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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Does God Really Hate You?

A friend of mine shared a clip of Pastor Mark Driscoll on Facebook...and Mark was pretty angry.  For those who are not aware, Mark Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle with a congregation of about 10,000 as well as overseeing a network of other churches.

I've included the clip here below but it will shock many to find that:

 "Some of you, God Hates you...some of you, God is sick of you, God is frustrated with you, God is wearied by you, God has suffered long enough with you...."
I could go on...but I think you get the picture.  Poor Mark...unlike my friend who shared the clip and was pretty straight forward in his disgust, I felt a measure of pity for Mark.  I know what its like to pastor, that is to  shepherd a group of people toward God and at times...well, it can get a little frustrating.  Sometimes the anger we can feel dealing with the shortcomings of people day in and day out can get you pretty agitated and if we're not careful we can transfer our anger and use God as our proxy to help legitimize those feelings.  Then its not me who hates and is frustrated with you (which can be more easily dismissed)...

...its God who can't stand you! (The clip gets to the point at 4:35)

I couldn't help but think of Moses out in the desert leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

Those people were a handful to say the least but God declared them to be His children and He loved them.  One day they were out of water and they gave Moses an earful.  Numbers 20:2-13 says:

  Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
 6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
 9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
 13 These were the waters of Meribah,[a] where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD and where he was proved holy among them.
Moses was angry at the people and felt they deserved God's wrath...not his blessing.  So Moses strikes the rock in anger rather than speak to it as commanded.  The people, who really do deserve God's wrath, instead experience the provision of water (and Grace) from a loving Father...and the only one who is judged is Moses.

Mark Driscoll needs to tread more carefully.  He has been put in a position to influence tens of thousands with the Grace of God and probably needs to be more mindful of the message he is communicating.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Lan Kwai Fong Movieland Shuts Its Doors

My old video store here in Hong Kong just closed and I'm feeling a little nostalgic.  Throughout the late 1990's the Movieland video store in Lan Kwai Fong was like my second home.  Walking into that store I was like Norm walking into Cheers...everyone knew my name!  

For those outside the territory, Lan Kwai Fong is perhaps the most infamous  nightclub/ restaurant/ bar district in Hong Kong!

So of course that's where we planted a church.  

After an evening meeting, or just a night out for dinner and drinks, I'd stop off at Movieland to get my film for the night.  

When I moved back to Hong Kong in 2009 I was surprised to see my old stomping ground was still open.  I went up to see the old place and re-introduce myself.  Turns out Elmer, the old manager I knew so well, had only recently returned home to the Philippines.  Obviously the video store landscape has changed radically in the 10 years since I used to frequent the store and he probably felt it was time to wrap it up.

I mean who rents DVDs anymore??  

The current manger was very kind and filled me in on what was happening admitting that business was slowing and they had consolidated the store from 2 floors to 1.  

It was really kinda sad in a way.  This store used to be jam packed every night with area folk getting their evening fix of movies and TV shows.  It was a hub where you were always sure to run into a familiar face.  When I had left back in 1999 the store was just beginning the transition from VHS to DVD.  Now DVD was starting to feel like cassette tapes and the store, once the center of the action, now seemed like a party 30 minutes after all the cool people had left.

Well, tonight I was out for dinner in Lan Kwai Fong with friends and noticed the store was closed, empty, and dark but the sign was still hanging outside.  The end had finally come.  I snapped a few pictures to remember it from happier times!   

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

TV You Should Watch: The Event

The Chinese New Year holiday is in full swing here in Hong Kong and its a time that usually lends itself to getting outside and onto the gorgeous hiking trails which permeate the territory.  However the weather has been cold, rainy, and down right what to do?

Perfect weather though for sitting inside, stocking up with plenty of  "comfort" food favorites, finding a new TV show with an arching story line,... and watching the hours fly by.

Our "on demand" station here in Hong Kong is offering a show I was aware of called The Event.  It looked like one of those alien invasion type shows but I was skeptical as it seemed the show was cancelled after a single season.  (Which more often suggests it was really good!)

But did I really want to invest the emotional time into a story and characters that were not sticking around?

Well, lets just watch one we said,  and see...

22 episodes later we were spent!  I can say its unfortunate that smart, intelligent written shows get cancelled while so many others (reality shows anyone?) are in their 4th, 5th, or 10th seasons?

Tammy kept us fed throughout the marathon making her version of "Chipoltle burritos".  At one point I felt so guilty about eating and sitting that I went down to our apartment lobby and ran back up the stairs to our flat on the 21st floor.  (Then after the next episode I did it again.)

So what is the show about?  I am not going to write a big deal on that other than to say if The X-Files, V, and , 24 were to have a baby would be The Event.  

What I can say was it was comforting to see a new spin on the "space alien" and their intentions on Earth.  Traditionally the extraterrestrial coming to our little planet are evil, who see humans as no more than an infestation to be eliminated i.e. Independence Day, or as the benevolent messiah like character that is persecuted by our human insecurities i.e. ET .

The Event instead presents its us.  The show is partially an analogy of Western Imperialism. What if aliens valued us...but not as much as themselves?  And when their interests are jeopardized, how they will make decisions at times which are contrary to their values and mores?  It makes for interesting storytelling to see "good" people making "wrong" decisions.

I was happy that the season ended with a measure of "closure" although they opened up a great new story line for a season 2 that, unfortunately, will never be.

But it gets the "Steve's TV Shows You Should Be Watching" award so if you get a chance, give it a look.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thank you for (not) Smoking!

It's been 5 years this month since I smoked a cigar.

Now let me just say...I loved cigars alot! Whether with friends in Hong Kong or sitting on my back porch in Boulder Colorado with a view of the Rocky Mountains there were few things more relaxing to me or that I enjoyed more.

So why did I give them up?...Well 5 years ago this month I was also diagnosed with tongue cancer.

It started when I had developed a small, very painful sore on the side of my tongue.  I thought it was just a mouth sore that you get from time to time...but this one didn't go away.  I convinced myself it was a tooth cutting my tongue and went to see a dentist.  He took one look at it and sent me to an oral surgeon that day.

I still wasn't worried!

The oral surgeon took a biopsy and then a few days later called and asked me to come in for a consultation. When I asked if they could just give me the diagnosis over the phone the nurse responded, "No Mr. Hackman, the doctor needs to see you."

I heart pounded!  I didn't tell Tammy yet and just headed off to the doctor.  When I arrived the doctor stated, "Mr. Hackman, the biopsy confirmed the sore is cancerous."

He had said it.  The "C" word!  My face began heating up and I was barely taking in what the doctor said after that.  I had been aware of a couple aqauintances who died of tongue cancer.  I started thinking if something happened to me, what would happen to Tammy and Gabriel??

What began then was a 3 month journey of tests (and prayer), surgery (and prayer), and recovery (and prayer).  The details are perhaps best left for another time (It was quite a ride).  But I stand here 5 years out from that diagnosis and am now "clear" in medical terms.

God is so very faithful and took mine and my families hand throughout this entire ordeal.

But I can say that 2 days before the diagnosis on a crisp Colorado January afternoon I was standing on my front porch  with a cigar in my hand not realizing then it was the last cigar I would ever smoke.  I love my cigars...but I realized I love my tongue even more!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Walking Across England: Our Upcoming Adventure!

This summer my son Gabriel and I will walk across England. 


On the morning of July 6 we will set off from the village of St. Bees on the coast of the Irish Sea and then head east.  God willing on July 19 our 200 mile journey will end when we dip our boots in the cool waters of Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea coast.

I must admit I'm pretty excited as I've been planning this trip since before Gabriel was born.  Back in about 1993 or 94 the travel section of the local Hong Kong paper did a feature story on the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk.  I found the concept of walking across the country compelling and turned to Tammy and declared, "One day when we have a son I'm going to take him on this walk when he turns 13 years old."

Well, about 4 years later I did have that son and now, nearly 18 years later, I have just purchased air tickets and paid the confirmation deposit to the company that arranges the details. 

This is going to be a father - son coming of age "rite of passage".  Just the two of us crossing hills and valleys while discussing God, school, life, work, childhood, adulthood, and why there is a difference between being a Man and simply being a male. 

...oh, and did I forget to mention the pubs.

Yes!! We're going!...the only spanner in the original plan is Gabriel is 14 now, not 13.  Last summer we had just had Gabriel's little brother Ethan and so thought it better to delay this grand excursion for a year.

Anyhow, I'll be posting more info as we get closer to our departure as well as a day by day narrative of the actual adventure once it begins.

Of course, now I have 2 I may have to do this again in 13 years!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mainland China Students Irk Some At American Universities

A recent blog article I read grabbed my attention today.  It highlighted the complaints many local American students have with foreign Chinese undergraduates* studying at U.S. universities.  Complaints such as:
  •  "They don't come here to learn. They just come here for the grades."
  •  "They are killing class discussion. They never contribute."
  •  "You will never see any of them at any school function. Never ever ever. Unless it can  help them with a grade."
  •  "They never make any effort to talk with anyone other than those who are also from China."
  •  "They cheat all the time. It is pretty unbelievable how often"
  •   "This is a great way to ruin relations between China and us."

    * The article noted these were complaints concerning students from Mainland China and not ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, or Singapore.

I was intrigued and immediately asked some of my Hong Kong Chinese peers about their thoughts on this.  One responded to me that the reason is that maybe ten years ago very few students from China went to the States for study and those that did were the best and brightest.  He mentioned there was often great sacrifice incurred for it to happen and the students made the most of their opportunities.

"Now", he explained, "there is so much 'new money' in China that all these corrupt businessmen and officials are sending their spoiled brat kids to the States not because they are the best educated, but because they can afford the big dollars." 

Essentially he was saying was that the best and the brightest are being replaced with a "less than stellar" representation of China.

That's a lot to digest but consider the following statistics:

Number of Chinese undergraduate students at American universities

 2006 - 2007 academic year - 9,955 students
 2011 - 2012 academic year- 56,976 students

Such an explosion of population lends credence to the notion that less strict criterea is being used.  In fact, an MSNBC article noted 90 % of  Mainland students submitted false recommendation letters on their college applications and 70% of them had a professional write their entrance exam. 

Worrying to say the least!
I can say my own experience with Mainland Chinese students in America has been limited but very positive.

In 2006 my family and I attended the "Mid-Autumn" Festival celebration at the University of Colorado hosted by the Chinese students association.  Tammy and I were missing Hong Kong and thought we would take advantage of a little piece of it on display 10 minutes from our Boulder home.  When the students found out our connection with China and the fact that Gabriel was born in Hong Kong they really went to great lengths to make us feel welcome and at home.  They were a wonderful group of young people who were a very positive representation of China.

Of course that was 2006...I wonder if it has changed any?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Iowa Caucus results: My thoughts

I popped over to The Whiskey Priest (you gotta love that name) yesterday afternoon to meet up with the "Republicans Abroad"  and watch the results of the Iowa caucus live.  (Late evening in America is lunch time here in Hong Kong)

Before the caucus began I made the prediction:

1) Romney
2) Paul
3) Santorum
4) Gingrich
5) Perry

And I was pretty close with only Santorum and Paul's places switched by 3% points.  (I also called that Perry would drop out, which by retreating to Texas he pretty much did)

There were about 30-40 guys at this lunch and we took an informal poll of who was supporting who.  Almost everyone raised their hands for Romney.  There were a couple guys for Gingrich and but none of the other candidates had any supporters among the Hong Kong Republicans.

There seems to be a consensus that people living overseas have a wider perspective and are less parochial on many issues.  Romney's fiscal and personal discipline appeal to a number of us.  He's viewed as solid as opposed to "flaky."  And more importantly, he is seen as someone who can appeal across a broader audience of voters in a general election.  Essentially, he is the best chance of beating Obama.

So, why am I not supporting the other remaining candidates:

Santorum: I think this Santorum is a genuinely nice guy who projects an authenticity that is appealing.  Having said that, I don't think "he is ready for prime time."  He is to undisciplined in his campaigning and he comes with baggage of a major senate loss in 2006 as well the feeling he is the last choice of a number of failed "conservative" options in this election.

Gingrich: He's an ideas man and sometimes he gets things right, but really doesn't know how to behave in critical situations.  He will always "go off the rails" at some point as that is who he is and what is in his nature to do.  Most people realized this as well and after a momentary surge in the polls, he finds his support base vanishing.

Paul: Ron Paul has some interesting domestic spending ideas but its his foreign policy that will keep him from EVER being President of the United States.  We have spent the last 70 years building relationships that allow the projection of American power across the globe.  He'd like to call that quits, bring home our carrier fleets, our troops in Japan and South Korea, and just hunker down around the homeland.  Yes, with the tension in the South China Sea rising NOW would be a perfect time to mothball the navy...Not!

One of the Gingrich supporters at the Whiskey Priest (can you tell I just love mentioning that name again) yesterday did indicate his support for Gingrich stemmed from his inability to back Romney because of his Mormon faith.  I must admit I had read about such people...but I had never actually met one before.

See, Hong Kong is a place where one meets all kinds of different folk.