Mike Cope's blog

Sunday, February 27, 2005

They're out there, trust me: these young men and women who have dreams of losing themselves in the messy world of the kingdom of God. These are the ones I'm talking about supporting -- even when they go places and do things in ways that "we aren't comfortable." Check this out from a young man at Highland. He and his wife are preparing to go minister in the Boston area. The State of the Church Address The Church in North America is on life support. This is a fact which few of the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals," recognized by Time Magazine last month, know, preach or write, and something many leaders in Churches of Christ have not accepted. The United States is now one of the three most secular countries in the world. Wait a minute, you say: What about the 2004 election, which highlighted voters advocating traditional, Christian values? And with Christianity blitzing the media, movie theaters, and malls, Christianity just has to be flourishing in the West, right? Not so fast. We're living in what's being called the "Post-Christian Era." Christianity in North America has been on a steady decline for the better part of a century, with the most staggering drops occurring in the past 25 years. Christian statistician and church consultant George Barna reported that over the past decade, three million people have been leaving churches every year in the United States. Closer to home, half of Abilene's 120,000 residents do not attend one of the roughly 150 churches in town. You wouldn't read these stats in Time or hear them on American Family Radio, however. Christian media organizations talk like the only work to be done on our soil has to do with Constitutional amendments, and Time seems convinced that evangelical Christians are running the country. These are just the kinds of lies the Enemy would have us believe, though. The actual center of Christianity in the world today is highly debated, but experts agree it lies in one of three places: Latin America, Africa or China. Some have estimated that China, which had only 700,000 Christians at the beginning of the Communist rule in 1949, now has between 60 and 100 million believers, most of them meeting together in large, underground house church networks. Africa now boasts nearly 400 million Christians, but that number is expected to eclipse 600 million by 2025. This kind of rapid, exponential growth simply is not happening in the United States, which now has the third-largest un-churched population in the world. The rumors are true, by the way: Missionaries from African and Latin American countries are now moving to our continent to work among the lost North Americans. The question of how we got to this point isn't nearly as important as how we will get past it. The message and commission Christians have simply is too important to ignore this glaring problem. Many have ignored it, however, to the detriment of their hearts and the faith. One solution to the problem will need to come in the form of a paradigm shift-a change in methodology or theory-regarding the nature and role of the church. The technical definition of the word "insanity" is repeating the same action and expecting a different result each time. This definition often describes Christ's church to a T. Churches will need to take a hard look at the Great Commission-"Go and make disciples"-and then formulate strategies to best accomplish this commandment. Here's a clue, though: It's probably not going to look anything like what most churches have been trying in recent decades. "Attractional" Christianity, which attempts to bring in the un-churched with dynamic worship, flashy programs or the best preacher in town, has been the strategy of choice for churches for much too long, and research is indicating that the post-modern unbeliever isn't falling for it anymore. If churches take the Great Commission seriously, though, one word ought to stick out: Go. Christ went when he became the incarnation of the living God on earth. The apostles went upon receiving the Holy Spirit, first to their hometown, then to the world. And our responsibility is the same in our neighborhoods and cities in the United States. The second phrase that should stick out in a fresh reading of the Great Commission is "make disciples." Baptism certainly is what happens at the initial decision to be a disciple, but it doesn't magically spawn a disciple. True discipleship literally means "spending time with Jesus" and requires relationship, accountability and lots of latitude. "In-process" disciples make lots of mistakes, but that's OK-that's why Christ came. Mature Christians must see that Paul's vision for growing Christians in his young church plants-sanctification-is carried out in contemporary congregations. Sanctified Christians no longer run back to their old muck and mire but strain forward, pursuing righteousness and nurturing new disciples of their own. The Western Church does itself and the Kingdom no good in denying that it has a problem. It is hemorrhaging because it has emphasized the phrases "baptizing them" and "all nations" to the detriment of the three most important words in the Great Commission, "go" and "make disciples." If North America is to see an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, and if Christians desire to delight their Creator, the Church will need to wake from its slumber and dive headlong into God's mission. All North American disciples of Jesus are missionaries, after all-now more than ever before.

Friday, February 25, 2005

On the 17th I blogged about the change in how ministers are trained. When I went through my training, the focus was on S-T-U-D-Y. Now there is a greater focus on practical theology and internships. But now here's my question: Where are we going to send our young, devoted ministers-in-training to do those internships? Where can they go to do grassroots training on how to have a missional impact in those hidden nooks and crannies of society? Most churches are in chaplaincy mode -- taking care of the long-time converted, managing everyone's selfish preferences, reshuffling committees, making sure the nursery is adequately staffed, etc. Most churches are ill-equiped to reach the places that these young ministers are interested in. Most churches seem to have a circle-the-wagons mentality, worried to death about liberals, Democrats, gays, etc. But many of the young ministry students I know are more interested in loving the world and serving the world than in condemning the world. They seem, remarkably enough, to want to follow the lead of Jesus who was in the world but not of the world. They envision churches that minister to people who struggle with same-sex attraction, who drink a bit too much, and sometimes sleep around. They imagine helping those who have lost their way, those who can't grasp any absolutes, those who have failed royally. They don't want people to be known (as I heard Don McGlothlin say this week) for their worst moments. And we want to send them on internships where they learn how to conduct staff meetings and how to calm people who greatly value being "comfortable" with all that's happening in worship? We want them to learn from Abilene churches -- where there is a weekly exchange of members who became uncomfortable someplace else and where "church growth" is defined as a new class that brings in more university students? There are places out there where they can learn a lot. But they may look VERY different! They may look like Central Dallas Ministries. Or the Impact Church. Or any number of places where the majority of our members just wouldn't be comfortable. (Again, our obsession with being comfortable. If I hear one more lecture on helping people become COMFORTABLE with what's happening, I'm going to scream. There's real discipleship: take up your cross, become comfortable, and follow me.) Here's what Randy Harris was asking Wed PM at the ACU lectureship: Are we willing to support them in pursuing these missional dreams -- even when it means they're going to be in a place where WE might not be comfortable? Much is at stake in how we answer that question.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Don't make me say this again. READ LARRY JAMES'S BLOG! It isn't fun, funny, or witty. It is a daily body-slam. Maybe you don't need that, but I do. The easiest thing for me to do is to cocoon inside my comfortable little middle class America world. Americans have mastered the art of carping about how awful it is out there with tax-and-spend liberals, won't-get-off-their-butt poor people, and the French. That's ever so much easier than facing the plight of the poor among us. Larry James refuses to let me do that. His is a prophetic voice I have to hear. I know he's shouting loudly, but I'm a bit deaf when it comes to leaving the shell of my self-centeredness, so I rather appreciate it. Even with the decibels I sometimes manage to tune it out . . . but at night there is a ringing in my ears to remind me that there was something I was supposed to listen to. If you read just one blog a day, I hope it isn't this one. I hope it's Larry's.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Today was supposed to be my last day to speak at the Ozark Christian College Bible lectureship, but that was one of several trips I've cancelled through April because of Chris's injuries from the wreck. It's been a few years since I've spoken at OCC, but I love that place. And Ken Idleman is one of the best Christian college presidents I've ever met. You can't believe how many devoted missionaries and church-planters have come from this relatively small campus. Here's what saddens me: I was born and raised 18 miles from that campus, but I didn't know it existed until I was in my late 20s. In the church I grew up in (filled with loving, godly people), we had a slight disagreement on the Independent Christian Churches: some considered them "erring brothers" while others wouldn't go so far as to actually admit they were "brothers." The main issue was instrumental music. If you worshiped with instruments (rather than a cappella -- just a bit of background for those who aren't on the inside of this and can't make any sense of it), you couldn't be the people of God. You've added something to worship, disobeyed God, and therefore are not the people of God. And so I grew up not knowing that 18 miles from me was a vibrant campus filled with Christ-loving people who could have nurtured my faith. I can't help but wonder how the spiritual lives of some of the teens at our church might have ended up much healthier if we'd come under the influence of some of the teachers and students at Ozark Christian. Now, I find this almost a mystery. No matter what you think about instrumental music (check my ipod), being right on that issue does not make you the people of God! No wonder we've cranked out so many spiritual neurotics who wind up scared to death of death. Who wants to face judgment when you believe you had to be right on every matter of biblical interpretation? The funny thing is that we knew better in our hymns. My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus' blood and righteousness. Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to the cross I cling. My sin--o the bliss of this glorious thought-- My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, And I bear it no more! Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul. Now I'm so thankful to know what God is doing through these dear brothers and sisters at Ozark Christian College. Tucked away in SW Missouri is a campus that is changing the world. For that, I give God thanks.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A couple days after Jeff Gordon won his third Daytona, can someone explain the whole NASCAR phenomenon to me? 1. Why is it the #1 sport in the south? 2. Why is it a sport? Don't mean to seem elitist. I'm just asking. There must be something there. I know people whose recreational lives revolve around the NASCAR circuit. Speak out, NASCAR lovers. What am I missing?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Still this morning I'm emotionally exhausted. Yesterday I preached on Eccl. 4:7-12 and the importance of community. "Two are better than one." At the end, I talked about how clearly that truth had been taught in the past five weeks to the eight families who were directly involved in the wreck. We learned of the vital importance of community from so many people. First, there were the seven Highland boys in the following vehicle who were told by the driver (as he got out to go help) to stay in the car. They began praying immediately for their friends. They prayed when we (the parents) didn't know to pray. There were also the many people all over the world (check out the comments on my January 16 blog) who carried us in prayer and encouragement. When we were frozen by fear and could hardly pray, others offered those prayers. I invited the eight families down. It was an emotional sight to see everyone up there--two in wheelchairs and one on crutches, Brody's parents and brothers, and all the rest of us. Then four from the group--two children and two parents--offered testimonies about what they'd learned about friendship and community. Here is what Diane said: "When I first heard the news that my child was in a serious car accident, I could hardly bare the fact that he was somewhere alone, hurt, and afraid and I wasn't there. Then a couple of days later I heard news about those who helped our children. I can't begin to tell you how comforting that was for me. "In this world where people are afraid to get involved, our children were surrounded by warm, caring adults. As a mother, I am especially thankful for the women who were whispering into our children's ears with their calm, soothing voices. I'm thankful that they took our place in the dirt, since we couldn't be there. And I'm grateful that they held our children's hands and provided their mothering touch. "On that cold Sunday afternoon in January, these women and men became community in a way I'll never forget." After her words, we invited down many of those who had stopped to help our children and Julie as they lay injured that afternoon. We had invited all we knew of -- many of whom our families had been in contact with by phone to thank and to learn more. And yesterday these "Good Samaritans" came to Highland from New Mexico, Monahans, Midland, Lubbock, and Abilene. Can you imagine what it was like for us to see them in person for the first time? Diane and I got to be with the woman who sat by Chris's side the whole time to calm him, keep him warm, pray for him, and try to keep him awake. When we weren't there, she became a mother to him. Then we invited down all the emergency response people who were able to come. We had 13 or 14 able to come from Citizens EMS, Southwest Helicopter, Eula Fire Department, the Callahan County Sheriff's Department, and a Callahan County judge. Once they were all down, the church broke into long standing ovations at both services. Then as the elders and wives gathered around all of us, Dickie Porche thanked God that these people didn't pass by on the other side. In between the services, we had a private reception with the eight families and all these care-givers. So many of the parents spoke words of appreciation during this time. I was especially struck by what one dad said: our eight families are bound together forever. So, yes, I'm emotionally wrung out. These people who stopped to hold Brody as he was dying and to care for the other seven as they were cold and frightened are a living witness to this old text: Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the one who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Chris's cast came off yesterday. Hurrah! Apparently a broken thumb heals quicker than a fractured skull and a fractured vertebrae -- but at least it's progress. Again we stopped by the wreck site on the way back. We saw the cross that has been erected where Brody was pronounced dead. It is holy ground. I don't have words . . . . - - - - Can't wait to see Brandon, Sheryl, and the whole Zoe group. They'll be leading worship at Highland on Sunday morning and then at the ACU lectureship every evening. I had to cancel going to our Fresno worship conference because of the wreck, so I'm anxious to see everyone. There are things happening Sunday that are beyond my control. I insist again that rarely do I choose the texts; the texts choose me (us). Here is the order of worship: "Forever" Welcome (Mike) Call to Worship--(Brandon) "Shout Hallelujah" "Days of Elijah" "O For a Thousand Tongues" "Blessed be Your Name" The Lord's Prayer "Salvation Belongs to our God" Communion Song: "All Who are Thirsty" (Zoe only) Communion ("My Jesus I Love Thee"/"So Are You to Me") Collection (Family Concerns and Pastoral Prayer) "We Are the Body of Christ" Message-Mike (Ecclesiastes 4:7ff) "The Lord Bless you and Keep You"

Thursday, February 17, 2005

We return to Cook's today to see the BONE GUY. Once again, Diane and I will hear completely different things. I'll hear him say, "I think you should start letting him do more. Maybe start pitching a little here and there." Diane will hear him say, "Be very cautious. We can't take any chances at this stage." How is that possible? It must be HIS fault in communication! - - - - I was just remembering my first day "on the job" as a real, live local minister in Wilmington, North Carolina. I had no idea what to do. Isn't that incredible? Four years of college, ninety hours of graduate study, and no idea what I was supposed to do. Other than get two sermons and two classes ready each week. THAT I was prepared for. All that Greek (seven years) and Hebrew (two years), all those homiletics classes -- yes, yes, I was ready for that. I'm so thankful for the way seminary training is changing. We're preparing ministers to do more than go study (as important as it is to be theologically informed). There's a focus all the way through now on practical theology. There are requirements to do internships -- to peek over the shoulders of people who are already doing it well. But to be honest, I don't think I could train many of the young ministers for what's in their hearts. They want to do something that is grassroots, missional, and messy. While I may not be able to train, I fully intend to be a cheerleader for these young men and women. May God fill them with his dreams!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

If you haven't read We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, I'd highly recommend it. He gives an amazing account of the genocide in Rwanda. It's hard reading, but something that Christians need to hear (since "Christians" contributed to the problem at many levels). Maybe later I'll write more about sections of this book that moved me most. I haven't seen Hotel Rwanda yet, but want to go as soon as we can. Has anyone seen it yet? What were your reactions? Thanks to Dr. Jim for passing along these words of Brian McLaren from Sojourners: Hotel Rwanda and The Passion of the Christ by Brian McLaren Maybe it's because I spent time last summer in Burundi, the poorer twin sister of Rwanda that shares a similar history, tribal makeup, geography, culture, and terrifying undercurrent of genocide. Maybe it's because while I was there, I met Anglican priests serving in Rwanda who told personal stories of the tragedies there - and their efforts to bring healing and reconciliation in the aftermath. Maybe it's because (some readers may be tempted to write me off after reading this sentence) I was so frustrated by last year's promotional hype surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ - and I was so frustrated by the movie itself, though I know many found it moving and spiritually edifying. Maybe it's because I have deep concerns about the alignment of major sectors of Christianity with "red-state Republicanism," and I worry that a kind of modernist, nationalist neo-fundamentalism is trying to claim all Christian territory as its sovereign domain. For whatever reason, when I walked out of the 2005 film Hotel Rwanda this thought wouldn't leave me: If we really had the mind and heart of Christ, this is the movie we would be urging people in our churches to see. In fact, I can't think of a more worthwhile experience for Christian leaders than to watch Hotel Rwanda and then ask themselves questions like these: Which film would Jesus most want us to see, and why? Why did so many churches urge people to see Gibson's film, and why did so few (if any) promote Terry George's film? What do our answers to that question say about us? What were the practical outcomes of millions of people seeing Gibson's film? And what outcomes might occur if equal numbers saw Hotel Rwanda - as an act of Christian faithfulness? In what sense could Hotel Rwanda actually be titled The Passion of the Christ? What do we make of the fact that a high percentage of Rwandans who participated in the 1994 genocides were churchgoers? What do we make of the fact that a high percentage of the Americans who ignored the 1994 genocides (then and now) were and are churchgoers? What kind of repentance does each film evoke in Western Christians? Why might the kind of repentance evoked by Hotel Rwanda be especially needed during these important days in history?

Really looking forward to having Brandon and Zoe at Highland this Sunday morning. There are some amazing things that will happen. More on that later. . . . - - - - Sunday night we bowed out. Our covenant group has been planning for a long time to go together to Washington D.C. for a spring break mission trip. We're part of Highland's 2005 "Into All the World" ministry that is sending about 500 members all over the world for short-term missions. But there are just too many issues with travel right now for Chris. If it were two months later, we'd be fine. We're so thankful that at least some of the group is still planning to go. As I told them, it felt like another casualty of the wreck if the whole trip fell through. We reflected Sunday night -- our first time back together since the wreck -- on how unlikely it was that two of the three children who had to be flown to Cook's were from our little group. We were so thankful to circle around them and pray. Speaking of our covenant group kids, here's a great article about Audrey Maxwell.

Monday, February 14, 2005

My first date with Diane was 28 years ago today. Fifteen months after that we got married and took off for Hot Springs (yes, we heard all the jokes) for our honeymoon. This will not be the most romantic Valentine's Day, I suppose. We're caught up in the daily tasks of helping Chris recover from the accident. And yet . . . after all these years with the Love of my life . . . there's something deeply romantic about it. For all these years we've cuddled, fought, forgiven, traveled, danced, prayed, laughed, and poured our lives into Matt, Megan, and Chris. There's something deeply romantic about a quite evening with Diane to continue helping Chris. For the occasion I've ripped a CD of some of our favorite love songs: Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love" Eric Clapton's "Change the World" Steven Curtis Chapman's "I Will Be Here" The Dixie Chicks' "I Believe in Love" Collin Raye's "Love Remains" Terri Clark's "I Just Want to Be Mad" (pure eroticism) Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" John Mayer's "Your Body Is a Wonderland" (hey, we're married!) Dan Fogelberg's "Make Love Stay" Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" Norah Jones's "Be Here to Love Me" and "The Nearness of You" James Taylor's "How Sweet It Is" Beatles' "Something" Help me out here. Any glaring omissions? What are some other great love songs?

Saturday, February 12, 2005

We've loved having James and Marla Walters, friends of ours from Boston, here for the weekend. While they went to ACU's dinner theater last night, Diane, Chris, and I watched "The Man from Snowy River." That's a movie that just doesn't get old. Any other Snowy River fans out there? I'm looking forward to preaching tomorrow. But . . . But life is still surreal. I keep hearing that we've had "closure" as a church to the wreck. I'm very thankful for that -- but most of the families directly involved weren't around for the closure. We were stuck in hospitals. And for these families, it just isn't that easy, anyway. There are femurs and vertebrae and collar bones and thumbs in the slow process of healing. Plus, there is the lasting of trauma of receiving the news and wondering, "Did anyone survive?" There is the ongoing agony of knowing that one of the friends didn't survive. There are the images of our children hanging upside down in a ditch as earth-time suspended. And so, no, we haven't experienced closure. We aren't ready to go on. I have almost no interest in committee meetings, worship style, travel, lectureship, etc. The only place that makes sense to me right now is by my son's side--helping him try to get relief from that darn back brace that has to be synched down tight over broken ribs. Our little basketball team played at noon. We play again for the championship at 5:00. I never thought I'd find myself coaching next to my son in a wheelchair. Thanks for continued prayers, and thanks for the prayer requests that can be found in Thursday's comments.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Dear Friends - Six months ago today, with the help of a couple people much younger, I dropped a clicker on this blog. Since then, it has received 127,688 "hits." Thank you for visiting here some and for considering my rantings and ravings. Twenty-five days ago I left a desperate message as I ran out the door to head to Cook's Children's Hospital in Ft. Worth. Right now, most of that evening is a fog. I remember, as in a dream, hearing about the wreck, finding out that Chris was in it, later hearing that one of the children had died, gathering with the other families in a waiting room at Hendrick, being called by our friend who is an ER doc, looking at my boy and not recognizing his face, whispering in his ear, hearing that the preliminary CT scan was better than expected (given the trauma to his face), learning that he would be flown to Children's with one parent, and running home to pack a few things before Dickie and Becky drove me over there. It's just a dream . . . or a nightmare. I've forgotten most details. But I remember a desperate sense that I didn't have much prayer in me, so I stopped at my computer long enough to type out those few sentences. Within hours, there were responses from six continents (hey, what's with you people in Antarctica?) and from all over the States. Even now, I can't come up with words to describe what those prayers mean to Diane, Matt, Jenna, Chris, and me -- and to the other seven families. Some have commented that a sort of cyber-community has developed through the months. There are limits to what such a "community" can do, of course. But there are some things we can do. And prayer is clearly one of them. For the most part, I've been the recipient of your prayers. This morning I'm wondering -- are there things we can pray for you? I'd like to invite you today to leave a note here if you'd like other readers to be praying for you. If you just can't get the comments button to work (or are a bit technologically challenged and can't figure out how to get registered), I've created a temporary e-mail address, BlogPrayers@aol.com. If you'll send your prayer request there, I'll type it into the comments here. May the love of God encompass you, my friends, as he continues forming you in the Way of Christ.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

We were fortunate that Diane was able to be a stay-at-home mom. She quit working at Memphis State on the day Matt was born (1982) and was able to remain at home with the kids until Chris entered first grade (1999). I know not every family makes this choice or is even able to make such a choice, but it was a blessing to us that she could be at home with our children. Since she started teaching, we've had a few times when Chris was sick and we had to ask, "Okay, who's staying home?" It's always gone pretty smoothly. We've talked about whose schedule was more permissive on certain days, and we tried to alternate days. But now Chris is out until at least Spring Break. So -- who is the stay-at-home parent? Well, we're trying to split some of the responsibilities, but Diane has generously taken a leave of absence from teaching until the break. One thing that has struck us (again!) through all this is how amazing the women and men are who are in single-parent families. As we took turns sleeping during those ten days at Cook's, and now as we split duties during the night to care for Chris, I've thought again about those amazing people who do this by themselves. It makes me wonder all over again -- how can we, as the people of God, be "family" to those single-parent families among us? How can we carry part of that load? How can we encourage? How can we pray -- and then back our prayers up with action?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Here's the problem with getting rest these days: I keep picturing my little boy rolling around and around at 65 mph on I-20. Eventually, I know, this will stop. - - - - Wells and Fences Today a quote from Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch's THE SHAPING OF THINGS TO COME: "A useful illustration is to think of the difference between wells and fences. In some farming communities, the farmers might build fences around their properties to keep their livestock in and the livestock of neighboring farms out. This is a bounded set. But in rural communities where farms or ranches cover an enormous geographic area, fencing the property is out of the question. In our home of Australia, ranches (called stations) are so vast that fences are superfluous. Under these conditions a farmer has to sink a bore and create a well, a precious water supply in the Outback. It is assumed that livestock, though they will stray, will never roam too far from the well, lest they die. This is a centered set. As long as there is a supply of clean water, the livestock will remain close by. "Churches that see themselves as a centered set recognize that the gospel is so precious, so refreshing that, like a well in the Australian Outback, lovers of Christ will not stray too far from it. It is then a truly Christ-centered model. Rather than seeing people as Christian or non-Christian, as in or out, we would see people by their degree of distance from the center, Christ. In this way, the missional-incarnational church sees people as Christian and not-yet-Christian. It acknowledges the contribution of not-yet-Christians to Christian community and values the contribution of all people. Jesus' faith community was clearly a centered set, with him at the center. . . . There was a rich intersection of relationships with some nearer the center and others further away, but all invited to join in the kingdom-building enterprise. If the modern church followed this biblical model, the church would be more concerned with relationships than with numbers." I'm just starting this book, but so far it's incredible. Could those of you who've read it tell us a little more?

Monday, February 07, 2005

This weekend I read BLUE LIKE JAZZ by Donald Miller. His writing is what one reviewer called "Anne Lamott with testosterone." A few teasers: About the title: "In America, the first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a free-form expression. It comes from the soul, and it is true." About blowhard preachers: "A couple of years ago . . . I visited a church in the suburbs, and there was this blowhard preacher talking about how television rots your brain. He said that when we are watching television our minds are working no harder than when we are sleeping. I thought that sounded heavenly. I bought one that afternoon." About sin: "Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror." About mystery: "I don't think you can explain how Christian faith works either. It is a mystery. And I love this about Christian spirituality. It cannot be explained, and yet it is beautiful and true. It is something you feel, and it comes from the soul." About trendy religion: "I don't think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel. If the supposed new church believes in trendy music and cool Web pages, then it is not relevant to culture either. It is just another tool of Satan to get people to be passionate about nothing." On kissing dating goodbye: "When I first moved to Oregon I was befriended by this vibrant kid who read a lot of Bible. Josh was good-looking and obsessed with dating, philosophies of dating, social rituals, and that sort of thing. He was homeschooled and raised to believe traditional dating was a bad idea. I traveled with him around the country and introduced him at seminars he would conduct on the pitfalls of dating. He wrote a book about it, and it hit the bestseller list. No kidding. A couple years later he moved to Baltimore and got married. I called him after the wedding and asked him how he got to know his wife without dating. He said they courted, which I understood to mean he had become Amish. But he explained courting is a lot like dating without the head games." On living with buddies: "I have a picture on my desk of the six guys at Graceland, which is what we named the house. People thought we named the house Graceland because we wanted it to be a place where people experienced God's grace and unconditional love. But we didn't think about that till later. We really named it Graceland because that was the name of the house Elvis lived in, and, like Elvis, we were all pretty good with the ladies." On worship and wonder: "At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don't think there is any better worship than wonder."

Friday, February 04, 2005

John Phipps, a 44-year-old father of three, was on the fateful train that crashed in California on January 26, killing 11 and injuring 200. As it turned out, he was one of the 200 and is now recovering. But at the time, he thought he would be one of the fatalities. He knew he was bleeding profusely and his whole body was trapped. So he began writing with his blood on a seat: "I (heart symbol) my kids. I (heart symbol) Leslie." If you were Leslie (his wife), Shara (22), Jeremy (19), or Josh (15), how do you think that would impact you? A man who thought he was dying wrote his final words (or so he thought) in blood--words of absolute love. If you can't make a spiritual application at this point, we're taking away all your old VBS stickers.

It's been a blessing of my ministry that I've had so many kind offers through the years to travel to speak. But it's something I've fought, too. Everything sounds wonderful, but I can't live on the road--not with a family at home. I know there have been times that I've disappointed people, but that's better than disappointing Diane or the kids. At times I wonder, Isn't it funny at all the plane tickets that are purchased to take one minister from point A to point B, and another minister from B to C, and still another from C to A. Have you ever wondered what it might be like if we just quit doing that and used the money to help support missions or to feed and house the poor? Traveling is enticing. It's the easy stuff, really. You get to talk to people whom you don't have to live in relationship with. And they aren't people who listen to you all the time so they tend to be more affirming. (No complaints here--it's just human nature to take people around you for granted. Unfortunately, I do this, too.) But there are some times I've been VERY thankful for all the kind invitations I've turned down. Like when Megan died . . . and when Matt graduated . . . and when we celebrated our 25th anniversary (5/03) . . . and on the morning of 1/17 when we were waiting to see if Chris would wake up and respond to people. At all of those times (and many others!), I've been very thankful that for every invitation I accepted I turned many others down. Really, I shouldn't sound so darn heroic. I love being home. I love being with Diane, with Chris (and formerly with Matt and Megan), with my friends, with my church. I'm fortunate that I've had sane people around me--including my assistant, Gina--to help me remember that joy. - - - - Winterfest. To be honest, Chris really didn't want to go. He didn't know anything about it. And neither did I for that matter. I've never been. But I've heard good things about it. And the best part would be a weekend to bond with the youth group from Highland--especially in Chris's first year in the group (6th grade). It's been one of a hundred things I've rolled around in my mind. "Why did I tell him we wanted him to go?" Also, why did he have to be in that car? Why on a clear, uncrowded day on I-20? (Even as a constant worrier, I didn't think anything about it because it's such a straight shot from the Metroplex to Abilene . . . good weather . . . ten cars traveling together.) But, you know what? It does no good to second guess. There's no point in asking why I insisted that he go. He went. What happened happened. Isn't that true of much of life? Second-guessing is such a popular game. But at the end of the day, you have to deal with life as it has unfolded. We had a fairly good report yesterday. We waiting a long time to see the neurosurgeon, but weren't even close to getting in. If we stayed longer, we would have missed the main appointment (with the BONE GUY), so we said, "Sorry, but we've come from Abilene and we can't miss this other appointment." We really like the orthopedic surgeon. He took some more x-rays and gave another good long-term report. But what we found out is that what HE meant by short-term and what Chris and I were thinking he meant by short-term were two different things. Translation: no baseball this year. I know, I know: it could have been so much worse. But to a kid who loves to pitch, this was not good news. We came right back to reality, of course, when we stopped by the Bourlands on the way home just to hug their necks. These are incredibly sweet people right down in the gutter of grief. We know the feeling all too well.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Please pray for us today as we return to Cook's to see the pediatric neurosurgeon and the pediatric orthopedic surgeon. I have a great digital photo from last night I'd like to post, but I forgot to ask everyone's permission. It's a picture of the six children who survived the rollover. With three wheelchairs (Jon Weston, Amara, and Chris C.), it was a bit hard to squeeze them together, but they managed. Thanks for your prayers for our group as we got together for the first time. So many of our thoughts were about our dear friend Julie (the driver), who is still hospitalized in Lubbock and about the Bourlands. - - - - Time magazine has released their list of "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals": Rick Warren, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Diane Knippers, James Dobson, Michael Gerson, Richard John Neuhaus, T. D. Jakes, Billy and Franklin Graham, Joyce Meyer, Rick Santorum, Luis Cortes, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Charles Colson, Douglas Coe, J. I Packer, David Barton, Mark Noll, Ralph Winter, Richard Land, Stephen Strang, Ted Haggard, Stuart Epperson, Bill Hybels, Brian McLaren, and Jay Sekulow. A few comments. First, does anyone else count more than 25? I guess you only count for 1/2 if you're part of a husband/wife or father/son team. (But shouldn't Billy Graham count for 5?!) Second, did anyone else have to say a time or two, "Who in the world is that?" Third, thankfully some of the familiar lunatics were left off. And finally, how can such a list not include Jimmy Carter, Jim Wallis, and Tony Campolo? But then it's Time's list and not mine. Who else might you have included?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Sermon on Ministry of Women At a time that now seems long, long ago and far, far away, I preached a LENGTHY sermon at Highland on the ministry and gifts of women. The elders asked me to take an extended period in one Sunday in the middle of January to walk through our study of scripture that led to our current place in this journey. There are so many new members and students who weren't around for the long congregational study. There was an amazing moment that Sunday, as I now faintly remember. After my message (about an hour long, including my words of pastoral encouragement at the end), the elders spontaneously came up, affirmed the message, and prayed. Not all readers of this blog will agree with what I said. But if you're interested, you can order the CD from Highland. Our website is still under construction (COME BACK, KEITH BRENTON!), so it might be best to call (325-673-5295) or write (425 S. Highland, Abilene, 79605). (A note that is probably important only to me: I don't make anything off the sales of these CDs! I think the church sells them at cost.) - - - - Monday morning I heard words that made me panic. It was the beginning of week three. Chris had gotten up early, and he and I had just finished his little physical therapy routine. He said, "I'm going to take a nap. But will someone wake me up at 10:00? That's when 'The Price Is Right' is on." Yikes! Words I never wanted to hear from my twelve year old. A few minutes later I was off to Lincoln Middle School to retrieve homework assignments from teachers. It seemed to me that the time had come to get back into the school books. - - - - Tonight I believe the six children who survived the wreck are getting together for the first time at our house. Please pray that it will be a time of healing for Amara, Beth, Austin, Jon Weston, Chris P., and Chris C.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

To become a parent is to become vulnerable. Vulnerable to colds and to diseases and to "nobody likes me" and to broken bones and to decisions and to decisions of young friends and to automobiles. It means praying until you're all prayed out. It means waiting to hear the front door open in the early days of driving. It means waiting for the phone call saying "we made it." It means hoping for all you're worth that faith -- deep, give-it-all-up-to-follow-him faith -- catches on. Deep love means vulnerability. It's part of the deal. God knows that, doesn't he? - - - - As Yogi Berra would say, we've experienced deja vu all over again. So much has happened that's taken us back to our Megan days: the treatment at Hendrick's emergency room, the medical flight to Ft. Worth, the intubation, the extended stay at Cook's. And now, once again, we're back under the AISD special education program. I always thought of that as a euphemism for helping people like Megan who are mentally handicapped. But I'm finding out it is over all SPECIAL education. And since Chris is going to be out for quite a while, apparently, he qualifies for the homebound program. AISD will send a teacher to our home. - - - - We've been really blessed this week to have Diane's sister from Tennessee, Donna Jo Meeks, and her daughter, Hannah (13), here. Donna has been our gourmet cook, our traffic cop with the phone, and a calming voice. Hannah has been Chris's buddy--especially on those days when everyone from here has to go to school. After a day of playing games, last night they watched "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" for the first time. Doesn't everyone remember where they were when they saw it for the first time? (I do -- because it was such a great film. Diane does -- because of Robert Redford.) Another highlight in the last couple days was when Scott and Chris Perkins brought over a tape of our basketball game from Saturday. I went to the game to help Scott coach, but it was hard without Chris C. out there. Hopefully, he'll be able to attend the rest of our games in his wheelchair. (Again, it's up to the pediatric BONE GUY on Thursday.) Yesterday was shower day, which is a major event when you're dealing with a back brace. We've been blessed once again by the loving care of one of our elders, Rex Nutt, who has often been recognized as one of the best physical therapists in Texas. It gives us a lot of assurance to have him here when the brace comes off. - - - - Soon I'll quit blogging about this all the time. I'll get back to the other stuff I'm passionate about--like community, discipleship, parenting, and guacamole. Thanks for listening and for praying, my friends. Especially keep praying for the Bourland family as they continue on the long journey of grief for their precious son.