Yes, we made it. And a couple days later Matt and Jenna made it. So everyone in the extended family (all 25 of us) are now in Ohio. We've skied two days (yes, you CAN ski in Ohio--check out http://www.bmbw.com/!), and sledded another day. The snow is incredible. I think today some are going for a snowy hike and others are going ice skating. Since we were here two years ago, another level of grandkids (my nieces and nephews . . . and youngest son) has gotten old enough so that they've become the anchors of the continuous "Oh, Heck" games (the game and the euphemistic name taught to them by their grandpa). By the time we got here, we realized that we weren't the only ones who got dinged by either the weather (most people) or the airlines (us). Bags were everywhere in the Cleveland airport -- bags that arrived for people who didn't. And then a day or two after we got here, we realized how insignificant all this inconvenience is compared to the suffering in SE Asia and Africa from the tsunami. As of this morning, the news stations report that over 60,000 have died. And so many more have been unaccounted for. All creation is groaning, longing in anticipation for the new creation that has broken in through Jesus Christ but that has not yet fully arrived. There are hints here and there. But we keep praying the ancient prayer, Marana Tha! ("Come, O Lord.")
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Saturday, December 25, 2004
We're trying again. It's Christmas Day, but one way or another (think "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles") we're going to get to Ohio. We hope. Have a wonderful Christmas Day!
Friday, December 24, 2004
Eagled again. We arrived at the Abilene airport at 6:45 this morning for the 8:07 flight. Everything went smoothly, but after 20 minutes on the runway they said there was a small problem and we'd go back. Probably just a fuse. I've flown enough on American Eagle to be thinking, "Right . . . ." At 9:10 they de-boarded us. Flight cancelled. After standing in line for eternity, we discovered that all later flights from DFW to Cleveland are overbooked. So by 10:45 this morning, we learned that there is no way to get there. So we're back home. I hear lots of people talk about how advantageous it is to live in Abilene because of the traffic. But to counter that is the frustration of starting with such few air choices. I understand: mechanical problems happen. But this morning American Eagle could have made the generous offer to switch us over to Continental (the only other airline here). They had flights to Houston and then on to Cleveland with seats. But the problem was that the second flight only had first class seats left, and American would have to pay the difference. So they said no. I've flown almost a million and a half miles with American, it's Christmas Eve, but they said no. Bah-Humbug Airlines.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Yesterday was one of those days Bill Murray referred to in "Groundhog Day" when he asked , "Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over?" I came home from the office at 1:00 and Chris was waiting for me. So the games began. We picked sides of the sidewalk, drew boundary lines, and started firing snowballs. I had the most hits, but Chris had the best hit: a baseball-sized one with a bit of slush that landed in the exact middle of my ear. I think pieces of it came out the other ear! Last night we ate Becky-Almanza-tamales in front of the fire while watching "King Arthur." It was a great movie, but there was one tense moment. I'm the guy who's always encouraging parents to check out screenit.com before deciding whether their children can watch a movie or not. But this was KING ARTHUR, for goodness sakes. Sure, the Saxons were going to take an arrow or two to the chest, but that fit our war motif from the afternoon of snowball fighting. I hadn't factored in Guinevere. Late in the movie she entered Arthur's chamber. He put his hand on her knee and headed north. At that moment, I could feel my wife's eyes locked down like a laser beam on my temple. The unspoken question was, "You didn't check this out, did you?" Best I can remember, no one was breathing (in our house, that is -- the others seemed to be breathing fine). I was trying to decide: do I hit the "skip a chapter" button or come up with something clever to say ("I guess they neglected to show the wedding . . ."). Thankfully, the scene cut quickly away. Back to good clean battle scenes. (Even there, it wasn't the bloodfest you'd get in a Mel Gibson movie.) At one point Diane said, "the only thing that could make this more perfect is if Matt and Jenna were with us." Anyway . . . a great day. Today is pack-for-Ohio day. This is an Ohio Christmas year (as every other year since 1978 has been). Enjoy the day, friends.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Highland folks, please pass the word: tonight's devotional is canceled because of the bad weather. Having said that, let me emphasize that to me this isn't bad weather. This is the weather I love. Usually when I get home from working out on a non-school day, not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse, at our house. But this morning when I got back Christopher was dressed and bouncing off the walls. He'd already been outside rolling in the snow with the dogs. I love white Christmases! All right, so it's supposed to be 50 degrees on Christmas here. But I also love white December 22s. (Plus, it's supposed to snow a ton today in Ohio where we're going.) One of my favorite Missouri winter memories is the year we got 36 inches in one huge storm. Drifts were up to six feet. School was canceled forever, and my brother, my cousins, and I made a series of tunnels all up and down our street that groundhogs would be proud of. So get out and play in the snow today. Just don't show up at Highland tonight. (We'll try to hold for next year the wonderful devotional that Jack Maxwell was going to lead, telling us about some of his favorite paintings from the birth story of Jesus.)
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Some of my favorite Christmas presents from previous years: - A little brother (apparently I'd been praying pretty specifically for one about nine months earlier); - A 007 spy kit; - A rock-em-sock-em robot (all right, technically, this may have been Randy's but he needed an older brother to play with); - NFL electronic football game (can you imagine kids playing with that today in the world of Play Station 2?); - Cowboy pistols and holster; - A football uniform -- complete with helmet and shoulder pads; - Boxing gloves for me and my brother (which I enjoyed immensely when I was 16 and he was 11 but not nearly as much when I was 19 and he was 14); - A "world's greatest dad" t-shirt; - Every tie, CD, book, or gift certificate from my kids.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
A few recommendations. First, even if you're not a documentary person, you've got to see "Super Size Me." Ever wondered what part of the chicken a nugget comes from? Ever wished you knew what would happen to a person if they ate only fast food for a month? Note: be sure to read the appropriate warnings at screenit.com. Also note: this movie is not officially sanctioned by Ronald McDonald. This film will make it hard to shove fast food down your kids just to make life easier! (IMHO, there is nothing wrong with everyone going to Mickey D's or someplace similar on rare occasions. The problem in America is that fast food has become a staple of our diet. The fast food industry is a powerful economic force that gets its hooks in our children early.) Second, Diane and I went to see "Spanglish" yesterday. We were shocked at the powerful message of the film, especially in the last ten minutes. (Again, please check out screenit.com before making decisions about seeing the film.) It is an amazing film about the power of a parent in a child's life -- even when being a parent means saying "no." There's so much more I'd like to write about the last few minutes, but I don't want to spoil it. Third, I want to recommend The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Please note: I'm not endorsing his position (that religion itself rather than religious fundamentalism is ripping our world apart), but I believe Christians need to read insightful books like this. We need to be able to respond without getting mad. I guess I'm all about recommendations and disclaimers today.
Saturday, December 18, 2004
Favorite Christmas song? I'm going with "Joy to the World" (thank you, Isaac Watts). And favorite Christmas song that isn't found in a hymnal? Got to go with "Rudolph" here.
Friday, December 17, 2004
I preach to Wendell and Betty Broom. That's crazy. They should preach to me. These are heroes of the faith, who have served the Lord faithfully across the world. They have put their lives on the line for the gospel. If the Churches of Christ had a pope in Africa, the churches would select Wendell (and, of course, he'd turn it down!). At times it hits me that I preach regularly -- and have for 20 years -- to people who are better Bible students (the name John Willis comes readily to mind!), more prayerful, and better representatives of the good news of Christ. It makes me thankful that God uses broken jars. I know he uses me. But it's still nuts that I preach to Wendell and Betty Broom!
Thursday, December 16, 2004
My message for this Sunday is "Putting Herod Back in Christmas." Any chance we might find t-shirts with that slogan at the local Christian bookstore? I keep hearing that the FAA is considering a proposal to allow cellphones on flights. As a person who flies quite a lot, let me say this: PLEASE. NO. I beg you. Even as an asthmatic whose airways begin closing down at the first whiff of smoke, I'd rather have smoking return to flights than to have you permit cellphones. At least smokers know they're being disdained. Too many cellphone users think we actually WANT to hear about how wasted they got last night or how vital they are to the American economy or what they think about Barry Bonds and steroids. Trust me on this one: the people flying aren't THAT important. The call can wait. The business won't fall through. Exeptions should be made only for the following jobs: President of the United States. Cellphones have added a lot of convenience to life. I'm not a Luddite. But I can't bear the thought of self-important people rattling on for a couple hours in what is now a cell-free zone. If cellphones are allowed, then we need "Yak" and "No Yak" sections. Put the yakkers in back. We non-yakkers are willing to sit up front in what is now called "first class." It'll be our little reward for not contributing to the problem of noise pollution.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
"God has already selected our new minister." I've read something like that several times recently from churches who are looking for ministers in various ministries. I know what's behind it: an eagerness to recognize that God is still working in this world -- which, of course he is! Part of what this implies is that we aren't on our own, left with our own smarts and resources. In that sense, it's a reaction against a semi-deism that many of us grew up with. And yet . . . I wonder if we've really thought through the implication of saying that God has already selected the person, and we're just trying to figure out who it is. First, if that's true, couldn't God do a better job of communicating WHO that person is? And when the search committee is so sure, couldn't he also make it plain to the person whom they're sure of? Why would God withhold the info if this is a win/lose decision (which it would be if a church didn't "call" the person God had chosen). Second, let me just note that sometimes this becomes almost a tool wielded by churches -- even if it's unintentional. "We believe God has chosen someone, and after months of praying we're convinced it is YOU." Third, my main objection is that it seems to misunderstand the divine-human relationship God desires. He has chosen in his sovereign will to make us partners rather than puppets. He has given us free will; he's blessed us with the challenge of making decisions. Could it be that God hasn't "chosen the person"? Maybe there are any number of people who might please God in a certain ministry. Perhaps much of what he wants is for us to think spiritually, to use discernment, and to ask for his quiet guidance. As this happens, a deepening of our relationship with God takes place. Eventually, after much discernment and prayer, a "call" is issued and accepted. Couldn't we then say that this is the person God chose? Just not in some deterministic way that diminishes our partnership with him!
Monday, December 13, 2004
Two wonderful Christmas programs yesterday. The first was "The Good News Christmas Cruise," with lots of Highland kids. As of this year, we are no longer "children's ministry parents," so we got to go as just supportive members! (Actually, that's not entirely true. I did have two nieces in the play. So we went as supportive aunt, uncle, and cousin.) The second was children from the Highland neighborhood--especially those who participate in the Colonial Apartments ministry. There aren't adequate words to describe the emotions of watching these children tell the story of Jesus' birth. Afterward, Highland was blessed to serve a meal for them, their families, and lots of others from our neighborhood. Two special moments from that second Christmas program. First, I loved hearing Joe Almanza welcome everyone in English and then in Spanish. Joe's our new ministry of community outreach, and he's having an amazing impact. He came here at just the right time. We're using all this language about being a "missional church." Joe is missional. His interest isn't in being the biggest church or the best-known church. He just wants to live for the sake of the world. Second, I heard Diane gasp a bit when the angels walked in. There was a girl in her second grade class last year who wasn't back at Thomas Elementary this year. She didn't know where she went, but knew her life had been very challenging. So she's been praying for her. And then there she was, singing in the Christmas musical in our auditorium! I want to pass along Rubel's "fax of life" for today. Good words about Christmas: USA Today reports that a 25-year-old Memphian has declared his intention to renounce the Christmas rush. He and his wife have told their family and friends not to expect gifts from them this year. "We don't feel any obligation to buy gifts," he says. "I felt odd getting things I didn't need. "The Washington Post carries a similar story that broadens the indictment. It quotes psychologist Patricia Dalton who says that she and her colleagues see hosts of unhappy people whose lives have been hollowed out by "runaway consumerism" – the compulsion to buy clothes they don't need, expensive accessories they can't afford, and high-end trinkets they have come to regard as essentials to life. The stress of paying for all these things drives people to work so hard that they're ruining their marriages, their family life, and their health. Yet we know the American economy could collapse if everybody suddenly quit buying gifts, new things, and only the things we truly need! So what is a responsible person to do? What should a spiritual person do? Is there a middle ground between being a sour-faced Scrooge and a ravenous spendthrift? My own opinion is that Christmas is one of the most joyous times of the year. I'm not for abolishing gift-giving as part of the season. Can't we see the gifting we do for one another at Christmas as a reminder of heaven's great gift to us in the birth of Jesus? Is the choice really so extreme as frugality versus greed? Some of us do behave irresponsibly around Christmastime. We seem to forget that debt enslaves. We shower children with an excess that leaves many of them both greedy and ungrateful. Christians too often wind up their year feeling spiritually empty – drained by a holiday that should have been a holy day. So give appropriate gifts to the people you love. As a testimony to grace received, shower grace on others. But set sensible boundaries about the money you can pay for those gifts, so pride and greed don't drive your spending. If things are tight for your family this year, draw names and radically minimize the buying. Whether flush or finite in your giving potential, build generosity and sharing into your family scheme. If you can't make a donation or supply a gift, help at a homeless shelter. Visit a nursing home. Attend free Christmas Eve worship. Don't gripe that everyone has "forgotten the true meaning" of Christmas. Just embrace it for yourself and your family. And model it for those who may have gotten caught up in the hijacking of what can still be a holy season for you.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
I guess if GPAs and standardized tests are any true indication, there are some areas of life where I'm relatively smart. But there are whole other areas where I'm a nincompoop. Like FIXING THINGS and PUTTING THINGS TOGETHER. We have about fifty people coming over tonight--a young adult Bible class from Highland--so I'm getting to some of the things I have put off. Plus, I finally cracked down and bought a reindeer/sleigh exhibit that Chris has been wanting for a couple years. Of course, the box said it would need minor assembling. Liars! To me, "minor assembling" should mean plugging stuff together. Actually, Chris and I are a pretty good team. He seems to have the ability to see how stuff goes together. So we worked together for a while on the sleigh. He came in for a few minutes while I tried to assemble the first reindeer. But it just would not go! Christopher came out, shook his head a bit and said, "Dad his head won't fit on his butt no matter how hard you push." I backed up and looked. He was right. That was, indeed, a tail I was trying to force the head on rather than a neck. When I tried it on the other end, it fit rather nicely.
Friday, December 10, 2004
It was a bittersweet moment Wednesday night to have Judy Thomas join me one last time during the Oasis prayer time before her move to Nashville. For nine years we've sat side-by-side at worship committee meetings. It's been a huge blessing in my life. And for the past couple years, she's joined me to pray for people in Oasis. (Diane teaches 6th grade girls on Wednesday evenings.) What a joy for Brandon and Sheryl -- and just in time, as they are expecting their third child. Maybe this is true everywhere, but it especially seems true in Abilene. People you love move away. Our covenant group began with four families long ago. We're the only one remaining in town. Lynn Anderson talked last Sunday about 400 people (or was it families?) who left Highland in the late 1980s because they had to find jobs in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, or Ft. Worth. Each time, I try to be a good sport about it. I really do have a kingdom perspective on this -- most of the time! -- and I envision the blessing people will be wherever they are going. My goal isn't to build a huge church, but to prepare people to live in authentic community for the sake of the world to the glory of God. Still, it's hard. Vaya con Dios, Judy.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
All right. Let's suppose you're in my shoes. You're about to co-teach Acts-Revelation again with Randy Harris for eightysomething freshmen Bible majors. You're about to negotiate who teaches which books. Immediately I grab Romans and Colossians, two of my favs. But which ones would you insist that Randy teach? Or narrow it down. Which one would you say, "I refuse to deprive our students of the opportunity to hear you explain THIS!!" If that stumps you, try this (and maybe it will lead us there): what's the hardest passage in Acts-Revelation to understand? What's a baffling bit of text that someday you'd like to ask, "Paul (or Peter or James, etc.), . . . what the heck was THAT about?"
- - - -
A unique call to worship (from John Ortberg):
"The church where I work videotapes most of the services, so I have hundreds of message on tape. Only one of them gets shown repeatedly.
This video is a clip from the beginning of one of our services. A high school worship dance team had just brought the house down to get things started, and I was supposed to transition us into some high-energy worship by reading Psalm 150. This was a last-second decision, so I had to read it cold, but with great passion: 'Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!' The psalm consists of one command after another to praise, working its way through each instrument of the orchestra. My voice is building in a steady crescendo; by the end of the psalm I practically shout the final line, only mispronouncing one word slightly: 'Let everything that has breasts, praise the Lord.'
A moment of silence. The same thought passes through four thousand brains: Did he just say what I think he did? In church? Is this some exciting new translation I can get at the bookstore?
Then everybody in the place just lost it. They laughed so hard for so long, I couldn't say a thing. . . . I finally just walked off the stage, and we went on with the next part of the service.
I have been teaching at that church for eight years. Of all the passages I have exegeted and all the messages I have preached, that is the one moment that gets replayed before conferences and workshops. Over and over."
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
From Howard Snyder: "The church gets in trouble whenever it thinks it is in the church business rather than the Kingdom business. In the church business, people are concerned with church activities, religious behavior and spiritual things. In the Kingdom business, people are concerned with Kingdom activities, all human behavior and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Kingdom people see human affairs as saturated with spiritual meaning and Kingdom significance. Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world...If the church has one great need, it is this: To be set free for the Kingdom of God, to be liberated from itself as it has become in order to be itself as God intends. The church must be freed to participate fully in the economy of God."
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
I've said this before here, but I think churches have often made two mistakes concerning divorce. First, they've been too easy on divorce. Homosexuality is singled out as the #1 enemy of the family. Wrong! Divorce is the #1 enemy of the family and a major contributor to poverty. Yesterday I pointed out that Barna's research indicates that one's (professed) Christian faith seems to make little difference as to whether or not marriage commitments are kept. (My guess as to why the so-called "blue states" have a lower divorce rate is that they tend to be states with more Catholics. The Catholic Church has continued to treat marriage as a big deal. I'd at least say that's probably a major factor.) My biggest concern here isn't that Christians are disobeying a specific command (as disconcerting as that is), but that the WAY OF CHRIST--a way of honesty, compassion, submission, service, love, and forgiveness--would seem to make it more likely that marriages would survive. And more than survive--actually be a mutual blessing. So even beyond marriage and divorce, the question has to be asked: Does walking with Christ make our people more gentle, more humble, more compassionate, more forgiving? Can you tell who the Christians are at the little league field? Second, they've been too hard on divorced people. We recently had a couple in our elders' meeting for a time of blessing. The husband told us that at a former church he'd been told that he could attend and sit on the back row but that he couldn't participate in communion or be a member because he was divorced. That's extreme, I know. But in how many ways have we communicated through our language and programs that divorced people are second class citizens of the community? This is delicate, I know. But my plea is that the church continue to be hard on divorce and gentle, accepting, and (when necessary) forgiving with those whose lives have suffered from broken relationships.
Monday, December 06, 2004
The state with the lowest divorce rate in the most recent statistics? Massachusetts. Nine of the ten states with the lowest divorce rates are blue states. Of the states with the highest divorce stats, all ten are red states. Add to this the findings of George Barna, a "born-again Christian," who found that "born-again Christians" have about the highest divorce rates in the USA. What's that about?
Sunday, December 05, 2004
An amazing day of remembering and celebrating today for Highland's 75th anniversary. What a blessing to have John Allen Chalk and Lynn Anderson back--along with lots of other people who came back for the day. The church started in December 1929 when Abilene Christian College moved from its former campus (Sayles and N. 1st) to its current location. The College Church moved with it, and some people decided there needed to be a church that remained there near downtown. So two months after the stock market crash, the Highland Church was launched. The worship assembly this morning was two hours and ten minutes. Afterward I asked my sixth grader if it seemed long. He replied, "It always seems long." Perspective.
Friday, December 03, 2004
Loved being in MO for a few days for Thanksgiving. I especially was glad to see my nieces and nephew on that side: Kari, Crista, Maddie, Van, Tatum, and Hunter. Tatum, my niece from Vietnam, warmed up to me when I sat down and played Barbies with her. She was disappointed that I didn't know the difference between a blouse and a shirt, but otherwise she seemed to enjoy the playtime. My brother and his wife have a new house on fourteen acres just outside Neosho. When I walk around there, I realize the Ozarks are still in my blood. The hills and the trees (walnuts, pecans, oaks, etc.) stay in the system. The local paper carried a great story while we were there. There is a dispute in an area school system concerning a kindergartener who got in trouble. His mother is defending him, saying: "Alex picked up acorns and he accidentally threw one at a teacher." You've got to love that. I've written about this before. Children whose parents constantly side with them against teachers, coaches, and other authority figures are children headed for trouble. Of course, there are times, when parents have to step in to defend. But all you have to do is hang around an elementary school or a little league field or even the children's wing at church to realize that it's gotten way out of whack with some parents.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
As I get ready for this Sunday's 75th anniversary celebration, I've been struck by how often in Highland's history the church has been tested and tried by people who thought it had gone TOO FAR. (In fact, there is a whole chapter on this in the book on Highland's history, From Roots to Wings.) There was a storm of criticism over the launching of Herald of Truth in the early 1950s. I remember being told by my preacher growing up that this ministry was liberal. (That didn't keep my Grandpa Cope from watching Batsell Barrett Baxter regularly, however!) That criticism was widespread. Some people left the church because of the criticism they heard from friends and family members. But the members stayed the course. There was a huge tempest in the 1970s over the work of the Holy Spirit when Highland leaders began teaching that the Spirit indwells Christians (rather than just working through scripture alone). It was a tough time. Several families left, starting the church at 5th and Grape. Again, it was hard for the members who stayed who faced criticism from people they love in other places. But God has been faithful. Godly men and women held to their convictions even when it wasn't easy. They watched long-time fellow-members leave for other churches. And yet God continued blessing the church and using it for his purposes. Once again, we feel some pressure from others who don't understand some things we've done (or who understand and don't agree). AND YET, God will continue to do his mighty work among us. Our hope is in him, not in our ability to get everything right! One thing has been consistent through these years: godly leaders have devoted themselves to prayer, to scripture, and to God's leading and have been willing to follow that, even when it meant it wouldn't be popular.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Stop what you're doing. Shut the door. Take the phone off the hook. And the other phone. And your cell phone. Block IMs. Set the IPOD on the desk. And read this incredible piece by Gailyn VanRheenan, who for many years has taught missions at ACU. (Thanks to blog-reader Steve Holt for the link.) (NOTE: I know several of you are frustrated at how long it's taking to post comments. I have no idea why. Still waiting on someone half my age to tell me what's up.)
I plan to arrive a bit late for tonight's Oasis meal at Highland. I've got to watch Tom Brokaw sign off for the last time. He's been bringing us our news for two decades. We've loved his voice, his reliability, and his professionalism. We've also enjoyed through the years hearing him talk in glowing terms about his wife and daughters. Through all these years, I've had no idea what his own political convictions were. He's a political junkee who believed it was his job to deliver the news in the most objective manner possible. (It's never fully objective, of course.) This morning on the "Today Show," I heard him speak in glowing terms about Ronald Reagan, whom he covered first in a California gubernatorial election and then later in the 1980 presidential election. But even then, he carefully spoke about the man and his political abilities rather than about his political convictions. Tom (I call him "Tom" since I've spent so much time with him over the last two decades) said this morning that he was resigning for two reasons: (1) to give someone else their time, just as John Chancellor for him, and (2) to be an involved, rather than "fly-by," grandpa. Not a bad way to exit.