Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stewardship as Creation Care

"As our culture renewed its appreciation for the environment, the Christian church discovered that it had a unique voice to add to the movement. We learned that dominion had more to do with care taking than with exploitation of the created order. We learned that the God whom we serve included animals in the Noahic covenant restricted work for beasts in the Sabbath laws, and forbade the wasteful destruction of trees in the Deuteronomic laws. And we learned that creation waited with us for the time when it would be freed from its bondage to decay. 

The shock wave of the environmental movement was felt in the Christian church most tangibly in a renewed appreciation for the idea of stewardship. We learned that stewardship has as much to do with our natural environment as it does with our personal finances. In particular we learned (or remembered):

1. that the created order reflects the glory of God and has inherent worth independent of our use for or appreciation of it;

2. that we did not create the natural world and we therefore must receive its benefits with humility and gratitude; and

3. that the created order is fragile and that we have a mandate to preserve it and care for it."

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, pp. 67-8 

Sidewalks in the Kingdom

"Private Christians have a cultural problem. They have rejected the dominant culture out of a sense of fear but have not envisioned a replacement for the dominant culture out of their own communal life, because they have been focused more on the moment of conversion than on the fullness of salvation. In the absence of a coherent cultural vision, they have inadvertently appropriated more subtle elements of the dominant culture (such as individualism and consumerism) into their daily lives. . . . Public Christians, on the other hand, have a political problem. They have hitched their cart to the dominant cultural institutions and have lost some sense of their own distinctive identity as Christians. They have focused on the institutional elements of their churches and have lost touch with both the people in the churches and the people of the world whom they purport to serve. . . . Church politics could lose some of its oppressive and irrelevant character if it were once again seen at a local level in a relational context. Church politics, like its secular counterpart, is really just an attempt to live and work together within our distinctive covenant identity. . . . ultimately, we need to make sense of our cities from our distinct theological perspective. We have a rich theological heritage to draw from, but we need to apply it anew . . . . A great constructive project awaits us."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Four Precious Words

Here are four words that have become precious to me: Stewardship, Neighbourhood, Economy and Vocation.

As a pastor, I've spend a lot of time through the years teaching on the concept of stewardship. Of course, stewardship narrowly defined is often thought of as a reference to financial management. In the context of the local church, it usually comes with the negative association of the pastor urging the congregation to give more money to the church! While financial management is a significant part of a proper understanding of stewardship, nonetheless, the concept is broader, deeper and far more all-encompassing. In the New Testament, the Greek word used to describe the steward is oikonomos. The word is derived from two terms, oikos and nomos. Oikos is a reference to the household and nomos to the "law" or to "rule." So oikonomos literally translated is "household ruler." Some modern Bible translations will sometimes take the word and translate it "household manager."

How can seeing our lives as a proper stewardship extend to our understanding of faithfulness in our homes, neighbourhoods and in the broader society in which we, by God's grace, "live, move and have our being"?

If we pause for a second and extend the idea of "household management" to an entire community, so now we are talking about economic life. How are goods and services exchanged in order to serve the common good and to contribute to human flourishing? Maybe before going so broad, we might think of a local neighbourhood. What constitutes the proper management of my resources so as to benefit and serve my neighbour? In a healthy neighbourhood, how are "goods and services" exchanged out of concern for others? Have you ever needed a cup of sugar from a neighbour? help with lifting a heavy object? When my son Calvin was a toddler, I was responsible for him and must confess, I lost him. When my neighbour Kevin heard the frantic plea in my voice as my heart pounded and I combed the neighbourhood calling out, "Calvin! Calvin!" Kevin rushed out of his house to join the search, saying to me in my dazed and frightened state of mind, "you go to the southwest, and I will go to the northeast and when we get to the end of the block, let's move counterclockwise." A few minutes later, when my other neighbour down the street Vicki came walking back with Calvin in her arms, I felt the enormous pressure of fear release from my body. Calvin had made his way down nearly an entire block and my neighbours had extended the gifts of comfort and common mission (Kevin) and childcare (Vicki) in my momentary lapse.

In my new neighbourhood in Vancouver, I have come to appreciate the carpentry gifts of my housemate Pedro, so Pedro has built a custom-made bookshelf in my office at Grace Vancouver Church, to assist with my sense of belonging in the space of my employment. Pedro has done this not as a member of the church, but as a member of my neighbourhood. Also, Pedro and his wife Hiyori have a little one and my teenage daughter cannot wait to babysit once Kai gets old enough to be watched. On so many levels, while we may not entirely think of these "exchange of gifts" as gifts of gainful employment (with the exception of Pedro's carpentry), nonetheless, we are speaking of marks of a healthy community and a loving and caring economy.

Is the world we inhabit and seek gainful employment not simply a "larger household" or "neighbourhood" in which we are called to love and serve as members? As Wendell Berry has said, a healthy economy "turns on affection." Elsewhere, Berry has written in his book Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, p. 14:

If we speak of healthy community, we cannot be speaking of a community that is merely human. We are talking about a neighborhood of humans in a place, plus the place itself: its soil, its water, its  air, and all the families and tribes of the nonhuman creatures that belong to it. If the place is well preserved, if its entire membership, natural and human is present in it, and if the human economy is in practical harmony with the nature of the place, then the community is healthy.

Bouman-Prediger and Walsh in Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, p. 143, reinforce the notion of how the concept of Stewardship extends to the broader community:

The Greek word oikonomia "means the management (nomos), or care exercised by the economist, or steward (oikonomos), for the household (oikos) and for that within it that is entrusted to him." Will the household be managed in such a way that public resources are developed and shared to the benefit and livelihood of all members of the household? Only such a household is considered to be a good economy; only such a household is obeying the rules of the household. 

Because this world is the "household" into which Jesus "made His dwelling" (Jn. 1:14), so a proper stewardship of the good gifts of God in service to neighbour is our call, our vocatio, to discharge. Vocation matters as well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tiny: A Story About Living Small

Having downsized from 3000 sq. ft. to 1200 sq. ft. in the move from Lincoln to Vancouver, I found this documentary to be very interesting. Maybe the difference with our situation is that Vancouver is so expensive that even if one were to build a "tiny house," nonetheless the land upon which it sits would be extremely expensive. All that to say, seeing that I am researching the notion of "home" and "homecoming" in my doctoral work, I loved some of the reflections:

"Since 1970, the average house size in the United States has doubled, but for some people, bigger isn't necessarily better." -Christopher Smith, producer

"Home is hard to define because it is not one thing; it is a collection of details that all contribute to tell the story of who we are and where we belong. . . . I learned that whatever it is, home is never something that we build alone." -Christopher Smith, producer

"I think for me, a sense of home is a sense of belonging." -Dee Williams

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Christian Sojourner

"The Christian sojourner is a dweller, but all dwelling this side of God's good future fully realized is provisional and incomplete. The sojourner sinks roots in a particular place, makes a home, dwells, but she always knows that she could be called elsewhere, to sink roots there, to make a home, and to dwell. The sojourner neither clings to her particular place, like the plowman, nor is indifferent to all places like the wayfarer or postmodern nomad. The sojourner loves her place but without clinging to it."

Hsu Prayer Newsletter, 4th Edition, "Glorious Ruins"

Hi friends, we send out a quarterly prayer newsletter to friends and supporters. I thought I'd post it here- if you'd like to be added to the list, just let me know.

                                   Hsu Prayer Newsletter, 4th Edition

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It's Go Time

Wow, what a whirlwind of a year- we moved to Vancouver, have adjusted to a new city, country and congregation, . . . basically a new life. My Doctor of Ministry work at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis has experienced a gradual progression, I might emphasize, "gradual" : ) And now I find myself having completed my coursework for the D.Min. program. So it is "go time" on the dissertation research and writing. Prayers are appreciated as my advisors are encouraging me to finish and submit my work by February 2015. I honestly do not know if I can get it done, but it's nice to have some kind of target to shoot for. Before giving away too much regarding what my topic is, as it is still in the "pre-approved" rather than "approved" stage, I'll simply quote, . . . guess who? . . . Wendell Berry!

"But the fall of community reveals how precious and how necessary community is. For when community falls, so must all the things that only community life can engender and protect: the care of the old, the care and education of children, family life, neighborly work, the handing down of memory, the care of the earth, respect for nature and the lives of wild creatures."

-Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, p. 133

Friday, June 6, 2014

Reframe and Washington Institute

I had the privilege last fall joining the Reframe conference put on by Regent College in partnership with The Washington Institute, the ministry of my mentor and friend Dr. Steven Garber:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Havel's Secret

Every once in a while, a Hollywood star inspires me towards a good life. Listening to Angelina Jolie sharing some of her story and coming to see her "responsibility" towards the world, made me think of Vaclav Havel's famous line:

The secret of man is the secret of his responsibility

World's Toughest Job

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Grace Vancouver Sunrise Service on Granville Island

He is Risen!

Easter, the Center and Turning Point of History

"The resurrection of Jesus from the dead happened, and theologians can only deny its historical character by defining ‘history’ in such as way as to exclude it. That this definition has been common in all ages is natural, for if ‘history’ has a source and goal other than Jesus Christ, the resurrection cannot be an event in history. St. John’s Gospel is written in the faith that Jesus is indeed the word through whom all things were made, and in whom all truth is to be made manifest (John 16:12-15). The resurrection cannot be part of any history unless it is the center and turning point.”

-Lesslie Newbigin in The Light Has Come

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

"If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No- it was expedient at the same time of him to undergo the severity of God's vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death."

-John Calvin in Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk. 2, chapt. 16, sec. 10

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Skiing BC and Views from the Mountains

One of the great gifts of being in British Columbia is that we have access to downhill skiing nearby; I thoroughly enjoyed skiing the mountains of Colorado as a kid in Vail and Steamboat Springs and the last decade or so with our friends Rob and Carla in Beaver Creek and Keystone. I do find though that having mountains nearby makes the venture a bit more accessible and affordable: 1) the mountains are within 30-45 minutes from our home so when we are done skiing, we go home; 2) there is a Grade 4 and 5 program where kids skiing virtually for free (Isaac skied 3xs on the local Cypress Mtn., and we paid $10 total for his three lift tickets) and 3) similar to the case of skiing Colorado, so friends here offer great opportunities; last night I went up to Grouse Mountain with a friend to do some night skiing- I skied for free on a friend pass. Earlier this year, I stayed at a friend's condo while skiing Whistler-Blackcomb, a destination spot for avid skiers all around the world.

In addition to creating memories with my kids (especially through all the difficulty and grief of missing Nebraska), we were able to partake in some amazing views of BC, one of the most beautiful places in the world. Here are some pictures through the season:

Isaac and his friend Isaac on Cypress Mtn.

Calvin with Isaac on Cypress Mtn.

Mike and Mia on Cypress Mtn.

The View of Howe Sound from the Top of Cypress Mtn.

Scene from Cypress Mtn.

Mike and Friend Wes Skiing Whistler-Blackcomb

The View from Whistler-Blackcomb

Calvin Enjoying Juice on Cypress Mtn.

Mike Enjoying Night Skiing on Grouse Mtn. (Vancouver in Background)

The Sun Setting on Grouse Mtn.

The Night View of Vancouver from Grouse Mtn.

Mike and Friend Peter Night Skiing on Grouse Mtn.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Be Thou My Vision and Leonard Cohen Meet

This blessed me today- would you know the smile of God as we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Beauty of Vancouver

After six months in BC, we continue to adjust to life in the city, and we continue to grieve the loss of dear friends from our fifteen years in Nebraska. However, we find God's mercy and grace in many places up here as well; one of them is on this jog past Granville Island and alongside False Creek today, I stopped and took this picture on my smartphone:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

We Refuse to Be Enemies

Palestinian Christian Daoud Nasser, his life and work to fight for solidarity, hope and peace in a part of the world where such ideals are a struggle to achieve, are documented in this remarkable piece:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Rib

Preparing a sermon out of Gen. 2 and thinking about the gift my wife is, I read this beautiful quote by Matthew Henry:

"The woman is not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Spending our first Christmas Eve service with our new church family here in Vancouver, we had a marvelous time of food, joy and thanksgiving. During our service, we showed this beautiful video:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Restaurant Owner Tim Harris

Tanya and I both fought tears when we watched this piece about Tim Harris who is a restaurant owner, though having Down's Sydrome. I continue to grow into the deep conviction that "ordinary work" matters deeply to the work of God in the world. As Tim says of his work, "we are a gift to the world." Yes, Tim, you are right. I praise God for you. 

"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" -Psalm 90:17  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian

Joining a new church community, I'm getting acquainted with new resources and favorite books that serve as backbones to the community of Grace Vancouver Church. Bolsinger's book It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the Community Transforms Lives is one such book.

Here is an excerpt from Bolsinger:

"The early church understood and taught that to be baptized as a Christian meant to undergo an 'extraordinary thoroughgoing resocilaization' so that the community of believers would become virtually the primary group for its members supplanting all other loyalties.' Through this relational restructuring of the Spirit, the believer progresses in depth of faith (relationship to God) and in transformation into the likeness of God (understood in relational terms and expressed in relationships with other believers- see 2 Cor. 3:17-18; John 13:14-15). Indeed, as the 'fruit of the Spirit' (Gal 5:22-26) attests, relational maturity is virtually indistinguishable from spiritual maturity, and the spirituality of a community is defined by the quality of the relationships formed" (pp. 75-6).

Monday, December 9, 2013

On Writing Well

So I have not been blogging much as of late as the transition to Vancouver has been quite an adjustment. However, in preparing for my dissertation writing course this January in St. Louis at Covenant Theological Seminary, I've been going through Zinssser's classic book On Writing Well. It may sound like "boring reading," but actually I have found much of it to be helpful and enlivening. Let me share a small excerpt that talks about the concepts of "quest, intention, character and values":

"The quest is the oldest themes in storytelling, an act of faith we never get tired of hearing about. Looking back, I notice that many students in my class, assigned to think about a place that was important to them, used the assignment to go on a quest for something deeper than the place itself: a meaning, an idea, some sliver of the past. The result was that the class always had a warm dynamic for a group of strangers. (Some classes even held reunions.) Every quest that a student embarked on found an echo in some search or yearning of our own. Moral: any time you can tell a story in the form of a quest or a pilgrimage you’ll be ahead of the game. Readers bearing their own associations will do some of your work for you.

Intention is what we wish to accomplish with our writing. Call it the writer’s soul. We can write to affirm and to celebrate, or we can write to debunk and to destroy; the choice is ours. Destruction has long been a journalistic mode, rewarding the snoop and the hatchet man (or woman) and the invader of privacy. But nobody can make us write what we don’t want to write. We get to keep intention. Nonfiction writers often forget that they are not required to acquiesce in tawdry work, to carry the trash for magazine editors who have an agenda of their own- to sell a commercial product.

Writing is related to character. If your values are sound, your writing will be sound. It all begins with intention. Figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it, and work your way  with humanity and integrity to the completed article. Then you’ll have something to sell.” (pp. 259-60)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Common Grace on The Eve of a Hallowed Day?

Like Easter through the years, in recent years, I have come to anticipate All Saints Day on Nov. 1st each year. As Tom Wright says in his remarkable book, Surprised by Hope, "The two appropriate times for remembering the Christian dead, and for doing so in a way that expresses genuine Christian hope, are Easter and All Saints Day." Among evangelical Protestants, this time of year does not receive much mention, short of referring to Oct. 31st as Reformation Day for a small company of Protestants among the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, who commemorate Martin Luther's pinning of the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door in 1517. Perhaps there are good reasons and appropriate concerns from the Faithful regarding certain doctrines surrounding purgatory, etc.; however, it seems to me that to celebrate the triumph of Christ and His resurrection, ought to at least have an eye towards the brothers and sisters who have gone before us and now reign with Him (anyone read Heb. 11 and the beginning of Heb. 12 lately?) Well, so I found this video I thought to be quite good and share it with you:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Is Somebody Singing

My brother-in-law Brian who lives in Toronto passed this on to me. Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station. He wrote this song with the lead singer of the Canadian band, The Barenaked Ladies. Brian tells me that every Canadian kid knows it; it's a cool song.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Proud Papa and a Happy Day

Yesterday was a marvelous day for me; ironically enough, the day was 9/11. Grace Chapel, the church that Tanya and I planted in 2000 with folks from our mother church, recently voted on their 2nd senior pastor (to succeed me as our family is now in Canada: unaware? see the call to BC) Ben Loos received an overwhelming majority by the Grace Chapel congregation to become her next senior pastor. What can I say? I am a "proud papa." When I was on the phone with Ben earlier today, I told him, I think I am more excited for this than even you (Ben was simply humbled and sober about the whole bit- I was telling him that he needed to go out on the town with the elders of Grace Chapel and celebrate!) Praise God from whom all blessings flow! 

To hear a bit more about Ben's story and relationship to Grace Chapel, watch the 5:05 - 6:20 mark of the video below, a video that was produced by the church-planting arm of the Presbyterian Church in America last year, before we took the call to BC. I am happy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Beauty of BC and the Photo-Bomber

So we are missing our friends in Nebraska but settling in well to BC. We are getting to know and enjoying the people of Grace Vancouver Church. Undeniably we are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. In this photo we are at Garry Point Park in Steveston, BC grabbing some fish and chips at the famous Pajo's. The personalities of our children are highlighted in this picture as Mia and Isaac are enjoying the water and the sand, and Calvin our youngest is doing what he does best, running like a crazy man and photo-bombing.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Grieving for Leaving Nebraska

Yesterday morning, the moving trucks left our Diablo Dr. house. This was the house we lived in for 11 years, in a city we lived in for 15 years. Our children had known only one house to this point, and when we left Lincoln late in the afternoon, it was incredibly difficult to do. Along with our neighbors and friends, we all cried. Our two oldest didn't want to leave the house at all; and the rest of us hurt in our own ways. How do you leave a place that you have loved for so long? And why do you leave a place you have loved for so long? My oldest Mia is pretty angry with me- I can tell as we have always been close and have a tight dad-daughter relationship. I think she may be a bit mad with God as well; after all, she likely thinks it was dad and God in cahoots on the idea of moving to Vancouver B.C. And if this is what she thinks, she is for the most part right.

I don't know how to fully grieve this incredible loss, other than to write. I write- that's much of what I do. When I think of Lincoln, NE, I think of Grace Chapel and I think of our neighborhood on Diablo Dr. in particular. Someone said to me recently that there is something wholesome about Nebraska. It took me a few minutes to take in the comment, as I have been an evangelical Christian for many years now. Our first instinct as evangelicals is to assess that there is a real problem with this world, and that problem is sin. I think the instinct is right and that we must be honest about brokenness and sin in this world; however, I also think we get away from the theological notion of Common Grace that often permeates a people and a place as well. After all, we are His creatures (apart from redemption in Christ) and this is His world (apart from the New Heavens and New Earth). This is not to say that we no longer need to be redeemed or that this world doesn't need the transforming power of Christ and the hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth; but, it is to say that all good gifts in which we partake come from the Father of Lights (James 1:17).

What are the "good gifts" that have come from the Father of Lights to this corporate thing called Nebraska? To borrow from Wes Jackson, what is the "genius of the place"? I think it is probably wrapped up in this idea of the wholesomeness of Nebraska. When we were negotiating a deal on our house, doing a For Sale by Owner, we got to the point where we had two offers on the house. The first family to offer had the first right of refusal and basically the promise that their situation was solid, and that they were committed to buying the house. However, the question of an earnest payment then came up, so that before we could let the second family "walk," we had to have some sort of good faith deposit that the first family would actually come through on the purchase of the house. Coming from more of an urban cutthroat environment, some of my new friends from Vancouver thought we should ask for a 5-10% earnest payment on the house ($15k-$25k), before releasing the second family from their interest in the house. We talked to a good friend here in Nebraska, someone who had been a realtor for years here, and our friend said that he had never heard of such a large earnest payment from an interested buyer. Our friend said that in Nebraska, $1500 was a more typical earnest payment, so that's what we asked for.

Now, what would keep a family from walking away from a $240k house, if the only thing they stood to lose was $1500? Well, here's the answer: not much. But what I came to realize in the experience was there is still very much a "handshake culture" in Nebraska; someone's word is their bond. The good faith expectation from this first family has been that they will do everything on their end to see the purchase of the house through; $1500 and a handshake is what has been asked of them initially (we plan to close on Sept. 6th). Of course, in the middle of all of it, we have made new friends with the buyer family, and we have said to them, in the future, we would love to come visit our neighbors and see how they as a new family to Diablo Dr. add their personal style to the house as well. They responded, "We would love for you to come over when you are back in Nebraska and hope to stay in touch with you!" This is the wholesomeness of Nebraska. You see, I trust my neighbors with my life and my children. What am I describing? It's the notion of the wholesomeness of Nebraska, isn't it? It's the good gifts of the Father of Lights to these people, a wonderful attribute of our neighborhood we will miss terribly. Now, as a good evangelical, I can spend a lot of time qualifying what I mean and what I don't mean, how it pertains to salvation, how it doesn't, but I don't want to qualify anything at this moment of grief, just to appreciate the moment for what it is. So we grieve for leaving Nebraska, but we do so with thanksgiving and hope.

Since today was the first day of school for our Diablo Dr. neighborhood kids (and we think about them today), as a way of honoring our neighbors, which is a way to honor the genius of Nebraska, I thought I would post a picture from the first day of school from last year 2012: