Christian Today Digest – December 2014

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Christian Today Website Articles

To add to your further enjoyment of these articles, we thought a short description of how the website is organised would be of interest.

The Christian Today website has what we call tabs which are really just headings. It’s a way of categorising the articles. Here are the headings, which they use:

UK; World; Church; Mission; Ministries; Society; Life; Entertainment; Comment.

Torch will now include these categories at the beginning of each of the articles.

We have observed that sometimes CT include an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather the reverse and which has been included for readers to pray about. We hope therefore that including the headings or categories will enable Torch readers to also discern and pray.

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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 on recently.

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Worship leader whose wife and baby died within days of each other says “I want good to come out of this”

From “World” section

Christian worship leader Chris Picco delivered a touching speech at the funeral this month of his wife and son, who passed away just days apart.

Picco said he hoped good would come out of their untimely deaths, and spoke of his continued faith in God’s plan for his life.

“I know that God did not compose this,” he said. “This is not ... God had nothing to do with this, but I can see Him, tears streaming down his face, beginning to compose, one note at a time, the most beautiful melody that anyone has ever heard. And I don’t know what that sounds like, but that’s the God that I believe in.”

Picco’s wife, Ashley, delivered their son, Lennon, via emergency C-section at 24 weeks on November 8. The 30-year-old did not survive the procedure and baby Lennon spent three days in the NICU with little movement or brain activity before passing away on November 11.

A video of Picco playing his guitar and singing The Beatles’ “Blackbird” outside of his son’s incubator went viral, and has received over 14 million views.

“During the pregnancy, Ashley would often feel Lennon moving to music so Chris asked if he could bring his guitar into the NICU and play for Lennon, which he did for several hours during the last days of Lennon’s precious life,” the video’s description read. “One day after filming this, Lennon went to sleep in his daddy’s arms.”

At the funeral, Picco sang the Christian hymn “This Is My Father’s World,” and spoke of his hope for the future.

“One of the themes of our relationship for me and Ashley, we met as a result of a tragic, tragic event,” he explained. “Unspeakable tragedy. That’s how we met. And so something good came from something so tragic. And so from this unspeakable tragedy that’s what I want. I want good to come out of this.”

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Richard Dawkins has had his day, says Ravi Zacharias

From “Society” section

The “new atheists” have had their day, says Ravi Zacharias.

Speaking to Christian Today, the author and speaker who chairs the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) said that “the tide is turning” for Christians.

Prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have “overplayed their hand”, he said.

He accused comedians who mocked the Judeo-Christian worldview of “intellectual cowardice”, saying: “They would never mock Islam, for obvious reasons, or Hinduism, for fear of being culturally prejudiced.”

Atheist campaigners “have had their day”, he said, adding: “It’s ironic that people have minted millions on arguing for God’s non-existence. They have a religious and evangelical fervour of their own, but their time has peaked.”

He said that four or five years ago there would be many disciples of Richard Dawkins in OCCA audiences. “Now, though, they want to raise personal questions of meaning,” he said. “You see them here and there, but there is nowhere near the volume that there was.”

Zacharias spoke of the need for apologetics - the intellectual defence of Christian truth - in removing obstacles to faith. “Apologetics is at once the most needed discipline, and the most easily abused,” he said. “If it is a process of destroying your opponent, it is not biblical apologetics - it’s just another power grab.

“It is about clarifying the truth and pointing to the relationship of a saved walk with God.”

He said that the question of suffering was one of the most frequently raised by questioners. It’s the topic he addresses in his new book, Why Suffering?, co-authored with Vince Vitale. “How could an all-powerful, all-loving God allow this volume of suffering? How do we truly find an answer for it?”

In a perspective he said was “counter-intuitive”, Zacharias said realising that such a question needed answering was itself a pointer to faith. “Is it a legitimate question if there is no moral first cause? What becomes of moral reasoning? In that case there is no such thing as good or evil.”

In questions about suffering, he said, there was “the assumption that human life has intrinsic worth. For human beings to suffer at the hands of another is unjust and immoral. When we raise the question we assume value and worth.

“We can’t do away with the existence of God. I believe that the Judeo-Christian worldview is the only one that does justice to this.”

However, he added: “Anyone writing on this subject should never think that they have said the last word. There is no one-size-fits-all; suffering is a very personal thing.

“Our goal was not to leave it at a cerebral level but to help people think through their assumptions. In the Gospels we see a Saviour who entered into people’s suffering, transformed their view of it and helped them deal with it.”

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Limbless evangelist Nick Vujicic: “Fear can cripple you more than having no legs”

From “Life” section

Nick Vujicic has a word of encouragement for people feeling knocked back in life: don’t let fear hold you back.

The Australian evangelist, who was born without arms or legs, was speaking before a crowd of over 1,000 people at Fairhope United Methodist Church, in Alabama, on November 14.

He spoke openly about the trials he has faced, including experiencing bullying as a child, which was a factor in his suicide attempt at the age of 10.

His life changed dramatically when he gave his life to God at the age of 15 but even as an adult and internationally acclaimed speaker and author, there have still been difficulties.

The audience each got a copy of his new book, “Love Without Limits”, in which he talked honestly about the financial hardship he was in while dating his now wife, Kanae.

They married three years ago and have a little boy together, but during the earlier stages of their relationship, he was so financially pressed that he had to ask his parents for money.

And just recently, his 21-month-old son was hospitalised for unexplained pain.

“It was a rough week for us,” he said. “It has definitely drawn us closer.”

Still, Vujicic’s message to the masses has never changed. It has always been one of optimism and faith in God to get him through everything life can throw at him.

And his message to Fairhope was no different as he encouraged the audience to live without fear.

“Fear can cripple you more than having no legs,” he said. “By the grace of God, his love casts out all fear.”

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The Lost Gospel: Unpacking what’s behind the Jesus and Mary marriage theory

From “Church” section

Two authors, Israeli-Canadian writer Simcha Jacobovici and York University Professor Barrie Wilson, claim in The Lost Gospel that a 1,500-year-old papyrus in the British Library says that Jesus and Mary were married.

It is the latest in a long line of books to posit that Jesus was married to Mary, and has sent the internet into a predictable meltdown. So what’s it all about really?

Haven’t we heard this before?

Oh, yes. It is a theme which pops up periodically. Nikos Kazantzakis used it in The Last Temptation of Christ in 1953, long before the internet, and Dan Brown used it in The Da Vinci Code. Both of these are FICTION.

Anything special about the latest one?

Jacobovici and Wilson say that a 6th-century Syriac work called Joseph and Aseneth is really about Jesus and Mary; the names were disguises.

How likely is it that they’re right?

On a scale of one to 10, where one is very improbable indeed, it’s somewhere in the high minuses.

But the Jesus and Mary thing keeps coming back. Is there any evidence at all to support it?

Little to none. In the 3rd-century Gospel of Philip Mary is depicted as Jesus’ “koinonos” or companion; in the 5th-century Gospel of Mary Jesus is said to have “loved [Mary] more than the rest of women”. There is also a 4th-centuryCoptic fragment including the words “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife ...’”. It was called The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife for reference purposes, but Prof Karen King, who discovered it, said that it “should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married”.

Why is it such a big deal?

Interesting question. The assumption is that Jesus was not married because no wife was ever mentioned in the four canonical Gospels. But singleness and virginity loomed very large in Christian thinking, particularly in the Western tradition, thanks to St Augustine, who was very negative about the whole sex thing. It became impossible to think of Jesus in that way. Add in a former prostitute, and it’s just not going to happen.

No! Was she really?

Afraid not. She has been wrongly identified with the repentant sinner in Luke 7: 36-50.

Back to Jesus, though: the argument from silence is a bit weak, isn’t it?

The truly honest answer is that we don’t know whether he was married or not. It would have been unusual for someone capable of supporting a wife not to have been married by the age of 30. It has been convincingly argued that Paul was married (though widowed) as it was a requirement for rabbis - However, against this is the question of Jesus’ parentage; some scholars argue that he carried a stigma of illegitimacy (in Mark 6:3 he is called “the son of Mary”, not Joseph) that would have meant he was an undesirable match.

Does it really matter?

Again, an interesting question. Some might argue that it makes him more “human”. Others would rightly ask what that says about single people. For most people thinking about Jesus in a sexual content is just not on; though Hebrews 4:15 says that he was “tempted in every respect just as we are”, so that’s quite wrong. It is probably best to assume that he was not married, but to critique our own theological and other hang-ups about sex as we do so.

Are any reputable biblical scholars backing The Lost Gospel?


Isn’t this just because they tend to be Christians and are terrified at this challenge to their faith?

Again, no. They may be Christians, but they also work in the cut-throat, kill-or-be-killed world of academia. Any scholar who could establish that Jesus and Mary were married would have libraries named after them, win the most glittering prizes and never need to work again. Go figure.

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Christian fighters defiantly hoist their flag above town recaptured from ISIS

From “World” section

The residents of a pre-dominantly Christian Assyrian hamlet in northern Iraq are bravely holding off the Islamic State after driving the militants out a few weeks ago.

Bakufa was taken over by the Islamic State along with 22 other villages nearby in a frighteningly efficient offensive across the region during the summer.

While many of the residents were forced to flee to Kurdish towns and cities elsewhere, the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters successfully reclaimed the village and have now established a militia of volunteers to stand guard around the clock, the Associated Press reports.

The militia goes by the name of Dwekh Nawsha, meaning “self-sacrifice” in Assyrian, and is made up of around 70 volunteers.

The Associated Press reports that the militiamen must provide their own weapons and are relying on Christian charities abroad and wealthier members of the Iraqi Assyrian community to survive.

Now the flag of the Assyrian Patriotic Party has been hoisted over the village and the hope is that the militia will be able to hold off any further attacks from the IS so that all the villagers can return home.

The Christian presence in Iraq’s Nineveh province goes back thousands of years and Bakufa is home to a 200-year-old monastery, St Gorgiz.

Militia commander Albert Kisso said: “It is the priority of Dwekh Nawsha to protect the sons of this region, as well as the region itself - including its monasteries, churches, artifacts.”

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes as a result of the IS onslaught. There have been horrific reports of rapes and executions carried out on those who defy the IS militants and their strict Sharia rules.

The local peshmerga brigade commander, Abdul Rahman Kawriny told the Associated Press: “We came here ... to protect our Christian brothers and their homes.”

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Latin America: Why thousands of Catholics are defecting to evangelical churches

From “Church” section

A major Pew Forum study into religious affiliations, beliefs and practices in 18 countries and the US territory of Puerto Rico has found that only 69 per cent of Latin Americans now identify as Catholic, down from at least 90 per cent in the 1960s. In nearly every country surveyed, the Catholic Church has experienced net losses from members joining evangelical Protestant churches or rejecting organised religion altogether.

Overall, 84 per cent of Latin American adults say they were raised Catholic, 15 per cent more than those who say they are currently Catholic. However, while only nine per cent say they were raised Protestant, 19 per cent say they are now Protestant.

The survey asked former Catholics who have converted to Protestantism why they did so. Of the eight possible explanations offered, the most frequently cited was that they were seeking a more personal connection with God.

Many converts also said they wanted a different style of worship or a church that helps its members more.

Other factors included health, family problems or marriage to a non-Catholic.

Evangelisation efforts by Protestant churches are also effective. More than half of those who have switched say their new church reached out to them. The survey found that Protestants in the region were much more likely than Catholics to report sharing their faith with people outside their own religious group.

Most converts say that they left Catholicism before the age of 25. Geographic mobility may also be a factor, with converts often likely to have changed their place of residence.

Another factor may be the relative conservatism of Latin American Protestantism. On average, Catholics are less opposed to abortion, homosexuality, contraception, sex outside marriage, divorce and alcohol than Protestants. According to Pew, “These differing views on social issues may help explain why many former Catholics who have become Protestants say they were looking for a church that places greater importance on living a moral life’.”

Pentecostal forms of Protestantism, whose services feature divine healing, speaking in tongues and receiving direct revelations from God, are particularly popular in Latin America. Nearly two-thirds of Protestants identify as Pentecostal either by denomination or personal conviction.

The “Pope Francis factor” - the boost to Catholicism from the Pope’s personal popularity - is far more marked among current Catholics than among converts. The survey found that people who are currently Catholic overwhelmingly view Francis favourably and consider his papacy a major change for the Church. However, former Catholics are more sceptical. In Argentina and Uruguay most ex-Catholics express a favourable view of him, but in every other country no more than roughly half of ex-Catholics view Francis favourably and relatively few see his papacy as a significant change.

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Faith leaders at the forefront of driving back Ebola in West Africa

From “World” section

While most public gatherings have been suspended across West Africa, many churches remain open and are playing a crucial role in turning around the Ebola crisis.

World Vision said churches are one of the few places where people can receive vital information about the Ebola outbreak.

While schools and social clubs remain closed across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, churches are working to educate communities about the symptoms of Ebola and the reintegration of survivors to avoid unnecessary stigmatisation.

David Thomson, Director of Policy and Programming for World Vision UK, said: “We have strong ties to faith communities, having worked with both Christian and Muslim leaders to support our development work in the past.

“This allows us to disseminate health promotion messages through faith communities more rapidly and more effectively, drawing on the additional influence and trust they have amongst local populations.”

With unsafe funeral practices among the factors in the Ebola outbreak, World Vision is working with Christian and Muslim communities to ensure safe and dignified burials.

Part of this effort has included providing trained burial teams to support religious leaders in laying victims to rest.

Churches are also distributing food and hygiene items to families at risk of infection.

“The authority of faith leaders allows them to play a vital role in challenging the myths and misinformation surrounding the virus and offer life-saving advice to their church or mosque congregations on Ebola protection and prevention methods,” said World Vision.

With schools closed across West Africa, World Vision has been maintaining the education of children through TV and radio classes.

The latest outbreak of Ebola is the worst since the disease was identified in 1976 and has so far killed close to 5,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation.

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