Christian Today Digest – November 2016

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

Contents

Why I left church and why I’m going back again

Katherine Maxwell-Rose

When I left my church last year after more than a decade, I was partly relieved. I didn’t want to go to any other church, I was just spent after giving so much of myself and needed to process the intense, transformative experiences which I had there. And, quite frankly, I wanted to stay in bed on Sunday mornings.

As the months went by and I traipsed round church after potential church getting more depressed and angry each time, I started to think that I might not go back at all. It wasn’t a crisis of faith, but I certainly had a desperate lack of hope in the Church.

My questions about what Church is and how we do it have been growing in recent years. As someone who loves to innovate and experiment, I struggle with the sameness of it all, and I really feel my blood boiling when we do what we’ve always done but call it something new and ground-breaking.

On top of that, I’m battling with its disconnection with the outside world, the hypocrisy of much of what is taught, the judgement most people feel when they sit in the pews, the way it saps your time and energy, the sexism, the inequality and just how unbelievably boring it can be.

No wonder millennials who crave authenticity are dropping out of Church in droves. Most of the time I don’t blame them.

So often it seems like Church is a weak and pathetic expression of who God is and what I believe he calls us to be. It’s embarrassing and I’d rather not be associated with it.

About six months after leaving my church, I was taken into hospital with a mystery illness. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it was a bit miserable. I’d been staying away from home so I wasn’t close to any of my friends and my husband was out of the country. For the first time since leaving my church, I craved its support. I had some lovely messages and visits from people which I was very thankful for, but I wanted to know that my church family were praying and rooting for me to get better. I realised there was a gap in my life and it was only that community which could fill it.

For the first time in a long while, I remembered why I needed Church.

As I’ve begin exploring churches again, I’ve set my expectations low. There are going to be things that annoy and frustrate me wherever I go. I won’t agree with all the preaching or the way the services are run. I’ll probably experience all of those struggles described above. And I definitely would rather have a lie-in most weeks.

But what I crave and what I need is a community of people who care about me, who spur me on, who get the whole God – spiritual – supernatural thing. People who are like and unlike me, people with whom I don’t have much in common, who’ve had different experiences, each with their own story to tell of what led them to that place. I need them to point me to God and share with me what they know to help me on the journey of faith. In a crisis it is them who I will turn to.

A healthy church is a melting pot like no other and it is this uniqueness that I love (much as it can also drive me mad). It is family with quirks and tensions and imperfections, and it’s hard work just like families can be. It’s human with all its mess and self-absorption. It’s nothing like what it could be like but it is an expression of the kingdom of God. Even in the chaos of it all, it is also a place where I have experienced hope, comfort and friendship in a way that I haven’t anywhere else, from people who I wouldn’t have met anywhere else.

At its best, it’s a place that has shaken me to the core, shaken me out of myself and changed my life. It’s woken me up to the brokenness of the world, and taken me into the stories of extraordinary individuals. And in this, it has shown me the depth and vastness of God in challenging and beautiful ways.

I guess I’ll be setting my alarm for Sunday mornings, after all.

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Christian woman captured by Boko Haram tells of healing and joy

A Christian woman who was captured for five weeks by Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria has told of her joy after being adopted by a foster family following a period in an internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp.

Mercy James, 23, from Gyoza in Nigeria’s north-eastern Borno State, was seized along with four other women in June 2014 when militants took over the town and declared it an Islamic caliphate. She was separated from her father and she presumes he was killed for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.

“My first day was like hell,” she told Open Doors. “I cried all day and all night. I prayed like ever before and asked God to give me courage.”

Open Doors met Mercy last year, when she had been left to live in an internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp. “She was destitute, injured and deeply traumatised,” said Open Doors, which sought to help her with counselling, medical expenses, income generation and encouragement through letters from the charity’s supporters.

Now, Mercy no longer lives in the IDP camp but has instead been taken in by a foster family. Open Doors said that “within the context of distrust and isolation often experienced by former Boko Haram captives, this is an extraordinarily fortunate situation”.

A serious injury that Mercy had sustained to her leg during an aerial bombardment has healed.

With the support of Open Doors, Mercy has started a successful tailoring business. “The transformation has been so radical, that was hard to recognise her,” wrote an Open Doors worker.

“The sewing machine and monetary support I received helped me a lot,” Mercy told Open Doors. “I started up my own business and now have a shop. A lot of people bring their clothes for me to sew; I can now cover my needs and those of my [foster] family.”

Open Doors, together with international visitors, recently went to see Mercy in order to pray with her, encourage her, and deliver letters of support from the charity’s supporters.

“I am so happy because I know that I am not alone and that other believers out there are praying for me,” Mercy said.

One letter-writer included a bracelet. “I was deeply touched by the bracelet I received,” she told Open Doors. “Though it’s just a bracelet, it has a deeper meaning. All the colours on it speak about Psalm 23.”

She added: “I am overwhelmed and my heart is filled with joy seeing Open Doors here again. Words cannot express the joy and peace I have. All I can say is, may God continue to bless your charity and all those who are out there praying for us in northern Nigeria.

“For other believers who are being persecuted because of Christ, I have this to say: though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil for God is with you. If God delivered me, He will do the same for you.”

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Four faith-building promises for when you hit rock bottom

Life is a rollercoaster ride. We enjoy its highest peaks and fear the deepest valleys, but what we must always remember is that in every season of life, Jesus is on the same ride and He can and will sustain us throughout when we put our focus on who we are with, not simply where we are at.

Right before ascending to Heaven, Jesus made the promise “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) What seemed to be a farewell was simply just another phase in God’s plan to gain all authority on earth. Jesus ascended to take dominion, but He has and always will be with us – yes, even when things aren’t going well.

Have you ever felt like you’ve hit rock bottom – bankruptcy, ministry failure, career confusion, relational dysfunction? Maybe you feel that way now. It’s like you’re in a deep pit and there’s no way out. Here are four faith building promises to claim when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom.

Things always get worse before they get better

Joseph had to become a slave and a prisoner before becoming a governor. Abraham had to leave his hometown before becoming a father of nations. Israel had to wander for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Even for the great figures of the Bible, things tended to get worse before they got better.

Why would God allow something like that? So that they could be sure who it was God who rescued them from their miry depths. Psalm 40:2 says this: “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” When you’ve been in that pit of destruction and come out the other end alive, you know for sure it really wasn’t you who got you out of it.

Jesus is most powerful in our weakness

Paul had what he called a thorn in the flesh. Maybe you have that “thorn” as well – a sickness, a financial struggle or a toxic relationship. We can and should make the same declaration Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “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.”

God is bigger than any problem we might face

Our problems could be bigger than we’ve ever faced before, but there is never a problem or circumstance that is bigger than God. God is God because nothing surpasses His capability and wisdom, and we can hold on to that promise.

Not only is God able, He is more than wiling to pull us out of dire circumstance in His time and season. Because we know that God loves us, we know that He can and will be bigger than any problem we face.

The victory has already been won

Jesus´ victory on the cross should be our strongest battle cry. If He defeated sin and death itself, what’s to stop Him from overcoming earthly failure, momentary afflictions and temporary suffering? Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins so that we can now walk in the freedom that is made available through His blood because He has washed away both the presence and consequence of our sin.

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Sikh Woman Converts To Christianity After Praying To Jesus

A woman who had been Sikh for 50 years has told how she converted to Christianity after praying “in faith” for Jesus to help her with her problems.

The woman, Balbinder, tells her story on a new website – the Great Commission – being launched today by the Evangelical Alliance (EA). The site shares conversion stories from across the UK and encourages Christians to talk about their faith.

Balbinder tells of how, when she was “in despair with my elder son” she was “crying on the phone” to a Christian friend who told her that “If you really want help only one person can help you and that’s Jesus”. Balbinder’s friend told her to pray with faith to Jesus, which she did, and in three days she was given a Bible by the friend before her problems began to make sense through scripture.

She adds: “Because I had been a Sikh for [more than] 50 years, when I turned to Christianity my daughter, she sort of retaliated and she started going to the Gurdwara, which she never did before, just to annoy me. It used to upset me and then God spoke to me that I have to show her love. If I get angry, that’s not showing her [love], so I used to say okay, but I continued to pray for her. Secretly she was reading on her phone the Bible and the verse that came to her was about Nicodemus talking to Jesus, and when Jesus said you have to be born again and ...she was ready to give her life to Jesus.”

Greatcommission.co.uk is designed to inspire greater passion for evangelism and empower churches and individuals to do more about it, the EA said.

Gavin Calver, director of mission, said: “We are passionate about seeing every person in the UK given an opportunity to follow Jesus. That’s why we’ve created the Great Commission website with stories, reflections and resources designed to inspire, equip and empower every individual Christian, and every church to be able to reach out to their community with the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Graham Miller, the chief executive of London City Mission, emphasised the site’s usefulness in multi-cultural Britain. “The thing about the UK is that we’re a multicultural society,” he said. “How do we reach all these different kinds of people, how can I be equipped to reach out to the Chinese international students near me, and the elderly, but also the youth and the kids? What a help that is, what a use that is, that the internet instead of just being a distraction can be a help for the Church.”

In another case study on the site, Joe shares his story of a life of drug addiction which changed when he prayed to God for help. He says: “Aged about 19 I got involved in substance misuse, and that was my life for about 20 years. In the end I felt like I was a failure, addicted to failure, I was just desperate. I just wanted out of my situation.”

He continues: “I just cried out to God, begging him for help; ‘If there is a God I need you now’. Within several weeks of calling out to God and God answering my prayers, placing people in my life who were there to support and encourage me, I found I’d detoxed myself within a few weeks, gained the strength quite quickly that I’d never had before.”

Joe describes the changes in his life and how he is now evangelising himself. “I thought I was unemployable and I now work within the detox centre that I went through myself,” he says. “I’m there sharing my experience, and I share my faith and show that it was a big impact on how I became abstinent from drugs. I’m in the process of becoming a member of an Eden team [of urban missionaries] and I’m running a men’s group from my flat and people are coming and getting saved.”

Lynn Green, the general secretary for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, added: “We need to equip one another to share our faith and to be witnesses wherever we are...We want to equip every Christian and churches in their witness, increase their confidence and help them.”

In another Great Commission weekly story, Shelia talks about how she reaches out to people on the streets of Peterborough. “People do say to me, ‘it’s okay for you because you find it easy’, but I think we can all find it easy if we take that initial step,” she says. “I’m not special in any way, just a mum and a grandma and I just have the conviction of my faith.”

Andy Frost, director of Share Jesus International, commented: “I meet many Christians who are passionate about sharing their faith but often don’t know quite how to do it. So this website is one place they can go to where they can get a whole bunch of different ideas, different resources, able to be used in their context. They can be empowered to make Jesus known.”

The administrative bishop of the New Testament Church of God, Donald Bolt, added: “In general the Great Commission excites me in that we have an opportunity as Christians to be co-workers, so to speak, with God in the ministry of reconciliation. Helping to share with humanity that they have a way back to their heavenly Father, their creator and that, that broken relationship can be mended.”

The Great Commission team is sharing stories on Twitter at @great_comm, and you can sign up at greatcommission.co.uk to receive the latest updates.

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I was kicked out of Turkey for being a Christian

Turkey has been Ryan Keating’s home for more than 20 years. But last week all that was thrown into jeopardy.

After a short trip out of the country, the American was told he could never come back. No reason was given. There was no investigation. No evidence. He was held in a cell overnight at Istanbul airport and interrogated by the anti-terror police. Then he was told he was a threat to national security and forced aboard the next plane out the country.

“Unfortunately this is typical of the kind of treatment that Christians often get in Turkey,” he told Christian Today.

Keating has been in and out of the country since 1993 and has been a full-time resident in the capital Ankara with his wife and four children for the last ten years.

He is doing a PhD in philosophy of religion at Ankara University and has set up Ankara Refugee Ministry (ARM), which provides food, shelter and clothing to 6,000 of refugee families. Run out of Kurtulus Church, one of Turkey’s largest evangelical churches, which the Keatings attend, ARM also offers English classes and career training for a handful of Turkey’s 2.7 million refugees.

On top of that Keating runs a coffee company called Coffee Haus and directs a discipleship program at his church.

All that is at risk now because Keating has been labelled “a threat to national security” and given a lifetime ban from Turkey.

He flew to the UK for a short visit on October 8 and when he returned to Turkey on October 17 he was told his residence permanent had been cancelled. “They searched me and a terror division police officer interrogated me. I wasn’t mistreated in that process but I was locked up overnight,” he said in an interview with Christian Today.

“Then they put me on the next flight back to London Gatwick.” The UK has given him a six month leave to stay in light of his situation but his wife and children are still in Turkey.

He has appealed the decision but cases such as his normally take at least two years to resolve and for that time, Keating is a nomad. But he is quick to stress his treatment is not unusual for Christians in Turkey.

“There has been some ways in which Turkey has given increased freedom to religious minorities. But there are other incidents of arbitrary discrimination and this is one of them.

“There is no evidence or justification for why I have been banned. I know I haven’t done anything illegal ever in Turkey. We are very careful to obey the laws. We have done nothing to threaten or do harm to Turkey in any way.

“There has been no investigation, no evidence, just an arbitrary ban. And to use this blanket ‘threat to national security’ – what does that even mean? What are they suggesting I have done or would do?”

Turkey saw an attempted coup d’etat against its President Erdogan in July. But the failed revolution has just given licence to crackdown on religious freedom. “There has been an atmosphere of tension and fear and suspicion,” said Keating.

He points to other missionaries he knows who have been expelled without explanation in the last few weeks. Patrick Jenson. Idris Kabil. David Bile. Just three names among more than 100 to have been banned.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Keating. “It’s very sad.”

Although his family have stayed in Turkey for the time being, they are concerned about their future. They have packed emergency bags in case they are arrested at short notice.

“We have generally been safe, if tense, in Turkey,” he said. “But if I can be banned they’re all worried about they will be as well.”

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