Christian Today Digest – January 2016

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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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David Suchet: What I learned from recording the whole Bible

From “Church” section

David Suchet is one of the best actors of his generation. He’s a star of stage and screen, probably best known for his iconic portrayal of Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

He’s also a committed Christian who’s passionately committed to the Bible. Suchet has recorded the whole of the New International Version - the first ever recording of the NIV by a single actor.

Available on CD and as a digital download, it now features its own dedicated Bible app which allows users to search for keywords or particular verses, read along with the audio and make notes on the text.

It was a hit for publishers Hodder when it was released 18 months ago, with total sales of 25,000 across all platforms.

It’s fair to say that it was a surprise hit; no one predicted its popularity. And it’s largely down to Suchet himself - who’s donated his fee from the project to a fund for training Church of England priests - that the vision became a reality.

Suchet had recorded parts of the Bible before. He was inspired to push for a recording of the whole NIV by a woman from Northern Ireland with multiple sclerosis, who wrote to him saying she had listened to his recording of John’s Gospel because her disease had left her partially sighted. By the time she’d finished it, she realised she had to know more about the Bible and prayed that God would help her. She woke up the next morning and she could see.

It was this sense of the need for the Bible that drove Suchet forward. Conversations with Christian TV company CTVC led to it building a recording studio in its office close to his London home, so he could walk across and record sections when he was able. Gradually the project came together.

The intensity of his engagement with the text is a stark challenge to Christians who might take the Bible more lightly - and he hopes one of the results of his work will be that it comes to life for them again.

Altogether, the 80 hours of published recordings required more than 200 hours of studio time - but that’s only a fraction of his commitment to the project. Far from just turning up and reading, he studied each passage intensively beforehand. He thinks he put around 400 hours of Bible study into the whole project on top of the studio time.

At a meeting with journalists, Christian Today asked him about what he’d learned from the experience.

“I was forced to remind myself again and again that these words were written at a particular time and place for a particular people,” he says. “I was constantly reminded that this is a Middle Eastern book and unless you look at it through the eyes of the Middle East you’ll never understand it.”

This stress on the context of the biblical books helped him to deal with one of the most challenging aspects of the reading: the bloodshed described in what’s known as the “texts of terror”, in which dreadful events are recounted.

“I had to deal with a God I read about who was almost genocidal,” he says. “That was very hard, but reading the whole Bible and focusing on Jesus made me realise that God’s plan for the world was still ongoing.

“We will never explain the mysteries of suffering, but we can think with the Psalmist, ‘Why, why, why?’” And, he says, in his interpretation of those Psalms he gives the Psalmist’s cry its proper voice.

He cites the verse that says, “My ways are not your ways”. “We’ll never understand. We have to learn to live being held in a mystery.”

Suchet - who came to faith at the age of 40 - believes in expository preaching, of which he thinks there’s a great lack at present. He’d also like to see the Bible taught more in schools and valued more in society: “I know that we’re a multi-faith society, but we’re still a Christian country. We must be warm, welcoming and loving, but we’re Christian. And we’re living in a very rational, secular society now. Religion doesn’t mean much and it’s greatly misunderstood.”

He has advice for readers in church, too - he’s just delivered a workshop for theological students in how to read the Bible aloud.

“Prepare everything,” he says. “Failure to prepare is to be prepared to fail. If you stand up to read in public you have to do what I did - find out who it was for, what it was for, look at the language, the punctuation, compare texts, compare translations - know what it is you’re reading. Is there onomatopoeia? Is there alliteration or allegory? Is it poetry or prophecy?

“I was asked to read the story of the Annunciation in Salisbury Cathedral. I made so many notes that if you’d seen it you would hardly have been able to read the text.”

Suchet’s reading is a great gift to the Church. It brings the Bible alive in a marvellous way - and as he points out himself, for most Christians in most of Church history, hearing it read aloud is how they would have experienced Scripture. It’s only in relatively recent times that it has become a private experience. He’s made it accessible not just to people who can’t read text because of poor sight, but to people who are busy or who just find reading a chore - or who love the sound of a trained voice bringing out meanings they never realised were there.

But his commitment to the meaning and the value of Scripture is deeply challenging, too. If we approach it assuming we know what it means, or that we can read it aloud as we’d read anything else - a children’s story, for example - we’re selling it short.

As Suchet concludes: “Read it slowly, authoritatively and with confidence. It is the word of God.”

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Isaiah 61 in action: How one church is living out the call to serve

From “Comment” section

Gillan Scott meets the leaders of Glo Church Stockport, which is seeing growth in a deprived area of the town.

Over the last few years I’ve become known for writing about current affairs and politics from a Christian perspective, but what actually gives me the most joy is sharing stories of God at work, transforming lives and drawing people into his Kingdom.

Last month I attended the second annual Christian Funders Forum Awards in London. This group of grant making trusts and foundations gives away an incredible £30 million, funding a wide range of projects from social media apps, to prison chaplaincies, to church building projects and beyond. The event is designed to celebrate and honour some of the remarkable Christian work that is going on around our country right now. As the evening progressed it was the winner of the “Best Project Advancing the Christian Faith” that particularly caught my eye. This was the Glo Trust, where Glo stands for God Loves Offerton, a residential estate with high levels of deprivation in Stockport, Greater Manchester. It is the charitable arm of Glo Church, which was commissioned in 2011 under a Bishop’s Mission Order in an area where the Church of England’s presence was diminishing. Over the last few years, the church through its activities and presence has become a missional community grounded in the local community, seeking to serve and reach out to the people it regularly comes into contact with.

After the award ceremony I spoke to Glo’s minister, Gareth Robinson, to find out just what they’re up to that has gained them this recognition. He told me that right from the beginning, the church was never intended to be just another congregation. It has been founded on building relationships, taking care to listen to the people already living there and seeking to be a blessing in order to demonstrate God’s love as faithful stewards of the gospel.

They worked to develop good relationships with the local council who, early on, invited them to hear the results of their community consultation including frustrations about abusive relationships, overwhelming debt, unemployment and addiction. By simply offering to do whatever they could to help they were given an old council-owned shop front for a peppercorn rent. This became Glo Central, a drop-in centre and community hub run by Gareth’s wife, Lizzy. It offers access to the local foodbank, the church’s freecycle project, parenting courses, and groups for young people and young mums. They look to work with, not just for, the Offerton community. Some of those they are in contact with have no interest in the Christian faith that drives Glo, but others find themselves journeying into faith as their lives are transformed through the projects and relationships built. One man who previously hadn’t been able to leave the house due to mental health problems asked if he could become a volunteer. As time progressed he became a session leader, has been able to attend job interviews and has now has been signed off from the mental health team. As Gareth put it, “Jesus has turned his life around”. Another woman had been living on the estate for seven years without making any friends. Last year she came across the church giving away £10 notes in envelopes during a “serve day” around Easter. Curious to find out more she came along to a church event. Now, one year on, she has been baptised and runs an art workshop at Glo Central.

As a church that started with just five members, though part of its vision has been to become financially self-sufficient, Glo has had to constantly rely on God’s provision to keep the charity solvent and effective in what it does. At the end of 2014 its initial funding had dried up and just when it looked as though they would have to consider making drastic changes, the Joseph Rank Trust, one of the members of the Christian Funders Forum, stepped in and offered to support them for the next three years. With that firm financial footing Glo continues to grow. At their last church weekend away, a third of those attending were new Christians from Offerton.

There are plenty of other stories of lives being impacted and transformed all through the faithfulness of this one church. This is God’s people in action, faithfully working together to further His Kingdom and bring in change. But Glo is just one small example of a much bigger picture. There are many more places where the wider church is holistically delivering practical social justice grounded in sound theology, and addressing a spiritual emptiness alongside physical and emotional needs. This is Isaiah 61 in action; the Year of the Lord’s favour where broken lives are restored and captives set free. Let’s share these stories of God moving through His people, let them inspire and challenge us and remind us that the Christian message of God’s salvation is too much of a blessing to contain within the walls of our churches.

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Donald Trump: He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy

From “Society” section

Mark Woods wonders what the attraction is

The latest row over his plans to stop all Muslims entering the US is only the latest in a string of what in other candidates would mean instant electoral extinction. Trump has offended black people (he thinks they’re over-reacting to police shooting so many of their young men), Mexicans (he thinks they’re rapists and drug dealers, and wants to build a wall to keep them out), women (he said Carly Fiorina was too ugly to vote for), veterans (he said John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he got captured) and just about every other group you can think of.

A petition to bar him from the UK has just passed 100,000 signatures, which means that it has to be debated by Parliament. However, his attitude to the backlash about his Muslim plans sums up his attitude to all the other flak he’s taken: “I don’t care.

But what is it about him that’s leading swarms of people - including many evangelical Christians - to say, “Go Trump”? And just how dangerous is he?

Trump scores because he’s authentic and passionate. In an age when most candidates have teams of people devoted to making sure that they don’t offend people, Trump tells it how he sees it. In the long run, nothing is so damaging to democracy as the sense that some topics are out of bounds and that some ideas are unchallengeable. When debates aren’t held in the council chamber they’ll be held in the pubs and in the streets - and then on the barricades. The rise of the National Front in France is a direct result of that failure. The extinction of Westminster-based parties in Scotland is because Scots believed they didn’t speak for them. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to lead the Labour Party was at least in part driven by those voting “none of the above” - that is, the cookie-cutter middle managers who never said one interesting thing between them in the whole of their campaigns. When it’s impossible to distinguish between opposing parties, new forces will arise to say “a plague on both your houses”.

These new forces can be very, very dark. Trump’s rise has come because he’s played to the worst instincts of American Republicans. He works on fear, prejudice and ignorance. Yes, some of what he says is because “I don’t care” what people think. Much of it is calculated as carefully as any serious presidential contender might do.

That leads to two questions. First, does Trump speak for the majority of Americans? The answer to this is, probably not. He can play his audiences by identifying the issues that genuinely trouble them - terrorism, immigration, unemployment and health - but his actual solutions don’t stand up to scrutiny. A ban on Muslims entering the US would be unenforceable, for a start, and would do so much harm to American standing in the world that it would never happen. As for the 2000-mile wall along the Mexican border - “paid for by Mexico”, Trump promised - seriously?

So if Trump wins the Republican nomination - and the chances of him being dumped from the approved candidates list are growing by the hour - he would probably lose against any serious Democrat adversary.

The second question, though, is more fundamental. Trump’s appeal is that he looks like a leader. He invites people to follow him, not to scrutinise his policies - and that’s dangerous. He’s campaigning as a messiah, not as a politician with a serious programme for government, and that should concern anyone who cares about the functioning of democracy.

When the prophet Samuel was growing old, the people of Israel came to him and asked him to give them a king instead. He warns them that they’ll regret it, because the king will take the best of everything they have, and: “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18).

The warning was against substituting faith in an ordinary, fallible human being for faith in God. For the latter, read: belief in truth, honesty, fairness, kindness and justice. Trump has said so much to leave his commitment to these values open to question that it’s hard to see why any Christian would vote for him.

But that’s the appeal of false messiahs: they persuade people that if only they trust them, everything will be alright in the end.

I don’t think Donald Trump will be the next US President. But it troubles me to see how close he’s coming. I hope and pray that Americans will wake up to their danger in time.

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Three Bible miracles that teach us how to pray

From “Church” section

Evangelical Christians are pretty good at praying with words. A good prayer meeting is one that has one person praying aloud after another. We tend to think that silence is awkward and we aren’t really sure what to do with it.

But prayer in the Bible isn’t always about words at all. Sometimes prayer is silent. Sometimes - and this is very strange to us - prayer is an action, not expressed in words.

We can see this in the lives of Elijah and Elisha, two of the greatest of the non-writing prophets.

1. Elijah was told by God to announce to King Ahab that there’d be no rain in Israel until he gave the word (1 Kings 17:1). He had his great showdown with the prophets of Baal, when he challenged them to see whether Baal could light the fire of his own sacrifice; Baal couldn’t, but God could. The result was the deaths of hundreds of them, but the crisis wasn’t over yet: it still hadn’t rained. So in 1 Kings 19:42 it says that “Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.”

It’s an unusual posture for prayer, but Elijah was making the shape of a cloud. Seven times he sent his servant to look out over the sea, and on the last time he came back and said, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea” - a sign that his prayer had been answered.

2. Elisha was Elijah’s disciple and successor. In 2 Kings 4 there’s the story of the healing of the son of the Shunamite woman, who was born by God’s miraculous intervention. He died suddenly and Elisha was called. Verse 34 says: “He got on to the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy’s body grew warm.” Elisha got up and walked around, then repeated the process; the boy revived.

The prophet was mimicking the position of the dead boy and acting out what he wanted God to do.

3. In 2 Kings 6 there’s the story of a floating axe-head. Elisha and his disciples, the “company of the prophets”, decide to build somewhere to live. One of them is cutting down a tree and the head flies off his axe into the river and sinks. “Oh, my Lord,” he says, “it was borrowed!”

Elisha cuts a stick, throws it into the water and the axe-head rises to the surface. Just as the stick floated, so does the iron. It might seem like a trivial thing, but an iron axe-head would have been very valuable and worth a miracle.

The point about all these miracles is that they involve the prophet identifying himself with what he wants and acting out the miracle. No words are involved, but the actions speak clearly in each case.

This is very challenging for Christians today. It’s quite easy to pray using words, though we don’t always do it as often as we should. But what would our discipleship look like, if we made ourselves into the shape of our prayers?

What would the effect be, if instead of just asking God to act, we transformed ourselves into the answer?

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