Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Just regular Christian"

A few months back I was getting my son set up on his Facebook account before we left for China. As we were filling out the personal info section we came to "Religion". "Christian" he said. As I started to type in Christian a drop down menu appeared showing various denominations. After explaining a few of them to Gabriel he said, "Go back up, just regular Christian."

Just regular Christian...thats what I want to be. People seem to be less likely to just say they are "Christian" these days. Perusing my "friends" Facebook pages you will find "followers of Jesus", "love Jesus, not religion", "disciple of Christ" and all manner of definitions which essentially mean "Christian".

A couple years ago in church, our pastor asked people to share what was the first thing that popped into their head when they heard the word "righteous". I immediately thought of a Lancelot type knight with pure, shiny armor. But as people went around the room I realized my view was the minority. Instead, most people immediately had a negative view of the word with the image of a self-righteous "church-lady" character. I was amazed. Like in George Orwell's 1984 where words had a disassociation with their actual definition, "righteous" in many people's minds was a "negative" word.

I guess thats why many Christians shy away from defining themselves as Christian. When they hear the word they think of the pastor caught in a scandal, or the evangelist who is manipulating the masses, or the shrill advocate who shouts hate instead of Christ-like love.

I sympathize with the reaction but cannot concur.

When I hear the word "Christian" I think of the thousands who give of themselves daily to clothe, feed, and tend to the sick in the name of Christ. I think of persecuted believers who risk bodily harm to share the gospel of Jesus. I think of the volunteers I just met this week who take care of the special need orphans at a foster home in Beijing. And I think of the untold masses who have been executed because they would not deny that they were Christian.

Yep, I think of those things and say:

"I'm just regular Christian!"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Star Trek

On September 8th, 1966 the country heard a now familiar voice proclaim for the first time, "Space, the Final Frontier...these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise." Four nights earlier I was born. Yes, I'm as old as Star Trek!!

For geeks my age, Star Trek was our defining show. Growing up in Detroit meant a re-run of the show every Saturday and Sunday night. I collected Star Trek books and used my legos to create an arsenal of phasers for my room. Earlier in my Christian walk I always hoped that while other Christians are having "mansions" prepared for them in heaven, I would be given command of the Starship Enterprise and told to explore the galaxy. (I'm not unconvinced that still might not happen :)

Over the years there have been new Star Trek spin-offs with varying levels of success. But ultimately even the fans started to grow weary of yet another alien race with a funky forehead. The Star Trek franchise was like a vineyard that had been over used. The 2002 film Nemesis , although a good film, failed to hit at the box office. There needed to be a rest to allow a very fertile soil to revive.

Enter director J.J. Abrams who was recruited to re-imagine the original Star Trek series with a young Captain Kirk. I have to admit, I'm excited. Abrams is the man who brought us Lost which is one of my favorite shows. He has a way of focusing on human interaction and development that will make Star Trek a hit.

This week, the new trailer was released and I have very high hopes. There are, however, a couple things in the trailer that give me pause for concern:

1) I hate a lot of CGI. There is a tendency to overuse it. Often less is more (Something George Lucas has NEVER learned) The battle clip in the trailer could look cartoonish if not done right.

2) I don't like the obvious overt sex shown in the trailer. There has always been a subtle "sexiness" in Star Trek with some of the characters but it has always been just that...subtle. Overt sex in Star Trek detracts from the show and brings a crassness that I personally don't want to see.

Having said that though, I am SO looking forward to this movie and to once again "boldly go where no man has gone before."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Fall T.V. Season Pt. 2

As promised, I continue with a little review on a mere slice of the Fall TV season in America. Last time I looked at some of the new shows the Hackman's have been downloading on I-tunes this season. Now I want to look at some of our returning favorites:

Chuck: Perhaps no TV show puts a smile on our face faster than Chuck. Chuck is the lovable computer nerd (played brilliantly by Zachary Levi) who has the whole CIA database downloaded into his brain. This has the affect of his being able to interpret and analyze intelligence instantly...sometimes. What makes the show is the colorful characters that make up the "Nerd Herd" at the local Buy More electronics store (a parody of Best Buy). The need to save the world every week is balanced with the comedic story lines revolving around the world of retail with a bunch of lovable losers. Top that off with Adam Baldwin playing essentially his character of Jayne Cobb from Firefly and you have a winner. Where else can you have a story where the fate of the world is determined by a nerd playing the 80s arcade game Missle Command to the "music of the Universe"...Rush's Tom Sawyer.
If you haven't seen Chuck, make sure you drop buy the Buy More and see what all the commotion is about.

Eli Stone: Another series in its sophomore season, Eli Stone tells the story of a lawyer who is touched by God to be a prophet. Eli has then to walk a road between doing what is right and following his prophetic visions, or enduring the ridicule of Man. The second season did confirm that it is God who is the source of his visions (God being played by Sigourney Weaver). At times the religious elements are a little too New Age and Universalist for my Christian sensibilities...but then I don't watch it for my theology. I watch it because it is a well written, smart drama with a strong moral center. (Oh, and it's one of the minority of shows these days that DOESN'T have a 98 pound blond girl who beats up guys twice their size every week)

Battlestar Galactica: Is full of 98 pound girls that beat up guys everyweek but is STILL, as Rolling Stone has said, possibly the best show on television. Technically the new (and last) season won't start until January but since Tammy and I are working through last season right now to catch up, I thought I'd include it. The fact that this series bears little resemblance to its family friendly, cheesy, 1970s namesake has been written about adnauseum. This modern version is crammed full of politics, philosophy,...and torture. The story follows the remnant of the human race that is traveling through space being pursued by the Cylons. At first I was rooting for the humans, then I was rooting for the Cylons, and now I have pretty much come to the conclusion that the Universe would be better served by the destruction of both these factions. Both groups have characters with little to no redeeming virtues. And for being a "sci-fi' show there is little to no "sci-fi" in it. If it wasn't for the outer space factor, you would think the whole series was something retro out of the 1960's. We're hooked but are glad the show is coming to an end.

Anxiously Awaiting: Lost My personal favorite. This show could not get any weirder. I have followed it through hatches, the Others, Ben, Desmond, polar bears, Orchid Station, time displacements, miricle healings, Mr. Eko, and smoke monsters. January, and the new season, cannot arrive fast enough.

Gotta run, Eli Stone is on....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pride...before the Fall

In 1995 after returning from a church planting trip to India I woke in the middle of night with the most horrific pain. I went to the doctor and he immediately admitted me to the hospital. I spent 3 days there with what turned out with an infection around my kidney.

While laying on my back I was thumbing through a Christian magazine and came across an article that inspired me greatly. A pastor named Randy White along with his wife Paula had planted a church in Tampa Florida. They were reaching out to all strata of society; the rich, the poor, the professional, and the homeless. Instead of protesting the "adult" establishments in their area, Randy would invite the owners to lunch to establish relationships with them. The church was helping with job training for the unemployed as well as providing a ministry to people living with AIDS. In addition, they were providing support for the business and community leaders in their sphere of influence.

We were on the verge of planting Island City Church in Hong Kong and this article resonated in my heart as the type of church I wanted to pastor. When we did plant in Hong Kong we did so in the Lan Kwai Fong area where there is a large International community. Bars and restauraunts frequent the area and the whole district was the "go to" place for after work night life.

Taking a cue from the article I invited the president of the Lan Kwai Fong Association up to the church for coffee and to introduce ourselves. I explained that we were there to be part of Lan Kwai Fong and serve the community as Christians. I remember our conversation went very well and he remarked, "You know, so many evangelical groups come into Lan Kwai Fong to proselytize because it's supposed to be full of all of these "bad people". Its good to have a church here that wants to be part of Lan Kwai Fong."

I kept that article and would re-read it at times for encouragement. Then I returned to the States and began seeing Paula White more and more on Christian programing. The things she was saying and the way she was saying them seemed out of sync with the article I had read a few years back. I remember watching her and seeing some of the things rumored to be going on in their now 'megachurch' in Tampa. I winced inside.

Last year the couple divorced amid different allegations I will not go into. Paula White's new ministry has been under U.S. Senate investigation for financial wrongdoing. Add to that the following article I read today and I ask myself, "What happened?" What takes someone who is doing so much for God's Kingdom and for people and leads them to become so deceived?

I have been reading the Book of James lately and the apostle says something that just hit me:

but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death

Ouch! James lays out the same basic stages everyone goes through when they find themselves kneedeep in sin. It starts with desire. Now some desires are given by God and are to be acted upon but other desires are like the itch that we all desire to scratch knowing it will only make it itch more.

Once we start scratching, we can either acknowledge the itch and bring it into the Light so God can deal with it OR we can hide it OR (even worse) convince ourselves and others that it's all really good and Godly.

What happened to Randy and Paula? I won't pass judgement but leave that to the Lord. But I do know that the root of their itch is no different than all of ours. Gold, Glory, and Girls (or guys) outside of God's rulebook are always waiting at the doorstep.

When it comes knocking, will YOU open the door?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obamania Withdrawl

This is not really a blog entry. Its just that I thought this video so funny, it deserved to be posted.

Part of my irritation during the presidential campaign was the fanatical Obama supporters who were so zealous for a guy who hadn't done anything. Then turning around and saying Gov. Sarah Palin shouldn't be Vice President because she hadn't done anything. At times, I almost could see Biden and McCain chuckling and talking about the kids behind Palin and Obama's back.

Anyhow, as I've noted in previous posts, I've made my peace and look forward to seeing what an Obama presidency will do for this country.

But for all you glazed eyed, star-struck, Pied Piper, Kool-aid drinking Obama maniacs out there...this vid is for you!!!

The New West Wing

Back around 2000 when people asked me why I loved the TV show The West Wing
I would reply that it was the best Science Fiction show on. When I was given a quizzical look I would explain, "A competent Democratic administration? Only in Sci-Fi." Of course that joke got a lot less funny as the Bush administration dragged on...

Tammy and I loved the West Wing (as well as pretty much anything created by Aaron Sorkin) and for a long time Wednesday evening was "West Wing and Chipoltle night" The show centered on President Josiah "Jed" Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) and the staff of a fictional Democratic controlled White House.

I see in Barack Obama a lot of similarity to the West Wing counter part. Both men are Christians whose faith plays a huge part in their decision making. (Martin Sheen reportedly petitioned creator Aaron Sorkin to have the President's Catholicism play a central role in the show). Despite this, both are often the targets of the radical right wing for being too "liberal". Both are dynamic, smart, and compassionate and refuse to see the Republican Party as the enemy (even when their staff tend to).

(This clip is an excellent example of Aaron Sorkin's ability to portray Christianity in a positive light...and how I would like a President to act)

And as a side note BOTH are closet cigarette smokers although in these enlightened times both are forced to hide their smoking orientation in the closet. When are we going to realize people don't choose to smoke... they are born that way!

Sorkin always said that The West Wing was meant to invoke a JFK Camelot atmosphere. Despite the popularity of two term President Bill Clinton, the Camelot comparison has not been more appropriate than at the dawn of the Obama administration.

Lest my Republican partners (and yes I am a Republican) think I have cracked and "drank the kool-aid" let me assure you I have not. But I have been more impressed with Obama lately. I am not convinced yet that he has the substance to match his incredible style...but I'm willing to take a second look.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mr. President-Elect

It's official! The 44th president of the United States will be Barack Obama. I want to offer a humble congratulation from the Republican writer of a little known blog in a remote corner of cyberspace. I also want to offer a congrats to my brother Andy who is a huge Obama supporter as well as to so many of my friends who were excited about the President-Elect's campaign.

I've spent the day here in China between classes trawling CNN, ABC, and the other networks online watching the electoral results come in. I must admit I felt envious of the excitement the Democrats were feeling. I know the thrill of supporting someone for so long, campaigning for them, and then experiencing the joy of victory that evening.

I remember 1984. I was 18 and it was my first election. I walked into the election booth and cast my very first ballot for Ronald Wilson Reagan. I was so proud. I went to work at the Burger King Drive-thru after that with a uniform decorated with Reagan - Bush buttons and encouraging every person I passed a Whopper to to get out and vote! That evening my friend Dave and I went to the Republican victory party as we saw Reagan sweep every state but Minnesota. Euphoria!!

Its been a long time since Republicans have offered up that kind of hope and excitement. For all the fear-mongering the far Right has done over the last few months, it has not been able to quell the excitement Barack Obama has generated.

I see in Barack Obama some of the hope I saw back then. Even people who didn't vote for Reagan often acknowledged the optimism he conveyed for, and about, America was contagious. Mr. Obama generates that same optimism. Tammy and I watched the 30 minute ad that played on the networks this week and had to admit that America seemed like a better place through his eyes than John McCain's.

Therefore, I wish to say this Republican is proud of you Mr. Obama. You stayed above the fray as much as this broken system would allow. You cast a vision of hope which all but your most ardent detractors could embrace and you reached out to those who disagreed with you with a graciousness and a statesmanship I have been embarrassed to say has all but disappeared from my party.

So on this election night I wish to say, "Congratulations Mr. President-Elect. May God Bless You and God Bless the United States of America."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Opinion Polls and "Yes Minister"

Watching the news this week I was realizing again how much our political process is guided and reinforced by "polls"; and how every poll seems to show Obama in a wide lead over John McCain. Now don't get me wrong, McCain is going to lose...and lose big. But it got me thinking about one of my all time favorite British comedies that I literally wear out the DVD's I watch them so much..."Yes, Minister"

Every episode centers around a bumbling but good natured British Minister (and becomes Prime Minister in later episodes) who is guided and manipulated by the civil service and the "system". One scene I love is shows how "balanced" polls can be. Watch this clip, laugh...and then wince knowing its so true.

Oh, and now having taken up my recent position in the education sector, I found the following clip, Yes Prime Ministers' take on education reform, wonderful. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008 World Series

For me there is no Summer, Spring, Fall, and Winter. There are only two seasons: Baseball Season and the Off-Season. My wife likes the fact that I am not a sports junkie that has to watch all sports all year round. But from the time Spring Training starts (which I suppose is another season) I am all about the sound of a bat cracking and the smell of a ball field.

So, I want to give a shout out to the Philidelphia Phillies who won the Fall Classic in a five game series over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I must confess to a bit of discouragement this season. My Detroit Tigers bought a winning team during the off season last year aquiring underperforming 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera (moved to first base)and short stop Edgar Renteria. That winning team with the second largest payroll in baseball lost the first seven games and plugged away to a 74 - 88 season.

In a twist of fate, my adopted home team of the Colorado Rockies defended their National League Championship from the previous year with a dismal record that tied the Tigers 74 - 88.

That left it to my hopes for a championship being won by my THIRD favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Alas, that was not to be. The eventual champion Phillies made short work of them in the Division Series.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were the Cinderella story for the year as they had the absolute worst record in the MLB during the 2007 season. By some miracle they defied all the pundits predictions and became the American League Champions in 2008.

SO... big congrats to the Rays and an even bigger congrats to the World Series winner Philidelphia Phillies.