Mike Cope's blog

Monday, October 31, 2005

Just finished taking car pool and got behind a Dodge with two bumper stickers. One said: "WE ARE COMING. God may forgive you. WE WILL NOT." The other sticker? "Jesus lives." - - - - Churches, like dysfunctional families, often suffer from an inability to laugh at themselves. One thing about reasonably healthy families is that they can almost always laugh at themselves without anyone accusing anyone else of hating the family. It is, in fact, a fairly reliable sign of their health. You can tell things about your OWN family that wouldn't be nearly as funny if someone from the outside were telling it! - - - - Note to Highland folks: Don't miss "Oasis" this Wednesday night. Donna Hester and Jill Maxwell are going to be presenting "Iron Apron Strings," the dramatic presentation they did at the ACU lectureship and then at the Zoe conference. It creatively tells the story of Jesus through his maternal lineage from Eve to Mary. The next Wednesday night, November 9, I'll be focusing on >"The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," in anticipation of the movie being released on December 9.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Just seeing a few of my preaching buddies in Ft. Worth reminds me how lucky I am that through the years I've had lots of friends in ministry. I've heard older guys talking about not having many friends who were fellow preachers because everyone was so competitive. (That's probably not everyone's experience.) But I've been lucky to experience just the opposite: lots of guys who were watching each other's backs and supporting their ministries in every possible way. I'm thankful for the Abilene guys: Eddie, Dwight, Ris, Phil, Chris, Don, and Terry -- just to name some. And also for Rubel, Rick, Milt, Larry S., Jeff, Larry J., Buddy, Don and so many others. What a blessing it's been in my life! - - - - After spending the morning at the soccer field, I remember how much I love about youth sports . . . and what I don't love. Hearing a coach yell at a player on the opposing team "Quit your crying and get up off the ground" (just before our player had to be helped off the field) makes me so sad. Take away about 10% of the parents and about 5% of the coaches, and little league sports would be amazing! - - - - Enjoy the extra hour of sleep tonight.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The DaVinci Code has been popular partly because it's so well written. But another big factor is that it gives many the (false) sense that they're being let in on some long lost secrets that have now been recovered that make everything plain. Wade Hodges and I visited recently about a great preacher we enjoy hearing (from another tribe) who is always peppering his sermons with insights that NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD BEFORE--obscure material from rabbinic teaching that makes everything clear. The problem is, the stuff probably isn't true, at least not as background material for scripture. It is probably from writings that come centuries later. But people soak it up because we love the idea of being in on lost secrets now recovered that explain everything. If scripture can just be made less mysterious and obscure, we'll take it! Remember hearing the old interpretation about how there is a spot in Jerusalem called "eye of the needle" that was so low a camel could barely get under it? And remember how exciting it was to finally make sense of Jesus saying that a rich person going to heaven is comparable to a camel going through the eye of a needle? One problem: there is absolutely no evidence of such a spot. Several people have shared with me their joy in watching some video series a guy has done that supposedly reveals what NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD BEFORE from backgrounds that seemingly only he has discovered. Again, it makes scripture so much clearer. But again, it's just probably not right. But we love being in on lost secrets. - - - - Some members of this blog community have started another blog focuses on glimpses of grace all around us. Check it out at www.ourgracenotes.blogspot.com. And while you're at it, try the new Wineskins site at www.wineskins.org. - - - - Tonight is the big AHS-Cooper football game. I'm speaking this morning at Richland Hills at a gathering of Church of Christ and Christian Church leaders, and then I'll head back so that we're in our seats on the 50 yard line well before kickoff. How many high school games have over 15,000 in attendance?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ASTROS BATTLE FOR SERIES WIN. So reads the big, bold headlines at the top of the Abilene Reporter-News sports page today. Great headline. How we wish it were true! The first World Series game ever in Texas was, of course, BIG. There were 482 -- yes, 482! -- pitches in the game from 17 pitchers. The game was nearly six hours long. Geoff Blum, the guy who hit the game-winner homer in the 14th for the White Sox, hadn't had an at-bat in 21 days and hadn't driven in a single run in 56 days. After three of my four favorite teams made it into the Championship Series (Cards, Angels, Astros), the 'Stros are now down, 3-0. Having said all that, I'll take your average little league game--with $2 burgers, outfielders stomping ants rather than watching the batter, and a free snow cone to anyone who chases down a foul ball--any day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Why can we never remember the names of famous actors? It's resorted to this. We had a date night this weekend and went to a movie. Later when we tried to explain which one, we couldn't think of the name. All we could come up with was: "It's the one with Legolas and Spiderman's girlfriend." - - - - The "mother of the civil rights movement," Rosa Parks, has died. Her courageous decision almost half a century ago sparked a movement that was soon led by a Montgomery pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr. Here's the account in Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters: On December 1, 1955 . . . Rosa Parks left the Montgomery Fair department store late in the afternoon for her regular bus ride home. All thirty-six seats of the bus she boarded were soon filled, with twenty-two Negroes seated from the rear and fourteen whites from the front. Driver J. P. Blake, seeing a white man standing in the front of the bus, called out for the four passengers on the row just behind the whites to stand up and move to the back. Nothing happened. Blake finally had to get out of the driver's seat to speak more firmly to the four Negroes. "You better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats," he said. At this, three of the Negroes moved to stand in the back of the bus, but Parks responded that she was not in the white section and didn't think she ought to move. She was in no-man's-land. Blake said that the white section was where he said it was, and he was telling Parks that she was in it. As he saw the law, the whole idea of no-man's-land was to give the driver some discretion to keep the races out of each other's way. He was doing just that. When Parks refused again, he advised her that the same city law that allowed him to regulate no-man's-land also gave him emergency police power to enforce the segregation codes. He would arrest Parks himself if he had to. Parks replied that he should do what he had to do; she was not moving. She spoke so softly that Blake would not have been able to hear her above the drone of normal bus noise. But the bus was silent. Blake notified Parks that she was officially under arrest. She should not move until he returned with the regular Montgomery police. At the station, officers booked, fingerprinted, and incarcerated Rosa Parks. It was not possible for her to think lightly of being arrested. Having crossed the line that in polite society divided Negroes from niggers, she had reason to expect not only stinging disgrace among her own people but the least civilized attentions of the whites. When she was allowed to call home, her mother's first response was to groan and ask, "Did they beat you?" Shortly after that King spoke to a packed house, anxious to hear what he'd say. He said, "Let us say that we are not here advocating violence. We have overcome that. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a communistic nation--we couldn't do this. If we were trapped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime--we couldn't do this. But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. . . . We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream!"

Monday, October 24, 2005

I walked into the Clyde Church of Christ Friday to do a funeral for Jack Farmer with a sense of deja vu. It looked almost exactly like the church building my grandpa had built in Missouri. Same colors, same pews, same classrooms down the side, same baptistry, same track rack in the foyer. Since I didn't know Jack well, I had no idea how many people would come. But it was amazing. Probably 500 people crammed into that auditorium. They knew for whom the bell tolled. Jack and Betty had spent all 57 years of their married life in Eula, Texas on one piece of land. They moved once: ten feet. But for 57 years they raised their kids, nurtured their grandkids, loved and served their community. When you study church history, get read about people who preached sermons, wrote books, and had broad influence. But this is real church history, isn't it? One man (and woman) being the salt of the earth and the light of the world through quiet, faith-filled lives. - - - - There must be some marketing genius at ACU. The students get one day -- ONE DAY! -- off, and it's called "fall break." But by listening to students, you'd think that they had a whole week off. "I'm tired, but I'm just trying to make it to fall break." Are you kidding me? It's one day off! But, hey, if it works . . . . - - - - Come on, Astros. And congrats to the Cowboys on beating the Seahawks for 3.99 quarters. It's that .01 that'll get you, though.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Parents Television Council just released their list of the top 10 worse prime time shows for family viewing. Fox dominated the list with six, including the top four. The best programs for family viewing, according to the group, came from ABC and NBC. - - - - "Mental health is commitment to reality at all costs." M. Scott Peck - - - - I spoke in chapel Wednesday on behalf of a new student group at ACU called Awake 3:18. They've taken their name from 1 John 3:18: "Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." They are focusing on the 12 million AIDS orphans in Africa. Specifically, they have targeted one village in Kenya, where they know a woman who is trying to care for all the orphans there. I am meeting more and more students who have no interest in the version of Christianity that is obsessed with fine-tuning obscure doctrinal matters or nailing the perfect worship service. Instead, they are opening their hearts to the mission of Christ in this world. - - - - The full Bible is now out for Today's New International Version (TNIV). I've been waiting for it, and it's what I intend to use. - - - - Today Highland is sending a whole army of middle school students to The Promise. It's a great trip (in a camp-full-of-middle-school-kids-and-tents sort of way!), but we're having to force ourselves not to obsess on the travel part. I hope those fears don't haunt us forever.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Yesterday we talked about doubts in my Bible class at ACU. It always comes as a relief to some students to learn that doubting is not the opposite of belief. That would be unbelief. Doubt is suspended on a continuum between the two and decides whether to lean in the direction of belief or unbelief. It also relieves some (and probably frightens others who crave certainty) to know that their own teacher has his bouts with doubt. There are times when it just doesn't seem that this world works the way it ought to if a loving, all-powerful God is in charge. Even after all the talk about free will, natural disasters, and the effects of sin, sometimes that just doesn't quite fix the problem. And there are times when you wonder about all the people in the world who will fight wars over their old books--which old book depends on their religion--written by people from long ago. As I said, for those who need absolute certainty and don't want anyone to mess with it--and I'm not just talking about college students now--that's not anything they want to hear. They probably tell themselves that it's because their faith is so strong. That may be right. Or maybe their faith is so fragile. But others know the threat of being fully awake in a world that is confusing. It isn't certainty they have, most of the time, but faith. Struggling, seeking, journeying faith. As Frederick Buechner put it, "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith." For some people, those doubts keep the faith fresh, alive, and vibrant--always searching over the next ridge for what lies ahead.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

By connecting with an old friend, I've had songs from my high school years playing in my mind. That isn't hard, of course, because I keep oldies going on my Ipod quite often. But besides the obvious -- CCR, the Eagles, America, -- it's been Loggins and Messina, Jim Croce, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, Bread, the Carpenters, John Denver and Elton John. Elton John? the Carpenters? Where's that coming from? Music has this amazing ability to stick in the memory when all other stuff starts to leak out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Early in the game, the Fox cameras zoomed in on a sign from an Astros fan that said simply: WALK PUJOLS. Had they listened, the Astros would be resting up for the Series. Now they're headed back to St. Louis, staving off the demolition of Busch Stadium a bit longer. Baseball's greatest hitter popped a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning for a 5-4 win. - - - - Someone told me this week that he'd read an article about how men, while often conversationally challenged, often have an advantage in starting conversations. Since most guys like sports (though certainly not all), men can walk into a room full of strangers and count on a default conversation about sports. Even if it's about a sport you don't get (NASCAR), you understand the passion. Women, on the other hand, have to search for a topic that works. Is that right? (And if it's right, why do you often see women so deeply engaged in conversations while guys are checking their watches?) - - - - Did others read the stuff that George Will has written about Harriet Miers? It was brutal. I would think after a few blasts from the left and lots of blasts from the right she'd be thinking, "It can't be worth this."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Great performance of "Seussical" yesterday. In 2003, I started having all the theater majors in my freshman Bible class, so by now I've had all the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, and it's a blast watching them up on stage. Some amazing voices! - - - - Well, the championship series aren't going quite as I had hoped. But at this point it's clear: I'll be rooting for the National League in the Series. - - - - Did you see the story in the news about the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School in Long Island who canceled prom? The excesses had grown year after year so that students were putting up $10K to rent party houses. Parents were chartering a boat for a late-night "booze cruise." Kenneth Hoagland wrote a 2000-word letter to parents saying: "It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake--in a word, fnancial decadence."

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Here's a fourth piece I've written for the Christian Standard this year--this one on the importance of friendship. (Actually they let me adapt a piece I'd written not long ago as an editorial in Wineskins.) I've been trying to practice what I preach the past couple days. I've been with three buddies up in Vermont hanging out. It's a trip I've made every year for a long time to be with these guys. One's from Arkansas, one's from Vermont, and one divides his time between Vermont and Boston (where he is a prof). This year there wasn't much hiking because it's been raining in the NE for 40 days and 40 nights, or something like that. But with the Angels and the Cardinals in the playoffs and with plenty of good food, we did just fine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

It's so hard to watch the images coming back from Pakistan. Well over 23,000 now confirmed as dead -- many of them schoolchildren who just fell into the earth. The tsunami . . . the hurricanes . . . the earthquake . . . prayers for those who have suffered.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

No smack by Joe Hays on my blog this morning. Oh, no. The Angels won, 5-3. And the boys from the Bronx are going home. So I had my chance to trashtalk over on Joe's blog. You can go here for the full piece. Here's just a bit. (As someone said in his comments, I MOSTLY took the high road.) Besides, my anti-Yankees zeal is probably heightened by a since of self-flagellation. (It comes with my religious heritage.) In 1964, at the age of eight, I went with my dad to St. Louis to watch the Cardinals and the Yankees in the World Series. These are MY Cardinals: the team of Musial, of Gibson, of Brock, of Ozzie, and of the mighty Pujols. I've been a faithful follower . . . since the age of nine. But at age eight, there was one player that loomed above all others for me: the Mick. So in this stadium filled with Cardinal red (the old Sportsmans' Park, not Busch Stadium) I was cheering on Mickey Mantle. I remember the plane flying overhead pulling a banner that read: "Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris too; we've come to put a hex on you." I can't remember what I preached on last week, but I remember that sign clearly from 41 years ago. And that's the power of baseball. - - - - I've gone back into this morning's post to ask you to please read the fourth comment from Mark and Laura about their son, Tyler. Please know, Mark and Laura, that many, many people will be praying for Tyler (and your whole family). Please keep us posted. Diane and I have never been right where you are, but our stories do overlap a little bit. And we know how frightening it is to wait--to hope and fear at the same time.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thanks to a grand slam in the 8th, a home run with two outs in the ninth, and another in the 18th inning, my three teams are still in. At one point last night, I watched a 43 year old pitch to a 47 year old. That's a total of 90 years. For a brief moment, I didn't feel quite so old. Thanks, Rocket and Julio. Now, about the Angels. John Lackey once again was amazing, but they couldn't get it done. Just as well. Finish the celebration in Anaheim tonight.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The ninth Zoe Conference is now history. And here's my favorite moment. Last night as we closed, Larry Bridgesmith offered a blessing to everyone. He invited us to raise our hands as a sign of receiving God's blessing. On the very front row were four little girls who raised their hands and listened carefully. One of them, the smallest one -- maybe four years old -- was using one hand to drink from her sippy cup and the other hand to soak up the blessing. Now, again, out into the world God loves so much . . . . We did a few things differently this year. We'll of course listen carefully to the feedback and make adjustments appropriately. But we don't want to be another group that came up with a winning formula and then stayed with it forever -- even while needs and opportunities changed. One thing I heard about the leadership conference is that people would have liked to have heard more from some of the speakers. So . . . maybe the sessions could have been the same -- fostering interactive learning -- but perhaps we could have had one less worship session and one less affinity community session to allow someone like Leonard Sweet a couple chances to challenge us in plenary sessions. In January, we'll hold the same conference ("In Christ Alone") in Fresno. Lee, get the avocados ready, brother!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Last day of the Zoe Conference. I'm worn out, but it's going to be a great day. Big gatherings this morning and this evening, amazing classes throughout the day, and a Michael Card concert at 1:00. I enjoyed putting faces to names of lots of members of this blog community the past couple days. We've had funny stories about the "Amy Grant" who posts here -- who is neither the person married to Vince Gill nor my friend from Highland (Amy) who is married to Grant. I was glad to meet THE REAL Amy Grant yesterday (the one who leaves wonderful notes here occasionally). Donna Hester's piece about Eve, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary was incredible. I just wish the video camera had been a bit closer so people back in the corners (1200 in that building is FULL) could see a bit better. But they saw well enough to be stirred by the story of God's persistent love through the centuries, as told through the stories of these women. - - - - The cool front hit Nashville yesterday, and I'm in heaven. The hills of Tennessee and cool weather. - - - - Randy Johnson is loved in New York -- as long as he does well. . . which he didn't yesterday, so he was booed. The $203-million-dollar boys are one game from elimination. Come on, Angels! (Note: you may remember the bet I have with Joe Hays. So Joe, please get space ready on your blog for my trash-talking.) The Padres should bow out today, which would make them, I think, a game under .500 for the year. But much thanks for keeping my Cards tuned up.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The word "salvation" has, unfortunately, been reduced to PERSONAL salvation -- meaning a moment in time when one is "born again." And certainly, that is part of it. But the word in scripture is much larger, much more dynamic. It refers to the deliverance God offers, and it comes in past, present, and future tenses. Biblically speaking, better than saying "I got saved" would be to say "I am being saved/delivered." Weigh these words from Unveiling Glory: "Living like Jesus is not something we do to get salvation--it is our salvation."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

See many of you in Nashville. The Zoe Leadership Conference begins today, and the Worship Conference begins tomorrow night as we focus on the incarnation. I'm looking forward to coteaching at the leadership conf with my buddy Randy Harris. And I can't wait for many of you to experience Friday evening the art work of Jill Maxwell and the drama gifts of Donna Hester, two Highland pals who will be part of the opening assembly. I'm trying to think why I didn't include a "blogging track" for the conference class times. - - - - I like these words of Mark Driscoll: "I want to prepare like an evangelical; preach like a Pentecostal; pray like a mystic; do the spiritual disciplines like a Desert Father; art like a Catholic; and social justice like a liberal." - - - - Come on, Angels! Joe Hays and I have a bet going: If the Yankees win, he gets to write a praise of the Yankees on this blog; if they lose, I get to give them what true Evil deserves on his blog.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

To balance yesterday's blog about joy in the journey, I'm thinking today about what lies ahead for most of us. It's easiest just to not think about end-of-life issues, but the reality is hard to duck. As columnist David Brooks pointed out recently, 20% of us are going to get cancer or another debilitating disease and will die within a year. Another 20% will have some cardiac or resperatory failure. And 40% will suffer some form of dementia -- either Alzheimer's or a disabling stroke. Aren't you glad you came here today? I don't want to be someone who obsesses on aging and death. But I also don't know how to ignore the reality of what lies ahead unless I die suddenly. Here's what I imagine may help: 1. Foster the spirit of joy along the way. If we spend a lifetime doing what I wrote about yesterday (finding joy on the journey--even in the midst of pain), then it holds open the possibility of finding joy even with bodies that don't fully cooperate. 2. Nurture lives of spiritual discipline. If we really believe that spiritual formation is related to the practice of spiritual disciplines, then we can anticipate a time in life when we'll be forced to slow down (what most of us only dream about when we're younger!) enough to pray and meditate on the word of God. 3. Stay connected to brothers and sisters in Christ who are aging the way we'd like to. Diane's way of putting it is that she wants to grow up to be Kathryn Witherspoon. (Highland folks will know exactly what she's talking about.) The community of faith offers us opportunities to learn from those who are further down the road. We come to depend on their wisdom, realizing that so much of life isn't just a matter of black and white but a matter of wisdom. 4. Realize that we are, in families and especially in the Family of Christ, fully dependent on one another. We are called into one another's lives to love, serve, admonish, and encourage. I like these words from Brooks' column: "A generation ago, all the emphasis was on rebelling against conformity, on liberating the individual. Now the emphasis is on nurturing bonds so sacred they are beyond the realm of choice. Now the individual is less likely to be regarded as the fundamental unity of society. Instead, it's the family." A question for today: Are there models in your life--maybe especially in your congregation--of how you would like to be in your later years?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

At our home, we are Shel Silverstein fans. Here's one for today: I went to find the pot of gold That's waiting where the rainbow ends. I searched and searched and searched and searched And searched and searched, and then-- There it was, deep in the grass, Under and old and twisty bough. It's mine, it's mine, it's mine at last. . . . What do I search for now? So often we think that there is some great destination that we're waiting for. We find ourselves "killing time" (a horrible phrase) just waiting for that destination. We forget that it's the journey itself that is full of life. You can't wait for your kids to grow up so you can have a little peace and quiet. There is the joy of the journey. You can't wait for retirement so you can play golf. There is the joy of the journey. You can't wait for your church to "do things right" so you can be happy. There is the joy of the journey. You can't wait for American to get back to the good old days. There is the joy of the journey. Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow are headed to Oz. But the heart, the courage, and the brain they need come from the journey--not from the diminutive wizard behind the curtain. Bilbo Baggins' walking song has it right: The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say. I have my eyes on an incredible destination. But the journey is filled with joy--even in the midst of pain. I don't want to miss that joy! What's out there on the road for you this day? Don't put off today waiting for Friday. Don't blow off this week waiting for next week or this month waiting for next month or this year waiting for next year. Too many people miss life waiting for something better. Look out today and smile at THAT spouse, THOSE kids, THAT job, THOSE friends, THAT church, THOSE neighbors.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Why, when my first (Cards), second (Angels), and fourth (Astros) favorite teams made the playoffs, am I not satisfied? Because it would have been so easy to keep the Evil Empire out. I am confident, however, that when the Angels vs. Evil series is over, the Angels will advance against the Sox. (Which Sox, I'm unsure of. Can Boston relocate its pitching?) Private note to Joe Hays: If the Yankees win this series, you may use my blog to strut and taunt. - - - - There were a few paragraphs about this blog in yesterday's Abilene Reporter-News feature article "Best of Blogs." I was interested to read there about my son Cody. Cody? I didn't even know I HAD a kid named Cody. When I was in 6th-8th grades, I delivered newspapers for our family newspaper, the Neosho Daily News, around the downtown square. One of my dad's best friends, Gary Higdon (VP of one of the banks) would often see me and buy a paper from me. While most of the papers I carried were for businesses with subscriptions there were always a few extras for "full price" -- 10 cents. Gary would always say that he had to have today's paper to catch up with all the corrections from yesterday's paper. Since it was an afternoon paper on M-F, I headed downtown after school each day. On Sundays, it was (and still is) a morning paper, so I'd set my alarm for 5:30, then ride my bike a couple miles downtown to deliver papers in the dark. I guess the times were different! - - - - This Sunday, Dr. Jerry Taylor, Highland's new associate preaching minister, will be speaking on "Blessed Are the Peacemakers." - - - - I'm ready for fall! The high today is only supposed to be 89. We're under 90!