Christian Today Digest – April 2014

From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: +44(0)1858 438260, Fax: +44(0)1858 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
The Torch Trust for the Blind, registered charity number 1095904.

Contents

Christian Today Digest is available in the following formats: audio CD, braille, email and large print (17, 20, 25 and 30 point). It can also be downloaded from the Torch website as an HTML file.

[Items in this magazine have been selected by the editor at Christian Today. All the articles were first published on the Christian Today website: www.Christiantoday.com over the past month.]

Welcome!

Welcome to this April edition of Christian Today Digest. To start us off we hear from Lin Ball again. This time she tells us about some important forthcoming events ...

Who's missing from your church?

You can't read the Bible without getting the message that Jesus was interested in all kinds of people and always had time for people who were sick or disabled.

With this important message in mind, two major Churches for All events are coming up. The Torch Trust will play a key role in these events, both of which will encourage churches to be more welcoming and inclusive of people with all kinds of disabilities.

1. Christian Resources Exhibition

At the annual Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE) at Esher in Surrey (13-16 May), Torch Trust will have a stand in the Churches for All Zone. Each day a series of workshops will take place in the Zone: from parachute games to a British Sign Language taster. Visitors can drop in for a coffee and a chat. The programme will also include opportunities to listen to live chat shows with the Reflections radio team from Torch Trust and its host, Marilyn Baker. And on the Torch stand there'll be an opportunity to have a demonstration of how Worship for All - the free web-based system for producing service material in large print and braille for people with sight loss - can be used in a local church. Also available in the Zone will be a free resources pack for churches to use for Disability Sunday 2014, happening this year on 6 July. For more about CRE go to: www.creonline.co.uk; or email Torch using info@torchtrust.org to be sent a free ticket for CRE.

2. Enabling Church conference

The second major event for which Torch Trust is preparing is the Churches for All day conference "Enabling Church: Everybody In!" which takes place on 3 June in the Birmingham area. There are many specialist plenary speakers taking part including Roy McCloughry, the Church of England's National Disability Advisor, and Jonathan Edwards, the former General Secretary of the Baptist Union who's now an ambassador for Prospects, helping people with learning disabilities. The programme will feature dedicated streams on disability, deafness, dementia, and families and carers. See www.churchesforall.org.uk/EnablingChurch for more details and to take advantage of the special Early Bird price of only £13.50.

And now enjoy this edition of Christian Today Digest, and a happy Easter to you all!

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Belief in God helped me in face of death

Classical singer Russell Watson has spoken of how his belief in God sustained him when his life was on the line. Watson told Premier Christian Radio of the assurance he felt when suffering from life-threatening brain tumours.

"I genuinely believe that there's a God," he said. His advice to others facing similar difficulties in their health was to turn to God for help, rather than turn away.

"I think that when you're faced with real adversity there are two ways you can go. You can either think, 'why me?', and turn away from God, or you can actually enhance your life by thinking 'this is happening to me ... please help me'," he said.

During his struggle against a pituitary tumour, Watson suffered searing headaches and underwent radiotherapy and several life-saving operations.

"It changes your view in a very fundamental way when you go through a life-threatening illness," he said. "The first operation was a relative success but the tumour was aggressive and fibrous and grew back very quickly. As a result it haemorrhaged and that was what, in essence, threatened my life."

He told Premier that he found it cathartic to have a belief in something greater than himself when he was ill.

"And that's been enhanced during the last few years," he said. "We're not chosen to be ill. We're human beings and it just happens. But I think sometimes a little bit of faith can actually help. I don't think too much about yesterday or even tomorrow - but more today. Live today."

Russell Watson also revealed that How great thou art was his favourite hymn but that he had always liked Mario Lanza's version of I'll walk with God.

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Shakespeare "hundred times" more relevant than Bible

Esteemed theatre, film and TV director Trevor Nunn believes that Shakespeare has more to say about the human condition than the Bible.

With credits including stage musicals Les Misérables and Cats, it is also fair to say he may be one of the Bard's biggest fans, having directed no less than thirty of Shakespeare's plays, including Macbeth,King Lear and The Tempest. He plans to stage the final seven of the playwright's dramas before retirement.

"Shakespeare is my religion," he told The Telegraph in an interview published on 16 March. "Shakespeare has more wisdom and insight about our lives, about how to live and how not to live, how to understand out fellow creatures, than any religious tract."

Nunn goes on to assert that Shakespeare does this "one hundred times more than the Bible".

"Over and over again in the plays there is an understanding of the human condition that doesn't exist in religious books."

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Get on your bike: bishop ditches car for Lent challenge

Rather than the usual fare of no chocolate, caffeine or cake, the Bishop of Ramsbury has taken on an unusual challenge this Lent - he's given up the use of his car.

Bishop Edward Condry of the Diocese of Salisbury has challenged himself to travel around his rural community for forty days using purely public transport, his bicycle or by going on foot.

Just one week into the challenge he had already saved 622 miles in petrol by choosing to take the train, bus, bike or foot instead of hopping into his car. It hasn't been easy, however, though the Bishop notes that: "If we are going to do something about climate change it won't make our lives more convenient. That's not the point."

Bishop Ed shared with Christian Today more about his journey through Lent.

CT: Can you tell us more about the reasons behind the challenge?

EC: Firstly because I'm concerned about climate change, and secondly I wanted to do something for Lent that was positive, and not just about giving something up. Thirdly, I'm concerned that we have a full theology of body, mind and spirituality - it's not about just closing our eyes, praying and entering into some spiritual, ethereal realm. Spirituality is a real, concrete thing to do with our world and relationships.

CT: What's been the most difficult thing so far?

EC: The hills! It's very beautiful, but it takes that bit longer to get anywhere and it's quite cold! I've realised just how dependent the Church is on petrol - we tend to get in the car every time we go to church or Bible studies, and so if we're serious about reducing our carbon footprint we've got to do something. I've no idea how! I don't expect everyone to get on their bikes, but something needs to be done.

CT: Have you found any positives - other than appreciation of your car!

EC: Well I love cycling! I've had people look at me sternly and say, "You're actually going to enjoy Lent, aren't you?" But to that I say why not? We're meant to enjoy our faith and enjoy Lent. It's about doing something significant that makes an impact. It's not all sackcloth and ashes and being miserable.

CT: Do you think it's made you more aware of the choice we have as consumers?

EC: Yes, it's all part of making responsible decisions, like buying Fairtrade, turning down the thermostat and putting on a jumper instead.

CT: Are you hoping to inspire others to do the same?

EC: Absolutely - I hope people will make decisions to make a change. I happen to love cycling! It's just that to go any distance it takes a bit longer, and next week I've got a reasonably long bus journey to make. It's made me aware that in country areas, old people and shift workers have real problems getting around without a car because local transport is quite sparse.

CT: Why is it important the Christians care about things like this?

EC: That's simple: because Jesus told us to.

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Making more of Easter

Two Cardiff based brothers are throwing down a gauntlet to church leaders in Wales' capital city and their challenge is very simple: make more of Easter this year. While churches celebrate Advent and Christmas to great effect, communicating the story creatively and widely, Easter often passes quietly. Blink and you'll miss it.

So the Harris boys have come up with a smorgasbord of projects which are good to go. Jonathan, who works for Operation Mobilisation, thinks it's high time that churches learnt the art of telling the greatest story ever told. "We all love Christmas and it's great the way churches engage with their communities at that time of the year. But it should be no different at Easter time. It seems to me that as Christians we have the best tunes and songs in praise of resurrection hope, but no one apart from churchgoers know the words. This is our moment to spread the joy that's ours in Jesus."

And there are plenty of ways in which the joy will be spread. Eye-catching initiatives include church leaders offering free shoe shining on Maundy Thursday and a photography exhibition giving modern versions of ancient paintings.

There will be interesting collaborations between local churches and some of the city's evangelists. These will be particularly seen in a presentation called 24. This will go into five of Cardiff's secondary schools and is an account of the last 24 hours in Jesus' life. Based on the popular and dramatic 24 series, the presentation traces the timeline and key episodes building up to Jesus' death.

A dramatic version of Mark's Gospel will also be performed in two of the city's churches. Members of Rhiwbina Baptist Church and St Mark's Church in Wales are joining forces to stage a production over several nights. Produced by Andrew Page, author of the Mark drama, the audience will be taken through the life, teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - and all in 90 minutes.

Jonathan's brother Steve is equally effusive about this project. In addition to being part of the pastoral team at the City Temple, he also edits the Net Cardiff, a news and information website for the city. "These ideas and events will be available to anyone with internet access. By visiting the site, not only will people find out what's happening and where, but we hope they will be inspired to do something in their own locality," he said.

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How to engage young people with the Bible

Despite an interest in spirituality, ethics and social justice, over 70 per cent of young people never read the Bible, research has found. The findings are detailed in the Bible Society Australia's new report, 'The Bible according to Gen Z', and reveal, according to editor Adrian Blenkinsop, that young people are struggling to connect and engage with Scripture.

Adrian spoke to Christian Today about his research, and how we can encourage young people to get stuck into engaging with the Bible.

CT: Can you describe the scope of the issue of youth disengagement with the Bible and the impact it's having?

AB: It's certainly a global issue. In post-Christian cultures - like Australia and the UK - we're finding that at best there is generally apathy toward anything Christian, including the Bible. At worst there is outright anger, and disdain for Christianity and the Bible. My sense is that culturally - again, certainly in the UK and Australia - the Church is still grappling with the implications of no longer being at the centre of culture. We have lost our place of authority and respect, and with that comes a disregard for the Bible, not only from non-Christians, but also Christians. How we seek to engage a post-Christian culture with the Bible needs to radically change at a global level. Youth have no sense of how their personal story might fit into a much bigger story - God's story, as told through the Bible.

CT: Recent studies from the Bible Society UK show that most children and young people don't know basic biblical stories. Is it really that important to address this?

AB: Understanding and knowing Bible stories is important in the broader faith journey. However, knowing the Bible stories without having a sense of why they are a part of the bigger Bible story can lead to a sense of the Bible being a series of weird, hard to understand, and often unbelievable stories in people's minds. One of the challenges for churches is seeing people grow as disciples, and a key part of that journey is moving from a Sunday school understanding of God and the Bible - ie knowing the popular Bible stories and characters - to an understanding of why they are all in the Bible, and how it all fits together.

CT: How is our post-modern, consumerist and individualistic society having an effect on young people and their faith?

AB: It's really significant - and one of the great challenges as we seek to engage a culture that sees the Bible and Christian faith as just one 'option' of spiritual faith available to them ... they pick and choose the "best bits" from a plethora of world faiths, and form their own unique spirituality. How do we open the Bible and say "Actually, Jesus said there's only one way to the father" (John 14:6)? That's the antithesis of post-modernity. Similarly, our consumerist culture has convinced us that happiness and fulfilment can be found in the purchasing of goods and products, but the message of Jesus was clearly that these things are found in sacrifice and serving others.

CT: You note that there's no universal answer, but what can the individual youth pastor/leader be doing to encourage their young people to get stuck in with Scripture?

AB: I think it's important to firstly give licence to acknowledge that getting young people - and older people - into the Bible can be really hard. However, there are some key principles. Understanding the learning styles of your young people is key ie a 14-year-old boy will not engage with a sit-down Bible study where they are being "talked to". Read the Bible "on location": so, rather than reading the story of Jesus stilling the storm, go to a beach or lake, stand on the shore and read it together. Often when our senses are engaged, the stories in the Bible begin to come alive. Also, sharing the ups and downs of Bible engagement with other leaders is key. Find out what's working for other leaders, and see what you can learn, what ideas and methods you can use in your own context. And create a culture that enables and encourages young people to explore the Bible with their peers - where hard questions, opinions and emotions are welcome.

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20 years after Rwandan Genocide, healing and reconciliation continue

International charity Samaritan's Purse is passionate about enabling and equipping local churches to transform their communities, and is extending a scheme that hopes to raise 10,000 families out of poverty in Rwanda.

The central African country is still recovering from the genocide of 1994, during which 800,000 people were murdered in just 100 days. Those who were children at the time are now in their twenties, and many are just now coming to terms with the depths of their loss.

The Right Reverend Louis Muvunyi, Bishop of Kigali, has been a key figure in the implementation of "Raising Families", a Samaritan's Purse programme in his diocese which has been working with 83 local churches and 1,660 families to improve access to healthcare, education, sustainable livelihoods and spiritual support. The bishop is currently on a speaking tour in the UK to share more about the work being done through the Raising Families programme.

"Poverty is blocking the healing, reconciliation and restoration that we want," he says. "The Church has to do something. It is well placed to bring holistic transformation in our society and make an impact in Rwanda. That is why the Church is there."

Raising Families encourages churches to focus on what they do have in terms of resources, skills, money and tools rather than what they do not, and in doing so to pool these assets for the good of their local community through Community Action Groups. Local people living in extreme poverty are thus able to benefit from their own community working together, while receiving money to start their own businesses and create a sustainable livelihood.

During the past two years, Samaritan's Purse has seen the percentage of families in Kigali who are connected to the local church with a regular income increase from just 13 per cent to 84 per cent, and Bishop Louis contends that faith has had a significant role to play in that.

"It all starts with knowing God, and with the healing, confidence and hope that people rediscover in him," he says. "The focus and aim of Raising Families is to show the potential, strength, power and confidence that God gives."

The bishop understands the importance of restoring that hope to the people of Rwanda, as he himself suffered intensely as a result of the genocide 20 years ago. He was studying in Tanzania at the time, but back home 20 members of his extended family were murdered, including his three brothers.

"I was very angry," he recalls. "I thought I had no message for Rwanda. How can I preach about love, reconciliation and forgiveness? But then this verse from Job 14:7 spoke to me: 'There is hope for a tree: if it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.' I realised that if there is hope for that tree, why not for my life, and for my nation?

"The cross also came to me in a unique way. I realised that God understands pain and suffering, and that he cares. So much happened at the cross: forgiveness, repentance, salvation and reconciliation and those words became really powerful to me. The cross wasn't just about suffering, but it was also the beginning of hope.

"Those verses energised my life and I realised I was ready to go back to Rwanda. This was a message my people needed to hear, but God had to deal with me first. There is hope, for the future, for survivors, for victims and for the perpetrators," he declares.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in April, Samaritan's Purse will roll out Raising Families across all 11 dioceses in Rwanda, which will bring hope to a further 10,000 families living in extreme poverty.

"The Church needs to be vigilant, and remain prophetic," Bishop Louis says. "We have lots to learn, and we must be accountable to our calling and to our nation."

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Sin in the Church:

Can we create a space where people don't feel scared to be open?

Our church is currently doing a preaching series based on Phil Moore's brilliantly provocative book Gagging Jesus: things Jesus said we wish he hadn't. Last Sunday my husband preached about sexuality and what Jesus said about it. We looked at sex within marriage (how different a starting point we have to our society on this subject), same-sex attraction, lust, adultery and pornography. Possibly not the most usual material for a Sunday morning sermon! And yet how important.

I was struck about how little we Christians talk about sex. We also don't like engaging with the "hot potato" issues such as porn or homosexuality. And yet what does that do to our churches? They are so often places that are rife with hidden sins - but why? I was leading the worship times before and after the sermon and at one point I heard myself saying, "Church is full of sin because we are all too scared to open up and admit our failings. And so often when others do, we judge them. Shame on us. Shame on us for creating an environment where no one feels comfortable enough to be open."

Shame on us, also, for allowing sins to go on either undetected or unchallenged. Of course this isn't just about sexual sin, but every other sin too (another point made in the sermon). What about anger, bitterness, gossip, fear, making money an idol etc? Every single one of them takes us further away from God. Surely the point of being part of a church family is that we are able to walk closely with those we see regularly (I'm not saying we should be shouting our sins out to the whole congregation!). We are there to support but also confront our friends when necessary. But that isn't going to happen if no one is willing to take off their "I'm fine" mask and be real.

Why don't we talk about the struggles we are having with losing our temper - or flirting with our boss? So often we are too concerned with how others in church view us - but the one person whose opinion really matters (God's in case you were wondering!) we don't seem so concerned about. He already knows our deepest, darkest secrets and loves us anyway, so why can't we be honest about those secrets with those around us?

Unless we start taking those first steps towards vulnerability with others in the church we are going to remain tight-lipped, struggling, individualistic Christians. God's design for the church is that we are a body, each with our own part to play, but also supporting one another too. We are called to love one another - not judge one another.

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