Christian Today Digest – February 2017

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Contents

Christian Today website articles

Sometimes Christian Today also includes an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather one that has been included for readers to pray about.

Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material selected by the editor at Christian Today and were first published recently on www.christiantoday.com.

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Hope Amid Crisis: Testimonies Of Christian Transformation In War-Torn Syria

By Joseph Hartropp

Powerful testimonies of Christian transformation and salvation are emerging from the war-stricken Middle East in what is reckoned to be the largest refugee crisis in history.

Nearly five million people have had to flee their homes in Syria, but charity Leading The Way has been one of many at work to help those in need. The charity now report several stories of those who have found hope not only though the practical help provided, but through giving their lives to Jesus.

One such story is that of Rima (name changed), a Syrian mother whose name means “hope”. Rima’s home was destroyed and her husband went missing, leaving her and her sons who fled to seek refuge in Lebanon. She walked through freezing cold temperatures for seven hours to the Lebanon border, where she found limited shelter in a sparse, basic apartment. Leading the Way cites “incredible circumstances” that led one of their teams to visit Rima in her home and provide help.

Leading The Way’s Help The Persecuted ministry coordinator Mary described her shock at Rima’s living conditions: “What we saw was very heart-breaking. There were no windows, no doors, no heat, no electricity, nothing.”

The team that visited her were able to provide essential support, including warm clothes, medical supplies, and a stove as Rima’s ten-year old son had become ill with a fever.

They also provided spiritual support, giving Rima one of their Navigator Audio Bibles, but the greatest gift they could give, says Mary, was Christ.

“I asked her if she knew Jesus, that God sent us to her.

She said: “I know that because you are all here,” and she could tell that we were going to help her. From there she was just so open. She said, ‘Yes I believe in Jesus’ and I asked her if she wanted to pray and she said ‘yes’.”

Youssef says that Rima’s story of salvation is one among many: “We drew so much hope from the volume of people coming to the Lord. We went to one church where there are 400 Syrian Muslims who’ve come to Christ, the next church there’s 250, meeting five times on a Sunday. That’s just two churches.

“You think maybe the Lord is turning this crisis in a way that would benefit the future of Syria in that they’re coming to know the Lord and could go back into their countries and re-populate Syria with newly converted Christians. That to me is the most exciting thing about this issue.”

Leading The Way’s senior director of international operations Allan Guinan said: “These are the stories we don’t see in the mainstream news. We see this happening a lot, with people calling our follow up teams and wanting to know about the Lord Jesus. This is an unprecedented opportunity as we’re seeing more Muslims coming to Christ than at any other time in our ministry.”

The news comes after the Bible Society last week announced “good news from Syria”. They reported testimonies about closed streets reopening, the return of the displaced, and she sharing of Bibles bringing joy to many in a time of crisis.

Gaith, a Bible Society source in Syria, said: “We have had very peaceful weeks in Aleppo, where suddenly all the barriers and walls separating us from one another were dismantled. We could suddenly walk through areas – less than five hundred metres from our Bible House – which had been cut off from us for years. There we were walking those streets that had been part of our childhood and tears were streaming down our cheeks.”

Syria has not only been desolated by civil war, but remains a site of intense persecution for Christians. Stories like those of Rima, Gaith and many others offer light in an increasingly desperate time.

Gaith adds “So many questions were asked and even though so many are still without answers, we are looking ahead with a lot of hope.”

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The Wisdom Of Trump? Christians Must Pray The New President Can Learn From Solomon

By Andy Walton

With Donald Trump’s inauguration imminent, there’s been plenty of talk about who had been chosen to offer prayers at the event. Trump’s team has selected six leaders to pray – ranging from a Pentecostal pastor to a Rabbi.

The most interesting insight that we have so far is the text that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, will use as the basis of his prayer.

He has chosen to read from the Book of Wisdom. It’s one of the deuterocanonical books of the Bible – considered to be apocryphal by Protestants, but part of the Bible by Catholics. Also known as the Wisdom of Solomon, there is disagreement over its authorship, but the message of this prayer seems perfect for this particular inauguration.

Attributed to Solomon, part of the prayer says, “the reasoning of mortals is inadequate, our attitudes of mind unstable; for a perishable body presses down the soul, and this tent of clay weighs down the mind with its many cares.”

It also contains this heartfelt request for wisdom: “With you is Wisdom, she who knows your works, she who was present when you made the world; she understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what agrees with your commandments. Dispatch her from the holy heavens, send her forth from your throne of glory to help me and to toil with me and teach me what is pleasing to you.”

It’s hard to imagine a more apposite prayer for our times – and for Donald Trump.

Part of Trump’s appeal to the American electorate lay in his reputation as an outsider, a man who wasn’t part of the political machine. In an economy like the US, where wealth inequality is stark, we can see why someone seen as being an “outsider” to a broken system won.

There’s a problem, though. Quite apart from Trump’s many obvious character and moral failings, the lack of experience he has in a perilously complicated world has to be a worry. The simplistic solutions he has proposed can’t be carried out. The Mexicans won’t pay to build a wall. Replacing the Affordable Care Act with, “health care that is far less expensive and far better,” as Trump has promised, will be fiendishly difficult and there is no discernible plan from Trump or the GOP.

Defeating ISIS, resisting the rise of Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia (if Trump even wants to), and creating jobs as automation and outsourcing continue apace. These are all viciously vexed problems. A master operator in politics and economics would struggle. A man without a single day of governing experience is going to find it an almighty undertaking.

This is where we come back to wisdom – and the astute choice made by Cardinal Dolan. What Solomon teaches us is that wisdom is the greatest virtue of a leader. Trump may brag about his business skills, but it’s meaningless if he has no wisdom.

Solomon, whose finery would have made the Trump Tower look impoverished, was beloved of his people, not because of his riches. Instead, “they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.”

A wise man wouldn’t boast about grabbing women without their consent. A wise man wouldn’t show disregard for religious freedom. A wise man should use social media to build people up, not humiliate them.

Cardinal Dolan’s message to Trump, and the American people, is that the measure of a leader isn’t in his inflated claims, in military might, or even his ability to create prosperity. A true Judeo-Christian vision of leadership will value justice above all. In the famous words of the Prophet Micah, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Wisdom doesn’t seem to be in fashion at the moment. Simple solutions to complex problems are offered by politicians across the world. How different the world might look if they sought Godly wisdom instead.

When the Queen Of Sheba visited King Solomon, she remarked, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom... Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom!”

May we pray that in our own time we may be able to say the same of all our leaders.

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How the Devil Tries to Use Your Weaknesses to Destroy You

By Patrick Mabilog

It’s no secret that competency is always relative. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and that’s how God meant it to be. Yet somehow the enemy still uses our incompetency to attack our identity and security, and sometimes his schemes work.

2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Weakness was never meant to be the enemy’s weapon to cause sin and confusion, but to be God’s tool to build faith and reliance on Him.

Here are four ways that the enemy will try to use your weakness against you and how to counter by standing on God’s original design.

Fear Over Faith

Where there is limitation, Satan will often try to lure us into fear when facing uncertainty. Many times when the early disciples would allow fear to take the better of them, Jesus would correct them lovingly by pointing out their “little faith.”

Weaknesses in the light of God’s love will cause us to trust and rely fully in God, not doubt Him. 1 John 4:18 declares to us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

Failure Over Freedom

Weakness will very often lead to a mistake or even a failure. In my personal life, I have always seen my inabilities to cause mishaps at work or even in my family. But in the midst of failure, I am assured that God can and will turn situations around.

But sometimes, we are tricked into thinking that God cannot conquer our failures. This causes us to live in bondage instead of freedom. Proverbs 4:16 tells us, “For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”

Regret Over Redemption

One of the enemy’s favourite toys is our regret. He plays with it and wants us to do the same. But God has one desire for our regrets: He wants them laid at the foot of the cross because Christ paid the price for your redemption from any past mistake or failing.

You are already redeemed by the blood of Christ from any sin or weakness. God’s power is made evident in our inabilities. We can now walk free and sanctified not by our own strengths, but by God’s infinite strength.

Works Over Will

When we fail and it’s clear that there’s no conceivable way to make things right on our own, God intervenes. But sometimes the devil whispers into our ears that God is too far away or too busy to help us out.

But God promises in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Our courage and confidence lies in God’s pleasing and perfect will, not our good works. We can trust God even in the midst of our weakness because He is working for our good.

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‘We’re In This With You’: Iraqi Muslim Rebuilds Crucifix Desecrated By ISIS

By Carey Lodge

Hundreds of churches and ancient Christian sites across Iraq and Syria have been desecrated by ISIS, but Muslims in the region are reaching out to their Christian neighbours amid the violence.

In a church in Mosul, one Muslim has rebuilt a cross after the building was destroyed by Jihadis.

“Inside this church that ISIS has just come in and completely destroyed, here inside Mosul city limits, we found this cross that our friend Marwan helped fashion out of these two pieces of metal,” said Jeremy Courtney, co-founder and executive director of the Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC), a “faith-orientated” charity working in Iraq.

Speaking in a video posted to the charity’s Instagram, Courtney added: “Marwan is a Muslim. But when Marwan came into this church he couldn’t accept the fact that these other guys who claimed to be Muslims were rampaging through this place, destroying the signs and the icons of his Christian friends, his Christian compatriots, his Christian neighbours.

“And so our Muslim friend Marwan helps fashion this cross together just to say... [to] his Christian neighbours and [on behalf of] his Muslim neighbours, his Muslim faith: ‘We’re in this with you. This cross stands for something. This cross belongs here in our country. This cross belongs here among our friends.’”

PLC has been working in Iraq for more than a decade, and since the uprising of Islamic State in 2014 has provided life-saving emergency support to thousands of people fleeing the violence.

A team has also been to serve suspected ISIS militants under its mandate to “Love anyway”, regardless of religion or creed.

As the campaign to eradicate ISIS has ramped up in the last few months, videos and images have begun to emerge of Iraqi Christian leaders returning to their churches after having had to flee.

Photographs sent to Christian Today of the Mart Shmony Syriac Orthodox Church in Bartella, just nine miles from Mosul, showed church officials beginning the clean up effort after the building was desecrated by militants.

The church is charred from being set alight, and inside church pews were overturned, and hymn books and Bibles torn apart and thrown on the floor.

According to the Telegraph’s Josie Ensor, graffiti scrawled on the walls of the church read: “Our God is higher than the cross”.

But though church leaders have pledged to return, many Christians are reportedly still too afraid and some have said they may never again live in what was once the heartland of Middle Eastern Christianity.

In 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, but there are now believed to be around just 200,000.

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3 Things Evangelicals Might Regret About Donald Trump’s Election

By Mark Woods

In this post-truth age it’s been repeated so often that it’s become true: evangelical Americans voted for Donald Trump in massive numbers and helped him on his way to the White House.

In actual fact, this ignores something very important about the word evangelical. It refers to someone’s background beliefs and social assumptions rather than their practical religious commitment – like being ‘Church of England’ did not so long ago on the other side of the pond. Among churchgoing evangelicals, Trump wasn’t nearly as popular. Furthermore, while ‘evangelicals’ were helpful, they weren’t nearly as helpful as Catholics.

During 2016, though, we learned that facts and truth aren’t the same thing. So just supposing it’s true that evangelicals got what they wanted when Trump was elected, what does it mean for evangelicalism, and why should evangelicals worry?

1. It means they’ll be disappointed. Granted that many evangelicals voted Trump on the grounds that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton, there was still a sense ­– fostered by his astute cultivation of high-profile evangelical figures – that his values aligned more with evangelicals than Clinton’s did. But a lot of this was about language rather than content (see above) and Trump’s actual policies will not give evangelicals everything they want by a long chalk. Even his probable pick for the Supreme Court to replace deceased Judge Antonin Scalia turns out to be flawed: Judge William Pryor backed a revolutionary opinion in 2011 that anti-transgender discrimination qualifies as sex discrimination and so was forbidden under the US Constitution. The row over transgender people’s use of public lavatories is a litmus test for orthodoxy among conservatives, and Pryor appears to be on the wrong side. He also backed the suspension of Chief Justice Roy Moore for refusing to remove his monument to the Ten Commandments.

2. It may do their long-term credibility no good. There’s every reason, for the good of America and the wider world, to hope and pray that Trump’s presidency is a roaring success in home and foreign policy. Given his past pronouncements, however, there’s almost every reason to doubt it will be. He has staked out some extreme and compromising positions – for instance regarding Russia and NATO – that leave him open to challenge at every level. The perceived support of evangelicals for such an apparently flawed candidate is a huge gamble. If it pays off – if there is peace in the Middle East, if Vladimir Putin ceases his military adventurism and withdraws from Ukraine, if the US economy – which is actually doing pretty well, with increased employment in every one of the last 75 months – becomes turbo-charged through new trade deals and if Trumpcare turns out to be better than Obamacare – they might be able to claim victory. But hitching their wagon to such an uncertain enterprise is a very risky strategy, and evangelicalism might well get caught in the fallout.

3. It delays real, hard thinking about politics. What’s been lamentably clear during the election campaign is that many evangelicals have conflated the Gospel with a particular conservative worldview. They have baptised a political philosophy – and not just that, but particular political policies – and called them Christian, when they are no such thing, any more than any political philosophy or policy is ‘Christian’. They might align to a greater or lesser extent with our understanding of how the Gospel works itself out, but Christians have no business lending their names, reputations and arguments to them. Arguably Wayne Grudem did this; arguably Bill Johnson did. And the problem with winning an election is that you think you’ve won the argument. You think you’ve gained, not the handful of votes that make the difference between winning and losing, but the hearts and minds of millions, who are in some unspecified way voting for an evangelical expression of Christianity. But it doesn’t work like that. Those hearts and minds are still on a long-term trend away from Christian faith. They are still sinners who need a saviour. And looking to politics and politicians to effect the sort of change that can only come through patient, bottom-up discipleship and mission in real communities, through unsung sacrifice and loving faithfulness to Christ.

Political evangelicalism is in danger of forgetting a very old maxim: that when you sup with the devil, take with you a very long spoon. Trump is no more devilish than any other politicians, but that’s the point: none of them will do what you want them to do, none of them will bring in the Kingdom of God, and none of them will do the work of Christ for you. That’s not their job; it’s yours.

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The Death Of John The Baptist: How To See God At Work In Tragedy

By Joseph Hartropp

Birthday parties can be difficult affairs. If you don’t agree, just ask John the Baptist.

The story of Salome is the tragic tale of a king’s favour that cost John the Baptist his life.

This strange story comes early on, and somewhat unexpectedly, in Mark’s Gospel (6: 21–29). Unusually, Jesus does not feature in the story at all. King Herod Antipas had married Herodias, formerly his own brother’s wife. John the Baptist had condemned this union, bringing down on him the anger of Herodias. However, we are told that Herod himself actually feared John and liked to listen to him, and protected John from harm.

However, all changes when we meet Herod’s daughter, not specifically named but certainly traditionally known as Salome. Mark writes:

“When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.’ And he promised her with an oath, ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.’”

The girl asked her mother what she should request, and received the reply: “The head of John the Baptist.” The king, says Mark was “greatly distressed”, but felt he had to keep his promise and the deed was done.

The story is a tragic one, on many levels. It is an ignoble end for the brave, bold prophet who prepared the way for Jesus. What should one make of it? In Wrestling with the Word: Preaching tricky texts (SPCK, £12.99), Prof Walter Moberly takes a chapter to consider how to read this tale. While some texts raise the problem of religiously motivated violence against others, this story is about the opposite: “that violence that believers themselves may suffer from certain others”.

The image of Salome has become iconic in religious art and storytelling. Herodias’s enigmatic daughter makes this one startling, disturbing appearance, parroting the vengeful desires of her mother, twisting the will of her father-in-law, all because of his promise to give her whatever he wanted. The sad story of the murder of John the Baptist runs against the positive momentum of the coming of Jesus and the Kingdom of God emphasised elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel.

Salome is commonly thought of as an alluring, exotic dancer, and so the story is one of sexual manipulation by Herodias against her husband. Moberly makes the interesting suggestion that, based on the text, Salome may have actually been the young daughter of the recent union of Antipas and Herodias, making her only two or three years old. In that case, the story is even more tragic: an innocent toddler unwittingly but enthusiastically granting the execution of John the Baptist.

Whichever interpretation is correct, both illustrate the tragedy of seemingly meaningless injustice and the power that human beings can wield over one another. Furthermore, as Moberly writes, “The death of John anticipates and foreshadows the death of Jesus. Jesus’ ministry, like John’s, not only brings joy and hope and new life; it also engenders opposition, suspicion, hatred, and finally murderous violence.”

Moberly adds that “faithfulness to God can be costly in our world, and the triumph of His good purposes lie through the valley of the shadow”. To ignore such a truth and expect only prosperity avoids the fact that Jesus called his followers to a path of suffering: to take up their cross and follow him.

Such violence is outside the experience of most of us. Moberly writes: “For most of us the forms that faithfulness takes will probably be mundane and undramatic: more persistence in obscurity than persecution in public or imprisonment.”

John’s story is a shocking one, with no happy ending or consolation provided in Mark’s account. It simply remains as a challenging tale about what happens when those who follow God face fierce opposition.

Moberly concludes: “We believe in the God of life. But we must live with trust and faithfulness to enter into that life.” – 681 words

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