The Church Search, Week 2

Week 2 of the Church Search took us back to Stonebridge Church for the second week in a row. (We kinda figure it’ll take at least a few weeks at any given place to really be able to make some sort of reasonable judgment on things.) We got out the door five minutes earlier this morning, leaving at 8:30 for a 9:00 service. We were there in 15 minutes, but the child check-in desk was quite a bit crazy this morning, so we still ended up not getting in to the sanctuary until the worship band had just about finished the opening song. Hopefully they’ll get the check-in stuff figured out soon.

Some continued/revised impressions carrying on from last week:

  • The folks seem quite friendly, and I’m enthusiastic about the age range I see. There is a good spread of old, young, teenagers, and children.
  • A lot of the music is unfamiliar, but it’s pretty solid stuff. During each song I’d be wondering “man, where did this song come from?” and then the last slide would have the author’s name and I’d recognize it. The last song of the service was written by Bebo Norman and Mitch Dane and I thought hey, I’ve met Mitch, even had lunch with him. Kinda cool.
  • The worship team was a little bit scant this week – fewer vocalists, no keyboard player at all. Makes me wonder how many folks the worship pastor actually has signed up, if he’s struggling to get people. If we were there I’d like to participate, just not be leading the team.
  • Jeff Holland’s doppelganger of a young adult pastor was supposed to be preaching, but apparently came down with a nasty cold yesterday. So, the senior pastor got to wing it, but still gave us a good sermon on Psalm 23. Enjoyed it.
  • The one thing I’ll gripe about the sermon, and I hassled Richard at Noelridge for the same thing: pastors that somehow refuse to use contractions when preaching. So far as I know, there’s nothing particularly unholy about ‘couldn’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘don’t’, and the like, but Pastor Richard at Noelridge and Pastor Randy at Stonebridge both seem to banish them from their vocabulary as soon as they get behind the pulpit. Anybody else get that from their pastors?

Next week Stonebridge is doing their official dedication of the new building, and they’re expecting a LOT of folks. They’ve actually gone door-to-door to everyone within a one-mile radius of the church dropping off small gift bags and inviting folks to visit. If it’s gonna be that crazy, we’ll probably take next week to visit the next church on our list. Not exactly sure yet which church that’ll be, but I’m kinda guessing Cedar Valley Bible.

It may be a little early to come to conclusions about Stonebridge after only two weeks, but my interim conclusion is that I like it, a lot. There’s a lot of good things going on there, a lot of good attitudes about things I think are important, and good teaching coming from the pulpit. If all the churches we visit are this good, it’s gonna be a difficult decision.

The Coffee Experiment, Day 30 or so

I have just about finished up the bag of Starbucks dark roast that we had here at home, what to get next? Well, I came home from work yesterday to find that my beautiful wife had picked up a pound of Columbian Orange Bourbon light roast from Brewed Awakenings, and a coffee grinder to go with it. What a great surprise!

So this morning, after one false start (didn’t grind the beans finely enough the first time), I’ve got a pot of coffee that tastes awfully close to what I drink down at BA when I visit there. Very good stuff. At some point maybe I’ll try out the french press and be a true coffee snob, but for now this stuff is working for me just fine.

Living Life Together

It is becoming more and more clear to me lately how we are created for community, and how much we need that community to live our lives. When we announced a month ago (though it seems like it has been much longer) that we were leaving Imago Christi Church, the primary reasons were a need to recalibrate and reprioritize. What I have started to see in the past month is how much the need for community played into our busyness and weariness.

Let me back up just a bit. While it was by no means the beginning of the issue, Becky and I had a long discussion on the way home from an Andy Osenga concert earlier this summer. (I’m stunned that I didn’t blog about it at the time, but I did post pictures to Flickr.) Andy introduced his song “Hold the Light”, as usual, by telling the story about his small group. They have gathered in somebody’s backyard every week for a couple of years, sharing life stories, praying, encouraging, and living life together. It’s a powerful song, and a powerful story. On the long drive home I found myself getting jealous of my friend Andy. How I would love to have a group of folks like that.

Over the past several years as a church leader I’ve been a part of dozens of discussions where we’ve talked about building community. How do we build community? We know we need it. How do we make it happen? Too often the solution seemed to be another program. Things like “let’s organize a small group book study” or “let’s start a group based around this particular interest”. We’d try to find leaders for the group, put out a signup list, and then get frustrated because the same people who were asking for community weren’t signing up for stuff.

Here’s where I think we, and many churches, have made the mistake: we focus so much time and energy on church programs that we rob ourselves of the time to just live life together. The best friendships and most supportive community I’ve experienced in my life haven’t come out of any church program; they’ve come from people deciding to get together around meals and activities to just live life. Meeting up at someone’s home to play basketball, eat a meal, watch football on TV. Taking off on the spur of the moment to help someone move a piece of furniture. Taking a Saturday to help someone move to a new house. What saddens me is how many times we’ve not done things like this because we were too busy – and usually too busy with church stuff.

This is easy to lament, but harder to correct. We’ve taken the first step by the only method we could see that would work. Now we’re looking for another church, and the place we’re looking for will need to place a high priority on this sort of community. I’m praying every day that God helps us find it.

Who, Me?

My brother Ryan has been working full-time as an Obama campaign volunteer for the past few weeks, and likely will until the election. He wrote this op-ed and asked if I’d want to post it here. So here ya go, bro.

Feel free to interact in the comments. I’ll try to get Ryan to come around and answer questions.


Who, me?
by Ryan Hubbs

Barack Obama has repeatedly made the statement that “this campaign is not about me.” McCain’s call to “Country First” echoes a similar sentiment. However, each candidate, by virtue of their negative attacks in recent weeks, seems convinced that the election is, at least in part, about their respective opponent. Which presents the question: who is this election about, anyway?

Senator Obama has an incredibly compelling – and uniquely American – personal narrative that transcends some of our deepest national scars. Senator McCain has a long and honorable record of service and sacrifice for his country. And both candidates, despite their magnified circumstances, are simply two Americans among millions of others who have fought, struggled, worked, and sacrificed against the odds.

Senator Obama, I believe, holds the better position on the issues; he recognizes that we have the opportunity to lead the world in developing the future of energy, that we have a moral and economic imperative to improve the access to and efficiency of our healthcare system, and that our current foreign policy is misguided and counterproductive. All of which are ideas the American people largely support – and Obama unquestionably possesses the superior ability to articulate his positions.

Some I’ve spoken with abroad – with the “outsiders perspective” – are surprised that the race is as close as it is. Many McCain supporters back the candidate due purely to their support for his political positions. But there is a large segment of America wants to vote for a candidate who is “like them,” and there are millions of Americans who will never be able to identify with Obama’s Harvard-educated, multi-racial, professorial persona. But even the person who can identify the least with Obama possesses a keen sense of the motivations that a candidate is trying to tap into in order to gain their support.

His impressive abilities aside, Senator Obama’s ideas and outlook are what brought him from the relative obscurity of the Illinois legislature to the world stage in a few short years. His appeal to our better instincts – the “Audacity of Hope” – and assertion that “what is wrong with America can be solved by what is right with America” mirrored his own personal story and tapped into something profound in the American psyche, giving us reason to believe that we could, against the odds, escape the infighting and cynicism that is suffocating our country and achieve something better. Because of this appeal to our better instincts, though, Obama – consciously or not – dedicated himself to playing by a better set of rules. McCain has not.

The McCain camp is currently banking their success on the appeal to peoples’ baser instincts. The absence of positive advertising in swing states mirrors the negativity demonstrated at his town halls, which has been tipping from frustration to mob-like anger. Even the head of McCain’s Virginia campaign compared Senator Obama to Osama bin Laden, stating, “they both have friends who have bombed the Pentagon.” A comparison this ludicrous would be laughable if it were not so potentially dangerous. The assertion that Obama’s participation on a charity board with Bill Ayers – a current university professor and former Chicago “Citizen of the Year” who was a violent ‘60s radical during Barack’s childhood – links Obama to bin Laden is as ignorant and baseless as suggesting that Chairman Mao and John McCain are comrades because of their mutual ties to Vietnam.

The Obama campaign, good as it has been, has missed some opportunities. When McCain first aired his now infamous “Celebrity” ad painting Obama as nothing more than a tabloid starlet, disparaging his energy plan and casting doubt on his leadership abilities, Obama had a great opportunity to elevate the situation by focusing on the issues and refusing to get drawn in to the politics of personal destruction. The retaliatory ad dubbing McCain a “Washington Celebrity” showed a willingness to let McCain set the tone of their campaign, which didn’t help burnish Obama’s still developing leadership credentials. Obama is taking a higher road than his opponent by continuing to run a large number of positive ads – but his campaign is also running several times more TV spots than McCain.

The prevailing wisdom of campaign strategists – one of our more cynical classes – is that failing to respond to attacks in-kind is political suicide. Attacks are inevitable though, and whether we are governing a country or simply ourselves, our response to unfair and malicious attacks can do more harm than the attacks themselves. Iraq and Guantanamo, for example, have cost us more in lives, money, moral authority, and, arguably, national morale than the attacks of 9/11. There is a way to respond to destructive actions without emulating the outlook and approach of the attacker, and the leader of the free world can’t wait for their opponents’ consent to work towards something better.

While I believe that Obama has the superior solutions to our national problems, the starkest, most accessible distinction that Obama can draw in this final push is to take every available opportunity to encourage people to vote for him rather than to against his opponent. His appeal to our better instincts has propelled him to one of the highest positions in the country, and personal story and skills have given him a once-in-a-generation chance to transcend some very deep-seated divides, change the nature of the political discourse, and to repudiate the prevailing Lee Atwater principle that “people vote their fears.” Acquiescing to the prevailing political norms, while it may not change the outcome of the election, could reduce his potential to that of an above-average national politician and hurt his ability to inclusively govern once in office, which will be essential in creating lasting, positive change in America.

The simple answer is that this campaign is about us. While there are a regrettably large number of exceptions, most Americans want the chance to believe in something better, to have a reason to cast their ballot in support of their hopes rather than their fears. It’s why Obama is where he is. And I sincerely hope that he takes the “risk” of giving America every opportunity he has to do that the rest of the way. After all, it’s not about him anyway.

Matthew Paul Turner’s Churched: A Review

Next up for review, courtesy of WaterBrook Press, is Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess by Matthew Paul Turner. Turner is a speaker, author, and former editor of CCM Magazine. Churched is written as a memoir of Turner’s growing up in a independent fundamental Baptist church.

In what will feel familiar to anyone who has been around that sort of church, Turner tells stories about dressing the part (complete with clip-on tie) and getting his first “Baptist haircut” (only a flat-top will do!), paints pictures of weird Sunday School teachers and loud, aggressive preachers, and who can forget the weekly altar calls? The stories hit a humorous note and manage to recount the frustrating times without coming across as cynical or cutting. In chapter 8 he recounts a third-grade Sunday School teacher named Moose teaching about hell:

[One morning] he looked at us and screamed, “BOYS AND GIRLS, DO YOU KNOW HOW HOT HELL IS?” He was serious, as if speaking to a room full of Christian meteorologists. “DOES ANYBODY HERE KNOW?”

As soon as Moose asked the question, I looked at my friend Angie. If anybody in our Sunday school class had visited hell and remembered to take a thermometer, it would be her. Not only was Angie always well prepared and organized, but she also claimed to make frequent visits to farr off places when she slept. One time, during a nap, we heard her mumbling in tongues. When she woke up, she told us she had taken a vacation to Montreal and been able to speak in French. When she saw me looking at her, she raised her hand.

“Mr. Moose, the temperature of hell is 666 degrees,” said Angie with the enthusiastic confidence of a demon. “Everybody knows that! Or should.”

I thought her answer was brilliant – possibly even correct – despite the fact i never believed she’d gone to Montreal.

Moose grew quiet. He didn’t tell Angie she was wrong, but he didn’t tell her she was right either. He just walked over to the door and shut off the lights. Moose’s Sunday school helper, Penny, placed large sheets of fabric underneath both of the doors to block the light coming in. The room became almost black. Moose stood behind his pulpit and found his Dollar General bag.

“This morning, I want to talk to you about hell.” His voice was quiet and low. He wanted it to sound spooky, and it did. “What’s hell like? It’s black down there. Much blacker than what you’re experiencing right now. Imagine a black so thick you can almost feel it. That’s what hell is like.”

I heard Moose rummaging through his paper sack and then the distinct sound of a Play button being pushed on a tape recorder. The crackling noise of the tape began. And then voices.

“It’s hot down here!” said the tape recorder. “We are thirsty! Very thirsty. We need Jesus.”

“Do you hear that, boys and girls?” asked Moose. “That’s what you would hear in hell. There would be a lot more of them, though. And some of the voices you wouldn’t be able to understand because they’re from other countries.”

While I assumed Moose was right, that his tape of sound effects could have been a live audio recording of hell, I was also convinced that if I closed my eyes during the church fellowship time, when a long line of Christians waited for Ho Hos and fruit punch, it might have sounded similar.

Turner’s stories are amusing and will provide laughs, grimaces, and knowing nods along the way. I felt like the story ended too soon, though. I would’ve liked to hear more about how Turner found his way out of the fundamentalist culture and where he is now. Still, it was an entertaining little book.

You can purchase Churched from

4 years, 1001 posts

Four years ago I started this thing called blogging, not, as they say, with a bang, but with something more akin to a whimper. Since then the blog has relocated twice (from to and finally to, undergone several theme makeovers, and has generally featured relatively mundane commentary on life, church, politics, and whatever else is on my mind.

Thanks to those of you who stick around to read my stuff, and thanks even more to those who interact in the comments. I wonder what this place will look like four years hence?

Links for 2008-10-13

Things I’ve linked recently:

  • You can never go wrong with Richard Wayne Mullins.
    (tags: cjh_comment )
  • The people who are responsible for defining the culture are not deliberately doing so. They do not wake up in the morning and decide, "Today is the day I will steer the culture of the company to value quality design".

    They just do it. The individuals who have the biggest impact on the culture and company aren't doing it for any other reason than they believe it is right thing to do, and if you want to grow in this particular company it's a good idea to at least know who they are and where they sit. You need to pay attention to this core group of engineers because as they do, so will the company.

Rainsoft of NE Iowa: A follow-up

A few weeks ago I wrote about a bad experience we had with an in-home sales call from Rainsoft of NE Iowa. I wrote the rant, emailed it to every Rainsoft of NE Iowa email address I could find, and that was that. Both of the email addresses I found for Rainsoft of NE Iowa bounced, and Rainsoft corporate doesn’t list an email address on their website, so I figured that was the end of it.

Then last week I got a phone call from Terry Bonik, who owns Rainsoft of NE IA. He had been notified of my blog post earlier that day, apparently by someone from Rainsoft corporate. In summary, he expressed these details:

  • He apologized profusely for the bad experience.
  • He told me that the saleswoman who visited our home has worked for him a long time and has never had another complaint like ours.
  • He agreed that three hours was far too long a visit, that they typically are only an hour in length.
  • He objected to my characterization of their giving us bottled water to taste but then not advising we buy the drinking water filtration unit as a “bait-and-switch”. Usually, he said, people do buy the drinking water filter, and so that’s a sample of what they would get. Our case just happens to be the exception, since we have pretty good water here in Hiawatha.
  • He volunteered to send me a $100 Home Depot gift card in hopes that it would help remedy the situation.
  • He asked if I would be willing to take my blog post down. I told him I’m not in the habit of taking down blog posts, but I would be willing to post an update on the situation. So here we are.

As I told Mr. Bonik on the phone, I rarely complain like this, and when I do, I even more rarely expect a response. I was quite pleased to get a response from him and was happy that he included some literature about the Rainsoft products. I don’t know how soon we’ll be in the market for a water treatment system, but I will add Rainsoft back to my list of firms to consider.

Now… I wonder if it’d be too forward to see if Chris Hubbs Design could be of any help for his web-hosting issues? 🙂