Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Suffering (Page 2 of 4)

God’s glory is not what you think

“The greatest glory Jesus brought to God was not when he walked on the water or prayed for long hours, but when he cried in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and still continued to follow God’s will, even though it meant isolation, darkness, and the silence of God. Thus, we know that when everything around us fails, when we are destroyed and abandoned, our tears, blood, and dead corpses are the greatest worship songs we have ever sung.” – Ziya Meral

This is why my favourite hymn is Horatio Spafford’s “It Is Well With My Soul”. Here is the story behind the writing of it:

Peace in a weary world

Shooting_at_Pulse_Nightclub

Do you ever feel like you just want a break from life?

I am a morning person. It’s the time of day when I feel most alert and clear-headed. This morning my thoughts turned to the heaviness of another tragedy, this time in the home city of my brother and his family (they’re all ok; they were nowhere near Pulse nightclub at the time).

What happened on the weekend in Orlando was of course tragic in the most terrible sense. It’s wearying. And I feel even more weary when I see Christians on both the left and right of the political debate putting forward their views on how the killings in Orlando are and will be reported by different media outlets.

I just want to reflect on the fact that 50 people lost their lives. At a time like this I don’t care for the point-scoring arguments of whether the left will always say that Muslims are being vilified or the right saying that we don’t talk enough about Islamic violence.

Violence of any kind, no matter who commits it, is wrong and destructive of life. I just want peace at this time. The world needs it. We all need it. At such a dark time as this I am reminded of the pleading words of Rodney King after the LA riots of 1992: can we all just get along?

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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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Brene Brown: love weeps…

I love Brene Brown.

I mean, I’m not in love with her, but I love her reflections on life. Her raw honesty, especially about grief and shame, are so refreshing. Having experienced a fair amount of grief in the last few years, and learning to recover from shame, what Brene Brown says resonates so strongly with me. 

In this short interview montage, Brown talks about a number of things, but her take on why she says God is love and Jesus is the Son of God is disarming in its rawness and challenge to nice, middle-class faith. Check these words out on love:

“People would want love to be like unicorns and rainbows, and then you send Jesus in and people say, ‘Oh my God, love is hard, love is a sacrifice, love is eating with the sick…love is trouble, it’s rebellious.”

Then she quotes one of my favourite song lyrics, from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah: “Love is not a victory march; it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”

Brown goes on:

“Love is not easy; love is not like hearts and bows. Love is very controversial…Jesus wept – love weeps”.

When Brene Brown talks, I listen. This is someone who knows what coming through the other side of suffering is about.

“I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort’, but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.'” Good words from Brené Brown as we enter Holy Week.

Posted by The Work of the People on Saturday, 19 March 2016

Donald Trump as a reflection of an adolescent culture

Before people like me judge Donald Trump for his bombastic statements, let’s remember that he is a reflection of the adolescent culture we all live in.

Here is an article of mine on the Trump phenomenon, published here in Ethos…

Donald Trump as a reflection of an adolescent culture

Monday, 4 April 2016 | Nils von Kalm I find myself fascinated by the Donald Trump phenomenon. Why is it that a man who blatantly lies, advocates war crimes, promotes xenophobia and can’t decide whether or not to condemn the support of a KKK leader, is set to become the Republican nominee for the leadership of the most powerful nation in the world?

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.

 

When it hurts like hell

alone-62253_640“It’s not about what you’re doing but what God is doing in you” – Mark Sayers

Even when it hurts like hell.

Sometimes we go through things in life which are painful beyond anything we’ve ever had to go through before. And sometimes we feel like we’ve just had enough. Recently I posted a very good article about the fallacy of believing that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. A few more thoughts about this come to mind:

  • We sing a song at church sometimes which has the words of Romans 8:28 – all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. That might sound glib, mainly because this verse has been used out of context, and often in an incredibly insensitive way, but it’s a statement of hope. And hope is what we can’t live without.
  • From my devotional book this morning: Leave outcomes up to me. Follow me wherever I lead, without worrying about how it will all turn out.
  • “I know it aches, and your heart it breaks, and you can only take so much. Walk on.” – U2, Walk On
  • Suffer well. Depending on your suffering, the temptation to bitterness and self-pity is always there. You will no doubt feel these at times, and if you do, don’t beat yourself up. But don’t stay in those places. Ask God to teach you to surrender and trust. One day you will be able to use your experience for the good of others.
  • Surround yourself with friends. Reach out to them. It’s not selfish to say you’re struggling. If you’re anything like me, you will tend to feel weak and a burden on others. That is mainly about fear of their rejection. You may also be too proud to ask for help, believing you should be able to handle these things yourself. Don’t be fooled.
  • You will go through a rollercoaster of emotions and you won’t be yourself a lot of the time, possibly for months. Again, depending on the nature of your suffering, your confidence and self-esteem will likely take a battering. That’s ok. Don’t worry about what your friends might think if you’re a bit different around them. You’re still you and they will still love you.

People are there. Rely on them. God is there. Trust in God as much as you are able. Hope is real. Our present sufferings are temporary.

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