Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday's Weekly Rap Up - September 16, 2016 - Lecrae, "I'm a Saint"

I'm a Saint - Lecrae (Lyrics)

For four weeks our church and neighborhood parishes are reading and reviewing the Sojourn Houston neighborhood parish primer. This is a time to be reminded of our identity as Christians, and as members of the Church. The parish primer is a tool that assists parishes, or more simply, smaller expressions of the local church, in developing a unified vision for how life and ministry within the parish will look.

The first week's topic discusses a Christian's position as a saint. Typically we hear "saint", and either think of someone that is perceived as having a pristine image and character. We think of a really good person. Or, we think of "saint" sarcastically, as in "Oh, they're a saint."

The New Testament of the bible regularly calls those in Christ, saints. It's not a reference for only the holiest of holy. The term "saint" describes a position for those who are Christians, not a result of striving to be holy, or attaining the name from an institution.

When we understand this truth, we're free to grow in holiness as a parish, as a church. This truth also allows us to serve and do good works in the name of Christ, without having to worry about doing those works to earn our position as saints.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday's Weekly Rap Up - September 9, 2016 - "The Omnis" - Shai Linne ft. Andy Mineo, Giano & Omri

"The Omnis" - Shai Linne ft. Andy MineoGiano & Omri 

Our church, Sojourn Heights, just recently finished an express series through the book of Job. The book of Job is written about a man who by all accounts was blameless and upright. Job is a difficult book. It provokes readers to continue to wonder, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Job loses his possessions, his family and his health, all things that we hold dear, and likely find much more hope and worth in than we should.

The book of Job continues with accounts from some of Job's friends, who really don't do much to comfort him. They really do a lousy job. They essentially tell Job that his suffering was caused by something that Job did. Job loses sight of who God is, and what he has promised. Job doubts that God is just in a world of injustice. Job continues to plead, asking God to clear his name. There's no answer to Job's suffering, so all go silent, until Elihu, the youngster, comes forward. This is the fourth person to address Job, calling him to listen to God, admit his self-righteousness, stop justifying himself, and to fear God alone. Still, none of these things address the "why?!" of Job's suffering.

What we're left with at this point in the book is a tension: either Job is right, and God is unjust, or Job is wrong, and God is just. All this tension is relieved through Christ.

The book reaches a crescendo in chapters 38 through 42 with the Lord speaking to Job. He almost mockingly asks Job, in Job's doubt, whether Job was present while he created this world. "Did you assign the coasts Job? No?... Okay then..." Essentially, the Lord is asking Job whether he has the knowledge and and perspective needed to run the world. Job is questioned as to whether he is bold enough to position himself above the Lord. Job ends up going quiet. The Lord asks him again whether he has anything to say, and Job continues to promise his silence (Job 40:3-5).

It's in these few chapters from Job that really call to mind our limited understanding of this world. Shai Linne's song, The Omnis, hits on these points. Take a listen, especially in the second verse, and see how it parallels what the Lord declares about himself to Job.

Who is like Him? There is none
Triune, Holy three-in-one
When all is said and done
God is amazing, amazing
His power cannot be compared
Exhaustive knowledge none can share
At all times everywhere
God is amazing, amazing yeah

For a fantastic overview of Job, as well as many other books of the bible, check out The Bible Project.

Previewing Cafeza in Houston's First Ward

Cafeza, in Houston's First Ward, is finally opening (tomorrow) Saturday, September 10, at 6:00 AM. Now, I'm not sure if there will be any sort of prize for anyone camping out before dawn (a-la-Chick-fil-A), but you'll have the distinction of being one of Cafeza's first customers. Neighbors have (or at least this neighbor has) long been anticipating the opening of the neighborhood coffee shop, which will join the adjacent Cafe Brussels and Stanton's City Bites as the only dining options along Houston Avenue in Houston's First Ward. This is a welcomed addition, especially given the increase in the number of people living in the neighborhood over the past few years.

The owners of Cafeza, Ryan and Keisha Hazen, who live in the First Ward, spent a few years wishing that someone would open a coffee shop in the neighborhood. Since no one else had, they did it themselves, drawing influence from time spent in Barcelona, particularly at La Granja Viader. They hope to bring to Houston the same quality and simplicity of food that they experienced in Barcelona. They hope Cafeza will be a place for locals to gather, listen to local musicians, and support the First Ward's artistic community. Kyle Buthod will act as Cafeza's operations manager.

Ryan and Keisha Hazen

Earlier this week, Cafeza hosted the First Ward community, including neighborhood and civic club leaders, real estate personnel, and many of the artists in the neighborhood. Yesterday my wife and I got a sneak peek of Cafeza during a menu preview party. We joined a number of other neighbors and guests who were excited to finally see the space at 1720 Houston Avenue, and to give their food and drink menus a try. The staff has had a few dry-runs this week, so their service was already very good, something that is usually an issue with new restaurants or shops. Aside from a small cash register issue early in the night, things ran smoothly, as orders came out from the kitchen quickly. Cafeza has drawn from the experience of other local coffee shops, including Boomtown and A 2nd Cup, so coffee service should be great. In general, Cafeza bills itself as a "European-style coffee bar"... featuring "a simple menu influenced by Spanish and Latin American cooking."

Cafeza's menu includes coffee, tacos, churros, cocktails, bocadillos and a number of other options. We had the opportunity to try a few items from the menu, as well as the whole line of breakfast pastries. The chocolate croissant was my favorite among the breakfast pastries, along with the chorizo quiche.

My wife and I sampled the Bernil bocadillo and a chai (we're 3 weeks away from having our first child, so drink options are limited right now!). The food was fresh and flavorful. I was most looking forward to trying the churros. They didn't disappoint. The looped churros were served with both chocolate and guava dipping sauces.

Churros, with chocolate and guava dipping sauces

The interior of the space pays tribute to the First Ward's artist community. A Wiley Robertson piece adorns the wall to your right as you enter. (Here's a condensed video of the painting process) There are a number of other works from local artists throughout the interior of the shop. A majority of the interior work was done by those connected to Cafeza, including the seating and bar counter. Now, Cafeza's space is quite cozy, so posting up there all day may not be as comfortable as somewhere like Boomtown (whose coffee is served at Cafeza), A 2nd Cup, or Paper Co. But, this week a few additional outdoor seating spaces were added to provide a bit more capacity, and there's an open air porch at the rear of the shop that provides a bit more seating. I'm particularly fond of their marquee sign at the corner of Houston Avenue and Crockett Street.

We're really looking forward to Cafeza's addition to the First Ward. It will be a place that offers a presence throughout the day, as hours will be from 6AM-11PM on weeknights, and closing at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. I hope that residents of the Near Northside will also find Cafeza's location convenient, as it's a short ride or walk along Hogan / Crockett Street.

This is one business that will certainly add to the vibrancy of the Houston Avenue corridor. As an urbanist, I can't help but want the Houston Avenue corridor to develop into a Main Street of sorts, as there are a number of opportunities to incrementally add to the streetscape and character of a community. The Houston Avenue corridor leads into Downtown Houston's western edge, but is relatively void of businesses and attractions, especially those that can be easily and repeatedly accessed by neighbors. It will be nice to have a "third place" in the neighborhood.

The service, food and atmosphere were all wonderful last night. I hope you'll give Cafeza a try. I know we'll certainly be back.

Follow Cafeza on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Some thoughts on San Antonio; The Impact Guild: Co-working in Beacon Hill

This post has been a long time coming. A number of weeks ago we went to visit some friends in San Antonio. Not being a native Texan, I don't have a great deal of familiarity with San Antonio, outside of hearing about it from others. I've visited a few times, but certainly not enough to gather all of what is happening in the city. Certainly Houston takes the cake when it comes to flash, glitz and pace of life, but San Antonio by all impressions seems to be a bit more laid back (I mean, even the Spurs seems laid back compared to other NBA teams). It strikes me as a city of neighborhoods and families.

But, I'll admit, there's something alluring about San Antonio and what is happening in the city right now. We spent some time in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, which is located about 2 to 3 miles to the northwest of Downtown San Antonio. Beacon Hill was one of the many neighborhoods that came about due to the expansion of electric trolley lines, in this case the San Antonio Street Railway Trolley. As one of the first platted subdivisions in San Antonio, Beacon Hill reminds me a great deal of Houston's Houston Heights neighborhood.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday's Weekly Rap Up - July 29, 2016 - "Lazarus" - Trip Lee feat. This'l

"Lazarus" - Trip Lee feat. This'l - Lyrics

Friday's Weekly Rap Up is something that I like to feature at the end of weeks, featuring some sort of rap song, along with how it coincides with the Christian life. This week we have the song "Lazarus" from Trip Lee, featuring This'l.

Last weekend we took part in an evangelism training course at Sojourn Heights, our local church, led by Jeremiah Morris. The training was a speed-through of the gospel of John, and highlighted chapter 11, which features the account of Lazarus.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Market Square Tower

On Tuesday night I had the opportunity to tour the much-anticipated Market Square Tower as a part of Central Houston's CHIME young professionals group. This will be Downtown Houston's tallest residential structure, and will serve as the tallest building on the northern end of Downtown Houston. Designed by hometown architects Jackson & Ryan, the project is being built by Harvey Builders adjacent to Market Square Park.

Philip Schneidau, CEO of Woodbranch Investments Corp. welcomed the CHIME group, updating us on the status of the tower, explaining his desire to build a residential tower in Downtown Houston, and answered a number of questions from those in attendance. He said that Woodbranch had owned the site (a former surface parking lot) for over 20 years, but it was about three and a half years ago when he was convinced building a residential tower was the right move.

Originally, Schnideau suggested a 30-story tower, but was rebuffed by Woodbranch's New York City investors, who suggested a 55-story tower. Everyone involved in the project settled on 40 stories.

After settling its height, Schnideau said each of the parties brainstormed amenities. He noted that there were between 30 and 40, including his and her spas, a golf simulator, and a game room. 

Schnideau noted that the tower is aiming for opening in late October (I believe the leasing agents said October 26). Only about 15 or 16 floors will be ready for the grand opening, as well as all the tower's amenities, with 4 floors being opened each month thereafter. The tower's penthouses on the 39th floor would be the last to be finished.

Paper City featured a story about the tower in June, summing up the number of amenities that Market Square Tower will boast. In that story Schnideau said  “We didn’t feel like there was enough demand." (referring to living units in Downtown Houston.) "Just in the last five years, we’ve seen the demand pick up.” This is no thanks to the Downtown Living Initiative, an economic development program established to spur multifamily and mixed-use development in Downtown Houston. The program aimed at providing this boost to up to 5,000 units. Currently, there are approximately 2,729 units under construction in Downtown Houston, with another 2,458 units planned

When asked about the estimated construction cost per square foot, Schnideau answered "It's a lot." He suggested that the project was over budget, but that it was more important to deliver a great quality product.

After finishing with questions, groups of 10 or so made their way up the exterior construction elevators to the building's 39th floor. This floor will host the tower's four penthouses, which will each cost tenants about $16,000 per month. The view from the units (especially the west penthouse) will be unbeatable.

We took the stairs up to the 40th floor amenity deck, but we were unable to take a walk into the tower's glass-bottom cantilevered pool. The amenity deck is nowhere near completed, but will offer a spectacular swimming setting when it's finished. Residents will be able to gaze down upon to Market Square Park, and face the rest of the Downtown Houston skyline to the south.

The ground floor will likely not feature any retail, aside from something like a cafe or coffee shop. Nothing seems to be final with respect to that space at this point. The building's lobby will feature an intricate marble floor and glass ceilings. It was evident to everyone in attendance that the developers had spared no expense in the materials of the building. Market Square Tower will be a great addition to Downtown Houston.

Here are a few renderings from the tower's website:

Friday, July 1, 2016

Friday's Weekly Rap Up - June 29, 2016 - "Penelope Judd" - Shai Linne

Shai Linne - "Penelope Judd" - Lyrics

It's been a while since my last Friday's Weekly Rap Up. So, back to it.

This past month at Sojourn Heights has been dedicated to the teaching of Romans 5 from our church planting residents. These are men who are being trained to become pastors, and hope to plant churches within different neighborhoods here in Houston.

This past week, Tony Villatoro, a resident who will be planting Sojourn Spring Branch in the coming months, covered Romans 5:15-19. (Listen to the sermon here.) This is a passage of scripture that informs us that the free gift of Christ and his grace is much more than we could ever expect. In the previous week, Carlos Rebollar, another Sojourn church planting resident, covered the previous three verses of Romans 5:12-14, reminding us that as humans we are sinful in nature. Often times we don't recognize or admit this, so we're apt to distance ourselves from Christ, thinking we don't need his work. But, like a visit to the doctor, an accurate diagnosis of our hearts produces a gratitude in our hearts.

So, after the darkness and gloom of the truths in verses 12-14, we're reminded of the beauty of God's grace to us in verses 15-19. The common theme between these verses is that Adam, the first man, sinned, producing God's judgement, but that Christ, the Second Adam, brought justification, or righteousness to our souls.

Tony ended his teaching with verses 18 and 19, reminding us that we must trust in Christ's obedience for our justification, or our right standing before God. It is only in his authority that he allows us to enter his palace, where we are made righteous. That's weighty stuff, but remember, we're trusting in Christ's work, not our own here; it's not a duty, it's grace.

As I listened to Tony, I was reminded yet again of one of my favorite rap songs. It's called "Penelope Judd" by Shai Linne. It's a children's story. But, like CS Lewis says, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." So, take a listen to "Penelope Judd". We're reminded of our human, sinful nature (verse 1). That's what we see in the town of Mud. We're then reminded of the fact that our sinful nature was not how God intended us to live (verse 2).

It's in verse 3 that we see what Tony was talking about, and what verses 18 and 19 of Romans 5 addresses: we're made righteous through Christ, not anything that we do.

The next thing she knew, the Prince Himself was at the door
He looked at her, smiled and said, “There’s room for one more”
He reached out and touched her- instantly she was clean
Wearing the brightest robe that she had ever seen
If the Mud kids had seen it, they would have gone blind
“Where’d you get it?”, she asked. He said, “Actually, it’s mine”
Shai closes with this chorus:
Long ago, laid aside my crown
Became a Mud kid, traveled to your town
They kicked me out, didn’t want me around
But those who love me get to share my crown
One act of obedience allows is to receive God's grace, which is much more than we could have ever expected. It's certainly much more than I could have ever expected.