The Church in Africa

I had the privilege of teaching a class on the book of James for LivingStone International University today. African VillageI was reminded that some of the neglected books of our New Testament are much used and beloved by African Christians. Philip Jenkins notes that James is valuable because of its emphasis upon the transient nature of human existence and the need for practical living, Hebrews because of its tying of the sacrificial system to Christian theology (something the Africans appreciate), Jude because of its call for generational faithfulness, and Revelation because of its picture of faithful survival under hostile political situations.

I also had the privilege of preaching for the LIU chapel, and I used an illustration that hit me this week, a sermon illustration that I have used many times in the past. Earlier this week as we toured the grounds of Uganda Christian University, I noticed the name of one of the buildings, “Bishop Festo Kivengere Hall. Festo Kivengere, an Anglican Bishop in Uganda, was a witness to and in many ways a victim of the barbaric rule of Idi Amin, the horrible Muslim dictator of Uganda in the 1970s. While in exile, Kivengere was asked, “If you were sitting in Idi Amin’s office with a gun in your hand, what would you do?” He responded, “I would give the gun to Amin, saying, ‘This is your weapon; my weapon is love.”

Many things to learn here. By some estimates Africa will be the most Christian continent by 2050, both in percentage and sheer numbers. The possibility of an African pope by then is strong. Christianity has a vitality here that we do not always find in America. I have been greatly blessed by my African brothers and sisters.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Uganda Thoughts

I have been with a group from Nebraska Christian College doing a quick trip to Uganda. We have four days left, and it has been great. village church uganda

When we first got here, we visited an African village church for their Sunday service (although it was Monday, they made a gracious accommodation for us). This was a great experience and I learned a lot. One thing I learned is that the church is the church wherever you go. There are loving Christian folks, happy children, praise and worship, and learning from God’s word.

I also made some observations about the structure and government of a local church. The preacher, John, had the leaders of the church stand and introduce themselves. There were two men who identified themselves as “elders.” There was a woman who identified herself as a “mother of the church.” There was another woman who said she was a “sister elder of the church.” What does this mean? I think it means that church government naturally reflects certain elements of the local society where it lives. These were titles at home in the African village, and made sense in this local congregation. Did they have women elders? Not exactly, but it would be wrong to say they didn’t have anything like that.

A third little thing I noticed is that I guy was texting on his phone during the service. He was a visiting pastor from another church. I guess the ubiquitous cell phone is also present in the remote villages of Uganda! Fascinating!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Boston: the Aftermath

wheat fieldWe are still reeling from the tragedy of the bombing at the Boston Marathon last Monday. By the time you read this, new details may have emerged, but here are some thoughts I have on this:

1. First, the closeness of potential acts of terror in our world today. My daughter lives in the Boston area, so my immediate thoughts were of safety for her and her fiancee (and they are fine). Mike Cahill, my colleague, told me of his own feelings here. Mike has run the Boston Marathon before, and seriously thought about doing it this year. He had a good friend who was there, perhaps seconds removed from the first blast. This is our world today.

2. Second, the incredibly stupid reactions I have heard on the radio and the TV. I tuned into one of the radio news stations in Omaha to get updates, and instead of a news feed, they had their usual talk show host. The first thing I heard him say was, “My initial reaction was to think ‘What freedoms will the government try to take away from me as a result of this?'” He then went on to disrespect the President for delaying his press conference a few minutes. “Can’t this President ever be on time? Can’t he do anything right?” What a pathetic response! Selfishness and political partisanship in a time of national tragedy and potential emergency.

3. Third, the depths of human evil that never cease to amaze me. There was an eight-year old boy who lost his life in this. What type of person would think that is justified for any reason?

A troubling parable of Jesus is the story of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-29). In this illustrative story, a farmer is bedeviled with a field where he has planted wheat seed and an enemy has planted weed seed. The weeds are of a type that look like the wheat during the first half of the growth season, so they cannot be pulled until near harvest. To do so then would damage the soil around the wheat stalks and cause them to fail. This wise farmer advises his workers:

30 “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Evil men and women live among us. Seriously evil men and women. And they look like us. We can’t always tell the good guys from the bad guys. We must trust that God knows their hearts, and that his justice will prevail. Evil will not triumph, for God is the Great King Forever.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Theological Mistakes: the Hard Heart

heart of stoneThe Bible in both Old and New Testaments frequently uses the image of the “hard heart.” The most famous example is that of the Pharaoh who was Moses’ opponent in his mission to free the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage. In Exodus we are told the (1) Pharaoh hardened his heart, (2) the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and (3) Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. All of these are basically the same idea for Exodus. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh in Romans 9 to illustrate God’s justice and mercy, with the overriding truth that God’s will is always more powerful than human will. Paul concludes his section about Pharaoh with this astounding pronouncement:

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy,
and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
Romans 9:18

This imagery is very difficult for us to understand. The biblical hard heart is not an ossified organ, the ultimate hardened artery. In fact, the New Testament never uses the term “heart” to refer to the blood-pumper in our chests, it is always used metaphorically. But for what? For us, the heart is the seat of our emotions. A cold heart is one that is emotionally frozen, turned away from tender love and mercy. But this is not the way the biblical authors understood the heart. The center of emotions for them was the gut, the stomach, the bowels. This is where they felt emotional pain and affection. This can be seen in the updated translation of Song of Songs 5:4:

My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him. (KJV)
My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. (NIV2011)

The “heart” in biblical thought it more likely to be the center of understanding and volition, the place where our “will” originates. Stephen’s charge against the people of Jerusalem illustrates this:

Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised.
You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

Notice three things here:

  1. They are “uncircumcised” in hearts and ears. This does not mean they have a flap of skin on their hearts or ears. It means they are “heathen,” unconverted. They are like the great uncircumcised nemesis of the Old Testament, the Philistines.
  2. They are “stiff-necked.” This is not a reference to Ed Sullivan. It refers to an animal that would pull a cart (like an ox). To be “stiff-necked” means the animal would not respond to the tug on the reins to the right or left, directing it to turn. The stiff-necked beast of burden resisted direction from its owner, and kept plodding in its own direction.
  3. They are resisting the Holy Spirit. God’s spiritual direction attempts are spurned. In the case of Stephen, this is the willful decision of these folks to reject Jesus as Messiah, so much so that they had him crucified. This willful stubbornness continued as they killed Stephen himself a few minutes later.

So when the biblical authors exhort us to give up the hard heart, they are not asking for us to be more emotional and have tender feelings. They are asking us to yield our wills to God, to allow him to be in control, not us. Joel admonished his people:

2:12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.

While there may be emotions involved in yielding the heart to the Lord, this is not simply asking for tears. Ripping or rending the heart is not to produce an explosion of emotional blood, it is to negate willful disobedience, to trust and obey, willingly to follow the Lord where he leads no matter what our selfish souls desire to the contrary.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Victorious: the Book of Revelation

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This summer my wife and I will be attending the North American Christian Convention in beautiful Louisville, KY. The Theme for the convention this year is “Victorious,” with messages to be based on the book of Revelation. I always enjoy the NACC as a place and time to see old friends, make new friends, be inspired by outstanding speakers, and visit the displays of innovative vendors and service providers. This year’s speaker lineup includes Joni Earekson Tada, Amani Mustafa, Kyle Idleman, and Wayne Cordeiro, among many others. Matt Proctor, an outstanding speaker in his own right, is this year’s NACC President, and I look forward to his keynote address.

Many of your know that I love the book of Revelation, and I am currently beginning a project for a Bible commentary series where I will serve as the New Testament editor and write the commentary on the book of Revelation. The theme of the NACC captures the message of Revelation well: Victorious.

One small comment here, though. I have often heard it said that the theme of Revelation is “We win in the end.” I guess that is sort of true, but the real message is “God wins in the end, and we are on the winning side.” I guess we can be like the Louisville fans who said “We won!” after the Cardinals slugged out the NCAA Final Four triumph, but like them, we are going to be more spectators in the final battle than angelic warriors. Still, I take great comfort from this timeless prophetic message. As the NACC banner says,

When life seems hopeless, read the end of the story.

There are days when this world seems to be on a hopeless trajectory. Insane people with nuclear weapons. Insane people shooting up elementary schools. Selfishness and self-centeredness touted as virtues. Immorality paraded and celebrated. But it will not be like this forever. God’s promises and judgments are true and sure. Victorious indeed!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Teaching vs. Learning

wrigley building chicagoI am attending the meetings of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in Chicago. This is the regional accrediting body for Nebraska, so getting up to speed on their processes. I attended a very engaging session about teaching to the NeXt Generation of students. The presenter was provocative and insightful, although somewhat out-of-date (NeXt Generation?), but he had many things to say about new trends in teaching that match the challenges of colleges seeking to educate the Millennial Generation. At Nebraska Christian College, we are focusing on the Millennial Generation, and seeking ways to prepare them to be church leaders, so this was of interest and value to me. Here are a couple of insights:

1. Many of the students coming to college out of high school now are “pampered, protected, and privileged.” The presenter noted that the phenomenon of the “helicopter parent” has become the “bulldozer” or “snowplow parent.” In other words, the parents don’t let go when their sons and daughters go to college. They are still fighting their fights and making their decisions.

2. Students in high school are studying less and less. (I know you can think of exceptions to this.) National statistics show that high school students up until the early 1990s studied 6+ hours a week outside of class. That number today is almost zero. The point is that colleges are now intaking students who were academically successful in high school, but have never studied  outside the classroom.

3. The shift must come from what this presenter called “teaching” to “learning.” We must have strategies that push the students to be responsible for their own learning and allow them to do this. This is the strategy in the “flipped classroom” where the content is taken in by the student before class, and the classroom engages the student to apply and use that content. This is far from the lecture method, which is still the predominate method on college campus, despite having its death announced a quarter of a century ago.

Food for thought as we continue to improve the effectiveness of our educational models.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Our Passover Lamb

Passover Lamb in JerusalemIn 2007 there was an attempt by a group of rabbis in Israel to bring a lamb to the temple mount in Jerusalem and sacrifice it for Passover. (Link) This was an effort to revive the ancient practice of sacrificing the lambs for Passover in the temple precincts, something that was going on at the time of Jesus in Herod’s temple. Josephus estimates that one Passover in this era 100,000 lambs were sacrificed, both big business and a blood disposal problem.

The Gospel of John portrays Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” There is some debate among scholars as to how this should be understood, but it seems clear to me that this is the Passover Lamb. There is irony in this view. The Passover Lamb was originally slaughtered in order to protect the first born son of a household from the last plague, the death of all first-borns. Jesus was the First Born Son of God. His blood was shed for us. So God did not spare or protect His first Born Son but spared us by having Jesus be the pure sacrificial Lamb and our Passover Lamb.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World!

John was a witness to the death of the Lamb of God, Jesus, on the cross. About sixty years later, John was on an Island called Patmos. He was all by himself one Sunday morning, praying and singing, and Jesus came and visited him. John received a vision that helped him understand completely what had happened in Jerusalem that afternoon when Jesus died. Jesus had died on Friday, but he had risen from the dead on Sunday morning.

That morning on Patmos, the Risen Lord visited John in all his glory. He spoke to John in a voice like a trumpet blast, and he said,

Do not be afraid;
I am the first and the last, and the living one.
I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever;
and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.
Revelation 1:17-18

Later this same John was given a new vision. This time he was in heaven itself, before the throne of God. It was a grand scene and the magnificent creatures of heaven were praising God with full voice. Yet there was something new on the day John visited heaven. The one seated on the throne, Holy God, had a scroll in his hand. It was a scroll written with the destiny of the world, the things yet to come. There was great anticipation for the scroll to be opened, but there was no one found worthy to open what God had sealed. None of the angels were worthy. None of the archangels were worthy. None of the glorious elders were worthy.

Then John heard that one was coming who was worthy. He was called the “Lion of Judah,” the “Conquering King like David.” He was coming, and he would open the scroll.

But John saw neither a Lion or a King. He saw a Lamb, a Mighty Lamb, a Wise Lamb full of God’s empowering Spirit. He could see this Lamb had suffered a mortal wound, a cut throat. But he was not dead, he was standing tall, taller than any of the creatures of heaven. He took the scroll from the hand of God, for he was worthy. And we are told that some of the worshipers of heaven began to sing a new song, a song never sung before:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered
and by your blood you ransomed for God saints
from every tribe and language and people and nation …
Revelation 5:9-10

John then turned around and he saw an even greater worship chorus and heard them break into this song:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing!
Revelation 5:12

As we begin the season of Eastertide and look forward to Pentecost, may we, too, give glory and honor to the Lamb who was slain for our sins, who loved us so much that he endured the shame and pain of the cross, and rose triumphantly to never die again.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College