Christian Today Digest - July 2016

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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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Is it okay to have a little sin in my life?

The dangers of not living a holy life

God has called all Christians to live a holy life, one that is marked by a constant pursuit of His righteousness through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. God Himself said in Leviticus 20:26, “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.” It should be our lifelong pursuit to be holy!

Some of us might ask if we can allow even just a little sin in our lives. After all, we’re only human, prone to making mistakes every now and then. While this might sound logical, God’s Word still stands: James 2:10 says, “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.”

But I can never be sinless!

Friend, you might think that God is harsh, and might as well be saying that you can never be perfect and can be guilty of “a little sin” once in a while.

But you must realise that having that kind of thinking is dangerous. While we can never be sinless and perfect in our own strength, God has given us all that we need to live a holy life. We should not allow room even for just a little sin in our lives!

A little yeast

Allowing room for some sin in our lives, like a white lie here or a little stealing of spare change there, unknowingly and silently makes room for more!

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?”

We should be careful with our desires. When we become lax and permissive about the things that we allow in our lives, in our thoughts and actions, we will soon find that we are living the same old life that brought Christ to the cross.

Let us be reminded of Romans 6:1–4, which says, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.”

Living under grace, not under the law

Friend, this is not about striving to live according to the law once more, proving to God that we are good and kind and all that. This is about living in gratefulness to God for His grace that was showered upon us while we were still sinners.

Remember, living a holy life doesn’t mean not failing once in a while. It means not living for yourself or the world, but living for God alone.

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The UK has left the EU. Three ways Christians should respond

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven... A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

However you’re feeling today, I hope Ecclesiastes 3 speaks to you.

Not so that you can feel better in a greetings card kind of way, but so you can see something of the long term perspective.

The worldwide financial system reacted terribly to the decision of the United Kingdom to vote to leave the EU. The news was grim indeed, with the value of the pound falling steeply, the markets in London and around the world taking a dive and a deep sense of uncertainly which wasn’t fully quelled by the Governor of the Bank of England.

Yet the worldwide financial system, important though it is, does not determine our future as individuals, families, communities or as a country. Whether you sought an exit from the EU or you are horrified at the thought, we are now, in that overused phrase (but underutilised idea) ‘all in this together.’

So what must we do?

Three things come to mind in the midst of sleep deprivation, constant rolling news and an ever-changing economic and political backdrop.

1. We need to stop and listen

More than half of those who voted wanted to leave the EU. Some of them will have been motivated by selfish or even sinful motives. Parts of the Leave campaign were fuelled by fear of immigrants, and downright racism. But many, most, of those who voted to leave didn’t do so out of spite for other people but out of their own disillusionment.

If you’re on either side of the divide and don’t know people who voted the other way, seek them out and listen. Don’t re-run the referendum and argue the toss. Listen to why they voted the way they did and try to see it from their point of view.

The places that voted to leave are the places which have been on the receiving end of the worst of globalisation and neoliberal economics which have decimated the once proud industrial areas of Wales, my native North West of England and the North East.

We can’t even begin to understand the Brexit vote, let alone bring the country together, if we don’t listen to those people and communities which voted to leave. That is the Labour Party’s job, but it’s also a job for all of us. And an urgent one at that.

2. We have to organise

Churches are catalysts of community in their areas. They aren’t merely buildings where community meetings take place. In every area there are congregations which give up thousands of hours per week to make those places better to live in.

The obvious ministries such as food banks, street pastors and debt advice centres spring to mind. But there are other ways in which our churches show how another world is possible. Churches are places where young and old come together. Places where, at their best, racial division, class division and gender division are almost null and void. Of course not every church lives up to it, but this prophetic witness to overcoming difference and celebrating diversity is one of our great strengths.

What we must do now more than ever is harness that special quality and organise for change. The Church in recent years has been at the forefront of campaigns for the Living Wage, to welcome refugees and to cancel developing world debt. Now is the time for us to organise for change again.

3. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.

A much more simple point, maybe, but the most vital of all. Whether you feel jubilant or dejected, this is not the way things will be forever. In the famous words of NT Wright: “Jesus is ‘Lord’, therefore Caesar is not.”

This means that whatever pain or joy you feel today is not terminal. There will be consequences to the decision, for sure, and we should care deeply about them. But whatever befalls us as a nation and as people, we should have confidence in the Good Shepherd. In the words of the old hymn: “This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

We enter a period of uncertainty and difficulty as a deeply divided nation. We are in need of true reconciliation, not just patching up. It is a daunting task, but I have hope. It is a hope proclaimed by one of the greatest Englishmen, George Orwell. In 1941 he wrote:

“England has got to be true to herself. She is not being true to herself while the refugees who have sought our shores are penned up in concentration camps, and company directors work out subtle schemes to dodge their Excess Profits Tax... There is no question of stopping short, striking a compromise, salvaging ‘democracy’, standing still. Nothing ever stands still.

“We must add to our heritage or lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or backward. I believe in England, and I believe that we shall go forward.”

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Revival in Reading: 1,200 people turn to Christ in just 3 weeks

More than 1,200 people have given or rededicated their lives to Jesus in just three weeks in Reading, UK.

The Gate Church in Reading has been leading a mission outreach alongside evangelist Tommie Zito since May 29, which has equipped evangelists and hosted morning and evening prayer gatherings. During the days members have been sharing the gospel on the streets. And people are responding.

“It is not like anything I have ever seen or experienced before,” said Yinka Oyekan, pastor of The Gate.

They had planned for a “cultural shift in the church” and maybe a handful of new Christians, but “we are finding that hundreds of people are happy to pray to give their lives to Christ on the streets of Reading.”

This could lead to “full blown revival” in the town, he said. “[It] is not a technique, it is not a program, it is not a church growth plan but something from the Lord”.

It all started when the general secretary of the Baptist Union, Lynn Green, had a sense from God that he wanted move in Reading. She contacted Oyekan around 12 months ago, and this mission outreach called “Awakening in the UK—Encounter at the Gate” was planned.

Yinka similarly had a prophetic dream from God about revival 15 years ago and leaders in the city have been meeting weekly to pray.

“I saw a river flowing like a waterfall onto the street from the roof the church building we occupied at the time, [and] above this cascading river was the cross,” he said.

This last week “can only be described as the manifestation of that lucid dream—I began to see angels everywhere.”

“I am beginning to believe that this current outpouring, “The Turning”, could be God’s own cultural revolution, If we steward this well, I believe that we could see over 1,000,000 people prayed for on our streets with many giving their lives to Christ,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“Conservatively if we mobilise to bring this outpouring to the over 1000 cities and large Towns (and hopefully villages) in the UK we will change the consciousness of the nation from being unsure about Christianity to being open, supportive and embracing if it. It will affect our moral values as a nation, and bring a fire into thousands of churches.”

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The advantages of launching a church without a building

Twelve years ago my current pastor launched a church in the exact same way as many other churches in America: holding meetings in his living room. However, over those 12 years our church pursued a course that has been anything but typical. While I can’t comment on this unique course as a church leader any more, I can share how it has impacted the outlook and values at the level of the congregation.

Committed to being a neighbourhood church that highly values giving overseas and funding local ministries, our church prioritised generosity to others over a building. When my pastor talks about it, he says that he wanted our donations to family-style orphan homes to be a non-negotiable in our budget.

The building had to wait. If you attended a service during those first 12 years, you would have seen a very bare bones operation meeting in affordable rental spaces throughout our neighbourhood.

This year our church finally purchased its first building. Our ministry needs such as a community ESL class sized us out of our rental property, and, most importantly, a viable property in our congregation’s price range hit the market at an ideal time.

While we can’t expect every church to wait 12 years before building a facility, I have been deeply grateful for the kind of culture that this time of waiting has created. Instead of assuming that we would spend a significant part of our budget on a building right from the start, the building was viewed as negotiable and those who needed our donations the most were guaranteed support.

I don’t think it’s controversial to say the church is the people (not a building), but the more important matter worth considering is how owning a building impacts the mission of those people. Do buildings help the church serve others or do the people begin to serve the buildings?

Waiting 12 years certainly created a ministry culture that holds to a building far more loosely than any other congregation I’ve known personally. I’ve even been a part of a congregation that split over a campaign that proposed building a new facility just down the road!

Perhaps the question that my pastor and the rest of the staff have had to consider critically over the past 12 years has been this: will owning a building limit or expand our ministry?

When our family moved to the area five years ago, our church had a clear vision for ministry overseas, but our local outreach was often partnered with existing groups who had their own facilities. There were one-off events throughout the year where it would have been nice for our church to own a space larger than our former store-front office. There have been plenty of times where this church full of young families struggled to find enough people to set up on Sunday morning. It hasn’t been the easiest situation for our staff and our most committed volunteers. Sacrifices have to be made every week.

However, paying the mortgage on a facility we couldn’t afford never took away from our top priorities. Our giving was always tied to meeting the needs of orphans overseas, not our own building.

What’s the best path forward for a church plant or a church that’s relaunching? I’m not an expert, but based on my experience in this church for the past five years, I can say that there are clear ministry benefits in waiting on a facility.

When there isn’t a building in the picture, your church can develop a culture without tying it to a specific location. Being nomadic for a few years—or 12—drills home where your priorities should be.

That’s why I’m glad that our church waited more than a decade before purchasing a building. The time of waiting has helped drive home into all of us that the building itself is just a tool for ministry, not a non-negotiable.

Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and The Contemplative Writer. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com and founded The Contemplative Writer: www.thecontemplativewriter.com.

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Iraqi Christian who fled ISIS: ‘Faith is all we have left’

A Christian student forced to flee Islamic State in Iraq has told of how “faith is all we have left that ISIS couldn’t take from us”.

Speaking at a charity rally organised by Aid to the Church in Need, Sarmad Ozan, 20, told the story of how his family had been forced to flee ISIS in Mosul.

He is currently living in the UK and waiting for an appeal to go through after his asylum appliction was rejected.

“Islamic State took our city, our churches, our houses and women were sold into slavery like an object,” he said to the crowd of more than 1,100 young people.

When ISIS overran Mosul in June 2014, Ozan said his family initially stayed in the city as they “had no place to go”.

But they were ultimately forced to leave after militants gave Christians a 24-hour ultimatum to convert or leave. He described waking up to seeing his home, along with all the other Christian houses, marked with an N, meaning Nazarene.

“We went from having a good healthy meal on our table every night to having to beg for food every day,” he said.

“Faith is all we have left that ISIS couldn’t take from us.”

His family were forced to trek miles in searing heat without food and water to Erbil, where they stayed at a church so overcrowded that many were forced to sleep outside, he said.

It was there that Ozan discovered he had been accepted to study for a masters in engineering in the UK.

He left his family and moved to the UK but his scholarship was withdrawn from the Iraqi government and he is now living within the UK asylum system.

He has not spoken to his family for more than a year.

“I miss them every day. I miss everything about my old life,” he said.

“I feel safe in the UK. I can’t go back, I don’t have a home or any place in Iraq any more. My family were in Erbil when I left but I lost contact with them. They didn’t have any food,” he told The National.

The event was organised to inspire young people to “wake up” to the growing refugee crisis, said organiser Michael Robinson.

“It should not be split along political or faith lines, it is our responsibility as human beings to fight persecution and provide for the refugees in the Mediterranean.

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