Nils von Kalm

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

Category: Church (page 1 of 2)

Disarmed at church

Two things hit me at church recently.

There’s something about the solemnity of remembering the gospel as we gather on a Sunday morning.

I was feeling distant from God yesterday morning, sort of self-sufficient and off with my ego. But as we sang, prayed and listened to Scripture, I remembered again how I am constantly touched by grace; I am given what I haven’t worked for. I am given it purely as a gift and nothing else. The Christian message continues to touch me in the deepest of places like nothing else does. I need constant reminding and I am constantly reminded. I am never cast adrift for forgetting once too often. God never gives up on me.

The other thing that got me again was one of the Lectionary readings. It was from the first letter of John. In the church I grew up in, the number one favourite verse, the one that everyone could recite any time, was John 3:16 – For God so loved the world…

But I was never taught to remember the same chapter and verse from John’s first letter like I was that from John’s gospel. Millions of evangelicals can quote John 3:16 by heart, but how many of us can quote 1 John 3:16 and the couple of verses after that? I wonder if we were never taught them because they are too confronting to our comfortable, middle-class, Western, consumer-oriented church ears, and they talk a bit too much about caring for the poor, which, after all, is an aside from the real gospel if you believe what I was taught and what many Christians are still taught.

Here’s what 1 John 3:16-18 says:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

Giving materially to our brothers and sisters in need is as much the gospel as anything else. And it’s right there in the Bible.

Paul, Apostle of Christ

Paul, Apostle of Christ | Now Playing In Theaters

Paul, who goes from the most infamous persecutor of Christians to Christ’s most influential apostle, spends his last days awaiting execution by Emperor Nero in Rome.

I went and saw the movie, “Paul, Apostle of Christ” recently. I thought it was excellent. The friend I was with said it gave inspiration to want to go back to read the Book of Acts. It did for me too.

What grabbed me most about it was the absolute faithfulness of the early Christians in the face of death every day. No wonder they changed their world, despite their flaws and the mistakes they made.

The movie followed closely to what we know of early Christian history, both from the New Testament and from other historical sources of the time. These Christians constantly thought of others even though their own life situations were fraught with peril. They were steadfastly selfless. They took in the poor and the sick just out of obedience to Christ. They were healthily obsessed with following their Master come what may. Nothing else mattered.

I need movies like this to remind me that my own struggles, though real, can be used to lead me to care for others and not worry or fear for myself. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where one of the Christians exhorts a younger Christian to not be afraid. We hear that phrase, “do not be afraid”, right through Scripture. We see it so much that we can lose its impact. But to these people who faced death every day in the face of a brutal Roman Empire that literally used them as human torch lights, burning them alive for the entertainment of others, and threw them to wild animals for the crowds, the words “do not be afraid” had meaning that went straight to the heart. They had unbelievable courage, they stood tall, unflinching, considering it a joy to suffer and die for their Lord. Wow! Could I do that?

Movies like this make me lament how comfortable I am, that too often I am way too concerned for my own petty self-protection than I am for following Christ in full surrender and submission. We get sucked into the mantra of looking after ourselves first and foremost, and in the process we lose what it is to live for Christ.

This movie showed that the early Christians were determined that literally nothing would stop them from preaching Christ. And that included taking in the stranger and the discarded that the rest of society considered worthless. They weren’t just preachers and they weren’t just on about social justice. They were all about Jesus. It was all one. It was their love for God, lived out in love for neighbour and enemy, that set them apart and eventually brought the collapse of the greatest empire ever known. Who would have thought it?

The lives of courageous love, commitment to non-violence and refusal to submit to any other king was the making of the Christian movement. This movie inspired me.

In a time when the church talks so much BS about “believing for success” and blessing theology, where it’s all about us, this movie showed that following Christ is done in suffering and brings suffering. It’s in the fire that genuine Christlikeness is forged.

There are not many Christian movies I have seen which are not cringe-worthy, but this one showed me the Spirit that filled Paul and those early Christians. I want that Spirit too.

The power of one

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 can tear down the walls of division that divide this broken world.

Read more in my latest article for Christian Today. Thanks also to The Gippsland Anglican for republishing it.

The power of one

We’re one but we’re not the sameWe get to carry each other- U2, OneIn John chapter 17, verse 1, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one as he and the Father are one. It was a prayer of boldness and, on the surface at least, impossibly naïve and unrealistic.But the fact that this prayer …

Bono on the Psalms

You may recall that last year Fuller Seminary in the US did an interview between Bono and Eugene Petersen. It was fascinating and got a lot of coverage in Christian circles.

This time Fuller have a series of short clips of Bono talking about the Psalms. His critique of Christian music is what much of the latter is not: honest and hard-hitting. Check it out here:

Bono & David Taylor: Beyond the Psalms – Fuller Studio

On the first year anniversary of FULLER studio, we reflect on our inaugural conversation on the Psalms between author Eugene Peterson and musician Bono. In celebration, we are pleased to offer five new, exclusive videos from an additional interview conducted subsequently in New York.

The problem with positive thinking

Evangelising the church

Responding to the reality of a Trump Presidency

donald_trump_25218642186

Much has been written amidst the turmoil of Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the US election.

Disbelief was probably the main reaction, from people who voted against him as well as those who voted for him. As the world comes to terms with how the Trump Presidency might impact the world, much has also been written about the best way to respond. I have to confess to probably going a bit over the top with my emotional responses. When someone as divisive as Trump comes along, emotions can be overwhelming.

Whatever our reactions and thoughts, now is a time of great opportunity, an opportunity to bear witness to the Gospel loud and clear. Not the dualistic gospel that says you can get to heaven when you die if you just believe the right things; nor the same gospel that says you’re going to hell if you don’t believe those things.

No, the Gospel I am talking about is the Gospel of Jesus as we see in the Scriptures. It is the good news that another world is possible and another world is already here. It is the good news of inclusiveness for all, that there are no walls in this new world that Jesus came to bring. All are equal, male and female, black and white, (dare I say it) Muslim and Christian, Mexican and Trump supporter.

This is the good news that all are welcome if only they will come. Because God is President, not Donald Trump, a world order is being created where enemies are loved and where the broken are embraced and not ridiculed or shamed.

In a world which has already become more hostile as a result of Trump’s victory, this is our opportunity to shine, to live an alternative world, to be a light on a hill, to be a beacon for those who are not welcome elsewhere. This is our time to be a community of hope, of love and of faith. The politics of fear and division and hatred will never overcome faith, hope and love. Nothing can separate you from this love. Love does indeed save the world. 

So, what does it look like to respond in grace and love to those we disagree with? Yes, what does it mean to respond like Jesus would, whether you despise or rejoice at the Trump Presidency? Here are my thoughts:

Listen

As time goes on and we come to accept the reality of what has happened, we need to listen to the viewpoints of those with whom we disagree.

To take Trump supporters as an example, they have been vilified and lumped into a “basket of deplorables”, to use a quote from the campaign. There are many, many people however who voted for Trump because they genuinely believe he was the best choice for their country and for the world. That’s why they were willing to stick with him despite his racism, sexism and invectives of fear. These people are not stupid. Many of them can definitely be classified as racist, sexist and/or filled with hatred, and that needs to be confronted with courage and strength, but those classifications do not apply to all Trump supporters.

Trump tapped into something very deep in the soul of America. Millions of people have been angry for a very long time because they have felt that their voices have not been heard. History shows that when a group of people are ignored over time, they will eventually rise up and revolt. It is rather ironic that Trump supporters have long felt the same as African Americans did (and still do) during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. Back then, Martin Luther King, told by many white people to be patient, wrote about the fact that his people could no longer wait after suffering for so long. A movement rose up and it has happened again.

When we disagree, we don’t make it personal

We confront the issue, not the person. When we disagree with someone, we must show that we are not attacking them as a person. We can disagree strongly while maintaining the relationship with that person. Don’t ever shame anyone for their position. That will just turn them away even more and is not treating them as people of dignity made in the image of their Creator.

Unfortunately in the era of social media where anyone can voice their own opinion, personal abuse has become rife and healthy debate has been dumbed down. Responding in grace means listening while not attacking the person.

We remain true to our convictions

Responding with grace does not mean we roll over and have to compromise what we believe. Self-respect and respect from others is gained when we stand up for what we believe. As the old saying goes, “stand for something or fall for anything”.

Respect the other person’s viewpoint

There is a caveat to this though. Many people’s viewpoints are not thought out very thoroughly. What was revealed in the US election campaign was that much of the support for Trump was based on pure emotion and blind faith. When presented with the facts, the viewpoints of many were just further entrenched. You don’t need to respect a point of view that has not been thought out. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if they want their opinion to be respected, it has to be credible. That also means that if you are going to put forward a claim or point of view, you need to be able to back it up with facts.

As well as that, be prepared to suffer. You can present your case in the most Christlike way with undisputable facts and many people will still attack you as being unreasonable and ungodly. We are human. We will disagree, often vehemently. Bear it and get support if you need to. You can’t do this alone. Responding in love is about being part of a movement; it is not an individual stand.

Many people we disagree with are people with genuinely held beliefs

It is important to acknowledge this. They actually have thought through their motivations and have come to a conclusion that we thought was unconscionable. Suck it up. I know I need to.

Be open to having your views challenged

This relates to the previous point. And as well as being open to having your own views challenged, realise that you might need to change your point of view when presented with other facts. 

No issue is black and white

There will always be shreds of truth in any argument. Every situation is unique. Remember this is ultimately about real people, and real people are not “issues”. They are human beings with feelings, hopes and dreams.

Embody an alternative world

Remember, another world is possible and another world is here. ?The new world that Jesus inaugurated is both now and not yet. Protest is not enough. The world needs to hear a better story. And a better story includes people from all sides of the debate. Violence has been committed by both sides in the wake of the election. A true Christian response is not to constantly highlight one side’s violence and ignore the other’s. It is to make a strong statement that violence of any kind is unacceptable, no matter who perpetrates it.

We need to be the change we want to see in the world. People do not change until they see that their present way of living, based on their present worldview, is no longer working. It is then that we need to know there is a better way. Embody that way. 

Embody the way of love, of forgiveness, of speaking truth to power. Let your light shine so that others will praise your Father in heaven. Live a life of attraction so that people won’t have anything to pin on you.

Embodying an alternative world is also being on the side of the marginalised. God actually does play favourites. The Bible clearly shows God’s definite bias for the poor and oppressed. This is not because God loves them any more than the rich and powerful. To the contrary, it is because God made them equal and they deserve to be treated as such.

Now is the time for people of faith, hope and love to come together and show that love does indeed cast out fear, that there is indeed a better way. Now is the time to get together with others who want to live this way. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never forget that a small group of people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.

We have nothing to fear in the post-Trump world, whether you support him or not. Remember Matthew 28:20 – “I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.

The heart of Christian mission: a challenge to the Western church

Dr._JayaTraditionally, the Christian church has looked to what is known as the Great Commission when thinking about mission. But what if we needed to look back further than that?

Jayakumar Christian has worked with World Vision for over 30 years. In that time he has witnessed remarkable transformation in his native India as communities have been given hope and a sense of their own identity as people made in the image of God.

In April this year, Jayakumar visited Australia and shared his thoughts and inspiration about what Christian mission is about. What he said was both challenging and encouraging for the Australian church.

The source of his inspiration for mission is found in Psalm 39, one of the lesser known Psalms seemingly hidden away in the middle of the Old Testament. But it is there that Jayakumar dug out the gems of what motivates him to do mission.

Going where God already is

For Jayakumar, living in India, where, despite the economic boom of the last decade, about 80 percent of the population still lives in abject poverty, mission involves going where God already is.

The heart of Christian mission is not about taking God to the poor; it is recognising that God has been amongst the poor long before we arrived there. God is a God of suffering love. Mission therefore, says Jayakumar, is sharing God’s pain.

For the church, sharing God’s pain by going where God already is means being an obedient community. When we are an obedient community, recognising that God is already active, the people we work with there will wonder who our God is.

In a time when Christian faith is rapidly declining in numbers in Australia, Jayakumar also sought to inspire the church here. “The church in Australia is here for a time such as this, to be there for a transformational relationship, not a transactional relationship”, he said. In other words, mission is relational. And being relational means connecting with the pain of others.

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Why the Resurrection still matters in the 21st century

Behold-the-Man-Antonio_Ciseri-e1330966503449Another Easter has come and gone. As we reflect on what it means 2,000 years after the event, I am reminded that the circumstances in which the world finds itself in today, early in the 21st century, are similar to that in which the first Christians found themselves 2,000 years ago.

On that first Easter day, a handful of Jesus’ disciples became convinced that a new King had been enthroned, a new Lord. They became convinced that the teacher from Nazareth who they had been following around for three years was alive again, was the saviour of the world, and was the world’s rightful Lord. He actually was who he said he was, and now they finally understood.

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Christmas in the busyness

8293158697_5a42c9bcdf_kIs it just me or is this Christmas busier than ever for people? Right up until this evening, I haven’t really felt like I’ve been still and thought much about the real meaning of Christmas this year.

Part of it has been to do with work; it’s been a busy time right up until today. But I’ve also been rushing around getting things organised and just having so many errands to run.

I can see why so many people just want Christmas to be over so they can get back to some semblance of normality in their lives. I certainly don’t hate Christmas; I never have. In fact all my life I’ve loved this time of year. It’s only in the last couple of years that Christmas has been particularly painful for me, as life circumstances made it a lonely time of year.

I still believe though that our society needs Christmas, if not for the actual meaning it bestows in the form of celebrating the birth of a loving and gracious God coming into the world as a vulnerable baby. But Christmas also seems to be a time when the idea of goodwill and peace to all still holds some value.

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