Resurrection not Reincarnation

I have recently returned from nearly two weeks in Nepal. It is a country in transition, moving from a monarchy to some type of parliamentary republic. Most of the royal family was assassinated in 2001 (thus effectively ending the kingdom phase) but the new constitution is still being negotiated (thus making the eventual shape of the parliament unsettled).

I think the country is in transition religiously, too. It currently has the largest percentage of Hindu adherents of any nation in the world (over 80%), but Christianity is strong and growing. As in Myanmar, the actual percentage of Christians is understated for political reasons, but may be approaching 5%.

Kumari Palace in Kathmand

Kumari Palace in Kathmandu

While we were there, we visited the historic district in Kathmandu that contains many Hindu temples and shrines. One of these was the palace where the Kumari lives, a young girl who is worshiped as a living goddess by the Hindus of Nepal. This girl was chosen from a group of candidates when she was age 4. She had to pass rigorous tests including spending a night in darkness in a room full of blood and sacrificed animals. If she cried or screamed, she was disqualified. She will remain the object of worship until she begins to menstruate, a time when it is believed the spirit of the goddess leaves the girl’s body.

All of this is based on the concept of reincarnation, the idea that divine or human spirits migrate to different bodies over the ages. This is the great hope of Hinduism, to be reincarnated at a higher level as a reward for a holy or virtuous life.

Christianity believes in resurrection, not reincarnation. Today, Easter Sunday, is the great celebration of the doctrine of resurrection, because it remembers Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead. Jesus was a man unjustly killed by the ancient Romans, his dead body laid in a tomb carved out of the limestone formations outside of Jerusalem. He was truly dead, stone cold dead and buried. But on the third day, Sunday morning, he came back from the dead. He appeared in his resurrection body. He was not reincarnated into a different body. It was the same one. He showed the scars of his crucifixion wounds as signs of identity to his incredulous disciples. He was risen from the dead.

The Hindus have no such hope. We also visited the crematorium area of Kathmandu, perhaps the most terrifyingly depressing place I have ever been in my life. Here the bodies of beloved dead are burned with great ceremony and pomp, and the ashes are spread on the waters of a river. The soul is released to begin its uncertain journey of reincarnation. There is the possibility that the future will not be better, but worse if the soul comes back in a lower caste. We witnessed an extremely low caste man who was tasked with trying to salvage scraps of usable wood for burning from the fires of cremation. Imagine the degradation here: heating a home with charred wood scraps that had been used to burn a human body.

Resurrection offers hope. This life is not the end, nor is it the greatest good. We have been given hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that transcends our current troubles and pains. We look forward to the time when we will join him in glory. This is more than speculation or legend. We have the confirmation of resurrection through the raising of Jesus from the dead. The son who was dead is now alive, and he lives forevermore!

He is Risen! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Christians in Nepal

baby elephant

baby elephant

Writing from Kathmandu after a week of ministry in Nepal. This is an amazing place. That there is a Christian witness here at all is a sign of God’s grace and power.

I remember the words of an old Larry Norman song that said:

There are Christians in Russia, they meet underground
In China they’re killed when they’re found.
And in Cuba the Christians live up in the hills
Because its not safe in the town.

This reflected the Cold War reality of anti-Christian Communist governments. There was a political agenda to eradicate any trace of the church, which was seen as a threat to the dream of establishing a classless society and a connection to decadent, fascist Western society and its values. At the core, one of the problems was the Christian teaching that each man or woman was a precious child of God and had inherent value. This is the basis of Western democratic ideals, the one person one vote system. In totalitarian Communism, no one person could be greater than the state and the inevitable progress to a classless society.

Nepal lived through several versions of this, often seen as a piece on the global chessboard by the great nations. The strong Maoist (Communist) party and the ancient Hindu culture leave little room for Christianity and its message of hope and love.

Yesterday we attended a large Nepali church and were blessed that it had in-ear translation devices available so we could understand what was being said. Before the sermon, the platform person asked all who “did not know Jesus” to exit, and, if they chose, to speak with persons outside who would tell them about Jesus. I thought it was a curious move. Maybe twenty people out of the 600 there left. Why did they do this. It is a little unclear, but it had something to do with Nepali laws against proselytizing. You cannot do active evangelism here, only passive. You must create situations where others want to come and talk to you about your Christian faith. We, as foreigners, certainly could not do street evangelism or conduct a Billy Graham style crusade. We would either be arrested or asked to leave the country immediately.

Yet the church survives, even thrives in this hostile situation. The church has never required a benevolent monarchy or the open society of a democracy to flourish. Governments come and go, the church marches on. Christ will be victorious, utterly victorious in the end, and all opposition to him will prove to be futile.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Ministry Personality Types: the Extroptomist Index

What sort of person is most suitable, most stable,  and most successful for ministry leadership? I spoke not long ago with the CEO of a large and successful church planting organization who answered this with one word: pragmatist. He was speaking of the type of person his organization was looking for to plant and lead successful churches. They were not necessarily looking for people with correct theology or even good people skills, but leaders who would follow the path that leads to proven success.

I know it is not this simple (and wasn’t for him either). Brutal pragmatism may have its place in church leadership, but if it is the only criterion, it tends to leave piles of damaged persons in its wake. Yet church leadership does need to be smart enough to quit doing things that are not working, especially if they are consuming enormous amounts of energy and resources. Church leaders need to be willing to plow new ground and claim new territory, and this means doing new things.

I want to suggest another evaluation. My colleagues and I have been joking around recently concerning which among us is an extrovert and which is an introvert. Colleges tend to collect a lot of introverts as teachers, and this is not bad, but a mix of the two types is more healthy. I think our faculty at Nebraska Christian College does have a mix, and I intend to continue this balance in the future

But there is another factor I have toyed with for a long time: the optimist/pessimist scale. We might connect introversion with pessimism, but that has not always been my experience. I have known both optimistic introverts and pessimistic extroverts.

I would like to suggest that there are limits, though, to define a healthy church leader. Too optimistic and plans will never be realistic or successful. Too pessimistic, and no risks will ever be taken. Too introverted and effective leadership will be difficult. Too extroverted and the danger of coasting on personality rather than hard work will always be a temptation.

Bear with me. I’m suggesting a combination of the two that I call the Extroptimst Index. Don’t laugh yet. Hey, people have written best-selling leadership books with less substance than this!

There are many online tests that will give results for Introversion/Extroversion on a 100 point scale. That is also true for Optimism/Pessimism. If we combine them, it might look like this:

 

Scale

If we define a sweet spot within this continuum, excluding the 20% extremes, it would look like this:

Inner

Where would you fit on this grid? Where do you think the pastor of your church would be? Where do you wish your pastor was? I will admit that I score high on both extroversion (75) and optimism (72). My place on the grade would look like this:

MK point

Fortunately, I am within the recommended inner grid. This is especially good since I am the one who cooked this whole thing up! But I do think this index shows a certain leadership type, perhaps one that is not really measured in other indices.

It might be fun to think of where biblical persons would be on this scale. I would think that David would be high on both extroversion and optimism. Jeremiah would have been high on introversion and pessimism. I tend to think that Paul was something of an introvert, but very much an optimist. Solomon seems to have had extrovert qualities, but a strong pessimist streak (if Ecclesiastes is any indication). God used all of these persons, but in different ways. Where are you on the Extroptimist Scale?

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Fred Phelps, R.I.P. Mr. Westboro Baptist Church

Pastor Fred Phelps pictured in 1998I often pose a question to my classes based on the old James Kennedy book, Evangelism Explosion, “If you were to die tonight and stand before a holy God, what would you say?” (I know this isn’t exactly the question Kennedy used, just my version.) I don’t think it will work this way, but it is a clarifying question, and can bring focus to several things. I causes us to evaluate our relationship with God. If we were to stand under judgment before God tonight, would we be terrified or assured? Would we have a lot to say, or would our mouths be stopped?

I can’t help but think about this today after learning of the death of “Pastor” Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church yesterday at age 84 in Topeka KS, about 200 miles from where I sit. Phelps brought international notoriety to his tiny congregation. It was not because of its phenomenal growth. It was not because of its reputation for good deeds in the community. It was not because it was a beacon of hope in a dreary and weary world. It was for one thing: the congregation’s protests at various events in a brazenly hateful manner. This can be seen in the name of the group’s web site, godhatesfags.com. Phelps was so disgusted and repulsed by homosexuals that he believed all of the bad things happening to America were a result of God’s judgment against our country due to toleration of anything gay.

This led Phelps and his followers to stage protests at military funerals, claiming that the death of American soldiers was a result of God’s judicial wrath against the USA. I encountered such a protest myself at the North American Christian Convention a few years ago in Cincinnati. When exiting my hotel to go to the convention center across the street, I found it necessary to walk through a Westboro protest line. I asked one of the young women carrying a “God Hates Fags” sign (or something similar) why they were there, and received no answer. I cannot tell you why the NACC was targeted. I never learned why.

So if Fred Phelps is standing before a holy God right about now, what would he say? Will he claim to have been God’s most faithful servant, willing to endure the world’s scorn for the sake of biblical truth? I certainly don’t know what he would say.

Why is it that our zeal for truth is sometimes tipped to become intolerance? Is it possible to love truth and hate others? I think these are tough questions worth asking.

Do I approve of homosexual behavior? No. Do I hate homosexuals? No. Do I love truth? Yes, Was I embarrassed and disappointed by the activities of the Westboro Church? Yes. I regret them using the label “Christian.” I even regret them using the label “Baptist,” and I am not even a Baptist, but have many brothers and sisters who are.

So Rest In Peace, Fred Phelps. It is not any sort of game for you any more. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.

Mark Krause
Nebreaska

Two Great Questions of Life

Two QuestionsOne of my most influential teachers used to say there were two great questions in life that need answers. These were theological questions, but (in his opinion) covered all the necessary territory of life. The questions were:

  1. Is there a God?
  2. If so, what kind of God is he?

Of course, the second question assumes that the answer to the first is “Yes.” The central pursuit of theology, then, is determining the nature of God and, after that, understanding how we fit in to the picture. For Evangelicals, this means diligent study of Scripture as well as the practice of prayer and ministry.

I recently read a blog that took a similar approach to my old teacher, posing the two most important questions of life, but ended up with two different ones:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who am I?

This combines my teacher’s questions into one, then turns attention inward to self.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I don’t want to dismiss this as simply symptomatic of the narcissism that is pervasive in our culture just now. “Who am I?” is a perplexing and vital question that haunts many millennials today. This is serious business, because unsatisfactory and inadequate answers seem to result in self-destructive behavior and a despair that leads to depression and even suicide.

I believe, however, that the only reliable and final answer to question 2 comes from answers to question 1.

Who am I?

I am created by God as a physical and spiritual being. I reflect the image of God and therefore I am capable of a relationship with my Creator. I have damaged this relationship because of rebellion, but God allows for a way of reconciliation and restoration. My identity is not found in my self, but in God and my relationship to him.

If I am created in the image of God, I will learn more about my true nature as I learn more about God. I will learn what God intended me to be and to become.

Just some thoughts.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Garage Production Church for Millennials

hyperlinked lifeI haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. Sorry. No excuses. You get out of the habit quickly.

I am in Florida at the ABHE meeting, and the plenary speaker this afternoon was David Kinnaman, the new president of the Barna Group, a Christian research organization. He spoke about the challenge of biblical higher education to engage the millennial generation, but for ministry training and church in general.

David told a particularly applicable story. He was watching a classic Star Trek episode with his 14-year old daughter. Spock, Kirk, Scotty, etc. His daughter made it about half way through and said, “Dad, can I just go to bed?” “What’s wrong, honey?” “Was this made in someone’s garage? The makeup is horrible, the sets are lame, the dialog is bad. My little sister and I could do something better than this with iMovie.”

Kinnaman’s observation: she was right. Yet that is what we do with church a lot. We are still producing church the way it was done in the late 1960s, and don’t understand why millennials don’t appreciate it.

Why is this? My answers are a little different than his. I have been in about 20 different churches in the last year. Here are some of my observations, and they may seem harsh:

1. We often assume everyone shares knowledge of the Bible that is simply not true. This shows when a preacher tries to catch his listeners up on the necessary details of a Bible story he wants to tell. This is usually done in a minute or two, and frankly this doesn’t make much sense to those who really need it. We need to assume very little Bible knowledge in our preaching, and offer it in small bites. By this, I don’t mean we dumb it down. In some ways we should ramp it up. We don’t need to treat the Bible like children’s Sunday School stories alone.

2. We also assume that our audience assumes a “biblical worldview.” This most often shows up when a preacher is talking about what goes for a creationist worldview. For example, most preachers would think that their listeners were rooting for Ken Ham rather than Bill Nye in the recent debate, but I can assure you that was not the case among millennials.

3. We belittle or dismiss aspects of technology that are a normal part of life for millennials. We make fun of them being hooked to their phones, but that is who they are. Can’t we accept them for who they are, even if we don’t understand it completely?

4. We are still using the proof-texting method of preaching, assuming that the more Scriptures we can find to support our point, the more right we will appear to be. Let’s just stop doing this. Get a good text, find a solid biblical lesson in it, and preach it. Millennials are not impressed by a mountain of texts that say the same thing. They want to see how a text has purpose and value for their lives.

I could list a few more, but I’ll stop now. BTW, they gave us a copy of Kinnaman’s new book, The Hyperlinked Life. I have not read it yet, but will probably blog when I do. It is very short. Here is a link.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

 

Found-Lacking Faith

hundredfoldI taught today on the Parable of the Sower, and the minister of Journey Christian Church where I was at, Troy Reynolds, also preached on this parable. Although neither one of us addressed this aspect of the parable, I was reminded that the parable has been used by the prosperity gospel preachers as one of the central Scriptures to justify their teaching. I’m sure there are many variations on this (and I will probably hear from some of you who think I am misrepresenting), but the idea is that if we “sow” correctly, we will receive a “hundred-fold blessing.” At its crassest, this is used to say that if a person sends an offering to the ministry of such preachers, he or she will receive back 100x what is given. If I send an offering of $50, I will receive back $5,000. This is accompanied by the seemingly biblical assurance that “God wants to bless you,” and what better way to bless than money?

As I have encountered this teaching over the years, there is always a caveat. These offerings must be given in faith to receive the hundred-fold blessing. This creates a foolproof scenario for those who promote the teaching. If the giver does indeed receive an unexpected windfall of money, the teaching is validated. If not, the fault lies not with the teaching, but with the lack of faith in the giver.

This encourages a rather strange view of faith (in my opinion). Faith is not so much an unconditional trust in God, but a way to please God and thereby be rewarded. This view of faith can be extended to many aspects of life including health situations, relationships, employment, house purchases, etc. When we fail to realize our hopes, it is not because they are unrealistic or ill-conceived. It is because we lack faith.

To be sure, those who want to show this view is Scriptural can proof-text endlessly, piling up verses to make their case. I am not interested in refuting these texts individually, but I want to call into question the nature of faith they seek to portray.

Our faith may be tested, but I don’t think faith is a test that we must pass. It is especially not a test that we personally engineer. Faith, at its core, is a relationship of trust. We either trust God for everything or we don’t. If we trust him, we obey him. This is why we would give to a worthy cause or to our church. It is not because we are seeking to pass a test and win a prize. And it is not because we think it proper to put ourselves in the position of testing the faithfulness of God. Who are we to put God to the test?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his time of greatest distress, finally understood this. He wrote, “wirft man sich Gott ganz in die Arme” [one must cast oneself totally in the arms of God]. That is faith. It is trusting God no matter what. It is like the wedding vow, “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.” That is the faith I seek, that I desire.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College