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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Coast to Coast Trip: We're Off!!

Father & SonIn 12 hours Gabriel and I will begin a journey 16 years in the making. We our packing our suitcases and backpacks and assuring ourselves that what ever we forget we'll be able to purchase in England. Hiking boots? Check.  Walking sticks? Check.  Blister creme?  Double check check!!  Soon we'll be off to Hong Kong International Airport.  From there a quick trip to Shanghai and then a LONG flight to London, England.

My boot of choice!

Gabriel is depressed as we are flying China Eastern Airlines (very affordable tickets) and he read a couple reviews saying the food is bad and the in flight entertainment is non-existent. So now part of our "packing" involves loading our iPad and iTouch with as many movies and TV shows as possible.  I'll give a final review of China Eastern in a couple days...mmm  we'll see.

Our 14 Day Schedule

So what are we doing you ask?

About 1996 I was reading the travel section of the local Hong Kong paper.  The story  was on a famous hike in the north of England called the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk.  Its a 200 mile hoof across the country starting from the village of St. Bees on the Irish Sea and ending in Robin Hood's Bay on the coast of the North Sea.

As I read the article I was fascinated by the thought, and the challenge, of walking across the whole of the country.  I turned to Tammy and almost said prophetically, "When we have a son I'm going to take him on this walk when he turns 13."  Well, two years later we had that son, and 14 years later we are fulfilling that dream I have kept ever since then.  We postponed actually doing it last year when he was 13 as we were all pleasantly surprised by the birth of the late addition to the Hackman family: Ethan George

So now, after 16 years, we are ready to begin our grand adventure...I hope you'll enjoy coming along with us!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Would the Roman Empire Persecute Today's Church?

A friend sent me an article recently from Relevant magazine asking some leading voices in the church whether Christians are doing social justice wrong.   I lay in bed reading the article outloud to Tammy and as we commented on the different responders reply's I  suddenly turned to my wife and asked, "If the modern evangelical church existed 2000 years ago, would Rome have even bothered to persecute it?"

What prompted the thought was my own knowledge of the Roman Empire (I majored in Ancient History for my undergrad...which means nothing more than I remember a couple minor things about Caesar and the gang).  Rome was pretty progressive for the time period.  They were liberal in immigration dispensing citizenship far beyond Italy.  Hence why Paul the Apostle, who trumpeted his Jewish identity and culture, carried a Roman passport.

Rome was also quite liberal in the area of religion.  Although they had state gods, people were pretty much allowed to worship whom, or what, they wished provided they didn't disturb the peace.  The only caveat to that freedom was the firm acknowledgement that Caesar was the emperor and Rome was the kingdom.

Well, then along came Christ who proclaimed a new kingdom ... and he was killed for it.  And then his disciples and the early church took up the message and proclaimed there was a new emperor seated on the throne and that this new king, Jesus, was calling all men and women to come and become citizens of that new kingdom.  They began to live life in a different way which increasingly became a direct challenge to the power structure of the time.

Even progressive Rome could not tolerate a people group who were radically proclaiming a new king and attempting to create an alternative society alongside the current social structure.  Author Brian Zahnd talks about how a social structure built on an axis of love and re-enforced through forgiveness will always be at odds with a structure of power re-enforced through violence. The alternative life that Christ's Kingdom proclaims, with it's equal respect and love for the poor, the hurting, the broken, will chafe against current societies that marginalize such people as some whom, at best, are to be endured.

It was that church that was persecuted.  I would suggest that today's church would not only be free from persecution, it would be welcomed.  A church that focuses on getting people to say some "magic words" to become a member of that religion, and who tend to see God's Kingdom as some reward for after you are dead would not be viewed as much of a threat.  A mostly inward looking group who occasionally did some acts of kindness to appease their guilt and their god could be seen as a necessary part of civic life in the Roman world.

Yep, I'm pretty sure any report given to Caesar on the threat of today's Christian church would simply read, "MOSTLY HARMLESS"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Spring 2012 Reading List

We're into June and that means its time for a reading list update.  If you've been following the blog at all you know I've been on roll reading books concerning Christianity, the church, theology etc. etc.  For those of you used to a little more diversity in my recommendations (I apologize for no Stephen King this time) but I am certainly tacking in a particular direction right now.  I went so long without reading any books on Christianity that I think I'm making up for it now or be the judge.

The following books I have read, or am in the process of reading, since February this year:

Beauty will Save the World by Brian Zahnd.

Zahnd suggests that we need to focus a little less on apologetics and ethics in our Christianity and let the natural beauty inherent in the faith rise again to the surface.  Also has an amazing examination of the Sermon on the Mount which I unashamedly stole and used as a basis for a sermon a couple months ago.  This book lit the fire in me that resulted in a flurry of reading that follows.

Insurrection: To Believe is Human, to Doubt, Divine by Peter Rollins

Like Zahnd above, I first saw Peter Rollins when interviewed on The Harvest Show. (So blame them :)  Rollins writes in Insurrection that for many Christians, God is not part of the natural narrative of our lives but is wheeled out when needed to address a problem or or help in some manner.  Instead,  those that claim the Resurrection of Christ must be willing to take part in an Insurrection that challenges not only cultural foundations but the church's.  Normally I shun books like this because the writers tend to be burnt out and angry.  Rollins instead is both humble and gracious even as he is challenging the very pillars of your beliefs.  And he will challenge them....this book is not for the faint of heart.

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

I must admit for a while I tended to avoid Rob Bell.  I was enjoying his NOOMA videos back around 2007 but when Mark Driscoll said he was "off" I kinda took his word for it.  Then later I realized Driscoll is a bit "off", and for that matter so was I. (aren't we all really?) So when my friend recommended Velvet Elvis, I gave it a shot.  Loved it!  It's a fast read and gives a new angle to look at in regards to our faith.  I especially enjoy his knowledge of Jewish history and putting the New Testament in context of its Jewish roots.

Destined to Reign by Joseph Prince

I must admit I'd seen this guy on the christian channels before...and kept right on switching the channel.  My friend Paul Ellis though said I needed to give Prince a listen...and he was right! Then he bought me the book Destined to Reign and it has been like a devotional book for Tammy and I.  I don't read this book straight through so much as I read little bites and let it soak in.  Great insights into just how much God loves you!


Sacrilege by Hugh Halter

I actually met this guy in Denver Colorado years ago where his missional church Adullam is located.  Just finished this book and it is a great encouragement and practical guide for people wanting to make their church integrated with the community.  Oh, and as the title suggests, he smashes a few sacred cows along the way.

How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins

Yes, my second Rollins book in as many months.  In this earlier book Rollins outlines some of the services they do in a bar called The Menagerie for his faith group IKON. I read one of the services outloud to Tammy on the balcony last Sat. morning and she got so depressed  (they were trying to recreate the dark time of the soul the Apostles must have felt on the Sat. night between the Crucifixion and Resurrection) I thought she was going to jump...she didn't. Alright, that's an exaggeration; but it really affected it was meant to.  OK, some of what they do at these meetings even offended me...oh yeah! :)  Loved it!

So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobson & Dave Coleman

I never got around to reading The Shack but this is by the same authors.  Unlike the other books on this list,  this book is a novel.  Jake, is a pastor who meets the Apostle John in a modern day context.  Through a series of conversations Jake's understanding of what church is supposed to be, and what it has become are made front and center.  This book will resonate for anyone who has been a Christian for more than 5 years.  Since I've been a Christian for 37 years it REALLY resonates with me.  Oh, and you can get this book for free here

How God Became King by N.T Wright

Have downloaded the sample of this on my Kindle and am sure I will read the whole thing shortly.  I really enjoy Wright's take on the kingship of Christ and know it is a message the church at large needs to hear.

Well, that's what I've been reading the last 3-4 months...How about you?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Christianity Without "Hooks"

  • What if sharing Christianity came without hooks?
  • What if  "bait & switch" evangelistic tactics were scrapped all together?
  • How does one introduce another to the Life Christ brings if we aren't allowed to use a little well- intentioned manipulation occasionally?
A few days ago I wrote a post on Lady Gaga and some of the attention she got here in Asia with "the church."  A couple days later I was reading a thread on a friend's Facebook page and a girl I didn't know was quoting it in her post.  Ok, I was mildly proud as any writer will tell you that it feels good to have someone say they read your work...and having a stranger quote it feels REALLY good.

But she was taking issue with it.  She seemed to struggle with the idea that Jesus enjoyed being with sinners.  She said that Jesus of course hung out with them to see them saved but that was about it.  This, I believe, has been one of the central problems with the modern church for decades.  People are seen as objects to be "converted" rather than individuals to be loved, cared for, and enjoyed without condition!

People just wanted to "hang out" with Jesus...

And you know what, we're supposed to be Christ.  Now that he is dwelling in us and we're "his body" people are supposed to want to hang out with us.  We're supposed to have "living water" in us that people respond to naturally...

But many of our "living water" wells seem to be dry and people don't want to be around us much so we come up with evangelistic "strategies" covering everything from cool music bands to free pizza,  packaged as "four spiritual laws" to make up for the shortfall..  Particularly in the West, people are conditioned to expect that when a church group does something nice, they have an agenda. "You want the meal, you have to listen to Pastor Jones share how Jesus wants to come into your life."  And then once you accept Christ, guess what, you can go tell your friends about him.

We've reduced the Creator of the Universe and the Author of Life down to the level of a pitch for Amway!

Back when I leading a church in Lan Kwai Fong (the nightclub district in Hong Kong) I started running a Shakespeare discussion group on Thursday nights at the church's meeting location.  We'd discuss Shakespeare's plays which would lead often to talks on politics and religion mixed with generous amounts of wine.  Although we intended to do the meeting every other week the group really enjoyed being with each other so we made it a weekly event and surprisingly, almost everyone who came was not attending the church.

Anyhow I can't tell you how many times I was taken to the side by Christians and pastors outside our church to "help them understand" why I was doing it.  The South China Morning Post had done a story about us so everyone seemed to know about it.  At a church leaders breakfast one pastor cornered me and wanted to know more about "this Shakespeare Group".

"Well, its a bunch of people from the Lan Kwai Fong area who get together to discuss Shakespeare's plays." I answered

"But why do YOU do it?" he asked

Not knowing what else to say I responded, "Because I love Shakespeare and I like being with other people who do."

Genuinely perplexed he then asked, "But you do it at the church, is it a church function?  Is it pre-evangelism?"

Dear Lord, you give them eyes, yet they cannot see... 

To this pastor's credit, he liked me and really did want to understand...he just couldn't.  Too many years of hardened church leadership had taken its toll.  He could not conceive of an event (especially one held in a church building)  where you just enjoyed being with people with NO STRINGS ATTACHED. (And I still haven't figured out what "pre-evangelism" is)

The funny thing was I often was able to share Jesus at these meetings in the natural flow of discussion;  one guy even joined the church...and it all happened naturally.

I'll close by saying last week at our homegroup meeting we were deciding what kind of weekend activity we could do in the summer that we could invite people to.  One friend said something along the lines of, "well how do we bring the gospel into it because otherwise we just get a reputation for throwing good parties."

Funny, attending good parties seemed to be a reputation Jesus had and I'd welcome the reputation of being one who throws them.

What would happen if the church started throwing parties people outside the church wanted to come to?  What if our relationships with people came without agendas and "hooks"....mmm I wonder.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lady Gaga & The Church

Lady Gaga came to Hong Kong and I wasn't invited to go protest.  Man...I am really outside the "in crowd" circle!

Seriously though, one of the benefits of not hanging out with the fringe elements of Christianity (though some would argue they are mainstream) is that I don't see as much of the "crazy" as I used to.

So at the "small group" Bible study meeting at our home last week I was surprised to hear that a number of church groups had organized protests of Madam Gaga's 4 night concert stint in Hong Kong.  These protests were dwarfed by other protests on the Asian tour in the Philippines, Indonesia, and South Korea but hey, this is Hong Kong, and you know...we're busy!

I got to hand it to us Christians though, nothing demonstrates God's unconditional love coming into the world through Jesus Christ more than a good protest.  Because, surely, when John the Baptist was unjustly imprisoned by Herod, Jesus led a protest and a prayer vigil to see him released.  And when Paul the Apostle was living in hedonistic Greek cities like Corinth and Ephesus, he regularly led protests to show the early churches disgust at the sexual immorality of temple priests and prostitutes in their community.

Yep, nothing prepares a seeking heart to receive God's love more than anger and perceived self righteousness...


Anyhow, as the "home group" conversation continued we talked about what made Lady Gaga so popular.  In addition to a knack for singing some catchy tunes, she's essentially doing what the church is supposed to be doing.  The outcasts, the neglected, the disenfranchised, and others who feel alienation find in Lady Gaga a heart of compassion, acceptance, and love...things Jesus specialized in and commanded us to continue after his resurrection. In an increasingly disconnected world, people are looking for shelter from the storm...and many of them find that shelter in the lyrics and affirmation of Ms. Gaga. 

The tax collector, the drunk, the tavern keepers, the prostitutes, all genuinely liked being around Jesus.  It was at his feet that they found grace and mercy.  For most evangelical Christians however, there is a real discomfort in even being around "worldly" people unless its at an evangelistic meeting where the Christian has the home field advantage.  Jesus on the other hand seemed to enjoy going into the homes of "sinners".  He had to have because the religious leaders of the day were always accusing him of it.  And what seems to have really irritated those leaders was that Jesus enjoyed doing it.

So if you're a Christian who doesn't really love and enjoy people who are "sinners" you have your first glimpse into why hundreds of thousands of people prefer Lady Gaga to you.

Here endeth the lesson!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Steve's Letter to the Editor

Some of you saw my photo on Facebook of the "Letter to the Editor" that I wrote and was published in the South China Post newspaper this week.  Some asked for a full reprint as they couldn't read the top of the picture and, not being in Hong Kong, did not have quick access to the paper.

Just for a bit of context;

The letter is a response to an op-ed piece from a few days previous when a columnist was really calling into question some aspects of legality in Hong Kong.  What was especially troubling to me was that this columnist sits on the Basic Law Committee of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.  For the layman, that means he helped arrange the mini-constitution (The Basic Law) which protects the rights of Hong Kong since the assumption of sovereignty by China from Great Britain 15 years ago.

Meaning this guy is supposed to be protecting the Rule of Law in Hong Kong...not call it into question!

The piece was really chafing against me all that Friday evening and the little voice inside said "Just forget about it..."

Saturday morning came and I couldn't forget about it...

... so I banged out the following response to the op-ed:

To the South China Morning Post:

I found the premise behind Lau Nai-keung's recent opinion piece (Hong Kong needs a time out from self serving legislators) to be very troubling.  Without coming out and saying it he uses the recent incident of the Legco filibuster to call in to question the very idea of "rule of law" in Hong Kong.  He contrasts a "Western mindset" whose legal procedure trumps common sense as being responsible for the filibuster as opposed to the Chinese way where, "legality has no overriding authority." 
First, creating a confrontational dichotomy between Western and Chinese ways is not entirely helpful in an International city like Hong Kong.  Second, to suggest that  Hong Kongers may find a society where "legality has no overriding authority" appealing is largely insulting.  Mr. Lau would replace legal authority with "rules (that) should be adaptable to changing conditions....if that purpose is good, then it is OK; but if bad, then no way."  The Hong Kong people would then be subject to the whims of what was thought to be "good" that day.  And whose version of what is "good" do we use?  Mr. Lau's idea of what is good would certainly be different than that of "Longhair" Leung Kwok-hung, and our new Chief Executive elect Leung Chun-ying's version of "common sense" may be different from other community and business leaders. 

In the years leading up to the Handover, when even the most ardent Hong Kong Chinese nationalists were asked if there was any positive contribution British colonialism made to Hong Kong, most would grudgingly admit, "the rule of law".  To chip away at this precious commodity Hong Kong has, and which many countries desire, is to do so at our peril.
Steve Hackman
Park Island, Ma Wan

My letter was published 4 days later...