Mike Cope's blog

Sunday, August 31, 2003

This weekend I spoke at the "In Step" retreat at Camp Wyldewood in Searcy. Diane and I were overwhelmed with joy at seeing so many people we love that we haven't seen in person for ages. (By the way, except for one Sunday at Covenant Fellowship Church, it was my first time to speak in Searcy since 1991!) We were flooded with wonderful emotions of nostalgia. Fourteen years of my life was spent at Harding: four years as an undergrad student, three years at the graduate school (in Memphis), and then seven years preaching at the College Church. As we walked on campus, we thought about the many ways our lives were blessed by people there. I remembered life-transforming classes with Ray Muncy, Neale Pryor, Jimmy Allen, Jerry Jones, Tom Eddins, and many others. I remembered first seeing Diane in the Patty Cobb cafeteria. I recalled our first date: seeing the uncut, unedited version of "Wilderness Family" at the Rialto. One of the highlights was running into Dr. Ganus as we strolled through campus. In every possible sense, he's a giant of a man. I have respected him as a president, as an elder, and as an older friend. Just talking to him for ten minutes makes me want to be a better leader!

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Off to Searcy to speak at the "In Step" retreat at Camp Wyldewood. Look forward to seeing some of you there.

It began as a carefully constructed, formal speech. But in his heart, Martin Luther King wasn't a speech-giver. He was a preacher. So as his message moved along forty years ago today, he began departing from his text. A woman behind him piped up, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin." Here's how Taylor Branch (Parting the Waters) describes what happened: "The 'Dream' sequence took him from Amos to Isaiah, ending, 'I have a dream that one day, every valley shall be exalted . . .' Then he spoke a few sentences from the prepared conclusion, but within seconds he was off again, reciting the first stanza of 'My Country 'Tis of Thee,' ending, 'from every mountainside, let freedom ring.' After an interlude of merely one sentence -- 'And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true' -- he took it up again: 'So let freedom ring.' . . . As King rolled the freedom bells from New Hampshire to California and back across Mississippi, his solid, square frame shook and his stateliness barely contained the push to an end that was old to King but new to the world: 'And when this happens . . . we will be able to speed up that day when all God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" With that King stepped suddenly aside . . . ."

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

FISCHING FOR HARRY POTTER I'm always challenged by what John Fischer writes about Christian engagement in culture. Check out this article involving the Harry Potter controversy (in some Christian circles).

SKUNKS, TURTLES, and BUTTERFLIES I read an insightful article recently about people who change churches. Those people fall into three groups: the skunks, the turtles, and the butterflies. The skunks go out the front door with all the attention they can get. They make sure everyone knows they're leaving and WHY they're leaving. They try to make it clear how badly they'll be missed. As you can imagine, they leave an odor that remains for a while. Turtles quietly exit out the side door. Maybe they're hurt by the direction their church is moving. Perhaps they just couldn't connect with people to find meaningful community. But they don't try to become martyrs. They do their best to love everyone on their way out. Butterflies aren't really leaving--at least that's not what they have in mind. It isn't about the church they're leaving but about the opporunity they feel called to ahead. So they become a blessing to everyone--affirming the work of God in the place they have been and seizing the new chances they have to minister ahead.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Nineteen years ago today, an OB-GYN in Wilmington, NC, placed a tiny girl into my arms. We named her Megan Diane Cope. We had no idea that day of the joys, challenges, and sorrows that were ahead. For ten years she blessed our lives and the lives of people in Searcy and Abilene. Even since her death, her witness of simple love-in-brokenness has continued (at least in part through opportunities God has given me to speak and write about her). Tonight our little family will gather for cake to remember her life of love and to anticipate a day of joy in the future. Maranatha.

Monday, August 25, 2003

I sat in my first Spanish class this morning since thirty (that's right, 3-0) years ago. As I look at the projected demographics in Abilene and Texas, it just makes sense for me to quit procrastinating. You won't likely see Cal Thomas quoted a lot here. But this morning's article on the Ten Commandment conflict in Alabama was insightful: "If the ultimate question is how best for God' followers to interest more people in his message, then the ultimate answer ought to come from internal, not external, things. Loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison and caring for widows and orphans make up the 'strategy' laid down bythe Founding Father of the Christian faith. Could it be that too many have forsaken the harder but more effective work in favor of exterior symbols that, like crosses worn as jewelry, tell the observer nothing about one's heart?"

Sunday, August 24, 2003

This morning I'll do something I've never done: start a series through the gospel of John. I feel more at home in the world of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John is unfamiliar terrain. Light and dark. "From above" and "from below." Have you ever stopped to think how different our view of Jesus (and the Trinity) might be without John's gospel?

Saturday, August 23, 2003

As we approach the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, do yourself a favor: stop long enough to read (or watch) it again. I like what Philip Yancey wrote about King and his influence: "I better understand now the pressures that King faced his entire adult life, pressures that surely contributed to his failures. King's moral weaknesses provide a convenient excuse for anyone who wants to avoid his message, and because of those weaknesses some Christians still discount the genuineness of his faith. (These Christians might want to review the list of outstanding people of faith in Hebrews 11, a list which includes such moral deviants as Noah, Abraham, jacob, Rahab, Samson, and David.) I certainly once dismissed him. Yet now I can hardly read a page from King's life, or a paragraph from his speeches, without sensing the centrality of his Christian conviction. I own a collection of his sermon tapes, and every time I listen to them I am swept up in the sheer power of his gospel-based message, delivered with an eloquence that has never been matched."

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Insightful words from John Stott in the new issue of Christianity Today: "Tolerance is one of today's most coveted virtues. But there are at least three different kinds of tolerance. "First, there is legal tolerance: fighting for the equal rights before the law of all ethnic and religious minorities. Christians should be in the forefront of this campaign. Second, there is social tolerance, going out of our way to make friends with adherents of other faiths, since they are God's creation who bear his image. Third, there is intellectual tolerance. This is to cultivate a mind so broad and open as to accommodate all views and reject none. This is to forget G. K. Chesterton's bon mot that the 'purpose of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.' To open the mind so wide as to keep nothing in it or out of it is not a virtue; it is the vice of the feebleminded."

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

"The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone, and I must follow it if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins a larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say." - Bilbo Baggins

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Tonight, a little past my bedtime, I'm speaking at ACU's candlelight devotional. I think this is the seventh time in the last eight years. (I decided not to speak at the devotional Matt's freshman year. Seemed like he ought to have SOME break from his dad's preaching!) It's an amazing thing to stand before 1400ish new university students who are holding lit candles and singing praises. I try to imagine their parents back home praying for them . . . and the transformation that will happen in the next four years . . . and the ways that God will use them to accomplish his purposes in this world.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Yesterday we had a meeting for parents who have children in Highland's children's ministry--from birth through 5th grade. It's a meeting we became qualified for in March 1982. And we're still--barely!--qualified (as Chris enters the 5th grade). Very interesting to look around at the other parents, though, and realize that we could be THEIR parents!

Got to spend a couple hours today with Lynn Anderson. I always walk away from conversations with Lynn with more joy in my heart and more commitment to the work of God in this world. So many people who follow larger-than-life ministers wind up disappointed in what they learn. For me, it's been just the opposite. Since taking over "Lynn's pulpit" in 1991 (after he was here 19 years!), I've found him to be even more authentic. Oh sure, there are the humorous stories about how he could never find his keys. But as a minister, shepherd, and friend, his tracks are genuine. Lynn is exactly my dad's age, and he has "fathered" me in ministry, just as he has so many others. To see what he's up to these days, check here.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Idi Amin, the "Butcher of Uganda" who referred to himself as "Big Daddy," has died. (See CNN article.) His name sits next to Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot: evil men who were responsible for the massacre of the masses. It's estimated that 500,000 were brutally killed under his reign of terror. Our friends on the Jinja, Uganda mission team once took us to the place where the Nile River begins. At that spot where Lake Victoria dumps out to begin the long journey of the Nile, Amin once dumped truckloads of cripples to drown and be eaten by crocodiles. Some are upset that he never received the punishment he deserved. I'm just reminded that not all punishment comes from human courts.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

One of Jimmy Buffett's most popular songs is "Son of a Son of a Sailor." I was thinking about that this week as I was writing a sermon on the church as a family. I thought about all the family members (Copes and Bushes and other relatives) who have helped form my life. Echoing the song's title, I'm the son of a son of a carpenter. I remember these things about Forrest Cope: 1) He was a hard worker. People described him as a carpenter who did good work, kept his word, and crossed racial barriers (before others were willing to). His rugged hands were testimony to his long hours. 2) He loved to study the Bible. I remember how he loved to fill out those old Gospel Advocate quarterlies! He knew each of Paul's missionary journeys by heart. (It isn't fair they he knew WAY more about the Bible than I do about carpentry. I didn't get that carpentry gene.) 3) He loved my grandma and all his kids and grandkids. I think he had a nickname for almost all the grandkids. 4) He loved to eat . . . a good match for Grandma's culinary skills. 5) He never lived in a large house or drove a fancy car or received an advanced education. He was content with a simple life of faith and family. My life has been shaped by two carpenters: one, a hard-working grandfather in SW Missouri; the other . . . well, you know.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Spoke last night at Otter Creek in Nashville. What a joy to be there on the home turf of most of the Zoe gang. We've worked together several years now at Pepperdine and at the Nashville conference (as well as scattered other worship conferences), and I love worshiping under their leadership. What an amazing sound! Wait until you hear CD #7! It was amazing to look out last night and see all of the familiar faces--people for whom I was their preacher while they were in college (either at Harding from '84-'91 or at ACU from '91-'03). Of course, the new bunch of students we'll meet this Sunday will still just be 18 years old. That's the odd thing about ministry with university students. You age . . . while they remain 18-22!

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

We just got around to watching "Bruce Almighty." (For helpful parental information, see "Screenit.") After Bruce (Jim Carrey) gets overlooked for a promotion and then fired, he screams at God (Morgan Freeman), "You're the one who should be fired!" So God invites Bruce to take over his job for a while. The most theologically insightful moment comes later when Bruce's girlfriend (Jennifer Anniston) walks out on him. Bruce cries out to God, "How do you make someone love you without affecting free will?" And God answers, "Welcome to my world. When you figure that one out, let me know." Now there's a discussion starter!

Monday, August 11, 2003

What is spirituality? Even people worn out by burdensome or irrelevant religion have spiritual yearnings. But what does it mean for a Christ-follower to be spiritual? One of the best short responses comes from my dear friend Darryl Tippens. Darryl points out some distinguishing marks of Christian spirituality: (1) it entails a specific way of life; (2) it is God's work, not ours; (3) it is trinitarian; and (4) it is concrete and communal. Link to the article and soak it in!

Sunday, August 10, 2003

This month is the beginning of my 13th year preaching for Highland. That means Highland has only had two preaching ministers since 1971! On mornings like this, full of prayers and blessings, I look out amazed that God lets me be a part of this herd.

Friday, August 08, 2003

This weekend Diane and I will do the "meet-you-halfway-between-here-and-Missouri" switch with my parents. They've had Christopher (age 11) and his close cousin Maddie (10) for the week. What a great thing it's been for our children growing up to have the nurturing of grandparents. I like the old quip that grandparents and grandchildren are so close because they share a common enemy. I've been obsessed lately (partly because of an incident at Highland that I told about in the Christian Chronicle) with the question, How can the church be a place where grandmothering and grandfathering takes place--especially for all the kids who either don't have grandparents or rarely get to see them?

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Already I've received this raving response to my blog: "I love this. I'll enjoy reading it regularly." Thanks for the note, Mom. Last night in "Peak of the Week," Randy Halstead spoke about "sacred places." That resonated with me, especially since I'd written about one sacred place in Monday's journal. But I got to thinking about other sacred places in my life: Green Valley Bible Camp (where I went every year as a kid), Glen Eyrie (a retreat center in Colorado Springs), Serra Retreat Center in Malibu (where I like to go pray and walk the stations of the cross), Megan's grave, Highland's sanctuary, and the dining room at Darryl and Anne Tippens's old house. Now our covenant group rotates homes, but for a few years, we always met there since their kids were raised. It was/is a place of joy, of prayer, of hope, of grief, and of connecting. Now I'm wondering . . . What sacred places do you have in your life?

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

A friend of mine who interned with me at Highland several years ago and is now in Tulsa is the one who's encouraged me to start this blog. Go check out Wade's site.

I'm ready to launch my new series on the gospel of John (beginning with the new ACU school year). But at this eleventh hour, I'm still not sure of the theme. I'd been planning to call it "Radical Claims, Radical Courage." John apparently wrote to a group of Christians who had recently been separated from the synagogue. For many of them, that meant loss of family, loss of heritage--even loss of income. (See hints of this in 7:13; 9:22; 12:42; and 16:2.) In response, he makes radical claims about Jesus--arguably the "highest" Christology in the New Testament (perhaps along with Hebrews). But now I'm intrigued with a passage in John 12. God speaks from heaven about Jesus' glory. Some said it was just thunder; others knew it was more than thunder. So, I'm playing with the theme "More Than Thunder." As soon as Wade or someone else tells me how to get comments at this site, I'll ask for your feedback!

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Dr. Paul Brand died last month in Seattle. As I reflect on the life of this amazing man -- a surgeon/missionary who cared for leprosy patients in India, tenderly restoring bodies and hearts -- I remember the joy of reading IN HIS IMAGE, FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE, and THE FOREVER FEAST. In FEARFULLY he wrote, "I have sometimes wondered why leprosy merits its own mission; I know of no 'Malaria Mission' or 'Cholera Mission.' I think the reason is the starving need of leprosy patients for human touch. It is a unique and terrible need, and Christian love and sensitivity meet it best." In SOUL SURVIVOR, Philip Yancey named Dr. Brand as one of his heroes and guides in faith. Reflecting on their work together (Yancey coauthored IMAGE and FEARFULLY with Brand), he wrote: "We made an odd couple, Dr. Brand and I. I was a young punk in my mid-twenties with a bushy Art Garfunkel-style hair; Brand was a dignified, silver-haired surgeon characterized by proper British reserve. In my role as a journalist I had interviewed many subjects: actors and musicians, politicians, successful business executives, Olympic and professional athletes, Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Something attracted me to Brand at a deeper level than I had felt with any other interview subject. For perhaps the first time, I encountered genuine humility."

Monday, August 04, 2003

We just returned from Pensacola Beach--our 15th straight year in the same condo (since 1989). It is now like holy ground. We can look out at the sand on the gulf on one side and the sand on the Santa Rosa Sound on the other side and picture our children. We remember taking a little boy and his younger sister. We remember taking the brand new baby in 1992. We can still see Megan there during her very ill days. We recall clearly the first summer of grief following her death. And now this year, we got to return with our boys and a girl (who next year will be our daughter-in-law). It has been a sanctuary, an oasis, a respite, an emergency care center through this decade and a half. We have swam, played tennis, bought fresh fish at Joe Patti's, eaten the best grouper sandwich in the world from Peg Leg Pete's, jumped in the waves, collected shells, biked, thrown baseballs, played Uno and Hearts, read, listened to Jimmy Buffett and Michael W. Smith (not together usually), watched movies, prayed, and grown deeply in our love.