Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

When the only words are tears

This is probably the most important article I have ever written. Rowland Croucher gave me the huge honour of writing it in the wake of the passing of his dear wife, Jan. This is more his article than mine.

Many readers will be aware that Jan Croucher, wife of counsellor and pastor to many, Rowland, passed away recently after a four-year battle with cancer.

A few months before Jan’s passing, Rowland shared on Facebook the depth of grief he was experiencing as he watched his life partner of 57 and a half years become weaker and sleep for most of the day. His own summary expressed it best:

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The forgotten Christians

Since the time of Jesus, millions of Christians have had a fascination with visiting the Holy Land. It is a pilgrimage for many of us, almost in the same way as visiting Mecca is for Muslims.

For much of my adult life I have wanted to visit the biblical sights in Israel, and last year I finally had the opportunity.

My work in the area of aid and development, as well as my passion for justice to be done for people living on the margins of society, had alerted me to the plight of Palestinians in the Holy Land. I didn’t know a whole lot about the conflict and its history, but I did know that Palestinians were the ones being oppressed and that therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I wanted to know more about the conflict from their point of view.

Our view of the world is determined by where we stand. Too often in Christian circles, we stand with those in power. If we stand with power, we will see the world from that point of view. This has been the case with Christendom ever since the time of Constantine. But if, like Jesus, we stand with the oppressed, we will see the world from their perspective.

This is where we need to understand something that is terribly misunderstood in the church: God plays favourites.

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Does it really matter what we believe?

Why do so many Christians care about alleviating poverty and working for justice in the world? Put simply, what is their theology, and does it really matter?

Theology in itself is the study of God and of God’s relationship to everything else in existence. For some people theology conjures up images of people in ivory towers poring over books and doctrine and other things that don’t seem anywhere near related to the realities of life on the ground. But it is crucial that we have our theology right. It matters what we believe.

Much of the theology we hear in our churches is basically individualistic, Western, and focuses ultimately on saving souls and getting people into heaven. Within this worldview, the alleviation of poverty and working for justice are seen as good things to do, but they are not as important as saving souls, because people’s eternal destiny is what really matters in the end. The other stuff is just temporary.

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All the lonely people

The other night I had dinner with a group of friends after church.

I wasn’t too keen on going at first. The introvert in me wanted to go home and get on my laptop, scroll through Facebook for a bit and generally just be on my own. But after being with my friends for couple of hours, discussing all sorts of things from life to ethics to travel, I went home marvelling at how much I had enjoyed my time with them.

As I drove home thinking to myself about how much I had enjoyed the evening, I started thinking about how our society encourages isolation and individualism, and what that breeds. Australia has some of the worst sets of social statistics in the world. Our rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness are through the roof. One person takes their life every three hours in this country. It’s a staggering and sobering statistic.

At the same time, Australians have never been better off materially. We live in the richest time in history. According to financial institution, Credit Suisse, Australia was the second richest country in the world, per capita, last year. We have been in the top three for the last few years.

In a culture where we are told that happiness is just a lotto win away, where freedom is getting away from your loved ones and being out on the open road in your new car, and where life would be perfect if we just had that next promotion, the promises are not delivering.

I remember some years ago speaking to a work colleague who is from Kenya. She had recently come to Australia to live and she couldn’t believe how many people live alone in this country. In many African cultures, community is just a way of life.

I have long been fascinated by the African concept of Ubuntu. It is the idea that we gain our identity by being part of a group. In most Western cultures, we see our identity as individuals; we are very ‘I’ centred. Ubuntu, on the other hand, says, ‘because we are, I am’. I get my sense of who I am from being part of a group. It is about belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

There is a story of an anthropologist who conducted an experiment with some African children. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first won the fruits. When he told them to run they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that, as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: “Ubuntu. How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”

There is something deeply biblical about this. We have been created for relationship, for community. However in our churches we talk about our faith in an individualised sense. We talk about our own personal relationship with God as if that is the only way we relate to God. The early church saw things differently. They saw life as lived in community. In Acts we are told that the believers had no private ownership of their possessions. They shared everything, and as a result, no one was in need. Apparently it was so important that it is mentioned twice, in Acts chapter two and chapter four.

The church needs to rediscover its prophetic counter-cultural stance. We are just as consumeristic as the rest of the culture. Meanwhile, Jesus whispers down through the ages, “’What will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self?’ and ‘Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’”.

In Mark chapter 10, verse 30, Jesus says that no one who has left everything for him will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields. This verse can often be taken as a justification of some sort of prosperity thinking, but that just shows how our consumer culture has shaped us to think individually. What Jesus is referring to is just what the early church lived out: living together in kingdom reality, where people relate to each other in love. It is a taste of the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray.

We live in a culture that sows the seeds of its own destruction. And Christians largely go along for the ride. Let’s ask for the courage and love to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so we can be part of God’s work of renewal and not add to the problem.

This article first appeared on Christian Today on 24 August, 2017

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The weeping prophet

Recently I preached at church on Jeremiah. It was part of a series on the good, bad and ugly of biblical figures. 

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. The bad and the ugly has more to do with what he had to confront the rulers with than his own character flaws.

Listen to the sermon here.

Download my notes here, and download the PowerPoint presentation here.

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What Donald Trump and Jesus have in common

You may (or may not) be surprised to find that Donald Trump and Jesus have one significant thing in common…

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Navigating these strange days

Mark Sayers has a knack of articulating what many of us deep-down know to be true.

Here is my review of his latest book, Strange Days

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On not having a bucket list

Life is more than experiences. The endless chase for the next one won’t fill the ache in your soul…

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Nothing else matters

Life is short. When you see the deterioration of people in old age and you realise that, while you’re not old, you’re not young anymore either, it makes you think about how you want to leave this world.

As I see people wither in old age, people who you’ve always seen as somehow invincible, you realise how fragile life is. We are dust, and to dust we return. It makes you think about the meaning in your life, and that we really haven’t got long to make a real difference. I wonder if it’s impossible for a young person to really realise that. When you’re young, it’s all ahead of you. It’s a young person’s world, it was said to me once.

It’s only the experience that comes from years; either that or great suffering in your younger years, that allows you to see that life really is fragile. A pastor once told a story of a man he visited who had just turned 65. The man wondered how he got to that age so quickly. It was like he woke up one morning and all of a sudden his life was almost over, just like that.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. It is to be made the most of. As I get older and see the frailty of the elderly, I feel anxious about getting old and I feel more of an urgency to leave the world a better place. It’s not about leaving a legacy; whatever people think of you doesn’t matter. It’s what you actually did that matters, whether people think it was good or not.

I think of the great sermon by Martin Luther King, ‘The Drum Major Instinct’. It’s about true greatness. Being great is fine. Be great at serving, be great at loving others, be great at not needing recognition for your good deeds. Just do them, whether people notice them or not. That is greatness. It’s the contribution that matters, not the recognition of it.

We are here and gone in a puff of smoke. But what we do lasts forever. Eternity is in our hearts. It is our destiny to leave a contribution that matters. Nothing else measures up but to have done your bit to improve the world.

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Abraham – the good, the bad and the ugly

This is my latest sermon at my church, Kaleidoscope Community. We have been doing a series on the good, the bad and the ugly of biblical characters. Mine was on Abraham. 

You can listen to the audio here, download my notes here, and have a look at a few PowerPoint slides from the sermon here.

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