Mike Cope's blog

Sunday, October 31, 2004

What I wish I were doing tonight: answering the door for trick-or-treaters while watching game seven of the World Series. This afternoon was the costume carnival at Highland. Our sixth and seventh graders usually dress up in costumes and then help run it. Christopher went as a bespeckled middle-aged preacher with my sport coat, my tie, and a bald spot he taped on. It was a great costume, but I can't figure out who he was supposed to be. :)

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Certainly it's a weekend to pray for our nation (as, of course, we pray for all nations of the world). I, for one, will be glad to get politics ads off of television and radio. They're pretty much all--Democratic and Republican--obnoxious to me. A great memory from four years ago. Friends in Uganda were watching election results on a satellite tv at a local hotel. Others who were watching in the hotel told them how very sorry they were for America. When my friends asked why, they found out that the others were assuming there would be an ugly civil war in the United States. Al Gore had "clearly" won the election. (They understood popular vote, which Gore clearly won, but had no concept of electoral college.) They found out that the election turned on the decision of a state where the President's brother was governor and where one of his state campaign co-chairs was secretary of state . . . and then on the decision of a Supreme Court that was heavily Republican-appointed. They assumed there would be war. But there wasn't. There was anger. There were recounts. Then no recounts. Then appeals. But in the end, there was civility. I hope there is a clear victor Tuesday night. (If the most recent polls are accurate, it sounds like there will be a clear winner.) But even if there isn't--even if we're in suspense for weeks again while votes are being counted in Ohio or Wisconsin and while appeals are being filed--aren't you glad that the system of government holds up? I'm especially thankful for the mature ways I've noticed so many Christians agreeing to disagree in this election. Apparently a majority of white Christians will vote for George Bush, while a majority of African-American Christians will vote for John Kerry. They're apparently weighing different aspects of the campaigns and coming to different conclusions. Wouldn't it be tragic if we erected walls saying, "Real Christians vote this way"? The last thing the body of Christ needs is ONE MORE THING to divide "the REAL Christians" (those who agree with ME) from the others.

Friday, October 29, 2004

This is the last morning of the "Together Conference." The sessions have been enjoyable, but the really important part is the relationships that are forming. I was especially glad to meet a couple guys from a healthy church near where I grew up in SW Missouri. They apparently followed the "build it and they will come" philosophy somewhere eight miles north of Joplin, MO. Now their congregation has 2400 people, made up largely of converts. The official split of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches was in 1906. Now as we approach the hundred year anniversary, many people on both sides are saying, "That's a split that never should have happened." Some might say that we're not speaking for them. Fair enough. But we're saying that a few people decided this a hundred years ago and THEY WEREN'T SPEAKING FOR US. I'm especially thankful that in these two gatherings (a smaller one in June and this larger one at Grand Prairie) there have been supportive people from ACU, Pepperdine, LCU, OCU, and Lipscomb. And, of course, there have also been supportive leaders from Ozark Bible College, Cincinnati Bible College, Milligan College, etc. This is by no means the only place a unity movement should go. But it's a good place to begin. We have the same family roots. As always when we find ourselves together at an event, Leonard Allen and I snuck off to catch up on each other's lives. For years, he and Darryl Tippens were a big part of my support system (as I suppose I was part of theirs). Always good to reconnect. Leonard wrote the best book of my lifetime in Churches of Christ: The Cruciform Church. Many of you probably read it a long time ago. But his new book Seeing the Unseen is also pretty incredible. Don't miss it! - - - - I'll be home tonight. It's the annual crosstown rivalry, and we'll be in W4, row 20 . . . as always. - - - - Did you know that John Kerry said he can't wait to take the country back from church-going people? Or that he (or President Bush, depending on the e-mail) said his favorite verse is John 16:3, thereby showing his real biblical ignorance? Neither is true, but you wouldn't know it from the e-mails that people have forwarded to me recently and that have been printed out and passed along to my wife at school. Why are Christians passing around such obviously false things about George Bush and John Kerry? It seems to me that we ought to take the time to check on these internet rumors. But it's just so easy to hit the "forward" button and participate in the spreading of lies. There are several places on the internet where you can check most of these. One of my favorites is Snopes. Pretty good search engine. (E. g., type in " Bush John 16:3" or "Kerry church-goers.")

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Thoughts about the World Series: Where is Bob Gibson when you need him? And who's the little league coach who taught Jeff Suppan how to run bases? I'm not giving up yet. The Sox came from 3-0 to beat the Yankees. - - - - Great Zoe meeting in Nashville yesterday. Brandon was talking about what a good week he had in Abilene last week. He said that it was a little strange in chapel on Friday when nearly all the songs were from Zoe CDs and were being sung exactly as he (and others who work with Zoe) had arranged them. I told him to be sure no one sneezes during one of the recordings because all over the country, people will sneeze at that point in the song. Those of you out there in blogland who've been coming to Zoe Conferences -- what suggestions do you have for the future? We're talking and praying about various templates besides the one we've used the last few years. We'd love to hear from you--drop a note to Randy Gill, Brandon Scott Thomas, or me. In the afternoon, I worked in a Baja Burrito and a Wineskins meeting with Greg Taylor, Rubel, and Phil Herrington (one of our board members). We reminisced a lot about the early, somewhat explosive, days of Wineskins--and dreamed about the future. - - - - We went to see "Napoleon Dynamite" this weekend with Mark and Gina Lewis. This is a PG . . . repeat, PG . . . movie. Incredibly funny.

Monday, October 25, 2004

A few thoughts about the "Together Conference" which is later this week. First, it's important for those of us who are speaking and attending to remember that important discussions have been going on for a long time between members of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches. We're not blazing the trail. We're just jumping into prayers and discussions that have been going on for a long time. Second, we must make sure that the center of the discussions is never about who's speaking at whose churches and lectureships. Now I would say this: it's been a shame that the Christian Churches have so generously included many of us speaking at their big events, but we have seldom reciprocated. But beyond that, this isn't about a few preachers and where they'll get to speak. Rather, it's about individuals, families, and churches "discovering" each other, realizing our unity in Christ, and finding ways to encourage each other in our work for Christ. Third, in situations like this we're always surprised by how much we have in common. But we're also surprised (as in any family reunion) with how different we are in ways we weren't expecting. To most of us, it's a foregone conclusion that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. What we're looking for (as the hundred year "anniversary" of our formal split in 1906 approaches) are ways to bless and encourage each other as we seek to follow the Way of Jesus. - - - - Thoughts about the new museum at Highland as we approach our 75 year anniversary. I mentioned at our assemblies yesterday that I went through it Saturday with no one around. I felt like I was hearing the voices of the eight men who preceded me as Highland preachers: Lynn Anderson, John Allen Chalk, Mid McKnight, James Willeford, and the others. I sensed their encouragement to be a more faithful minister of the gospel to this church they served so well. But beyond that, I also realized that the story of the preachers is hardly the story of Highland. The real story is all those people peeking out in the photos who were seeking to make a living, raise children, nurture a marriage, and follow the lead of Jesus. These are people who, in their own small (and sometimes large) ways turned the world upside down.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Well, no handy Missouri press tickets available for game 4. So I've been checking eBay off and on this weekend. People are VERY proud of those tickets! I'm thinking that if I snuck up on Wednesday (my students are taking a test, anyway!), I could take the earlybird flight out the next morning in time to speak at the "Together Conference." (Rick Atchley, Rubel Shelly, Randy Harris, and I will be speaking from Churches of Christ. Allan Dunbar, Barry McMurtrie, Ben Merold, and Bob Russell will be speaking from Christian Churches.) I've been wearing my purple all day as this is ACU Homecoming weekend. Special congrats to Brandon Scott Thomas for his award as "young alumnus of the year."

Friday, October 22, 2004

There wasn't any doubt was there? Atta way, Cards! The last time the Cardinals and the Red Sox played in the World Series was 1967. And I was there (for game 3)! Because we were a MO newspaper family, my dad could always score tickets. I've been to a game in every World Series the Cardinals played in during my lifetime ('64, '67, '68, '82, '85) except for 1987. Sad story. I had agreed to do a one-week city-wide meeting in San Diego that year. To make matters worse, my flight to San Diego from Little Rock went THROUGH St. Louis on game day. (By the way. NOTE TO LITTLE BROTHER: It's up to you! Any of those old ticket connections lingering around MO press circles these days?) Is it against blog protocol to quote yourself? Here's something I wrote last October that really fits this year with a repeat of the 1967 World Series. By the time the Cardinals returned to the World Series in October, 1967, I was in 6th grade. I guess that means my brother would have been a first grader. My sisters would have been 4 and 1. 1967 was the year of the Super Bowl before it had Roman numerals attached to it! In the first ever Super Bowl, Green Bay defeated Kansas City. Also in '67 . . . Mohammad Ali was stripped of his title for draft evasion. Elvis married Priscilla. Christiaan Barnard conducted the first human heart transplant. The big hits at Neosho's Intermediate School were "Windy," "I'm a Believer," and "Come on Down to My Boat." More significantly, it was the year of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" and the Beatle's "Sergeant Pepper" album. But for me here's what mattered: the Cardinals were in the Series. And by 1967, both Roger Marris and I had seen the light. His playing for the Yankees and my cheering for the Yankees were long behind us. We were Cardinals (in different ways). So back to St. Louis we went for game 3 between the Cards and the Red Sox. This time the game was at the NEW ballpark. In 1964 we were at Busch Stadium I (which had been Sportsman's Park until the team was purchased by Anheiser-Busch in 1953). But now we were in the new Busch Stadium. For game three, here was the Cardinals' batting order (yes, I still have my program and my scorecard I kept that day): Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Roger Marris, Orlando Cepeda, Tim McCarver, Mike Shannon, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill, and Nelson Brills. The Red Sox were led by Carl Yastrzemski, of course. It was the last time in major league baseball that a player won the Triple Crown. That year Yaz batted .326, hit 44 home runs, and drove in 121 RBIs. But my Cardinals had Bob Gibson. Enough said. Gibson won games 1, 4, and 7. Some day the Red Sox may break the curse for trading Babe Ruth . . . but it wasn't going to be under my (and Bob Gibson's) watch! And . . . as a little added note . . . it won't be this year either!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

I mentioned a couple months ago that my Thursday carpool is a bit quiet--a carload of 6th grade boys. Well, it no longer sounds like a library on the way to Lincoln Middle School. Why have they started blabbering all the way to school? I attribute it to two things: 1. Baseball. Though we haven't been able to agree on the NL team to root for, we have been unified in our support for the Red Sox. Not that any of us are huge Sox fans, but "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Nothing can unite a car of taciturn males quite like baseball. 2. Oldies Music. Who knew? These kids all love my oldies stuff. They were raised in proper homes! They can sing along to the Beatles, 3 Dog Night, Lynyrd Skynrd, Sly, CCR, etc. Put on B. W. Stevenson singing "My Maria," and the place explodes. And there is the formula for male bonding: oldies music and baseball playoffs. Just thought you'd want to know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I heard this morning that sometime there's going to be a special on the best TV cars of all time. Doubt that I'll catch that show. But surely it's the Batmobile, isn't it? I guess Fred Flintstone's car would have to be in the running. And maybe the General Lee. Last night the Red Sox became the first team come from a 3-0 deficit to force a game seven. Could it be? Could the Evil Empire be going down? Tonight, we'll be reinforcing the "Jesus-Formed" theme with several class options taught by David Wray, Mark Love, Shelley Nielson, and others. We'll meet in the auditorium from 7:00 to 7:15 for prayer and singing. Then we'll break out to these classes.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Trust me. You don't want to read on. First, I read a little Nicholas Sparks this summer. Then I listened to a bit of Josh Groban recently. I've temporarily lost my male ability to bottle up all emotions inside. Don't say I didn't warn you. But here's the thing: when I picked up Diane at the airport Sunday afternoon, I was surprised all over again by her beauty. How can that be after so many years? To be honest, I hadn't really missed her for the couple days she was in Houston. (It's one of our private little secrets--that, while we love being together, we also don't mind a day or two alone! She was in Houston; Chris was on the middle school campout. I was pigging out on play-off games.) There are so many things that I love about Diane that I had no idea about so many years ago. I love how much children love her. Recently, a third grader (whom she taught in 2nd grade last year) came up to hug her after school and said, "Mrs. Cope, look in my backpack." Inside was her treasure trove: every note that Diane had written to her last year. "You're like a mother to me," the little girl said. Right now she's gone to work out. But before that this evening, we sat and listened AGAIN to MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. I love how, after so many times, it still touches her. I love how when (as happened at least once when she joined me someplace where I was speaking) a woman came up to her and said "It must be wonderful being married to him!" she just smiled and said, "Oh, yes." Fighting the gag reflex is one of her strengths. I love how she loves her boys and her daughter-in-law. And, of course, I love the memories of her with Megan. I love how she'll stay at church as long as someone wants to talk--even though it drives me nuts when I'm tired. I love watching movies with her, eating out at a nice restaurant with her, and grabbing burgers off the grill to watch "Raymond" with her. Things are only half as funny when she isn't watching with me. I love her low threshhold of tolerance for "look-in-the-mirror-and-tell-yourself-how-much-God-loves-you" exercises. At moments like that she comes within an inch of falling off the cliff of explosive laughter. . . . And I have the gift of sending her over that precipitous cliff. I love her laugh. The best laugh I've ever heard. Angels applaud. Sorry. Soon I'll get back to more trivial things, which is where I really excel.

There is a big change happening in this church. And it's not the one outside observers might be thinking about. I don't know where it's leading. But I like being along for the ride. - - - - The Red Sox don't have a snowball's chance against the Evil Empire, down 3-1. But if they could just eke out another game or two so the Yankees don't enter the World Series with all their pitchers rested! Come on, Pedro! And what's the deal with the Astros? Come on, guys. Turn loose of it. This one belongs to the Cards.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A Sunday morning reading from Dan Kimball: Most people view the weekend worship service as a place where we go to get service done to us by "getting our tanks filled up" at the service station. It's a place where someone will give a sermon and serve us with our weekly sustenance. In automobile terms, you could say it is our weekly fill-up. We come to our service station to have a song leader serve us by leading us in singing songs. All so we can feel good when we emotionally connect through mass singing and feel secure that we did "worship." We go to the weekend service and drop off our kids--that way they too can get served by having their weekly fill-ups. We are especially glad that our weekend service station now serves coffee in the church lobby--it's as convenient as our automobile service stations' little mini-mart. . . . The description of a church gathering in 1 Corinthians 14:26-27 says: "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." This was not "come together to sit and receive" like at a gas station. This was everyone gathering to offer service to God and others in worship. The gathering was not primarily about meeting the needs of the individual, but centered on the worship of God and the strengthening of the whole church.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Powerful piece by Tom Sine (from theooze.com) about the politics of polarization. My interest is in Christians learning to disagree without condemning one another, realizing that there is something that is a common bond holding them together. Some Christ-loving Christians will be voting for George Bush while others will be voting for John Kerry. But they should be united in this: that the faithful proclamation and living out of the gospel (rather than the agenda of one nation or one political party) is the great hope for our world. When Jimmy Carter--a committed evangelical Christian and a Democrat--was elected the 39th president of the United States, he received enthusiastic support from both mainline Protestants and fellow evangelicals. This was possible because, in 1976, neither church nor society was divided by the culture wars that so polarize America today as it races toward the 2004 elections. American evangelicalism was a very different movement in the ’70s than it is today. Evangelicals were roughly 50 percent Republican and 50 percent Democrat, and most believed that you changed society through preaching and demonstrating the gospel of Christ--not through political activism. While mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics were actively lobbying for political change, the National Association of Evangelicals spoke out only occasionally on political issues. What has caused the character of American evangelicalism to change so drastically over the past 30 years? “The religion gap is fast becoming the country’s widest political division,” Knight Ridder correspondent Steven Thomma stated in an April 8, 2004, article. “Those who regularly attend religious services vote Republican by a 2-1 ratio, and those who don’t [attend religious services] vote Democratic by the same margin.” In the past 20 years there has been a huge migration of evangelicals not only into the Republican Party but into the most conservative wing of the party. What has brought about this migration and more importantly the conversion of most American evangelicals to a very politically conservative world view? When Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye co-founded the Moral Majority in 1980, they successfully began to convince evangelicals to attempt to take back America around a very conservative political agenda. After the Moral Majority folded its tent 1989, the Christian Coalition and groups like Concerned Women for America took up the task of radicalizing evangelicals around a conservative ideology. They, too, have been very successful. In the early seventies abortion was a non-issue for evangelicals. The Catholics lobbied alone. As the religious right took leadership abortion went from being a non-issue for evangelicals, and one that was rarely mentioned in Christian media, to virtually the only issue that matters. Leaders on the religious right, like James Dobson, elevated it to the Christian issue. It became the issue that moved American evangelicals from non-engagement politically to a very high level of political engagement that included protests and acts of civil disobedience. In 1996 I wrote an article for the Herald of Holiness reminding evangelicals that Scripture teaches that the primary way we should seek to change society is through sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ through word and deed ministry. I argued that seeking to change society politically should be a secondary approach. I have never received more angry responses to any other article I have written. Readers apparently have been persuaded by leaders of the religious right to view conservative political action as the primary way Christians should seek to change society. Battling abortion was not only the issue that ignited this new level of evangelical political activism, but it became the litmus-test issue to decide which political party to support. Since the Democratic Party was pro-choice, by default the Republican Party became God’s party. I am convinced that the elevation of abortion to the overarching issue of Christian social responsibility has directly contributed to this enormous migration of evangelicals into the folds of the Republican Party. While American evangelicals consider themselves ardently pro-life, I have found enormous resistance to following our Catholic friends in embracing a consistent-life ethic that includes issues like AIDS, hunger, and violence. When I spoke on Christian radio in Colorado Springs and suggested that abortion wasn’t the only pro-life issue, listeners expressed outraged. I argued that 25,000 children dying every day from malnutrition made world hunger a pro-life issue, too. I pointed out that our affluent lifestyles in North America directly contributes to this tragic loss of innocent life. Most of the evangelicals we work with in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are also concerned about abortion, but they haven’t made it their predominant cause or used it to select a political party. Rather they have joined Catholics in promoting a consistent-life ethic, lobbying against world hunger, land mines targeting non-combatants, and the proliferation of guns, and lobbying for the care of creation. They also lobby much more aggressively for justice issues. Scripture has so much to say about God’s concern for the poor, but one rarely hears any mention by most American evangelical leaders about social justice. In fact, leaders on the religious right often favor tax policies that benefit the wealthiest Americans while cutting social programs to our poorest neighbors. There is another reason for this enormous migration of American evangelicals into the Republican Party. In Battle for the Mind (Fleming H. Revel), published in 1979, Tim LaHaye presented an extremely polarizing notion of what has gone wrong in society. Without any evidence, he argued that a small group of secular humanists had already taken over our public schools, universities, and all the major communications networks. He insisted that this conspiratorial elite is intent on collectivizing us into a Godless one-world gulag. This, of course, is the political sub-text of the popular Left Behind series. Plus this insistence that that secular humanists have taken over public schools has undoubtedly led towards the growing evangelical animosity towards public education and the recent call by the Southern Baptist Convention for Christians to take their children out of public schools. As I mentioned in the last issue of PRISM, nowhere else in the world have I ever heard evangelicals spouting the mantra common on Christian radio in America that a “sinister elite of secular humanists, liberals, and feminists in Washington, D.C., are out to destroy the Christian family, take away our liberties, take away our guns, and get us ready for a one-world socialist takeover.” This type of polarizing analysis makes of those on the other end of the political spectrum cosmic enemies instead of just people with whom the religious right disagrees with politically. Listen to the fearful warnings of one Presbyterian pastor in Portland, Oregon, who has obviously embraced this conspiratorial fiction: “Western European socialists and their American supporters want to dominate the world as much as militant Muslims want Islam to. Their vehicles are the United Nations, the European Union, and international institutions such as the International Court.”This kind of fear mongering has not only been remarkably effective at galvanizing evangelicals around a very conservative political agenda but it also makes an evangelical voting for a Democratic candidate an unthinkable possibility as we approach the 2004 election. So how should Christians who do not subscribe to either this very conspiratorial view of what has gone wrong or a very politically conservative advocacy seek to have a Christian influence in the complex world in which we live? Let me outline one proposal to begin taking back American evangelicalism around a biblical agenda that transcends the deep polarizations of our culture wars. I propose that ESA host an international conference with the National Association of Evangelicals and the 33 Evangelical Alliances from a host of other countries, including Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. I suggest that evangelical scholars be invited to work with these other evangelical leaders to (1) provide a new biblically informed analysis of what has gone wrong in society to replace the highly politicized secular-humanist critique; (2) offer a new biblically shaped view of Christian social responsibility of compassion that not only transcends right and left but also transcends the self-interested agendas of modern nations, including the United States; and (3) challenge all those of Christian faith to set aside the politics of polarization and address the urgent and difficult issues facing our nation and our world with humility and in the spirit of the reconciling Christ.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Somewhere along the line I failed in one area of parenting. Last night Chris and I watched the play-off game. I assumed, naturally, that we would both be cheering on the Cards. But that wasn't the case. I was born in Missouri; he was born in Texas. He's an Astros fan! (Actually, I am too . . . but not when they're playing St. Louis.) Then I talked to Matt on the phone and told him we were watching the Cardinals' game. He said, "You mean the ASTROS' game!" He's lived in Houston only four months, and he's already turned. I will say this: neither of my boys--at least to my knowledge--roots for the Evil Empire. Minnesota couldn't stop them, and it doesn't look like Boston will. Could it be a rematch of my first World Series game in 1964: the Cardinals vs. the Yankees? - - - - A friend wrote me recently to tell me about a message he'd heard expressing fear that we (in Churches of Christ) might lose our distinctiveness. And my buddy pointed out that the distinctiveness this minister was concerned about wasn't in relationship to the world--i.e., distinct in holiness--but rather in relationship to other denominations. Where did this obsession with distinctiveness come? Why so much time worrying about whether we are different from others? Does our identity and worth come from being unlike other Christ-followers? What if our identity came from following the Way of Jesus Christ? We wouldn't have to worry about how distinct we are from others; rather, we could rejoice that there are others who are seeking to follow the same Way. Sometimes I've heard people make it sound like we ought to do (or not do) something because it preserves our distinctiveness. Is that really a good reason? It worked pretty well for the Qumran community (who could reduce the world into "sons of light" and "sons of darkness" with their own little odd group as former), but I don't think that's what we want. Yes, let's be distinct. But not as many have meant it. Let's be distinct: - by receiving with joy our identity and the sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ; - by recognizing that the Spirit of God continues to indwell and guide us; - by pouring our minds and bodies into following the Way that Jesus has charted and led; - by participating in the mission of God in this world; - by continuing to pray, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"; - by encouraging one another rather than competing with one another; - by living with radical hope amid a world of despair; - by praying for all the people of the world--allies and enemies; - by refusing to let money dominate us, opting instead for constant giving and sharing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Pausing at DFW . . . tired of traveling . . . but renewed from my time with Landon . . . anxious to see Diane and Chris . . . leaving these words from Tom Sine: "It is still God's policy to work through the embarrassingly insignificant to change his world and create his future." In what "embarrassingly insignificant" ways have you seen God changing the world through his people?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

I minister alongside 42 men whom I deeply respect. These shepherds are men who have taught me so much. (There are 45 if you count Wally, Grady, and Clois. Technically they are no longer elders, but I just prefer to think of it as if they've missed the last several meetings. In my mind, the three of them will always be shepherds of the Highland Church!) This morning's announcement came from a long, prayer-filled study of scripture. These are hardly men who make decisions because of the prevailing culture. They are wanting to follow the lead of the Spirit and be obedient to scripture at every turn. Here's the announcement that Jack Griggs read: Throughout its 75-year history, the Highland Church of Christ has been blessed in countless ways. One of the most apparent of those blessings is the spiritual giftedness of our members and the way that their gifts have been poured out to benefit others. Another of those blessings is the willingness of this Highland family to seriously study God's Word and to take direction from what is revealed. Over a decade ago, the Highland elders began to study, pray about, and discuss among themselves the roles of women in various worship and ministry activities. The result of that interaction was a congregation-wide study a few years ago on the role of women in public worship. After that period of study, the Highland elders decided that it was time to encourage the participation of women in various ways in public worship. From the earliest conversations with members, the elders communicated that it was not the intention of Highland leadership to place women in the role of elder or preaching minister. However, the eldership concluded that it is scriptural for women to participate in all other ways. It has been our intention to implement these changes in roles carefully--seeking natural ways to allow our women to join our men in using their gifts. Over the past few years, you have seen the fruits of this intent. Ministry reports, congregational announcements, the sharing of testimony, and participation in praise teams and dramatic presentations by women have become fairly common. More recently, you have witnessed women reading scripture, serving communion, and leading prayer. Brothers and sisters, your elders want you to know that we firmly believe that such activities are fully scriptural and that we are grateful that we have been able to have this experience at Highland. We are also aware that these actions represent a great amount of change and that change can--and does--produce anxiety. Please know that we are not callous to those feelings. Yet, we believe that scripture provides all women and men the opportunity to share their God-given gifts. Thus, you will see women continue to be used in worship as natural and appropriate occasions arise. We want you to know that when you see a woman taking a public role in worship, it is being done with the knowledge and approval of the eldership. For those of you for whom this is a difficult transition, we encourage you to patiently seek God's peace as our church family prayerfully moves through this transition. For those of you who were not at Highland during our intensive study or if you were here but owuld like to refresh your study, we will be offering a class this spring that will lead you through the scriptures that led us to our decision. Or, if you would like to talk with an elder about this, please let that be known. We are always willing to spend time with you. God has blessed the Highland church with people who are willing to serve in thousands of ways. We trust you will join the Highland shepherds in praising the Lord when you witness that service in your fellow sisters and brothers.

I'm not posting this announcement so that readers can print it off and give it to their elders to say, "We ought to do what Highland has done." We've made it clear from the beginning that we're trying to discern where the Spirit is leading us through scripture at this time. But there is a lot of misunderstanding floating around, and I thought this might help clarify . . . and maybe even bless.

I get to hang out a couple days with Landon Saunders (and two other buddies) this week, as I have each year for the past decade. His house has become my Valhalla, a hall of healing.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

I still have three teams I like left in the playoffs: the Cardinals, the Astros, and WHOEVER IS PLAYING THE YANKEES! I came in to the office early today to wrap up some things for tomorrow so that I can be home for the game. Growing up in SW MO as a son of University of Texas graduates, I had two big college football games that dominated our home every year: Texas vs. Arkansas and Texas vs. Oklahoma. The last few years the latter match-up hasn't gone so well. I don't have high hopes for today, but who knows? Give Cedric the ball!! Someday I'd like to meet the guy that convinced Oklahoma that a nice neutral spot for the Texas/Oklahoma game would be Dallas.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

I love going to our elders' meetings. They are holy ground, full of prayer, affirming, discernment, and encouragement. That's not to say that there is never a disagreement; but those disagreements are in love and mutual respect. Honestly, some of the great faith-building moments of my life have been in Highland elders' meetings. Let me let you peek in on one part of last evening's meeting. We brought in a group of ACU students who are our "neighborhood walkers." About fifty students meet each week to walk down the streets around our building to meet people, build relationships, and pray. These students introduced themselves last night by telling us their name and what street(s) they walk. The stories are incredible. Of people who were resistent but now welcoming. Of relationships that have been formed. Of Highland neighbors who are now coming to our Wednesday Oasis meals (so many last night that we actually ran out of food! Where was the kid with the five loaves and two fish?). Of one teenager who bonded with the students, now attends Highland, and has joined one of the walking teams. I know one second-year Spanish student who knows much more Spanish than some of the people on her street know English. So she stumbles along with a smile on her face, communicating the love of Jesus as best she can. (She may be the most motivated student in her ACU Spanish class!) Years ago the elders decided not to move locations. We could easily be in a "better" part of town. It probably would have "paid off" in terms people like to measure like attendance and budget. But God has us where we are for a reason. Just think about the Colonial Apartments. Years ago it was only known as a run-down drug nest. Now, it's an outpost of the kingdom of God! Highland rents two apartments there where children are loved, read to, taught, prayed for, and blessed. And lots of residents of the apartments have become a vital part of our church. It's funny. A few people on the outside think that "the role of women" has become the defining issue of Highland. Ha! We've worked through that together as a congregation, for sure, as we have sought to discern the guiding of the Holy Spirit. (And another big announcement is coming from the elders this Sunday.) But that's not the big shift. The big shift is from seeing ourselves as a provider of consumer demands to an outpost of the kingdom of God that participates in his mission in this world. That's the big movement. And it's exciting! As the elders encircled these students last night to lay hands on them and pray for them (especially for their safety in our neighborhood), there were lots of smiles and a few tears.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Since I reached voting age, five presidents have been elected: Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush. None had any experience in the Senate. Doesn't that seem strange? And yet, it's understandable. It's hard to run for the presidency after serving in the senate. There is too long a trail of votes left behind--votes that probably made sense at the time but that are easy fodder for a national election. It seems to be easier to come from a governorship (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43) or from appointments like ambassador to the U.N. and director of the CIA (Bush 41). I know this: most churches have a lot of different perspectives on how this election should turn out. Is that surprising? Don't we have differences and variety in every other way? Can we disagree kindly and not make this a test of fellowship? Can we hold strong opinions without writing one another off? Will we become something over this area of life (politics) that we despise when we see it in other areas of life? The way we use the stewardship of our vote is significant. But . . . our hope is never in one election or one country. Our hope is in the quiet, forcework work of the inbreaking kingdom of God!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

In the new movie "Friday Night Lights," based on a best-selling book from several years ago, Billy Bob Thornton plays Gary Gaines, head football coach for Odessa Permian. As many of you know, Gary is currently the head football coach for ACU and is a member of Highland. I have no idea how he's being portrayed in this film. But this I do know: the real Gary Gaines is a wonderful Christian man, husband, father, and grandfather. He's the kind of coach that I want influencing athletes at ACU. Several years ago, I thought he would be Matt's coach at Abilene High, but he moved to San Angelo after Matt's freshman year. (And Matt ended up with another incredible man for a head coach, Steve Warren.) It must be strange knowing that you are being "played" in a major motion picture. But much more important to me is the real guy. The one I know. - - - - I've mentioned before that one of my elders, Joey Cope (no relation), writes a column called "Distinct Impressions." Don't miss this week's! - - - - From Antoine de Saint-Exupery: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." What do you think? Does that ring true?

Monday, October 04, 2004

Back from Nashville after a pilgrimage with the Hesters, the Mattises, and the Maxwells. Yesterday morning at Woodmont Hills (where I preached at all three services while John York sang in the choir and Rubel sat out there smiling at me) was wonderful. What a great, vibrant church! And the Zoe Conference? 1200 people crammed into a 1000 seat auditorium. Not just that, but 1200 eager, sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs people crammed in there. There were so many wonderful things, but it's hard to top hearing Brian McLaren. If you've never read his books, now is a good time to start. Another big kick this year was meeting many of the regulars who comment on this blog. I really wanted to start Saturday night by saying, "All right, everyone who's linked up through the World Of Blog, please stand up." I think this was my 10th (or maybe 11th) Zoe Conference, counting the ones on the road (Houston, Phoenix, Fresno, and St. Louis in the last two years). But it was Diane's first. I loved having her there! After one session, we agreed that our favorite place to be in worship is sitting right next to Grant Boone. Not only is he carrying some of those vocal genes of his dad (Nick) and uncle (Pat), but he is a hold-nothing-back participant in worship! Final note for the day: my World Series picks are still good: the Cards and the Angels.