Christian Today Digest – February 2015

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Contents

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 www.christiantoday.com recently.

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Archbishop of Canterbury and daughter back churches’ mental health toolkit

From “Society” Section

The UK’s largest Christian disability charity, Livability, has joined forces with Premier Mind and Soul to create new resource to help churches better understand people with mental health needs in their congregations.

The pack has won endorsements from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev Justin Welby; the Bishop of London, Rt Rev Richard Chartres; director of Time to Change, Sue Baker; youth charity XLP founder Patrick Regan and worship leader, Matt Redman.

The pack was developed in response to a growing demand from churches keen to better understand mental health issues. It aims to equip churches with relevant knowledge and tools incorporating theological, psychological and medical perspectives on mental health as well as signposting them to other specialist external sources.

One in four people will experience a mental health issue each year, with 11 per cent of British women taking anti-depressant medication daily. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Christians with mental health needs have often found churches they attend are relatively ill-equipped to support them.

Welby said: “Churches have a responsibility to welcome everyone who comes to them in Christ’s name, but the reality is that they don’t always know how best to support people who are struggling with mental health issues. The Mental Health Access Pack will help equip churches to make God’s love more visible in the welcome they offer to every person. I am grateful to Livability and to Mind and Soul for all the thought and prayer that has gone into this resource and I commend it to churches as a valuable pastoral tool.”

The pack includes contributions from experts including Rev Will van der Hart, Dr Kate Middleton, Dr Rob Waller, Roy McCloughry and Jonathan Clark. It explores common mental health conditions and addresses some of the common myths and misconceptions about mental health. The pack also suggests ways that local churches can better support those struggling with poor mental health.

Katharine Welby-Roberts, an associate at Livability and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter, who has spoken publicly regarding her struggles with depression, said: “As anti-stigma campaigns, such as Time to Change, begin to see societal attitudes towards mental health change, the Church has begun to recognise the need to better support people with mental health needs in their congregations.”

She said that churches wanted to support people with mental health problems, but did not know how.

“This can often lead to isolation or people leaving the Church because they feel misunderstood or not catered for. I believe the Church is a key untapped local resource which can support people with mental health needs; this pack is a valuable and timely resource which will help churches to do mental health better.”

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Pastor still regrets going along with girlfriend’s abortion 23 years later

From “Society” Section

It has been 23 years since California pastor Shane Idleman made the decision with his girlfriend to abort their five-week old baby, but the decision still haunts him to this day.

In his blog, Idleman recalled the painful decision to abort their baby and he imagined what the child would have been like if they had only decided otherwise.

“Approximately 23 years ago, as a prodigal, I conceded to my girlfriends request to abort our child around the 5th week of conception. The pain of that decision still haunts me today,” he wrote.

“What would they look like? Was it a boy or a girl? I can picture walking and talking with my child ... watching his or her first steps ... holding them when they cry and rejoicing with them when they succeed. But these are just dreams in my mind; dreams that often leave me heartbroken. Regret is one of the hardest pains to deal with because it is a constant reminder that we failed ... failed God, others, and the aborted child.”

Idleman admitted that the article was extremely difficult for him to write, and he even contemplated deleting it. Eventually, after shedding many tears and praying about it, he decided to share it with the world.

“Life is precious. We must fight for it,” he stressed.

Idleman also confessed in a video that he often dreams of his unborn baby calling him “daddy,” and he prays deeply to the Lord to remove his guilt and shame.

He wants to let those who have participated in, or who have had an abortion realise that there is still hope. “If this is you, I encourage you to read Psalm 51 often. God’s unfailing love and compassion will see you through. We lean on His strength for the future not on our failures from the past,” wrote Idleman.

There are other steps in moving on from past mistakes, and for Idleman, it was seeking forgiveness. With the support of his wife, Idleman tracked down his former girlfriend who had the abortion and asked for her forgiveness, and she did the same.

“This one act of forgiveness brought tremendous closure and peace,” he shared.

Lifenews reported that there are many men who suffer silently because of abortion, even if they were not aware of the act beforehand. They reported that most relationships at the time of the abortion failed in less than a year, and that only one per cent of men in one study said they would consider abortion again in the future.

A massive 90 per cent suffered grief and sadness, and the same number admitted to experiencing persistent thoughts about the aborted baby.

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Heavenly bodies: how US churches have made fitness a spiritual issue

From “Church” Section

Christian Today recently ran a story saying that a third of US pastors were obese.

It gets worse: it turns out that if you attend church in the US you are more likely to be too heavy, according to a recent report by Fox News.

A 2011 Northwestern University study tracking 3,433 men and women for 18 years found that young adults who attend church or a Bible study once a week are 50 per cent more likely to be obese than those who don’t.

And another study found that people who attended church were more likely than non-church members to be 20 per cent overweight and have higher cholesterol and blood pressure.

But there is encouraging news. HealthFitnessRevolution.com has found that far from churches just slumping back on the couch and changing channels, they’re actually doing something about it.

Health Fitness Revolution (HFR) did exhaustive research into the fittest churches in Texas and came up with a list of the top 20. After all, according to founder Samir Becic - four times name as Number 1 Fitness Trainer in the World, says HFR - “Spiritual awareness is one of the key components of healthy lifestyle that impacts the whole body and rejuvenates the spirit. Physical fitness and healthy nutrition allows that spirit to flourish to new dimensions and many people experience a closer relationship to God.”

Top of the list is Champion Baptist Forest Church in Houston. With 12,000 members, its list of facilities is awe-inspiring. It has cardio-vascular equipment, a weight room, two full-size gyms, a jogging/walking track and racquetball courts. It offers adult sports including ultimate frisbee, children’s sports including basketball, tae kwon do, volleyball and martial arts, aerobic classes, pilates classes, “body blaster” classes and “flex and flow”, to name but a few.

Next is “Chris United Methodist Church” in Plano, though that turns out to be a misprint. Christ United Methodist has a basketball league, a volleyball league, it does cheerleading, dance classes, health education and Tai Chi - and it too has a weight room and an indoor track.

Columbus Avenue Baptist in Waco has the above, plus a heated indoor swimming pool; Crossroads Fellowship in Odessa hosts marathons; First Baptist in Abilene has not only an indoor track but an actual bowling alley. Hyde Park Baptist and the Quarries Church in Austin has a rock wall and tennis courts; the pastor of Lifepointe Church in Crowley is “one of the fittest Christian leaders in the US”.

It’s all too much. Christian Today is going for a lie down.

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Haiti’s 2010 earthquake survivors get the keys to their new quake-proof homes

From “Mission” Section

It took five years after the horrific 2010 Haiti earthquake, but Anaïse Cétoute and her family finally have a home again.

The widow and mother of seven told Tearfund that she is very “happy and satisfied” with her new earthquake-resistant home in Haiti. She blessed the organisation as well as its partners and supporters after they handed over the keys to her house.

After years in makeshift housing, she is thankful for the opportunity of a new start.

Cétoute, who now takes care of her brother’s two children, was one of the millions who lost her home in Croix-des-Bouquets due to the massive quake in 2010. The quake also claimed the lives of 250,000 people.

As part of its response, Tearfund and its partners built permanent houses and schools for the victims, and has worked to educate them about the risk of disasters, in addition to supporting them in other areas of life such as providing hygiene awareness, and supporting livelihoods and people with HIV.

Coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the Haiti quake, Tearfund handed over keys to 19 new properties, which were built in partnership with World Relief and the Council of Evangelical Churches of Haiti (CEEH).

Tearfund Country Director Jean Claude Cerin said that they were one of the few organisations who were willing to go to remote mountainous areas around Leogane.

“Over three years the operational team built hundreds of transitional homes and schools, while water and hygiene work helped prevent a cholera epidemic,” he shared.

But Cerin admitted that there are many more things that need to be done by the Haitian government and NGOs to ensure people are prepared for the next possible earthquake.

“Ignorance killed so many people in 2010, such as people outside running into buildings which then collapsed on them. Education is still needed because the geological faults which caused the quake are still active,” Cerin stressed.

He hopes that there will be more changes in the way buildings are constructed from now on, so that people will no longer feel unsafe and panic in the event of another earthquake.

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Reflection: Your greatest need is not what you think

From “Comment” Section

They made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:4-5)

Back in 1998 the satirical American newspaper The Onion ran a savage spoof article entitled: “God Answers Prayers Of Paralyzed Little Boy.” The sub-heading, immediately below those words, was the simple but brutal: “‘No’, says God.” Ouch!

The rest of the feature was, as you might expect, heavily unsubtle in its ironic dismissal of God, Christians and those who pray for healing.

And we might be tempted to think: they have a point, don’t they? If we’re honest, we sometimes find ourselves asking: “Come on, Lord - I am praying for this sick person here. Isn’t it obvious what you should do?”

Except that when Jesus is confronted by the “obvious” thing he should immediately do in Mark 2, that’s exactly how he doesn’t react.

Here’s a paralysed man, unable to move himself, and so carried to Jesus by four of his friends. There’s such a large crowd that they can’t get near the front door, so somehow they get him up on to the roof and dig through it.

We can only imagine what was going through the minds of those inside the house as the sound of scratching and scrabbling was succeeded by bits of ceiling falling and then a substantial hole appearing. Moreover, this wasn’t any old building: Mark tells us in verse 1 that Jesus was “at home”. The implication is that this was a house which actually belonged to Jesus, or at the very least, a family member. It’s a detail often overlooked. So one “obvious” reaction for Jesus would have been for him to rebuke those who had just vandalised the family home.

But the even more obvious thing for him to do would have been to heal the paralysed man straight away. And he doesn’t. Instead, he says simply: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” It’s a remarkable demonstration of Jesus’ authority - and, as those there immediately recognise, an authority which comes with an implicit claim to be divine. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they mutter. Indeed - precisely.

But it’s also a remarkable reminder that what God sees as our greatest need may be very different from what we imagine. As one writer observes: “Jesus’ priority as he exercises his authority is to forgive sins, not heal bodies ... Every healed body would die again, while those whose sins are forgiven receive the gift of eternal life.”

Indeed the healing - when it comes - is given by Jesus, in his own words, “so that we may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v10). In other words, it’s there to validate the truth, priority and importance of his initial words to the man.

We would all like everyone we know who is sick to be healed immediately. Not unreasonably, we would like it ourselves in such circumstances - and there’s no doubt it is right to ask for it in prayer. But often, it seems, the Lord has a different assessment of our greatest need.

In her remarkable book A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the mysteries of suffering, pain and God’s sovereignty, Joni Eareckson Tada - who knows more about paralysis than most of us - writes how “God works everything in accordance with His plan. And that plan often (actually, most often) allows for suffering or quadriplegia to continue for good and well-considered reasons that we often can’t understand or discern this side of heaven.”

The article in The Onion doesn’t ultimately offer anything in its mockery except despair. By contrast, the actions of Jesus in Mark 2 demonstrate that - even when he doesn’t immediately respond to what we regard as our greatest need - he is, in the end, wholly and completely worthy of our trust.

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Darlene Zschech releases new album with songs inspired by her battle with cancer

From “Entertainment” Section

Multi-talented worship leader, singer, and author and Hope Unlimited Church Senior Pastor Darlene Zschech will release a new album called In Jesus’ Name: A Legacy of Worship and Faith on February 10, featuring songs she wrote during her recent battle with breast cancer.

The 14-song album will be released in partnership with Integrity Music and Provident Distribution. It contains popular worship songs such as “Shout to the Lord,” “Worthy is the Lamb,” “The Potter’s Hand,” and “In Jesus’ Name.”

The song “My Highest Hope,” which Zschech wrote when she was battling cancer will also be included in the album and is expected to hit radio waves this month. The lyrics of the song express Zschech’s unflinching hope in God during her most tumultuous times, and she sang that God is her “Lord over every fear.”

“As I put my hope in Him, His love will engulf me, and I will be stolen away to a place no one else can go, because it’s a place reserved for Him and me. There is a place in Christ designed just for you too. I know that by His grace I can encourage others to seek first the Kingdom of God, with all they are, for evermore. Every day matters,” she wrote in her self-named blog last December 31.

Others songs in the album are “God is Here,” “Hear Our Praises,” “At the Cross,” “Hallelujah,” “You Are Love,” “In Jesus’ Name,” “Blessed,” “Jesus Lover of My Soul,” “Let the Peace of God Reign,” and “Amazing Grace.”

Zschech first discovered she had breast cancer on December 11, 2013. Even during that difficult period in her life, she expressed faith that more miracles will appear in her life. That miracle materialised late last year when she narrated in her blog that she had no more cancer in her body.

She immediately held a thanksgiving celebration in her church, where she sang new material that she wrote while undergoing treatment and which are now part of her new album.

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World Vision joins $250m Ebola vaccine initiative as it continues to address stigma

From “World” Section

World Vision has become part of a multi-million effort to combat the deadly Ebola epidemic.

With a grant from Europe’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), the Christian humanitarian organisation will work on the Ebola Vaccine Deployment, Acceptance and Compliance (EboDAC) project, a part of IMI’s $250-million Ebola+ programme aimed at providing a vaccine solution to the disease.

EboDAC is one of eight projects launched by IMI “to accelerate all aspects of vaccine development and manufacturing as well as deployment and compliance with vaccine regimens and diagnostics,” World Vision said.

In partnership with Janssen Pharmaceutica, the Grameen Foundation, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, World Vision will work directly in West African communities to disseminate information regarding the potential vaccine and the disease, as well as to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“We are thrilled to be a partner in this critical fight against Ebola, which has ravaged communities where we work in places like Sierra Leone,” said Magnus Conteh, World Vision’s Health and Programs Coordinator in West and East Africa.

“We’ve seen firsthand the devastating impact the disease can have on families, leaving children orphaned and vulnerable. Although there is no vaccine or treatment against Ebola as yet, we hope by these groups coming together there will be a significant impact on both current and future outbreaks,” Conteh added.

A primary issue that the non-governmental organisation aims to address is the fear of shame or disgrace that many survivors and relatives of the infected face.

“The concern is that the stigma surrounding Ebola, coupled with a suspicion of vaccines in general, may deter people from getting vaccinated,” Conteh explained.

In a report published on World Vision Ireland’s website, Conteh described how not only geographical proximity, economic set-up, weak health care systems, and lack of awareness and resources, but also fear of stigmatisation, contributed to the rapid spread of the Ebola virus disease.

According to Conteh, many of those infected by the disease choose not to seek medical help, concerned that their communities will know of their condition. Even those who have survived the disease face the same fear of disgrace.

As of January 4, 2015, more than 8,000 lives have been lost to the current Ebola outbreak and more than 20,000 are confirmed or suspected to be infected with the virus, according to the World Health Organisation. With the staggering number of fatalities, the current Ebola epidemic is the largest outbreak known since the discovery of the virus in 1976.

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