Christian Today Digest – March 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.

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Welcome!

Welcome to this March issue of Christian Today Digest.

This time we have a new facility to offer you: TorchTalk - a project offering Christian fellowship on the phone. It is run by Torch Trust. Here, Lin Ball tells us about it ...

Jan Turner, who is blind, has been involved in TorchTalk from its beginning. One of the first people to be trained as a TorchTalk facilitator, she is now a co-ordinator for the project.

Jan explains that TorchTalk, like so much of what Torch Trust is involved in, comes from an understanding that sight loss frequently brings with it loneliness and isolation.

"We have really good times in our TorchTalk group! We talk about all sorts of things. TorchTalk is open to people of any faith or none, but to take part you really need to be sympathetic to the Christian ethos. In the particular group I'm part of, we always have a Bible reading and opportunity to pray for one another, but all the groups develop their own character."

As a facilitator, Jan's role is to help the conversation flow, and to ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak.

"You have to be aware of how the conversation is going - try to bring in the quieter ones and suppress those who might be inclined to take over. I have to resist being a participant and think about everyone else's experience."

David Palmer, Torch's Regional Outreach Leader who has been helping the TorchTalk groups get off the ground, explains, "Most of us enjoy meeting and talking to people, but there are many people with sight loss who don't have that opportunity. Many live alone. Some have additional disabilities or impaired mobility which makes it difficult to get out and about. Those who have started to participate in TorchTalk really look forward to it."

Currently there are just five groups running, but others are in the pipeline. And some of them are not just simple friendship groups but special interest phone groups based on books, Bible study or even shared holiday experiences.

If you'd like to know more about TorchTalk, call 01858 438260 or email info@torchtrust.org

So now on with this Digest of Christian-related news; we hope you enjoy this selection of news articles from christiantoday.com

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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From destructive gambling to a new beginning

The Salvation Army has helped to turn around the life of a man who lost his home, partner and friends because of his gambling habit.

The 37-year-old, called Andy, had long had an addiction to gambling machines, trying his first play on a fruit machine at the age of 17. As luck would have it, he won £200 on his first go, but it was not to be repeated and things only got worse the more he attempted to use gambling to recover his gambling debts.

Being made redundant two years ago pushed his gambling problems over the edge. He said: "One big win led me to spend thousands of pounds on gambling machines. I think over the last 20 years I have lost about £30,000 to £35,000 on the machines. I would put £10 in, then it went up to £20, and then £50. When I lost my job due to redundancy as an agency worker two years ago I lied about working night shifts. I lied to my partner, to my friends, and I would gamble any money I had in the hope I could make it right again. I started lying about every aspect of my life. I couldn't get myself into the frame of mind to be able to get a job. I was just focused on chasing my losses in the hope of a big win."

In March last year, life imploded for Andy. His partner was fed up with bailing him out all the time and the relationship broke down. He ended up homeless and decided to end his life by stopping the insulin he needed to treat his type one diabetes.

He said: "My lowest point was when I split up with my partner and the only thing I could control was my insulin. I stopped taking it and the doctor said within five or six hours I would have been dead."

The result was a stay in the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital but just when it seemed like things could not get any worse, light started to appear at the end of the tunnel and he ended up at The Salvation Army's City Road Lifehouse in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

He was enrolled on a 24-session course run by NECA, a charity working with people who have addictions.

He also voluntarily signed up to a self-exclusion measure to have himself banned from betting shops and changed the routes he walked to avoid the betting shops.

"Self-exclusion works if you're further down the line and are committed to changing," he said. "You have to take your photo into the bookies and ask them to ban you. But it wouldn't have helped me until I got to that point of wanting to recover because I wouldn't have wanted anything to stop the possibility of my being able to access the machines. There are dozens and dozens of bookies in Newcastle alone, and they all have fruit machines in. All the time I was in the bookies you see people breaking down, shouting at the machines."

Although he recognises he can never change the past, nor win back the money he lost, he has at least been able to re-establish the relationship with his partner. He and those working with him are hopeful that this is the first victory in his long-term recovery.

Ian Monteith, Andy's support worker, at The Salvation Army's City Road Lifehouse, said: "When I first met Andy he was depressed and de-motivated following a relationship breakdown, homelessness through losing his tenancy, and recovering from a near fatal neglect of his physical health regarding his type 1 diabetes. Andy's gambling habits cost him everything that was familiar to him, as he would lie to his friends and family about where his money was going, and of course his whereabouts. After a short time Andy and his partner were in a crisis situation, and with no rent being paid, they were both made homeless and everything about what Andy was struggling with came to light. Andy lost his home, partner, friends, family and almost his life in the space of a week.

"Over the months Andy and I worked closely together incorporating support mechanisms such as Gamblers Anonymous and NECA to help him with his recovery and rehabilitation. Andy learned over time to accept his past, build his future and accept that this is an issue he is going to need ongoing support with for the rest of his life, though at a reduced level.

"Today, Andy is working hard to rebuild the relationships with his friends and family, and also to rebuild the trust that was decimated between him and his partner. Andy is keen to help people who are fighting with the same hardship as he was, and to raise a little awareness that a gambling addiction is as much an addiction as substance misuse, and that it ruins not only the life of the person with the addiction but all of the people who are connected to them."

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Wedding vow renewals

Still awaiting official confirmation, Marriage Week organisers say their Big Promise initiative successfully smashed the previous world record for the number of couples renewing their wedding vows simultaneously. Taking place last Saturday at 5.15pm, right around the country at least 1,400 couples renewed their vows - considerably more than the current record holders - Miami University in Ohio, which involved 1,087 couples. That record was set back in 2009.

There are still numbers to be collected and verified, and the Guinness World Record has very stringent rules that needed to be followed, so Marriage Week have submitted the details of their World Record attempt and are awaiting official approval.

The Big Promise was a new initiative for this year. As we have previously reported, Marriage Week indicated that the world record attempt was simply a way of celebrating the importance of marriage within society.

After such an enormous undertaking, co-ordinating venues around the country, official approval from the Guinness World Record office would be the icing on the cake for Marriage Week organisers.

"Setting a World Record is a practical and tangible way of getting the press to notice and report on the importance of marriage vows at the heart of society - it's a means to an end, not the end itself," they said.

Dave Percival, national co-ordinator for the Big Promise, said after the event: "The simplicity and dignity of each Big Promise ceremony held sends a clear message. The vows are the essential part of being married - not the fancy wedding, amazing reception or exotic honeymoon. Marriage matters to every one of these couples, and should matter to all of us in society as the bedrock of stable family life."

The Big Promise has provided many couples with the chance to celebrate with those in their local communities what their marriages mean to them. Many couples spoke of how much more their vows meant to them second time round because they truly understood what the vows meant.

Tom Shaw and his wife Doreen, from Sheffield, took part in the Big Promise, renewing their vows on their Golden wedding anniversary.

"We were thrilled to remind each other of the promises we made to each other 50 years to the day that we first said them," he said. "This has been such a special day as we have celebrated our commitment to each other with our family and friends. It has been quite moving to look back on how we have been blessed and challenged throughout our life together. And after 50 years, it's not over yet. The best is still to come."

Marriage Week had the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron, who told Christian Today: "Marriage is a declaration of commitment, responsibility and stability that helps to bind families. The values of marriage are give and take, support and sacrifice - values that we need more of in this country. Of course, there are people across the country who have never married and are just as committed to each other. We also know that sadly too many marriages come to an end. But we can agree with all these things and still support an institution that can help keep families together."

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Faith swap experiment

A Christian and an atheist have shared their experiences of swapping lives for one month. In January, friends and comedians Simon Capes and Bentley Browning each gave up their respective belief systems in favour of the other's, in the hopes of understanding one another's views more fully.

Browning, a committed Christian, stopped going to church and avoided prayer, while Capes, a self-confessed single-minded atheist, took part in what he calls "the rituals of Christianity".

The unusual experiment was promoted by Justin Brierley, who presents the "Unbelievable?" show on Premier Christian Radio.

Both Capes and Browning each blogged during their experience, and then met with Brierley to follow up once the experiment was over.

"We didn't really expect either of their lives to change dramatically as a result of the month-long switch, but it has been interesting to see how they now view each other's beliefs following the experiment," says Brierley. "It was clearly a challenge for both of them."

Browning admitted to having "cheated" three times during the month, when he found himself praying to God. "It's hard to get out of a habit of praying because it's naturally a part of your psyche," he said. "But it was just those three times. It didn't make that much difference to my life, to be honest, but I wouldn't have liked to do it any longer. I had loads of time; it made me look at life in a different way because it made me look at how much time I spend praying and going to church, which ironically made me more reflective, so it was kind of like a bit of a retreat."

While Browning struggled to stop praying, however, Simon found it difficult to know how to start.

"I don't know how to do it, I haven't really ever prayed," he said. "I asked someone how to pray, and he said his son was an atheist and he just asks his son to say this one prayer: 'God if you're there, reveal yourself to me.' He said, don't flower it up with 'thees' and 'thous', just say that, so I did."

Though he didn't find faith, Simon enjoyed being part of the Christian community, which he found to be much more open-minded than he had previously thought. "I would love to go back to church. What I found out was really lovely and broke a lot of pre-conceptions for me. Each person I met was searching; they had an idea that the world is a puzzle, and they'd decided that this way of believing made sense to them and they were sold on it," he noted. "There isn't one idea of what God is, it's a very personal thing."

The two friends found that they understand one another much better, now that they have experienced the other's way of life.

"There's been an advancement in our relationship," says Browning. "Maybe our journey's just begun. After what we've discovered, he's very much still Simon in the way he thinks and I'm still very much me, but we're both really joyful at what we've achieved. We've both learnt something and it's been a great journey. We've thoroughly enjoyed it."

Although Capes didn't become a Christian as a result of his experiences, he clearly used the opportunity to think more deeply about issues of faith and religion.

"I have a theory," he proposed. "Christianity is like a curry. Although it's very traditional, it's been changed - like the curry has been changed to suit the English palette. It comes from the Middle East, but a lot of the ingredients have been altered. Although it still nourishes you, it's not exactly as it was. The Church has changed slightly. It's been adapted to fit the modern world. It has elements of tradition in it, but it's changed so I can enjoy it as a modern, western guy. So religion is like a chicken bhuna, or perhaps a lamb."

Laughing at his friend's musings, Browning gave me a tip just before we left the studio: "I've got a suggestion for the last line of your article: 'I still think Simon would make a good priest'."

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Marching not to war

In this centenary year of remembrance for the Great War, there is one group that will be ignored, or if remembered at all, may be vilified. These were the people who believed that violence could not be justified on any grounds and refused to bear arms and fight. They took the view that the state can never authorise the taking of human life, however pressing the circumstances. And many of them did so on Christian and religious grounds.

Even though Britain entered the War in 1914, it was two years before an Act was passed allowing the government to conscript all men aged between 18 and 41 years of age.

Until 1916, the government had relied on the Derby scheme, which permitted voluntary registration during times of war. However with so many casualties and too few volunteers, a more robust system was introduced. This Act exempted women from the battlefield. Married men, widowers with children, men serving in the Royal Navy, members of the clergy, and men working in a reserved occupation were also granted exemption.

However for the first time ever, the Act also recognised the rights of Conscientious Objectors (COs) and created a system of judicial tribunals where men could appeal against conscription on the grounds of conscience. Many COs belonged to Christian groups, drawn largely from the ranks of the Quakers, Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians.

A smaller representation came from the mainstream non-conformist denominations, notably the England Baptists and Methodists. It seems however that the established Churches of Scotland, Wales and Ireland supported the War as did the majority of the other denominations.

Britain was virtually alone in recognising the rights of COs and this clause was seen as a major coup for the No Conscription Fellowship and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The latter was a Christian ecumenical movement which had long campaigned for such recognition.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation arose out of a friendship between a German Lutheran and English Quaker. Friedrich Siegmund-Schultz and Henry Theodore Hodgkin met at an ecumenical conference in Switzerland that was disrupted by the onset of war.

Before leaving they pledged to do all they could to work towards peace even in times of conflict. Siegmund-Schultz is reported to have said to Hodgkin: "Whatever happens, nothing is changed between us. We are one in Christ and can never be at war."

Hodgkin returned to Britain and the remainder of 1914 was spent campaigning for the rights of men who refused to bear arms on religious and moral grounds. This culminated in a conference in Cambridge in December that year which led to the founding of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The conference made a series of five declarations based on the incompatibility of war with the love of God. The third declaration gave the basis of conscientious objection: "That, therefore as Christians, we are forbidden to wage war, and that our loyalty to our country, to humanity, to the Church universal, and to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master, calls us instead to a life of service for the enthronement of love in personal, social, commercial and national life."

By the end of the war nearly 17,000 men had registered as COs. Although successful in their legal appeals, this was a despised group. Over 745,000 men fell on foreign fields and pacifists were regarded as traitors by many; and they and their families suffered verbal and sometimes physical abuse during and after the war.

But they stood their ground, refusing to be taken in by the government's relentlessly jingoistic propaganda. And on the basis that the Kingdom of God cannot be drafted to fight for the kingdom of this world, they turned the other cheek. What would you do?

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Musings of a Christian job seeker

[Alice Collins shares her thoughts on faith in the desert period.]

I have been growing in faith ever since I was 11-years-old, before I even began to know the real cost of being faithful. I have received countless blessings, including my prayerful friends from the leafy Surrey suburbs, who have had more cause than normal to pray for me recently.

I have been working for, and am currently still a part of, an international Christian organisation in central London, where I am daily liaising with people from all over the world and surrounded by a prayerful network of colleagues.

Now, more than ever, I need to lean on that faith. For during the last two of those four years of gainful employment, I've also had many interviews in search of work that will stretch me in new ways.

I've been looking for administrative type work in another Christian organisation, with a leaning towards the editorial front. But although I've applied to a lot of charities and churches, so far I have had countless rejections, and it looks like I am now probably going to have to go down the job agency route.

I am just another troubled job seeker, finally about to be made redundant (if I'm lucky). It's easy to press the self-pity button but I am at least grateful for the comfort that God has sent me in the way of having at least five or six friends to pray for who are in my situation, or worse, without a job at all.

I don't find interviews very easy, certainly, and it doesn't help that I have a diagnosis of high-functioning Asperger Syndrome, meaning that I'm often not at my best when confronted with a lot of new situations. A grilling from a whole panel of suited and booted professionals is particularly stressful.

But my track record has proven that I'm definitely not unemployable - God hasn't created me for nothing! Indeed, my diagnosis has given me certain strengths, such as attention to detail, accuracy, a relish of routine activities, a predilection for organisation, a love of literature - I loved doing my Classics & English degree at Exeter University - and I really enjoyed the work I did at a publishing firm.

With the lack of success in my search for other work, I'm just learning that God is still there, even though the storm clouds over my head seem ever-present.

But what next?! Well, God wants me to trust him with the "what next" - that's the whole point! Worrying is the opposite of trusting God. Worrying accomplishes nothing, worrying is not good for us, and wallowing in self-pity is definitely not what God created us for.

Faith is mentioned over three hundred times in the Bible because that is the number of times that God wants to reassure us of his plan for our lives. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that faith is all about God carrying you through those storm clouds - he created them after all. Jesus didn't only ride his storm; he actually slept through it, and I feel ashamed when I think of all the sleepless nights I've had, when Jesus could be at the foot of my bed, if I'd only let him in.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. (Psalm 42:5).

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