Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Here are a couple photos of Kerri Lane and her girls serving communion at Highland. The memorial service will be today at 11:00. - - - - If you have a high speed connection, check out this clip. Thanks, DU, for the link. [NOTE: At 6:30 this morning, this link wasn't working. See my note in the comments. ESPN's version is available on video at espn.com.]

Monday, February 27, 2006

He was more than just King Nebuchadnezzar. He was “Nebuchadnezzar, Inc.” Fresh from a great military victory at Carchemish over the Egyptians (605 B.C.), he was maybe the most secure man in the universe. Youth, strength, wealth, clout–all were his! He was a steel tank, a shining knight, a superhero. Besides all that, his name was impressive. As one third-grade girl wrote to me: “Dear Mr. Cope, I discovered that Nebuchadnezzar is more than half the alphabet. That’s fourteen letters. Love, Elizabeth.” Good point–he had that going for him, too! But every night when the king put his head on his royal pillow, he became as vulnerable as the lowliest peasant in Babylon. And it was then that God struck! The chink is his armor is revealed in these three words: “Nebuchadnezzar had dreams” (Daniel 2:1). In his dream stood an enormous, dazzling statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay. What an imposing reminder of the power he had, this King Golden Head (for the head represented him), and of the power subsequent kingdoms would have. Did Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, or any of the other exiles need a reminder that he held all the trump cards? They’d seen his domination in Jerusalem, and they’d heard of how his Chaldean kingdom had dominoed around the fertile crescent. But there’s more to the dream: a rock cut out of a mountain strikes the statue and smashes it to pieces. It doesn’t just destroy the feet (representing the final kingdom); rather, it demolishes the whole statue. This rock is the kingdom of God. And that’s exactly what this rock has done–again and again! The rule of God enters human history, and it overwhelms the power-hungry kingdoms of humans. It happened during the time of Daniel. This pagan king had numerous opportunities to humbly confess the power and deliverance of God (2:47; 3:28f; 4:34ff). It happened a generation later when God worked through Cyrus to return his people to Israel. It happened again when Jews faced the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, and many resisted the urge to adjust, adapt, and follow all the rules. But it happened supremely in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The people with all the fame and power–Caesar Augustus, Herod the Great, Archelaus, Antipas, Caesar Tiberius, Pontius Pilate–were no match for this one who described himself as “meek and humble in heart.” Through his righteous life and death, the kingdom of God broke in with power and force. This rule of God continues today–though not in its fulness as it will when Christ returns. During this time when the values of the kingdom come into such sharp contrast with the values of this world, God’s people continue praying, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” During the years that my daughter was becoming more feeble and then following her death, I was drawn to the magnetic writings of Diane Komp. Dr. Komp is a pediatric oncologist who lost–and then found again!!–her faith in the pediatric ICU. She writes of the compelling stories of faith that sprang from dark places. One of those stories is about a six year old whom she calls Sammy. She bonded quickly with Sammy and his mother, but was distraught because he never responded well to treatment. There were very few days after they met that he could even go home. One day Dr. Komp chatted with Sammy’s mother about the latest test results. In the room with him were three other brain-damaged boys. One had fallen from a window; another had been beaten; a third was the victim of a hit-and-run. “The room was a vegetable garden, filled with wilting young life,” she remembers. She had noticed that Sammy was listening to some music, though it was turned down so as to not disturb others. But all of a sudden he turned over and cranked up his little yellow tape recorder. The music blared: We declare that the kingdom of God is here! We declare that the kingdom of God is here! The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame man is walking, Sicknesses flee at his voice. The dead live again and the poor hear the good news. Jesus is King, so rejoice! When the song was over, he felt for the buttons and rewound it. The testimony–like light in the darkness–screamed out again: “We declare that the kingdom of God is here!” When the song ended, Dr. Komp asked him, “You really believe that, don’t you, kiddo?” She knew Sammy believed. The bigger question was, Did she? The most counter-cultural thing the church can do is to continue praying “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . .” For this rock (the reign of God) has come and smashed the strongholds of this earth. And it continues beating away. One day this kingdom will come in its fullness. There will be no more death, no suffering, no terrorism, and no weeping for the people of God. No wonder the church continues to pray, “Maranatha. Come, O Lord.”

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Jerry's sermon this morning was profound. Speaking from Matthew 6:1-18, he talked about the addiction of approval. I would encourage everyone to download it from our podcast (in a couple days) and listen to it. Many of us probably need to hear it about once a month!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Most years no one wanted to bother running against Bob Hunter. It wasn't worth the time and effort. Bob has been such a respected state representative that he always cruised through elections--with or without opponents. Bob was never afraid to cross political boundaries to support important causes. This year he isn't running for reelection because he's battling prostate cancer. So my friend Mel Hailey has tossed his hat in the ring. Mel will soon know who his opponent is. There are four good candidates in the Republican primary. And if Susan King happens to slip past Rob Beckham (who's surely the favorite to win), Mel will have to work to get Diane's vote. Diane, like many public school teachers, is a big fan of Susan. She has worked hard, following in the tradition of Betty Davis, to be an advocate for both students and teachers in the Abilene Independent School District. Of course one other possibility is that Beckham and King could split a lot of the same voting constituency, and one of the other two candidates (John Young and Kevin Christian--both of whom are impressive) could forge ahead. Or what if the three Abilene candidates (Beckham, King, Christian) split the Abilene vote, and Young carried Sweetwater? My guess? Mel will be facing Rob Beckham. But whoever wins will be filling the position of a very good state rep! Thanks, Bob Hunter, for these many years of service to our district.

Friday, February 24, 2006

From the No-Wonder-So-Many-People-Hate-Christianity Department: A dozen states are scrambling to restrict picketing at funerals. They're doing it because Pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, consider it their mission to protest at the funerals of American troops. They believe that what's happening in Iraq is God's judgment on America for our toleration of gays. "Thank God for IEDs" (improvised explosive devices) and "God Hates Fag Enablers" read their signs. "By your love they will know you are my disciples," said Jesus. But then, so much of Christianity has nothing to do with Jesus. - - - - Sixteen guys at our 20th and final meeting. As I wrote a couple days ago, we began in 1987 as young preachers. At the time our ages ranged from 29-41. Now, 19 years later (making 20 years) we're 48-60. At times life has been hard. But through it all we've gathered each year to share our journeys. We've always known that no matter what happened there were other guys praying. What's so very strange right now is knowing that we won't be doing this again. We won't get the regular update--at least like we're used to--on marriages, children (and now, grandchildren), ministries, hopes, disappointments. What a privilege it's been. We began as a group meeting to talk about expository preaching. Thanks to the honesty of a couple guys in "the circle" our first year, we quickly became something else. "Band of brothers" is a bit overworked. But that's what we've been. Diane and I are fortunate to have other bands of brothers and sisters. And I think we all need them. We need people whom we've been with over the long haul who will take genuine interest in our story/stories, who will be completely honest with us, and who don't need to be impressed by us. As friends we'll still connect. But as a group we're defunct as of noon today. Go with God, YBB. . . .

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Earlier this week I wrote a post for this morning, knowing I wouldn't have time today. It's the one I posted earlier. But now I'm going to stop and take the time to post again. Kerri Lane died last night. She was an amazing woman--a godly mom raising two of the sweetest girls in the world (kindergarten and 4th grade) by herself. This past summer, in the midst of her battle with melanoma, she wrote these words as she meditated on the word "dance": Dancing With God When i meditated on the word Guidance, i kept seeing "dance" at the end of the word. i remember reading that doing God's will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement doesn't flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky. When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It's as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other. My eyes drew back to the word Guidance. When i saw "G: i thought of God, followed by "u" and "i". "God, "u" and "i" "dance." God, you, and i dance. As i lowered my head, i became willing to trust that i would get guidance about my life. Once again, i became willing to let God lead. My prayer for you today is that God's blessings and mercies be upon you on this day and everyday. May you abide in God as God abides in you. Dance together with God, trusting God to lead and to guide you through each season of your life. Prayer is one of the best gifts we can receive. There is no cost but a lots of rewards; so let's continue to pray for one another. i hope you dance...and let Him lead! And now, I hope you're dancing, my dear friend. Thank you for being Jesus among us. We'll never be the same.

I weary of the triumphal claims made by some about healing. Here's the truth: lots of godly people who pray for healing don't get well--at least not in the way they hoped for. It isn't because God doesn't love them or because not enough people had real faith. So much damage is done by supersaints who claim that healing is a done deal to those who believe. Yet on the other hand, we aren't deists. We believe that God hasn't retired and that at times there are hints of the future healing even now--thanks not to some super-healer but thanks to the Healer himself. Typical Ed Fudge balance: HEALING IN PERSPECTIVE Edward Fudge Feb 12, 2006 Someone has said that error is truth out of proportion. Balanced truth takes into account the great biblical doctrines of Creation, the Fall, Redemption, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the End. In such perspective, biblical revelation resembles a polished diamond which sparkles in all directions. To that end, and after four decades of adult reflection on the topic and praying for the sick, I offer seven biblical perspectives on divine healing -- charting a scriptural course, I believe, between some extremes often heard today. 1. We may affirm that God's will for his creation is health and wholeness. We may deny that God is the author of sin, disease or death. (Gen. 1:27, 31.) 2. We may affirm that sickness, like all the world's brokenness, is an ultimate result of human sin. We may deny that specific wickness or trouble is necessarily related to any specific sin, or to the sin of any particular individual. (Rom. 5:12; 8:20-22; John 9:1-3; Book of Job.) 3. We may affirm that God, by Christ's redemptive work, will finally restore to its intended wholeness the creation he has made. This includes our bodies and whole selves. We may deny that God is interested only in our "soul" or "spirit," or that redemption excludes from its final benefits complete wholeness for the entire person. (Isa. 53:4-5; Phil. 3:20-21.) 4. We may affirm that this full redemption will not come until the resurrection at the End. Until then, even God's believing people continue to share in elements of the Fall. We may deny that even mature believers can always expect perfect health and wholeness now, or that their sicknesses necessarily reflect any personal fault or lack of faith. (1 Cor 15:42-49; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:4.) 5. We may affirm that, because of Christ's atonement and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost, we may begin even now to share in God's victory over sin and its consequences. This victory at times includes the healing of the body, mind and relationships, in ways that exceed human prediction, understanding or ability to produce. We may deny that God has stopped working in the world and in our lives, or that we must wait until the End to see any signs of our redemption. (Eph. 1:18-21; 3:16; 3:20; Heb. 6:4-5.) 6. We may affirm that all health and healing is God's gift, regardless of the means by which it comes or the speed with which it occurs. For all health and healing we should give God thanks and praise. We may deny that health or healing ever occur apart from God's sovereign grace, or that so-called "natural" processes are any less the supernatural work of God. (Ps. 103:1-3.) 7. We may affirm that God gives us many means of wellness. These include, but are not limited to, the body's "natural" processes, healthy physical, mental and emotional habits and lifestyles, the special ministry of those who practice the healing arts, the loving attention of family and friends, and also effective, believing prayer. In times of illness, we should gratefully apply all appropriate means, asking for God's healing according to our needs and his glory. We may deny that Christians ought to spurn or neglect any appropriate means of good health or healing, since to do so violates both Scripture-revelation and common sense. (Phil. 4:3-7; 1 Tim. 5:23; Col. 4:14; see also Sirach 38.)__________________________________ Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit. Visit our multimedia website at http://www.edwardfudge.com.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The new issue of Wineskins is on unity and has several excellent articles. (Great job, GT.) But please, please don't miss the article entitled "Circle of Fire: Barton Stone and a Spiritual Model of Unity" by Gary Holloway at wineskins.org. This piece by Gary, a member of the Bible faculty at Lipscomb, confirms again my belief that, under the leadership of Randy Lowry, a lot of growth and renewal is going to come to that campus. - - - - Last night I talked briefly about my first place to preach. One year while I was a student at Harding, I drove every Sunday with Stan Granberg and our girlfriends (now our wives) to Allred, Arkansas. One of us would preach in the morning while the other led singing. Then we switched roles in the evening. I haven't been back to that tiny church in central Arkansas since 1978, but I've never forgotten it. What an important role those good folks played on my development as a preacher and, more importantly, as a follower of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Later this week I'll be meeting about 20 guys whom I've met with for a day or two each year for 20 years, usually right after the ACU lectureship. When we started we were all young preachers in Churches of Christ. Through the years, there have been lots of ups and downs that we've celebrated together and grieved together. We've connected with each other through divorce, death, struggles, firings, career changes, and denominational changes. Of the original group, three or four chose to drop out at some point through the years. But, amazingly, the vast majority kept making the pilgrimage to share our stories with each other and pray for each other. We're no longer young. Several aren't preachers. And some aren't in Churches of Christ. It has been a powerful thing to be connected with these brothers through the years. And while our regular gatherings will end, the history and the friendships won't, I'm sure. - - - - Last night, David Fleer's message was excellent. He walked us through the text of John 4 with the image of a slideshow. In one of his slides, he asked us to imagine him standing at customs with two bags: the baggage he was trying to bring into the text. It was a good reminder that we have an incredibly hard time hearing texts when we come with our preconceived notions. Tonight is my turn at the ACU lectureship. My text is John 6 where Jesus says, "I am the bread of life." I dreamed the night before last that I forgot my audience could speak English and I tried stumbling through in Spanish. It was a tiring night as I kept trying to remember how to say things. As a fan of bread, I love driving past the Mrs. Baird's store factory on the way home. And I love standing around the tortilla machine at HEB. And I love it when the hot fresh bread comes out at Johnny Carino's. So how about you -- what's the very best bread you've ever had?

Monday, February 20, 2006

This morning I'm supposed to talk about how and why I got into blogging. I'm just trying to remember how and why I got into this class. I just looked back to see what my first blog entry was about. It was on August 4, 2003, which is probably old by blogging standards. Here it is: Monday, August 04, 2003 We just returned from Pensacola Beach--our 15th straight year in the same condo (since 1989). It is now like holy ground. We can look out at the sand on the gulf on one side and the sand on the Santa Rosa Sound on the other side and picture our children. We remember taking a little boy and his younger sister. We remember taking the brand new baby in 1992. We can still see Megan there during her very ill days. We recall clearly the first summer of grief following her death. And now this year, we got to return with our boys and a girl (who next year will be our daughter-in-law). It has been a sanctuary, an oasis, a respite, an emergency care center through this decade and a half. We have swam, played tennis, bought fresh fish at Joe Patti's, eaten the best grouper sandwich in the world from Peg Leg Pete's, jumped in the waves, collected shells, biked, thrown baseballs, played Uno and Hearts, read, listened to Jimmy Buffett and Michael W. Smith (not together usually), watched movies, prayed, and grown deeply in our love. - - - - Last night's lectureship got off to a good start with Zoe leading the singing. I was reminded of what a steady, godly leader Royce Money has been for the past decade and a half. He and Don Jeanes, president of Milligan College (a school associated with the Independent Christian Churches), shared the evening lecture.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

As I sit here in my office praying over this text that won't let me go--Matthew 5:43-48--I remember these words of William Willimon: "'The Trouble with you preachers is that you are always talking about something so far removed from my world, where I really live, as to be incomprehensible. Keep your sermons close to the real world,' he said to me as we shook hands at the church door. "I turned his criticism into a homiletical compliment. Where did he get the idea that a preacher ought to defer to 'my world'? Most good sermons have a quarrel with popular definitions of 'the real world.' I ought not simply to address the world where people currently reside. Rather, I ought to move their citizenship to a new world."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Several years I went to the National Prayer Breakfast. It was a good experience, but there was nothing there that year quite like Bono's prophetic words this year. - - - - Thanks to a reader of this blog, there will be Krispy Kreme donuts at our 8:30 class Monday morning at the ACU lectureship. Greg Kendall-Ball, Travis Stanley, and I are teaching a class called "Blogging Isn't a Dirty Word." We'd love for you to come, but please know that it is BYOM. (Bring your own milk. We'll have the donuts.) - - - - Here's your warning: Sheryl Thomas is singing "A Living Prayer" at the very beginning of our service. Don't be late! Here's the Sunday assembly order: "A Living Prayer" (zoe) The Lord's Prayer "How Great Is Our God" "We Will Worship You" "Ancient of Days" "Blessed Be Your Name" "You Were There" (zoe) Communion thoughts and prayers: Clint and Alana Logue "The Bread Has Been Broken" "Mighty Is the Power of the Cross" Family Concerns Pastoral Prayer "Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy" Message (Matthew 5:43-48) "Lord, Reign in Me" "I Belong to Jesus" Benediction

Friday, February 17, 2006

I've always been a runner. I've enjoyed both jogging with friends (thousands of miles with Leon in the Searcy days) and training alone in early morning hours. I've had fun with 5Ks, 10Ks, and marathons. All right, "fun" is a bit too strong a word for the marathons. But the overall experiences were fun. (Who wouldn't like running 26 miles through all five boroughs of NYC?) One year I set these goals: to run under a 19-minute 5K, under a 39-minute 10K, and under a 3:15 marathon to quality for Boston--all goals which I barely met (18:58, 38:18, and 3:14:53). But for now my calves are goofed up a bit. I think that's the official medical designation. So I climb stairs at the health club, play hoops with Chris, hike when I'm around mountains, and ride my bike. In other words, for the time being I'm not a runner. But that's hard to say. Because I've always been a runner. Does that happen a lot as you age? Are there things that get left behind that were part of your self-identity? Maybe that's why our most central identity needs to be connected with being a Christ-follower. Age can't take that away. In fact, in many ways age enhances it. - - - - This Sunday I've come to a text that still shocks me: Matthew 5:43-48. I so want to domesticate this text, to soften its blow, to make it fit our world better. It's too outrageous. (By the way, Chris and I just went to see "End of the Spear," where the text is lived out.) Can't wait to have Zoe join us Sunday morning as I paddle in water over my head with these words of Jesus.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Check out www.nomoregoats.com to see the exciting plans of a young Highland couple! - - - - Good words from Wade Hodges, this year's director of the Tulsa Workshop, in response to some criticism that's been raised about this year's program. I'm looking forward to doing a keynote and joining my amigo Randy Harris in a class called "Totally Outrageous Stories for a Troubled World." - - - - One thing I heard Bob Russell say recently that really resonated with me is that church leaders face the constant temptation to spend 50% of their time on the criticisms of 5% of the members. That can suck the energy out of any leadership team! People who criticize need to be heard. But the amount of criticism and the variety of criticism and the pettiness of some of the criticism -- well, after a while it wears people out. Last night's elders' meeting reminded me again of how thankful I am to be part of a leadership team that knows what the kingdom of God is about. Prayers for a mission team, prayers for a young man who's life has dramatically changed, prayers for a beloved woman whose service has blessed many, prayers for a teenager who wants a family, prayers for a visiting eldership, prayers for struggling marriages, prayers for the hungry, the hurting, and the lost, prayers of thanks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

We all know how important small groups are to churches. The larger you get, the smaller you must get. But here's my question: what should those groups be doing? I love the Larry Crabb vision of groups as a place of intergenerational connecting where we engage each other deeply with gospel values. We learn one another's stories and help each other through prayer, encouragement, mentoring, and guidance. But these groups CAN be so inwardly focused. At the conference I was just at, the senior minister said that he upset many in the church by changing the nature of small groups. Formerly, people drove all over the city to be with people they wanted to be with. Now, instead, they are put in small groups with people they live by. The purpose of these groups is largely evangelistic. You meet with people you live by, and you all invite those who are around you. He said that every Sunday night people all over town see members of his church (10,000 people) walking down the streets to their small groups. Should small groups grow and divide? Should they stay the same over the long haul to encourage intimacy and shared stories? Should they be primarily about evangelism or Bible study or prayer or ministry? I know this doesn't have to be an either/or. But I'd like to hear from others: what's you're experience in small groups? What has been valuable? What suggestions do you have for others?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day, my dear. Our first date was 29 years ago today. "Through it all, love remains." L, M. - - - - If you want to know more about why I think Albert Pujols is the greatest player in baseball (besides sheer talent), check here. - - - - For today, a classic piece from Henri Nouwen, taken from his "secret journal," written during a difficult time in his life: "Giving yourself to others without expecting anything in return is only possible when you have been fully received. Every time you discover that you expect something in return for what you have given or are disappointed when nothing comes back to you, you are being made aware that you yourself are not yet fully received. Only when you know yourself as unconditionally loved--that is, fully received--by God can you give gratuitously. Giving without wanting anything in return is trusting that all your needs will be provided for by the One who loves you unconditionally. It is trusting that you do not need to protect your own security but can give yourself completely to the service of others. "Faith is precisely trusting that you who give gratuitously will receive gratuitously, but not necessarily from the person to whom you gave. The danger is in pouring yourself out to others in the hope that they will fully receive you. You will soon feel as if others are walking away with parts of you. You cannot give yourself to others if you do not own yourself, and you can only truly own yourself when you have been fully received in unconditional love. "A lot of giving and receiving has a violent quality, because the givers and receivers act more out of need than out of trust. What looks like generosity is actually manipulation, and what looks like love is really a cry for affection or support. When you know yourself as fully loved, you will be able to give according to the other's capacity to receive, and you will be able to receive according to the other's capacity to give. You will be grateful for what is given to you without clinging to it, and joyful for what you can give without bragging about it. You will be a free person, free to love." (The Inner Voice of Love)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Today I'm interviewing Jerry Taylor, a member of the Bible faculty at ACU and the new associate preaching minister for Highland. How can I say this simply? THE GUY CAN PREACH. In fact, he's giving a keynote address this year at the North American Christian Convention (the annual gathering of leaders of the Christian Churches). Jerry, would you tell us a little about the New Wineskins Retreat that you helped start? How did it begin? The New Wineskins Retreat came into being as a result of an initial meeting of several young African American ministers gathered together to prayerfully discern as clearly as we could God's direction for leadership in our generation. Most, if not all in attendance, were those who had been marginalized by the power structure of African American churches of Christ because of views we had publicly espoused or because of questions we had raised in honest evaluation and critique of our religious heritage. There were no existing public forums within African American churches of Christ that provided an open environment that welcomed or embraced the thinking and questioning minds in our fellowship. Many of us had gone to graduate schools that trained us in the area of critical thinking. We soon discovered that our national church viewed critical thinking and evaluation of long standing cherished doctrinal beliefs and practices as being heretical and blasphemous. We received the message loud and clear that such attempts to lead people into rethinking, questioning and evaluating their socially inherited religious belief system would be veiwed, exposed and treated as a threat to the core identity of African American churches of Christ. We were often the subject of brotherhood web sites, books, letters, emails, and publications. We were made to feel unwelcomed and unwanted at the national events of African American churches of Christ. More and more we felt like outcasts that had been unofficially withdrawn from and rejected. It was as though the most trained ministers among African American churches of Christ had become a colony of lepers evicted from their own community of faith and relocated to an emotional location of isolation. What are its purposes? The purpose of the retreat is to create a safe and welcoming place where ministers and church leaders can come without hidden agendas and find encouragement, spiritual nurture and fellowship. Our intention is to serve as a non-threatening environment wherein persecuted church leaders in our fellowship can experience spiritual formation as well as intellectual stimulation. The New Wineskins Retreat is a City of Refuge for the persecuted who speak prophetically about the legalistic dogmatism that runs rampantly throughout our national fellowship. The retreat serves as a haven of hope for those who feel the only option they have is to totally disconnect from churches of Christ. It serves as one place within the fellowship of African American churches of Christ that people who engage in critical thinking and sound reasoning can feel at home. The retreat started out as predominantly African American men in 2000. Since then we have sought to become more racially and gender inclusive. This year's retreat at Pepperdine will have all women presenters who will speak for themselves to a majority male audience. We hope that the retreat will serve as a mechanism in the creation of a genuine annual fellowship that will model for the churches of Christ both black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, etc. what the body of Christ should look like. We believe that the retreat is a national event that serves as a good starting point for leaders within churches of Christ to experience at a spiritual and intuitive level a small community given to the practice of authentic racial and gender harmony. Have you seen any progress in race relations within Churches of Christ? I have seen a greater degree of mixing and mingling on a superficial or social level. We have made some progress in that we are finding it safe to be in one another's physical company. The challenge before us is to progress beyond the physical realm of relating. We are now called to progress into the area of spiritual intimacy and soul connection at a spiritual, emotional, and intuitive level with those who are racially different from ourselves. In order to genuinely relate racially we all must be willing to die to the lordship of our race and cultural conditioning. We cannot serve two masters, we cannot serve both God and race/culture. It will not be until we are connected to one another in Christ at the level of soul that we will no longer separate from each other on the barren grounds of race. I think we have made some progress in that we are now committed to what Peter Senge calls the "espoused theory." The social and political climate in our nation makes it safe for us to publicly espouse the theory of racial harmony within churches of Christ. Senge makes it clear that the "espoused theory" is very different from the actual "theory in use." He maintains that it is the actual "theory in use" that governs our interactions with other people, and not the "espoused theory." It is the split between "espoused theory" and "theory in use" that tempts us towards hypocrisy. We are tempted to preach, teach and sing about a theory of racial harmony and inclusion while simultaneously racially conducting ourselves according to a theory that is totally contrary to the one we espouse. How can readers assist the goals of New Wineskins? We meet annually. Many of the participants are working with small ministries that they have started in an attempt to plant healthy congregations. Their small struggling congregations are unable to send them to the retreat. Many of them, including the retreat presenters, have attended the retreat at their own expense. We are forever thankful to the Richland Hills church of Christ for serving as a host congregation last year and for giving a grant of $10,000.00 which paid for the travel and lodging for 50 ministers and church leaders who would have otherwise been unable to attend. We had 75 to 100 people in attendance. This was a tremendous encouragement. We ask readers to pray that we will be blessed with the resources to help others attend this year as well.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Please be sure and find Clint's comment in yesterday's blog -- along with some of the responses from others. He's an amazing man of God whose life took a sudden turn in a minor, freakish motorcycle accident with major consequences. - - - - The "Invisible Children" presentation tonight was convicting. If it comes anywhere near you, please be sure to go. The one-hour documentary was amazing enough, but the ten-minute clip that followed with some of the responses of high school and university students is stunning.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

In addition to giving the Tuesday night message at the ACU lectureship, I apparently agreed to join Travis and Greg, two ACU M. Div. students, in a class on blogging. It's for those who can't fit into Randy Harris's class -- or any of the other excellent classes. Monday morning, February 20. Come join the fun. By the way, I think it would help attendance if we could get ahold of some Krispy Kreme donuts. Anyone coming in from the metroplex that morning? Travis and Greg, any other promises we could make? - - - - Don't miss the showing of "The Invisible Children" tomorrow (Sunday) evening at Highland at 6:00. Get more info through www.acu.edu.

Friday, February 10, 2006

All abuse coming to me is richly deserved. A pastors' conference in Kauai? Those Christian Church guys know how to pick a conference site. In Churches of Christ, we usually go for exotic places like Abilene, Lubbock, and Midland. (Well, there is that annual pilgrimage to Malibu.) Actually, I think this was exotic even for them. They went there because this is the last year for Bob Russell (who I think maybe started the group many years ago) as senior pastor of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville--a church of about 19,000. This year is the 100th anniversary of the formal division between Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, so it's one of many activities planned together. Building megachurches is no longer a big vision for me. I more prefer the idea of sending out Christ-followers who will seep into every crevice of society as they participate in the mission of Jesus. This may result in large churches, small churches, cell churches, etc. Having said this, it was wonderful to meet so many of these men and women who have given their lives for evangelism. Very inspiring. (Some of the specific lessons I learned I'll try to come back to later.) They have built churches that have preached and lived the good news. We come from different backgrounds, different schools (theirs tend to be Bible colleges and ours tend to be universities), different conferences, different churches, etc. But we have so much heritage in common. One of their ministers told me that it seems to him that they were trained to be evangelists while we were trained to be theologians. That's exaggerated, of course. But it does indicate that we could certainly use the help each group could offer the other. Now -- about Kauai. What can I say? (Unnecessary note to Highland members: yes, we paid our own way.) Diane and I love to hike together, so we hiked all over the canyon: on the stunning Kalalau trail (with views of the Na Pali coast), to the top of the Sleeping Giant on the west-side trail, to the bottom of Wailua Falls, and on parts of several trails through Waimea Canyon. I also snorkeled a little, but Diane thought the water was a wee bit cold. Against my best judgment (with a touch of acrophia that only kicks in with tiny aircraft, bridges, and some buildings -- all things made by people -- I feel pretty good on things that God made like mountains), we took a helicopter ride that is one of the most amazing things I've ever done for sheer beauty. We missed the last part of the conference. A 7th grade basketball game to get back to, you know.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Diane and I just finished a flight through the night to get to LAX. I canNOT sleep well on a plane at night. We've been at a "megachurch senior pastors" conference that is held annually by senior pastors of Christian churches. This year there were five of us (out of about fifty) from Churches of Christ. It was a good gathering. I'll try to write more later. But now I'm seriously tired.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Chris has been getting to hang with my mom this week while we've been out of town. (More on that later.) Through the years, Grandma and Papa have been lifesavers. At times, the kids have gone to Missouri; at other times Grandma has come to our home. When Megan was alive, once a year Mom would keep the kids for a week. It's hard to explain what a gift that was. Megan, our beloved daughter, was challenging. Mentally-handicapped, of course. But on the go all the time, seldom napping and sleeping very little at night. In her stronger days, she marched around the house getting into things 22-7. Family was wonderful. But marriage was hard. We were always tired. Those trips always rejuvenated us. Once we left for 10 days. I was a guest speaker for a Christian group on a cruise. (I believe with politicians we call this a junket.) When we returned we were tanned and rested. Mom was looking a bit worn. She smiled and said, "I think I'm a 7-day grandma." We learned later that she had called a friend and offered her a hundred million dollars to come take over for half an hour. Now it's not quite so challenging, but there's still no one better than Grandma to take over when Mom and Dad are gone.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Today, I am interviewing one of my elders, David Wray, for the blog. There's so much I could tell you about David. First, the obvious. The guy is tall. Real tall (6'9"). Have you seen "Glory Road"? The year after they won the national title, David played against them when he was ACU's center. He's a godly husband, father, and granddad. As an elder, he is a constant source of wisdom. He has more administrative gifts in his pinkie than I have in my whole body. And he's been a guiding force of spirituality in my life. I've talked to lots of ACU students who describe his spiritual formation class as one of the most significant times of their lives. So today, I'm asking him a few questions about spiritual formation. 1. What do we mean by "spiritual formation"? In a sentence, spiritual formation is the process of maturing (some add "yielding one's self to being conformed") into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of others. The objective is integrating the virtues and practices of Jesus into the daily life of every disciple of Jesus. Growing in the Christlife includes spiritual information, spiritual formation and spiritual transformation. Spiritual information requires being people of scripture. Christlikeness requires that Christians live in the gospels and there discover the heart, thoughts, and behaviors of Jesus. If we are to imitate him, we must rationally think through the principles by which he taught, related to people, and practiced disciplines that we refer to as "spiritual disciplines." Sermons, daily reading and reflecting on scripture, Bible classes, small group Bible studies, and many other forums enhance one's maturing in spiritual information. Spiritual formation places high value on relationships and spiritual community. In addition to information about Jesus, all disciples need brothers and sisters who provide mentoring, spiritual direction, encouragement, accountability, equipping for ministry, and shepherding. Authentic spiritual community is required in the formation process. No one is able to make the journey of life without brothers and sisters in the Lord. Small groups, shepherding groups, parenting, mission trips, and many other venues provide ideal opportunities for spiritual formation. Spiritual disciplines encourage Christians in contemplative spirituality (listening to God, "wasting time" with God) Spiritual transformation often occurs through losses and times of struggle. Almost all disciples experience times of the "dark night of the soul" as they move through life. These times require that Christians draw on scripture (spiritual information) and spiritual community (spiritual formation) to regain mental, emotional, and spiritual equilibrium. 2. Why has this become such a passion of your heart in your teaching at ACU, at Highland, and around the country? Historically those associated with the Stone/Campbell movement relied heavily on rational spiritually. Convinced that biblical knowledge leads to holy living, we emphasized sermons and Bible classes. Campbell was fond of saying "come let us reason together." When problems arose in our congregations, church leaders admonished the preacher to develop a sermon series on the subject or asked educational leadership to develop classes to solve the issue. Convinced that information primarily made disciples of Jesus, we eagerly embraced teaching/learning innovations to insure biblical literacy. We now realize that our sermons and worship assemblies engaged left brained (linear and sequential) people while often ignoring right brained (spontaneous and relational) people. Since Bible study provided our organizational principle we invested billions of dollars on "auditoriums" (our language betrays us--others call their assembly space "worship centers" or "sanctuaries") and classrooms. Spiritual formation provides a path that appreciates spiritual information, but encourages us to drink from other streams of holiness, social justice, authentic spiritual community, and the inner life (solitude, silence, prayer). Thankfully many Christians currently live more holistically as they grow spiritually through their intellects, emotions, and relationships. This emphasis on holistic spirituality draws disciples out of the fortress church buildings and into the marketplace to live for the sake of others. This natural result of the spiritual formation process requires congregations to transition toward missional principles. Instead of congregations existing mostly to educate themselves and provide members with "goods" and "services," church leaders are encouraging disciples to welcome, receive, and embrace the reign of God, the kingdom of God, everywhere they find it, inside and outside the church building. 3. How would you help people get started exploring "spiritual formation"? Are there a couple books you could recommend or conferences that you might point people to? I argue that spiritual formation is more than reading and thinking, although both are a part of the process, but not the whole. Maturing Christians need time for reading, meditating, and contemplating, but they also need immersion experience where they walk along side people trapped in poverty and oppression, where they engage in short term (and longer term) mission experiences, and where they engage in spiritual formation groups. I also recommend ministries such as "Walk To Emmaus," "retreats for solitude, silence, and prayer," and seeking spiritual direction (ancient practice of gaining spiritual wisdom and discernment for seasoned disciple of Jesus). Having provided this disclaimer, Richard Foster provides disciples desiring to grow in Christlikeness with helpful literature. Recommended books by Foster include: Celebration of Disciplines, and Streams of Living Water. A second contemporary author of spiritual formation literature is Dallas Willard. Christians desiring to continue growing in the image of Christ benefit from his writings which include: The Spirit of the Disciplines, Divine Conspiracy, and Renovation of the Heart. Most of the thirty plus books by Henri Nouwen provide encouragement for disciples to grow deeper into Christlikeness.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Here are the Cliff Notes to the book of Revelation: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) That's one way to say it. Another way is with a zoo (lamb, horses, eagle, locusts, leopard, bear, lion, beast), numbers (3.5, 7, 12, 1000, 144,000, 666), symbols (seals, trumpets, thunders, bowls, plagues, horns, eyes, stars), and cosmic catastrophes. It is the way of imagination. And it's critical for people who are needing to be faithful in the face of persecution and the temptation toward accomodation (i.e., the temptation to try to fit into the culture a wee bit too easily in order to blend in -- see the letters to the seven churches). Revelation has little to do with Hal Linday's The Late, Great Planet Earth and not all that much to do with the Left Behind series. It is not a cryptogram of all things that will break forth in history. It is a word that speaks to those who feel like all hell has broken lose. Yesterday in class I asked our students if some of them had been there. Heart-breaking stories were shared for about fifteen minutes. Such young lives. Such great pain. So we ask with John, "Who can stand?" (Rev. 6:1). With our view "from below" it seems like no one can. But the answer comes immediately with the view "from above": "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree" (7:1). Who can stand? The angels of God! It may appear to us that all hell has broken lose, but it hasn't. God, despite all appearances to the contrary, is ultimately in control. The middle section of Ben Witherington's excellent The Problem With Evangelical Theology is on the relatively recent, misguided interpretations of Dispensationalism. Here's part of the introduction to that section: "Unlike the case with Calvinism [which he explores in the first third], the Dispensational approach to the Bible did not arise after profound study of the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures or detailed scholarly exegesis of the text. It was a system that apparently arose in response to a vision and as a result of a pastoral concern about unfulfilled biblical prophecy, and was promulgated by various ministers and evangelists and entrepreneurs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More recently, it has often been wed with the all-too-American gospel of success and wealth, not to mention the belief that America is in some ways God's chosen instrument, though of course the Bible says nothing about America. Sometimes, in addition, one is dealing with a double problem because some highly influential Dispensationalists (e.g., Jerry Falwell) are also Calvinists as well, which makes things even more exegetically problematic. Then too, there is the problem that many if not most Messianic Jews are also Dispensationalists." I've read Revelation many times, of course. But it was a different experience this week to hear it on my ipod while working out. Part of my mind was trying to absorb the apocalyptic language, pregnant with symbols and imagery. But another part of my mind kept hearing this: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Yesterday, after a few requests, I checked into the possibility of a podcast. Here's what I found out: we already have one! It had just started, and I just didn't realize it. You can find it in Itunes by typing "Highland Church of Christ" in the search area. Not many sermons yet, but we'll add more. I'll try to make sure Randy's series is on there. Last night was amazing as he spoke about the need for deep humility as we come before the mysterious God. Now, on this I'd like your feedback . . . What do you think of the possibility of allowing ads on this site, with the money going straight into mission work? (I'd likely create some account at Highland so the money never came into my hands.) Someone just back from the Mac conference came across this idea. We counted two days this week and there was an average of 2745 "hits" each day -- apparently enough to draw the interest of potential advertisers. And no, it wouldn't be annoying pop-ups. Just a couple ads along the side. But I'm excited about the possibility of having money go straight into the work of Christ in this world. Seriously, I'd like feedback. Maybe this doesn't fit the nature of blogging.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tonight Randy Harris, a beloved member of Highland and a gift to Churches of Christ all over the world, is going to begin a three-week series called "Great Is the Mystery: God in the Darkness." (Come early for fajitas at the Oasis meal, served 5:15-6:30, if you can.) For those of you who are too far to come tonight, don't worry. Randy works this material up for his own church and then shares it everywhere! It's coming soon to a theater, I mean "church," near you. - - - - And the guest resource person for next year's Nashville and Fresno Zoe conferences is . . . Lauren Winner. For more info on this brilliant, God-filled young woman -- her bio, her books, and her blog -- you can check here. - - - - Yesterday I taught Revelation 1-5 to our 90 freshmen Bible majors. Tomorrow, it's chapters 6-22. Then Randy gets to deal with whatever difficult questions may be left--and I intend for there to be plenty! I just keep thinking: I hope I help some of these young ministry students half as much as Neale Pryor helped me. - - - - To Lee and the Gang at College Church in Fresno: The avocados you sent are ripening, and I've made guacamole five straight days. And that's with a trip to Nashville thrown in. (I made some for lunch Sunday before leaving and then for dinner Monday after returning.) - - - - Thank you, Coretta.