Christian Today Digest – July 2015

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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:

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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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How to do quiet times if you can’t manage to do quiet times

From “Life” section

Christian Today Contributing Editor Martin Saunders suggests six ways to overcome the guilt, frustration and ill-discipline that get in the way of our devotional lives.

When I became a Christian in the early 90s, the most oft-used piece of Christian jargon was the phrase “quiet time”. Used to describe the half-hour (at least) block of time which all Christians enjoyed each morning in prayer, worship and Bible study, it was also the biggest source of guilt for me as a young Christian. “How are your quiet times?” our youth leaders would ask each week; a question which would always provoke a lie, and then further feelings of shame, in response.

Because if I’m honest, I didn’t actually manage to spend half an hour each morning in the presence and pursuit of God. As a particularly ill-disciplined teenager, I barely even found time to wash in the morning before school, let alone open up the Scriptures. In fact, I used to lock the bathroom door, turn the shower tap on, then sleep against the radiator for five minutes. You probably didn’t need to know that.

As a teenager, “quiet times” were sporadic and random. I never managed to form a habit of doing them, and when I did carve out time to pray or read the Bible, I did so without structure. As a result my personal faith was based largely on my relationship with my youth leaders, and so when I left their group, it’s little surprise that my interest in God waned considerably.

If you believe in God, then deep down you probably wish you spent more time with Him. Yet in an age of distraction and indiscipline, settling into and maintaining a sort of monastic rhythm of spirituality is tricky to say the least. That phrase “quiet time” is loaded with so much negative baggage that it probably needs to be thrown into Room 101, but the principle - that we should try each day to spend some time talking to God, listening to Him, and reading his word - remains a solid gold way to make sure our faith gets prioritised properly.

Here, then, are just a few ideas to help those of us who struggle to have a daily “Q__t t__e”.

1. Remember grace, not guilt

I can’t underline how important this is. When I think back to my teenage quiet times, the thing I remember most clearly is the sense of guilt at not being very good at them. With the benefit of hindsight, I realise that God wasn’t interested in my feelings of failure; as a loving father He simply wanted me to invest in our relationship. That has to be the prevailing rule for our “devotional” lives; that God’s grace means that we do them not because of sense of duty, but because of the joy and growth that comes from a closer daily walk with God.

2. “Pray continually”

Believe it or not, this command from Paul to the Thessalonian church (1 Thess 5:17) is liberating, rather than a reason to feel even more inadequate. Paul’s definition of prayer is like always-on 4G internet access - he’s always connected to God, and is aware of him in every moment of his day. Whether we’re in church, or standing in the checkout queue, there’s no reason why we can’t refer to God as if He’s standing beside us (although this may draw some strange looks in Tesco). Seeing prayer in this way, rather than as something we dial into at specific times, frees us from the guilt that we’re not spending enough time with God.

3. Define what’s important

What should we try to “do” when we spend time with God. The answer to that will differ slightly depending on our theology and church background, but all of us would probably agree that we should try to do at least three things every day: communicate with God, listen to him, and read something from the Bible. Traditional approaches to the quiet time also add in various extras - from reading the thoughts of a learned scholar to committing to some sort of physical activity. By focusing on the most important aspects of personal devotional time, we give ourselves a fighting chance of achieving them.

4. Understand your personality

For some people, sitting in silence for an hour is only slightly more preferential to being dipped in boiling fat. For others, it’s heaven. That’s why the one-size-fits-all approach to devotional time doesn’t work; it’s also why we should feel free to define the nature of our engagement of God. Provided that we’re honouring Him with our full attention, doing our best to engage heart, mind and soul, it doesn’t really matter whether we’re sitting cross-legged on the side of a mountain or driving along the M6 listening to a recording of the Bible. Create your own rituals that enable you to do the important stuff regularly, and liberate yourself from the outdated idea that time with God has to be taxing and dull.

5. Embrace technology

The fact that we’ve got smartphones in our pockets is a chief source of distraction - but like all things they can be redeemed. Thanks to the innovative work of developers around the world, a range of apps have been developed to help you choose a moment of reflection above another game of Candy Crush Soda. Among the best is Alpha’s Bible in one Year (BIOY) app, which provides daily old and new testament readings, as well as reflections from Nicky Gumbel.

But ...

6. Unplug regularly

On the other hand, one of the most helpful ways to increase and enable concentration is to remove or disable your technology. Step away from the computer, turn off the phone (or even better, leave it at home), and you’re immediately much more likely to be able to focus on God. Building regular moments into your routine when you “unplug” helps you to increase self-discipline and prioritise the stuff that matters.

If you’ve always wanted to spend more time with God, but fear of failure or lack of time have held you back, why not use this week as a fresh start. A devotional life doesn’t have to look like seven half-hour doses of falling asleep in a Bible and listening to a worship CD that you don’t even like. What matters is taking some time out in a culture of constantly competing priorities and literally “devoting” ourselves to God. How you go about that is entirely up to you.

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“I prayed for him and I knew he’d met God”. Retired vicar’s ministry to Calais migrants

From “World” section

Scenes of migrants in Calais attempting to board trucks to the UK have filled the news recently, with David Cameron saying that it was “totally unacceptable”.

Although the strike by French ferry companies added a new dimension to the crisis, the problem of migrants wanting to get to the UK is not a new one. But more than ever this year, the EU has faced the question of how to treat migrants, as almost 2,000 people have died since January trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to escape persecution and conflict.

A team from Life Church in Folkestone, Kent, led by church member Sue Pardo, has been going to visit the migrants in and around Calais most weekends for more than a decade, taking them food, clothing and offering to pray.

Rev Margaret Knight, a retired Anglican vicar from Hertfordshire, who usually joins the group about once a month, says she often feels “totally inadequate” when confronted by the situation.

“These people are desperate. Most of them have fled for their lives. They’ve probably got what they’re standing up in, maybe a plastic sheet,” she told Christian Today.

“To me, the awful thing is that they’re not treated like human beings. Nobody wants to know.”

It is thought that there are now 4,000 people at Calais, having come from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Many are currently living in tents, but the makeshift camp is periodically closed down by the French police.

“The police from time to time will just come along and clear it,” says Margaret “I’ve been there when they’re just about to turn the hose on them ... it’s awful.”

Over the years different French charities have taken responsibility for providing food and clothing, and ensuring that the migrants get a hot meal every day. At first the charities were sceptical about the church’s visits, but now many are grateful for their help.

When Margaret and the team go, they take donations of food and clothing, which they give to the charity to distribute, as well as Bibles and simple Christian tracts. “We can’t just go with literature to people that are hungry,” she says, “The Bible is very clear: give food to the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, and give clothes to those who need them ... I think as Christians we are beholden to do that, and even though it’s inadequate, it’s better than nothing.”

Many of the Eritrean migrants she has spoken to are Christians, and she says it is a “wonderful privilege” when they are able to share Communion with them. The Eritreans have travelled across the desert on foot, and about half of those who set out die on the journey. Those who do make it face further hardship when they get to France.

The group talk to people and offer to pray with them, even though many of them are Muslims. “We usually ask if any of them is sick and if they would like prayer. We make it clear that we are going to pray in the name of Jesus,” she says.

They have seen a number of miracles and answers to prayer, despite the language barrier.

“I prayed for one man who had toothache and put my hand on his cheek and prayed for the tooth in Jesus’ name. I asked him how it felt afterwards and he said “beautiful” ... Then there was a queue of men waiting for me to pray for toothache.”

She also believes she prevented a man from being suicidal. On one visit, a man from Afghanistan walked towards her and she had a revelation that he was about to go and commit suicide. “You can’t explain these things in logical terms but I just knew,” she says.

Even though they couldn’t communicate verbally, she went up to him and indicated that she was offering to pray for him, and he agreed.

“I just prayed that God would save him from everything, and he began to weep, and he wept and wept. And then I just had to walk away from him. I couldn’t ask him what God had done. I just knew that God had met him.”

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Iraq: Despite thousands fleeing ISIS, churches are full of new believers

From “World” section

Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been forced to flee Iraq as Islamic State continues to tighten its grip, but still people are turning to Jesus, a church leader has told Christian Today.

Rev Sami Dagher, president and founder of all Alliance churches in Lebanon, has churches all across the Middle East, including 22 in Syria, six in Lebanon, and three in Iraq - one each in Dahuk, Irbil, and Baghdad. He also has two Bible schools, one in Beirut and another in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, and is just starting a church in Cairo.

Having been working and leading churches in Iraq since 1990, Dagher has seen significant changes in the region. He lived there under the reign of Saddam Hussein, and was once able to give a Bible to the dictator, who sent a gold watch in return and a letter thanking Dagher for his gift. At that time, it was illegal to open churches, so Dagher started one congregation under the pretence of it being a nursery, and encouraged Christians to eat together when they met, so if they got caught praying by the police they could say they were just thanking God for the food.

Since ISIS began gaining influence in Iraq, life has got even worse for Christians and swathes have been forced to convert to Islam, leave their homes or risk being killed. Many are now refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, but there are also believed to be around 2.8 million internally displaced Iraqis, some in makeshift camps but many living in abandoned schools and other buildings. Dagher’s ministry has partnered with Samaritan’s Purse to provide food, aid and shelter to some of those most in need in places such as Irbil and Dahuk.

Dagher estimates that 80 per cent of his original church congregation in Baghdad have left, but “the church is still full with new people coming,” he says.

“We have about 400 people every Sunday in Baghdad, and about 30 per cent of those are from different religions.” Currently, 73 people who have converted to Christianity are waiting to be baptised in the church.

Christians in Iraq are afraid of ISIS, Dagher added, but many Muslims are coming to Christ, despite the risk. “They are seeking to see the truth, and they can’t find that truth maybe in their religion.” While orthodox churches in the Middle East do not allow Muslims to worship there, the evangelical churches have opened their doors.

Kevin Sutter, president of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Frontier Missions, recently claimed that there is a spiritual revival happening among Muslims in the Middle East, and though Dagher said that the word “revival” may be too strong, many Muslims are becoming disillusioned with their faith, and looking to the Church for answers.

“They see people who will put a bomb around themselves and go kill themselves and others and say “Allahu Akbar” [God is great]. They see a man take another man, cutting [off] his head with a knife and saying “Allahu Akbar”. They can’t really understand ... how can they do it in the name of Allah?” he explained. “They want to find the truth.”

A YWAM worker also reportedly met an ISIS militant who had become a Christian. ”I’m not surprised,” Dagher responded to this story. “God can do miracles.”

The Middle East is a dangerous place for him to be, but despite having a British wife and children, and therefore able to move to the UK, Dagher - who is now 79 years old - says he will continue to plant churches until “they put me six feet underground”.

“The Holy Spirit has given me the courage to stay and shepherd, and bring light to a dark place,” he says. “We have titles in the word of God, and one of the titles we have [is that] we are ambassadors for Christ ... we have the ministry of reconciliation. If all the ministers leave Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, who is going to reconcile people to God? Who is going?

“[We also have] another title - we are the light of the world. Syria is a dark place, Iraq is a dark place, Lebanon is a dark place, Kurdistan is a dark place and the light is leaving it - who is going to shine there?

“According to God, we have to shine in the dark place, and if it’s dark, one candle will make a difference.”

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Religious “nones” aren’t as anti-church as we might think

From “Society” section

Despite studies revealing that Christianity in America is in decline, new research shows that the majority of those who don’t identify with any faith are still open to church.

According to the results of a survey by LifeWay, many Americans are receptive to church, even those with no religious affiliation - the “nones”. When asked whether they agreed with the following statement regarding denominations, “When I see a church named the following, I assume it’s not for me”, fewer than half of all respondents, religious or otherwise, agreed.

The majority were favourable to all nine denominations - Pentecostal, Catholic, Lutheran, Assemblies of God, Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, Non-Denominational and Baptist.

In total, between a third and a half of those who didn’t identify with a Christian faith did not assume that the nine denominations are “not for me”.

“Just because someone has no religious preference does not mean they have closed the door to the Christian church or a denomination as being something that can meet needs in their lives,” LifeWay Research vice-president Scott McConnell explained.

“One might assume that when someone makes a conscious decision in favor of a certain religious preference, that means “no” to everything else,” he added. “While many are not open, to see half of the “nones” and a third of those in other religions indicate they are not closed to Christian churches makes us re-think that.”

When respondents were asked about their impression of each faith group, the Baptists came top, with a 61 per cent “favourable” rating. In second place were the Catholics, with 57 per cent., followed by non-denominational Christians. The Pentecostal Church fared the worst, with just over a third (38 per cent) giving them a favourable rating.

However, the research showed that the highest group of those who said they were more wary of church were young adults. More than four in ten of those aged 18-24 said various denominations were not for them.

“While young adults are often testing their views as they enter their 20s, about half do not perceive Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Lutheran or non-denominational churches as places for them as they explore,” McConnell said.

This data supports another recent report that found that teens and young adults are both less religious and less spiritual than previous generations.

A study compiled by experts including Jean Twenge of San Diego State University found that Millennials are less likely to say that religion is important in their lives and spend less time praying or meditating.

“American adolescents in the 2010s are significantly less religiously oriented, on average, than their Boomer and Generation X predecessors were at the same age,” Twenge and her colleagues wrote in an article for the Plos One journal.

“Unlike previous studies, ours is able to show that Millennials’ lower religious involvement is due to cultural change, not to Millennials being young and unsettled.”

Another study produced by the Pew Research Center last month found that the number of Americans professing that they have “no religion” has grown to 56 million. “Nones” are therefore now the second largest group in the US, behind evangelicals.

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