Nils von Kalm

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

Category: Church (page 1 of 2)

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

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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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Instead of mega-church, micro-church!

What a wonderful example of what biblical church is all about!

Is Australia a nation of idiots?

australia-flag-mapAs we come to another Australia Day and thank God for the public holiday, I think it would do us well to have a read of a couple of very good articles decrying the fact that we generally live in a nation of self-centred idiots.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, Sam de Brito pointed out that “The ancient Greek word idiotes, from which the English version is derived, meant “one who put private pleasures before public duty and who was, for this reason, ignorant of everything that mattered”.

Is that the general perception you get when you watch commercial television in this country and listen to our political leaders spout three-word slogans? De Brito goes on to say that, in ancient Greek society, “the famous Greek statesman Pericles is recorded as saying: “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say he has no business here at all.”

In the last decade or so, Australians have become very cynical of our politicians. And generally for good reason. Question Time in our Parliament is shown on overseas news networks as an example of the abuse and name-calling that a nation’s elected leaders can stoop to.

The other article that came to my attention was Corinne Grant’s piece in The Hoopla, pretty much saying the same thing as Sam De Brito. Calling to mind our tendency to want to pacify ourselves with mindless pleasures while the world goes to hell in a handbasket, Grant, in her own comedic way, gives the example of satirising our phobia of asylum seekers by saying “The sooner we send ‘em back to get killed in their own country, the sooner we can stop worrying about them taking all our car parking spots at the supermarket.”

Have we become a nation of self-centred morons who passively sit back in our comfy chairs and blame asylum seekers for causing us all this trouble as we flick the channel over to the next episode of Million Dollar Minute? While of course we can’t label all of us in this way, it is a general perception of many Australians that we just don’t care about asylum seekers, what’s happening in Syria, or anything that has to do with what really matters in life, as long as I’m alright.

So what’s with this selfishness? How can we be so blind to the genuine needs of others and so gullible, so unthinking, about what we are told by our media and politicians? I see it as largely about protecting a way of life. Twice in recent years, Credit Suisse has voted Australia, per capita, as the richest nation in the world. No one wants their comfortable way of life threatened, and as long as “I’m alright Jack”, I don’t really want to know about the bad news I see on TV.

When we are so rich, we can easily become blinded to the difficulties of people outside our circle of reference. And when the media encourages this attitude by furthering our demonization of people groups such as asylum seekers and outlaw bikers, an unthinking populace tends to go along with it.

Our political leaders are equally culpable. Our most recent Federal Election campaign was characterised by its negativity and lack of genuine policy discussion. And we the people have become numb to it. So, when our Prime Minister refers to the complex situation in Syria as a war between “goodies and baddies,” we barely bat an eyelid. After all, we’ve just thrashed the Poms in the cricket. That’s what really gets our adrenalin pumping.

Our comfortable lifestyle is also a result of our history since European settlement. We are a nation that has never had a civil war (you could say there was one against our indigenous people but that’s more genocide than civil war, and that’s another story), and we are not bordered by a host of other nations like Europe is.

People often question why Europe has had so much conflict over the years. Why can’t they just get along and stop fighting each other? When you consider the fact that most conflict is over issues of land, you can see why the fact that there are so many different nations and cultures in Europe has fed so much conflict. That plus the fact that some of those conflicts go back centuries, a good deal longer than the history we have known since European settlement. In contrast to Europe, we are a nation surrounded entirely by coastline – “girt by sea” as our national anthem puts it.

Our love of pleasure while trying to ignore those aspects of life that make us who we are is a reflection of a lack of a sense of what we think life should be about. It was 25 years ago this year that John Smith wrote his magnificent Advance Australia Where? (different to Hugh Mackay’s more recent book of the same title). Smith’s book was a brilliant analysis of why a country with such material riches has such a tragic rate of social statistics. The tagline of the book was “a lack of meaning in the land of plenty.” That said it all then and it says it all today.

I am convinced that meaning lies only outside of ourselves. The more we look for life inside ourselves and in the idea of “individual freedom” as it is thrown at us by popular culture, the more we are sucked into its vortex and the more we lose a sense of who we really are. What I have found through living life with its associated consequences, good and bad, is that real meaning and ability to cope with the vagaries of life is only found in following Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus lived in a culture that was in some ways very different to ours, but in other ways was very similar. People in 1st century Palestine wanted their good life just like we do.

The way Jesus handled this desire in people was not to criticise them for having the desire, but to accept them for who they were as people while pointing out better ways to live the good life. If we want to be first, he said, be first at serving. If we want riches, seek riches in heaven. That will give us what we are really after.

Thankfully the church in Australia is talking a lot more these days about issues of meaning and identity. Churches run courses on depression, addiction and other critical life issues. Despite the dumbing down that we generally see in popular culture, many Australians are searching for a genuine spirituality as they realise that something is drastically wrong in a country where we are told that life could be a dream if only we won that elusive lotto draw. In some ways, the church is answering the call.

The search for what really matters in life is one that lasts a lifetime. It is a journey of discovery, difficulty, joy and love, especially when we do it with others who are on the same journey with us and accept us for all our foibles. May this Australia Day be more than a celebration of (hopefully!) another win over the Poms in the cricket, but a genuine reflection of who we are and who we want to be as a nation. Our destiny depends on it.

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