Mike Cope's blog

Sunday, November 30, 2003

InSIGHTful words from Helen Keller: "I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind. And the same method can be applied to the other senses. Hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra, as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never smell and taste again. Make the most of every sense; glory in all the facets of pleasure and beauty which the world reveals to you through the several means of contact which Nature provides. But of all the senses, I am sure that sight must be the most delightful."

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Great football the past few days. No, not the Cowboys. We enjoyed being at the game, even though the Dolphins dominated. And not even the Longhorns, though that game went much better. (I have great memories of Matt playing two years against Cedric. It was obvious then that Benson was going to be gaining a lot of yards past high school!) I'm talking about football in our front yard. I tried to make myself all-time QB, but it didn't work. Whether as QB, receiver, or defender, though, I can't think of many things I'd rather do than play ball with my boys.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Tomorrow we'll be in Dallas for the Cowboys game against the Miami Dolphins. Since I'll be out of computer range on Thanksgiving Day, then, I want to jump one day ahead. He would have been 20 tomorrow. Jantsen Barrett Cope was born November 27, 1983. And for fifteen years and seven months, he made this world a better place to live. Here are some of the words I spoke at his funeral in June of 1999 (following his sudden death from heart failure--which came with no warning): "I'd give anything if Jantsen could come out today for a curtain call. I'd be standing and cheering, applauding wildly for one of the best performances I ever expect to see. And as I applauded, I'd tell him thanks. I'd say, 'Thank you for teaching me about what's important in life. Thank you for exposing some of the insanity of this world by focusing on what really matters.' "Most of us have a way of living such a frantic, serious pace that we miss the blessings of God that are right in front of our faces. But not Jantsen. He preferred a slower pace. Why mow now if there is apple butter remaining to be eaten? That's not a bad philosophy of life--especially since scripture says that this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. So many of us can't enjoy today because we're living in the nostalgia of yesterday or because our lives are on hold while we wait for something in the future. But not Jantsen. He always enjoyed the moment. Hanging out with his cousins and friends. Playing golf. Fishing. Telling knock-knock jokes. Playing pool. Swimming. Playing hockey and skiing. . . ." I still miss him. I miss his bear hugs, I miss his gentle spirit, I miss his humorous imitations. It's fitting that Jantsen's 20th birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day. My nephew blessed my life in ways that I'll cherish until I see him again. I'm looking forward to another bear hug!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I've been thinking the past couple days about a phrase I picked up from a Bill Bryson book: "low-level ecstasy." Sure, we get our kicks from the big events: the exotic trips, the romantic getaways, etc. But what about daily, low-level joys? Isn't there ecstasy in those moments as well? How are you helping your family experience low-voltage ecstasy?

Monday, November 24, 2003

A great weekend in Montgomery. Last night 1200 people from four congregations combined for a joy-filled evening. Jerome Williams led the singing and I preached. The extended praise team (trying to avoid the word "choir" here) of about 40 was made up of singers from the four churches. Someone told me recently his grad school prof speaks disparagingly quite often of "happy clappy churches." Most profs I know don't take cheap shots like that. They remain supportive of the tough work of leading churches. But occasionally there's one who has to run down churches that aren't his preference or aren't THEOLOGICAL enough for his tastes! Anyway, this was a pretty "happy clappy" weekend. People seemed pretty convinced that Jesus is still alive. They seemed to value Christian community. And they seemed to love praising God. Landmark is an amazing church. They've made some bold decisions about who they are, keeping a laser focus on mission: on reaching out to the broken-hearted and oppressed and on helping people come to faith.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I'm in Montgomery, AL, today. Today is almost a state holiday in Alabama: the day the Iron Bowl is played between Alabama and Auburn. The whole state is dressed in either crimson red or orange. I spoke at the Landmark Church this morning. (The revival is Friday night, Saturday morning, and then Sunday. They knew there was no way to compete with the Iron Bowl on Saturday PM!! I respect that.) Buddy Bell had asked everyone to dress to support their favorite shirt. The audience was about half crimson red and about half orange and blue. Just as I began, I took my denim shirt off to reveal my Texas Longhorn burnt orange shirt underneath! I told them I was sorry that I didn't have a UA or Auburn shirt, but I don't have time to keep up with Division II football. They responded with good-natured hissing. By the way, Sports Illustrated just named this the best rivalry in college football. That's saying a LOT when you think of Ohio State/Michigan, USC/UCLA, Texas/Oklahoma, Florida/Florida State, etc. - - - - Today on the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, I recall one image that testifies to the strength of our constitution. LBJ stood with Lady Bird on his right and Jacqueline Kennedy (wearing a pink jacket spotted with the blood of her husband) on his left and took the oath of office. It was an image seen around the world -- an assurance that, despite the catastrophy, there was stability.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Megan Diane Cope died nine years ago today. Who -- in our success-driven world -- would want her genetic make-up? She was, after all, mentally retarded. And yet . . . she changed our worlds. She was a quiet, loving witness to the gospel. She was an incarnation of God's love. She received whatever gifts of service we offered to her without expecting more. She embodied the truth of 2 Corinthians 4:7: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." Her ten years here were too short. So today, again, we grieve her absence, and we look forward to seeing her again to thank her for helping to set our worlds right.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Last night Ralph Krazer, one my older elders, said to me, "I sure appreciate what you do. I can't do that." He and Anita have been some of the biggest preaching supporters of my life. I replied, "Ralph, that's all right. Because I can't fix anything!" (Ralph, on the other hand, can fix EVERYTHING!) I appreciate the sign on a plumber's truck: "WE REPAIR WHAT YOUR HUSBAND FIXED!" Question for today: Is "fixing stuff" a spiritual gift?

I'm reading an amazing book by Tracy Kidder called MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS. It's about the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, "a man who would cure the world." This incredible man bounces back and forth between Boston and Haiti, using all his time and energy to help the poorest of the poor in the Western Hemisphere. I'll probably write much more about this later. But for an introduction to some of his work, check this site.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Today at our staff meeting I asked everyone where they were when they heard (40 years ago this Saturday) that President Kennedy had been shot. Everyone who was five or older knew exactly! The two who were two year olds had no memory, and several weren't even CLOSE to being born. (Is this what people mean by SENIOR pastor?) I was a second grader at Field Elementary School in Neosho, MO. I remember like yesterday Mrs. Ferguson coming in to break the news to us. Time stood still for day after day, even for a seven year old. How about you? Where were you on 11/22/63?

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I have a long-time love/hate relationship with travel. I love getting to share my faith in places around the country. It's such a blessing to be asked. But for every trip, there's an exchange (besides the exhaustion of travel). This weekend I'm preaching in Montgomery, AL. It's a trip I've been trying to work out for six years to be with my friend Buddy Bell and the wonderful Landmark Church where he preaches. But . . . I'll be gone for the anniversary of Megan's death, I'll miss Chris's weekend soccer tournament, and I'll be absent on one of the most special Sundays of the year at Highland. Keeping my platinum status with American for the past decade has had its privileges . . . and its costs! It's been so hard to say "no" to people who've asked me to come speak -- but every "no" has also been a "yes" to my wife, my kids, my church, my friends, my ACU class, and my energy level. Not complaining. It's a great privilege. Overall, I think Diane and I have made good decisions about the amount of travel. But I know this -- I don't ever remember regretting having said "I'm afraid I can't this time"!

Monday, November 17, 2003

A letter to the editor of the LA Times about Gene Robinson becoming a bishop in the Episcopalian Church: "I am just glad that the founder of the Anglican Church, Henry the VIII, and his wife Catherine of Aragon and his wife Anne Boleyn and his wife Jane Seymour and his wife Anne of Cleves and his wife Katherine Howard and his wife Kathryn Parr . . . are not around to see this assault on the values of traditional Christian marriage!"

Just finished Ian McEwan's great novel ATONEMENT. It's an engaging read, though a bit slow for the first half. A 13-year-old girl makes a mistake (in accusing someone of a crime) based on what she thinks, in her adolescent immaturity, she knows--a mistake that was very costly for a whole family. She spends her lifetime trying to make atonement. By the end (after a surprising twist), you realize the problem: only God can truly be in charge of atonement! The novel begins in 1935 in England, then moves to the French coast during WW2 (as Allied soldiers attempted to evacuate under German pressure), and then finally to the close of the 20th century.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Some weeks sermon preparation is like squeezing juice from a plump Florida orange. Other weeks it's more like squeezing juice from broccoli. Those (These!) are the weeks when a line from an old hymn comes back: "Lord, speak to me that I may speak . . . ." Run, don't walk, to the movie "Luther." What an inspiring film--apparently quite accurate historically. Two scenes stand out, as I think of the courage of those who paved the way for us. First, the "Here I am" speech is incredible. Luther asks for a night to think about what he's going to say when he's summoned to Worms to recant. Then, after a night of prayer, he returns with his moving words of faith and courage. Second, there is the scene where other leaders had to decide whether they would hide behind Luther, waffling in the presence of authorities, or put their own necks on the line. You won't forget the image of their decision!

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Two great books to recommend today: MERE DISCIPLESHIP by Lee Camp (a former Highland member and now a Bible professor at Lipscomb) and UNFINISHED RECONCILIATION, edited by Gary Holloway and John York. I read both of these in manuscript form a couple months ago, and the final products just arrived today. Lee's book is aptly subtitled "Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World." And it is a radical vision of Christianity that he capably presents, walking readers through the life and the teachings of Jesus. Check out these chapter titles: "Worship: Why Disciples Love Their Enemies" "Baptism: Why Disciples Don't Make Good Americans" "Prayer: Why Disciples Trust God Rather Than Their Own Calculations" "Communion: Why Disciples Share Their Wealth" "Evangelism: How Disciples Make a Difference" There are lots of strong chapters in UNFINISHED RECONCILIATION (including two by Lee Camp). But you'd better buckle your seatbelt before reading the prophetic words of Ken Greene!

Want to know how I define "vision"? Go to this link and watch (on broadban) this amazing sermon by Rick and Kay Warren. They're setting a vision for their church (Saddleback) to take on five gigantic problems in the world: spiritual lostness, lack of servant leaders, poverty, disease, and lack of education.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The SI link with Rick Reilly isn't updated. So here's his editorial about Bobby Stoops. It hurts me to publish something so good about an OU coach! What the hell are we going to do with Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops? He's clueless. He's inept -- he's two flights and a puddle jumper from ept. Most college football coaches have egos just slightly larger than Boise, Idaho. You couldn't find Stoops's with a magnifying glass and tweezers. The guy drives the preschool car pool every morning. In his Pontiac minivan! Texas coach Mack Brown has an office big enough to U-turn a Greyhound bus. Stoops's is so small you have to leave to sneeze. O.K., so he's got the Sooners, who beat Colorado 34-20 last Saturday, 8-0 and No. 1 in the country again. Look at the lousy example he's setting! Coaches have been known to cheat on their wives, slobber on Sigma Chis, speed-dial strippers. Stoops? He goes to his wife's Mary Kay cosmetics conventions in support of her career. Coaches are supposed to watch film until 2 a.m., sleep on their office couches and get started again at sunup to prove how much they care. Stoops? He's usually home for dinner. He holds Wednesday-night "family meetings," during which the coaches' spouses and their 30 kids turn the football offices into Gymboree. He doesn't start his day until 8:45 in the morning, so his coaches can see their broods off. On the Thursday before Oklahoma's 65-13 fricasseeing of Texas in Dallas, Stoops was eating lunch with his first-grade daughter at her school when he noticed that half the kids were missing from the lunchroom. "Where are they?" Stoops asked a teacher. "They left already for the Texas game with their parents, Coach," she said. Uh, coach, hello? You know what the problem with Stoops is? He's got the wrong hero. His hero is a man who was never even a head coach in high school, a history teacher and defensive coordinator who used to bring game film to his little three-bedroom house on the tattoo side of Youngstown, Ohio, and watch it on the refrigerator door. Why? He wanted to be near his wife and six kids. The hero? Stoops's father, Ron. "There was nobody wealthier than my dad," says Stoops. "He was a man before his time. He'd do the dishes, do the laundry, scrub the floors. He could've had all kinds of head-coaching jobs -- high school, college -- but he didn't want 'em. He wouldn't have wanted my job for anything. He loved his life just as it was. He was happy. What else can you want?" And that's why, when Ron dropped dead of a heart attack on a high school sideline at 54, his son dedicated himself to living a life just like his father's. But he didn't become his dad -- he became much better. He's 42-4 the last four seasons with one national title and another one penciled in for this year. He's Coach Clutch with a 10-1 record against Top 10 teams, 16-1 against Top 25 over the same period. And he did it after inheriting the 101st-best offense in the country five seasons ago. But he won't take his job seriously! He's addicted to gadget plays. He's been known to have his quarterback hand off through his legs to a running back. If he had his way, he'd fake punts as often as kick them. Somewhere, Bud Wilkinson is biting his whistle in half. And he's got this completely dopey idea about discipline. He thinks college players need it! OU now graduates 82% of its football players, which -- and I am not exactly sure -- is an 8,200% increase over the Barry Switzer era. The biggest mess a Stoops troop has gotten into is the six traffic tickets amassed by free safety Brandon Everage last month. Hell, Brian Bosworth used to do that on the way to practice. Football coaches are supposed to give it the Full Neuheisel: secretly sniff every job opening while insisting to the fans that you're not going anywhere. Stoops has gotten more offers than a prison hooker, but he hangs up on 'em! He's turned down Pitt, Iowa and Florida, and the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers. Coach in Norman, Okla., instead of San Francisco? Were his taste buds removed at birth? "I have a great life here," he says. "What more could I want?" Can we all slap our foreheads in unison? O.K., maybe he wants to go for the Living Legend thing -- stay at one place forever and get the stadium named after him. At 43, Stoops already has 51 wins. At this pace, he'll pass Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden like they were Yugos. "No way," Stoops says. "It's O.K. for them, but I don't want to still be coaching when I'm their age." In fact, sometimes Stoops wonders if he wants to coach at this age. "This job can just get so complicated -- people pullin' on you -- that sometimes I think how great it would be to just go coach the neighborhood kids," he says. "Just be more like my dad was, simple. Simple can be sort of beautiful, you know?" Man, you talk to him.

Monday, November 10, 2003

The "Festival of Faith" is complete! Tonight I got to hear (again) Tony Campolo tell the "it's Friday but Sunday's comin'" story. I was glad most of my 106 ACU students were there to hear it. (The fact that for attending they received 10 bonus points on the tests they got back today was, I'm sure, coincidental!) Actually, that group made up most of the students there, which is a shame. Tony speaks to thousands of students all over the country each year. In fact, I can't think of any speaker who has preached to college students more in the past decade or two than him. The past two days convicts me again of the significance of Jesus' proclamation, "The kingdom of God is at hand!"

Tony Campolo. What can you say? I was so impacted by his books in the eighties. And I'm still mesmerized by his preaching (with stories I know by heart!). His passion and his message stir me. I love how he speaks about the kingdom in a way that emphasizes both social justice and evangelism. A man who has been despised by both liberals and conservatives has my utmost admiration! About 3000 attended yesterday's interdenominational assembly at ACU's Moody Coliseum. I'm guessing 1000 were from Highland!

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Eugene Peterson. Philip Yancey. Anne Lamott. Dallas Willard. Larry Crabb. There you have it. My reading list. You can have most of the other books on a Christian best-sellers list. But give me the things these people are writing. Today an old (1980) gem from Peterson: "Pastoral difficulties develop when people . . . instead of putting trust in the God who is able to work beyond our expectations, attempt to find a point of leverage at which they can pry a miracle out of God to satisfy what they think they need. Miracle for them has almost nothing to do with God; it is a demand item which will get them what they want. "In such a way religion is misunderstood as a kind of technology of the supernatural: it provides the know-how to get things done when physicians give up, when counselors fail, when the economy disintegrates. If one learns to pray according to the correct formulas and has 'enough faith' a miracle can be produced. "But that is not what the Bible, ever, means by miracle. True, miracles are evidence of a God who does things we cannot do for ourselves. But it is not a power that is put at our disposal. The function of miracles, biblically, is to break open reality so that we see existence in its essence, see beneath the surface routines we took as the whole picture, and we have revealed to us what was hidden by our stubborn insistence on sense-data or our slow-witted faith, and have more and more of our lives drawn into the healing-saving orbit of personal love. Chesterton drew attention 'to the fact that Christ worked his miracles not to escape time but to plunge men into the choices time presses upon them.'"

Friday, November 07, 2003

The Love-of-My-Life is a year older today. Happy birthday! Have you seen the new SI yet? All 2,548 covers of Sports Illustrated are included. It's interesting to read the all-star cast of those who have been on the cover the most. You start, of course, with Michael Jordan. He was there 49 times! Now, that's dominance. Next was Muhammad Ali (37), followed by Kareem (22), Magic (22), and Jack Nicklaus (22). Among those on there three times: Hank Aaron, Kathy Ireland, Babe Ruth, A-Rod, Ozzie Smith, Cheryl Tiegs, and Pete Sampras. All right, not all are on there because of their athletic accomplishments!

Can't wait to hear Tony Campolo on Sunday and Monday. What an influence this man has been. He has pleaded with Christians not to be reductionistic with the gospel--not to diminish it to something like "the saving of souls." He has continually called on us to understand the implications of the kingdom of God that has broken in. He keeps asking people to face the question: "What does it mean for us to follow Jesus?" That is, what would it mean if, instead of just going to church, we decided to take discipleship seriously? Yesterday I fed burgers at noon to 15 of my students. I expected them to run off afterward, but they noticed that we had "Finding Nemo." So the ones who didn't have class (at least I'm assuming they didn't!) stayed and watched the movie. At the end, after Nemo and his dad were reunited, one of the girls told me it made her want to drive home and see her parents.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Hurray! A break from speaking on Wednesday evenings. (Am I getting less creative, or was it always hard to give birth to two messages each week?) Tonight Randy Harris starts a 3-week series called "Theological Explosions." I'm lucky. The fill-in preaching at Highland isn't bad: Randy, Jack Reese, Mark Love, Jeff Childers, Tim Sensing, Steve Weathers, etc. (If Weathers ever decides to give up his career as an English prof for preaching, I'll surely be thrown out on the street to make room for him!)

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The Agricultural Department has just reported that more American families are battling hunger than there have been in many years. It's related to the jump in the number of people living in poverty -- 34.6 million in 2002 (up 1.7 million from 2001). We're a nation battling obesity and hunger. 65% of adults and 13% of children are significantly overweight. And yet millions are finding it difficult to get enough to eat. One of the problems is that diets are easily compromised in families with poverty-level incomes. They have to buy filling, high-calorie food that isn't always nutritious. Perhaps the more disturbing trend is how fewer and fewer seem to care. As long as MY family is doing well, as long as My kids have a good school, as long as MY neighborhood is safe, then the world is fine. But the world isn't fine. The kingdom of God continues breaking in to reverse our perspectives. It keeps calling on us to open our eyes to the needs all around us. It keeps reminding us that we are to serve rather than to be served. I spoke recently to a man in Dallas who is giving his life (and resources) to community-building among the poor. He said his great frustration is that people often just don't care if it isn't THEIR neighborhood and doesn't involve THEIR kids. They would vote for policies that made their lives a tiny bit better--even if it delivered a crushing blow to the unseen poor. Here's a thought for the day: In a nation where both hunger and obesity are a problem, what does it mean for our mission to hear Jesus say, "I am the bread of life"?

Monday, November 03, 2003

"Finding Nemo" comes out tomorrow. Bet we can beat you to Super Wal-Mart! Is there a more hilarious scene than the sharks' 12-step meeting? Enjoy these words from Dallas Willard (author of The Spirit of the Disciplines, The Divine Conspiracy, and Renovation of the Heart): "Spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself."

Saturday, November 01, 2003

"Hello. My name is Mike. And I'm a Grisham addict." I'm looking at my shelf full of Grisham books that our family has enjoyed reading. It hit me yesterday that they kind of all run together in my mind now. Yesterday I was trying to tell someone what The Runaway Jury was about (since he was thinking about going to the movie). Halfway into the explanation, it hit me that I may have been recounting The Summons, perhaps with pieces of The Partner, the Brethren, and The Testament thrown in for good measure. A few years ago I got to interview John Grisham for Wineskins magazine. I have appreciated how this devoted Christian man (who has been on international mission trips) brings his faith to his writing. I just read Bleachers. No lawyers, no trials, no chase scenes. Just high school football. As former players of Coach Eddie Rake come back to Messina to await his death, you get to peek in on the culture of communities where football is king. Perhaps a fictional version of Friday Night Lights, a NY Times best-seller about West Texas football. While most of the people in the story are former players who had their two years in the limelight or are the adoring fans who made them princes and kings, not everyone shares their view. Here are the blunt words of the former girlfriend of Neely Crenshaw, the All-American QB, who had his number retired: "It was silly. Grown men crying after a loss. The entire town living and dying with each game. Prayer breakfasts every Friday morning, as if God cares who wins a high school football game. More money spent on the football team than on all other student groups combined. Worshiping seventeen-year-old boys who quickly become convinced they are truly worthy of being worshiped. The double standard--a football player cheats on a test, everybody scrambles to cover it up. A nonathlete cheats, and he gets suspended. The stupid little girls who can't wait to give it up to a Spartan. All for the good of the team. Messina needs its young virgins to sacrifice everything. Oh, and I almost forgot. The Pep Girls! Each player gets his own little slave who bakes him cookies on Wednesday and puts a spirit sign in his front yard on Thursday . . . ." Well, as a football-lover, that seems a bit extreme (though it does expose some of the insanity that often exists). BUT, I have often wondered what would happen if some people took their faith as seriously as they take their devotional to the BIG GAME. Why do people who arrive late for their church's assemblies manage to get to the field half an hour early? Why do those who sit quietly on the back rows yell at the top of their lungs at the stadium? Why do we tend to care more about a teenager's athletic ability than about his (or her) spiritual development? Well, you see where this is going! Maybe I'm just bitter this morning because AHS lost to our cross-town rivals last night!