Christian Today Digest – September 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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Archbishop of York’s seven-day fast and prayer vigil for peace

From “Church” section

The Archbishop of York embarked on a weeklong fast and prayer vigil for the suffering world on Sunday 24 August.

During his vigil of Hope and Trust for the Peace of the World, Dr John Sentamu prayed on the hour every hour from 6am to 6pm until Sunday 31 August.

He said three Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy) in succession, followed by the Lord’s Prayer, and repeating the cycle three times.

The Archbishop invited others to join him in saying prayers for people in communities affected by militarism, idolatry, dictatorships and poverty.

As a mark of solidarity he displayed a piece of white linen above the door to the St John’s Chapel at York Minster.

He asked others to place a piece of white linen in their windows as a symbol of peace, saying: “Dearly beloved Disciples of Jesus Christ, wherever you are in the world, I beseech you, in the Name of our Lord, to join me in heart and mind for seven days of prayer and fasting for peace and justice in God’s World.

“Please join me in praying especially for those places in our global village devastated by militarism, idolatry (the worship of God wrongly conceived), dictatorships and abject poverty.

“One way of making our solidarity and commitment together to be instruments and makers of peace is to place white linen in our windows. All people of good will may do this! Be the change you want to see.”

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Buy a dog and other quirky ideas for sharing the faith with your neighbours

From “Mission” section

An essential part of being a Christian is sharing our faith with others but how many of us um and ah about how to actually do it, often to the point of not doing it at all!

Pastors Ben Connelly and Bob Roberts Jr have dedicated years to teaching Christians how to reach their communities for Christ and they have lots of simple ideas at hand to make finding the opportunities for those “God chats” just that little bit easier.

Some of their ideas are pretty quirky - like getting a dog just so you can chat to your neighbours when they happen to be in their garden - but the idea behind them is the same: to get talking to the people around us.

Their ideas are laid out in their new book from Moody Publishers - A Field Guide for Everyday Mission: 30 Days and 101 Ways to Demonstrate the Gospel.

“Walk your dog when your neighbours are outside. Strike up conversations. Invite them over. No dog? Here’s your chance to guilt trip your spouse into getting one,” they write.

If that seems like a no-goer for you, how about one of their other unconventional ideas, like tipping generously even if your server does a terrible job.

Or how about idea number 20 to keep your garden fences short - tall fences can distance and privatise you, they reason.

Some are more obvious, like hosting get-togethers at your home that tie into big events in the calendar, or choosing to sit at the bar as opposed to a more private table or booth, pray that God opens a door, and if he does, take the opportunity to introduce yourself.

“There are hundreds of places God sends us on everyday mission. Many are out of our comfort zone, in the proverbial darkness, and on someone else’s turf. But whoever they are and whatever their turf is, that’s where we go and make disciples,” the authors explain.

They conclude: “Some Christians are given the gift of evangelism, but all Christians are given the mission of making disciples. We’re hoping to help those who are more scared than gifted see that by the power of God, living on mission isn’t as hard as we often think.”

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How you view God affects your prayer life and mental health

From “Life” section

Prayer is a resource in times of trouble, but new research suggests how much of a comfort it is depends on our perception of God.

The Baylor University study found that prayer did not necessarily ease anxiety and that a crucial factor was individuals’ relationship with God.

Those who had a sense of God as loving and protective were far more likely to feel that prayer relieved feelings related to anxiety, like fear or dread.

By contrast, those with “avoidant or insecure” attachments to God were more likely to regard prayer as “an unsuccessful attempt to cultivate and maintain an intimate relationship with God”, said researcher Matt Bradshaw PhD.

These individuals pray but “they do not necessarily believe God will be there when they need Him”, he explained.

The result of praying for these people may then in fact be higher levels of anxiety rather than lower.

“Rejected, unanswered, or otherwise unsuccessful experiences of prayer may be disturbing and debilitating - and may therefore lead to more frequent and severe symptoms of anxiety-related disorders,” said Bradshaw.

The study, published in the Sociology of Religion journal, was carried out to examine the psychiatric symptoms of people who believe in God, to add to the existing body of research that has been done on areas like life satisfaction and depression.

“For many individuals, God is a major source of comfort and strength that makes the world seem less threatening and dangerous. Through prayer, individuals seek to develop an intimate relationship with God,” Bradshaw said.

“Those who achieve this goal, and believe that God will be there to protect and support them during times of need, develop a secure attachment to God.”

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“Long-term it looks terrible,” says Christian Aid partner in Iraq

From “World” section

Thousands more Iraqis have fled their homes in recent days, as Islamic State forces continue their advance, perpetrating terror on once peaceful communities as they go.

Christian Aid, working on the ground across all faith communities with the humanitarian organisation REACH, reports tens of thousands of aid distributions to displaced Iraqis in Sinjar, Dohuk, Kirkuk, Karbala and Sulaymaniyah, handing out food baskets, children’s clothes and hygiene items.

Many are severely traumatised, having lost family members to desperate horrors such as kidnap, rape, crucifixion and beheadings.

Anne Ward, Christian Aid’s consultant in Iraq, has been working with local partners on the ground distributing aid to displaced Yazidis, Shia Shabak, Shia Turkmen and Christians.

“The numbers of people are overwhelming the government here as well as the aid agencies and local Kurdish agencies,” she told Christian Today. “The people need everything from clothes and shoes to basics such as food and babies’ diapers.”

She described elderly men in their 80s with no bed to sleep on, no blankets and no basic shelter. “They have no food. They left in such an abysmal hurry, they had no plans of where to go.”

One story in particular she says she cannot get over. A man arrived at a REACH food distribution centre on behalf of four families.

“He said, ‘Please help.’ They were left sitting in a field under some trees. They had nothing, no beds, food or clothes.”

She immediately gathered some supplies and went to find the families.

“Sure enough there was the family, sitting on piles of earth by the edge of the highway under some trees near a rubbish-filled field in the heat. It was about 45 degrees. They looked in such shock, a combination of grief, sorrow.”

There were 12 children and 26 adults. They were eventually able to find one room to rent for all of them, at a house nearby, and neighbours have been helping with food and other provisions. They take it in turns to sleep, some during the day, because there is not room for all to lie down together. There are many such cases.

Ward said it was “very moving” to see people of all local faiths in the host towns and villages, helping the refugees with enormous generosity, people who themselves had very little indeed, especially by western standards.

She also tells the story of another young man who lost his young brother as they fled their home, and then his mother was taken by IS militia.

“I met a young Yazidi man named Yassir today at the REACH food distribution. He asked me if I could help him. He had lost his 12-year-old brother in their flight from Sinjar. He did not know what to do or who to turn to as his brother’s phone was off. We referred him to ICRC in the hopes that they can trace him. What is worse, their mother was taken by IS militia. She is being imprisoned in a village near Mosul and has been able to call her son by phone every few days, in secret. He is desperate to find a way to help her and to locate his brother.”

She sees no immediate prospect of relief. Even if IS is driven back and out, which itself seems unlikely in the short term, there is too much devastation in the once-thriving wheat fields, agricultural lands and mountain villages of northern Iraq to make any quick recovery possible. The villages these refugees came from have been decimated.

“There are great psychological effects of displacement. Long-term it looks terrible. IS is so well mobilised, so entrenched. We don’t anticipate them going anywhere quickly. IS have planted bombs. Before anyone goes home, their villages will have to be cleared of unexploded ordinances.”

She feels safe in Sulaymaniyah where she is based. “But all of us are worried about these sleeper cells coming to life. People have said they have seen evidence of it here. I am keeping a low profile and feel protected, but it is unpredictable. These IS groups are well organised.”

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Martin Saunders’s five keys to understanding Generation Z

From “Society” section

Forget about Gen X. The Millenials are yesterday’s news. We have a whole new “generation” to get our heads around - the apocalyptically-titled “Gen Z”. Born across the last 12-18 years (depending on which commentator you listen to; there’s no absolute agreement on dates), this is the generation currently occupying our schools, youth groups and various online environments that those of us over 30 shouldn’t even pretend to understand. So who are Gen Z, and what do we need to know about them if we’re going to offer them a compelling place of belonging within our churches?

1) They’re highly connected “digital natives”

Even the last generation were born into a world where the Internet was taking faltering steps out of dial-up modems and wi-fi was assumed to be an obscure martial art. Today’s youth - dubbed “screenagers” by the media - are the first to have truly grown up in a digital culture, where online media, touch screens and cloud storage are as regular a part of everyday life as television and trees. As a result they refer and defer constantly to the Internet; New York ad-man Dan Gould told The Times that teenagers rely on the Internet as “a kind of extra brain” - which is why they’re significantly poorer at remembering rote facts and giving directions. So - anyone hoping to engage with Gen Z-ers better have a decent wi-fi connection installed and embrace, rather than express concern at, their digitally-enhanced lifestyle.

2) They want to change the world

Ideas conference TED has recently featured a number of high-profile teenage contributors, including the amazing Logan LaPlante, whose “Hackschooling” talk has been viewed millions of times online. Gen Z-ers have big ambitions and big ideas, and they’re unafraid to express them. They’re ambitious, but unlike previous generations (most notably the Baby Boomers) who were driven by the acquisition of power and money, these kids want to bring about change. Young people like Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai are undaunted by the size of the problems facing the world - they believe they can be a part of addressing them, and they don’t want to wait until they’re “adults” to do so.

3) They’re worried about the future

Being born so close to 9/11 has left its impact on today’s young people. Unlike previous generations who’ve grown up in a post-war wave of western capitalist optimism - however frail that actually was - Gen Z see political instability, climate change and financial uncertainty and hold some bleak concerns about the planet’s future. That’s why books and films such as the Hunger Games series are so popular; and why no.1 gaming smash The Last of Us and TV shows such as The Walking Dead and The Leftovers have found huge audiences. These stories, which all concern themselves with apocalyptic futures, tap into teenager’s latent fears that the future isn’t bright. The Times reports that one marketing agency poll found that 63 per cent of 7-13 year olds believe the world to be “a scary place right now.”

4) They embody diversity

As Western nations have become more and more ethnically and socially diverse over time, so the emerging generations themselves have both become more diverse and more and more comfortable with notions of tolerance and mixed culture. US Marketing firm Magid records not only that Gen Z are the most ethnically diverse group ever (only 55 per cent in that age group in the USA are white caucasian), they also feel positive about the idea of increasing racial diversity, and are much more likely than their parents to form social groups containing a mix of race and religion. By the same token, they feel a keen sense of injustice when others don’t agree with their multicultural and socially-inclusive perspective. So if they were to believe an institution such as the Church were racist, sexist or otherwise exclusive of certain groups, they’d be less than impressed...

5) They’re more morally conservative than their elders

There’s a surprising twist in the tale for anyone who assumes a new generation brings an ever-more relaxed set of social morals. Gen Z-ers aren’t necessarily more socially liberal than their older brothers and sisters - in fact research suggests that they drink less, smoke less, take fewer drugs and have less sex. Before the conservatives get too excited however, they have some pretty liberal ideas about relationships, with some commentators suggesting that polygamy might become a future trend...

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Better apart? Mark Woods on why all age services might not be helping anyone

From “Church” section

Here’s a question: all-age services. Let’s be honest - how many of us, adults or children, actually enjoy them? How many of us, on the other hand, take a sneaky Sunday off or sit through them with gritted teeth, wishing we had?

The trouble is that many of us feel terribly guilty about children in church, and worry about whether we’re treating them right. They are the Church of the present, not the Church of the future, after all, we say, thinking we are being awfully original. Surely we should be integrating them more with the rest of us? Isn’t it a bit patronising, sending them off to a back room while we get on with the serious business in the “real” church? Let’s do everything together!

The consequence is that we end up with a half-hearted compromise that satisfies no-one. The children are bored by the bits that go over their heads; the adults are embarrassed by all those action songs and colouring in. Everyone feels vaguely dissatisfied, and no-one has entered whole-heartedly into the worship of God.

I was once part of a church where all-age services were done superlatively well, by a minister who was also a professional teacher. The cringe factor was minimal; everything possible was done to include everyone at their own level. Then we noticed that families were tending to stay away when it was family service week. Why? “The children don’t like it; they want to be out at the back with their friends.”

So let’s think a bit harder about this. Isn’t it a bit suspicious that the drive for all-age services really began in the 1970s, when numbers of children attending our Sunday schools began to plummet? So are we really doing this not because we have asked children what they want, but because we are scared that if we don’t do something different with them we’ll lose them?

Well, as Sarah Palin famously said to Barack Obama, “How’s that workin’ out for ya?” Numbers of children in our churches have fallen through the floor (Methodists have lost more than half in the last 10 years). I’m not suggesting that family services are part of the problem - but they certainly don’t seem to be part of the solution.

So here are some suggestions:

1. If you’re running a monthly family service on a Sunday, ask people what they really think of it. Adults and children. Anonymously.

2. Don’t be downhearted at the response. Do something different - really different, like Messy Church on a Saturday afternoon, rather than trying to mix oil and water on a Sunday.

3. Work on making your Sunday service really inclusive for the time the children are in. Think about having them in at the end rather than at the beginning so you can go out with a blessing together.

4. Believe in preaching. I suspect one of the reasons for the popularity of family services is bad preaching, or preaching based on a wrong paradigm - that it’s “teaching”, complete with PowerPoint. Once we infantilise preaching, there’s nothing left to defend - but God speaks from heart to heart, with words on fire.

5. Don’t try to compete with the world when it comes to entertainment. The world will always do it better.

6. Think about what will really keep children within the family of faith. Unforced friendships across the generations, conversations, space to grow at their own pace knowing that they have the freedom to reject the whole thing if they want to.

If you have a family service that works, God bless you. If it doesn’t, feel free not to feel guilty. What counts most is quality relationships; all else is optional.

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