Short list got shorter

Well, we talked about it some more last night and agreed that Cedar Valley Bible Church is off our short list for the reasons I discussed earlier. So now we’re back to looking at our short list, figuring out where to head next. Not sure if we’ll visit Stonebridge one more week or skip down to the next church on the list.

More likely we’ll sit down with the phonebook, newspaper, or some other reference list and work through the short list again to figure out what places we might have missed… then we’ll go from there. Still praying for guidance on a daily basis.

An odd correspondence of sorts

Abraham Piper writes a blog I quite enjoy over at Twenty-Two Words. He seems like a guy that I would quite enjoy. We’ve actually developed an email correspondence of sorts over the past few weeks. It has gone something like this:

Abraham: Your comment on my blog got flagged as spam. Sorry, I don’t know why. I approved it for you.

Me: Thanks! I enjoy your blog.

Abraham: Your comment on my blog got flagged as spam again. Sorry, I don’t know why. I approved it for you.

Me: Thanks! Keep up the blogging!

Abraham: Your comment on my blog got flagged as spam again. Sorry, I don’t know why this keeps happening. I approved it for you.

Me: Why does wordpress.com hate me? Anyway, thanks! I’ll keep commenting!

I’m sensing a theme here.

Abraham: maybe sometime we can exchange emails on a different topic. Until then, please keep blogging, and thanks in advance for resurrecting my comments.

Music Tuesday: Andy Gullahorn’s “That Guy”

Andy Gullahorn is a guy that will sneak right past you without you noticing, if you let him. A supremely-talented songwriter and guitarist, Andy has perfected the songwriting technique I’ll call the “Gullahorn Gut Punch”, GGP for short. His song tells a story, gets you all involved, and then at the last moment sucker-punches you with a conclusion or moral to the story that you were not expecting… and that takes your breath away. I first experienced the GGP when I first heard Andy as he sang “Holy Flakes” during a concert back in 2005. But Andy takes it to a whole ‘nother level in the song I want to share with you today.

The song is called “That Guy”, and is on Andy’s latest album, called Reinventing the Wheel. It starts out this way:

He scoped out the market
All the women and kids
With so many distractions
Nobody noticed him
Nobody noticed him
He had a jacket a size too big
A skullcap on his head
And a couple of homemade bombs
He duct taped them to his chest
He taped them to his chest

You’re already into the story, right? What’s gonna happen? The first time I heard this in concert the audience was breathlessly on the edge of their seats. For real.

God loves that guy
God loves that guy

Now there’s the Gullahorn Gut Punch. Whammo. All those horrible things you were thinking about this terrorist are suddenly reproved as Andy reminds us that yes, God loves that guy. Ouch. Then comes verse two and the bridge:

He followed his heart
To a co-worker’s bed
He could have salvaged his marriage with kids
But he chose to leave instead
He chose to leave
He thought it was love
But it was just a mirage
So he sits in his idling car
Parked in a closed garage
Inside a closed garage

God loves that guy
God loves that guy

Me on the other hand I can write somebody off
Like the last check for a student loan
I can love when it’s convenient
But it’s not always convenient
It’s not always the easy road
I want to look past the outside to the well-meaning heart
To the good they forgot that they had
Teach me to love, teach me to love
Teach me to love like that

OK, if the song ended right here it’d already be an awesome song. But Andy takes it up another notch here with a sort of reverse-GGP.

He messed up again
Wanted to disappear
But he can’t ‘cause he’s easy to find
I see him in the mirror
I see him in the mirror

God loves that guy
God loves that guy

And here’s the beauty of the song. For two verses we’ve been remonstrating ourselves about our lack of love for others, feeling down on ourselves. And then in this third verse, Andy sneaks up on us and gets us back, telling us to remember: God loves us, too. Wow.

You can buy Reinventing the Wheel and Andy’s other CDs at the JillPhillips.com store. (Jill is Andy’s wife, and she’s the one with the fancy website… Andy’s is less-fancy but hysterical, well worth a visit.

Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe

Lydia asked for it, so here it is…

Ingredients

  • 2 (10 ounce) cans chunk chicken, drained – I prefer to boil a couple of chicken breasts and shred those in place of the canned chicken
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup Ranch dressing
  • 3/4 cup pepper sauce, such as Franks® Red Hot®
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Instructions
Heat chicken and hot sauce in a skillet over medium heat, until heated through. Stir in cream cheese and ranch dressing. Cook, stirring until well blended and warm.

Mix in half of the shredded cheese, and transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, cover, and cook on Low setting until hot and bubbly. Serve with celery sticks and crackers or tortilla chips or, my favorite: Fritos Scoops.

An end-times deal-breaker

So yesterday afternoon I noted that the next church on our short list for visiting during the Church Search was probably Cedar Valley Bible Church. I know a few folks there, including the couple that has brought Andrew Peterson and company to town twice for concerts. I’ve been to a wedding there, too, and my overall impression was that the church might be a little further over into the conservative homeschooling culture than I’d be comfortable with, but then, it might be OK.

The only other note I’d made about Cedar Valley thus far was when perusing their Doctrinal Statement online, it seemed to me that they had a far more detailed and lengthy statement on the End Times than do most doctrinal statements I’ve read. A very literal, pre-trib, dispensational sort of end times view. Still, as of yesterday, the church was still on my short list.

Then last night I cruised on over to the Cedar Valley website again to check out Sunday morning service times, and I noted this link on the sidebar: “2008 Second Coming Conference“. That’s right, in November Cedar Valley Bible will be bringing in a special speaker from Friends of Israel to speak three times over two days. The topics:

  • “Close to Construction” – Presentation on the movement in Israel to rebuild the Temple and how it could fit into Bible prophecy.
  • “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” – A look at some different views of the rapture along with Biblical proof for the pre-tribulation position.
  • “Signs of the Times” – Biblical evidence that we are now living in the end times.

And that’s just about a deal-breaker for me. Let me explain a little bit why.

I grew up in what I’d consider a pretty standard set of evangelical churches. We attended a C&MA church for a while in Fremont, NE, then a Bible church in Granbury, TX. I got the basic dispensational teaching on the end times – basically, Left Behind without all the dramatic stuff that made LaHaye and Jenkins best-sellers. Imminent rapture, followed by a 7-year tribulation, followed by Christ’s return for 1000 years, followed by Satan being let loose again on the earth, followed by another clean-up and the ultimate destruction of the earth and creation of a new one, etc. Most of the time I was just confused by it. Maybe it was partly my practical engineering nature – we’re not gonna know what’s happening until it’s done, right? So who really cares?

I stayed basically in that theological position until reading N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope a year ago. In Surprised by Hope, Wright explains, among other things, the amillennial position on end times in a way that actually made sense to me. It turns out there is a whole ‘nother way to interpret the passages in Peter, Thessalonians, and Revelation that I had never been introduced to. And that there were legitimate, reasonable Christians who believed it. Talk about an eye-opener. Since then I’ve read a couple of books by Kim Riddlebarger on amillennialism, which too have been helpful. At the moment I’d say I’m at the point of leaning toward an amillennial position, but feeling no need to be dogmatic about it. There are far more important things to get worked up about than the end times.

Which leads me to my end-times deal-breaker with Cedar Valley Bible. This (apparently second-annual) “Second Coming Conference” shows me that they’re very interested in being dogmatic about a pre-trib dispensational end-times viewpoint. And while I’m OK with them believing that (heck, Noelridge, Imago, and Stonebridge all have the word “premillennial” in their doctrinal statements), I’m not really OK with a church being dogmatic about it. That just won’t work for me.

Becky and I had a good talk about end-times stuff last night and why I feel this way about it. I don’t know that we’ve decided anything yet, but I’m really leaning toward taking Cedar Valley off our list.

[N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope at wtsbooks.com]
[Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism at wtsbooks.com]
[Kim Riddlebarger’s The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist at wtsbooks.com]

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.