Mike Cope's blog

Friday, September 30, 2005

My message on "Women, Gifts, and Ministry" is now available on the Highland website. Click here to listen to it. (Warning: it's 68 minutes.) - - - - God bless you teachers. All of you. Those who still have the vision of participating in the mission of Christ through your teaching, nurturing, and disciplining of young lives. I especially want to bless those of you who are in hard places (and isn't this most of you?) where there isn't much parental support, where school boards seem more interested in test scores than in learning, and where your students don't have all the advantages. Probably some of you wish you could do what I do: be a minister for Jesus. Are you kidding me? You are the front-line ministers! You are in the nooks and crannies of the mission of Jesus Christ. Your teaching, your love, your nurturing, your encouragement -- that's the best hope many of your students are going to have. Unfortunately, many of them don't have moms and dads who are teaching, loving, nurturing, and encouraging. And it's almost as if "the system" has forgotten them. "The system" has too much to prove about educational reform, test scores, etc. But while all that happens, it's still you in a classroom with twenty or so kids. (If you teach middle school or above, it's a revolving door of kids.) - - - - One burden that many teachers have today (probably everywhere, but at least in Texas) is knowing that they're being judged by the way their students perform on tests. It would be much better to ask, "Have we moved this students forward?" but that's not measurable. And, of course, we want to quantify! So we have tests. Here's a piece Larry James just ran on his blog. It's written by Joshua Benton and appeared in the Dallas Morning News. (Keep in mind as you read that in the vast majority of instances, the problem isn't the teacher but the pressure of teaching to a test.) TAKS push not so equal Monday, September 19, 2005 The Dallas Morning News Sometimes it takes an outsider. Something you've seen a thousand times may seem as normal as heat in a Texas summer - until someone new stops in and points out just how wrong it is. That's how I felt when I read an academic paper by Jennifer Booher-Jennings, a grad student at Columbia. She spent months observing how a Texas elementary school prepared for the TAKS test. (She promised not to reveal its identity in exchange for the access.) Her paper didn't tell me much I hadn't seen repeatedly across the state. But I'd never really stopped to think through the damage well-meaning educators can cause in pursuit of a high passing rate and a good school rating. Here's how it worked at the school she watched. In the fall, teachers gave students a sample TAKS test. Based on the results, students were divided into three groups: passers at the top, remedial kids at the bottom and bubble kids in between. The bubble kids are the ones whose scores put them just below the state's passing standards. (That varies from grade to grade, but kids generally have to get 65 percent to 70 percent of questions right to pass the TAKS.) The bubble kids are the ones who, with a coordinated effort, can be pushed over the passing bar. And pushing kids over that bar is everything in Texas. So how did the educators at this particular school react? By pouring all the resources they could into the bubble kids. The bubble kids get special sessions with the school's reading specialist. The bubble kids get after-school and Saturday tutoring. The bubble kids get small-group attention in class. The bubble kids get extra reading time with librarians and the P.E. teacher. All that's great if you're a bubble kid. That extra time and attention works - those kids usually end up passing TAKS. But what if you're one of the "remedial" kids - everyone below the bubble? You get the shaft. Teachers aren't stupid. They realize they're going to be judged on how many of their kids pass - not how much improvement they can squeeze out of their weakest kids. So they go after the low-hanging fruit: the bubble kids. Here are some direct quotes from the teachers Ms. Booher-Jennings interviewed: "I guess there's supposed to be remediation for anything below [a TAKS score of] 55. But you have to figure out who to focus on in class, and I definitely focus more attention on the bubble kids." "If you look at her score [pointing at one student's score], she's got a 25 percent. What's the point in trying to get her to grade level? It would take two years to get her to pass the test, so there's really no hope for her." "If you have a kid who is getting a 22, even if they improve to a 40, they won't be close. But if you have a kid with a 60, well, they're in shooting range. ... Some kids are always going to be left behind, especially in this district, when we have the emphasis on the bubble kids." As one teacher said of the remedial kids: "It's really a lost cause. They must have fallen through the cracks somehow." These are third-graders we're talking about. These kids are getting written off as hopeless cases before they turn 9. Ms. Booher-Jennings only visited one school. But I've talked to dozens of teachers who do some version of the same practice. Principals call it being "data-driven." I call it an excuse to ignore the weak. But it isn't just the weakest students who lose in this system. Bright kids, the ones schools know are going to pass, don't get much attention either. Neither do the special education kids whose scores don't count against the school, or the kids who transfer into a school after October and aren't counted for ratings either. Here's the criminal thing about focusing so much attention on the bubble kids: All it does is make the adults look better. It makes teachers look better when their classrooms' passing rates are posted in the teacher's lounge. It makes principals look better when they get called to a meeting in the central office. It makes superintendents look better when test scores get published in the newspaper. And it makes legislators look good when the statewide passing rate marches up every year. But does it help children when teachers are willing to pour hours into turning a 64 into a 71 - but consider moving a kid from a 31 to a 59 not worth the effort? It's the precise opposite of "no child left behind." I hope every TAKS-giving teacher reading this asks herself a simple question: Is there anything I do for bubble kids that I don't do for weaker kids? And if the answer is yes: How can I justify that? The final irony in Ms. Booher-Jennings' paper comes from one constant among almost all of the teachers she interviewed. They always complained about their colleagues in earlier grades. Those other teachers didn't do enough to prepare these kids when they had them, the teachers argued. Now these hopeless cases are going to lower my passing rate. Gee, I wonder how those kids on the bottom got there? Perhaps if they'd gotten the same attention the bubble kids had, their futures wouldn't seem quite so hopeless.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Michael Brown said his greatest mistake in directing the Katrina relief effort was in not realizing for so long that Louisiana is dysfunctional. Does the man not read Grisham novels? - - - - My favorite dessert: blueberry pie. (Or blueberry cobbler. What's the difference other than the shape?) - - - - We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of 7th grade football yesterday. Nothing like football on a cool, crisp autumn day. (It was 104 degrees.) - - - - Yesterday in freshman Bible I remembered why I love to teach. A student who has seem uninterested so far started coming to life as I talked about the kingdom of God and the mission of Christ in Mark 1. As the class went along, I could see her eyes brighten and her body start to lean forward. At the end she came up and said, "That was really good today." It's a small thing, I know. No need for dancing in the endzone or high fives. But what if . . . what if this student had a switch flipped . . . what if she realized that life isn't about trying to be happy and that faith has almost nothing to do with the health/wealth stuff preached on television . . . what if she heard again the invitation of Jesus, "Come, follow me"? This teaching thing is pretty amazing. (Any stories out there from those of you who do it all the time?) However, on that note . . . I'm looking for ways to follow my own advise from the last couple days. Something needs to be cut out of my schedule. And as much as I hate to think about it, teaching is a possibility. - - - - One week until the Zoe conference. Brandon, can we just pretend we're ready and quit stressing about it? - - - - Last night Randy Harris spoke on Balaam's donkey. Want to imagine what that was like?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

So many great comments yesterday about the possibility of easing off the accelerator pedals in our lives. One that I'm afraid got buried after a lengthy essay I put in the comments section is from Tammy: At many points in my life it has seemed that I am not able to see the forest through the trees. The busyness of motherhood, a side job, serving in church, just general things that are "good" but for whatever reason seem to fill up a space of time with no time for rest or Sabbath. When my son Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this year, my busy life came to a screaching halt. I suddenly saw how little time I had spent playing with my kids, spending time hugging on them, spending time thinking about romancing my husband, luckily I had time invested in scripture and prayer, so when this all hit I had the Rock of my life to cling to. It was the little things that I realized I was taking for granted that they would be there tomorrow. I could play later when the dishes were done, I could take a walk tomorrow when laundry was finished.....as Jack was being wheeled into surgery to remove the tumor from his brain I realized I might not ever get the chance to hang out with him again. Thanks be to God that I have been blessed with alot of times since then to spend time just "being" with my kids, and alot more time to not only read but meditate on scripture. I don't know when Jack's tumor struggles will be over, but when they are and it is time for me to start adding extra stuff into my life I will be adding it with guidance through prayer and God's leading. One of the many blessings that has come through Jack's diagnosis is I make a conscience effort to not take relationships for granted, family, friends, and the awesome blessing of a God who never leaves me the same for even one day. Just wanted to be sure you didn't miss that! - - - - Tonight Randy Harris continues the series that he said was inspired by my four weeks in Leviticus. I think he's calling it "Almost Irrelevant Ideas from Nearly Obscure Passages" (or something Harrisesque like that). - - - - I've found myself praying a lot for Judge Roberts recently, knowing that, at age 50, he could be leading the Supreme Court for the rest of my lifetime. - - - - Another quote from Honore's In Praise of Slowness: "There is something in the nature of cooking and eating together that forms a bond between people. It is no accident that the word 'companion' is derived from Latin words meaning 'with bread.' A relaxed, convivial meal has a calming, even civilizing, effect, smoothing away the smash-and-grab haste of modern life. The Kwakiutl people of British Columbia warn that fast eating can 'bring about the destruction of the world more quickly by increasing the aggressiveness' in it. Oscar Wilde expressed a similar sentiment with a typically barbed aphorism: 'After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.'" - - - - While surfing last night, I happened to catch Alison Krauss singing "A Living Prayer." That's a religious experience.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

When I have time to breathe, when I'm not pressing at full speed for an extended period of time . . . I am happier, I'm a better husband and father, I'm a more prepared and compassionate minister. But when I feel like I'm in a full-court press all day long for an extended period of time . . . depression creeps in, I become fragmented and abrupt, and I look for ways to retreat from people. Anyone else out there feel like life needs to slow down? Not always, of course. There are times we need to speed along. But we weren't made to stay at that pace. There is a rhythm in scripture that calls for rest, fun, joy, and relaxation that we too often miss out on. In the words of Gandhi, "there is more to life than increasing its speed." I've been reading a helpful book by Carl Honore called In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed. Honore says the idea for the book came when he was rushing through one more airport and he saw a book entitled The One-Minute Bedtime Story. His first thought was that this was an answer to prayers. He had been in tug-of-war battles with his two-year-old son over reading every night. He'd been wanting to get through stories more quickly so he could get back to his agenda: supper, emails, reading, bills, more work, etc. But a moment of insight fell over him: "Have I gone completely insane? . . . I am Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there." I'm not suggesting this applies to any of you -- :) -- but just in case there are one or two others needing to ratchet it down a bit now and then, I'm going to include a few choice quotes. "This book is not a declaration of war against speed. Speed has helped to remake our world in ways that are wonderful and liberating. Who wants to live without the Internet or jet travel? The problem is that our love of speed, our obsession with doing more and more in less and less time, has gone too far; it has turned into an addiction, a kind of idolatry." "Then there is the human cost of turbo-capitalism. These days, we exist to serve the economy, rather than the other way round. Long hours on the job are making us unproductive, error-prone, unhappy and ill. Doctor's offices are swamped with people suffering from conditions brought on by stress: insomnia, migraines, hypertension, asthma and gastrointestinal trouble, to name but a few. The current work culture is also undermining our mental health." "All the things that bind us together and make life worth living -- community, family, friendship -- thrive on the one thing we never have enough of: time." "Despite Cassandra-like mutterings from the speed merchants, slower, it turns out, often means better -- better health, better work, better business, better family life, better exercise, better cuisine and better sex." "In this book, Fast and Slow do more than just describe a rate of change. They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity." "In our hyped-up, faster-is-better culture, a turbocharged life is still the ultimate trophy on the mantelpiece. When people moan, 'Oh, I'm so busy, I'm run off my feet, my life is a blur, I haven't got time for anything,' what they often mean is, 'Look at me: I am hugely important, exciting and energetic.'" Well, enough quotes. You see where this is going. The book isn't just full of chastising. It is chocked full of glimpses at life lived at a more sane pace. Some of the chapters are: "Food: Turning the Tables on Speed" "Medicine: Doctors and Patience" "Sex: A Lover with a Slow Hand" "Leisure: The Importance of Being at Rest" "Children: Raising an Unhurried Child" Let me encourage you to check this book out. If your library doesn't have it, you can rush to the local Barnes and Noble or put in a rush order at Amazon! Think back to some of those best moments in life. Honestly, didn't many of them involve a slower pace? "Quiet time" when you didn't feel like you had to wind up the reading and prayer in ten minutes. Preparing a meal where the cooking and the conversation were part of the ritual. Taking a walk, a hike, a bike ride. Reading a book to your child or grandchild as the child soaked in the words and the attention. Visiting at length with a friend. Looking across the table at your Beloved during a two-hour meal, remembering births, deaths, challenges, and joys. Many of us need more than an evening off. We need a radical change of lifestyle. Does that resonate with anyone?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Yesterday we worshipped our way through Psalm 51 in the first part of our assembly--confession, petition, thanksgiving, and praise. Then during communion we sang "Just As I Am." For some reason, at both services, I had to fight back a tear. We don't sing "Just As I Am" much anymore. It hasn't completely disappeared, thankfully, but it's less common. It is, of course, THE invitation song. The one with 50 verses sung until that last white-knuckled sinner turns loose of the pew and comes forward. Yesterday it really was an invitation to me. An invitation to ingest the words of Psalm 51 while receiving again the body and blood of Jesus. An an invitation to remember. In my mind I traveled back to the age of 18, a freshman at Harding listening to the spell-binding words of one of my heroes (then and now), Jimmy Allen. And I also time-traveled back to the age of 21, when I began holding Gospel Meetings (not revivals--that was the Baptists!) in places like Seneca, Mount Vernon, Neosho, and Hottel Springs, Missouri. Just as I am! Thy love unknown has broken every barrier down; Now to be thine, yea, think alone, O Lamb of God, I come! I come! What invitation songs (or any other spiritual songs) still take you back to sweet moments of spiritual revival?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Our house has been a blast this morning. We have a Houston evacuee who's studying for a week of exams at Baylor Medical School. But so far today, during his "breaks," he and his brother have played ping-pong and NFL Blitz (Play Station); they've thrown the baseball in the front yard; and they've eaten all the pancakes and bacon I made for a late breakfast. And now we're all heading out for soccer. Cramming for cardiology will have to wait!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurrah! After two days of stubbornness, Blogger is finally letting me post. We're so thankful that Matt and Jenna got out of Houston yesterday. They caught a Continental flight to Abilene. Apparently it was terrible at the airport (though not as bad as some of the images on CNN since they got there at 5 a.m.); but that was nothing like so many people suffering on I-45. I'm sure there are some who visit here regularly who were in that mess. I hope and pray that you're in a safe place now. Last night I was in Washington, D.C. While there, I got to spend a little time with Larry James, who always encourages me to take seriously the call of the kingdom.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My buddy Leonard Allen has this great paragraph in his book THINGS UNSEEN: CHurches of Christ In (and After) the Modern Age: The restorationist vision is fundamentally a means of critique and dissent. For this reason it will never fit comfortably with mainline or establishment forms of Christianity. Its sins tend to be those of severity rather than laxity, blind obstinancy rather than easy compromise, too-quick exclusion rather than too-ready inclusion, irrelevance rather than trendiness. Restorationists are constantly putting burrs under the seats of the sleepy and comfortable. They work from the conviction that accommodation and compromise are far easier and subtler than most suppose and that the call of Christ is higher, more serious, and more demanding than most care to entertain. That restorationists often fail to embody their own ideals should not obscure to our eyes the truth and power of the ideals themselves.

Assembly blooper. Those of you at first assembly Sunday morning saw a beautiful communion clip prepared by Matt Maxwell. Those of you at second . . . did not. It's too painful to talk about. The wrong video was played. - - - - I pulled this off of Greg's blog from a few days ago. It's a May, 1955 article from Good Housekeeping. There have been a few changes in the past half century, eh? The Good Wife’s Guide Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favorite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed. Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it. Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Gather up schoolbooks, toys, papers, etc. and then run a dustcloth over the tables. Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for your husband to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction. Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimise all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him. Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first- remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours. Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax. Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit. Don’t greet him with complaints and problems. Don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day. Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice. Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him. A good wife always knows her place.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Yesterday's comments include a couple people wanting to know how to fix dove. The very question misses the larger context of this blog. The answer to serving dove is guacamole. Tonight I'm fixing dove fajitas -- with fresh guacamole (starting with Haas avocados), beans, onions, peppers, and tortillas right off the tortilla-maker at HEB. I'll grill the dove with a little bacon and a bit of sauce and then slap them on the fajita plate. I've also been known to make quail fajitas and sandhill crane fajitas. Mmmm, good. - - - - Just a word about youth ministers here. I've been blessed to speak at lots of conferences for youth ministers through the years, and I've gotten to know many of them. Here's what I've discovered: so many of them are among the most passionate, godly leaders I've ever met. They tend to fly under the radar a bit since they are "youth ministers"--but trust me, their influence permeates throughout their churches. Most of them are thinking theologically in a way that connects with culture. They have to answer the question "Where was God in this?" constantly, because teens aren't afraid to ask. They have developed a knack for seeing beneath the surface to the deeper issues. For example, when everyone was blathering on about Generation X, most youth ministers saw beneath those "studies" to the deeper cultural shifts involved. Church leaders are, thankfully, talking more and more about missional living. I think many youth ministers led the way. Over the past couple decades they have moved away from the ski trip model of youth ministry (though there's nothing wrong with a good old ski trip!) to the mission trip model. They know that their job isn't to meet all the perceived needs of their teens or to compete with the next megachurch down the road but to help in the transformation of students into passionate disciples of Christ who seek to participate in the work of God. So many youth ministers I know are passionate about kingdom, mission, incarnational living, authenticity, and -- of course -- the gospel. They have little time for denominational concerns and have been moving beyond those borders long before others decided that is a good idea. In my freshman Bible class each fall, I ask my students to fill out a sheet to help me get to know them. One question asks them to tell me about the most influential person in their spiritual formation. As you would guess, moms and dads lead the list. But the next group is youth ministers. Isn't that amazing? So many university freshmen remember them as their mentors/guides/teachers! Does your church have a youth minister? Or if not, how about volunteers who pour themselves into the ministry? Then thank them! Pray for them! Encourage them! Support them! Can you imagine what a word from you might do to give them new strength? Or an invitation to go to lunch? Or a promise to pray for them by name each week? So today, I give thanks to all of you out there who are involved in the faith formation of teenagers. As the dad of a 7th grader, I know just how important you are!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Yesterday evening was my first chance to go dove hunting this year. There were lots of birds flying and I got my limit (15 since we were north of I-20). It was a perfect evening with West Texas skies trying to squeeze out every possible drop of beauty. A little breeze, plenty of birds, a good buddy, an endless sky, and no snakes. - - - - I hold to my prediction: Cards and Angels in the Series. - - - - Favorites on my Ipod lately: Bebo Norman, Shawn McDonald, Keb Mo, Allison Krauss, and Zoe (the new CD is excellent!). CCR and Buffett, of course. But that goes without saying. - - - - Have you seen the cartoon of the two little girls at the bus stop, chatting as they hold their personal planners? One says: "Okay, I'll move ballet back an hour, reschedule gymnastics, and cancel piano . . . you shift your violin lesson to Thursday and skip soccer practice . . . that gives us from 3:15 to 3:45 on Wednesday the 16th to play." Is that too close to home to be funny? More about that later . . . . But for now: what suggestions do you parents have for slowing down the pace enough so that kids can have a life that isn't franctic and breathless?

Friday, September 16, 2005

I met this morning with "my group of elders." I can't tell you what a blessing it is. They're there to encourage me and to support me. I remember an experience from another time in life when "my group of elders" was often upset. It was a scolding session. One time one of them barked at me, "When are we going to get back to preaching about the gospel?" I was preaching a long series on the cross. And he wanted to know when we were going to talk about the gospel. The frightening thing is that this man had been in many places of spiritual leadership. It's so nice to have trust for the 40 brothers who serve as our elders. At times I miss a meeting and find out decisions that have been made. Even when I don't understand, I have no doubts about the prayer and spiritual discernment that went into it. If it doesn't sound right to me, my assumption is that there is something I don't know. For that I'm very thankful. But most meetings don't center on decisions, anyway. They center on prayer, affirmation, commissioning, and encouragement. Especially, prayer. I'm a better man for being allowed to peek in these past fourteen-plus years. - - - - Yesterday I sat next to my buddy Eddie Sharp, one of the world's great ministers, during the ACU Preacher's Workshop (or whatever it's called). As I listened to Paul Scott Wilson -- author of The Four Pages of the Sermon, God Sense, Broken Words, and Preaching and Homiletical Theory -- I was transported back to when I was 20. It was like a wave falling over me as I was swept up in remembering how eager I had been to preach. I was all of a sudden in the Harding library reading my Greek New Testament. I was listening to Jim Woodroof preach at the College Church. I was bug-eyed listening to the passion of Terry Smith and Landon Saunders. I was underlining in my first NIV New Testament. I was soaking up the words of Neale Pryor and Jimmy Allen, Tom Eddins and Jerry Jones. I was sitting in chapel listening to the powerful words of faith from Cliff Ganus. For just a brief moment, I got to be twenty again.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I have a wonderful picture I took from Chris's first football game. (Yes, the same Chris I was pushing in a wheelchair four months ago.) It's a picture of my 5'3" 7th grader, a cornerback, close to the line of scrimmage to guard the 6'4" 7th grade wide receiver from Mann Middle School. In the back of the picture you can see that help is on the way: his friend, a 4'10" safety, is running over to assist. - - - - I was in New York City Tuesday and saw more limos than there are cars in Abilene. Turns out the heads of state of 160 countries are in NYC for the U. N. session. That might explain why I couldn't find a hotel room anywhere. Actually, I did learn that there were rooms in the $500-1200/night range. How can so many people pay so much for a hotel room? (Thanks to our friends there who put me up Tuesday evening!) While I was there, I got to meet Ira Lester Hays, the younger brother of Sophia and the son of Joe and Laura Hays. So many of you have been praying for him. Ira has spent his whole life in NICU at Children's Hospital in Upper Manhattan. He probably thinks that's what every baby does. His parents, in their faithful love, are heroes of mine. All this happened just after they planted a church in Brooklyn. Many prayers continue that little Ira's lungs will continue to develop. - - - - I found out that Laura shares a passion of mine: Kudo bars. And we both agree that the chocolate chip Kudo bars are by far the best, but NO ONE carries them anymore. They are nowhere around here, and she can't find them in Brooklyn. Two confessions. First, I found a grocery store in Malibu that carries the chocolate chip bars. So I bought the five boxes they had and carted them back to Abilene. Apologies to my friends at Pepperdine. Second, I have at times, in desperation, bought a "variety pack" just to get the three choc chip bars. I set the others out for Chris to eat. The whole "don't-cast-your-pearls-to-swine" thing. If any of you out there in blogdom know where chocolate chip Kudo bars can be purchased, Laura and I would like to know. I don't know about her, but I am willing to pay a handler's fee for anyone who can supply me. So . . . is this what an addiction looks like? - - - - I just joined the world of podcasts, subscribing to the NPR "Most E-Mailed Stories." It was wonderful catching up to stories from the last week on my trip to NYC.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Many kids raised in a Christian family grow up with a defining biblical story. For some, it's Daniel and the lion's den. For others, David and Goliath. Or perhaps for others it's the courage of Esther. My defining story was Nadab and Abihu. I remember more sermons mentioning it than any other narrative from the Bible. (I'm sure my memory is a bit skewed here. But we did, nevertheless, hear about them alot.) You know the story: these are the sons of Aaron who, in Leviticus 10, offered strange fire and got toasted to a crisp. It always got paired with another story, depending on the point being made. If the point was that instrumental music will condemn you, then it was paired with Noah and the gopher wood. (When God specified gopher wood, he excluded all other kind of wood. When he said sing, he thereby excluded anything else.) If the point was that baptism has to be by immersion, then it was teamed up with the story of Naaman. Go to the river, even if it doesn't make sense to you. If the point was that it's really, really easy to hack God off and that the road to hell is really, really wide, and most of you are probably on that wide road (including most so-called Christians), then it was paired with the story of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:3-8). Overall, my impression from this text was that you'd better make sure you don't make mistakes. This led to a kind of revulsion toward this narrative tucked in the middle of Leviticus. And I have to confess, I went a really long time in my preaching career without preaching on it. I want to live under the guiding authority of that text, but it holds so many memories of fearing the flames of hell. My stereotype of the way the story was used represents a religion I have little interest in because it doesn't fit the way of Jesus. But now I notice that it comes right after two chapters where the priests are prepared for leading the rituals of worship and sacrifice. We might yawn at all the information, but at the end the people were filled with joy (9:22-24). The rhythm of all this reminded them that God--the one who had chosen them and delivered them from Egypt--was in their midst. Then comes the strange fire and the sudden deaths of the sons of Aaron. But what if the story's central message isn't, "You'd better be careful to get things right"? I've tried sitting it next to a different text: 1 Samuel 15:22f. There King Saul, once again disobedient, heard these words from the prophet Samuel: "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." Worship and ritual can be life-affirming. But they don't substitute for obedience and pure hearts (Matthew 15:3-9). Rather, they should flow out of hearts devoted to God. Whatever Nadab and Abihu did was apparently an egregious offense--something maybe even idolatrous. God had spelled out what he wanted (Exodus 30:9), and they had decided that they knew a better way. It wasn't an honest mistake. It was an in-your-face test of God. That never goes very well. This story calls on us to live lives that reflect God's holiness. It's not primarily about getting worship right; it's about having hearts that are right. Note that at the end of the chapter, Aaron also fails to follow the letter of the law when he doesn't carry out all his priestly responsibilities. But he explains to Moses that he just wasn't up to it because he was mourning for his sons. And apparently that was all right. Rituals are trying to root us in our foundational stories and to shape us. They matter greatly. But they aren't the ultimate goal. The goal is lives formed after a holy God. Now I think the authoritative word of this old text is just the opposite of what I imagined as a teen. Instead of saying that fine-tuning worship is the ultimate goal, perhaps it's pointing to a limitation of worship and ritual. They are the overflow of a well-formed heart--not a substitute for it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Former Highland member John Lackey has lowered his ERA to 3.30 and is third in the AL in strikeouts behind Johan Santana and Randy Johnson. He's now 12-5 and has been a big part of the Angels' first-place standing. My dream World Series: the Cardinals and the Angels. - - - - Yesterday at second service, a woman about my mom's age read scripture before communion. And as she read Isaiah 53:4-7, she began choking back tears. This godly woman has read that passage thousands of times, and it's still as fresh to her as the first. It was one of the most meaningful moments I've had in worship ever. - - - - I've had a song stuck in my head all weekend. I cannot get it out. "Someone's knockin' at the door; somebody's ringin' the bell . . . ." Why do I get songs like that stuck? Why THAT instead of "Salvation Belongs to Our God"? Or why the Beverly Hillbillies' theme song instead of "In Christ Alone"? The only way I know to get rid of these songs is to pass them along to others. So now it's your problem. Someone's knockin' at the door . . . . - - - - A request for help. How do you handle children's sales (for school, sports, and scouts) and church assemblies? We've never let our children sell things at church. One reason is that the same people wind up being nailed again and again. It puts them in the awkward position of buying more than they want (and perhaps spending more than they have to spend--especially in such a large church) or having to say "no, thanks" while feeling that they've disappointed a child they love. But other parents permit their children to sell there since it is, in fact, their kids' extended family. I see both sides. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 09, 2005

I received an e-mail from Wayne Barnard this morning that inspired me. I asked his permission to share it. The time is 11:26 p.m., and this may not be very coherent (I’ve only slept 2 hours during the past 55 hours), but I must reflect my thoughts as I conclude two of the most significant experiences with our students. I met more than thirty of our students yesterday at 8:00 a.m., along with Val Mascari, 6 of our WFF gentlemen, Mark Lewis, Charla Farrell, and Steve Sargent. We cleaned for four and one-half hours until the old Wal-Mart Store was ready to receive potential displaced persons. My heart was warmed as I worked alongside students and staff, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, and wiping down walls. We were quite the team, and I was blessed by the surprise and amazement of the Wal-mart regional manager when he came to the store at 12:00 noon and saw the sudden transformation. I also swelled with pride as Abilene officials marveled at the energy, spirit, and fortitude of our students. Last night, Todd Ormsby, my son (Colin), and I drove to Lake Cisco Christian Camp to deliver a big-screen TV and 4 other TVs and DVD players donated by Best Buy and Circuit City. (Earlier that evening, Mimi and I had spent almost two and one-half hours with managers of both stores as they so willingly donated TVs, DVD and VCR players, and movies.) We set up the big-screen and one DVD player in the larger dining room for the displaced families (54 persons) to enjoy watching movies. We placed a smaller TV and DVD player in each of the cabins so that families could watch movies at night after it was dark. Todd and Colin returned home at about 11:00 p.m. and I remained at the camp to receive the families who traveled by bus from Baton Rouge (a 14 hour trip). The first bus arrived at 3:15 a.m. The people were exhausted, but very thankful to be out of the chaos of Louisiana. We immediately met their physical needs by feeding them, caring for their illnesses, and providing them with brand new pajamas and underwear. Mark Lewis, Steve Rowlands, Jeff Arrington, and 4 of our students (Collin Packer, Chris Field, Clint Askins, and Jeremy Webb) arrived at 4:15 a.m. before the second bus arrived. They were quite helpful as we continued to meet the needs of these additional families. After we got everyone to bed at about 5:30 a.m., we stayed up drinking coffee and planning our processes for the day. Jeff Arrington and three of our students left early for a 9:30 a.m. class. Jeremy stayed to help out. Families started waking up and coming to the dining hall for breakfast at about 8:30 a.m. Our MFI and Clinical Counseling Graduate students arrived for training with Bob McKelvain as we implemented our plan for interviewing our guests and assessing their needs. By 10:00 a.m., 22 of our finest undergraduate students arrived on the ACU bus to help play with and take care of the children while others of us interviewed their parents and began helping families with their plans and expectations. At one point during the morning, Bob stopped me and asked if I had noticed what was happening. We stood in the middle of the dining room and marveled at our students playing with children, holding children, changing diapers, sweeping floors, serving drinks and food to families, interviewing parents, showing concern for peoples’ experience, and ministering God’s grace and mercy to a tired and devastated people. All I could do was weep. It was an overwhelming experience that I was missing because I was equally caught up in the sheer pleasure of being used by God to bless these amazing people. Their stories of survival, loss, and triumph were astounding. Their faith and hope were riveting. I was blessed beyond measure. Our students were literally connecting with people, spirit to spirit. I wish you could have been there. I wish you could have witnessed this awe-inspiring scene. The day only got better as we developed close relationships by listening to stories and connecting with deep and contradictory feelings of devastation and victory. What blessed me most was the faith and resiliency of these worn-out people. Fathers who pulled their families to safety in small boats; mothers who lovingly cared for their children on cold floors, in crowded shelters, and on long, exhausting bus rides; and children who trustfully followed their parents on a bus to the little West Texas town of Cisco. One of my greatest blessings was holding little two-year old Bernard both early Thursday morning when he got off the bus crying, and later Thursday morning when he awoke crying. Both times, I was warmed by his quieted soul snuggled safely on my chest as he slept in peace. Providing him with such safety and security was absolutely overwhelming. I could only imagine the complete and amazing love of God for us all as He holds us in the safety of His arms, close to His breast. The day ended with our new friends going off once again to their cabins to sleep in soft and safe beds. As I loaded the ACU bus with our wonderful students, I was struck by our coexisting exhaustion and blessing. We were spent, but we were full. God has truly been gracious to us in our experience today. Tomorrow I will wake up a different person. I’m not certain what may lie ahead for my new friends, but I know that I have been touched by God’s grace, and I am not the same. Lord, please bless my friends with your presence as they sleep. May their thoughts be protected from the devastation of their recent memories, and may their hearts be filled with all that is strong, so that they make awake tomorrow with a deep resolve because of your promise!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

As soon as you can, get your hands on Seeking a Lasting City: The Church's Journey in the Story of God. ACU Bible profs Doug Foster, Randy Harris, and Mark Love have written this incredible book, which describes the church as "a story-formed, story-living people." My hope is that people would read it . . . and then suggest it as a study guide for Bible classes . . . and then decide to purchase a copy for every leader of their church. This is ecclesiology at its best--helping us to anchor our understanding of the church in the story of Christ. Here is a sample from one of my favorite chapters, "The Church Outside the Gates": "The church in a post-Christian, postmodern, postdenominational world is the exilic church, the missional church, the prophetic church, the marginalized church, the church of the cross that stands outside the city gates. They are all embedded in our story. While their specific confluence in our time and place may be unique, that's true of the church in every time and place. No church is exactly like any other. "This reflects the wisdom of God and the genius of the Gospel; its story is always the same story, its good news the same good news, its church the one and only church. Yet within this framework, God is constantly creating us anew for the sake of his kingdom work in the world. The church doesn't accommodate to the culture in order to grow. It grows because it follows Christ to the place of service and sacrifice outside the city gates. In this, it is radically counter-cultural, affirming that this is not our home. "But the church can only have a counter-cultural message if it is deeply engaged in culture. The church subverts the worldly values of culture while it is in the world, actively and genuinely serving the lost. What we often take for a counter-cultural stance is simply irrelevance. When the church is irrelevant, it does not subvert the darkness of culture; it simply stands aloof from it." - - - - A couple of the authors are fellow Highland members, and as I read their excellent section on leadership -- about how the greatest need is for "saints" who pray, mentor, and guide -- I gave thanks again for the elders with whom I serve. These are men of compassion and courage, well formed in the Christian story. I know of no other group with whom I'd so quickly entrust my family's spiritual health.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

For months Chris's glove sat idle. As he recovered from a wreck -- first in a wheelchair and then in a brace -- it lay in the bottom of his baseball bag. This old Wilson glove has been in our family since about 1992. I think we got it when Matt was ten. He wore it through major league and maybe junior league. Then, when Chris got old enough he started wearing it. I've thrown tens of thousand of balls to that old glove, oiled it dozens of times, and had it re-strung a couple times. Yesterday that glove was back on his left hand. It was a good sight. We're thankful that recovery continues. - - - - Does e-mail save time or cost time? - - - - "There is more to life than increasing its speed." Gandhi

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Yesterday, Diane and I did the communion thoughts and prayers at Highland. What a blessing to share that together. Knowing that she was going to be reading Hebrews 5:7-10, I was struck by this verse from "I Stand Amazed" earlier in the service: For me it was in the garden He prayed, "Not my will, but Thine," He had no tears for his own griefs, But sweatdrops of blood for mine. No tears for his own griefs? Certainly Jesus shed plenty of tears for the sorrows of others, but he was fully human. I'm guessing that the one who "offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death" did shed a few tears for his own grief. Does that somehow diminish his God-ness? - - - - I read the headline with the huge, bold font in this morning's sports page: AGELESS ACE. It's about how Andre Agassi, old codger that he is, can still whip some of the younger players. So just how old is Agassi? 35. That's thirty-five. In other words, this "ageless" wonder was entering kindergarten about the time I was starting out at Harding. - - - - I am upset. At myself. As I watched all those evacuees from inner-city New Orleans, I realized I had never seen them. I've seen Nola's. And Galatoire's. And Ralph & Kakoo's. And the Cafe du Monde. And Preservation Hall. And the Imax. And the Aquarium. But I somehow have managed in all those trips to avoid seeing the 28% of that great city who live below the poverty line. My friend Larry James says that almost all American cities are the same way. The difference is that the people never get flushed out. So we just don't see them. We stay in our malls, theaters, restaurants, and stadiums in the better parts of town. And we complain about our taxes and about the sharing of funds for poorer school districts. But right now I'm not mad at the American people or the American government. Of course, we'll have to face questions of how we've permitted this to exist. We'll have to get rid of our stereotypes of why people are poor as if it was always a choice. (We can always live with it better if moral accusation is involved.) I'm mad at me. All those trips to New Orleans and I didn't see these people who matter as much to God as my own sons. I've been reading Luke 16:19-31 this past week, preparing to teach the university class at Highland. And I didn't like what I saw. Because it's hard to find what the rich man's sin is. He didn't hit Lazarus, didn't kick him out; didn't hurl insults at him. He just ignored him. Lazarus wasn't even a blip on his radar screen. There's something unique about this parable of Jesus: a person is named! I wonder if it's because Jesus wanted us to know that--in the world of the story--Lazarus is a person. He has a name. God knows him and cares deeply about him. O, dear Lord, please open my eyes to see Lazarus. Because I'm privileged, he's hard to find. I know how to steer around him. But let me see!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Here's the article about Highland's outreach minister, Joe Almanza. He and Becky are an amazing couple who are leading us outside the safe walls of "church" into the world that God so loves.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

All over the country, churches will be taking special collections tomorrow to help people in the Gulf Coast area. If you've been reading the comments in this blog for the last few days, you recognize how unclear it is right now as to how we can best help. The situation is just so bad that strategies are murky--though there are several agencies and churches that we know we can trust. Incredible acts of Christian service are going to happen in many places. And we trust that the money given will be used by God to aid the victims. We've identified places in Baton Rouge and Houston where we believe some money can be sent to help immediately. But this is just a beginning. Contributions tomorrow are just a first step. One of our councilman (a Highland elder) left me a message yesterday that 500 evacuees are on their way to Abilene. Surely this is happening all over Texas, as centers in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio fill up. I received e-mails from members wondering if we could use Highland's gym and our Southside building (where the Freedom Church outreach is about to take place) to house some of the people. We'll be looking into all that. As the mayor (also a Highland elder) said in the paper today, it's uncertain when they arrive or where they'll stay. But the main thing is that we have some hard cash ready immediately and that we stay prepared to offer gifts of cash, housing, and labor as the opportunities arrive. By the way, after what I wrote Wednesday it's a bit funny to read in this morning's paper that Sri Lanka has made a pledge of aid--along with Cuba, Dominica, and Venezuela (despite Pat Robertson!). It's a time for us to give sacrificially. Final note: already I'm hearing reports of ministers announcing that this is the judgment of God on the wickedness of New Orleans. Can someone please tell me how they know that? And if God hasn't explicitly told them that, would they please SHUT UP and get busy with acts of compassion?

Friday, September 02, 2005

I have so many childhood memories invested in Biloxi. We went there almost every year until Camille crushed it in 1969. At the time, my mom's doctors told her that what was needed to help psoriasis was lots of sun. Of course, doctors now say that the sun is the one thing skin doesn't need! But we were going with what we were told then. So off we'd go every year for the Admiral Benbow Inn. (Maybe it led to my Treasure Island obsession.) Since at the time our daily newspaper in Neosho, MO was family owned, my dad could trade them free advertising for a couple weeks of lodging. Why the Admiral Benbow Inn wanted to advertise in Neosho, I don't know. But apparently it worked. It's during those years that my mom taught me the delight of raw oysters (a passion I still have), and my dad taught me to ride the waves (which I passed on to my boys). When we got married in 1978, we drove to Hot Springs (yes, we heard all the jokes) for a couple days, returned to Harding for my graduation ceremonies, and then took off for -- of course -- Biloxi. New Orleans has been one of our favorite spots since we started going to Pensacola Beach in 1989. Each year we've built a stop in N.O. into the itinerary. Sometimes we've stopped just for a quick beignet at the Cafe du Monde. But most of the time we've saved enough time for Preservation Hall (home of New Orleans jazz), the Imax, Ralph & Kakoo's, the aquarium, and a stroll along the Mississippi. A couple times we've splurged with dinners at Nola's (one of Emeril's restaurants) or Galatoire's. I wonder what's happened to all these places. But even more I wonder about all those people we've seen through the years. I still can't wrap my mind around this tragedy. At Highland and thousands of other churches this Sunday, we'll be taking special contributions. Our prayer is that God will get that money to people in need as quickly as possible!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Just three hours ago, all four of my sons' grandparents were sixtysomething. But not any longer. Happy 70th, Dad! A 50th anniversary on Sunday and a 70th birthday today: this is a big week for you. - - - - Yesterday my son and daughter-in-law lived across the street from a largely-unused sports facility. But today it is becoming the home for a community of 23,000 refugees from New Orleans. There are already amazing stories in the Houston Chronicle. Just think of all the challenges at the "Eighth Wonder of the World" (Astrodome). How do you feed that many people? How do they all share the showers in four locker rooms? How do you provide medical and dental care to a group that's been what they've been through the past several days? How do you allow the 5000 school-age children to continue their education? - - - - Please continue leaving comments as you hear about opportunities for individuals and churches to help. A good place to begin if you're interested in helping those who fled to Houston is with the Impact Church--a church that knows how to help people! - - - - Please don't miss the last couple entries from Larry James's blog. Here is a sample: Katrina should serve as a wake-up call to the nation concerning the on-going plight of the poor in America. The most vulnerable among us live fragile lives. Things could be so much better. Our weakest citizens could actually be so much stronger than they are today. But we have lost our national will to attack poverty and to overcome it. We've opted for an approach that simply cuts people loose to manage for themselves with few resources and limited options. Then, when a relative handful are successful against great odds, we crown them poster children for the "American Way," forgetting the 99% who never have even a chance of making it out of such crushing poverty.