Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

We did, indeed, get to see Roger Clemens pitch. In eight full innings he gave up just four hits and two runs -- which actually RAISED his ERA to 1.30 for the season. And with that incredible ERA, wouldn't you guess he's about 10-0? Nope. He's pitching for the Astros. He's 3-3. Yesterday, when he left the game, they were behind 2-0. After relief pitchers came in for one inning, they lost 9-0. But just watching him is amazing. The guy is 42 -- just six years younger than I am. His fastball is no longer 98 (usually around 90 now), but he's smarter. He's hitting corners and throwing different kinds of pitches more often. Lots of cameras clicked every time he faced Ken Griffey, Jr. Remember when he was supposed to be the GREATEST PLAYER EVER? And his first several years in Seattle made it seem like that might be true. Alas, a trade to Cincinnati and injury-after-injury have made him a so-so player. But he's still Ken Griffey, Jr. Today we return to the BONE GUY to see how Chris's back is doing.

Monday, May 30, 2005

A blog repeat (from last Memorial Day): The whole area of Christian participation in and support for war has been a vexing one for me. (Months ago I mentioned the compelling words of Lee Camp, a Lipscomb professor, in Mere Discipleship, a new book published by Brazos Press.) But regardless of how one comes out on that dicey issue, we have all benefitted from the courage and sacrifice of those who have fought for freedom. Part of why I have the liberty to sit at my desk today and hack away at this blog is that many have fought against what they believed were forces of evil and injustice. One of my closest friends, Dr. Charles Mattis, grew up fatherless. When he was young (four, I believe), his father was shot down in Vietnam. One doesn't have to be a huge supporter of Vietnam to appreciate the sacrifice that was made--not just by the young pilot but also by his widow and her two small children. So today I "remember" this man whom I never knew--along with lots of other men and women I never knew. And I double my prayers for the kingdom of God to continue breaking in. We pray for God's rule that will cause humans to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. We long for the time when "nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

Sunday, May 29, 2005

On our ride to Houston yesterday, we reached a new low. Chris and I were hot, of course, so we had the air conditioner blowing. To compensate, Diane had her seat warmer going. No wonder the world hates us! We have high-blast AC for the two who are hot and an electrically-heated seat for the one who is cold. We're here for a couple days with Matt and Jenna. This morning we get to visit their church for the first time. Tomorrow, we have tickets to see the Astros. If I've counted games correctly, the Rocket should be up to pitch. It's a good year to be an Astros pitcher. You know if you're going to win, you can't give up any runs. So you get serious from the first pitch. Just a question about our trip. Is there a rule that Churches of Christ in small towns HAVE to put signs just outside the city limits telling people where their building is located? I don't see those signs for Lutherans, for Methodists, for Catholics, or for Baptists. But almost every town you enter has a sign saying "The Blah-Blah-Blah Church of Christ welcomes you" followed by directions.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Finally, this week Chris was able to get back into carpool, for the last four days of school. He still can't carry a backpack, but one of his buddies lugged it in for him. So yesterday, the final Thursday of the year, I got to drive the gang for the first time since the wreck. And I was out of sync. I had forgotten the "Beach Boys." So we went with CCR, which I prefer but they don't. When they got out at noon (early release), I took them to Mr. Gatti's to celebrate. We were there with, apparently, most Abilene middle school students. One of the boys asked why there were policemen there. I wanted to know why the National Guard hadn't been called in. This was not the sixth grade year we anticipated. The fall went so well, and then that trip to Winterfest in January. It's all still a fuzz. Often I have to fight reliving the first disorienting hour, waiting for the ambulances to arrive. I don't know what's ahead for Chris. Despite being in Cook's for ten days, missing school through Spring Break, returning to school in a wheelchair, wearing a back brace, missing baseball -- despite all that, he has been amazing. Seldom has he thrown a pity party. He's moved from outside basketball, which he can't play yet, to inside basketball. (SEE, I KNEW MY BIG GOAL IN OUR LIVING ROOM BELONGED!) Every night we have a few games of "horse." This is sometimes followed by a little light saber practice. I can hardly bring myself to write this, but my little boy almost died in a Yukon just outside Putnam, TX. I'm so thankful he didn't.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Ends, the Means In marketing America, we usually think we can justify anything by the results. The means don't seem to matter. It's bottom line, baby. That is not the Way of Christ. He would take no short cuts. He wouldn't jump off the temple even if people would be impressed. So we find ourselves caught between these two ways: the way of our culture (where the ends justifies the means) and the Way of Christ. I often hear people talk about what's happening at some church and the ultimate justification is "they must be doing something right" -- because of attendance, baptisms, etc. But I never find things like that as criteria of faithfulness in scripture. Or I hear people from Christian colleges justifying anything by saying, "Hey, we're building dorms . . . enrollment's increasing . . . we're having to turn people down . . . we must be doing something right." Following Jesus means pursuing the right ends by the right means. What we don't like is that the right means is often unpopular, difficult, and slow. Painfully slow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Recently I preached a two-week series on justice. During that brief series I showed a clip from "The Invisible Children," a film documentary about children in Northern Uganda who are suffering. I talked about the difference a few college students and a camcorder are making in the lives of these kids. Some of you have asked how you can get your own copy of the DVD, so here is the website. - - - - God's mercy on all of you school teachers out there in blogland. Tie a knot in the rope. Hang onto it. (Don't even THINK about putting it around any little annoying necks. They'll be someone else's students next year. Keep your streak of "consecutive-years-without-executing-a-child" alive.) - - - - I was a paperboy. For three years, I went down to the square in Neosho after school every day and delivered the Neosho Daily News. I can still pretty much remember my route. (What I can't remember, my younger brother, who took over for me, probably can.) Then on Sunday morning, I jumped on my bike at 5:30 and rode downtown to deliver my papers. Chris is now the age I was when I delivered papers. I can't really imagine him taking off at 5:30 alone in the dark to deliver papers. But it's a different world. Not being nostalgic. It just is. Better in some ways; perhaps more dangerous in other ways. - - - - Why can I remember my paper route from my middle school years and all the lyrics to "The Beverly Hillbillies," but can't remember where I put my keys? - - - - Thanks for the comments yesterday. I stirred the pot a bit, and found myself playing Devil's Advocate some in the comments. Some thoughts: First, I can always count on my former coworker, Deana, for comic relief. But really, my friend, don't order the t-shirts. :) Second, the best response I can imagine would be my friend SG sweetly telling a couple teenage boys that little ears are listening. That's really a profound example of peer pressure in the best sense--as one teen tells the other teen that they shouldn't talk that way around little kids. Third, I like that so many wrote in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 5: Be hard on the church (hard in the since of expecting behavior in the Way of Christ), but be gentle on the world.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Personal freedom and community responsibility Saturday morning I popped into Hernandez bakery for some breakfast burritos for the fam. A guy got out of a small pickup that said Hertz and walked in behind me. His shirt said in big, bold letters: "No beer, no f---in' work." I couldn't believe it. "Surely that isn't what it says," I thought. So I kept peeking around to make sure I hadn't mixed up a couple letters. That evening at the Rangers game I saw a guy proudly sporting a Big Johnson t-shirt that played off of oral sex--as do so many of the shirts they sell. It's also fairly common to see bumper stickers that are not "family-approved." My concern here isn't about language. It's about public responsibility. Should a guy be able to walk into a family restaurant with a shirt that has the f-word on it? You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater if there is no fire. People might be trampled to death -- all because you thought it would be funny. This is a tough one, because who decides what t-shirts and bumper stickers are all right, which ones are risque but barely all right, and which ones are over the line? And yet, it doesn't take the Supreme Court to tell us that someone shouldn't be allowed to wear the shirt I saw in a family establishment. I've recently read an outraged letter that is circulating from a man who was asked by a Delta flight attendant to cover the t-shirt he was wearing because it was offensive to Christians. She undoubtedly shouldn't have added the last part. But that doesn't mean she was completely out of line. He's threatening to sue the airline if they don't fire her. (Note: earlier this morning, I posted the words from the t-shirt, but I've since decided to remove them. They are as blatant and more inappropriate than the phrase I mentioned in the first paragraph.) All in the name of personal freedom, right? He wore that shirt onto a plane and now he's incensed that he was wronged. He's probably outraged about narrow-minded Christians and the loss of freedom. And to be honest, I shutter to think of the ways many narrow-minded people might actually respond! ("Your freedom ends where my Smith and Wesson begins" -- a lovely sentiment I've seen before.) So what is the proper response? How do we combine freedom of expression with community responsibility? Who decides? Who enforces?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

I'm guessing that some children who live near the Ballpark at Arlington (sorry, not ready to call it Ameriquest Field yet) got confused yesterday. They thought it was the Fourth of July. Every time the Rangers hit a homerun, fireworks go off. And yesterday at the the game we were at, they homered eight -- franchise record EIGHT -- times. They had 17 hits, 11 of which were for extra bases. It was a nail-biter: 18-3. No wonder Clemens is having one of the best seasons of his life, and can't come up with many wins. - - - - Just finished a gorgeous ride along the Trinity River this morning. If I lived anywhere near it, I think it's a trail I'd have to bike every morning. At the end of the ride, I went all around the Colonial Golf Course, where the final round will be played today. It was fun watching all the people arriving early to grab their spots. (Note: most of them look like they ride carts when they play golf rather than walk.) I saw a few golfers warming up. But it didn't appear to be any of the six I can actually identify! - - - - Still trying to decide where to go to church this morning. We usually run over to Richland Hills. Love that place and am always fed by Rick. But we may take Chris to University Christian Church today on the TCU campus. I've only been a couple times, but the music was inspiring and the preaching was above average. Plus, they have weekly communion. More and more a worship assembly doesn't make sense to me if communion isn't a central part. Blessings on you Highland folks today. You'll love hearing Joe Almanza.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

It's fantastic. Wesa happy. Back to the best of Lucas' Star Wars. Really even better than I expected after hearing the positive responses on the blog the past couple days. Dark? Oh, yes. Way dark. But he's going to the DARK side. The film gives a rather complex answer to the question of why a person becomes evil. It's fear . . . and misguided love . . . and anger . . . and deception. Rather profound, really. The same question that great writing often deals with. (Remember plowing through Dostoevsky? or high school Shakespeare plays?) - - - - Today we're headed to the Ballpark to see the Rangers and Astros. Yoda yesterday; two Texas teams today. Good weekend. - - - - My alma mater (Harding) just named a very good man as the new dean of the College of Bible and Religion. (He's also been named a Vice President.) I want to emphasize again: he's a very good man. But as one alumnus, I'm puzzled. How can they name as dean of a college someone without a doctorate? (I think he has the same degree as I do from Harding Graduate School. Maybe I was a candidate, too, and didn't know it.) I was told by Harding people that when the new dean of the College of Business Administration was named (another good man -- the president's son), he didn't have a doctorate either. Maybe I just don't understand this whole accreditation thing. I keep hearing of all the changes and requirements being made at ACU in the College of Biblical Studies because of accreditation. Just hard to imagine that a dean -- the academic head of a college within a university -- doesn't have to have a terminal degree. But what do I know. I assume it's all right for an alumnus to ask this question. - - - - Recently I wrote about two young couples going from Highland this summer to Rwanda (the Kendall-Balls) and Sudan (the Shearins). Someone sent a very large check to our financial person at Highland, asking to be anonymous. So I don't know who it is. But this person wrote on the check, "keep blogging, Mike." So, whoever you are, THANKS. I will try to provide an update soon on where they are with the fund-raising.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Some of you will remember when the original Star Wars movie came out in 1977. Do you remember wondering, "Episode IV? What about I, II, and III?" We didn't have Roger Ebert to tell us to just wait 22 years for the first one and 28 years for the third one! It's hard to appreciate today how fun the saloon scene in Tatooine was. Great music, great aliens, and Han Solo to dominate the screen. Last night, in preparation for taking THE LAST KID IN AMERICA TO SEE "SITH" to an after-school showing, he and I watched Episode II. Once I again I was wondering this: If Star Wars is the story of the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, wasn't there ANYONE ELSE Lucas could have gotten to play Anakin/Darth Vader? Hayden Christensen is so weak in Episode II. He's sullen; he seems weakest when he's trying to portray strong; and he seems to have the ability accent the wrong word in every line. (Surely no one was coaching him to do that. "Hey, let's throw them for a loop. Let's shoot for emphasizing the wrong word in all your lines.") Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised tonight. Well, Star Wars hasn't really been about great performances, has it? Or great dialogue? It has been a well-imagined and well-told story that has spanned three decades. And it has been a great musical score and great action scenes. And above all, it has been Yoda! Entertained us well he has.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I'm a bad parent. We still haven't seen "Return of the Sith." Yes, we could have gone to the 12:02 showing, the 12:10 showing, or the 12:20 showing early this morning, but that tends to be when I like to sleep. If there had been a 4:04 showing, I would gladly have taken Chris. "You have school on Thursday. You can't go without sleep. You already have a hard time sleeping with the brace on." All good points. None seem to matter. It made it worse that I accidentally let it slip that Caroline and Holton (who are like an older sister and brother to him) had invited him to go with them. I didn't even have to take him. He could have slummed a ride with them. But there's still that school thing. We do have tickets for 4:50 tomorrow afternoon. But that's like A WHOLE GALAXY AWAY. He'll probably be the last kid in America to get to see it. :) So did anyone out there go to the midnight showing? Don't spill anything significant. But was it good? Does Yoda kick some serious sith butt? Does Leia have the cool hair even as a little girl? Do all wookies speak like Chewbacca? Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

For me, there is no either/or with old hymns or contemporary songs. It isn't like everything I sang growing up was of the "Be Thou My Vision" quality. I've had quite enough of "You Never Mentioned Him to Me" (with those wonderful lyrics "you taught me not the light to see"--basically a guilt-inducing hymn about all the people you failed to teach the gospel and who are paying for your failures at judgment day), "Toiling On," and "Each Day I'll Do a Golden Deed." And I certainly don't think all of the newer songs are shallow. Like in every generation, the best will live on (we'll be singing "In Christ Alone," "Here I Am to Worship," and "Wonderful, Merciful Savior" fifty years from now--I hope) while others will fall to the wayside. That's just the way it is. AND YET . . . we just can't let go of the best hymns. I want future generations to be nurtured by "Blessed Assurance," "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less," and "Rock of Ages" -- songs that taught me things about the gospel I wasn't hearing from preaching or teaching as an adolescent. I want them to be encouraged by the depth of faith expressed in "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go" ("I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain, that morn shall tearless be"), "When Peace Like a River," and "Be Still My Soul." And I want them to be able to join in the generations who have stood in awe before a holy, mighty God singing "On Zion's Glorious Summit," "Holy, Holy, Holy," "How Great Thou Art," and "O Lord, Our Lord." Give me the old. And the new.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art; Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light. Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise, Thou mine inheritance, now and always; Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, Great God of heaven, my treasure Thou art. Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true word; I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord; Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Yesterday was "Senior Sunday" at Highland as we recognized and challenged our 48 high school seniors. A few thoughts: 1. Years ago as we called off their names, we listed all their honors from high school. I never liked that. Some kids had lots of things to mention; others didn't. But why should church be a place where once again someone without all the honors feels left out? Now, we don't even mention those. We're proud of all such honors, and hopefully people have told them so through the years. But on Senior Sunday we tell how they each responded to two questions: Who at Highland has had a profound impact on your faith? What are your favorite memories in the youth group? 2. For almost every senior, something is mentioned about trips. I'd say the majority say, "My favorite part of being in the youth group was going to Mexico." "Faith cometh by hearing" (Rom. 10:17, KJV)? Well, that's true. But faith also cometh by doing -- by participating in the work of God in this world! You might think they'd talk about ski trips or camping trips. Both are wonderful. But it's the time when they go work in the hot sun to build a church building and when they encounter genuine poverty that they remember. 3. I kept hearing the name of Marti O'Rear come up. All those years later (they left her children's ministry seven years earlier!), and they still remember how this amazing woman nurtured their faith--especially in the musicals. 4. Senior-after-senior kept mentioning how Sarah, who only became a full-time youth minister in January, had helped lead them to faith. And someone pointed out that she'd been with them since they were in sixth grade (as an intern). Was she fourteen at the time? (Sheesh, I'm getting old.) 5. I love seeing our huddle leaders up there hugging every senior as they receive their Bible. What a privilege for these students to have been mentored by three such godly, fun couples. But you know what? Try to thank them, and they'll all tell you this: "Hey, we got more out of it than we gave." There is a certain "perk" to being a huddle leader: Your own children have older mentors who are almost part of the family. One of the things you pray for as a parent is for older role models, and this way it's almost guaranteed. 6. I love this Sunday each year. It reminds me how important community is. It reminds me how every lesson taught, every card of encouragement sent, every word spoken in the atrium, every sermon preached matters! 7. My favorite moment was when Jim read one young man's response to "my favorite memory at Highland." I've known him since he was four, so I shouldn't have been surprised. But his favorite memory has been timing the prayers of the elders each week to see who prays the longest. I just didn't see that one coming. And I could hardly bring myself under control. Precious memories come in many different forms.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

To fill a braindead evening recently, Diane and I watched "In Good Company." (As always, please refer to screenit.com to make decisions about whether you want to watch a movie or not.) While it isn't a great movie, it's more than we thought. Based on the commercials we'd seen, we thought it was primarily a comedy about a young executive falling in love with the college-age daughter of one of the men working under him--a man twice his age whose place he took at the top of the firm. But it isn't really about the young exec (Topher Grace) and the student (Scarlett Johansson). It's about how this high-octane, 26-year-old man who was never really parented winds up being fathered by this older man (Dennis Quaid). There's a scene where Quaid hugs him that is the highlight of the movie. Everyone needs to be fathered (and mothered). For many, this doesn't happen with their biological dad. Some never knew their dads; others rarely saw them; and still others had dads who themselves hadn't been fathered and didn't have much to give. But there are other older men who can provide some of this fathering -- even later in life. I'm thinking especially of godly men who can model respect, responsibility, and faith. Men who teach school, coach little league, volunteer for the band trips, teach the high school class at church, work with the Scouts, etc. As I sneak up on 50 (in fourteen months and eleven days!), I realize that there are younger men all around who need affirmation, encouragement, and guidance. I think you can't go around volunteering to be someone's "other dad" or "other mom," but when the opportunity is there you'll know it. It's an amazing thing, but one hug, one note, one word of encouragement can change a life. To receive a blessing from an older man or woman is a great gift. In the movie, the young exec realizes that he is on the fast track to emptiness. But he sees in this older man a person who is grounded, a man who deeply loves his family and is loyal to friends. By the end of the film, you realize it wasn't the beautiful blonde he needed in his life. It was her father. So blessings on you this weekend -- those of you who have become like moms and dads or like grandmas and grandpas in the lives of others.

Friday, May 13, 2005

As you continue responding to Leroy Garrett's wonderful piece I put on the blog yesterday, I thought I'd ad these words from McLaren's A GENEROUS ORTHODOXY: "One of the most fascinating and vigorous sectors of protesting Protestantism has been 'restorationism' -- a belief held by a succession of groups through church history that, by finally getting the last or lost detail right, they now represent a full-fledged restoration of "New Testament Christianity.' "Having been raised in one such group, and having spent a lot of time with many wonderful people in other restorationist groups as well, I can tell you this: if you are part of a restorationist group, the group dynamics of your group will be nearly identical to those of every other restorationist group. Change the details -- mode or meaning of baptism, church structure, administrivia of worship or piety . . . , doctrinal fine print (a unique interpretation of at least one verse from Revelation, for example, that highlights your group as eschatologically significant) -- and you could be in any super-Protestant restorationist setting. "Fortunately, beneath these squabbles over distinctives, one nearly always finds an idealism among restorationists, a belief that Christianity should and can be better than its common manifestations. This is a good thing and needed -- an important contribution (along with the less helpful static) restorationists bring to the table. . . . "Restorationists . . . often refer to themselves . . . as a remnant. This remnant language is common in the Bible. For those who need consolation for small numbers, it's an attractive blanket to wrap up in: we're not small because we're ineffective, or lazy, or ingrown, or otherwise unattractive; we're small because we're a faithful remnant! Everyone else has compromised. They're taking the easy way. We're the few, the committed, the faiful, the proud. . . . "What is a truly faithful remnant like? Its members do not turn inward in elite self-congratulation, smugly casting a critical eye of disdain on the rest. No, the faithful remnant 'after God's heart" turns its heart others-wise, outward, toward the unfaithful, in loyalty and love. True faithfulness bonds the hearts of the faithful to their unfaithful neighbors. . . . The faithfulness of a faithful remnant is not crabbed and constricted; it is loyal, magnanimous, and generous." Now . . . go back and check Leroy's article yesterday.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

By now, many of you have read the "Christian Affirmation" that was plastered all over a full-page ad in the Christian Chronicle. I already mentioned how proud I am of many of my friends who are scholars who refused to sign the ad -- friends at ACU, Pepperdine, Harding, and Lipscomb. I'm sure there were others who decided not to sign, but these are the ones I know of. (If you never saw it, there is -- of course -- a website: www.christianaffirmation.org.) Here is one response from Leroy Garrett. I appreciate his willingness to give me permission to use it. (You can find this and other essays at www.leroygarrett.org.) RESPONSE TO A CHRISTIAN AFFIRMATION 2005 In the May, 2005 issue of The Christian Chronicle there appeared "A Christian Affirmation 2005" signed by 23 leaders of Churches of Christ –– professors, deans, pulpit ministers, elders. The intention of the document is "to clarify our Christian identity in a time of increasing uncertainties." The document expresses "A Word of Concern" that recent efforts to overcome a legacy of legalism and division has led us "to relax our commitment to practices that have been characteristic of our churches." In doing this these leaders have placed issues on the table worthy of critical discussion. I would like to join the conversation by questioning some of the affirmations set forth. In appealing to our heritage of unity in the American Restoration Movement, the leaders state that "we believe that unity cannot be grounded in minimal agreements among Christian traditions." They go on to say that substantive Christian unity is found "in returning to the clear teaching and practices of the early church." That unity can be realized only by minimizing the essentials, while at the same time allowing liberty in a wide variety of opinions, is the hallmark of our Stone-Campbell heritage. Alexander Campbell often referred to "the seven facts" of Eph. 4:4-5 as the grounds of unity, and sometimes he reduced them to three –– "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Barton W. Stone was equally minimal when he defined a Christian as one who acknowledges "the leading truths of Christianity, and conforms his life to that acknowledgement." They saw the "core gospel" as the basis of unity, not an extended list of dogmas and practices. This gave rise to an axiom that goes far in identifying who we are or should be: In essentials (as few as possible), unity; In opinions (as broad as possible without compromising essentials), liberty; In all things, love. W. T. Moore, one of our earliest historians, identified this unique appeal of our heritage in mathematical terms: "The Disciples have always contended for the greatest possible numerator with the least possible denominator." He meant by this the greatest possible liberty of opinion (numerator) with the fewest possible essentials (denominator). Robert Richardson, an associate of Campbell and our earliest historian, stated it even more succinctly: "That alone which saves men can unite them." All this conforms to the consensus of modern New Testament scholarship, that the early Christians had but one creed or one essential –– Jesus is Lord! This is what they lived for and died for. All else was marginal. What believers live and die for is what unites them. "Multiplying the essentials" has sometimes been named as the cause of our divisions. Campbell called it "the tyranny of opinionism." When the Affirmation argues for unity by "returning to the clear teachings of Scripture and practices of the early church" it is preserving the illusion of restorationism that has been an albatross about our necks in Churches of Christ all these years. If what these leaders call "The Original Design" of the early church is all that "clear," why have we divided into numerous factions over what that design or pattern is? Are the "clear teachings of Scripture" all that clear about whether we have Sunday schools, instrumental music, cooperation, societies, Communion cups, etc. Are they clear about the millennium, glossolalia, predestination, election, the Trinity, inspiration, interpretation, etc.? We differ on all these things –– and even baptism. Stone and Campbell differed on baptism. Our own people have never been of one mind about baptism, much more the church at large. We can no more see everything alike than we can look alike. But we don’’t have to! That is the genius of the Stone-Campbell heritage. We can differ on opinions –– and all the above are opinions –– while we unite upon the essentials, which are centered in the core gospel, Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is a weighty flaw in the Affirmation –– it has little place for unity in diversity, which is the only kind of unity there is. We can have churches that sing acappella and those that use instruments, and still be united. We can have congregations that have Sunday schools and join in cooperative efforts, and those that do not, and still be one in Christ. We are united in Christ, not by agreement on opinions or methods. It is a Person that unites us, not theories or theology about the Person. Another questionable affirmation in the document is that "God does not save individuals apart from the body of Christ." Who is this that knows the mind of Him who said, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Rom. 9:15)? God will save whom He will, in the church or out. Only God knows the heart, and only He knows how many Rahabs there are out there. This exclusive view of God’’s grace is the offspring of "the only true church" fallacy that has long made us sectarians. It goes this way: the saved are all in the church; we are that church; so, if one doesn't belong to the Church of Christ he is not saved. The document rightly urges that we preserve such practices as weekly Communion and baptism by immersion for remission of sins, and we may urge these as reflective of "the common faith and practice of the earliest Christians." But even here we cannot make our interpretation and practice tests of fellowship. We must recognize –– as these 23 leaders appear reluctant to do –– that there are multitudes of sincere, intelligent Christians who do not see "the common faith and practice of the earliest Christians" the same way we do. We can stand firmly for what we believe about baptism, and still accept as equals in Christ those who differ with us. This is consistent with our heritage in Stone-Campbell. No one was more zealous for baptism by immersion than Alexander Campbell –– debating it as he did –– and yet he accepted as Christians those referred to as "the pious unimmersed." He was himself an example of his own definition of a Christian –– "A Christian is one who believes that Jesus is the Christ, repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to his understanding." After a prolonged study of baptism, he was immersed, but he believed he had been a Christian all along. One is responsible only for such light as he has at any given time, he held. In defense of our singing without instruments, the 23 leaders point out that acappella music has been the position of numerous reformers and churches through the centuries, such as John Calvin and the Puritans, and 300 million in Eastern Orthodox churches. But that is not the issue. No case has to be made for acappella music. All churches sometimes sing acappella. The issue is making instrumental music a test of fellowship. John Calvin did not make acappella music "catholic," and the Orthodox churches do not make it an essential to fellowship, as we in Churches of Christ have done. A number of our congregations have recently gone public in stating they will not longer make instrumental music a test of fellowship –– not that they will no longer sing acappella. That is the issue. Do the 23 signers of the Affirmation agree with those churches, or are they saying that we should keep on making a test of what is but our opinion or preference? The Affirmation errs as much in what it does not say as in what it does say. In any effort to identify ourselves we should recognize that Churches of Christ are part of a movement "to unite the Christians in all the sects," and that we must get back on track as a unity people. We must reaffirm such mottoes as "We are Christians only, but not the only Christians." In doing this we must confess our sins –– that we have claimed to be the only Christians and the only true church, that we have often been sectarian about the nature of the church and legalistic about baptism. And that we have been wrong about instrumental music –– not in singing acappella, but in making the instrument a test for accepting other believers as equals in Christ. We must go on to affirm our intention to become a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled people desirous of enjoying fellowship with all other Christians, and to join them in labors of love for Christ's sake.

This article by Ken Ellsworth was in last Sunday's Abilene Reporter-News. It raises some of the questions many of us will have to ask as we continue to hold to the unique claims of Christ (try revisiting Lewis's MERE CHRISTIANITY) while living in an increasingly diverse culture. Yes, even in Abilene. Assumptions that were possible fifty years ago in the Bible Belt can't be made today. It invites us to think about how we can follow the one who said "I am the way, the truth, and the life" while doing so with humility and respect for others. I appreciate ARN's permission to reprint it here. Two groups met at noon Thursday in Abilene to celebrate the National Day of Prayer with prayer services. But they did not pray together. They prayed apart, sadly separated, it seemed to me. The separation caused me to wonder. If it is true that a ''family that prays together stays together,'' could it be applied to a community? ''The community that prays together stays together.'' Probably not, and it's probably not necessary. That may be why Abilene has hundreds of churches. People like to pray with kith, kin and kind. I attended some of each service Thursday. One group met at Everman Park, drawing about 200 people. It was exclusively Christian, in fact, evangelical Christian. The service was organized by Pray Big Country, a group of local pastors. The other group met in front of City Hall. About 80 attended. Its participants included people of the following faiths: Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Unitarianism. This service was organized by the Abilene Interfaith Council. The Christian service began with praise songs. Many participants raised their arms in the air, palms up as if they were receiving love radiating down from the heavens. This was not the kind of worship service that I grew up with. The music was unfamiliar and accompanied by guitars and percussion. I grew up with J.S. Bach fugues played on church organs. It was inspiring. I'm not sure praise service music is as good. For me, trading in Bach for praise music might be something akin to trading in Shakespeare for comic books. Maybe I'm an old fuddy-duddy. Well, there's no ''maybe'' about it. There were some speakers. Most emphasized their belief that the only path to salvation is through Jesus and that other faiths are in error. I see how people can think that way, but I am usually thinking more like this: ''In matters of religion, the only absolute wrong is to believe without doubt that you are absolutely right.'' But that sort of thinking could be wrong. One pastor recalled the visit to Abilene several years ago of a Buddhist monk. The monk blessed the city during a ritual. The pastor on Thursday hinted that the Buddhist blessing might have brought bad things to Abilene, including the drought. I don't know how the pastor can believe that. I'm quite sure it rains in Buddhist countries. At City Hall, the atmosphere was much different. People of different faiths and denominations offered prayers. For me, there was warmth to it. It was lovely to watch people of obviously different faiths hugging each other, sharing each other's humanity and the need of most to believe. At the end of the ceremony, loaves of bread were passed out to symbolize that we all can sit down and break bread together regardless of our differences. Almost everybody had a bite. At the back of the crowd 10 or 12 young people wore shirts that said ''Jesus Crew.'' I had seen the same shirts earlier at Everman Park. For some reason, those young people refused to participate in the breaking of the bread. They weren't obnoxious about it. In fact, they were polite. They just quietly turned away. I don't know, but I think Jesus would have had a bite.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I first saw her in Patty Cobb cafeteria on the Harding campus. She took my breath away. She still does. I kept spotting her after that -- sometimes by accident; at other times on purpose. I saw her alone at a seminar on evangelism at the College Church. (I never said anything to her. What's the right pick-up line for an evangelism conference? Perhaps some -- BOONE, QUILE, ELLIOTT -- can leave suggestions in the comments.) I saw her at the Lily Pool devotionals. I watched her play volleyball (in tight jeans, as I vaguely recall). Twenty-seven years ago today we were married at the Westside Church of Christ in Searcy. Dwaine Powell, my former roommate, performed the ceremony, meaning that the oldest person on the stage was 22. The truth? It's been hard at times. We both had "issues" to deal with; we spent too much time mad at each other; we went years with little sleep (during Megan's ten years of life); and we couldn't find each other in the fog of grief for a couple years after Megan's death. AND YET . . . we now have the marriage we always wanted. We got here only by tying a knot in the rope and holding on during some of the hard years. But even during the hard years, she took my breath away. May 11, 1978 was a very good day. This one is even better.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

For other middle school parents: DUDE, WHERE'S MY SON? By Jackie Papandrew www.JackiePapandrew.com My son recently turned 13, and the last traces of that sweet little boy who thought I hung the moon seem to have vanished. In his place is a strange, slouching creature with a pencil-thin mustache and adolescent angst oozing from every pore. This extraterrestrial I once called flesh and blood, whose mood swings dwarf the Grand Canyon, seems intent on bungee jumping from that rickety bridge connecting a child with adulthood. And I think he plans on dragging his rapidly aging mother along for the ride. A drastic language change was the first indication of alien infestation in my once cherished offspring. The rosy-cheeked cherub who used to run to me, eyes shining with adoration and shouting "Mommy!" began to address me (and everyone else) as "Dude." At 13 months, he was a sponge, joyfully soaking up new words, becoming more communicative every day. At 13 years, the hormones surging through his body have cut a swath through the speech center in his brain; his mouth, when it speaks at all, produces mere shrunken shreds of complete sentences apparently understood only by other members of his species. "S'up" is a perfectly acceptable, all-purpose phrase in an adolescent's world. "Mom, I love you," on the other hand, would burn his monosyllabic lips like acid and permanently corrupt his coolness. Communication with this high-tech yet illiterate generation is fraught with frustration. My son, who can't seem to utter two intelligible sentences to me, airs his gripes through text messaging. Just the other day, a message flashed on my cell phone in fractured syntax designed to torture my English major soul. "i no u h8 me. i try so hard 2 b good. y r u mad @ me?" Cave men scribbling on walls were more eloquent. Then there's the alteration in appearance. While I'm desperately trying to avoid bags and sags, this long-haired Neanderthal living in my house embraces them as fashion. Wearing gravity-defying pants slung low across his scrawny backside, he looks just like a baby with an overly full diaper. When I helpfully pointed this out, I got another overwrought, electronic missive that ended with several lines of the text message equivalent of a scream. This modern means of communication does keep the house quiet. Adolescent males seem to lose all capacity for living like civilized human beings. This means that my boy constantly raids the refrigerator but can't manage to close a door, that he can take 30-minute showers but never hang up a wet towel, that he stuffs freshly laundered clothes back into his hamper rather than putting them away. I find sticky cereal bowls in his closet because he was too lazy to return them to the kitchen, and the lunchbox he claimed he lost growing whole colonies of bacteria under his bed. I now understand why some animals eat their young. The child who begged me to read to him daily now rolls his eyes in disgust when I suggest we turn off the video games and pick up a book. The angel who proudly showed me off to his kindergarten classmates now pretends not to know the deranged woman waving to him in the middle school hallway. My fall from grace, seemingly overnight, has left me depressed, bewildered and prone to emotional excess. "You could cut the apron strings without slicing through my heart, you know," I whimper in one of my calmer moments. "Mom," he mumbles in that teenage tone of voice, "why can't you just act normal?" Normal is, of course, a relative term. In about 10 years, I will magically return to normalcy as my pubescent boy turns into an adult. At least I hope I do. In the meantime, I'm going to hang on to those severed apron strings. I may need them to strangle him. Copyright 2005 Jackie Papandrew; http://www.JackiePapandrew.com. Permission is granted to send this to others, with attribution, but not for commercial purposes.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Tulsa, Stream in the Desert, and Pepperdine are now all in the rearview mirror. I loved each one, but I also love the sense of pressure being over. They all came in the wake of such an intense experience following the wreck. I am emotionally and spiritually drained. I won't be home for Sunday morning, but Highland people will be blessed by my absence! Probably the best lecture given here this year was by Randy Harris. He's going to preach that message again Sunday morning at his home church (Highland). Once again it felt like God allowed the two of us to team up. He preached on Peter's denial (John 18), and I spoke on his restoration (John 21). - - - - - - - - I have many answers to my question from yesterday. But here's one of my answers: my mom. If I opened my eyes after incredible failure, I'd want to see her. I've been nurtured for the 48 years of my life by an amazing woman. Articulate. Bright. Compassionate. Deep faith. And strong. Very, very strong. I remember as a boy -- maybe 12ish -- hearing an older girl who lived next door say, "Your mom is the most beautiful woman I know." I said, "Huh?" I'd never thought about that. She was a MOM, for crying out loud. But I later realized that she was right. She has twice watched her sons grieve. People don't often realize how great the grief of grandparents is. But they get hit twice: they suffer the loss of a grandchild and then they have to watch their own child hurt. Mom's been through this twice. Since retiring as a newspaper editor, she has been active in mission work, going several times for extended stays in the Ukraine. Now she's back in the classroom, taking Spanish at the local college. One of the greatest blessings of my life is that I am my mother's son. Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Tonight I preach on John 21. Let me ask you this. If you had just done the unthinkable, if you had just come to your senses and realized what a mess you'd made of your life . . . and if you were lying on your back, eyes closed in anguish wishing it were only a dream . . . and then if you opened your eyes . . . whose face would you like to see?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Happy 05-05-05. We only get a dozen of these (triple dates) per century, so enjoy! I'm here in Malibu, trying to be quiet at 4:00 in the morning West Coast time. Others are sleeping -- either that or they are in their rooms trying to be quiet so they don't wake others up. Many things to look forward to today, but I'm especially glad to be able to go to dinner with my parents. They came here two years ago for the first time. The Pepperdine lectureship is like the old Lay's potato chips commercial: "Bet you can't attend just once." Have a great Cinco de Mayo. Que la gracia del Senor sea con ustedes para siempre.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Here's an article I wrote in the Christian Standard about Megan. (Also, go read the 16th comment to yesterday's blog. After you read Courtney's note, go hug your kids!) - - - - Fifteen days until "Revenge of the Sith." May the Fourth be with you. - - - - Off to Malibu. Sweet! (Weather permitting, of course. Thankfullly, we're having lots of rain in Abilene right now.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Yesterday was a big day at our house: Chris was able to go to school for the first time since the wreck (Jan. 16) without a wheelchair. - - - - Years ago when we were trying to produce a good, welcoming brochure to Highland, the ministers met around a table to go through as many from other churches as we could. I looked through one from Louisville, went through several more, and then came to one in Little Rock. I said, "Can someone hand me that one from Louisville again?" We held them side-by-side. Both had the exact same family on the front. A beautiful, smiling, Hallmark-card kind of white family who looked like they stepped right out of a Dillard's catalog. They were models! They didn't belong to either church, I'm sure. Probably the man and the woman weren't married, and the kids weren't theirs. But they were the kind of "family" the churches wanted to portray on their brochures. "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed." (Luke 14:12-13) - - - - A few websites I've mentioned lately at Highland: Eternal Threads (the ministry of a woman from Highland to help women in poverty in India) International Justice Mission Compassion International

Monday, May 02, 2005

This is Pepperdine week. It's a tough gig: staying at the Mallmann House with Darryl and Anne; looking out to the mountains, the Pacific, and the islands; eating at John's Gardens for lunch; my daily journey to walk the Stations of the Cross at the Serra Retreat Center; and hanging out with some of my best friends in the world (including a quick retreat at the end with Darryl and Leonard). Once again I'll be doing the class with Zoe in the afternoon and then the Friday night keynote (John 21). I started teaching at the Pepperdine lectureship in 1986, so this is my 20th straight year. Jerry Rushford asked me to do my first keynote there on a Wednesday night in 1987 (Acts), and then the opening (Tuesday) night in 1989 (Exodus). Through the years, it's been a source of great renewal. I love the mountains, the ocean (especially when it isn't HOT), the salty breeze, and the incredible colors of the flowers and trees. So really, it's two things: it's being with great friends, and it's a bit of creation theology. To say nothing of the seafood. (But on the other hand, I haven't found a place there with decent guacamole.)