Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Easter (Page 1 of 2)

An Easter reflection

I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross. Every eye looking every other way, counting down ’til the pain would stop. – U2, Moment of Surrender

On this day we remember Jesus walking the Stations of the Cross, from the place of his trial to the Place of the Skull – his crucifixion. It is a solemn route, a route of salvation through the most intense suffering.

Over the last couple of years I have become more aware of what my heart really desires. In a sense I’ve always been aware of it but growth is a gradual process. It’s a very rare person who has a lightning bolt experience of revelation.

The deepest desire of my heart, and I suspect of all of our hearts, is for intimacy. We long for connection to other human beings. It is the essence of who we are. We are hard wired for relationship.

The image in the above song line is of the way we rush through life on the subway, speeding to make a living but not stopping to make a life. The Stations of the Cross are a wonderful reflection timeline, scattered along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This Easter is the perfect time to stop and reflect as we stop for a few days from the rush of life.

In our culture we find it difficult to stop though. It’s like we are doing all we can to cover up some pain in our lives, something that is missing. As we speed through the subway, rushing through but not stopping at the stations to reflect, our eyes look the other way, not wanting to make contact with each other. We think the fact that everyone being on their devices and not connecting with each other is a new phenomenon, something that has arisen with the advent of our devices. But if you look at photos from a hundred years ago, you will see people lined up in the street reading their newspapers. Nothing has changed, just the way we don’t connect with each other.

Why are we fearful of connecting with each other while at the same time we yearn for it? Is it because we fear what we cannot control, because we have been hurt to the point that we cannot trust anymore? Why is it that every eye looks every other way, seemingly counting down until we can finally get off that train and not feel the awkwardness of being too close to others? It’s why no one looks at each other in lifts. We don’t want to be in each other’s personal zones.

Connection to each other is what we are made for. Jesus’ suffering and brutal death is a reminder of what love will do to be close to us. It is while we were still bitter enemies of him that Jesus died for humanity, to be close, to connect and to be intimate. That is what love is, and it changes the world. 

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!

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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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.

N.T. Wright on the resurrection and Simply Jesus

Here are a couple of great talks by N.T. Wright on Jesus’ resurrection and Wright’s recent book, Simply Jesus.

The talk on the resurrection is not just an apologetic going over the usual defences for the resurrection. In this talk Wright delves thoroughly into what the beliefs of the time were about what resurrection was and what it wasn’t. He provides a solid foundation for why the disciples and others respond as they do, and say what they say, when they hear the first reports that Jesus had been seen alive.

Context is everything when seeking to understand history, and Wright gives a detailed explanation of the background to the events we read about in the four gospels. For those who want it, further detail is found in Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Importantly, Wright also goes into why Jesus’ resurrection matters, why it quickly became central to the message of the early Christian movement, and why it matters in the 21st century.

For an overview of the reasons why the physical resurrection of Jesus is far and away the most reasonable explanation for the explosive growth of the early church, you probably couldn’t go past this talk. There is enough here to answer any questions, as well as enough to why your appetite for finding out more.

Of particular relevance to our time in this talk is Wright’s explanation about why Jesus’ resurrection says that Jesus is Lord and that therefore Caesar (or in our day, anything else that claims lordship over our lives) is not, anyhow that matters for mission.

The talk on Simply Jesus is among the best of Wright’s I have heard. It is a clear, succinct description of a wonderful book which is accessible to new believers, people wanting to find out more, or people who have been Christians for years and want a very clear overview of why Jesus matters in the 21st century.

The Brain on Love

The New York Times recently had an insightful article on how love affects the brain. To me this is further evidence that we seem to be wired for love. Consider some of the quotes from the article:

  • “What we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you.”
  • “All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.”
  • “A wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.”
  • “Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom,” Dr. Siegel says, “point to supportive relationships as the most robust predictor of these positive attributes in our lives across the life span.” The supportive part is crucial. Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.”
  • “Through lovemaking, or when we pass along a flu or a cold sore, we trade bits of identity with loved ones, and in time we become a sort of chimera. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.” (I would add that this is why casual sex is so destructive; the more we indulge, the more we lose our identity; we don’t know who we are – Nils)
  • “As imaging studies by the U.C.L.A. neuroscientist Naomi Eisenberger show, the same areas of the brain that register physical pain are active when someone feels socially rejected.”
  • “A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby.”

And perhaps the most profound:

  • “I saw the healing process up close after my 74-year-old husband, who is also a writer, suffered a left-hemisphere stroke that wiped out a lifetime of language. All he could utter was “mem.” Mourning the loss of our duet of decades, I began exploring new ways to communicate, through caring gestures, pantomime, facial expressions, humor, play, empathy and tons of affection — the brain’s epitome of a safe attachment. That, plus the admittedly eccentric home schooling I provided, and his diligent practice, helped rewire his brain to a startling degree, and in time we were able to talk again, he returned to writing books, and even his vision improved. The brain changes with experience throughout our lives; it’s in loving relationships of all sorts — partners, children, close friends — that brain and body really thrive.”
  • “During idylls of safety, when your brain knows you’re with someone you can trust, it needn’t waste precious resources coping with stressors or menace. Instead it may spend its lifeblood learning new things or fine-tuning the process of healing. Its doors of perception swing wide open. The flip side is that, given how vulnerable one then is, love lessons — sweet or villainous — can make a deep impression. Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain.”

Love impacts every part of our lives for the better. Knowing that we are loved, and living a life of love, is good for us. As we remember Love personified at Easter, I want to live more like that Love.

God’s Gift to a Broken World

We live in a world of immense suffering, and whether we call ourselves Christian or not, we are often faced with the universal question of why such suffering occurs in a world which was made by a good and loving God.

At Easter we remember that when Jesus was dying on the cross, he also asked why, and said “into your hands I place my spirit.” It was an act of trust that God is good despite what we see around us.

In our society we are bombarded with the message every day of our lives that life is found in having more. Gordon Gekko’s ‘greed is good’ mantra from the heady days of the late 1980s is the philosophy we are encouraged to live by today. Yet study after study shows that ‘money can’t buy me love’, as The Beatles sang fifty years ago. The American psychologist Martin Seligman has conducted research showing that the rate of depression in Western nations has increased tenfold since the Second World War ie. we now have ten times the amount of people who are depressed than we had seventy years ago. On top of that, Brene Brown points out that we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated people in history. All this is during a period in which we have never been wealthier. Something is not adding up; it looks suspiciously like we have been sold a lemon.

And if that is not enough, our affluent way of life is leading to a greater gap between rich and poor, as well as to the dreaded spectre of a changing climate. Jayakumar Christian, National Director of World Vision India, says that while everybody talks about the booming Indian middle-class, with economic growth rates of 7-8%, no one talks about the growing gap between rich and poor in that vast land, and the fact that there are 836 million poor people in India. And you just need to talk to just about every climate scientist as well as every aid and development worker in places like Africa to learn about the effects that climate change is already having on their farming practises. No wonder the author and pastor Brian McLaren calls our way of life the ‘suicide machine.’

It’s all depressingly bleak, and enough to drive you to despair. But despite all this, we don’t have to be stuck in that mindset. The comfort we can find at Easter is that Jesus identifies with our pain and with our questions. But it’s more than that. If that is all he did, we wouldn’t have any hope. Thankfully we are told that in Jesus, God came to earth not only to die for our wrongs, but to reconcile all things to himself. But again, if that is all there is, there still wouldn’t be any hope. The New Testament is open about this. The apostle Paul says that if Christ was not raised from death we are to be pitied more than anyone. Christian faith lives or dies on the physical resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. If Jesus was not raised, then Christian faith is pointless, as death would not have been defeated and life is meaningless. But our joy and hope come from faith in Jesus, that as well as dying on Good Friday, he was raised on Sunday. As Nick Cave sings, death is not the end. And, as only he can, American preacher Tony Campolo adds, “it’s Friday but Sunday’s a-comin!”

Hope is alive. There is no line on the horizon; heaven and earth are slowly overlapping. There is no reason to despair and there is nothing to fear. The Christian message says that it is because of the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter morning that we have hope that death will not triumph in the end. Life, justice, peace, hope and love will triumph. Nothing is surer. And it is all because God came and dwelt among us and defeated the scourge of death.

Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are shown how to live, we are offered forgiveness for our many wrongs, and all things are reconciled to God. All things. Our hearts, so we can be at peace with God; our society, so we can live at peace with each other; and the rest of the whole created order, so we can live at peace with it. To the question of why God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about the suffering and pain in the world, we can assuredly say that God already has. Through the life of one man, we see a glimpse of the wonderful kingdom come; through the death of that one man on a dark Friday afternoon, we are offered forgiveness for our wrongs; and through the resurrection of that one unique man on the most wonderful Sunday morning in history, all things are made new.

What we remember at Easter is what drives us; it is what drives our continual struggle for a better world, for peace on earth, for shalom. One day there will be no more tears; one day there will be no more pain, no more ‘stupid poverty’ as Bono calls it, no more war and no more injustice. One day everything will fit; it will all make sense. And it will all be because of Jesus. And we get to live this resurrection life here and now, working with God to renew the world, living out the compassion of Jesus, and standing in the tradition of the prophets to work for a world in which one day everything will be made complete. That is the hope of Easter. May you have a blessed one.

The God of Suffering Love

Many of us have probably seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ movie. When it was released in 2004 it caused quite a stir amongst different groups of people, not least for its gruesome and bloody portrayal of the torture that Jesus endured during the last twelve hours of his earthly life.

The word ‘passion’ has its origins in the Greek verb ‘pasch?’, to suffer. So when we talk about the Passion of Jesus, we are referring to the suffering he endured, particularly during the last week of his life. In a matter of days, from the time that he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, receiving wild acclaim from the crowds laying palm branches in front of him and hailing him as the coming King, to the utter humiliation of being crucified at the hands of the Romans, Jesus’ life was turned completely on its head.

He knew his days were numbered of course. The unfolding events of that tumultuous week came as no surprise to him. Luke 9 tells us that he resolutely set out for Jerusalem, telling his disciples that he will suffer and die at the hands of the authorities in that centre of power. His disciples were expecting him, as the Messiah, to overthrow the oppressive Roman regime, violently if need be. So for Jesus to speak about his upcoming death was something the disciples were simply unable to comprehend. No wonder Peter earlier rebuked him and said this must never happen (Mark 8:31-33).

While Jesus knew full well what he was up to, we also see, in all four Gospel accounts, that his attitude was one of service. That was in fact the very reason he was heading to his death, “to serve, not to be served, and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” (Mark 10:45). For his disciples this required a complete change of mindset to understand what he was on about. The saying ‘everything you know is wrong’ was one they would have come to intimately relate to. And so, as they were squabbling over who would be the greatest in this new kingdom that Jesus was bringing in, Jesus turned it all around and said to them that if they want to be first, then the way to do it is to serve. And, as always, Jesus walked his talk. By leading the way himself, he had the moral authority to tell his disciples that the way of life was the way of putting yourselves out there for others. And that inherently involves suffering.

If we watch the news every day we are reminded that we live in a world of suffering. Despite great progress towards poverty alleviation over the years, there are still 22,000 children who die every day from poverty-related diseases. The Christian faith proclaims loudly and clearly that the cries of the poor are heard by God, for this is a God who has been in their shoes. He does not sympathise from afar; he empathises from within. We see Christ in the eyes of those who suffer. This is God come to earth as a human person and walking in our footsteps. This is a God who says in the Garden of Gethsemane that he is troubled to the point of death, who is so anguished that he sweats drops of blood as he contemplates the incomprehensible enormity of what he is about to go through, all for love, all to make a better world in every way. Who could imagine a God who is anguished, a God who suffers, and a God who, through all of this, serves? Is this not love at its best, continuing to give despite the cost?

Such extravagant love is of course what inspires us millions of Christians to work for the betterment of our world, to work to bring in the kingdom of God. The love of God gives us the strength to be the best we can be in our efforts to set the world right. Love shows us the way, love we see personified in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

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