Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Being in China I have had the worst and the best cups of coffee of my life. If you know anything about me you will know I have a sick obession with coffee. I am always looking for the best beans, the best brewing process, the best roast, etc.

Worst cup of coffee: Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. 7:00AM in the morning after waking up at 5:00AM to catch the flight to Hong Kong I was desperately in need of java. The only place to buy it was a little café inside the international terminal. In the end I paid $7.50, that is U.S. dollars for a cup of instant coffee. They claimed it was Colombian (I have learned that in China that translates into crappy coffee). Aside from that it was a really bad instant coffee. No amount of cream or sugar could salvage this cup. All I know Chinese are not big coffee drinkers, they prefer tea.

All this mentioned only to contrast…

Best cup of coffee: Shanghai in particular has a large European influence. Michelle and I have found this great teahouse that we spend Sunday afternoons at to reflect and connect with one another. It is part of our Sabbath, and it is just a few blocks from church. Afternoon tea includes a bottomless pot of tea and an assortment of bit size sandwiches, and desserts (the crème bruele is my favorite). This past week I opted to try the coffee option instead of the tea. Expecting a pot of coffee, they brought me just one mug. This mug however contained the creamiest most enjoyable cup of coffee. It was as thick as espresso and it redeemed all the bad coffee I had in China over the past weeks. Aside from that it was served with frothed cream and brown sugar. The cream is hot so it does not cool of the coffee, and the froth gives it a pseudo cappuccino feel, but much stronger than a cappuccino. May I add that brown sugar is much much better than white sugar in coffee, something I am definitely bringing back to the States.

So now I am finding these coffees all over the place.

Here is to coffee

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Faith Without Deeds is Dead

Faith Without Deeds is Dead

A lot is being written about how young people are leaving the traditional church. Many people have speculated why this is occurring. Christian Smith’s, Soul Searching, actually presents empirical evidence that young people are not leaving the church, but in reality are imitating that same faith of their parents. Mark DeVries in Family Based Youth Ministry argues that while many youth do not practice faith in college those who were raised in the church return to the church in their mid 20’s.

The discussions I have been reading concerning the emerging church have centered around this migration from the church. The emerging church places the issue in the context of a modern generation (the boomers) and a postmodern generation. The emergence of postmodern epistemology demands a fresh understanding of faith, that will then reach the younger generation. Emergents find fault with the modern epistemology and find it stifling. They prefer the freedom of the postmodern epistemology to correct the errors of the modern church.

I do agree that the church is sick (will always be sick to some degree). I do find serious fault with the current status quo of evangelicalism. I do wonder how much this is really a case of epistemology. It might be rooted in epistemology, but that is not the problem.

My criticism against that church is that is has abandoned practice, orthopraxy. Evangelicalism as a movement sought to wed the divide of orthodoxy and social concerns, but it has not gone far enough.

What concerns me most is that salvation continues to be defined as “believing” a set of propositions, which if you believe you will go to heaven when you die. If you do not believe these propositions you will go to hell when you die.

The question that should really be asked is what is salvation all about? What are we being saved from? Hell or our fallen state as sinful beings? If it is only hell then really salvation has no meaning in our current existence. If it is from our sinful fallen state then salvation bears to play right now, every day.

Early Christians called themselves followers of “the way”. Salvation is then a way of life. It is the new humanity that was inaugurated in the life of Christ, realized in the death of Christ, and made available in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Salvation is then citizens of God’s kingdom living in the world under the reign of Christ; freed from the baggage of guilt, shame, and slavery to sin, with the freedom to choose a better way.

The protestant church has always placed “faith” in front of “practice”. Such a division is exactly the danger James warns us of in his epistle. This is also the book of the Bible Luther wanted to throw out of the canon. James writes that our deeds show us our faith.

So what do you believe in? Do you believe that you are saved? Why and from what? And how does that make you live your life? Is being a Christian mean you do not drink in front of non-Christians, do not smoke, do not go to the strip club? Or does it also mean you are known as a compassionate, loving, sacrificial person? Why do we settle for a faith that gives us a new law instead of a new heart?

Smith’s book has a down right chilling chapter on the state of Christianity in America. Youth are imitating their parents’ faith which is apparently not Christian at all. Essentially while church statements of faith my fall within orthodoxy their practice is anything but. Smith presents empirical evidence that Christians look exactly the same as the rest of the culture in terms of use of money, values, and such. Christians still tend to be more moral, but do not understand the traditional Chrisitan faith. He calls it Moral Therapeutic Deism.

So what are your thoughts?

Will we embody a faith that brings hope to the world?

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Confession #1 - Door jam

Let me tell you how not to start off your weekend away in the resort city of Hongzhou, China. By the time we got from the train station to the hotel it was a little after 10PM,and our friends Andy and Andie wanted to take us to their favorite teahouse in all of China. We took a walk down to the lake and picked up a taxi. The ride was smooth and as scenic as could be. As the “big guy” of the group (I am a large person in China), I sat in the front of the cab.

The surroundings were much more scenic in Hongzhou then Shanghai and as we stepped out of the cab I was taking it all in. As I gently shut the front door to the taxi and odd sensation came over me, and for some reason I could not get my hand off of the door – it was stuck. As I thought to myself why am I stuck to the taxi, my party began to run ahead of me and as my brain processed the scenario I finally realized that my thumb was trapped inside the rear door. The door fully shut on my thumb so I had to open it up again to get myself free of the taxi. I truly thank God that the taxi did speed off as they are prone to do, and taking my thumb with him.

What do we do all four of us are in a strange town? Is it broken? I can bend it – must not be broken. The ice and the Advil seem sufficient for the evening. In the morning my thumb locked up, and I can still bend it, but with a horrible pain and popping sound the thumb worked. Something is wrong.

I foolishly and macho like, endure the weekend, and returning to Shanghai I find an expat hospital. The good news is that the thumb is fine. I wore a splint for about a week, and the popping went away, though the pain returns from time to time. The hand surgeon believes I tore some cartilage in the joint – nothing to do but eat cartilage.
The good news is that the taxi did not speed off with my thumb, and I can play the guitar again.

Confession #2 - $1.25

We were in Beijing for the weekend. It was a long weekend, and Michelle had to work on Friday and Monday. She also has a lot of contacts in Beijing, and other expats were in town so we had a lot of time with them. It was really nice Rockwell provided a driver to show us around, and take us to the great wall. Needless to say we had little time to ourselves. The only time allotted over the four days were three hours on Sunday afternoon. Wanting a relaxing place we could talk we decide to take a taxicab to the equivalent of Central Park in Beijing.

We hail a taxi from the Hotel. Let me say taxi drivers in Beijing have the worst reputation of all Chinese cities. We explain where we want to go and the driver seems to understand. We pull out and the driver misses the first turn. We point and he says he is in the right place. Where are we? We pulled into the next hotel’s alcove. Then we go next door to that hotel, and sit behind the other taxis in the next alcove. And repeat to the next hotel. 10 minutes later we are about to pass our hotel again because all we have done is circled the block sitting in other hotel alcoves.

“Alright Michelle, get out we are getting a different cab this guy is taking us for a ride.”

So we jump out, we can easily walk back to our hotel. We get down the road about 300 meters, and the driver comes running after us. He gets in my face to pay him the 10 yuan ($1.25) for the ride.

“You did not take me anywhere, my hotel is right there I am not paying you anything.”

I brush pass him and he grabs my arm and starts dragging me toward the cab. He has a tight two handed grab at this point. I continue to protest that I am not paying him. And at this point the crowd at the nearby Starbucks is watching on, and a bilingual man intervenes to help with communication.

Michelle and I begin to walk away again, and this time he grabs me even tighter a pulls even harder. Michelle is ready to pounce on him, my only restraint is the fear of any sort of altercation with the Beijing police, but for the first time in my life I seriously consider hitting a man.

Reason kicks in: A fight is not worth a $1.25. I walk back to the taxi with the man, write down the taxi company name and his taxi license number, and then pay him the $1.25. We went back to the hotel and reported the driver to the hotel, who called his company and the police.

We finally made it to the park, and that evening received a letter of apology from the driver and his company, as well as our $1.25.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lesson on Redemption: Hongqiao Airport - Shanghai, China

Worst day of my life. Worse then the day in 3rd grade when the class bully dragged my face across the black top.

I barely slept last night. I honestly felt tortured by something from beyond my senses. Perhaps it was just something I ate. Woke up every few hours sweating, tossing and turning – terrified. Finally at 4:30 in the morning I forced myself to vomit. I Began to feel a little better. Tossed and turned for another few hours, and had to keep CNN on and stay in an upright position. Michelle was out of town so I was solo through all this.

I had to check out of the hotel by noon, but my flight to Beijing was not supposed to leave until 8. Not wanting to be far from a toilet, what do I do? Aside from all this I feel really alone in a one of the most densely populated cities on the planet with no one to talk to for the last week because Michelle had to travel to another city.

I will spare the rest of the details from the day, but it did not get much better.

I arrive the airport 3 hours before my flight, grab dinner. When I arrive to the gate find out the flight is delayed indefinitely. So I Call Michelle find out her flight is cancelled (she was in a city called Dalian, we were meeting in Beijing for a long weekend) and will not get to Beijing until the next night now.

I feel like screaming at this point. I am surrounded by hundreds of people, amongst whom you have to throw elbows to get a seat. Indefinitely having to sit somehwere I threw elbows to get my seat. None of them are able to speak with me. The airport is very loud as well, and the PA announces either a cancellation or delay every 2 minutes. All I want in the world is to see Michelle – which it does not look like it will happen.

U2 is my only hope. “Running to Stand Still” clams my troubled soul once again. I finally began to pray. A simple prayer I: a confession of my horrible attitude over the past week, worst of all in this horrible airport situation. An honest prayer telling God how I was feeling. A few more U2 songs…

“Where are you from?” Came from the calmest softest voice I had heard in days.

I turned to my left to see that indeed I was the one being addressed. The source of the voice was a 12-13 year old girl. Looking it seemed to practice her English and explore her curiosity of the white man in the crowd. We got to talking a bit, and she asked what I do. I found the easiest way to explain my job to the Chinese is that I teach other people about the Bible. She wanted me to teach her right away.

So, I had about 10 minutes to explain the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. She knew the story of creation and the temptation with the fruit tree, and she knew Jesus raised from the dead and it was something about forgiveness. I emphasized God created us to be at peace, and is restoring our peace. She was perhaps the most curious student I had ever had. She was so eager to hear about this good news. Even her mother listened with an inquisitive ear. Time was short before her flight had to board.

I asked her is she could read English – she said she was learning. I asked her if she would read an English Bible if I gave her one. I have never seen anyone so excited to have a chance to read the Bible.

As I handed her my pocket size NIV she responded “Really Mister, thank you so much,” all with the biggest smile. I asked her for her name. “Sara”. Then she was gone. I doubt I will ever see her again, but then again maybe I will. Pray for Sara with me and the seeds of God’s kingdom in China.

My flight left 8 hours late, I arrive in Beijing with the sun, and frankly I do not care. The worse day of my life became one of the most amazing experiences of God I have ever had.