Christian Today Digest – March 2017

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Contents

Christian Today website articles

Sometimes Christian Today also includes an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather one that has been included for readers to pray about.

Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material selected by the editor at Christian Today and were first published recently on www.christiantoday.com.

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How a Christian hospital in Iraq is saving ISIS fighters’ lives

by James Macintyre

The President of Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham, has claimed that the humanitarian aid organisation is helping to save the lives of ‘badly injured’ Islamic State fighters outside Mosul in Iraq.

The leading evangelical wrote on Facebook that medical staff at the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital just miles outside of the war-torn city have extended compassionate care to not only residents and injured Iraq-led coalition soldiers but also ISIS jihadists.

Graham’s post came in defence of President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order issued on January 27 that suspends refugee resettlement for 120 days, refugee resettlement from Syria indefinitely and temporarily halts travel of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.

Earlier in February, amid widespread opposition to the order – including from a range of Christian campaigners – it was blocked by a federal judge.

“At Samaritan’s Purse we work in over 100 countries and have worked in most of those on the banned list, so I feel I have something to say about this issue,” Graham wrote. “For example, right now with our Emergency Field Trauma Hospital outside Mosul, Iraq, we are treating Muslims, wounded civilians — men, women, and children — many of whom were shot by ISIS snipers as they fled Mosul.

“At the same time, we are treating badly wounded ISIS fighters,” he added. “Our medical teams take them in, perform surgery, bind up their wounds, and give everyone the same compassionate, Christian care — helping them in Jesus’ Name.”

The Samaritan’s Purse field hospital opened in early January about six miles (10 kilometres) outside Mosul and became the closest medical facility to the front lines of the coalition’s efforts to remove ISIS from its Iraqi stronghold.

While the coalition has cleared most of eastern Mosul, the battle rages on in the western part of the city.

There is so much need for medical aid that within the hospital’s first few days of operation it had treated about 100 patients suffering from life-threatening injuries, according to The Christian Post.

The hospital’s director, Dr Elliott Tenpenny told The Christian Post last month that the hospital plans to stay open for at least six months.

“We live and work in a difficult place,” she said. “You wake up and go to sleep with the sound of artillery and gunfire around but we are protected by our security that is here. There is no specific incident that has made me fearful, but we are sitting close to a war zone and we hear the war going on behind us and we know what the people are going through in those areas.”

In his post, Graham added: “We are working to help thousands of refugees every day in different countries. Like the Good Samaritan Jesus told about in the Bible, we help those who have been hurt along life’s road. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to make the borders of our own country secure. We shouldn’t be naïve. Just because we give medical care to ISIS fighters doesn’t mean I would want to allow any one of them to immigrate to the US. That would be crazy. Taking time to vet who we’re allowing to enter America isn’t too much to ask – we need to know who they are.

“God does tell us to help the stranger and those in need; but God doesn’t tell us to expose our cities, homes, and lives to hostile people. Remember, Jerusalem had walls and gates, and when they had a threat, the gates were closed. Many Muslim groups have made no secret of their deep and deadly hatred for this country.’

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If I tell you I’m praying for you, might I be lying?

by Martin Saunders

I do it almost every day. Friends tell me about difficult situations they’re going through, challenging items on their to-do list, struggles with physical illness or problems weighing on their mind, and my response is always the same. It’s instinctive, a well-intentioned spiritual knee-jerk: “I’ll be praying for you.”

It’s a nice thing to hear, isn’t it? The thought that in your moment of need, someone else might be standing alongside you, interceding on your behalf; petitioning the all-powerful creator of the heavens to intervene and make things better. I guess there’s something therapeutic even in believing that a friend cares enough to remember you in their prayers. The people I make that promise to must think I’m a neat guy.

With so many of my social interactions taking place digitally now, I’ll also make similar vows via social media. It’s often where we’ve become accustomed to sharing our woes – the serious ones, and the ones we should frankly get over before even wasting the time to type them out – and so again when I read them, I’ve developed a habit of making that encouraging promise. #Praying.

Except here’s the ugly truth: most of the times I tell people I’ll be praying for them, I never actually get around to it.

I have the intention – always – to take this problem or concern to God directly; to take some time out to ask for his intervention. Because I absolutely believe – at least intellectually – in the power of prayer. Practically though, my actions belie a lack of commitment to that belief. I get distracted by the busyness of the day. I forget. I mean to actually pray, but never actually get around to it. It’s like the prayer version of online ‘slacktivism’; I trick my brain into thinking that by promising to pray, the act itself is already completed.

I realise I am way out on a limb here – not least among all those people to whom I’ve confidently offered prayer support in the past. But I have a hunch that it may not just be me. I figure that in fact, a lot of the offers of prayer which fly around our relationships and our online interactions never actually translate into genuine conversations with the almighty. I don’t think any of us does it on purpose, and in fact, I think we all wish it wasn’t the case.

Promising to pray for each other is the point where our dedication to spiritual discipline and commitment to encouraging and standing alongside our friends come into direct conflict with the pace and distraction of modern life. Sadly, our busyness, and the relentlessness and variety of our interactions can win out over the quieter, more reflective, more isolated practice of prayer.

Perhaps Jesus saw this coming. Maybe this is one of the reasons why he tells us: “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen (Matthew 6 v 6).” He doesn’t just tell us to do our praying in secret, rather than boasting about it in public, because we might otherwise become pious; he also wants to ensure that we actually get around to doing it.

So with that in mind – and having decided to publicly shame myself in this display of radical honesty – I’ve determined to take two practical steps to correct the dirty little secret of my personal prayer life. If this confession resonates with you at all, perhaps you might feel inspired to do the same.

First, I’m going to commit to praying on the spot much more often. When someone tells me something that inspires that (actually pretty virtuous) knee jerk reaction of promising prayer, I’m going to pray right there, right then – either while I’m with them, or immediately afterwards. And second, I’m going to keep a little journal with me, writing down everything I’ve been asked or offered to pray for and then reviewing it every day when I actually do take time out to seek God.

I believe in the power of prayer. I take Jesus at his word when he says: “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7 v 7).” But that transaction involves some work on my part – the door only opens when you knock on it. When I promise to pray for my friends, but stop at that promise, it’s as if I’ve walked up to that door, talked loudly in front of it, and then walked away. Ultimately, I can’t expect God to answer prayers that I never actually got around to praying.

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Church buildings are criminally underused. It’s time to throw open the doors

by Andy Walton

Church buildings come in all shapes and sizes. From the dramatic Gothic Cathedral to the humble pre-fab chapel, church buildings are, more often than not, at the heart of their communities.

Even churches which don’t own their own buildings often find themselves meeting in places right in the heart of where people live – schools, community centres and even buildings which belong to other churches.

Because of our Christian history, churches often have prime locations – in city centres, in the heart of residential areas, alongside other key civic institutions such as town halls and schools.

This makes it all the more disappointing to learn that buildings belonging to churches are lying unused for much of the week. A new report from the Centre For Theology & Community (for whom I have worked) has researched how much are buildings are actually in use. Assets Not Burdens: Using Church property to accelerate mission takes a snapshot of one London borough, Islington, and looks into how church buildings from all denominations are used.

It’s quite discouraging to learn the bare statistics. Church halls are empty 57 per cent of the week, church worship spaces are empty 69 per cent of the week and church meeting rooms are empty 75 per cent of the week. This is disappointing on a number of levels.

First, it means that the chance of us having interactions with people from the local area are low. Second, it means that more often than not, people will see a closed or even locked door on a church building. Third, it means we’re missing out on income which could be ploughed back into mission.

So, what’s going on here? Why aren’t more of our churches flinging wide the doors and welcoming in community groups, charities and small businesses to use their spaces? Well, many of them are. The report acknowledges that, “Nearly every church uses its buildings to benefit the community, either by providing church-run activities or hosting the activities of other organisations.” It also says that some larger churches are setting a good example and have staff who manage their halls and other buildings.

The real problem lies with those churches who don’t have the capacity to do this. Too often, buildings are seen as burdens, swallowing time, money and effort. Marketing and managing church spaces can seem like too much of a demanding task – especially with so many competing pastoral and spiritual challenges. The report argues that this needn’t be the case, though.

It says the main barrier to opening up buildings is how they are viewed. “The solution lies in recognising their potential for mission,” it says, “which leads to church growth. We need a change of mind set.”

With this in focus, the report highlights several case studies of churches large and small which have creatively used their spaces. It showcases the example of KXC, a church which has opened up one of its buildings for use as a co-working space – meaning freelance workers and small businesses have a base to work from. The church then has interactions with a whole group of people it wouldn’t necessarily have come across – all while receiving some rental money from the project.

It isn’t just for large churches though. The report says there are options to provide the capacity smaller churches lack. “We propose a new enterprise-based approach,” it argues, “a pilot social enterprise which would help these churches to market and manage their spaces and get them into greater use, whilst generating an income for the church as well.”

The approach has met with a warm reception from different branches of the Church. Bishop Dr Joe Aldred is a leading voice in the Black Pentecostal church. He said Christians must, “beware buildings becoming mausoleums, objects of worship, places of pietistic retreat, or even places of exclusive cultural retreat,” while he suggested churches should be looking at innovative solutions: “All the resources which churches accumulate are intended by God to be put to use in the service of God and the mission of God in the world.

For his part, The Bishop of Worcester, Rt Rev John Inge said a creative approach to church buildings fits with the Church of England’s, “vision to see Christians using their buildings ‘to love our neighbour’ as well as to worship God.”

So, the challenge is laid down, and hopefully it’s one that many will rise to. Churches can use their buildings better to facilitate mission and bring in much-needed income. Everyone’s a winner.

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Five things you can pray for president trump every day – regardless of your politics

by Martin Saunders

For some he’s a kind of messiah, saving America from years of leftist misery. For many others, he sits at the literal opposite end of the leadership spectrum: a disastrous appointment who could damage the country for years to come. Yet while views and feelings about President Trump differ wildly, for all Christians the response – or at least part of it – must be the same.

As followers of Jesus we can legitimately campaign against Trump and his policies; or we can choose to support his administration. Yet while a biblical case for either of those positions is subjective, we’re all called to a more fundamental act of obedience.

Every Christian, regardless of their political beliefs, must pray for Donald Trump.

The Bible is clear. Paul urges that we offer “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for all people – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2: 1–2). We’re specifically told to pray for the leaders of the world, not just about them. Praying they’ll win mighty victories on the International stage, or suffer some sort of humiliating impeachment, is not what the Bible asks of us. Our role is to pray for them, personally, and somehow without bias.

Knowing this responsibility is one thing. Understanding how to put it into practice is quite another. How do you pray for your victorious leader without veering into triumphalism, or pray for your worst political nightmare without asking God for his demise? But we must. Because the moment we make God partisan, we reduce him to the level of our own broken political systems, when he’s so much bigger than that.

Here then are a few things that all of us can, and should pray for President Trump, and with as little agenda as we can manage.

1.  Pray for wisdom.

We can all ask that if God gives one thing to the president over the next few years, it’s a supernatural wisdom boost. So far, with his tendency to shoot from the hip in press conferences or on Twitter, Trump isn’t currently known for being a wise ruler – but we should pray that as he grasps the gravity of his office, he will yet become one. This might require a greater or lesser degree of faith from us, but that’s kind of what prayer is all about.

2. Pray that he’d keep wise counsel.

Whatever might be written about Trump, he isn’t a dictator. He’s surrounded by a team of others, many of whom have the power to impact his policy decisions. In the run-up to the election, Trump suggested that he would be a man who listened to experts in the areas in which he wasn’t one. We should pray not only that this is true in practice, but also that he’ll listen to a wide variety of voices and opinions and be led by God to heed the right ones.

3. Pray that he would govern peacefully.

In Jeremiah 29:7, God tells his people to pray for the peace of the city to which they’ve been carried into exile. In other words, while they might not have liked or agreed with the ruling powers above them, the people were to pray that the nation would experience peace and prosperity. In a world full of real and potential international tensions, we should pray that whatever else the president does, he would learn to become a peace-maker, rather than a man who increases conflict. This is perhaps even more pertinent to the domestic situation in America, where many people groups now feel disenfranchised and scared by the political wind change.

4. Pray for his personal safety.

One of the worst – and most unacceptable – trends among those who oppose Trump has been half-joking suggestions on social media about the president suffering some sort of accident or attack. To be clear, not only is this thoroughly un-Christ-like behaviour, but a real attack on the president would destabilise the US and the international community more than anything. We should pray instead that he is kept safe – along with all his citizens – “honouring the emperor”, as Peter puts it (1 Peter 2:17), in spite of our opinion of him.

5. Pray that he would know and hear from God.

Finally, since so many voices within the Church have claimed that Donald Trump is a ‘baby Christian’ who has genuinely accepted the faith, we should pray that this is actually accurate. More than that, perhaps we should dare to pray that as the president seeks to grow spiritually, he is able to hear and understand the will of God as something greater than his own, even in his lofty role. Again, this might feel a stretch to those who vehemently oppose Trump’s policies, but surely if we believe in an all-powerful God who created the universe, we also believe he has the power to change and steer even the most strong-willed of men.

For some of us, approaching the list above will be easy; the hard part will be staying God-honouringly-neutral as we do. For others among us, praying through these things each day will represent a serious challenge. Yet whatever we think of the man, he’s been elected to govern the most powerful nation on earth – one with the capability to do unthinkable damage and the power to do extraordinary good. Whether we support or oppose the man, we should all take seriously the responsibility of praying that he’ll become the kind of leader who’ll steer toward the latter.

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My child died in my womb: this is my letter of thanks to the doctor who told me

by Zoe Clark-Coates

To the doctor who cared for me.

I had never met you until the day I walked into your office and you calmly asked me to lie down for my scan.

For you this was pretty routine – just another scan to confirm a baby had died in utero. For me it was far from routine, it was torture.

I could hardly answer you as you gently enquired how I was doing. My ability to communicate had pretty much vanished over the previous 48 hours.

Tears just streamed down my face as I nodded yes to your question, to confirm I was OK.

I wasn’t.

I lied.

I was far from OK.

I was broken.

I did not even recognise myself when I looked in the mirror.

You smiled at me, the sort of smile that says “I don’t believe it, but I won’t challenge your answer.”

You then said, “Shall we just start the scan?” I nodded yes.

As I stared at the screen, I held my breath. My faith in God was so strong, I totally believed that I may be about to witness a miracle. Yes, I had been told days before my daughter had died, but since then I had endlessly begged God to bring her back to life.

I watched the monitor for any sign of life...but my little girl was just still, she was no longer kicking and waving back at me, as she had a mere six days ago.

Time stood still as my mind became crammed with questions, all involving the words, “Why?”, “How?” I could not ask any of them, though, it was as if I had been struck dumb.

You carried on recording measurements and entering information into the computer.

You thought I was silent, but actually I was screaming so loudly it deafened my own ears. A silent scream...a scream someone can only produce when their world has just imploded in front of their eyes. A scream so loud, so powerful it cannot be heard by human ears.

You could have given me platitudes as so many others had, but you didn’t. You silently took my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “My wife and I have lost three babies too.” You then sat stroking my hand as I sobbed not only for the child we had lost, but because you understood. You got it. I suddenly knew you did not pity us, you empathised with us, and that meant your words were authentic and true.

You could have easily then slipped into an official doctor mode, but you didn’t, you took time to explain things to us, being careful to avoid using typical medical jargon. You treated us like family, and I am not sure you are truly aware of what a gift that was.

We were aware you had another family waiting to see you, but you did not rush us, you allowed us time to sit and try to regain our composure before we exited the room.

Thank you seems too small a word for helping us through that time, so instead I will simply say without your help I don’t know what we would have done. When you trained to be a doctor I know you did so to help save lives. It would be easy to think the only way you can do that is by performing lifesaving surgeries, but by offering us true compassion, you helped save us – perhaps not from death, but from our hearts being even more broken, as they lay shattered on your office floor.

[Zoe Clark-Coates is International CEO and founder of the Mariposa Trust, which supports those who have lost a baby in pregnancy or infancy. Follow her on Twitter @clarkcoates.]

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“I am nothing without him.” How Jesus spoke to this young woman and saved her from alcoholism

by Ruth Gledhill

She began drinking as part of her adolescent rite of passage.

It was a decade later, after coming to faith in Jesus at her local church, she was finally able to stop.

Leila Lawton, 36, now works as a psychological well-being practitioner, treating people suffering from low mood and anxiety. She is married with two children, one aged 6 and the other, 17. She also has a stepson of 13.

From the outside, her life seems pretty much perfect.

She says: “We try together most nights. While life’s not been perfect, God has created opportunities for me to be present on a daily basis, developing spiritually, personally and professionally. Providing stability for my family, growing in my role as a wife and worship leader. Progress not perfection, going deeper with God and becoming more equipped to cope with the demands of life, with Christ’s foundations of peace and hope for our future a day at a time. It is quite simply a life beyond my wildest dreams.”

Her daughter helps lead worship at the church where she is a member, New Community Church in Sidcup, Kent. More than 20,000 people have watched a video about her story already, many via the church Facebook page.

Yet Leila is lucky even to be alive, never mind still around to tell her story.

It is more than 10 years since she had a drink of alcohol – thanks to the power of Christ, and also of the 12-step fellowship she sought help from and where she now helps and sponsors others into recovery.

She began drinking at school, taking off with her friends to the local park. Her mother, a single parent, was doing three jobs. Her father had returned to Uganda. “I just went a bit wild,” says Leila, speaking to Christian Today. “My friends would get fed up with having to pick me up. Young girls without father figures tend to look for love in the wrong places.”

So she looked to her older daughter’s dad, and alcohol and drugs, for affirmation.

“Alcohol seemed attractive because my life seemed so bleak. I didn’t know my identity, and I was lost. My relationship with my boyfriend was incredibly dysfunctional; highly emotional and physically abusive. I couldn’t cope with life on life’s terms.

“I was a single mum with a young baby, she was the only thing that gave me purpose and the strength to carry on. I felt I needed to escape to a space where those ever increasing negative thoughts of failure and unworthiness couldn’t penetrate my mind.

“I never realised my reliance on alcohol until it was too late; as each drink took me deeper into pain.

“I was filled with hurt, shame, fear and dread. I was swept away. I used to drink from any cup as long as the contents had liqueur. I knew that one would never be enough, no matter how much I slipped and I slithered.

“I was always waiting for my life to begin.”

She needed someone or something to rescue her from a bleak stark reality.

In September 2004, she found herself in church.

“Jesus just broke into my life. I gave my life to Christ. I have never known such peace and acceptance. I was overwhelmed.”

She thought she was too young, at 23, to have a drink problem. But it was a year later that she finally found the courage, in Christ, to stop drinking.

“Active in my alcoholism I bore the psychological scars of an abusive relationship but in the pit of my despair God had walked with me, carried me even when I wasn’t aware. He came into my life... His name is Jesus.

“He’s given me a new cup from which I drink today. His blessed, precious cup of grace. His blood for my sin, his stripes for my healing. His pain for my restoration. God broke my chains of addiction, fear and shame.”

“Today I drink from the cup of grace.”

She quotes 1 Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” She also cites 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

She explains: “I just felt like God said to me, ‘It is ok, you can hold on to me. Alcoholics just don’t know how to deal with life on life’s terms. God gave me the confidence that he would be what I need.”

She is now hoping to publish her story as a book, Drink From The Cup.

“I am nothing without Jesus. He is my anchor and my rock. He is real to me today, so real. I do not even know how to get through life without him.”

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