombarded by images of the young, rich and famous, but Britain’s older celebrities are often more inspirational. A recent body image survey by lifestyle website allaboutyou.com has revealed that of 700 women, aged between 35 and 65, 86% think they are ageing better than their mothers’ generation.  It’s a fact that the older we get the more we think about the future. That’s partly because the older we get, the faster time seems to pass us by. How often do you think about your future – your long term future I mean? Say 100 years time? When you think of eternity what goes through your mind? Do you expect to live for ever? Do you want to? Do you know that you have eternal life? I mean ‘know’.  Really know. Not ‘hope so’. Not even ‘think so’ but ‘know’. Know to the very core of your soul? Do you? If not, then this morning is for you. If you are sure, then my second question to you is this: How do you know that you have eternal life? On what basis? We will answer that question as well. My hope is that not one of us will leave today unsure of our eternal destiny.

Now I can’t give you that assurance. Only God can. Only God’s Spirit can give the assurance that you have eternal life. And that is linked to the other great promise at the heart of the Christian faith, the assurance of sins forgiven. Knowing your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life are base camp on the Christian journey. The past forgiven and the future secure so that in the present, you can live 100% for Jesus. How does God give us that assurance? The Word of God. The Holy Spirit of God applies the Word of God to our hearts and minds and convicts or convinces. Only he can give you the assurance that your sins are forgive and that you have eternal life. In our series on the Great “I am” statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel we have come to John 11 which contains one of the more personal and poignant encounters between Jesus and some of his closest friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus is ill and dies. The sisters send a message to Jesus that Lazarus is unwell and would he please come. But Jesus waits until Lazarus has died and the family give up hope before he decides to arrive.  His first encounter is with Martha. Jesus makes one of the most profound promises ever recorded:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).


Sermon of the Week: “I am the Gate” (John 10:1-10)

Last month in midtown Manhattan, time stood still – literally. After the US debt surpassed $10 trillion, the marquee-sized debt clock in Times Square, which has kept a running tally of the U.S. national debt for nearly 20 years, ran out of digits. Time magazine said, “For a nation already struggling with a bleak economic reality, it was a less-than-reassuring display” With the global slide in share prices this week, it has perhaps become a sign of how the entire world is struggling with the new economic reality. Something more than a change of President in two weeks time is going to be needed. We have got to learn to live and work together more collaboratively and today’s gospel story may give us some clues. Last week I was in Jordan with Church leaders addressing a different kind of crisis. The slow but progressive haemorrhaging of the indigenous Church. They are leaving the Middle East due to attacks by Islamists from Sudan to Iraq, from Afghanistan to Egypt. To flee or to emigrate has always been a natural response to economic necessity as much as religious oppression. And in the light of the last couple of weeks, if you work in the City, maybe you have felt like fleeing also. You may not have thought of emigrating to Australia but perhaps the thought of a simpler, slower lifestyle in the countryside, working on the land or with animals instead of people, is rather appealing.

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