Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Salvation (Page 1 of 2)

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!

The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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A gust of wind on the subway platform

subwayOne of the many great paradoxes of Christian faith is he fact that we simultaneously live in the ‘now and the not yet.’ In Jesus, God’s future world has come into the present. Through his life, death and resurrection, and through the continuing acts of faith lived out throughout history, preparation for the final act of a totally transformed existence has begun.

Explaining this in terms that are understandable to the layperson however is not easy. The best analogies I can think of have come from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. But I recently came across another excellent description of it in the December 2012 edition of the Uniting Church’s Crosslight magazine. In this issue, Chris Mostert, recently retired Professor of Systematic Theology in the MCD University of Divinity, wrote a reflection about Advent. He says Christianity is fundamentally an eschatological faith: we ultimately live with the great hope of Revelation 21:1-5, the complete renewal of all relationships in the universe. I was so impressed by Mostert’s article that I want to quote all of it here, but I will stick to the most salient parts.

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Mark Sayers on Christians being slaves to feelings

Here is a great little clip from Mark Sayers on why many Christians, and almost everyone in the West, have become enslaved to our feelings. I lived like this for years. For me, the old ‘fact, faith, feelings’ train in a Christian tract that I saw about 30 years ago still holds true.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/41128426 ]

What is the Gospel? – 3

lion-and-the-lambThis is the third of a 2-part series on ‘What is the Gospel?’ Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Eternal life is not having a never-ending party – the great U2 concert in the sky. N.T. Wright uses a good analogy to illustrate the wrong thinking we have about heaven and eternal life and its idea of everything being ‘perfect.’ He tells the story of a keen golfer who died and went to heaven. When he got there he got his golf clubs out and teed off on the first hole and straight away got a hole in one. He couldn’t believe it. This was amazing! He finished his round and came back the next day and this time he got a hole in one on the first and second holes. He was ecstatic. Heaven was great! The next day he got holes in one on the first 3 holes, and eventually he was going around the course in 18 shots, getting holes in one every time he played. He soon realised though that this was all rather boring.

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What is the Gospel? – 2

What is the Gospel 2Yesterday we started looking at what the Gospel is. Today we continue by looking at how we have reduced the Gospel to salvation only, and a wrong theology of salvation at that.

Our faith has been reduced to an escapist fire insurance that has nothing more to say to the issues that face the ordinary person in the street. When it is all about going to heaven when you die, there is no ultimate concern with issues of justice, caring for the environment, and politics. Too many Christians still believe that “helping the poor is good but if they’re all going to end up in hell, what is the point? Surely the most important thing is to secure their eternal destiny. That is what really matters in the end. The other stuff is just temporary.”

The problem with this type of thinking is that it is just not biblical. And because the Bible reveals a God who addresses every aspect of life, this type of thinking can also lead to tragic consequences. Take the case of Rwanda. At the time of the 1994 genocide, this central African country was 94% Christian. So how could a country where almost everyone identifies as Christian let 800 thousand of its people be butchered in a matter of a few months? The reasons are complex, but research and interviews conducted there reveal that part of the reason is that the messages coming from the pulpits of Rwanda’s churches was largely about the afterlife. It had nothing to say to the issues facing the population in the here and now.

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What is the Gospel? – 1

what-is-the-gospelI’ve been thinking alot recently about meaning in life and how we all need something bigger than ourselves to give us purpose. I have found that the type of life I have lived for many of my adult years has been a life without meaning. It has ultimately been a life that is futile.

What do we mean when we talk of meaning in this way? Deep down we all have cravings for significance and purpose. Numerous books have been written about these issues over the years. Titles such as The Search for Significance, The Purpose-Driven Life, and Living on Purpose have been best-sellers. Why is that? Why are self-help books so popular? It is surely because of something deep within us that craves something deeper than what we are experiencing in our daily routine.

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Richard Rohr on the art of letting go

Let Go Let GodHere is another brilliant piece from Richard Rohr. This one reminds me of what someone said once about Christian conversion being like an experience of coming home. For me it’s been about finding what you have been looking for all your life (sometimes without even realising you’ve been looking!).

It is good to remember that a part of you has always loved God. There is a part of you that has always said yes. There is a part of you that is Love itself, and that is what we must fall into. It is already there. Once you move your identity to that level of deep inner contentment, you will realize you are drawing upon a Life that is much larger than your own and from a deeper abundance. Once you learn this, why would you ever again settle for scarcity in your life? “I’m not enough! This is not enough! I do not have enough!” I am afraid this is the way culture trains you to think. It is a kind of learned helplessness. The Gospel message is just the opposite—inherent power.

Thomas Merton said the way we have structured our lives, we spend our whole life climbing up the ladder of supposed success, and when we get to the top of the ladder we realize it is leaning against the wrong wall—and there is nothing at the top. To get back to the place of inherent abundance, you have to let go of all of the false agendas, unreal goals, and passing self-images. It is all about letting go. The spiritual life is more about unlearning than learning, because the deepest you already knows (1 John 2:21).

Being born again is more than going to heaven

I had a read of Tom Wright’s John for Everyone this morning. I looked at John 3:1-13 which is the passage about being born again. As I read it and Wright’s explanation of it, the truth of what the good news really is dawned on me again. We don’t need to be born again so we will get into heaven when we die. Jesus didn’t come down from heaven to show us how we can get there with him. The good news is that, ultimately, heaven is coming here, and that has already started in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus coming down from heaven was the beginning of heaven coming here, the beginning of the new creation, of the new heavens and the new earth.

This passage has been among the most loved of Christians – particularly evangelical Christians – for years, and rightly so. John 3:3 is one of the verses you learn when you learn the four spiritual laws (something else which gives a twisted understanding of the Gospel).

I firmly believe in the need to be born again. After all, Jesus did say it, so we can’t just dismiss it. But we need to understand what Jesus really meant, and in what context he was saying it when he had his famous conversation with Nicodemus. Like everything when we read Scripture, we need to look at this passage in context. The whole context of Scripture is that it is a story, the story of God’s salvation plan, yes, but more than that, God’s redemption plan for not just humanity, but for the whole of the created order. Jesus said “Behold I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5, emphasis mine). And so it is in that sense that when Jesus talks about the need to be born again, he is talking about our need to be born of the Spirit of God to be able to do the works of God. This is what transformation is all about.

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The day the mining magnate met Jesus

Here is a modern Australian reading of Luke 19:1-10:

Jesus entered Western Australia and was passing through. A man was there who was a very wealthy mining magnate. He had heard about Jesus and wanted to see who he was.

When Jesus saw him he said to him, I must stay at your house today. The mining magnate couldn’t believe his ears and welcomed him gladly.

All the people, especially those who were strong social justice activists, saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a mega-rich mining magnate. If he really cared about the little people, he would know what sort of character this person was.”

But the mining magnate stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my wealth and earnings from my mines to the poor, and if my mines have been detrimental to the lives of people or to the environment, I will close them and pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too has a high place in my kingdom. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus always surprises us. My wife and I have spent the last 12 years in a poor inner-suburban church which is doing well if it has $1,000 in the bank. We are social justice types who also have a passionate concern for the environment. Call us hippie lefties if you like, but I would rather be known as a follower of Jesus who struggles and many times fails to live up to the life that he calls us to.

I get angry when the mega-rich whinge about their rights and how they’ve got it so difficult. When I hear them say such things, I wish they would get a dose of reality. But then I read the story of Zacchaeus and see my own reverse snobbery. We love to pin the rich up against the wall – and most of the time they deserve it – but we have no right to judge them as if we are somehow better.

Jesus never does this. He always pulls the rug out from underneath us and exposes our character flaws. That’s why you can never put Jesus in a box. If you try to paint him as someone who is more left-leaning than most, he reminds you of how he related to Zacchaeus. And if you try to place him amongst the moral majority who decry the declining values of our culture, he reminds you of the woman who knelt at his feet and poured expensive perfume on him whilst those standing around condemned her for not spending the money on the poor.

You see, Jesus is never about issues; he is always about relationship. The kingdom is never about values; it is about relationship. Jayakumar Christian, National Director of World Vision India, has spent 30 years working amongst the poor of that vast land, and he says that the thing he sees the most is that the gospel is about relationships. It is not about causes or values or issues; it is personal in every way, including in its take on social justice. Real justice is personal, it is never separate from relationship.

One of the reasons I love Jesus – and one of the reasons I sometimes want to avoid him – is because he can never be pinned down. Whenever we think we know what he is on about, he surprises us. But in doing so he never condemns us, never condemns anyone. That’s why I can trust him, and that when I am challenged by him. I don’t have to run away, because all he wants to do is show me what is best, show me that his ways are not my ways, and that he is ultimately trustworthy. We can read the gospels a hundred times over and still be shocked by the outrageous, counter-cultural, unconditional, life-affirming, comfort-shattering love of Jesus. Our response to such actions of Jesus as is seen in the story of Zacchaeus or its modern equivalent of a mega-rich mining magnate says more about us than it does of Jesus or the mining magnate, or whoever else you want to put in the story.

Kenneth Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, also makes the crucial point that in offering to spend such intimate time with Zacchaeus, a hated Roman collaborator, Jesus turns the hatred of the crowd from Zacchaeus onto himself. This is one of the real points of this story. Jesus always shows his love and grace at his own expense.

Bailey also points out that, once again, the transformation Jesus gives is complete. It is not just about the transformation of Zacchaeus from a wealthy money-grubbing hoarder into a beautifully generous human being; the transformation also has wider implications for the village he lived in. The people there would no longer be oppressed and ripped off by this former Roman collaborator. God’s grace came to everyone that day, not just to Zacchaeus’ house.

Jesus’ love is real; it is costly and it is sacrificial, as real love always is. By calling out to a hated tax collector, Jesus took the crowd’s hatred of this despised person onto himself. In the process, both Zacchaeus and the villagers are all freed. How would we respond today if Jesus wanted to share an evening in the lavish home of a wealthy mining magnate, enjoying their company over a nice meal and a few red wines? Would the social justice types among us question whether or not this was the real Jesus – friend of the poor – or just an impostor? Would others of us be smug in our seeming affirmation that God really is about prosperity? Or would we question ourselves instead, suddenly realising that we assumed we had Jesus all to ourselves?

Jesus caused a crisis everywhere he went. Just when we think we have him right where we want him, he shocks us, and reminds us again that we can never paint him into a corner. If a well-known multimillionaire walked into your church, how would they be received? Would we welcome them with open arms, or would we think, “what are those rich *&%^/*%&%^ doing here?” Jesus loves the mega-rich just as much as he loves you and me and the poorest people on the planet. God help me to be the same.

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