Islam and Peace

eiffel tower peace symbolThe recent murderous attacks in Paris have again shocked the world by their barbarity. The supposed line between combatants and civilians is crossed again. Innocents were killed or maimed in a stadium, a theater, and on the streets of Paris.

To label this as “senseless” (as some have done) is not helpful. These murders made perfect sense to those who committed them, including some who gave their lives as suicide killers. Appalling, yes. Revolting, yes. Disgusting, yes. Senseless, no.

Some years ago in Los Angeles I baptized a young Iranian Muslim into Christ. He had rejected Islam and turned to Christianity. His reasons were complex, but a primary one was his observation that all the terrorist activity in the world was done by Muslims. He rejected any notion that Islam was a religion of peace and turned to what he saw as the best alternative, Christianity.

"Double Centenionalis Magnentius-XR-s4017" by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

“Double Centenionalis Magnentius-XR-s4017” by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Yet Christianity has a long history of war and barbarity. When Constantine claimed to be Christian and elevated the church to the state religion of the Eastern Roman Empire, a line was crossed. Constantine, the great warrior, did not lay down his sword and shield by a riverside. Instead, as church historians have long noted, he made it justifiable for Christians to engage in war, even against other Christians. The idea of a Christian army fighting another Christian army was no longer incredible. It happened. Soon after Constantine, the usurper Magnentius raised an army and revolted against Emperor Constans, the son of Constantine. Magnentius issued coins with the great Christian symbol of the chi-rho on the reverse, the recognized sign of Christ. Baptized Christians were fighting baptized Christians in no-holds-barred warfare.

It has taken many centuries of war and many millions of casualties for a consensus to emerge that Christianity, at its core, is a religion of peace. War, while sometimes necessary, is always a tragedy. Lives are of value, every one of them. Still, we currently see signs in Putin’s Russian of a politically ambitious and ruthless leader who is apparently flaming nationalism among his people with the flavor of Christianity and leading them in wars of aggression. So maybe we haven’t learned the lesson yet, either.

I am no expert on Islam, although I have studied it quite a bit. As with Christianity, it is mistaken to try and judge Islam on the basis of its Scriptures. Outsiders cannot reconstruct Christian history or fully understand the church by reading the Bible. They must understand how influential leaders in the church have used the Bible and their own ideas to achieve their goals. This sometimes involved going to war, even wars of aggression. Peace does not trump everything in the Christian world. It never has and never will until the Prince of Peace comes again.

So, too, we cannot judge Islam by a supposedly objective reading of the Koran. We must judge it by the actions of Muslims in power and realize that not all Muslims think alike. So, we can hear Muslim voices of peace (e.g., Fareed Zakaria) and commend them without assuming Islam is a religion of peace.

I think there is a primary difference, however, between Christianity and Islam when it comes to war. The founder of Islam, Muhammad, was eventually a military leader, leading his army to conquer Mecca in AD 630. (For that matter, many of the great heroes of Jewish history were military leaders: Moses, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus.) Jesus, however, rejected the attempts of the people to make him a king (John 6:15) because he knew this was a move of revolt against the Romans. Jesus was not a military leader. He did not lead his followers to war. The church was not founded by killing others. May we never think that murder is OK.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Hug Your Mother While You Can

Death 2Yesterday was a tough day for me. November 3 always is. This was the 27th Anniversary of the death of my beloved mother, Marjorie Vivien Krause. I was 33 years old. Yesterday, I was talking with a friend about this, and she said, “I just turned 33!” Yes, and go hug your mother while you can.

I want to say that was the most horrible day of my life, but it didn’t get any better the next day. Many well-meaning friends gave me advice that stuck with me. One said, “What are painful moments now will turn into loving memories later.” Well, I appreciate that, but it’s still pretty painful.

Another friend said, “You don’t get over this, you just learn how to live with it.” That is closer to what I experienced, and I have used that line many times as a pastor. I don’t know that this emotional wound ever heals. It scabs over and you learn how to cope. But I have never “gotten over” my mother’s sudden death. I’m not sure I want to.

Ironically, yesterday I was writing a lesson on a story from Acts 9 about the death of a woman named Tabitha. Her Greek name was Dorcas, and both names are the same as our English word “gazelle,” the tiny, graceful antelope that was native to Palestine at that time. Dorcas’s death seems very sudden in the story. In one of the most poignant scenes in all the Bible, the poor widows of her church gather around her dead body wearing the clothes Dorcas had made and given to them. Their weeping is uncontrolled, I imagine. She wasn’t just their charitable clothes supplier. She was their dear friend. She was their leader. She was their hero.

The story in Acts has a happy ending, for Peter is summoned and a with marvelous display of God’s power, he raises Dorcas from death. But we know in our hearts she died again later. Maybe they were more ready for it the second time.

My mother at one time wanted to be a fashion designer. I have a framed picture in my house of a design she did as a final project in college. It is of a fashionable woman from the 1940s wearing a simple but blousey dress. Whenever I look at that picture, I think of her. Simple but stylish. Bold but subdued. Smart but humble.

John Donne, the great poet-preacher of Elizabethan England, vented against death by charging, “Death, be not proud!” He ends he sonnet with these lines:

One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more;
Death, thou shalt die.

Donne draws on the promise found in Revelation 20:14:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

This is what I hold on to on my November 3rds. Death does not destroy eternity. Death and its pain will be ended some day. There will be no more need for Hades, the realm of the dead. We will live again. I will live again. My mother lives again. And some day, I will be able to see her again. I do not know how non-believers cope with death without this hope. I’m glad I don’t have to.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Leadership Lessons from Drivers

red light runnerNebraska is the 7th state from which I have had a driver’s license. Each place has had different driving styles: Seattle (highly caffeinated), Tennessee (rural), Los Angeles (aggressive), Chicago (competitive).

It took some time for me to acclimate to the Omaha driving habits. Many times my wife would remark on some driving maneuver by saying, “Mark, you are not in California any more. You don’t need to drive like that.” I like to think of myself now as a thoroughly seasoned Nebraska driver, but there are still several things about Omaha driving styles that irritate me. I would like to offer three of these that I think could give us lessons for leadership. What can we learn about church leadership from analyzing poor driving practices?

First, you don’t need to slow to a near stop to make a turn. Many times I have been in a lane that inexplicably slowed to 5 mph. Why? Often this is explained by a person who apparently believes his or her car cannot execute a right hand turn into a parking lot or side street without nearly stopping. Maybe they have a full coffee mug on the dashboard?

Leadership is never a straight road into infinity. It requires course corrections, turns. But organizations are like living organisms. They cannot stop, paralyzed, while leaders figure out new strategies. Momentum lost is difficult to regain, so it is better to slow a little, execute the turn, then step on the gas. Don’t be oblivious to a whole lane full of cars/followers behind you who are bewildered by your inaction.

Second, if someone wants into your lane, let them in. The biggest single difference between Omaha and Los Angeles drivers is the difficulty of changing lanes on a crowed freeway. In LA, even under very crowded situations, if you signal, other drivers make space for you to join their lane. In Omaha, more often than not, a signal causes a car in the other lane to speed up and block you for some reason I do not understand.

As leaders, we often block others who want to come into our lane, especially if they want to be in front of us. Why? Shouldn’t we want them to join us? Are we threatened by other leaders on our turf? Church leaders, when others want to join you, let then in!

Third, running red lights causes accidents. There is an intersection about 2 miles from my house that is one of the busiest in the Omaha metro. About once a month there is an accident there caused by someone speeding up to get through a light that has already turned red. Some of these accidents have caused fatalities. I know I have gone through yellow lights (maybe even orange) and observed one, two, even three cars follow me on what is obviously a red for them. Many times I have stopped for a yellow light and been honked at by the car behind me. I have seen several letters to the editor of the Omaha newspaper commenting on the seriousness of this common but dangerous practice, but there seems to be no effort to enforce the law in this area.

Leaders, sometimes we need to stop for red lights. We need to recognize when our chosen course is ineffective or putting our church in peril. I know this seems to go against my first point, but this is not just a course correction. Sometimes leaders need to leave a toxic situation. Sometimes staff members need to be fired. Sometimes programs need to be discontinued. And in most of these case, the red light is pretty obvious.

You learn a lot about people by observing how they drive. Let’s be excellent drivers and excellent leaders!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Yogi Berra R.I.P.

Yogi and Jackie

Yogi attempting to tag Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series, one of the most famous plays in baseball history.

A great cultural icon, Lawrence Peter Berra, passed away on Tuesday, Sept. 22. He was better known as “Yogi,” a nickname attached to him for the crossed arms and legs posture posture he often assumed, giving some the impression of a Hindu holy man.

Yogi Berra was a fascinating person to me growing up, partly because he was so famous that one of my favorite cartoon shows was a derivative of his name. But Mr. Berra was nothing like the sneaky bear of Jellystone Park, always scheming to steal a pic-a-nic basket despite the watchful Ranger Smith. Yogi Berra was strong, honest, courageous, and faithful. He was one of the greatest major league baseball players of all time and endured in the public eye as a celebrity because of his lovable personality and quotable malapropisms long after his playing days were over. He attended school only through the 8th grade, but his name was known by virtually everyone in America in his heyday.

Yogi was the son of an Italian immigrant, born in the great city of St. Louis, a second generation American. He attended Catholic schools and was a devoted Roman Catholic until the day he died. I heard the story of Yogi and his wife traveling to Rome and being given a private audience with Pope John XXIII. Walking in and apparently not having been briefed on protocol, Mr. Berra began the meeting by saying, “Hi, Pope!”

But he was also very brave. He never bragged about his military service, but he was there on D-Day, June 6, 1944, seeing action on both Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. He was there for one of the most horrific days in the history of the world. Nineteen years old. We owe him.

Many baseball teams do not expect much offense from their catchers, seeing them as primarily defensive players (Jesus Sucre, the current catcher for the Seattle Mariners has a batting average of .132 right now). Yogi Berra was a key hitter for the great Yankees teams of the 1950s. When playing in the minor leagues, he once batted in 23 runs in a double header. The man could hit. One the defensive side, his career percentage for throwing out players trying to steal second base was 49%, one of the highest of all time.

Yogi was a family man. His beloved wife, Carmen, died last year shortly after they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. They had three sons, one who played Major League baseball (Dale) and another who played in the NFL (Tim).

Yogi is most known now for his ironic and oxymoronic quips. Some have become standard in Americana: “It’s deja vu all over again,” “When you come to fork in the road, take it,” “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

Here are some others I like:

  • Even Napoleon had his Watergate
  • He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.
  • You can observe a lot just by watching.
  • It ain’t the heat. It’s the humility.

And maybe that last one sums up Mr. Berra. Humility. He seemed so genuine, even puzzled by his celebrity. He did not try to be anyone but himself. Yogi Berra, Rest in Peace.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Walking among the Dead

I’m in Idaho for the 20th Anniversary of Eagle Christian Church in the Boise area. My wife and I slipped over to my hometown yesterday to visit the graves of my parents. I had not been there for over twelve years.

The cemetery is beautiful, overlooking the Boise River valley, and peaceful, away from the noise of streets and businesses. The cemetery has expanded since I was last there, so we had a little trouble finding the gravestone. In so doing, we walked through this newer section, and I was amazed to see many stones with names of people I had grown up with. Many classmates from high school are in the ground. Parents of friends. Church members from my home church. One Sunday School teacher. Two teachers from public school who had taught me. Memories well up as I remember the dead.

The author of Ecclesiastes writes these sobering words:

9:5 The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun.

He is not trying to be cruel or disrespectful to the dead. He is commenting on human life in his blunt, sometimes clumsy manner. We have often taken the phrases of these verses out of context, especially, “the dead know nothing.” In context, he is talking about us the living, not revealing something about existence after death. The living know that death is coming. Those who have died know nothing of eventual death in this sense, for they have already experienced it. No one escapes. Not everyone’s body will end up in a peaceful graveyard, but everyone will die. We all know this. Walking among the dead is a stark reminder to me. I, too, will die.

A great fear of death that Ecclesiastes addresses is that we will be forgotten. This is why we dedicate land for burial and put up memorial stones. Each stone indicates the story of a life, some well lived and some wasted, most somewhere in between. We do not want to be forgotten.

Jesus spoke of existence after death as being in the “bosom of Abraham.” Not forgotten but embraced. Not rejected but cherished. God will not abandon us at death, but embrace us and cherish us.

I really don’t know what life after death will be like, but I am not afraid. Maybe a little. But walking among the dead helps. They are not forgotten.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

A Plea for Theological Preaching

Bible and PulpitWhat sort of preaching does the American church need?

Despite predictions of the end of preaching, evangelical churches still feature weekend worship gatherings in which the most prominent component is a address by a speaker. And this is still called the “sermon,” but it has morphed into something quite different than an exposition of the Bible that was the standard even twenty years ago.

Instead of exploration and exposition of the Bible, many sermons today go a different direction. Frequently found is the topical approach in which the preacher comes up with outline based on related points of Christian advice and  then strings reliable proof texts together to give the impression of biblical support. Also popular are messages that promote a supposedly Christian position on political issues (e.g., support of Israel) and are tinged with patriotism and affirmation of American exceptionalism. A newer trend is what one of my friends called “preaching the announcements,” in which the 30 minutes of face time with the congregation are used to promote the programs of the church, especially things that would contribute to church growth.

Why is this significant or important? It seems to me that there has been an almost systematic destruction of any form of biblical teaching in our churches in the last three decades. Few churches have any vibrant adult education programs and the idea of “Sunday School” for all ages seems quaint and unnecessary. This has made the sermon the primary and solitary opportunity for church members to have direct and skilled teaching of the Bible. Therefore we now have “teaching pastors” and the sermon has been replaced by the “morning lesson” in some churches.

Even this seems to be slipping away. The sermon is less filled with theological truth derived from God’s word and more full of preacherly wisdom derived from other sources.

But why should we preach the Bible anyway? What’s the big deal?

Let me offer one compelling reason.

A central task and responsibility of the church is to disciple its people. The word “disciple” is better translated “student,” so the process of disciple-making has teaching at its core. It would seem to me that an essential part of making non-Christians into disciples of Christ would be to help them become more godly in their lifestyle, attitudes, and priorities. How do we do this? I think we begin the process of teaching people to be godlike by showing them what God is like. This must come from Scripture. Remember that theology is simply the attempt to understand what God is like, and the finest resource is his Word. Theological Preaching = teaching people what God is like.

Unfortunately, the understanding of God held by any church member is derived from many sources other than the Bible. Chief among these are snippets about God from popular culture such as movies (Morgan Freeman for God anybody?), hip-hop music (Jesus Muzik), and social media (let’s do a quick poll on what we think God should be like, OK?). We are likely to have a view of God that makes him supremely non-judgmental while being too remote and busy with other stuff to care about us personally.

So preachers, let’s do the hard work of developing interesting biblical sermons. This cannot be done in 60 minutes a week. It also cannot be done on the fly while you are up front. It takes diligence, concentration, and a deep love for God’s Word. And it means you will need to find another venue for your announcements than the weekly sermon.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College