Christian Today Digest – Issue 9 2019

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Christian Today Website Articles

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. Torch Trust does not necessarily agree with any opinions expressed in the magazine.

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How can we avoid becoming the Christian who loses faith?

By J John

There have been recent reports of a few high-profile people leaving the Christian faith and I wrote a little about this recently. In thinking about this further, I am reminded of Aslan's constant statement in C.S. Lewis' Narnia books of the danger of focusing on 'someone else's story' at the expense of our own.

The real issue is: how can I avoid this happening to me? Let me make some recommendations of priorities and practices and a perspective to keep us on the right track. There is little novel in them. After all, drifting from the faith is something that Christians of every generation have had to resist.

1) Prioritise God and his word

Please don't neglect those old-fashioned disciplines of prayer and Bible reading. It's probably no accident that some of those who have fallen away have been Christian leaders: in the busyness of doing the work of the Lord it's all too easy to fail to find time to be with the Lord.

We must always remember that because God is the vine, we who are branches can only be fruitful if we stay attached to him (John 15:4).

My wife Killy and I follow Robert Murray McCheyne's Bible Reading plan and read two chapters every morning and two chapters every evening – this has been a good discipline.

2) Prioritise godly thinking

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' (Matthew 22:36–37). I take this to mean that we are to love God with our emotions, wills and our intellects. The intellect is easily neglected.

In the past it used to be that part of being a believer in Jesus was to immerse yourself in Christian truth; to read books, to discuss theology and to critically evaluate what you thought and did in the light of the Bible. Such an attitude is rare today and needs to be recovered.

All the problems and difficulties raised by the noisy objectors to the Christian faith have been discussed and dealt with before. However much God has blessed you in the area of emotions and experience, stay a thinking Christian. Plants with shallow roots are easily pulled out.

3) Prioritise godly living

Those who leave the Christian faith often say that they did so on the basis of reasoned arguments. But it nevertheless seems noteworthy that those who proclaim their departure from Christianity's beliefs have often parted company with its morality and quite frequently beforehand. It's all too frequent that broken vows to one's spouse are followed by broken vows to God. Be careful how you live!

4) Prioritise spiritual participation

The devil loves to target Christians who have lost connection with God's people. Many individuals who pride themselves on being spiritual lone wolves are no more than lost sheep: a fact fatally brought home to them when the jaws of a genuine wolf close around them. Stay deeply and regularly involved with God's people. Remain in the flock!

5) Prioritise the positives

It is said that a piece of grit in an oyster can produce a pearl, but my advice is don't bank on it. Many of these sad stories from those leaving the faith are full of difficulties, anger and negative attitudes. One well-trodden pathway into the wilderness involves becoming someone who is always complaining and always against something. One of the easiest ways to justify your departure from any organisation, including the church, is to convince yourself that it is somehow unworthy of your commitment. Stay positive!

6) Practise self-examination

Paul, writing to Timothy, says, 'Watch your life and doctrine closely' (1 Timothy 4:16). It's a wise, if often overlooked, practice to keep checking on how you are doing. Losing your faith is like finding you have a flat tyre. It may be because of some sudden dramatic puncture but, more likely than not, it's due to a slow, steady and unnoticed leak. Don't store up your doubts or problems: find someone who can wisely guide you out of them.

7) Practise caution

Within little more than a decade we will have had two thousand years of Christianity, a fact that should encourage every believer to stay firm in the faith: what we believe has been tried and tested over a very long time. This means that almost every new idea will, almost certainly, have been tested and tried in the past. As a first principle, the maxim 'if it's new, it's not true; if it's true, it's not new' has much to commend it. 'Historic' or 'mainstream' Christianity has survived precisely because, over centuries, it has been proven to provide safe and wholesome pastures for God's flock.

8) Practise humility

Pride is one of the subtlest and most powerful evils and is often a major factor with those who leave the faith. Be very wary of any sense of superiority; of seeing yourself as better than other people, more educated, more at home in the culture. In 1 Corinthians 10:12 we read, 'So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!' Use every opportunity to serve, and where it is at all reasonable, count others as better than you.

9) Practise honesty

In reading what some of the more outspoken ex-believers have said, I have come across reasons but, more commonly, excuses disguised as reasons. So, for instance, although many of them talk about being 'disillusioned by the church', often what they are referring to is a specific branch of Christianity, a specific local church or even particular individuals. It's dishonest and unwise to turn away from all that Christianity is on specific events and individuals!

10) Practise solidarity

One of the most successful innovations of the Roman army was the way that its soldiers had shields which could interlock in order to create an almost impenetrable barrier. There is a great wisdom in this standing together. Speaking personally, I have found the prayers of my friends and supporters to be of extraordinary help. Pray for others and be prayed for by them.

Finally, ultimately, practise perspective. This life is short and eternity is very long. Jesus asks that his followers stand firm in their faith not forever, but only until he comes to us, or we go to him. And that may be sooner than any of us think. Stand firm!

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Young Christians enjoy better mental health than their non-churchgoing peers – study

Young Christians are far less likely than their non-churchgoing peers to experience anxiety and depression, a major new study has found.

In one of the largest global studies of its kind to be conducted, the Barna study, carried out in partnership with World Vision, examined the data of 15,369 people aged 18- to 35-year-olds across 25 countries.

It found that those who attended a place of worship on a weekly basis were less likely to say that they experienced anxiety (22%), compared with those who did not attend church regularly (33%).

While half of practising Christians (51%) said they felt "optimistic about the future", this fell to a third (34%) among those with no faith.

Young people with no faith were more likely to say they often felt sad or depressed (28%) than practising Christians (18%), and they were also more likely to report feeling "lonely and isolated from others" (31% vs 16%).

While less than a third of respondents with no faith (29%) said they felt "able to accomplish my goals", this rose significantly among practising Christians to 43 per cent.

Those without a faith were twice as likely as those with an active faith to say they felt "uncertain about the future" (51% vs 27%).

The study also revealed substantial differences when it came to giving time and money, with young churchgoers far more likely than those without a faith to regularly volunteer (39% vs 23%) and give financially to charitable causes (23% vs 17%).

President of Barna Group, David Kinnaman, said that Millennials and Gen Z were "much talked about and often misunderstood".

"In addition to providing many hopeful signs about the opportunities ahead of these generations, the study shows powerful connections between practicing faith and overall wellbeing," he said.

"For years now, our team has gone to great lengths to listen to the stories and experiences of teenagers and young adults across the religious spectrum - from devoted and passionate adherents of Christianity and other faiths, to those for whom religion is an artefact of a bygone era.

"From this report we do see evidence that some key mentorships and friendships are common among young people with a faith, and patterns in the data at least suggest religion may play some role in keeping loneliness at bay."

World Vision UK CEO Tim Pilkington said, "We wanted to get a global understanding of 18-35-year-olds and what they perceive to be the challenges they face.

"Many elements of the findings have been illuminating, but I hope church leaders will be encouraged by the confirmation that the local church can be a place of leadership development, empowerment and a source of genuine hope."

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Black children are the least likely to be adopted: Krish Kandiah on why this needs to change

Black children wait the longest to be adopted and are the least likely among the children in care to be adopted. This was the brutal finding disclosed at a 10 Downing Street Round Table this week and it was accompanied by real life stories that confirmed the statistics.

For example, singer and BBC journalist Ashley John Baptiste told how he was taken into care at a young age but after thinking he was happily settled with his foster carer, was forced to leave.

From the age of eight, he spent many difficult years in care, without being adopted. In a poignant moment, he said that those years were marked by his sense that no one was looking out for his future, and no one believed in him.

The discussion continued as people from different backgrounds expressed their sense of outrage at the discrepancy between white and black children getting adopted. Moving speeches were presented by adopters and from people who grew up in care and missed the chance to be adopted.

The meeting was organised by Home for Good's advocacy team in conjunction with the Racial Disparity Unity, the Department for Education and Number 10's Equalities Unit.

Hosting the event was Sam Kasumu, a brilliant civil servant with a passion for justice, razor sharp wit and tenacious pursuit of truth. And reflecting the wide-ranging reach of this issue, those in attendance were influencers from a broad range of sectors, from the church and business, to the media, the arts, the music industry and the Government.

Kayla King, CEO of the prestigious MOBO award, Margaret Casely-Hayfod of the Globe Theatre, Chine MacDonald, Christian Aid's head of communication, pastor Tope Koleoso from Jubilee Church, Liverpool pastor Dr Tani Omideyi and others all added their stories and voices to this critical subject.

What we were all agreed on is that together we can kick-start some transformative work to change the statistics and stories around the adoption of black boys in the UK.

As I looked around the room in 10 Downing Street I was excited about the possibility of partnering with the Government on a common ambition – making sure the most vulnerable children in our nation are loved and cared for in families.

The Government is the corporate parent of every child in need and we as the Christian church have a calling from God to care for those same children. This is one way we can partner together for the good of the nation.

There is great opportunity for the Church right now when it comes to our national life. In the past, we may have been tempted to retreat from politics or engage angrily through shaming or shunning or shouting at the Government.

But as dual citizens of the Kingdom and the United Kingdom, I believe Christians are called to work in partnership with the Government, especially when it comes to our mercy ministries and social engagement and advocacy.

I believe Christians are called to work in partnership with the Government, especially when it comes to our mercy ministries, social engagement and advocacy.

Right now, that must include ensuring that children of every ethnicity have the home they need. To that end, Home for Good has launched a special video that seeks to change the way that our culture looks at black boys in care.

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The day my wife was arrested

By Paul Rand

Having dismissed my year 9 class at my secondary school in Cumbria, with a free period ahead of me, I got out my phone to check if there were any messages from London. One voicemail – "There's nothing to worry about, but your wife, Jo, has been arrested..."

Arrested for climbing over a barrier onto the road on Lambeth Bridge. Carried off the bridge by four police officers (and she's not even that heavy). Four police officers who, had she not been threatening to obstruct Lambeth Bridge, could have been doing something more useful with their shift like tackling knife crime in our capital.

Or perhaps four police officers who weren't even supposed to be on duty that morning, but had been called in to do an extra shift because of the expected disruption.

She was taken into police custody for nearly 24 hours, during which time other members of the police force will have spent time logging the details of her arrest, taking her to a cell, checking on her, bringing her food and contacting the solicitor she'd asked for. She was released the following morning without being charged because the solicitor had been too busy with lots of other similar cases and hadn't got as far as her. She may still be charged at a later date, so more police resources may be taken up in deciding how to proceed and then writing a letter instructing her to return to the police station.

Meanwhile, back at the bridge, I'm told that while the police were arresting her, with four officers to one relatively lightweight Methodist minister, there weren't enough police left over to prevent eighty other protesters from swarming onto the bridge and occupying it. It took the police hours to clear the bridge, with further arrests and even when they had, they had to keep the bridge closed to all traffic to stop the protesters from retaking it.

Whilst the bridge was blocked, through most of the day, many people will have been stopped or diverted on possibly urgent journeys, including perhaps some other emergency services. What's more, other route across London will have been congested as a result. It will have cost businesses and individuals extra money that day and yes, might have endangered lives.

So overall, a thoroughly irresponsible thing for my wife to have done and our legal system should ensure that she is given the maximum possible penalty for the crime that she has committed. Agree?

But try to cast your mind forward, if you can, to what things could be like just three decades from now. I'll be 74. My children will be 46 and 42, around the same age as I am now. The climate in London will apparently be more like the climate of Barcelona today. "Nice", I hear you say, but then what about the climate in Barcelona, or Nairobi, or Mumbai in thirty years time? So perhaps in thirty years time, our police will be overstretched on a daily basis, dealing with climate refugees who have come to our relatively temperate island from homelands that have become uninhabitable. Or perhaps there will be even more serious knife crime problems on our streets because of people fighting over the reduced food resources or lack of jobs for all the people who live here.

Our streets may not be blockaded but they will be made impassable by floodwater because of rising sea levels and the increased frequency and severity of what were once called freak weather events. Lives will be endangered on a regular basis when the number of people affected by such events far outnumber what our emergency services can cope with.

Now maybe you think I'm being a bit over dramatic, but if I'm not, if I have correctly interpreted what scientists are predicting for our future, it calls for something pretty dramatic to be done about it now.

Yes, my wife and I could both write letters to our politicians (we have done). But when our prime minister is someone who mocks climate protesters as "uncooperative crusties", and at the same time promises to loosen some of our environmental legislation once we leave the EU, in order to satisfy US trading terms, I'm not sure that just writing letters is dramatic enough.

Yes, my wife or I could put ourselves forward to be parliamentary candidates for the Green Party. But if we did that, how many of you would vote for us?

Or perhaps we should just focus on doing everything we can to reduce our own family's carbon footprint and encourage others to follow our good example (we are trying). But without radical legislation and working together as a whole nation, and indeed a whole world, I'm afraid that will simply be too little, too late.

Boris Johnson also claimed that Margaret Thatcher took climate change seriously long before Greta Thunberg. Well that may well be the case, I couldn't be certain. But I know one thing for certain – we've not been nearly serious enough in our efforts to prevent it. We're like my son who, having had an extended homework project to do for the last few weeks has, over the last couple of days finally started doing something about it. Except if he doesn't hand it in, or if what he hands in is a bit less than his best, the worst he'll get is a detention for a fraction of the time that my wife spent in detention on Monday.

What we are facing as a world is more serious than a detention for not doing your homework. More serious than a normally law abiding Methodist minister being banged up for a day. More serious than Lambeth Bridge being out of action for the day. More serious than the wasting of hundreds of hours of police time.

Believe it or not, I am an optimist and I believe that it is possible to get things done in time to stop the impending climate catastrophe. But only if we do something dramatic, right now.

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Millions are suffering needlessly from treatable conditions because they can't afford the healthcare we take for granted

By Darren Richards

"True happiness is FREE Wi-Fi"

...so says the sign in a café I visited, and who can argue? For most of us, our smartphone has become a necessity – one of life's essentials!

It wakes us up in the morning, keeps us company on the commute, and provides a constant connection to friends and family, whether they're in the next street or another time zone. The thought of being without our phone sends some people into a cold sweat. When did you last turn your phone off, rather than set it to silent?

Most of us expect a phone signal and wi-fi wherever we go. It's become the norm to enter someone's house and ask for their Wi-Fi password, in the same way we'd ask for a glass of water.

Our phone can certainly feel like an essential, but is it really?

I'm a big fan of Bear Grylls – the heroic Christian adventurer who survives extreme temperatures and wild environments using his wits without the aid of a smartphone! He can find his way through a dense jungle and navigate vast frozen tundra without a compass.

Bear would be the first to tell you what really matters in life. He says the true essentials for survival are Shelter (or 'protection' from physical threats), Rescue, Water, then Food, in that order. Food is the last of the four priorities and strangely wi-fi doesn't feature as an essential... although my children would beg to differ!

When your back is against the wall, and everything in life comes crashing down, it's not wi-fi or Facebook that you'll need to survive. It all comes back to the basics... safety, faith in God's rescue plan, and making sure you don't forget to eat and sleep!

But somehow, the things that matter most also tend to be the things we can take for granted, like our health, our loved ones, drinking water on tap, and free healthcare: the NHS.

Before I became a dad, I didn't give much thought to the NHS. I'd never broken a bone in my body and I only needed a couple of routine operations growing up. My attitude changed one summer night when my pregnant wife went into labour with our twins, two months too soon...

I rushed her to the nearest hospital only to find it had been closed down and boarded up. I stood in disbelief. Suddenly, I realised that a hospital and the trained medical staff inside are not something anyone should take for granted.

My wife was in agony. She was in the throes of a risky, premature labour but there was no one to keep my wife and our unborn children safe. There was no one to rescue us. Turns out, Bear was right. When you're in a survival situation, you do remember what the essentials really are. I found myself desperately praying, "God, please help, there's no one to help us!"

This is the same prayer that's cried out by 2 out of 3 people in our world, who still lack access to a genuine essential: safe, affordable surgery when they need it most.

In low-income countries, mothers who are in labour must pay for their own surgeon and everything needed for the surgery, if they need a C-Section. Many can't afford to pay and so they lose their unborn child.

When we fall ill or we need an operation our first thought is never, "where will I find a doctor?', or, 'how will I pay?' This is because in Western Europe less than 3% of people don't have access to medical treatment. In sub-Saharan Africa, 93% of people live without access to surgery.

This means that children are becoming disabled or going blind needlessly – when a simple surgery could help them walk or see again. For others, an untreated toothache grows into a disfiguring tumour that threatens their life. These people then endure rejection every day and are even called 'cursed'.

We have no idea what life is like when the true essentials are taken away. Every year, more than 18 million people die in low-income countries from conditions that require surgical treatment – that's more than die of HIV/Aids, TB and malaria combined. It's is a global epidemic and a huge tragedy.

Thankfully, as Christians, the 'Global Surgery Crisis' is a tragedy we can change, as the Church. How do I know? Because we've done it before...

Down through the centuries, following Jesus' example, Christians have set up hospitals, founded schools of nursing, and pioneered surgery.

The first hospital was founded by Christians living under Roman rule. Later, St Thomas' and St Bartholomew's hospitals were established by monks and Great Ormond Street Hospital was set up by a Baptist.

Christians have always made history in the field of surgery and healthcare, from Florence Nightingale (who founded the first school of nursing) to James Simpson who used chloroform on Queen Victoria when she gave birth and convinced the public it was safe. Dr Simpson is regarded as the father of anaesthetics.

During the last 40 years, two more Christian 'history makers' joined this long list of medical pioneers, Don and Deyon Stephens. Following the birth of their son with additional needs, Jean-Paul, Don and Deyon were inspired to follow the model of Jesus by bringing hope and healing to the world's forgotten poor.

In 1978, Don and Deyon acquired the first ship and converted it into a hospital. They lived on board for ten years with their four children, providing free surgery for the poor. Sometimes they had to work in the dark when they struggled to afford fuel for the generator.

And so Mercy Ships was born...

Forty years on, Don and Deyon's legacy has directly helped people in 56 developing nations. Today, Mercy Ships operates the world's biggest floating hospital that's run by a charity, providing over 2,000 free surgeries every year.

What's more, the ship is still crewed by volunteers! I've actually been on board and seen this wonderful work with my own eyes – it felt like Matthew 25 in action, where Jesus says "I was sick and you looked after me."

I also saw that Mercy Ships trains local health professionals and renovates hospitals, leaving the nations they visit stronger and better equipped.

Back in the UK, on that summer night in July 2012, my wife and I got back into our car and drove for 20 minutes to a clean modern hospital. We screeched up into the Ambulance Bay and I cried out for help. Within moments, our car was surrounded by nurses and doctors. Once inside, the staff prepped pain relief and switched on state-of-the-art equipment. The NHS was waiting and ready to rescue my family.

Thanks to the faith and sacrifice of history-making Christians through the years, my wife received the care she needed in hospital free of charge and today we have two beautiful twin boys. They recently celebrated their 7th birthday, and every year I can't help but look back to that frightening night.

Before you scroll or click further on your phone, please take just a moment to thank God for the real essentials in your life, whether food, family or healthcare. And perhaps ask God what part you can play in being a history-maker for those who still lack access to so many of the essentials we can take for granted.

This month saw another history-making moment: the UK government partnered with Mercy Ships for the first time in 40 years. They have agreed to double any donation made to the Mercy Ships #ChangeTheOdds campaign before December 31. If you'd like to find out more and help make history yourself just visit http://www.mercyships.org.uk/changetheodds

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