Christian Today Digest - May 2016

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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.

Contents

The Church of England’s prayer for the EU referendum

The Church of England has released a prayer for the EU referendum campaign that urges working for peace with “all the peoples of Europe”.

The prayer is intended to be used by churches and individuals ahead of the vote on June 23.

The prayer says:

God of truth,
give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum
with honesty and openness.
Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion
and discernment to those who vote,
that our nation may prosper
and that with all the peoples of Europe
we may work for peace and the common good;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Dr Adrian Hilton of the Brexit group Christians for Britain said: “Debating the issues ‘with honesty and openness’ is a laudable objective, and this prayer treads an impeccable via media which both sides would be happy to pray.

“But it’s worth noting that the Church of England has placed the matter of the UK’s membership of the EU, 28 states, in the context of ‘all the peoples of Europe’, circa 50 states.

“This shifts the narrative of debate from the narrow one of EU membership to that of European identity. You clearly don’t have to be in the EU to work for peace and the common good of all Europe.”

Michael Sadgrove of the remain group Christians for Europe agreed with Christians for Britain. He said: “It is a prayer we can all pray with integrity as we seek the wisdom of God.”

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Pakistan: Christian woman kidnapped, forced to marry and convert to Islam

A Christian woman in Pakistan has been kidnapped, forced to marry and convert to Islam, according to a leading human rights lawyer.

Sardar Mushtaq Gill, who runs the Legal Evangelical Association Development, which provides free legal assistance and advocacy to victims of religious discrimination, sexual and domestic violence, said 23-year-old Laveeza Bibi was kidnapped on 14 April.

Two Muslims, armed with guns, forcibly entered the family home in Kasur, Punjab and threatened Bibi’s mother and father before kidnapping the young woman.

One of them, Muhammad Talib, then forced her to marry him.

The young woman’s father, Sarwar Masih, went to the police but struggled to get them to act. They claimed Laveeza had married the abductor and accepted Islam.

The family’s pastor, Saleem Masih, and Gill then intervened and persuaded the police to take the case.

About 1,000 similar cases are registered in Pakistan each year and many more go unreported.

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Does the Bible need a good edit?

Preach Magazine editor Jo Swinney shares her thoughts on interpreting God’s Word.

In my role as editor of Preach Magazine, I occasionally get angry letters. Two weeks ago, Mr H wrote in to complain about an article that referred to the siege of Jericho in Joshua 6: “In the world we are now in, we must be much more radical in our approach to the Old Testament,” he argued. “Why are Christians so ready to use ghastly Old Testament events, often involving ethnic cleansing, child murder, child sacrifice and massive slaughter to tell people about our ‘loving God’?” His letter concluded with the strong recommendation that we distance ourselves (and God) from these stories.

Two days later I had another chap, Mr P, spluttering over the phone with outrage over a piece about Paul’s teaching on allegiance to rulers. Mr P is not a fan of the writings of Paul and if he had his way they wouldn’t feature in the Good Book at all.

Mr H and Mr P are not alone in their dismay, disgust and embarrassment about our sacred text. Is it time we gave it a good edit? Would it be a good idea to bring it up to date and into line with our enlightened understanding of the principles of diversity, tolerance and hygiene? Are there some passages we can and should disregard as being written by horrible humans, most likely hungover and possibly not entirely mentally healthy when they took up their chisels on that Monday afternoon in 140 BC? Or is every ‘jot and tittle’ of the 66 books (73 if you are a Catholic) in the canon God-breathed, an eternally relevant and literally true revelation of the divine mind?

There is nothing like a discussion about the Bible to bring out the worst in Christians. We love to come up with labels that make those who hold our position sound good and others sound like idiots with no morals - progressives vs fundamentalists, woolly liberals vs orthodox believers, dogmatists vs radical disciples. We caricature each other’s positions in passive aggressive blog posts, and only read books that will reinforce our position. People, this is not good! Jesus specifically asked us to be a community known for the way we love each other.

I am of the ‘keep the scissors away from the Bible’ school of thought. I’d argue - and probably cry in the middle of my argument because that’s how much I hate conflict - that we shouldn’t edit the Bible. But I have a few provisos:

God is the only hero

The point of biblical narratives is never that we should blindly emulate the behaviour of any of the protagonists simply because they are in the Bible. Judges 11 tells of Jephthah the mighty warrior who vowed to sacrifice the first thing to leave his house if he defeated the Ammonites, presumably assuming this would be something expendable like a chicken. Unfortunately he won the battle, and more unfortunately it was his daughter who burst out the door to meet him on his return. The point of this story is not to go thou and make stupid vows also.

True doesn’t mean literal

The Bible contains many genres - poetry, history, letters, prophecy and so on. We wouldn’t read a cook book in the way we read a novel, we don’t search the front page of The Times for instructions on how to live, and we wouldn’t fight to the death over whether Blake’s tiger burning bright was actually combusting.

Always consider the original intent of the text

Historical and geographical context shines light on meaning - we’ll read better if we let it illuminate for us. When Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well, it helps to know that Samaritans were descended from the tribes of Ephraim and Manassah but had split from the rest of Israel and intermingled with the peoples around them. Jews considered them sinful and unclean. And it was unusual for a woman to draw water at midday when it was hot. This tells us this woman was a social outcast, and Jesus was flouting convention to talk to her.

‘Divinely inspired’ doesn’t mean God held the pen or dictated the words

The beauty of the Bible is that God has revealed himself in and through his broken, flawed creation. There is mystery here, but only the most arrogant would claim to have understood all there is to understand about God and how he communicates.

If every generation had edited the Bible, adapting it to their perspective on who God is and what values He ought to hold, we would probably be left with something tweetable about love. And I’m sure our grandchildren would have a different take on what love means. So no, we shouldn’t edit it.

But we should read it carefully, prayerfully and humbly.

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6 countries where owning a Bible is dangerous

While as Christians we would never take the Bible for granted, many of us might not often register how fortunate we are just to be able to own our own Bibles or have access to one. In democratic countries, they’re easily found in Christian bookshops and high-street book chains, and owning one is not going to land you in jail.

However, this fundamental aspect of religious freedom isn’t a reality for many Christians around the world. The American Library Association recently revealed that the Bible is among the most challenged books, with even many Americans calling for it to be banned or removed from libraries.

But, this example of objections to the Bible is mild compared to the many countries where Bibles are forbidden and owning one can lead to detention, prosecution and severe punishments, even potentially loss of life.

Here are five countries where owning a Bible is dangerous.

North Korea - In this totalitarian state, the only thing that North Koreans are permitted to worship is the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Bibles are banned and those found in possession of one face imprisonment, torture and even death - as do up to three generations of their family.

Somalia - Christians residing in Somalia face constant persecution from radical Islamists and government officials. The prevalence of the Islamic extremist group, al-Shabaab means that believers often practise their faith in extreme secrecy and cannot own Bibles.

Maldives - The Maldives have a reputation for being a luxurious idyll but a Bible can get you into trouble in this paradise. Under the country’s strict Islamic laws, importing a Bible is forbidden. There is currently no complete translation of the Bible into Dhivehi, the official language of the tropical nation.

Morocco - It’s against the law to carry a Bible translated into Arabic in Morocco. Reports of overt Christian persecution are few but Christian children are not given a religious education.

Libya - Like Morocco, Libya has laws against bringing Bibles in the Arabic language into the country. The distribution of Bibles and evangelism is illegal.

Uzbekistan - In this Central Asian dictatorship, high penalties are imposed on those who own Bibles. Authorities are known to detain Christians found in possession of the holy book for “keeping and storing extremist materials with the purpose of further distribution.”

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Darlene Zschech reveals how she was ‘protected’ by God when she was facing breast cancer

People all go through difficulties and uncertainties in life. During these moments, Christian worship leader Darlene Zschech stresses that it’s important to look up to God.

When she was first diagnosed with breast cancer on December 11, 2013, that’s exactly what Zschech did - rely on God. It is for this reason that Zschech felt “protected” and fuelled by faith amidst all of her pain.

“Breast cancer was a new level of deep suffering. My theology was put through a sieve, and I had to lean into every Scripture I knew to be true about God’s providence, and that it was not His desire that I or my family should suffer. To see His kids in pain hurts Him too,” she writes in an article for Charisma News . “To fully trust God during times of immense pain is one of the great gifts of a trial. You find the beautiful Holy Spirit is there, no matter how broken you are or how disappointed you are or how hopeless you feel.”

Zschech is fortunate that she was able to beat cancer, but she says that her heart still aches for people all over the world who are facing persecution, sickness, and poverty. She hopes that all of them will look to the Redeemer “to guide them and instill in them an assurance of being loved” just like she did.

The bestselling author of “Worship Changes Everything: Experiencing God’s Presence in Every Moment of Life” adds that there are bad people in this world who are going to do everything to tear Christians´ worth and potential, and would love nothing more than to see God’s children live in fear, intimidation, and oppression.

“That’s why it is critical to remember the finished work of the cross when evil tries to press in on every side,” she explains. Whatever situation you find yourself in, know this: God is present. Worship Him-recognising and acknowledging His greatness-even in moments of great pain, and you will discover His grace and power is sufficient.”

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Nick Vujicic’s father admits he never imagined limbless son would marry and have kids of his own

Boris Vujicic, father of limbless evangelist Nick Vujicic, never imagined that his son would find bliss in marriage and experience the joys of fatherhood. He was glad he was wrong.

Nick interviewed his father to talk about the upcoming release of his new book entitled “Raising the Perfectly Imperfect Child: Facing the Challenges with Strength, Courage, and Hope.” In the video interview , Boris says he hopes his readers would be inspired to trust God while facing life’s difficulties.

Boris explains that people go through different struggles in life, but he wants them to remember that all of their pain and hardships are temporary. “We can grow, develop, persevere, and overcome amazing obstacles in our lives,” he says.

For Boris, it was a real struggle to raise Nick, who was born with Tetra-amelia syndrome-a rare disorder characterised by the absence of arms and legs in the newborn baby. Back then, he couldn’t have imagined how Nick would turn his life for the better by using his disability to motivate others not only to overcome personal challenges, but to dedicate their lives to God as well.

One of the proudest moments of Boris´ life was seeing his son minister to thousands of young people in Vietnam back in 2014. He told Nick that he is extremely proud “that you have become a leader in some aspects, an internationally influential person; that God has turned your disability to be used as a powerful force to motivate not only those with disabilities, but also the world all over.”

Another highlight of his life, according to Boris, was when Nick married his wife Kanae back in 2012. He describes the wedding ceremony as a “very emotional time for all of us as a family.”

Moreover, the “crowning of it all was when [Nick and Kanae’s son] Kiyoshi was born.” Kiyoshi was followed by another baby boy named Dejan Levi, who was born on Aug. 7, 2015.

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‘How Do We Get Millennials to Attend Church?’ Ed Cyzewski on why that’s asking the wrong question

Christian leaders and writers in America have spent the better part of the past decade labouring over this question: “How do we get millennials to attend church?” While there are debates over the interpretation of the data on millennial church attendance, there’s no denying that overall church attendance for American millennials (born after 1981) has dropped with no sign of abating. In the midst of this seeming crisis, we can’t blame anyone for asking how to reverse a negative trend. However, it’s likely that these leaders and writers are asking the wrong question.

A Simple Place to Begin with Young Adults

For starters, if your church is genuinely lacking the presence of the younger generation (20-somethings in particular), then the most helpful question isn’t how to attract them back to the church. That assumes the best step is to get them to listen to us, and in most cases they already have heard us and just aren’t interested. We won’t make progress by essentially repackaging our messages and services.

The better question we need to ask is something like this: “How can we start new conversations with young adults?” Forget about the generational labels for a moment. People are more complex than a generational trend after all. Rather than trying to get people to come and listen to us, let’s find ways we can listen to them. What if they even told us why they won’t come to church? Are we prepared to hear their honest answers, or will we hide behind generational stereotypes?

A Better Question about Young Adults and Church

Alongside a commitment to listening, we could replace questions about getting millennials to “attend” church with questions about how we can get millennials to “lead” the church. I’m not suggesting that pastors resign in favor of younger, inexperienced leaders. Rather, young leaders need a place at the table too so that they can take ownership of the church and help the church represent the perspectives of every generation.

We all have different suspicions about why millennials don’t find church relevant or don’t want to attend church. Some may say it’s because of Bible teaching or cultural compromise. I may suggest that young adults have not encountered the life-changing love of God in most churches. Our suspicions and isolated observations mean very little in the grand scheme of things if young adults don’t have a respected place at the table as full members and leaders in training with voices that are valued and considered.

That isn’t to say we cater to the whims of the younger generation. Rather, we may learn that the whims of the older generations have left some young adults feeling like they don’t have a place to belong. I’ve been the young adult in the circle of older church leaders, and I know what it feels like to be ignored and given a token place.

We shouldn’t be surprised that young adults will step on some toes when they aren’t included in the life of the church. My experiences today in a church that welcomes and nurtures young leaders has only convinced me that many churches are disconnected from young adults because they’ve become a population to be reached rather than integral parts of the life of the church.

What We Can’t Change about Young Adults in Church

During a question and answer session at the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing, an audience member asked pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, “How do we get millennials to attend church again?” She wisely replied that no one can “make” someone want to go to church. She added that too many older adults feel responsible for convincing their children or younger generations to attend church, but that guilt is not healthy or helpful.

Perhaps we worry about this issue so deeply because we believe that their lack of interest reflects poorly on us. While we should do everything we can to listen to the perspectives of young adults and to ensure we aren’t alienating them unnecessarily, there’s only so much we can do. Some young adults may be recovering from negative church experiences, others may be processing doubts, and still others may not have space in their lives to even consider church. A “no” to church today is not a “no” forever.

As we reach out to young adults who may not have an interest in our churches, we can be prepared to listen and to invite them to participate, but we shouldn’t take their lack of interest as a personal nock on us and our ministries. Rather than giving up on them or pressuring them to join us, we can remain open to them, listening and prepared to receive them when they discover their need for God and sacred space in their lives.

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