News letter 24th Jan 2021

The head of chaplaincy and spiritual care at St George’s University Hospitals in London

has urged Christians to pray for “resilience, for strength and to get through the day-by-day tasks” as a new report reveals a number of frontline workers are battling with mental health issues.
The study by King’s College London has found health care staff working through the pandemic are likely to be suffering from problem drinking, severe anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Speaking to Premier, Rev Chris van D’Arque said the results of the report are understandable as responsibilities have extended beyond the patients themselves. 
“There is no surprise for those of us who are serving and caring for patients and loved ones”. 
He said the job now involves “liaising with the loved ones back at home, and sometimes facilitating them coming in to say farewell to their loved ones on the wards and the intensive care units. It’s not a shock.”
Of those taking part on the study, one in eight reported having frequent thoughts of being “better off dead” or hurting themselves. Rev Chris said his workload has increased both in caring for staff as well as patients’ families.
“The big thing is that churches closed first time around, I know they’re open now, but for us who are here in the NHS, our patients – our congregation so to speak – never went anywhere, they just increased in number. 
“It wasn’t just that our workload increased, but multiplied, because we were having to do the patient-facing care and the care for the loved one separately. So, we are where the staff are, we are where the patients are.”
Rev Chris went on to say that prayer for peace is also needed.
“[Pray] for that quality of peace that’s beyond our ability to understand because what are seeing in here, we can never forget. And give thanks as well because it’s our camaraderie, our support for one another, that is carrying us through…and we are in it to win it.”  (From Premier Christian News)

WHO WAS HE?

We were having an exchange of views. He wanted to do – and the answer was NO. In common with a lot of inmates, the word NO had sent him into a frenzied temper. It was clear. If I did not back down things were going to go lumpy. I didn’t and it did.

     In a fit of rage, he lunged at me. He never made it. From out of nowhere another inmate suddenly appeared between us. He shoved me to one side, grabbed my attacker and dragged him away. As he did so I heard him say, “Do as you’re told, he is only doing his job!” He then let him go and stood in front of him. My attacker was preparing for another go – until he was told, “if you have another go I will hurt you very severely.” This did not improve his temper one little bit, but it did make him realise it would be very unwise to take such an action.

     The time had come to take back control. I told the other six inmates I had with me to wait by the door. I took my helper to one side. It was only then that I noticed his appearance. He was a slim six foot with a neat goatee ‎beard. Round his neck he wore a golden chain with a David’s star dangling at the bottom. NOTE – inmates are not permitted to wear anything round their neck (for obvious reasons!) Once out of earshot of the others, I thanked him. He looked embarrassed. Clearly, he did not want my thanks, (Strange!) I asked, “But why did you do it?” He replied, “it was my duty”

“Your duty?” What do you mean?
“I was told to do it.”
“Who told you to do it?”
NO REPLY
“While we are it, how come you got through this locked gate? I am the only one with this particular key, and I have not opened it yet?”
NO REPLY
“Look no inmate would tell you to protect a white officer against a black inmate and no officer would tell you, so who told you?”
NO REPLY
You do realise his mates will be waiting for you somewhere.
“Oh really?”
You’re not bothered about that are you?”                                                                             
“No not really.”
“Look I have to get these cons to the hospital I will be back in five minutes, Wait here.”
I returned in under five minutes. He was gone. I never saw him again.
Where did he come from and where did he go?

In short – WHO WAS HE?         What do you think?     …     from Baffling Brian

THE BIBLE LEADS TO IMPORTANT YEARS

You will need a Bible for this.  In addition, if you are younger you will need a calculator; but if you are older, you will have learnt mental arithmetic, or at least long multiplication.

In 2, 4 and 6 do the first, then the x.  Pair up the sums and the answers.

Lesley’s “Happy Book” (actually, more challenging than happy this time):

“The challenge is that we need to have people who are relevant, and not just sitting behind their church doors, thinking the world knows about them, because they don’t.”  (Rev Alan Comfort – Christian Herald 25.2.1999)

– Well, we’re not behind our church doors at the moment, so how are we being more relevant?

An atheist was taking a walk through the woods

“What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!” he said to himself.
As he continued walking alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes. Turning to look, he saw a 7 foot grizzly charging towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path.
Looking over his shoulder he saw that the bear was closing in on him. His heart was pumping frantically and he tried to run even faster. He tripped and fell on the ground.
He rolled over to pick himself up but saw the bear raising his paw to take a swipe at him.
At that instant the atheist cried out: “Oh my God!…”
Time stopped.
The bear froze.
The forest was silent.
It was then that bright light shone upon the man and a voice came out of the sky saying,
“You deny my existence for all of these years, teach others I don’t exist and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament?
Am I to count you as a believer?”
The atheist looked directly into the light, “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps, could you make the BEAR a Christian?” “Very well,” said the voice.
The light went out.
And the sounds of the forest resumed.
And then the bear lowered his paw, bowed his head and spoke,
“Lord, bless this food which I am about to receive and for which I am truly thankful.”

Finding God in Hell

Unsurprisingly, Hitler’s Holocaust – during which at least five million people were herded together and systematically slaughtered- is cited more than any other global atrocity as evidence of the case against God. Here, we are told, is the ultimate example not just of man’s brutality to man but of God’s disregard for people- His own people.
For this reason, an American rabbi, Dr Reeve Robert Brenner, surveyed hundreds of Holocaust survivors to find out how their experiences had affected their beliefs in God1. Dr Brenner’s conclusions were extraordinary. First, he discovered that the horrors of the Holocaust had no impact at all on the religious convictions of almost half of survivors. Somehow these people had endured hell on earth without losing their faith in Yahweh. ‘It never occurred to me to question God’s doings while I was an inmate of Auschwitz, although of course I understand that others did’ wrote one survivor. ‘ If someone believes God is responsible for the death of six million because he didn’t somehow do something to save them, he’s got his thinking reversed. We owe God our lives for the few or many years we live, and we have the duty to worship him.’

According to Dr Brenner’s research, about 11% of Holocaust survivors did lose their faith in God (although he observes that their professions of atheism seemed more like an emotional shift than a theological one because so many of them continued to believe in God enough to be angry with Him). However, the really, extraordinary discovery made by Dr Brenner was that 5% of the Holocaust survivors in his survey had actually abandoned atheism and begun to believe in God as a direct result of their experiences in the Nazi laboratories of death.

If we project that extraordinary statistic onto the total number of European and Russian Jews who survived the Holocaust (around 3.5 million people), it is equivalent to 177,000 survivors coming to faith through the concentration camps. To put it another way, it would be like 5% of the total population of Los Angeles turning to Yahweh in just five years. In Christian terms, this might be described as one of the most fruitful ‘revival’ movements in any one people-group during the last seventy years. However, it seems astounding when considered against the backdrop of the concentration camps, so often held up as primary evidence against the benevolence of God.

When we look at situations of unanswered prayer and conclude that there is no God, or that if there is God, He is either a powerful sadist or an impotent, kindly old uncle, His removal from the equation of suffering solves nothing. However problematic His existence may seem, without God – this bankruptcy, this broken marriage, this four-year old with leukaemia, this congregation killed by lightning, this mother mowed down by a drunk driver – the tragedies of life are reduced to meaningless losses in the great evolutionary casino. Without God, we are hopelessly alone in a twisted reality, contorting without spiritual comfort and without the hope, however distant of supernatural intervention. As the poet W.H. Auden puts it: ‘Nothing can save us that is possible. We who must die demand a miracle’3

  1. Reeve Robert Brenner, The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors (New York: The Free Press 1980) 103-105
  2. Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (London: Pan Books, 2002, 99-100
  3. W.H Auden, For the time Being: Advent (New York: Random House, 1976), 274

 (From ‘God on Mute’ by Pete Greig)

(It’s National Holocaust Day on Wednesday 27th January. For more information visit hmd.org.uk)

Gavin Calver, head of the Evangelical Alliance, 

when interviewed a year ago agreed there was a consensus among church leaders that something was building but warned against pinning hopes on human plans and calendars. A year on he says: “This season has presented the greatest evangelistic opportunity of my lifetime. The suffering caused by the pandemic has been awful, but it has also forced people to confront their mortality. People are talking about things they don’t usually want to talk about – for me, where there used to be hard ground, there’s fertile ground.”

Ben Jack, head of Advance, one of 2020’s biggest evangelism ministries, agrees: “There is an openness to the gospel that we haven’t seen for decades. I think there are two to three degrees of separation from a conversation about Covid to a conservation about faith.”

One significant way that churches have sought to do during the pandemic has been through social action. The EA’s Calver describes the opportunity as an “open goal” for the Church. “The Cultural narrative has changed. Now, in the corridors of power, the question has been: how can we help society to rebuild? If we think Covid is a wave, then the economic uncertainties of the next few years will be a tidal wave. The Church has an open-goal opportunity to socially and spiritually help to rebuild the nation. There’s not going to be a lot of State money to do those things – so we need to do it. Our holistic mission and outreach is going to be vital. We won’t get a chance like this again”.

     “ The great misnomer is that evangelism begins with a great commission. Actually, the great commission is preceded by the call to love your neighbour. I think people are starting to wake up to that in a new way during Covid- we’ve got to know our neighbours and their needs,” says Jack.

(part of an article entitled ‘Was 2020 the year of evangelism after all?” by Lizz Dodd, found in Premier Christianity)

NORTH KOREA STILL THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE TO FOLLOW JESUS

North Korea remains the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian. For the 20th year in a row, it again tops the latest World Watch List. (2021 version now out)
If discovered as a Christian, you’ll be taken to a labour camp as a political criminal, if you aren’t killed instantly. Few believers make it out alive from these inhumane prisons. And everyone in your family will share the same punishment. An estimated 50-70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned. 
Secret police carry out raids to identify Christians, and children are encouraged to tell their teachers about any sign of faith in their parents’ home. A Christian is never safe.

A prayer for North Korea
Heavenly Father, our hearts grieve over the suffering Christians experience in North Korea. Strengthen, encourage and comfort each one. In and outside prison, bring believers together, and create safe opportunities for faith to be shared with others. Make seeing eyes blind and hearing ears deaf to the fellowship and quiet expressions of faith in North Korea. May Your Holy Spirit work powerfully in the heart of government, leading them to softer attitudes towards Christians and a greater willingness to open themselves up to the outside world. Lead Kim Jong-un to You. Amen.    

Things you might not know about Christianity.

Most people I talk with who are not Christians have a lot of deep misconceptions about this religion. In a way, this is odd, given our rich Christian heritage in this country. But it also provides some great talking points in this otherwise (often) awkward subject of conversation. So, here’s some of the things you may not know about the Christian faith..

1. There are more Christians in China than the population of Britain

There is simply no way you can describe Christianity as a ‘Western religion’ anymore (nor was there ever!). Christianity is exploding in secret in China, as well as in underground, hidden churches in places like Iran and Nepal. The Christian faith in general is growing fastest on the continent of Africa. We may be a post-Christian country here in Britain, but that says very little about the fortunes of this faith.

2. You will never encounter deeper diversity than you do in the global church

You may be able to think of some community that is more diverse than the church, but I doubt it. The reason is that Christianity advances by the power of its message, and that the message itself is one of radical unity regardless of natural divisions. The earliest Christians managed to bridge some impossible divides, with slaves and masters worshipping alongside one another, as well as Jews and Gentiles, and every other societal division that existed in the first century Roman Empire. That makes sense when you understand the core message of Christianity: it tells us that we’re all broken (so there’s no room for pride) and that we can all be forgiven and brought into God’s family (so there’s deep unity). In reality, that means that on any given Sunday I could be sat next to a Nigerian, a Malaysian, or a Ukrainian at church, and that would be pretty normal.

3. If Christians were less involved in social issues, chaos would ensue

It’s estimated that the volunteerism of Christians in Britain is worth about £315 million every year. At the same time, there are a lot of people who think Christians are dangerous and don’t fit in modern society. I wish these people would understand the selfless kindness and generosity of so many Christians, and the reasons they do all this. Believing in Jesus changes you in a very basic way, and I have never encountered any form of belief as potent or effective in changing individuals and helping them to become more loving and kind.

 Andrew Haslam, the leader of Grace London.  Part of an article from Premier Christian News)

Answers to Bible Sums:     1 d (1215);  2 c (1611);  3 a (1066);   4 b (1966);   5 f (1485);   6 e (1837);   7 g (2021).

Please send any contributions that might be published by next Tuesday morning to:   andy