Christian Today Digest – April 2018

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Why on earth are we eating our friends?

By Steve Morris

It was Inky the Octopus who really got me thinking. You may have read his inspiring story. Inky was kept as an exhibit in the New Zealand National Aquarium. One day he managed to escape. He had worked out that there was an escape pipe that he could get down if his keeper forgot to seal it after feeding him. After months of 'thought' Inky made good his plans and escaped to freedom.

If creatures can show this much intelligence how on earth can we eat them? That's the question that won't leave me alone. Every week new 'evidence' seems to emerge of the sentience and sensibilities of animals. Horses, apparently, can feel embarrassed. Dogs and cats show love and empathy. Elephants mourn. The list is endless. I wonder when we finally get to heaven if God might have serious questions about why we so underestimated his creatures.

Many of you will simply point out that Jesus ate meat and so it's fine for us to eat it too. But Jesus the man was of his time and so he did what his culture did.

Why on earth do we eat pigs and sheep and cows but we don't eat cats and dogs? If we eat one sensitive mammal why not all mammals? Is it just that we don't eat animals that we share a house with?

I know that many people become vegetarian for many reasons – animal welfare standards, animal rights, health and whatever. But for me the more I find out about the sheer level of animal intelligence and sensibility it seems like a gross betrayal to eat them, especially when I have a choice not too.

Now you might say that if we did not eat cows and sheep and pigs no-one would keep them as pets and so they would be wiped out anyway. You may say that with good husbandry creatures can enjoy a dignified and happy, if short life. You may also say that if we treat animals well when they are alive and cook them with love and creativity that we honour them. But I am coming round to the fact that my conscience seems to be nagging me to stop eating them at all.

We pray, 'Your kingdom come.' That means we are responsible for bringing as much of the new creation into existence right now. Part of that is to usher in a new age of compassion, care and non-violence to animals.

Opposite my church there is a field where the farmer keeps donkeys. Herbie and his friend lived happily together. One day the friend died. Herbie kept braying and then laid beside his dead friend for a day and a night. Tim, the farmer, let Herbie have his time to mourn his friend. He left him to be sad for a while.

If animals can feel and have emotions and intelligence should we see them as our friends and not as fodder?

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Three presidents, three affairs and a compromised church

By David Robertson

Powerful men have often found that their power is itself a powerful aphrodisiac. Six decades ago President Jack Kennedy used his office and power to enable several affairs with different women. Kennedy was infamous for his sexual appetite, once boasting that he needed to have sex every day. Many in the church rightly condemned his behaviour.

Two decades ago President Bill Clinton was accused of having an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky had sworn under oath that she had had no sexual contact with the president but was later found to have been lying – as was Clinton, who denied having had any sexual relationship with his intern, famously declaring: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.' He also testified 'there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship or any other kind of improper relationship'. Again the churches were quick to condemn the 'immoral' president.

What I remember most from that period is that when he was accused of lying and perjury he made the incredible statement, 'it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is'. It was a realisation for me that the post-modern chickens had well and truly come home to roost. 'Post-truth' and 'alternative facts' were around long before President Trump.

We now come up to the present date, where Trump has been accused of having an affair with a porn star known as Stormy Daniels. Again there is no need to go into the salacious details which will doubtless be endlessly and breathlessly revealed over the coming months and years, despite the confidentiality clause she has signed.

I think there are significant differences between the previous affairs and today's.

Although both Monica Lewinsky and Stormy Daniels profited from their indiscretions, Lewinsky was given a much harder time. She was mocked and vilified for her affair. She was accused of being a predatory 'tramp' and for a number of years tried to lie low, although she did make over $1 million for a book and interviews and eventually became a 'celebrity' in her own right.

Stormy Daniels on the other hand has done anything but lie low. She is suing for the right to tell all, using social media to promote herself and exploiting her new found fame to go on tour with a strip shown entitled 'Make America Horny Again'. Is the reaction to the two women indicative of a deeper change within the culture? Is this evidence that Americans are much less moralistic about sex? Or perhaps that they are moralistic in a different way?

For me the bigger change is in the churches attitude to the three presidents. On the whole the evangelical churches condemned Kennedy and went ballistic about Clinton. The self-styled 'moral majority' could hardly contain their indignation at an immoral president who was found to have lied and yet remained in office. But what about today? While some leaders like Russell Moore (Southern Baptists), Thabiti Anyabwile (The Gospel Coalition) and Max Lucado have been explicit (and courageous) in their condemnation; others have been somewhat less forthright. Franklin Graham declared 'it's just a news story'. Jerry Falwell Jr suggested that ethics and the presidency should be kept apart and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council told Politico magazine, 'We kind of gave him – "All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here."' (A mulligan is a golfing term for getting a second chance.)

Of course the secular liberal media have jumped on this apparent volte-face of the 'moral majority' in the face of presidential immorality. They have accused the church of hypocrisy and selling its soul, just so it can have conservative justices on the Supreme Court and a president speaking out (but doing little) about some 'conservative' social issues.

Well I am an evangelical Christian of the most dyed-in-the-wool theologically conservative sort and I find the silence/support of evangelicals on this issue more than a little depressing. I have no doubt at all that there are fine Christians in the Trump cabinet (as this fair and balanced report from the BBC indicates) but it is hypocritical of some evangelical leaders, who would doubtlessly be taking to the airwaves condemning a President Obama if he had done a tenth of what President Trump is alleged to have done, to ignore or even defend 'their' president. It is as though John the Baptist had said to Herod, 'Because you are on our side we'll let you off with your little indiscretion with Herodias.' After all, John had a voice in the palace and what was the use of antagonising the king when he could use his influence as 'salt and light'? Instead John fearlessly proclaimed the word of God and literally lost his head as he prepared the way for the Lord.

I fear that some evangelicals have lost their spiritual heads and been blinded by the prospect of influence and power. It's time for them to get regain their minds, show some heart and get back their prophetic voice.

No one expects Donald Trump to be a saint, any more than we should have expected it of Kennedy, Clinton or Obama, but if anyone is dumb enough to claim any presidential candidate as the 'Christian' candidate, they had better have the decency and the courage to hold their candidate to Christ's standards, not the standards of the locker room.

All political leaders are, according to the Bible, God's servants, whether they are Caesar, Stalin or Reagan. This does not mean that we owe them unconditional support or obedience (we give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's). In some cases, as Calvin argued, there is even a case for Christians to participate in the overthrow of an unjust ruler. But it does mean that we owe all our political leaders three things: respect, prayer and a prophetic voice that declares to the nations and the leaders of those nations, 'Hear the word of the Lord'.

I find it deeply ironic that in a nation that has historically recognised the clear distinction between church and state, it is some church leaders who appear to be confused about the difference between spiritual and political power and seem to prefer the latter.

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Czech missionary Petr Jasek tells of suffering for Christ in Sudan prison

By James Macintyre

The Czech missionary held in Sudan, Petr Jasek, has described how God gave him a 'supernatural peace' in the face of abuse from Islamic State extremists and eventually used him to lead fellow inmates to Christ during his 14-month imprisonment.

The Africa regional director for Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) outlined his story for the first time since being released from a Sudanese prison last year.

Jasek was speaking at one of the mission organisation's all-day conferences before hundreds of people at the McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia on Saturday. He told the audience that he is 'living proof that our Lord answers our prayers'.

After Jasek travelled to Sudan in December 2015 to document persecution faced by Christians there, he was accused of espionage and treason by the government.

Sudan ranks as the fourth worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2018 World Watch List.

Although Jasek originally planned to be in Sudan for just four days, he wound up being imprisoned for 445 before his release in 2017. During that time, he was placed in five different prisons.

In his testimony reported by The Christian Post, Jasek recalled his first weeks in prison, when he was placed in a cell with members of the Islamic State group.

'Immediately, they found out about me that I was a Christian. They started to gradually tease me in very bad ways. Essentially, I became like their slave,' he said. 'I was really [made] to wash their clothes, wash all the dishes, clean the toilet with my bare hands. They were just making fun of me. I did not resist.'

In due course the abuse got more serious. 'They became more aggressive. They were inventing ways for how they could [torture] me in a very bad way,' he continued. 'Eventually, they decided to do waterboarding to me. It's a way of torture where a person lays on his back and they cover his mouth and pour water, which gives you the feeling that you are getting drowned. They told me that Czechoslovakia allows the CIA to waterboard Al Qaeda members, which was not true.'

To perform the torture, Jasek and the Islamic State extremists were moved to a cell with running water.

'The problem with these Sudanese prisons is that the Sudanese guards, even though it could be the most prestigious prison, they are afraid of these [extremists],' he said. 'Because it is [thought] that if these Islamists get released they will get revenge on those guards.'

The day before the waterboarding was to occur, the jihadis interrogated Jasek to find out where VOM was operating in Sudan, and, not liking his answers, they would beat him with a wooden stick. However, the missionary received consolation from images in his mind of Christ.

'I was on my knees and the Lord showed me a [thought] that he came before us in this way. He was once ridiculed, spit upon and beaten with a wooden stick,' Jasek said. 'The Lord gave me the strength to go through all that with a supernatural peace in my mind.'

Jasek also explained that at the same time that he was being interrogated by the jihadis in prison, his wife was in a Bible study back home and the leader stopped the study to pray for the 'situation that he is right now in'.

Jasek said: 'They stopped reading and started to pray for the Lord's presence over the situation. When I came home, I realised that was exactly the time when I was on my knees before the Islamists and they were beating me. But I was experiencing a supernatural peace.'

Jasek did not have access to his Bible in the cell, and as his health was deteriorating, he was barely able to remember the passages of Scripture that he had memorised as a boy.

'I was literally asking the Lord that he will keep my mind sound and that I wouldn't lose my mind through the situation,' Jasek said. 'The Holy Spirit kept reminding me some of the verses that I had memorised. This was just enough for me, to give me enough strength every day to pray.'

Jasek prayed for his abusers late at night when they could not sleep.

'They were crying. They were also missing their family members. They were also crying to God for help,' he said. 'That allowed me to easily continue to pray for them. I was praying for those fellow prisoners, the interrogators, for the guards, for the prosecutors and for the judge, that the Lord would reveal himself as the Lord, Saviour and God.

'When we realise that these people are not knowing the Lord, that situation made it really easier for me to pray for them.'

In the event, Jasek was spared from waterboarding thanks to a guard who was not afraid of going against the wishes of the extremists. Jasek said that he feels that God acted through the guard to move him out of the cell.

'Later on I told the guard that he saved my life and we became close friends,' Jasek said. 'I gave my email address and I started to share the gospel with him. He was very passionate. I told him that if he ever makes it to Europe, he can stay at my house and we will take care of him.'

But Jasek was moved to another prison where conditions were 'even worse' but he was able to evangelise further. He said: 'We were squeezed in a small room – 4.5 x 5.5 metres. There were sometimes 40 of us. That was the situation and I was able to lead 40 Eritrean refugees to Christ. It was like new revelation for me. I started to be courageous and openly shared the gospel with other fellow prisoners. Later on, that resulted in them putting me in solitary confinement again.'

However, shortly after being put in solitary confinement, Jasek was brought a Bible by Czech consular officials.

'I didn't have to do anything else but read the Bible all day. I could not read the Bible all day because I could only read when there was enough light, which was about 8 [am] ... until 4:30 pm. I had to stand reading on the bars so that I could have enough light. I was so hungry for Scripture. I read from Genesis to Revelation within three weeks.'

The missionary said that he was given a 'new understanding of Scripture'.

Eventually, he was removed from solitary confinement and moved to a larger prison that can hold around 10,000 people.

He explained: 'I went from solitary to a cell where there were like 100 people in one cell. We were squeezed. There were 75 beds. Only 75 could have a bed and 25 had to stay on the floor.'

The guards at the new prison even allowed him and two Sudanese pastors who he was imprisoned with to hold chapel services and to preach.

'The first day I came to the chapel to spend time in Scripture with the Lord. They asked me to preach. I would preach once a week, sometimes twice a week. Of course, they were monitoring us and they were reporting what we were teaching about. There were two other pastors from Sudan and we knew that nothing worse could happen to us."

The preaching allowed Jasek and the other pastors to witness to 'people that were hopeless. They were real criminals – murderers, rapists, thieves, drug dealers. It was such a wonderful time. They responded to our teaching. We were just teaching the gospel. It was so wonderful to see the changed life of those who dedicated their lives to Christ."

Following negotiations between the Sudanese government and Czech officials, Jasek was released in February 2017.

'I came for four days to Sudan. But I was there 445 days,' Jasek said. 'When you think about all the hardships and seeing what the Lord was able to do through us, then what else can we say but the Lord's ways are much better than our ways.'

Jasek said that Christians should expect trouble. 'We know from the words of Apostle Paul that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,' he said. 'I felt like I received my life back. I was first threatened to be sentenced to be executed. [Then] later on, life imprisonment. Then, my life was returned back to me. I told the Lord, "My life does not belong to me any more. It belongs to the Lord."'

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Texas megachurch pays off $10.5 million in medical debts for over 4,000 families

By Jardine Malado

A $100,000 donation from a megachurch in North Texas has been used to eliminate the debt of more than 4,000 families amounting to $10.5 million.

In previous years, Covenant Church in Carrollton had usually spent the money collected from church members each year to pay for advertisements to promote Easter services. But this year, senior pastor Stephen Hayes decided to donate $100,000 to a charity that buys medical debt for pennies on the dollar and forgives debtors, reports Relevant Magazine.

"What if we bought up some of this medical debt and write on the letters, 'We are Covenant Church and we are local in this area and we can serve you in any way and we would love to be your church. But even if we don't get to meet you, just know that God loves you,'" Hayes recounted.

The sum had been donated to an organization called RIP Medical Debt, which used to be a debt collector. The pastor noted that it paid off a total of $10,551,618 in total debt is finished," just before he died on the cross, paying all the debt of our sins for us.

"When you were in debt to someone, when you reached the end of your payment plan and paid off whatever you were in payment toward, they would write like the big red 'paid' stamp they would put on the invoices, they would write the word, 'tetelestai.' Jesus in that moment was saying 'guess what, it is finished, the debt of sin had been paid,'" he explained in his sermon.

The sum had been donated to an organization called RIP Medical Debt, which used to be a debt collector. The pastor noted that it paid off a total of $10,551,618 in total debt for 4,228 families living in Carrollton, Crossroads, Colleyville, and McKinney.

Hayes himself had experienced being in medical debt after he was hit by a car when he was 17 years old. A blood clot had to be removed from his brain, and he had fallen into a coma.

When doctors told his parents that he may never walk or speak again, they turned to their church congregation for prayers.

Hayes eventually woke up after 12 days in intensive care, and was able to walk out of the hospital six days later. Members of that congregation also pulled together to help the family pay for his extensive medical bills.

The pastor says that he is dismayed when he thinks about people who need the same kind of help but do not have the kind of support he had.

The pastor said that the families benefiting from the church's donation will be soon be receiving mail informing them that their medicals debts have now been paid and are now gone. He told his congregation that they should all feel the same joy that these people would be feeling, as they received a similar letter in the form of John 19:30, in which Jesus declared "It

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American Christians are ignoring the Great Commission: Here's why that's so dangerous

By Joseph Hartropp

A study released by Barna last week revealed that 51 per cent of US churchgoers don't know of the 'great commission', Jesus´ command to 'go and make disciples of all nations'. Is it a sign of a fatal flaw in contemporary church culture?

The apparently not-so famous commission comes from the final chapter of Matthew's Gospel, and are Christ's last words before he ascends to heaven:

'Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age"' (Matt 28:16–20).

Of those surveyed, only 17 per cent recognised the phrase 'the great commission' and what it referred to. But might this Christian amnesia might simply be excused as a question of jargon?

When given the passage and not just its extra-biblical 'title', a few more (37 per cent) recognised it as The Great Commission. Evangelicals were the most likely church group (60 per cent) to recognise the commission and what it means. Being generally more familiar with the Bible, the tendency is understandable, whilst reference to the Great Commission (in mission trips to 'the nations' for example) is more prevalent in the evangelical wing of the church.

It's important not to presume too much from a survey and to simultaneously recognise that knowledge of certain jargon does not equal an interest in or understanding of what it represents. Nonetheless, it's not outrageous to suggest that the apparent obliviousness to Jesus´ command belies a worrying church trend – one in which the life of discipleship is frequently ignored.

The Matthew passage is deeply significant. Not only does only does it give Jesus final words of blessing and assurance before he departs earth, but it also stands as a significant text for Trinitarian theology (clearly naming the Father, Son and Spirit together), and makes explicit that the gospel is not just for Israel but 'all nations' (ethnicities). Centrally it elevates the work of 'discipleship': of being a follower of Christ who in turn 'teaches' others to walk the same path. Implicit is not merely a life of belief (e.g. 'trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour'), but of instruction, practice and transformation. It is holistic, demanding, and as urged by Jesus – essential.

What follows from ignoring said commission then, is a compartmentalised Christianity – in which church is simply our name for a once-a-week service, not a grander more compelling call to community. Faith becomes merely a badge of affiliation, sitting alongside our political party membership and our favourite sports team. It isn't a radical life of trust that requires daily sacrifice. We might distance faith's relevance to our life choices, so that we easily separate 'God' and 'politics', or our decision to 'follow Jesus' has minimal bearing on our use of time, money and relationships.

Discipleship implies teaching, learning, transformation – a shallower Christianity might assume that faith is only concerned with life after death, an insurance policy with little meaning for life today.

This problem has less to do with whether Christians have heard of 'the great commission' than whether they think Jesus cares about the whole of life. My experience of evangelical culture (supposedly more familiar with Christ's command) is that it can be most susceptible to the tendency to relegate discipleship to the side-lines. Instead, evangelism and the explicit preaching of the gospel to non-believers takes precedence. Big events where masses are preached to about the necessity of salvation may be the norm. The focus is measurable outcomes, markers of ministry success – how many souls were saved?

Discipleship is a little trickier: how to you manage a lifetime of trusting God? But of course, it's the trust that makes all the difference: how many make an enthusiastic gesture to God in their youth but soon forget the faith? They may have been disappointed by the preaching of a religion that went big on the hype, but a little to say about day-to-day walking with God and others. They may have longed for depth, but without discipleship were left in the shallows.

The literal translation of the Greek word for 'disciple' is 'one who learns'. It's a journey of education, of new horizons generated by life with God. It's a walk of sacrifice and discovery – not just being busier with 'Christian' activity.

Discipleship is really a gift, which is probably why Jesus cared about it so much. It seems the church still has much to learn.

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