CHRISTIAN TODAY DIGEST - SUMMER 2011

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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.

Contents

[This magazine has been jointly edited by Christian Today and Torch Trust for the Blind. All the articles were first published on the Christian Today website www.christiantoday.com over the last thee months.]

Welcome!

Welcome to this summer edition of Christian Today Digest! We have another mixed bag for you - from church-led food banks to Logos outreach in Sri Lanka, and ending with an encouraging devotional thought on the "seasons of the soul" by Philip Yancey.

On the subject of holidays, how does a "harvest houseparty" sound? Those of you who receive Torch Family News will already have heard about this. It's good news for anyone wanting to soak up the last of the summer sun in the UK this year - perhaps your last chance for a break before those autumnal breezes blow. This year the demand for a holiday abroad has been satisfied with the Belgium Houseparty, so instead of the France Houseparty we are planning another holiday at Torch's Holiday and Retreat Centre - with a difference ...

We know that for many blind and partially sighted holiday makers travel is the greatest challenge, so for this holiday Torch is offering 'door to door' transport from your home to the Centre and home again afterwards - just as long as there are two or more people travelling from the same locality. Of course, there will need to be a charge for this service, depending on distance. Call now on 01273 832282 to check out the cost and to book. The chance to experience the newly planted sensory garden could be yours this year.

There are some further vacancies so do contact Torch Holidays on 01273 832282 and enquire.

We also plan two Moving Forward holidays especially for those who have recently learned that they are losing their sight, either 14-16 October or 2-4 December, at £180 per person.

Enjoy your magazine!

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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Audio Bible bringing scripture to life

The Bible Society's new audio Bible is helping thousands of people experience God's word - and their faith - in a whole new way.

The recording of the New Testament, You've Got the Time, was released in time for Lent when some 30,000 people joined in listening to it over 40 days.

It was made in collaboration with the Riding Lights Theatre Company and brings together 31 stage actors, including The Bill's Russell Boulter as Luke and the Royal Shakespeare Company's Israel Oyelumade.

Bible Society spokesperson Andy Bissex said: "As part of the King James Bible's 400th anniversary, we want to help Christians engage with the Bible. Bible reading is at an all-time low because people aren't confident about reading the Bible. It can be hard to read, but we all grow up listening to stories, so this is a great way to hear the greatest story ever told."

People were encouraged to listen their way through the New Testament over the forty days of Lent, but now it is hoped that churches across the country will take up the listening scheme during the rest of the year.

Bissex is excited by the number of people who have already listened to the audio Bible but says he wants that figure to rise from tens of thousands to millions.

"We really hope this will be an easy way for people to access the Bible. Listening to the New Testament fills the dead time in the day. You can listen to what God has to say to you while driving your car, walking the dog or going to the gym," he said.

Eric Sparkes listened to the audio Bible over Lent together with his wife, Gillian. The retired civil servant from Swindon said listening to You've Got the Time had inspired them to start praying together.

"It absolutely brought the Bible to life for us," he said. "It has brought us closer together. We didn't share Bible reading and prayer before. Now we pray together."

Geoff Rhodes, a retired scientist also living in Swindon, had a positive experience too when he listened to the New Testament over Lent.

"I've been reading the Bible since my late teens. But the actors put a lot more emphasis into it than you would get in a church service or reading it yourself," he said. "It made the Bible come alive in a way that it didn't before. I've already been recommending it to other people."

Although You've Got the Time is free to download, Bible Society is encouraging users to make a donation to support its work in bringing the Bible to people in the developing world.

Bissex said: "The church is growing phenomenally around the world. Some 15,000 people become Christians every day in China alone. Yet Bibles are expensive and only half the world's languages have scriptures. By giving, people will be enabling others to access the Bible, either through the printed word, through audio Bibles or literacy schemes helping people to read using the Bible."

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Believing in God is good for your health

A new report indicates that those who believe in God not only live a healthier life but may also add as much as 14 years to their life.

According to the new report published by Christian Medical Fellowship, those who have faith carry positive health benefits such as coping with illness, faster recovery, as well as protection from future illnesses.

The report, "Health Benefits of Christian Faith" by Dr Alex Bunn and Dr David Randall, drew its evidence from over 1,200 studies and 400 reviews. It reads, "In contrast to the popular myth that Christian faith is bad for health, on balance, and despite its limitations, the published research suggests that faith is associated with longer life and a wide range of health benefits. In particular, faith is associated with improved mental health."

One of the studies, where more than 20,000 American adults participated, shows that income and education had little impact but those who went to church regularly had seven years added to their life expectancy. It highlights that life expectancy doubled for African Americans with an extra 14 years.

People with mental health problems, such as psychosis, also proved to cope better when religion was involved. They also showed to be more compliant with their medication.

The report notes that the mental health benefits for believers include well-being, happiness and life satisfaction, and a sense of hope and optimism, purpose and meaning in life.

Believers have higher self-esteem, adapt better to bereavement, feel less lonely and are less likely to suffer from depression. Those who do suffer depression tend to make a faster recovery. They are less likely to commit suicide or suffer anxiety, display fewer psychotic tendencies, and are less likely to suffer alcohol and drug abuse. They are also less likely to get involved in delinquency and criminal activity and tend to enjoy greater marital stability and satisfaction.

CMF emphasises that health benefits depend on how devoted Christians are in their faith. For example, those who are genuinely devoted to God are less likely to associate themselves with "risky health behaviours for instance problem drinking, smoking and permissive sexual behaviour".

"One study even found that religious attendance was associated with a more than 90 percent reduction in meningococcal disease (meningitis and septicemia), in teenagers, a protection at least as good as meningococcal vaccination. Furthermore, religious involvement has been associated with improved adherence to medication."

For those living with an illness, studies have also indicated that spirituality or religion plays a positive role. "In one robust study of people living with HIV, those who grew in appreciation of spirituality or religious coping after diagnosis suffered significantly less decline in their CD4 counts and slower disease progression over a four year follow-up."

While much-debated questions arise on whether to "prescribe faith" or not, the doctors personally support spiritual care but with caution because, in some cases, "They argue further that prescribing faith might be coercive, given the implicit authority gradient in the doctor-patient relationship, and that doctors could cause psychological harm by suggesting that patients' illnesses are caused by a lack of religious devotion."

The report concludes that although faith has positive physical benefits on each person, "The Christian faith is not to be judged by its material benefits, but by whether it is true," especially when ironically, "suffering helps Christians to trust not in themselves but in God."

"Christians should not promote health benefits as the primary reason for coming to faith in Christ. Jesus came into the world to work a far deeper transformation in human lives than simply curing disease."

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British society without biblical foundation

British society risks being "undermined" if the biblical principles that have underpinned it for so long are eroded, the Bishop of London has said.

Dr Richard Chartres told a symposium on the Bible in the House of Lords this month: "Our culture and civilisation were founded on the Bible. The economy and politics must have ground beneath them. In Britain that ground has been biblical since our earliest days - and you do not sacrifice that without sacrificing much of what has been built upon that ground."

He said concepts such as dignity and tolerance at the heart of British society would be "very difficult to sustain without a Christian ground".

"Although it has become difficult to use the language of the Bible in this country, it will become more and more obvious that these values and these principles will be unsustainable without the Christian ground," he said.

The bishop also defended the decision of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to use the King James Version at their wedding last month.

"At the royal wedding, the couple chose traditional words and none of the commentators remarked on it," he said. "But the following week the church press was full of commentators deploring the use of fusty words. But we need to remember that the couple who chose those words were both born in 1982, [not in 1882]."

Professor John Wyatt, Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at University College London, said the scriptures had had a "profound" effect on him as a paediatrician. "Because Jesus was a baby, all babies are special. I have come to realise, as Mother Teresa put it, that when we care for the least of these we are tending the wounds of Christ," he said.

The professor urged Christians to speak up for the sanctity of human life before the law.

"English law is still deeply penetrated by this notion that all human life is special," he said. "As we debate the appropriate use of new and powerful technologies a special responsibility falls on us."

Baroness Butler-Sloss said she hoped to see more people pick up a King James Bible during its 400th anniversary year. "In these days of moral pluralism, the celebration of the King James Bible in this year may encourage more people to read it and to benefit from it."

Olave Snelling, chair of the Christian Broadcasting Council and organiser of the symposium, said the Bible continued to be "foundational" to Britain as a nation.

"The Bible is a phenomenal work of literature, but so much more. It is God-breathed. Today we want to raise our voices in this celebration of Britain and the Bible," she said.

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Cathedrals see growth in congregations

The number of people regularly attending a service in a Church of England cathedral has shot up by 7% this year.

According to the latest statistics from the Archbishops' Council's Research and Statistics Unit, cathedral congregations have grown collectively by 37% since the turn of the millennium - a year-on-year average of around 4%.

At Sunday services alone, 15,800 adults and 3,100 children and young people are usually present while over the whole week the figures rise by 73% to 27,400 and 7,600 respectively. Westminster Abbey adds, on average, 1,800 people each week to these numbers.

The Rev Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics, said: "The ministry of cathedrals is valued by many people. They have a treasured place in the heart of the nation and are actively used at key moments in individual lives and on public occasions."

Midweek attendance has also seen a considerable rise in the last decade, more than doubling and approaching the same level as Sunday attendance.

Cathedrals are key places of daily Christian worship outside Sundays, adding an additional 73% to the number of adult attenders and more than doubling the number of children over the whole week.

Lynda Barley added: "Cathedrals are proof of the benefit of being open and available throughout the week. Attendance at services outside Sundays has grown more significantly by 10% over the past year and will soon double Sunday congregations. Steady growth since the beginning of the millennium is encouraging cathedrals to explore the unique position they hold in the life of the nation and is restoring confidence in mission."

Other statistics show that almost one million people attended the more than 3,150 specially arranged services conducted by cathedrals in 2010.

Whilst regular services attracted nearly two million people, 1.63 million people attended about 5,150 public and civic events arranged in cathedrals.

In 2010, cathedral clergy conducted approximately 760 baptisms and thanksgivings for the birth of a child, 330 marriages and blessings of marriage, 410 funerals and 130 memorial services.

Baptisms of young people and adults (over 13 years of age) and child baptisms (aged 1 to 12 years) have almost doubled since the turn of the millennium.

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Church-led foodbanks

Foodbanks operated by churches have seen a sharp rise in the number of people coming to them for emergency handouts. The Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks through churches across the UK, said demand for its services had risen by 50 per cent in the last year to 61,000 people.

The recipients are not homeless people, the charity said, but include many people from low-income working families, as well as those who have been made redundant or who are experiencing delays in benefit payments.

Executive Chairman of the Trussell Trust, Chris Mould, said the numbers fed through the foodbanks had risen by 136 per cent in the last three years as a result of the recession, high unemployment and rising food and fuel prices.

"Foodbank clients are faced with impossible choices between paying the rent and buying food. Parents skip meals or consider crime to feed their children. The shocking truth is that thousands are going hungry in their own homes in 21st century Britain," he said. "The good news is that more local churches are becoming aware of the hunger on their doorsteps and with our help they are starting foodbanks to stop people going without food."

Twenty-one new foodbanks have been set up in 2011 so far, including one in Coventry that has already fed over 800 people.

Trussell Trust foodbanks open for a minimum of three days a week and provide non-perishable food to people in crisis. They are run by local churches in partnership with the local community and all food handed out is donated by members of the public. It says the number of people needing to be fed through the foodbanks could swell to half a million by 2015.

Project Manager at the Coventry foodbank, Gavin Kibble expressed his shock at the scale of need.

"We hugely underestimated the number of people in need of emergency food and have been shocked at the demand since opening," he said. "In the last week alone, we have fed over 150 people. The store room is almost bare. We've had to do an urgent appeal for food donations to meet this unprecedented need."

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From pub to Christian community hub

A former pub and nightclub has been transformed into a vibrant community hub after an extensive refurbishment programme by a local Christian charity.

South East Cornwall Christian Charity spent three months renovating the run down building, formerly the Decker pub, in East Looe before opening earlier in the month as the Rusty Bucket Christian Resource Centre. The community project is rooted in the charity's desire to love, serve and invest in the local community.

Paul Penhaligon, chair of the charity, told local paper the Cornish Guardian: "We felt very strongly that most people who come across Christians do so when they're trying to sell them a raffle ticket to fix a roof. We wanted to come out into the town, which allows us to serve the community and provide a facility that hasn't previously existed."

He wants people to feel comfortable at the centre, which uses local and free range produce.

"We're not encouraging people to leave when they've finished their coffee," he said. "They can stay and read a paper all day if they like."

The building comprises of two floors which the charity will be opening up for use by local groups. A local bridge club has already expressed an interest in using the premises for their meetings.

Penhaligon is also in talks with the local school to open on Friday and Saturday nights to provide young people with a place to hang out.

"We're working with the school to open on Friday and Saturday nights in the autumn so young people who are too old for a youth club and don't want to be told what to do have somewhere to go as long as they treat us and the shop with respect," he said.

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God is not done with Britain yet

There may be chaos in our lives and in the nation too, but Christians serve a God who can bring order out of that chaos and use what little we give to bring about big changes. That was the message from Gavin Calver to thousands of Christians at Spring Harvest in Minehead this year.

In a humorous and often poignant address, the Youth For Christ director opened up about some of the personal challenges he has encountered in his life.

Although the 31-year-old is happily married with two children, the past five years have seen both valleys and peaks. Around five years ago, he and his wife were told they could not have children, only to discover one month later that his wife was pregnant with their first child, Amelie. Their second child, however, died in the womb, and their third child, Daniel, was given only a five per cent chance of surviving by doctors. Against all odds, he survived.

For Calver, when people face a hard situation, the question is not so much "why is this happening?", but whether God will be allowed to enter into that situation.

"When we thought we couldn't have babies, where was God bringing order out of chaos? We pushed into him and we met him and he brought good news," he said.

"When we lost our baby, where was God bringing order out of chaos? He was there alongside us, not solving it, but bringing context and bringing hope."

He said the reason so many people could not see any order in their chaos was because they left God out of it.

"Until you involve God in things, it seems so chaotic. No matter what you are facing, it's not that [something difficult] doesn't happen with God, but with God there is an order to the difficulty. Whatever your life looks like right now, don't compare to others but allow God to bring order to your chaos."

Calvin also spoke honestly about the challenges of leading a ministry when so many people in Britain are turning away from Christianity.

"When you preach the gospel you are in the rejection ministry. For every person who says 'yes, you are right,' 10 say you are wrong," he said.

He shared his encounter with one particularly troubled 12-year-old who had participated in a one week YFC residential. "Mickey" was continually cussing, fighting the other kids, and even pulled a penknife on Calver at one point and threatened to injure him. Yet when it came to the last night of the week, when Calver preached the gospel and invited the young people to accept Jesus into their lives, it was Mickey who stood up.

Six weeks later, his youth worker emailed Calver with the news that he and Mickey were feeling frustrated that the last four in the group had still not given their lives to Jesus.

"The thing is, when you get the leader or you get the Samaritan woman or the Mickey, they go home and get their village," he said.

"We have to believe that God can bring life out of nothing. In your town, maybe it seems like there's nothing. He wants to breathe life into that nothing. In your town maybe there's life; he wants more. But we as a church need to start hoping, believing and praying for more because I am not prepared to accept the recent stat I read that in two generations time the church will be considered in the past tense in this nation. That is not going to happen. God is not done with this island yet. He can breathe life into nothing."

Calver suggested that the church start really believing that the Christian faith is all about life, rather than accepting decline as inevitable.

"We've done something incredible as a church in this nation. We have taken the most awe-inspiring, life altering, non-politically correct, dangerous leader the world has ever known ... and we have made this church boring. We need to take this church and make it relevant. And relevance isn't always fancy gadgets. Just love people.

"As the church we need to do a better PR on ourselves. What other group would write books like 'one generation from extinction' about themselves? We need to start speaking ourselves up and believing that this great God can breathe life into nothing today."

Calver admitted it was "terrible" that there were one million NEETS in Britain - young people "not in education, employment or training" - but said it was God, more than jobs, that these young people were in need of.

He encouraged Christians to believe that even the smallest of actions could have a big impact when used by God. He gave the example of a letter he recently wrote to June Brown, the actress who plays devout Christian Dot Cotton in popular soap, Eastenders. In the letter, Calver thanked Brown, who is a Christian in real life, for being such a good role model to young people. Around four weeks ago, he received a phone call back from the actress in which she told him about the difference his letter had made.

Just recently, the soap's scriptwriters had written in some lines for her character in relation to the controversial baby swap plot which she felt would make the Christian faith look stupid. She photocopied Calvin's letter and sent it to each of the soap's scriptwriters and asked them how they could make her faith look stupid when she had received this letter telling her what a good role model she was for young people. As a result, the scriptwriters changed the script and portrayed Christianity in a positive way instead.

Pointing to the feeding of the five thousand, Calver said: "Why don't we start doing little to see God doing loads. He can take a letter and change a soap opera for 10 million [people]."

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Churches sign up to Olympics outreach

More churches in the UK are getting behind plans for joined up outreach during the London 2012 Olympics than with any previous Games. With just over a year left before the Games come to the capital, churches are drawing up their plans for coordinated outreach and engagement during the Games.

David Wilson, chief executive of More than Gold, the umbrella group for outreach during the Games, has coordinated church engagement in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and Vancouver. He said there were more churches and agencies getting behind the London Olympics than with any other Games previously.

Chairman of More than Gold, Lord Brian Mawhinney, expressed his excitement at the Christian Resources Exhibition in Esher, Surrey.

"This reveals an important legacy that will come as a result of the Games, a legacy of greater levels of cooperation and mutual respect as they work together in our villages, towns and cities," he said.

"It has even been suggested to me that More Than Gold could well turn out to be the largest venture of inter-church cooperation the United Kingdom has ever seen." He said next year's Olympics presented churches in the UK with an opportunity to "enrich their communities and demonstrate an outstanding welcome to visitors from overseas".

Lord Mawhinney said he expected the number of churches erecting big screens during the Games to equal or even exceed the estimated 500 put up in churches around the UK last year to screen the World Cup.

"As a result, we will be seeing thousands of churches expressing their faith through service to their neighbours in ways that break down community barriers, generate trust and enrich relationships," he said.

He also outlined plans for churches to host the families of athletes, particularly those who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend the Games.

It has become a tradition for churches to reach out during the Olympics. At the Atlanta Games, churches gave out over three million cups of cold water to visitors on the streets, while in Sydney, churches organised over 100 sports clinics for disadvantaged young people.

Lord Mawhinney said the baton had now been passed to UK churches to serve the 15,000 athletes and 500,000 spectators coming to the capital for the Games.

"I have no doubt that they will seize the moment and rise to the challenge," he said.

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Logos Hope crew in Sri Lanka

The crew of Operation Mobilisation's ministry ship Logos Hope spent most of May reaching out to communities in Sri Lanka. More than half of the ship's 400 international crew members headed inland while the ship underwent routine maintenance work in the dry dock.

Their outreach activities included sharing God's love with children orphaned by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and running a vacation Bible school for young members of a church in the capital city of Colombo.

Whilst in the dry dock, the ship had its hull repainted, valves replaced and seawater intake systems cleaned. This meant raising the entire 12,000 ton vessel out of the water. The 174 crew members who stayed aboard completed a checklist of over 200 small and large jobs. For some of them, the spell in the dry dock was a whole new experience.

Daniel Bergmann, from Germany, oversaw the removal of rust from the vessel's exterior docks. He said: "It was fascinating to see the ship out of the water and to see how huge the hull is."

Logos Hope was scheduled to depart Sri Lanka on May 23 and head to India.

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Presenting Christ by creative means

Music and drama, puppetry and imaginative object lessons all serve to communicate the gospel effectively. Some opportunities prove seasonal, others are ongoing. OAC Ministries (Open Air Campaigners) evangelists use creative means that draw crowds in a variety of settings.

"In Whitby, a royal wedding celebration enabled some of us to take part," explains Associate Evangelist Dave Glover. "Whether in a Christian or community setting, it is important to use different skills and styles to reach people with the true message of Christ. One exciting development for our Community Church in Newcastle has been involvement with a CAP (Christians Against Poverty) centre. Preaching the gospel in a creative manner allows me to introduce fun, using imaginative object lessons. These may range from rope tricks to illusion. The programme as a whole appeals to CAP clients and their families in a relaxed setting. As a result, some have started coming to church."

Getting across the biblical message in a non-threatening way also motivates Associate Evangelist Jon Bonner to use different tools. As a professional actor, he uses his own background in drama as well as music. Leading all-age sessions at Spring Harvest, he notes his basic approach for both evangelism and Christian events.

"To begin with, you ask how you can appeal to both adults and children. It's important that everything must be very well presented. Children are familiar with good music within a commercial setting, so I write in the styles that they already listen to. But everyone needs to get something out of the presentation. That includes not only music, but also humour which may be witty and geared to adults. A good gospel message may be very simple, yet appeal on different levels to families of three or more generations. It's a lot of hard work and preparation and you need a good team working together."

A creative tool that enjoys popularity among young and old - as evident in the West End theatre scene of London - is puppetry. Evangelist Dawn Getley of Plymouth uses her ventriloquist skills in both church and outdoor evangelism settings. She notes that sometimes adults have been known to pose spiritual questions aimed at the puppet rather than her.

In particular, she regularly uses her puppetry skills for "messy church". Because the audience tends to include non-church goers with a wide age range, she tries to make the message helpful on different levels.

A Facebook comment informed her about one very active six year old girl, whom Dawn assumed was not paying attention. She went home and used her own teddy bear puppet to enact the presentation for her grandfather. It seems that creative tools enable the gospel to reach all ages.

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Philip Yancey on seasons of the soul

The bestselling author of What's so Amazing about Grace? spent May touring around the UK to share his thoughts on God's faithfulness through all the seasons of the soul.

He was at the Christian Resources Exhibition in Esher, Surrey, this month, to deliver a reassuring message of God's ability to redeem even the most broken of lives and work through every season of the soul. He spoke honestly about his own bad experiences in the church, even describing the church he grew up in as "toxic". It was an unhealthy church, he shared, a church that "represented death in many ways, not life", and he grew up expecting God to "smash" his hard and cynical shell.

That was not the case, however.

"That was the image of God given to me in the church [but] God didn't do that," he said. "God melted that shell through life, through spring. Nature was a part of that, love was a part of that.

"I found that the world was a good world, a world full of joy and life, and I wanted to know that [kind of] God."

And for Yancey, that is what the season of spring is all about: the old life melting away and a new life beginning, just like change experienced by the woman in the Bible who broke her alabaster jar and poured her expensive perfume over Jesus' feet. That act was, Yancey said, a symbol of her readiness to leave her old life behind and, from that moment on, entrust her life completely to Jesus.

Summer, meanwhile, is a time of joy and celebration and it is this that Yancey wants to see much more of in the church.

"It's a time when we celebrate life and we enjoy the great world that God has given us. Some people in churches start feeling guilty when they are happy. That's not Jesus. Jesus said: 'hey, why are you fasting? The Kingdom of God is here.' It is time to party, it is time to enjoy the great world we've been given. That's the message that I wish we in the church could communicate more and more because so many don't see the church as a place of celebration, a place of joy, a place of good news."

That need to remind himself and the church of the "good-news-ness" and "counter message" of the gospel is partly what inspires Yancey to write.

"We know how the world works, we saw it just last week," he said, referring to the killing of Osama bin Laden. You bomb my country, I'll bomb you back. You kill my people I'll kill you back. That's the way the world runs. And then there comes this force like grace. Even if you are an enemy, even if you are a terrorist there is another way, another force."

It is that force that can work in and through Christians to spread the gospel even where it looks like things are dying out.

"I know it's easy in the UK, with your history to look back at the church and get discouraged and despondent. Go back and read the images of the Kingdom of God that Jesus gave. They are all small things," he said. "It is a sprinkling of yeast that percolates through the whole loaf and causes it to rise. It is just a sprinkling of salt that preserves the large hock of meat. It's the smallest seed in the garden that falls into the ground and grows into a great bush and the birds of the air come and nest in it. I'm not discouraged because I believe that God honours true faith and that God brings life and joy and goodness out of our squeaks and squawks."

Just like the leaves change colour and eventually fall from the trees in autumn, our faith can also get old and doubts can creep in. Or we can be tempted by things that seem like they would give us freedom - things like money, drugs, alcohol or sexual promiscuity.

The changing colours of the leaves in autumn are, he said, also a "harbinger of death".

"In the US, the 10 top health problems are all things that we do to ourselves. We drink too much, eat too much, work too much, have sex with too many of the wrong people. We are free but freedom can lead to a kind of slavery."

After working for decades as a journalist, Yancey has interviewed many famous people with seemingly enviable lives and yet, in the end, Yancey says he doesn't want to be like them.

"The world says you gain your life by getting more and more and more and more, but Jesus says 'no, that leads to death; you get it back by giving it away and when you give it away you get it back'. People who think they are free eventually end up slaves to their own desires and those who give their freedom away to the only one you can trust with that freedom eventually get it back."

Yancey pointed to Paul as one such person who made himself a slave to Christ and chose to give away his freedom, only to gain it back again.

Just like autumn is a season to offer up thanks for the harvest that has been brought in, Christians can offer up thanks to God because all things work for his glory and our own good, Yancey believes.

"Some of us are stewards of pleasure, some of us are stewards of pain. Some of us are stewards of success, some of us are stewards of failure. Some of us are stewards of joy, some are stewards of disappointment. The key in each of these cases is to live before God as the one body so that we, like Paul, can say: in whatsoever state I am, I will be content."

Similarly, believers can find themselves in hard times - seasons like winter - but the resurrection promises that something good will come out of it.

"I think of pain as our hearing aid," said Yancey. "We can turn up the hearing aid and listen to the messages that we can learn."

Yancey knows a thing or two about hardship. He almost died when his neck was broken in a car crash several years ago. He was invited to speak at Virginia Tech after a student went on the rampage killing 32 people before taking his own life. He was in Mumbai at the time of the 2008 terrorist attacks.

Although he has no answers for why hard times happen, one thing Yancey said he was sure about was how God feels when we go through them.

"God gave us a face, a face that is streaked with tears," he said, as he pointed to Jesus' compassion for widows and the Roman soldier who wanted his servant to be healed.

Quoting Christian philosopher Dallas Willard, he said: "Winter comes but nothing irredeemable can happen to you. Nothing beyond the redemption of God can happen to you."

In fact, he went on to say, just like trees do most of their growing during the winter months, so it is with people.

"If you did a survey of Christians and asked 'when did your spiritual formation kick in?', almost all of them would say in hard times, painful times, winter times."

In that sense, Yancey believes winter does not have to be a time of death and despair. It can be a time of hope and of resurrection. Just like the prophets talk of the healing of nations, of old people walking unafraid down the streets, of streams in the desert and wells coming out of dry ground, we can know who God really is because we can "see how he rights the wrongs of this planet", said Yancey.

He concluded: "We all face that final cold, hard pull of winter [but] the promise that we have all the way through the Bible is: that is not the end. God promises to restore to the original design.

"May you experience that thaw, that promise that the spell will be broken, that the snow will begin to melt, its moisture seeping into the ground until the tulips bloom, until your faith blooms again and spreads throughout this great land."

Yancey toured throughout the month of May, hosted by chief executive of the Flame Trust, Dave Pope, and accompanied by the Saltmine Theatre Company.

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