Mike Cope's blog

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

There is a very important meeting that Colin Powell is involved in today. And we hear very little about it because we're fascinated with stories like the Laci Peterson case. (Is there any defensible rationale for why a case like that gets so much attention--as tragic as it is?) This tragedy that approaches the devastation in Rwanda from a decade ago doesn't receive much press, we're told, because it isn't in our "national interest." But to go with our national interest, don't we also have national values? Darfur, an area of Western Sudan near the Chad border, is described by the U.N. as the #1 humanitarian crisis in the world today. Something very close to a genocide is being carried out with the endorsement of the Sudanese government. Pro-government Arab militias have been raping and slaughtering black Africans--a kind of ethnic cleansing. Thousands have been raped and murdered, a million have been displaced, and more than 120,000 have been forced across the border into Chad to live in refugee camps. The U.S. Agency for International Development has estimated that at least 300,000 more will die of hunger this year. Please join me in prayer today about that meeting. Something tough needs to emerge from the U.N. Security council. But way beyond that, let's pray for the kingdom of God to continue to break forth in troubled places.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

From Marva Dawn: Audiences are being told that we "should have two points of entry into our congregations"--at least two kinds of worship styles to attract (especially the boomer generation) to our churches. Wrong! Worship is not the "point of entry." You are! Nowhere in the bible does it say, "Worship the Lord to attract the unbeliever." Nowhere! We worship the Lord because God is worthy of our praise. Instead, the Scriptures frequently tell us that we are witnesses. Evangelism happens in our daily lives, our regular encounters, our simple conversations and carings (or at evangelistic events which have a focus different from that of worship)--in order that we can bring others with us to worship God. . . . Worship is the language of adoration addressed to God and the language of God's instruction to equip us for life and witness. Good worship will be evangelistic, but that is not its purpose, for worship is directed to God as its subject and object. Good worship will both nurture the character of believers and the community and also form us to be the kind of people who will reach out evangelistically and in service to the world around us.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Two hundred years ago today (June 28, 1804), Barton W. Stone and five others signed a document called "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery." In 1801 several of these men had preached in a popular revival at Cane Ridge in Kentucky. They reacted against rigid Calvinism, calling on people to make decisions. As a result, some were faced with disciplinary actions by their churches. So in 1803 they formed a coalition of similarly-minded churches and called it the Springfield Presbytery. But one year later, they dissolved the coalition. They realized that it was divisive. Included in the "Last Will and Testament" were these words: We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling. Not bad words to revisit 200 years later. I'm a member of the Highland Church which is part of a group (denomination) known as Churches of Christ. But much more important than that is that we are part of the larger body of Christ--made up of followers of Jesus of many nations and many denominations.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

"If one were given five minutes' warning before sudden death, five minutes to say what it had all meant to us, every telephone booth would be occupied by people trying to call up other people to stammer that they loved them." - Christopher Morley Any calls anyone needs to make?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I'm worn out from baseball. All-star practice is in its second week. Our first game is July 1. On the first day of practice, I gave the parents and the players the "this isn't all about winning" speech. As the first game gets closer, I think I need that speech played back to me! This morning I once again give thanks that Claritin D is now available over the counter. Life's small pleasures. Well-executed drag bunts, well-thrown off-speed pitches, well-behaving parents, and Claritin D.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Probably several blog readers already know about Sojourners online. Here is a recent baccalaureate address given by Jim Wallis at Stanford on June 12. Now that's a message to send graduates out on!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I love a cappella and instrumental. I love old hymns and new praise music. But you know what my favorite worship service is? It's one where: I can see that Clois was feeling better and was able to come; I can hear Roye Sue's beautiful soprano voice and see Bob lost in wonder, love, and praise; I can watch Bob and Janice raise their hands with smiles on their faces; I can catch a glimpse at the praise-filled faces of Emily Quile, Andrew and Nicholas Boone, and Haley Lucas (as well as lots of other children); I can see the children from the Colonial Apartments look to Gary and Maria for love and instruction; I can observe Lorin looking around to see if anything is needed by anyone; I can watch Wendell and Betty nodding and smiling, (as I try to imagine all their years of church-planting around the world). I can feel the warmth of Bob and Jimmie, spiritual leaders in every way. Great worship can take many forms--as long as it seeks to "ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name" (1 Chron. 16:29). But more and more I experience the deepest meaning of worship as part of this faith community. I've just mentioned some of the ones who sit around me. I love praising God around these people who typically are right near my front pew, er, theater seat. How about you? What do you see in your family of faith as you worship that inspires you and draws you closer to God?

Monday, June 21, 2004

A couple people got into the spirit of what I was trying to start on June 17. Go back and look at the 19th comment by Chris. I have a problem with the whole "dusk over dawn" thing (didn't God mean for the day to begin at 5:00 a.m.?) and the sports movies over actual sports -- :) -- but his words are like peeking in on holy ground. Plus, I like the list. Beatles over Beach Boys. TX bbq over NC bbq. His mom's chicken pot pie. Jokes that aren't at anyone's expense. "And feeling my son kick at [my wife's] belly before I go to sleep." Anyone else want to do their list?

Here's my biggest beef with Christians and politics. I've known so many church-goers who can get whipped into a frenzy when political discussions come up but who seem to have little of the same passion with it comes to their faith and Christian community. I want to scream, "Folks, nations come and go. This one may, too. But the kingdom of God will be alive and well. Political parties (left and right) ebb and flow, but the reign of God is forever and ever."

Saturday, June 19, 2004

There are so many things I could write about my dad on this, the weekend of Father's Day. Dan Fogelberg got it right: "I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band" (written about his dad). But one thing I'll always remember is that he was THERE. He was running a daily newspaper and he was the mayor of our city. (All right, it was a town. At the time, I thought Neosho was a city because people from Goodman, Granby, and Diamond drove there to see a movie or eat at Dog-N-Suds. We, on the other hand, drove to Joplin, because it had a choice of theaters and a Shotgun Sam's pizza.) And yet, he was at every game I ever played. I know at times that must have been hard. Twenty years before he'd been a star on the Neosho football team. And I think he told me his dad never saw him play. (My granddad was a great man--but they lived way out in the country and I guess he just didn't place that high on the priority list. I'm sure he was "there" in many other ways.) I battle traveling all the time. Just yesterday, after the chairman of my travel group met with my assistant, we sent "sorry, but not this year" notes to Rochester College, OCU, and Ohio Valley. I hate that. There's no one I'd rather speak to more than university students. But as I looked that young man in the eyes a week ago and thought about how proud I was of him, it made all of those "sorry but not this year" notes seem right. I don't mean to sound heroic here. I made some mistakes. Some bad ones. I've had to apologize for too much traveling during some of the difficult years with Megan. I thought I was saying "no" to most requests and accepting only a few. But the airline miles tell another story. It's one of my real regrets. Wish I could have a "do over." Anyway, Matt's little brother deserves the same thing: a dad who is around to coach, encourage, play, and pray. I may get a lot of things wrong in life, but this is one thing I want to try to get (almost) right: the dad gig.

Friday, June 18, 2004

One of the highlights of the wedding was dancing with Diane at the reception. A friend from church flashed a bright smile and mouthed these words: "I think this is a first!" We slipped away for a day after the wedding with friends from Arkansas and Vermont. We visited, for the first time, Gruene, Texas. A brochure for the town said: "Gruene, Texas: Gently Resisting Change Since 1872." I'm thinking of some church websites where that might fit well. (Of course, "gently" may be a problem.)

Thursday, June 17, 2004

I like . . . Gatorade not Powerade; Diet Dr. Pepper not Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi; Guacamole not bean dip; Cold weather not hot weather; Mountains not beach; High desert not low desert; the Angels not the A's; the Rangers not the Yankees; CNN not Fox News; Today Show not Good Morning America; the DSL at work not my dial-up at home; Scuba diving not sky diving; Dogs not cats; Early morning not late night; Seinfeld not any other shows so far by Seinfeld cast members; Letterman not Leno; Subway not Burger King; I like Tolkien, Shrek and Shrek 2, Grisham, Yancey's editorials in CT, Rick Reilly's editorials in SI, grilled steaks, rainy mornings, fajitas, Kudo Chocolate Chip bars, clever humor, the Eagles' Greatest Hits, family hikes, Highland elder meetings, long jogs on Saturday mornings, 104 degree jacuzzis, Nickel Creek, playing catch with my boys, and long, slow dinners with my wife. And going to bed early after a long baseball practice. Goodnight.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Tonight before I retire, I want to remember on this blog my nephew, Jantsen Barrett Cope. He was a kind, faith-filled, make-you-fall-on-the-floor-laughing kid. His life was too short. It ended suddenly with heart failure five years ago today at the age of 15 shortly after he'd lifted weights with his football team. His absence was on our minds this weekend. We all knew that he should have been up there as one of Matt's groomsmen. These words from Nicholas Wolterstorff (following his own son's death), after this weekend, seem so appropriate: "When we gather now there's always someone missing, his absence as present as our presence, his silence as loud as our speech. Still five children, but one always gone. When we're all together, we're not all together." So, yes. It was a very big wedding. But it wasn't full. Two were missing. This evening I have both a tear and a smile as I remember the one who made me so proud to be his uncle.

This past Sunday, we heard a stirring message from Randy Harris. He'd volunteered to speak (to his own church!), knowing I'd have a full weekend with the wedding. He preached from the parable of the wheat and weeds (Matthew 13), encouraging us to go fully into the world--even a world with monsters. This morning I read Cal Thomas's editorial, supporting the resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention for Christians to pull their kids out of the public schools. For some people, that may fit their family. (I want the church to support families who make decisions for home schooling, private schooling, and public schooling.) But as a strategy for Christians? Sure, get away from the world! Put our kids in our own schools. Live in blocks with only other Christians. Draft our ballteams so all the kids are friends from church. Play golf only with other Christians. Heck, maybe we can live in caves around the Dead Sea, produce our own scrolls, remain (?) celibate, and be REALLY HOLY. The way of Jesus is into the world--even a world with monsters. I had lunch today with a father of young children who was talking in amazement about the editorial. He said this past year his son was in one of those secular public schools with a school teacher who arrived early every morning so she could sit in every student's seat and pray for them by name. Quick, PROTECT OUR KIDS! This past year, my wife's second grade classroom had two students who were homeless. Can you imagine? They were showing up smelly and hungry. But they were showing up to a godly woman who got to play the part of Jesus in their lives. Abandon the public schools, Cal? I don't think so.

By now, everyone has seen the 28 year old who knocked a four-year-old kid out of the way to get a foul ball at a Rangers game. We've watched the boys mother smack the man and call him a jerk for acting like the foul ball was the Hope Diamond. I can imagine anyone acting foolishly without a moment to think about it. I can imagine jumping over a row a chairs without pausing to ask if anyone might be injured (or if a four-year-old ought to have first rights at grabbing the ball). But the bad part is that afterward, he seemed really proud of himself and refused to apologize or offer the ball to the little boy. Turns out the man is a former youth minister! Don't you know his lock-ins were fun. Reminds me of a Seinfeld episode (not that I actually saw it!) where George knocks a bunch of kids and a great grandma out of the way when he discovers that there is smoke in the house. He tries feebly to explain later that really he was a hero--that someone had to lead the way out of the house and that everyone knows you're supposed to get down when there is smoke--and that actually they should be thanking him!

From Henri Nouwen's journal: You must believe in the yes that comes back when you ask, "Do you love me?" You must choose this yes even when you do not experience it. You feel overwhelmed by distractions, fantasies, the disturbing desire to throw yourself into the world of pleasure. But you know already that you will not find there an answer to your deepest question. Nor does the answer lie in rehashing old events, or in guilt or shame. All of that makes you dissipate yourself and leave the rock on which your house is built. You have to trust the place that is solid, the place where you can say yes to God's love even when you do not feel it. Right now you feel nothing except emptiness and the lack of strength to choose. But keep saying, "God loves me, and God's love is enough." You have to choose the solid place over and over again and return to it after every failure.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I'm not usually a manuscript person. But I was this time--just in case my emotionals started to take over. So here it is. (If you don't know our families, it will help in the first paragraph to know that Jordan just finished high school and Chris just finished elementary school.) Matt and Jenna, in many cultures of this world finding a mate isn’t nearly as hard. It’s pretty much all handled by the parents. This is one of those weddings when the end result would be the same either way. Matt, I know that Jim and Jody respect and love you–and would have chosen you as their daughter’s husband if it had been their decision. And Jenna, I think you know that Diane and I can’t imagine more joy at Matt’s selection of a life mate. We respect and love you. As Diane said last night at the rehearsal dinner, our little insider nickname when referring to you with each other or with our closest friends was “The Chosen One!” We love being around your whole family. In fact, Jordan, if you’ll just be really, really patient, we have another fine son on the way. You both bring lots of resources and a few challenges to this marriage. You have strengths of character and of family heritage that will help you. And, of course, you both bring some challenges–some personal and some you’ve inherited from family. E.g., Jenna, whenever you see Matt desperately searching for his keys or wallet or phone, you can smile and think fondly of your father-in-law, your grandmother-in-law, and a great-grandmother-in-law you never met. I don’t want to underestimate the strengths you bring to marriage. Jenna, you are a woman of joy, kindness, and deep commitment. Children are drawn to you like little magnets. When you smile, a whole room is lit up. And Matt, you are a man of courage, kindness, and deep commitment. Children are drawn to you as well. Through great joys and great grief God has molded you into an amazing young man whom I’m very proud of. And yet, my confidence in this union today isn’t based primarily on these strengths of character or family heritage. It is, rather, based on two evenings–one in the summer of 1996 and one in the summer of 1997. I’ll never forget July 25, 1996–not, primarily, because it was my 40th birthday, but because it was the day, Matt, that you, your Mom, and I got into your Papa and Grandma’s pool. Several of your family members listened to you boldly declare your faith and I baptized you. Then, one evening the next summer, Jenna, you were surrounded at Highland by 30-40 of the closest people in your life as your dad baptized you. Of course, faith and conversion are much more than those two moments. But that doesn’t diminish their significance! By joining Jesus in the public act of baptism, you allowed God to launch you on a journey that will last forever. And it will make all the difference in the world to your marriage. First, it’ll guide you because you determined that you would commit yourselves to the greatest commandment–to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In doing that, it takes a lot of pressure off your relationship. You are free to love each other without expecting the other person to fill your life or make you happy. You are much less likely to try to squeeze more juice out of the marriage than it can give. You’ll know that it is the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, who fills you. It is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, who guides you through the many destinations of your journey. Baptism also blesses your marriage because you were placed in a spiritual family with lots of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts. Highland has been that most immediate family for both of you – Jenna, for 15 of your 22 years, and Matt, for 13 of your 22 years. Ironically, both of your dads have been ministers there. You’ve been surrounded by mature men and women–many of whom are here today–who have guided and chided you, loved and taught you, and modeled for you the way of Christ. No matter where you go–in Houston and after that–God will raise up for you another immediate spiritual family. Again, this takes a lot of pressure off marriage. You know that there are people to hold you up, encourage you, teach you, befriend you, and pray for you–just as you do all that for them. Another way your baptisms in the summers of ‘96 and ‘97 are important today is that you committed yourselves to the mission of the kingdom and the way of discipleship. In Jesus Christ, you’re learning to live with submission, courage, forgiveness, compassion, and love. You’re un-learning the ways of the world and being re-formed around the vision of the one who spoke these words: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Marriage will be a training camp where you can grow in these new ways of the kingdom. You’ll learn to bite your tongue, to apologize, and to forgive–even as God in Christ has forgiven you. You’ll discover the value of endurance–even on those days when marriage seems sluggish and hard. You’ll recall that in baptism you said you’d follow Jesus–the one who endured. Maybe the words of Hebrews will be echoing in your hearts during those times: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Years ago Paul Simon wrote a best-selling song about “50 ways to leave your lover.” But you, as baptized people, need only one reason to remain: because that’s love as you’ve learned it from Jesus Christ. Our dear friend, Landon Saunders, once wrote these words that still ring true: Marriage means a man and a woman looking deeply into each other’s eyes and saying, “I will never leave you. Others may come and go in your life but I never will. If you wrinkle, I will love you. If you fail, I will stay with you. If you get sick, I’ll feed you, bathe you, sit up with you–anything– except leave you. I will never leave you.” Of course, we could point out that Landon’s a lifelong bachelor. But sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to see clearly! Your eight grandparents (who represent about 225 years of marriage), your four parents, Justin and Holly, Jordan, Chris, and all of these uncles and aunts and cousins and friends gather here today to add our blessing to this union. We believe that it will be a Spirit-led outpost for the good news of the kingdom of God–a safe place where children are loved, where spiritual family is welcomed, encouraged, and restored, where the poor and disadvantaged are received with God’s love, and where the gospel-formed way of living is modeled. Matt and Jenna, in the words of the Hebrews’ writer: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in you what is pleasing in him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Tis done. I made it through. My son is now officially married to the young woman whom Diane and I secretly nicknamed "The Chosen One" (four years ago!). The bride looked stunning. But so did the mother of the groom! More later. We're gone a couple days. I'll be back to regular blogging soon.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. We're down to three days before Matt and Jenna's wedding. Bets are currently being taken on how long it takes in the ceremony before I become a slobbering idiot. I don't mind being emotional. But it's hard to speak AND sob. A tear is fine; getting choked up is understandable. But sobbing can be a bit of a distraction. Standing in front of me will be my older son (groom), my younger son (best man), and the bride (whom we deeply love). In addition I just found out that as Diane comes down the aisle, escorted by Matt, she'll be lighting a candle in memory of Megan. I think someone who's planning the wedding has entered the gambling pool and has put big money down on a major sobfest in the first two minutes. Please pray for me, dear Blog Friends.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Who can tell me--and trust me, I know all the hermeneutical arguments--how "instrumental worship" became such an important issue? (Note to blog readers who aren't from Churches of Christ: this is about an intramural discussion that won't make sense to you without a lot of explaining. Every denomination has their own equivalent internecine issues!) Even if a person felt like anything other than pure, unadulterated, nonclapping a cappella music was wrong, how did they then come to the unbelievable conclusion that this issue determined whether or not someone really was a follower of Christ? Do you have to be RIGHT about everything in order to be on the Way? Don't we all have failures and blind spots? To me those old hermeneutical guidelines are misguided. They were based on a reading of scripture that is more blueprint than narrative. I have no interest in being "anti-instrument." God is obviously blessing churches through instrumental worship (among other things). But there is a place, it seems to me, for being "pro-a-cappella." A cappella singing has clearly blessed the church for a long (like maybe 2000 years!) time. Can we ever get to a place where we're comfortable with this as a part of our heritage without making it central to our identity? Can we see it as a blessing to the larger family of faith (that helps keep singing alive and vibrant) without condemning the larger family that doesn't follow along? Can we celebrate what God's doing through the outbreak of contemporary Christian music without feeling embarrassed about our relatively unique assemblies? Can we ever really own up to the truth of words we sing like: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness"?

Monday, June 07, 2004

One eleven year old girl (my son's age!) went into a huge department store to find jeans. They all rode well below her hips and made her feel half naked. So what difference could one kid make? Check out this week's "Fax of Life" from Rubel Shelly.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Yesterday was a day of transition for the Cope family. In the morning we finished getting Matt and Jenna's apartment ready. They are about ten minutes from Baylor Medical School and about twenty minutes from the school where Jenna will teach. Significantly, they are about one minute from professional football games. Since entering full-time ministry in 1982 (two months after Matt was born), I've never preached for a church where he wasn't a member. Tomorrow will be the last Sunday that's true. The flip side of that is that the guy is 22 and finally he'll get to listen to some decent preaching! We got back in time last night to take Chris to "Breakthrough," Highland's early summer retreat for middle school students. And since he just finished 5th grade last week, this is his first middle school event. So we're officially out of children's ministry at Highland. I guess you might say in light of our age (both 47), IT'S ABOUT TIME! Life is a series of transitions. "O, Thou who changest not, abide in me."

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Very insightful comments yesterday. The truth is this: baptism makes you a bad American. Of course, it also makes you a bad Brazilian, Ugandan, etc. In one sense, it makes you a much better citizen, because you become a person of character and prayer as the Spirit works in your life. But in another sense, you become a "problem" to your country because you are no longer identified primarily as a citizen of that nation. You are an alien and stranger, whose citizenship is in heaven. You have come to see God's mission for the whole world--not just for the country you happen to live in. You realize that nations come and go--just as the one you currently live in may one day go--but the kingdom continues to break in. You understand that the goal isn't to produce a strong country, but to participate in the countercultural work of God among us. I consider myself a patriot. And yet at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance (which I gladly recite), I usually feel like I should turn to people around me and say, "Please take this with a grain of salt. I pledge allegiance to the flag. But not my ultimate allegiance. My ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ--the one who loves 'all the little children of the world.'" I've known so many people who can get whipped up into a political fervor by some ranting and raving radio shock jock. But they yawn through the church's assembly. I believe . . . -that there is more power in the prayer of a nursing-home-bound elderly woman who spends her waning hours consumed by thoughts of God than in the decision of important people who gather in city halls and state capitals; -that I have more in common with an urban Kenyan who has never traveled a mile beyond his hut but who confesses the name of Jesus than with a neighbor who lives in middle-class America but who isn't a Christ-follower; -that as an "alien and stranger" in this world, my primary identity is as a baptized believer and not as an American (as thankful as I am to be a citizen of this country); -that the church's job isn't primarily to wave flags in support of war (though, according to strict "just war" theories war may sometimes be reluctantly necessary) but to pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."