Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Death (Page 1 of 2)

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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A few articles of mine published this week…

A few articles of mine have been published on the web this week. Here they are:

Here is my latest article, published on the Godspace website. In it I try to explain that salvation is not the end of the Gospel. God has saved us for a purpose, and it is not to go to heaven when you die.

Salvation is Not Enough

By Nils Von Kalm In Christian circles, we generally place primary emphasis on believing in Jesus. After all, Acts 16:31 tells us that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved. But what are we saved for? And what if God believes in us as well as us believing in God?

The next article is one I posted on Soul Thoughts a few months back. It’s called Cry for Home and was published over at Sight Magazine.

Finally, this article is my first one to be published on Christian Today. It’s another one that has been previously posted on Soul Thoughts. This one is about how to recover from FOMO.

Hope you enjoy them!

Crying for home

DSC02059Sometimes when I feel the pain of life, whether my own or that of others, I just long for the kingdom of God to become fully realised in this world. I recall the words of the U2 song, Peace on Earth: “Heaven on Earth, we need it now. I’m sick of all of this hanging around…sick of the sorrow, sick of the pain.”

I relate to that. I’m sick of the pain, I just want justice, peace and love to rule the world now.

This morning at church we remembered the passing of a much-loved member of our congregation. He died two years ago today. At the end of the service we sang a song he wrote before he died. The lyrics are as follows:

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Yea, though I walk through the valley…

I have recently been asked to contribute to a blog called Godspace, run by Christine Sine of Mustard Seed Associates. In its own words, MSA “seeks to enable followers of Jesus, especially those who are innovators and unsatisfied with status quo faith, to a counter cultural way of life.” Right up my alley.

My first article was a reflection on Lent. I’m surprised how many Christians have never heard of Lent. I find it one of the most wonderfully solemn times of the year, a time to reflect more deeply on the suffering and sacrifice that Jesus went through.

This article focuses on something many Christians don’t see as an essential part of being a follower of Jesus; that is, that Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow. Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”. Jesus aches for us to have the resurrection life, but there is no resurrection without death.

Here’s the article…

Walking Through Death

By Nils von Kalm Lent is a solemn time of year for me. In a way, it’s possibly my favourite time in the Christian calendar, alongside Christmas. They are my favourite times for vastly different reasons though. The season of Lent is traditionally seen as a time of sacrifice in preparation for the remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ.

Life, death, love and grief

white flower

A former colleague and friend of mine died last week. She was too young, and left behind a husband and two kids.

People who were closer to her than I was have been comforting each other this week in their grief. It has been terribly sad to witness.

The times in my life when I have known people who have died have been times of bonding with other loved ones of the deceased. It is not shared experiences necessarily or shared happiness that bonds people. It is shared suffering. When you grieve together over the suffering of a loved one, love comes to the fore.

It’s ultimately what life is about, really. Life is primarily about the experience of loss, ultimately to the loss of our life. 

Martin Luther King said once that suffering is redemptive. What he meant by that is that it is not meaningless. In a friendly universe, where the moral arc bends towards love, suffering can always be turned into good.

Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, one who was familiar with grief. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, he agonised over his coming suffering and death in the Garden of Gethsemane. and he cried out in desperation as he hung limp on a Roman cross. Jesus’ suffering was real, but it was not meaningless. Continue reading

The pitiful weakness of death

I hate death. I just hate it. 

I went to a funeral this morning of a friend who had been sick for quite a few years. I didn’t realise how emotional I would be throughout the service as people reflected on how much they loved this man.

It was also wonderful being back at my old church. It’s an inner-city church with a ministry to people living on the edge of society. It is a church of love in action, and I saw once again in this dear place that love is most seen in the midst of suffering.

As I shed tears at the memories of Alan, I was reminded of Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who also wept. For him it was at the death of his friend Lazarus.

What is it about death that makes us so sad? Is it the sense of finality, the knowing that we will not see this person again in this lifetime? And is it a slight doubt – for us who believe in God – that what we believe might not be true and that therefore we will really never see this person again, ever? Or is it the sting of death, that there is simply nothing any of us can ever do about it? The fact is that all of us will die one day, unless Jesus returns in the meantime. And we simply have no control over it.

But the great hope of Christian faith is that death is not the end. The sting of death will finally be defeated one day. In fact it has already been defeated; the war has already been won, it’s just that there are still battles to be fought. As St Paul said famously in his first letter to the Corinthian believers, death has lost its sting. It has been defeated forever.

The hope we have is that one day we will see Alan again. We will see his cheeky face and his chirpy demeanour. His dear wife and daughter will be reunited with him, and the joy will be unspeakable.

In the meantime, we live in this mortal coil, with death as our fate. Make no mistake, death is awful. If it wasn’t, why did even God himself weep when his friend Lazarus died? But let us remember that, on that same day, Jesus demonstrated his power over death, declaring to the grieving Martha that he is the Resurrection and the Life. 

Death did not have the final say that day. Lazarus was raised. And death did not have the final say today. Yes, Alan is no longer with us. For now. There will come a day when we will see him again, when the One who is the same Resurrection and Life will raise him and all who have gone before. And it will be the greatest reunion party there ever was.


What Will People Say at Your Funeral? – updated

martin-luther-king-funeral-processionSpeaking to some family members on the weekend, one of them spoke about their brother who had just recovered from prostate cancer. We also talked about someone else in their 50s who had recently succumbed to breast cancer and how she left behind a husband and children who were traumatised by it all.

The conversation turned then to how life catches up with all of us. We all go the same way in the end. From dust we arose and to dust we return. It made me think about what sort of person I want to be remembered as. It also made me think about what sort of society we want to have for those who come after us.

As I think about our comfort, complacency and apathy, particularly about how much we grumble in this country despite being the richest country in the world, I think of the movie The Hunger Games. In that story, people are so satiated that they have lost all sense of morality and sense of compassion for others. They happily go to the games and have no idea what is happening to the disadvantaged in their own city.

The same is true of us. The idea of leaving a legacy in our lives seems a distant memory, and not even a memory for most of us. We are so busy trying to be happy in our lives that very few of us think about what sort of world we want to leave our children. If asked, most people would say that of course they want to leave a better world for those who come next. But we don’t stop to ponder anymore. We have forgotten what it’s like to take time to stop and smell the roses.

Are we so consumed with pleasure that we have forgotten what gave us the good life in the first place? Do we really believe that there is any value in taking time to stop and think and ponder about life? Or do we blindly and unthinkingly accept the mantra that what really matters is the economy, that the key to having a good society is having a strong economy? I suspect most of us do when it all boils down to it.

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Life is hard

I’ve had an emotional couple of weeks. It started when my wife and I attended a conference on a Christian response to climate change. The situation really is dire but our response is not to be one of despair and throwing our hands up in defeat. Our response is to be one of Christlikeness – of love, justice and mercy, especially for the millions who will be affected the most and who have done the least to contribute to it – the poor.

During some breaks in the conference I was speaking to a few people and found out that a dearly loved woman in our church community who has been suffering from brain cancer had a week to live (she passed on the next morning. RIP Kate – safe in the arms of Jesus). We all thought she had about 9 months but not so now. A few of us went to see her the day before she died, along with her 12 year old son who she last saw as an 8 month old baby. It was so touching seeing her son take his mother’s hand, but also so sad knowing that this will be his only memory of seeing his mother.

During another break in the conference we also found out that a couple we knew had split up, leaving kids traumatized and confused. That weekend was truly a sobering one.

Life is unspeakably sad, as psychologist Larry Crabb puts it. And as a song that we used to sing in church says, life is sad, and it might not get easier. There are no guarantees in life, not in this life anyway. Whatever we try to do to control life, in the end we cannot. Instead we are beholden to the whims of outrageous fortune and there is simply nothing we can do about it. Millions of people in Japan know all about that as I write.

Throughout the uncertainties and failed hopes of life, the Christian message is what sustains me. That is no glib statement; it is the hope of my heart. In Christ is my ultimate hope. He has promised that there will be a day when suffering will be no more, when brain cancer will be wiped away, when love will reign supreme in relationships and when the climate will sustain a healthy planet. Until then, loving is sadness, and we toil on, trudging the rugged, uphill road of life.

But despite our trudging, it is forward that we go, and forward we go together. In community, never alone, and never without ultimate hope.

Life is hard, anyway you cut it. So sang John Mellencamp in a song to which every honest person in the world can relate. We are not spared simply because we are Christian. To the contrary, it is because we follow the crucified One, the suffering God, that our suffering is all the more acute. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. No one is spared, but at the same time, no one is beyond hope.

Personally, I don’t want to give my life to anything else. I love the way of Jesus. No, more than that, I love Jesus Himself. In a world of nonsense, he makes sense. In a world of bitterness and hatred he brings love, and in a world of disease he brings healing. O how I love Jesus, as the old hymn says it.

It is in the times of deepest sadness that love is found. It is at these times that we are shaken out of our slumber and reminded again of what really matters – love, relationship and grace. These are the things that endure. Ross Langmead sings a song which reminds us that we are not alone in suffering, that Jesus goes before us: “We are not alone; he knows our sorrows, he will turn our tears to joy.”

Our suffering is not meaningless. Martin Luther King talked about redemptive suffering, suffering that grows and heals us. The road to life feels like the road to death at times. But it is redemptive. Our pain does not go unheard. It does not simply disappear into an indifferent universe, lost forever with no one knowing and no one caring. Who of us can deny that suffering is real? The promise given to the ancient Israelites when they were suffering under the yoke of slavery in Egypt is the same promise given to us: ‘I have heard your cries and will do something about it.’

What God has done about it is absorb our pain on a brutal Roman cross, and rise from death, never to be defeated again. This was truly victory in defeat, as Sammy Horner so beautifully puts it:

That the nails that pierced his hands

And the thorns that pierced his brow

And the spear that pierced his side

And the nails that pierced his feet

Showed us there can be victory in defeat

We do not go forward in this life alone. Jesus does indeed go before us. Our suffering does not go unheard. It has a purpose and will one day be turned into joy unspeakable. Until then we toil and trudge, but with the hope of a future where this old order of things – death, decay and disease – will have passed away forever. Amen, come Lord Jesus.

If we are Christians, why are we sad at death?

If Jesus is coming back to renew all things and we will be reunited with loved ones who have died, why are we sad when they die? Shouldn’t we be glad that we will see them again?

Such an attitude reflects a denial of the reality of life as it is in this fallen world. If ever we needed an example that it is right, proper and actually healthy to grieve, then Jesus’ weeping at the death of his good friend Lazarus is it.

I went to a funeral a few years ago for a person who had taken their own life. The pain of family members was of course palpable. This person’s death could be described as nothing else but a tragedy. Yet at the memorial service, someone sang a song with a smile on their face which suggested that, as this person is now with Jesus in heaven, we should be rejoicing. What is there to be sad about? Something just didn’t sit right with this singer’s attitude. Someone else at the service agreed with me when I made that suggestion. Why is it that many Christians have this unrealistic and frankly, cruel, attitude?

Some months ago, in an article on death, I wrote that “Death is terrible. The fact that a loved one is now in the arms of Jesus is comfort, but it does not fully take away the sense of finality that we experience when someone we cherish is taken from us.” There is no denying this fact. Anyone who is never moved by the passing of a loved one has severe emotional problems.

I’ve been fascinated with the idea of death recently. I know that sounds somewhat weirdly morbid but I’m now in my early 40s and halfway through the lifespan of the average Australian male. One of my pastors remarked to me recently how he is in the twilight of his life. I quickly reminded him that any one of us might be in the twilight of our life. There are no guarantees about living to a ripe old age. As Martin Luther King said on the night before he died, longevity has its place but it really doesn’t matter to an extent.

Recently I’ve also been fascinated by accounts of Christians who have had near-death experiences. I don’t know why; I don’t believe I’m about to have one soon. I used to have a fascination with these events when I had doubts about God, but I think my recent interest reflects a desire for something more in life. Maybe it does also reflect some doubt, maybe I just want some reassurance that it’s all true. Most of the accounts I have read don’t give me any reason to think they’re not true, so they do provide some reassurance. In fact, the experience of one person that I read – Dale Black – changed his life so much that it was about 40 years before he even told his wife about it.

Stories like that of Dale Black and others like him, do give me reassurance that it really is true, and they do make me think about the idea of death and mourning over it. What I can say is that death is not the natural order of things. It is often said that death is a natural part of life. It may be a natural part of life, but it is not the intention of God. Jesus provides the assurance of hope, hope that this is not all there is, that there really is something more. But hope does not mean we should rejoice and sing the hallelujah chorus when a believing loved one dies because they are now safely with Jesus. Such a response is not Christian and is simply delusional. As I have mentioned, Jesus wept at the death of his good friend Lazarus, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t infused with hope. It also doesn’t mean this hope was reason for him to be happy because Lazarus was about to come back to life. Jesus was God in the flesh, a God who is filled with compassion and mercy, a God who weeps with those who weep, a God who cares deeply. This is also a God who is the Resurrection and the Life, a God who conquers death and renews creation so it glories in this God who made it all and remakes it all.

What will people say at your funeral?

Does your life count? I mean really count? When that day comes when you meet your Maker, what are people going to say at your funeral? I’m now at the middle point of the average lifespan for an Australian male. And it makes you think about what your legacy would be if you died soon. “There’s less days in front of the horse than riding in the back of this cart” sang John Mellencamp back when I didn’t think about such matters so much.

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Now, just because I’m at the mid-point of the average Australian male’s lifespan doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to make it. Martin Luther King said – perhaps prophetically – the night before he died, that “Like everyone I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not worrying about that now…I just wanna do God’s will”.

When it comes to our time, remember that God is not going to say, “so did you get those projects finished?”; he’s not going to say, “Did you get to the top of the social ladder?”, or “Did you ever get those renovations to your house finished?”. No, he’s going to say, “How did you love? What did you do for the least of these my brethren?”.

Many years ago I heard a preacher say that when we’ve reached our final day, the first thing we’re going to say is, “I wish I’d taken more risks”. To take risks means stepping out of our comfort zones. What are some of your comfort zones? I know for me they are job security, enough money to live comfortably, internet access, and the support of friends. How willing would I be to give any of these up? When it really boils down to it, I have to admit that I find myself quite unwilling to let these things go.

If we are honest with ourselves, for the vast majority of us, our comfort zones have everything to do with our lifestyles. Yet when I thin iof my confrot zones I cannot get away from the call of Jesus to deny myself, take up my cross and follow. God give me courage to heed that call.

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