Mike Cope's blog

Thursday, June 30, 2005

As Jimmy Buffett puts it, "It's been a lovely cruise." We just finished a week aboard the Carnival Spirit (without ever seeing Kathy Lee), sailing from Anchorage to Vancouver. For my parents' 50th anniversary, which they celebrate this summer, they wanted to take their children and spouses on an Alaskan Cruise. We have been surrounded by the beauty of God's creation -- animals (bear, moose, bald eagles, otters, whales, etc.), mountains, glaciers, and ocean -- for the past week. Nothing restores my spirit like mountains. The rest was bonus. And we ate . . . and ate . . . and ate. Like hobbits. My parents were married in the summer of 1955. Eleven months after they married, I arrived. Their first year of marriage was spent in Pittsburgh, PA, where Dad was stationed. Then after a brief stay in Neosho, MO, we moved to Austin for two years, where they finished their degrees in journalism (Dad) and English (Mom). The other 47 years of their marriage have been in Neosho. I'll probably write more about it in August when the actual anniversary date arrives. But needless to say, I'm very thankful for their love that has survived and thrived through the past five decades.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

T-shirt I saw recently, worn by a teenage girl: "I didn't say it was your fault. I said I was going to blame you." - - - - We arrived in Anchorage last night on the second longest day of the year. When I went to bed just after midnight, it was still light. When I got up at 4:00 (Anchorage time), it was also light. I think that for a few moments in between there, it may have darkened a bit. I'm not a fan of light at midnight, but I could get used to the light-at-4:00 thing. Being a morning person, I love early light. That's a problem of living on the west side of a time zone. Sometimes it feels like the sun rises around noon. Now it's 4:30 a.m. and there is STILL no one else at this hotel lobby. Sluggards!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I received one of my favorite gifts ever for Father's Day: a goat. What a wonderful gift!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Father's Day Encouragement to Young Parents A while back I wrote about how pleasantly surprised we were by the message of the film "In Good Company." By the previews it looked like a mindless plot about the romance between a hot-shot young executive (Topher Grace) and the college-age daughter (Scarlett Johansson) of the man whose place he took (Dennis Quaid) after a company buy-out. But the romance is short-lived. The movie isn't about that. Rather, it's about the fathering of this young exec by the man he replaced. Near the end, he says to this older guy after being punched in the eye for sleeping with his daughter: "No one ever took the time to give me a hard time." What a great line. I want to encourage all you younger parents out there in blogsphere. It is hard to be the parent who lovingly gives a hard time. It's hard to be the one who enforces tv/computer time limits, homework, and bedtimes. It's difficult to set age-appropriate limits to movies when "every other kids' parents let them watch whatever they want." It's tough to be firm when you're exhausted from work and life's stresses. But hang in there! Your kids are counting on you -- whether they yet know it or not. (I just saw a teenager on the plane whose t-shirt had two words: NO LECTURES!) Your children need to know that YOU are the parent. In too many homes, the children run everything by parents who are overly-eager to please. If they don't like the Bible class, they don't have to go. If they have more friends at another church, the family leaves. If they want to eat unhealthily -- well, we reassure ourselves that at least they're eating something. If there is a problem with a coach or a teacher, the child is always assumed to be right. Be the adult! Be the loving, compassionate, tender, but very-much-in-charge parent! It's one of life's ironies: that the one thing kids say they don't want (rules and limits) is what they need. I'm not talking, of course, about being a tyrant or about being inflexible. I'm talking about being lovingly in charge. It may seem to kids that parents who mind their own business, don't serve vegies, let them wear whatever is in style, allow unlimited time on the net to chat, permit any movie to be shown when friends come over, and ask no questions about where they're going in the evening are the cool parents. Here's my encouragement: Don't try to be the cool parents. Be the parents who take the time and the love to give a hard time. Eventually, when your kids age a bit, they'll know that you really were the cool parents.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Diane says I never take enough clothes when I travel. For example, even though I was coming to Costa Rica for a week, I didn't check anything through. A carry-on was plenty for me. I feel no need to wear clothes only once--especially when I'm around people I don't know. (Besides, isn't this an American thing? The very kind man I am staying with either has a wardrobe consisting of a half dozen shirts that are exactly alike . . . or he doesn't worry about changing. He follows the GUY philosophy: If it was clean enough to wear at the end of yesterday, it is clean enough for this morning. And if it isn't clean enough for this morning I shouldn't have been wearing it last night.) (Brief private note to my wife: Honey, that is all I'm writing for today. Turn off the computer and have a nice evening.) . . . Having said all that, it appears that in this instance my Beloved may have been right. (Being up to my eyeballs in language school, I cannot help but wonder how long it would take for me to figure out the right words for "may have been right" in Spanish.) I may not have factored in how much walking and sweating I would do. So this morning after breakfast (which we eat at 6:00 since they are also early risers) Georgina gave me a lesson on washing clothes by hand without wasting water. I hate to admit it, but I feel like I should receive a boy scout badge for conservation. I like both my teachers. But my grammar profesora, a very religious woman, found out that I'm a preacher and it's as if she is on a mission from God to get me to learn. Occasionally I see her wince a bit at what I've said as if the gospel might be at stake. I want to reassure her, "Lighten up. It's all right. I'm not going to confuse the words for Jesus and Satan." However, I don't know the word for Satan. (A good guess would be "satan.") The other profesora is younger and apparently not quite as religious and isn't concerned with what I do. What I like best is that she's having fun teaching. As I continue writing, mostly because I'm enjoying this moment in English, I wonder: Why do people keep writing "churches of Christ" instead of "Churches of Christ"? I hope it's not the old illusion of innocence (to borrow from Leonard and Richard's incredible book) that we're the true church. I.e., since we're the real church (code language: the LORD'S church), we are Christ's church, or (lowercase) churches of Christ. I prefer "Churches of Christ." This admits that while we love much about our heritage and the nondenominational dream, we are a group, a denomination. We have our own colleges, our own camps, our own papers, our own quirks, our own family stories, and our own language. We're just a small part of the body of Christ, however. As I mentioned, the other student in my class is 18. She's a liberal Episcopalian (her words) and I'm a conservative Church of Christ guy. All right, maybe moderate. Is it an accident that my strength is grammar and hers is vocab? I know the rules and she knows how to make words dance. Both are important. A good thing to remember when I think of the body of Christ.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Small blessings on day 3: 1. Have located the semicolon and question marks;? 2. ESPN 2 in Spanish 3. An 18-yr-old student in my class (the only other one in our intermediate II class) who sneaks me meanings of worlds. I´m the grammar hombre; she´s the vocab chica. 4. Fresh fruit. Lots of it. Mango, bananas, papaya, pineapple, etc. 5. I led a prayer in Spanish and no one laughed. (Actually, God may have had a smile on his face!) More later . . . .

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hola de Costa Rica. My brain is fried. Frito. My family doesn´t speak English, and my profesora won´t speak English. She prefers to draw on the board until we figure it out. Nearly all day yesterday I thought she didn´t speak English, but she let it slip. I wonder -- (No semicolons today . . . I can´t find it on this computer keyboard and I don´t know the word for semicolon) -- don´t all these people get tired of speaking Spanish all day. At the end of the day, isn´t it possible that they go into their homes and speak English when no one else is listening (Just realized I also can´t find a question mark!) It´s beautiful here in central CR. Sunny all morning and rain in the afternoon. Even though it´s June, it is a mild climate. Lots of thunder, which I love. More later. Have to take turns at the school with the computer.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

One year ago today I performed a wedding I'll never forget. The bride was lovely -- as she always is (on the outside and the inside). The groom was smiling with a look that indicated he'd hit the jackpot. Which he had. Happy anniversary, Matt and Jenna. I love you both and am so thankful for you both. Hope you got to see Chris and the others from Highland at Impact this morning!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Thanks to Matt Ritchie for these words he wrote this morning on his blog: A little over two hours ago, we put Levi, our oldest son, on a van that was headed to Houston for a youth mission trip. After January's accident, I don't think that I will ever take for granted that - when I send my kids away on a trip - they are guaranteed to come back in one piece. It was tough watching them drive away, and Sheila didn't even go. She was afraid that if she got upset, it would make it difficult for Levi to leave. I'm glad I got to go, though, because I witnessed something amazing this morning. Mike and Diane Cope's son, Chris, who was seriously injured in the January accident, climbed right into the same van with Levi, while his parents anxiously watched from a few feet away. Whatever Sheila and I are going through, it must be infinitely worse for these guys. It was hard. We tried not to fixate on exactly where in the van he sat. I went home for a while and was fine. A buddy who's an elder, probably knowing we'd be fear-full, came over for a while. Then I came to the church building for a while. And that's when fear started to grip me. But about 10:00 it lifted. I quit praying just for a safe trip. Somehow, a spirit of courage took over. I began praying about this trip to inner city Houston, remembering that three high school boys on graduation Sunday named it as one of the most formative parts of their spiritual journey. (That means it stuck with them five years -- which at that age is like a couple decades at mine!) I've been praying now that God would use them to minister for Jesus; that God would open their eyes to see a world that isn't safe and comfortable; that God would form my younger son to have the kind of heart for the downtrodden and poor that his older brother and sister-in-law have. Even as we watched the vans drive off, we received word that another Abilene kid Chris's age -- a kid I've coached in basketball, a great kid with a smile that would light up the room -- was killed last night. What I've heard is that he was out of town visiting his dad. Great sadness.

Friday, June 10, 2005

As the elders announced last week, I'll be gone more this summer than usual. Much of the time I'm away I'll be in language school in Central America, so I don't know how easy it will be to blog. While I'm gone Highland won't exactly be suffering. The preachers while I'm gone are Mark Love, Rick Atchley, Jerry Taylor, and David Wray. (Eventually some are going to figure out the truth: with the people at Highland, I'm extra baggage!) - - - - I'd like to ask for your prayers. Tomorrow morning a group of middle school boys from Highland leaves for a mission trip to Houston. As of this moment, Chris is going. Whether we can actually let him go or not I won't know until 7:00 in the morning. Diane hasn't slept well the last two nights just thinking about it. Of course, it has to happen sometime, but that doesn't make it any easier. Rationally, we know that the vast majority of people who drive from Abilene to Houston don't have wrecks. But then the vast majority driving on I-20 on a clear, sunny day don't roll over, either. Diane and I don't believe that prayer guarantees safe trips. Certainly many were praying for safe travel in January. But, like Peter in the gospel of John, we find ourselves saying, "Lord, to whom else would we go?" - - - - Several of you responded financially to the trips I mentioned -- grad students from ACU going to Sudan and Rwanda this summer for survey trips. Thanks so much. I believe Houston and Kelly Shearin still need $1000 for their trip to Sudan, as does Brian Harrison. Don't you love the thought of young Christ-followers heading toward a place of such great suffering (between the genocide in Darfur and the rippling effects of war and famine) with the message of the reign of God in Christ? One other thing. Billy Wilson is an amazing young man whom many have heard at the Pepperdine and ACU lectureships. He and his wife have a powerful ministry in Glasgow, Scotland. You can read about it at billywilson.net. Recently he's had to spend more time than he'd like raising support. Seems that Scotland isn't at the top of missions budgets these days. But what they're doing is vital. Check it out. - - - - "Justification by faith has come to be understood as the purpose for which Christ died and rose again, the end and goal of God's entire saving purpose. By extension, the central human problem is construed to be guilt, and the central human resistance to the gospel is construed to be the establishing of our own righteousness, rather than the receiving of God's righteousness in Christ as a free gift. Salvation is therefore achieved precisely at the moment of individual repentance and faith, when one is justified. Everything that follows after this in the Christian life is simply working out the implications of this climactic event. "When the gospel is understood in this way, the social and participatory dimensions of the gospel necessarily recede into the background. Particularly in North America, the receiving of the gift of justification is no longer clearly understood as an invitation to participate in God's life amidst God's people. In our American revivalist tradition, church membership is an experience subsequent to conversion, a step required primarily to sustain and preserve the new grace into which one has entered. By contrast, we would argue that justification and forgiveness are the necessary preparation for participating in God's life and mission. They are the means to a greater end, not the end in itself." (StormFront)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Since my college days I've been plagued by this thought: I belong to the denomination known as Churches of Christ because I was born into a Church of Christ family. Now, "plagued" is too strong a word, for certainly I'm thankful for the heritage. But out of all the world religions that I could have been born into, I was born into Christianity. Out of all the versions of Christianity, I was born into Western Protestantism. And out of all the tribes of Protestantism, I was born into Churches of Christ. I didn't sit down one day and figure out which was right. It's an illusion to think that we can create a vacuum for such contemplation. We've all been deeply informed by our upbringing--in ways we are aware of and maybe more profoundly in ways we are oblivious to. So the exclusivistic version of some churches -- "we got it right" . . . "we're the only Christians" -- always seemed very unlikely to me. FOR . . . if I was born into an Islamic family, wouldn't I be pretty convinced about the Koran? If I was born into a Mormon family, wouldn't I be sure about Joseph Smith, the tablets, and Salt Lake City? If I was born into a Lutheran family, wouldn't their way of reading scripture make sense to me? Was I really that lucky . . . to be born into the one small little group that happened to nail interpretation? This doesn't (most of the time) make me throw up my hands in complete agnosticism. I have found -- more than ever before -- the Way of Christ to be true. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. (Better: That's our story and we're sticking to it.) But it does demand a bit of humility. Don't you think?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I heard from some ACU grad students yesterday that they want me to post BEFORE 8:00 (which I usually do . . . but was a bit late yesterday) so they can check at the beginning of class. Have you ever noticed the number of comments from ACU graduate students? Have you ever thought about the fact that many of them are reading and posting WHILE IN CLASS? It's called laptops and wireless connection. Don't you love the image of a student nodding knowingly, while surfing to ESPN.com for last night's boxscores? - - - - I've been braindead recently. It happens every late spring, but seemed worse this year. I just ran out of creative ideas. I try not to worry about it, but sometimes irrationality overtakes me and I wonder, "Maybe I've said all I have to say?" Yesterday morning at 6:00 a.m. the wind must have changed directions. The muse of creativity returned. Not for long. Maybe just for two hours. But for two hours insights and ideas came rushing faster than I could write them down. It was like switching from 14.4 dial-up to broadband. Maybe in a week I'll look back and think those "insights" were stupid. But for the moment, it's nice to believe that my brain isn't in permanent freeze. - - - - To think that as of June 8 the Yankees are under .500 -- oh, baby. You've got to love that. $220,000,000 a year in payroll can buy you the best players. But it can't guarantee that you'll win. (I mention this now fully believing that the Yankees will be playing in the Series in October!)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Having now prayed the Lord's Prayer almost every Sunday for a decade with the Highland Church, I've experienced the truth of these words from StormFront: "As a celebration of the gift and call of the new life of trust, a community could not do better than to pray the Lord's Prayer continually, thoughtfully, and with hearts willing to follow its lead. This prayer refocuses our attention from all efforts to secure our lives and well-being to the central issues of God's kingdom. Rather than wealth and accomplishment, the Lord's Prayer lifts up the basics of human life: daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from temptation. Prayer shapes a people humble in their habits, steadfast in their faith, modest in their words, just in their actions, merciful in their dealings, and disciplined in their conduct. Such a people trust only in the God made present in the life and death of Jesus, 'for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'"

Monday, June 06, 2005

Yesterday morning was a day of commissioning at Highland. Now (those of you from HCC), having been commissioned by your brothers and sisters, go out as ministers of reconciliation in a broken world! - - - - Jerry Sittser has the right to speak, having lost his wife, his daughter, and his mother in a tragic accident. These words really resonate with me: "Recovery is a misleading and empty expectation. We recover from broken limbs, not amputations. Catastrophic loss by defnition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. There is no going back to the past, which is gone forever, only going forward to the future, which has yet to be discovered. Whatever that future is, it will, and must, include the pain of the past with it. Sorrow never entirely leaves the soul of those who have suffered a severe loss. If anything, it may keep going deeper. But this depth of sorrow is the sign of a healthy soul, not a sick soul."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

My most recent article in the Christian Standard can be found here. - - - - Here's a letter that's gone out to faith leaders from Rick Warren. What an amazing plan. I've already signed! (I would encourage you to sign here.) June 3, 2005 Dear co-worker in Christ, I have a simple request -- but it could determine whether millions live or die. You’ve probably read in the papers about “The ONE Campaign: To Make Poverty History” that’s been endorsed by a wide coalition of folks from all across the faith and political spectrum. Helping the hurting is something we all want to do. I’ve never been involved in partisan politics -- and don’t intend to do so now -- but global poverty is an issue that rises far above mere politics. It is a moral issue … a compassion issue … and because Jesus commanded us to help the poor, it is an obedience issue! He told us to do all we can to alleviate the pain of our brothers and sisters: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40, NKJV) That’s why John Stott, Billy Graham, and many other evangelical leaders are joining me in lending our names and prayers to this campaign. I deeply believe that if we as evangelicals remain silent and do not speak up in defense of the poor, we lose our credibility and our right to witness about God’s love for the world: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17, NIV) We are blessed to be a blessing to others, and certainly America, as the most blessed nation on our planet, has the greatest obligation to help those who are stuck in poverty around the world. Last month, I was in Kenya and Uganda, and then in Rwanda where the average income in that nation is 67 cents a day! Imagine trying to raise a family on that. If you were hopelessly in debt, with no chance of ever getting out of debt -- or even your children getting out of debt -- you’d despair. But if someone cancelled all your debts -- as the Bible commanded Israel to often do -- you’d have the hope of a new future. The poor aren’t asking for a handout -- they just need a hand up! This summer, at the G8 conference, our nation has a historic opportunity to lead the world by showing a visible and significant commitment to the fight against global poverty, hunger, and disease. In early July, President Bush will gather together with leaders from the world’s eight wealthiest nations in Edinburgh, Scotland, to discuss these very issues -- especially in Africa. We all grieved when 250,000 lives were lost in the tsunami in Southeast Asia. But there is a health tsunami of that proportion in Africa every 12 days! What can we do? For the past two years, I’ve had 4,500 of our Saddleback members quietly testing a prototype of our global P.E.A.C.E. Plan in 47 countries. It is a strategy for small groups in churches to show compassion. Once we have the template perfected, we’ll share it with every church that’s interested. But there is something much simpler that you can do right now: Join me and other evangelical leaders in an open letter to President Bush that encourages him -- with our support and prayers -- to take specific, measurable actions to fight poverty, hunger, and disease at the G8 summit. Below is a copy of the text of this open letter we’re sending. All I need you to do is e-mail me back at rick@peace.gs giving your name and title, and I’ll add your name to the list. Also you can visit www.one.org for more information. If you can send a copy of your signature (preferably in a jpeg format) to add to the bottom of the letter, that would be great, but don’t let that delay your response. We'd rather hear from you now. Thanks in advance for showing your compassion for those suffering from disease, hunger, and poverty. May God bless your ministry, Dr. Rick Warren Pastor, Saddleback Church Author, The Purpose Driven Life ----------------------Original Message --------------------------- June 1, 2005 The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear President Bush, Because: · ONE billion people around the world live on less than ONE dollar a day; · The US government spends less than ONE percent of its budget on fighting global AIDS and poverty; · Americans are uniting as ONE across political and religious divides to support action to overcome the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty. At the G8 leaders meeting on July 6th we urge you to: · Help the poorest people of the world fight poverty, disease, and hunger at a cost equal to just ONE percent more of the US budget on a clear timetable; · Cancel 100% of the debts owed by the poorest countries; · Reform trade rules so poor countries can earn sustainable incomes. We urge you to lead an historic deal with other nations to help Africa and the poorest nations overcome global AIDS and extreme poverty. Together as ONE, we can Make Poverty History this July. Sincerely, U.S. Faith Leaders

Friday, June 03, 2005

I just read that since 1990, income in the United States is up 11%. But spending is up 30%, and debt has risen by 80%! It's frightening how easy it is to live above your means through credit cards. And more and more people are doing just that. It brings a shower of blessings to get the latest flat-screen television or the newest computer or a new wardrobe . . . but the shower very quickly turns into a drought when the credit card bills come due. As people pay the minimum amount, they grow further and further behind. It takes discipline to say, "We'll buy only what we can afford." And it takes even more to decide to live beneath your means (see yesterday's post) -- opening up resources for tithing, for sharing, and for savings. You don't have to have the health club membership or the new shoes or the roomful of new furniture or the larger house or the MP3 player. You don't have to take the exotic vacation. No purchase or vacation can ease the mind quite like living without debt. - - - - The newest Christianity Today has an excellent article on the future of Christian education by Michael Hamilton. Here is a taste: "Today, schools connected to certain orthodox denominations--notably Southern Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, and Churches of Christ--do face a real possibility of secularization. This is because these schools have always thought of their religious identity mainly in denominational terms, rather than thinking of themselves more broadly as Christian colleges. The hard truth is that the old denominational identity that has kept their schools Christian is dying." It's deceptive, of course. The externals may remain healthy for a bit longer, with colleges pointing to attendance as proof that they're on the right path. But a day of reckoning for sectarianism is coming. - - - - Wonderful words from my morning devotional reading: We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Last night at our elders' meeting we said goodbye to and prayed for a young couple that is moving to the metroplex. As single university students and then as a young married couple, they had a huge impact on our church -- especially through their leadership of the Neighborhood Walkers. And now they have decided to live "below their means" in a low-rent apartment complex in the metroplex, believing that God will use them for his kingdom purposes. As one of the elders said, they are choosing to live in a place where very few Christians would want to be--an area filled with poverty, broken homes, and chaos--because they believe Jesus loves the people of that apartment complex.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Tonight I'm preaching in Oasis on "The Gospel According to George Lucas." I promise not to make a series out of this. It will be brief and (relatively) painless. Bits of this story have lived inside me since 1977. We got fairly good news today from the BONE GUY. He said Chris can quit wearing his back brace unless he's tired or is lifting more than 15-20 pounds. Hurrah! He also said he can do some light activities: he can swim, but not around rough play; he can shoot hoops, but he can't run or jump; he can play catch, but he can't pitch hard. When he said the last part, I thought I was going to cry. I have missed playing catch with my kid in the front yard. - - - - Kenny Rogers and Roger Clemens. Two fortysomethings whose average ERA this year is about 1.40. On behalf of middle-aged men everywhere, I thank them both. - - - - Here is the exact quote of what I wrote a few days ago: "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." From THAT, I was chastised by e-mail and comment for being condescending, unfair, and spiteful. Hmmmm. As Yoda would say, "A bit prickly we are." Sorry. I've re-read it and nothing seems condescending, unfair, and spiteful. It's just a funny thing about "us": we have no headquarters, no one to make decisions, and yet it's true of Churches of Christ all over. Please, I'm not anti-sign. (I am, however, anti-stupid-sign -- signs with messages that are too trite and too cute. But that's another blog. I'll come back to that in an attempt to be condescending, unfair, and spiteful.) We came back a different route and didn't see as many Church of Christ welcoming signs. But my favorite was this one: "The Churches of Christ in Waxahatchie welcome you." It had the name of three (maybe all three?) of the C of Cs in town. Much better message than three different signs!