Mike Cope's blog

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tomorrow, this little series on the Bible will continue. But for today, here's the big news. This will, probably, be my last day to post on mikecope.blogspot.com. It's been a nice home for the past two and a half years. But beginning tomorrow, I'll be found at www.preachermike.com. The name is chosen because that's what so many of kids at Highland call me. Either "Preacher Mike," or, a few times "Creature Mike." And I like it. Still a few kinks being worked out by Greg Kendall-Ball. He and Travis Stanley have been insisting that I make this move to wordpress because of all the advantages. I have no idea exactly what those advantages are, but I trust these guys. I got into blogging because of younger guys (especially Wade--thanks!), and any improvements have come from younger guys. I don't think it'll be any harder to leave a comment. In fact, it may be easier since you won't have to decode the impossible-to-read word. You will, however, have to leave a valid e-mail that will not be posted but will available to me. If it's ready tomorrow, then anyone putting in this address will be redirected there. But you may want to go ahead and change your bookmark. Plus, if you have a link to this blog (thanks!), I'd appreciate it if you'd change that. Thanks. Preacher Mike. Dot com. - - - - A thoughtful piece by Ryan Bolger called "Maybe the Boomers Aren't the Bad Guys After All."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The B-I-B-L-E #2 Another shocking discovery of my early life was this: people wrote the Bible. Real, live people. People who did not have perfect lives or perfect insight into the mind of God. People who wrote in their language, using their own vocabulary and style. Luke's writing is polished; John's is more like someone who was trying to connect with the middle schoolers (simpler syntax and vocab). Now, again, doesn't this fall into the category of no-brainer? In one sense, yes. But somehow I'd always thought (based on a misinterpretation of a couple passages and perhaps also on my wild imagination) that the Bible was dropped from heaven. Maybe delivered by the Holy Spirit dressed like a dove. Several OT writers quoted bits of information they had looked up. Luke said he did his homework before sitting down at the computer. And, almost certainly, Matthew and Luke peeked at Mark's gospel while writing their own. Jude peeked at 2 Peter. Or vice versa. Or maybe they shared a common source. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he had baptized only Crispus and Gaius. Then he remembered that he'd also baptized the household of Stephanas, so he added that as kind of a footnote. He also told them that on one matter he had no instruction from the Lord, but he gave his own judgment (7:25). Frankly, not everything in the Bible is quite as smooth as I used to imagine. There are jars and clashes. Was Jesus' Nazareth sermon early in his ministry (Luke) or much later (Matthew, Mark)? Was Jairus's daughter dead (Matthew) or nearly dead (Mark -- maybe this falls into the Princess Bride's category of "mostly dead") when Jairus found Jesus? Did the cursing of the fig tree happen before (Mark) or after (Matthew) Jesus' entry into Jerusalem? Was it one demon-possessed man (Mark, Luke) or two (Matthew)? And was it at Gerasenes, Gergesenes, or Gadarenes -- or are those the same place? For a while I tried forcing explanations so that there were no problems, but I eventually had to admit (with some encouragement from my professors) that this was disingenuous. And this is just the beginning. Clashes and jars. When we labor under our Western assumptions of HOW THE BIBLE OUGHT TO BE, that's extremely problematic. But what if scripture isn't bound by our assumptions of what it ought to be? So, were the writers of the Bible guided by God? That's what I believe by faith. Instructed in some sense by the Holy Spirit? That's my conviction. Producing authoritative documents that are able to guide the church in teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)? Yup. Do I still have confidence in scripture? I'll let my years of preaching, teaching, and writing stand as an answer to that question. I have more appreciation for scripture than I used to. More desire to live under its guidance rather than to attempt to conquer it with perfect comprehension. More eagerness to catch what it intends to do: point us to Jesus. The ultimate goal isn't to defend the Bible, memorize the Bible, or understand the Bible. The goal is to let scripture point us to Jesus, committing ourselves to him and jumping into the journey of discipleship.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The B-I-B-L-E Here is one of the most shocking discoveries of my early life: the Bible has to be interpreted. I know that's a no-brainer. But I grew up thinking that what set us apart from all other religious groups is that we just believed the Bible. God said it. We believed it. That settled it. Other people had creeds. Others twisted it because they liked musical instruments or didn't like baptism. They put their trust in commentaries--the words of mere humans. But we just read the Bible. It helps to live an insular life if you want to hold onto that belief. Because when you begin engaging Christ-followers from other groups, you quickly realize that many of them think about the same thing. But the Bible has to be interpreted. In a sense, that happens even in the earliest stages of translation. Those translating the Bible from Hebrew (and a bit of Aramaic) in the OT and Greek in the NT have to make choices. How do they translate a passage when it's ambiguous? How do they express in English a word that seems to have a wide range of meanings? Several times I've heard people jealous because I can read the Greek New Testament. Hey, seven years of Greek and you'd be there, too! They wish they could just read what the text says. Guess what? It's a blessing to be able to do that and it's helpful to know what the original text said (as best we could piece it together from manuscripts--since we don't have any original copies of the NT books), BUT . . . you still have to interpret. Reading Greek rarely makes things more obvious. Otherwise, all the Greek-readers would be unified. We are not unique because be follow the Bible. Or because we're nervous of creeds. Or because we like the "plain meaning of the text." As I've led discussions about the ministry of women, I've often heard people say, "We shouldn't make the Bible say what we want it to say." I agree. Absolutely. But let's also be honest about this: none of us comes to scripture completely objective and unbiased. All of us are having to use tools of interpretation. I don't want to twist scripture. I want to live under its authority. But I also have to humbly admit that this is harder than I might have imagined. This recognition demands two things from us: First, it demands community. We need to read scripture together--with other Christians we know and with believers from other times, places, and denominations. As people seeking to follow Jesus, we need to rely on the insights of the larger community of faith. Second, it demands humility. Before I write off other people who disagree with me, I'd better realize how very challenging this whole task of biblical interpretation has been. And it wouldn't hurt me to remember that so many wars in the world have come because everyone has their own holy book that they believe they have the inside track on how to interpret. More later . . . .

Monday, March 06, 2006

Some of the books that continue to impact me no matter how many times I return to them: Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work and Working the Angles Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: the Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and Renovation of the Heart Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence Leonard Allen, The Cruciform Church Philip Yancey, Disappointment With God N. T. Wright, Following Jesus Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament and Living Jesus - - - - Hope many of you are going to the Tulsa workshop. When you check out the schedule, notice that Friday night the speakers are Max Lucado and Bob Russell (with Zoe leading worship). Max and Bob are the ministers for the largest Church of Christ and Christian Church, respectively, but their influence has gone way beyond those two good churches--Oak Hills Church in San Antonio and Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. It will be quite a night.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Here is the picture that was supposed to go out with a Christmas letter. It's from our trip to Estes Park last summer. So "Merry Christmas from the Copes" (either very belatedly or very early). I've been working with a lot of old pictures, getting a presentation ready for a family gig. Here is my beloved's high school graduation picture (posted withOUT permission): And here she is a couple weeks ago in Kauai. (Time has been very kind to her.) - - - - Someone told me they heard people discussing my blog on an Abilene radio station earlier this week--people speculating as to why I pulled last Saturday's post. I'll drop it back on later. But I wanted OUT of that discussion. At least I didn't want some Abilene residents' first exposure to my blog to be over that discussion that began in the comments section (while I was out of town doing a very difficult graveside service). - - - - Tomorrow I'm preaching from Matthew 6 on the Lord's Prayer, which we have prayed almost every Sunday since 1995. The buzz over "The Prayer of Jabez" has died down, it seems. But right in the midst of that Buzz, James Mulholland wrote a book which begins by contrasting the prayer of Jabez with the Lord's Prayer. Here's what Eugene Peterson said about Mulholland's Praying Like Jesus: The Lord's Prayer in a Culture of Prosperity: "An astonishing number of Americans these days are being taught a prayer that is little more than being selfish on their knees. When they stand up and go about their work, they are more selfish than ever. James Mulholland will have none of it. With urgency and clarity he sends us straight to the Prayer of Jesus, the prayer that clears the air of all illusions so that we can breathe pure Spirit." Here is some of what Mulholland wrote: "Across America, hundreds of pastors are being pulled aside by excited church members who are saying, 'You have to pray this prayer. It's changed my life.' Such a testimony is hard to dispute, especially when it is a prayer that includes the requests 'bless me, enlarge my territory, keep your hand on me, and keep me from pain.' In a materialistic, self-centered culture, such a prayer will always be attractive. Many pastors will embrace this prayer wholeheartedly. They will incorporate it into worship and preach a sermon series on each phrase. They will give copies of The Prayer of Jabez to their entire congregation. They will ignore the warnings of the author that his book was not intended to justify selfishness. They will encourage their church members to begin every morning with this prayer. Unfortunately, they won't reflect on the dangers of teaching self-centered people to begin each day with the chant, 'Bless me!' They won't worry about the compromises inherent in a marriage of prayer and prosperity. They won't consider the consequences of making prayer into a device for getting what we want. In the midst of this frenzy of egotism, they will overlook the obvious--the Prayer of Jabez isn't the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. Indeed, in significant ways the Prayer of Jabez is counter to the heart of the gospel and the priorities of Jesus. It represents the advancement of self and the resistance to self-denial Jesus confronted in his day and God continues to challenge within Christianity. And, although Mr. Wilkinson has tried to redeem the words of Jabez, he has only succeeded in fanning into flame the embers of a prosperity theology many had hoped was finally dying. He forgot the reason Jesus didn't teach his disciples the Prayer of Jabez. Jabez got it wrong. In fairness to Jabez and to the Bible, neither suggest his prayer should be the model for others. This honor is reserved for another short prayer located in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. We call this prayer 'The Lord's Prayer,' though I prefer to call it the Prayer of Jesus." Well, I won't be picking on Jabez tomorrow. But I will be trying to help us imagine that counter-cultural world of this prayer--a world where the dominion of God has broken through, where his reign comes crashing through into our lives. - - - - [Added at noon] - There is an AP article all over the internet today about the work my brother and my sister-in-law are doing to help bring an extremely sick orphan to the States from Vietnam. You can read about it here, for example.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I love what's happening at the Walden Media group, the ones who produced "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Check out their website for films they have coming, including one based on the life of William Wilberforce. My buddy Darryl Tippens just heard Michael Flaherty, president of the company, speak and said he's a seriously devoted Christ-follower. - - - - Meals are such a dance with two working parents. How do you provide dinners that are fairly healthy, fairly inexpensive, fairly easy, and fairly good? Here are some of our secrets: - Taco Tuesday at Rosa's (all right, that probably doesn't meet all four criteria--but it's inexpensive, easy, and [two out of three of us believe] good!) - Roasted whole chickens from the supermarket along with the "fresh" spinach salad-in-a-bag and a loaf of fresh bread - The crock pot (Diane's magic) - The outdoor grill (my magic) along with sauteed vegies from the pre-cut fajita pack (HEB) or steamed brocolli, which we all three love - Pasta with "homemade" marinara sauce--you know, the kind that was made in someone else's home but is sold at the grocery store (we love the ones from Central Market) - Fresh guacamole and chips--along with whatever leftovers you can find in the fridge Some nights (think: Saturdays and school holidays) one of us has the time and energy--working around soccer, basketball, baseball, or football--to actually COOK a meal that looks like something from childhood. But whether the meal was thrown together quickly or put together slowly, we almost always slow down and eat together without the television on. Last night we had "Steven Curtis Chapman" on--the first time we've listened to him in a long time. Still love his music. Any other fairly quick/fairly inexpensive/fairly healthy/fairly good meal suggestions?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Highland just received an invitation to the "Contending for the Faith" lectureship with such scintillating class topics as (I kid you not): "Are We Holding a Form of Anti-ism Because We Oppose False Doctrine and False Teachers in ACU, OCU, Harding, FHU, DLU, and the Like?" "Are We Occupying an 'Anti' Position When We Oppose the Church of Christ Disaster Relief Agency?" "Anti-ism Is Not God's Answer to Liberalism" "The 'Hats-and-Hair' Doctrine Refuted" "Is There Biblical Authority to Eat in the Church Building, and If There Is Such Authority, Does That Same Authority Authorize Gymnasiums and the Like?" I have a suggestion for another class: "Is It Appropriate to Appoint a Committee to Rearrange Chairs on the Deck of the Titanic When the Whole Thing Is Sinking?" Perhaps also this one: "How to Be Opposed to Almost Everything But Still Not Be Considered Anti." - - - - My Beloved is not a morning person. There are certain times (this morning, for instance) when she has the opinion that I'm too happy, too loud, and have too many lights on. Now she's up, of course. School teacher, you know. I think she's waiting for a school board who will admit that 8:00 is too early to start school. A 10:00 - 5:00 schedule would work better for her. - - - - Here are some groups I really appreciate: Healing Hands, International Disaster Relief Effort Health Talents, International Rapha International (led by one of my former elders, Ray Hughes) Malawi Project White's Ferry Road Relief Ministries Partners in Progress International Health Care Foundation Bread for a Hungry World Manna International Of course, I know more about some of these ministries than about others. (I just finished touring one of the Healing Hands facilities, for example.) But I appreciate all these efforts to reach out to the needs of this world that God so deeply loves. Perhaps you know of other ministry groups. Right now our children have been focusing on helping one orphanage in East Africa. In light of the huge needs of the world, in one sense that isn't much. But it is something.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ah, "There's No Pulpit Like Home." . . . And, happy birthday to my friend Anna Claire. . . . And, an introduction to Good Soil Ministries, run by my brother-in-law, Steve Meeks. - - - - I mentioned recently hearing Bob Russell talk about the toll that criticism takes over the long haul. He told about an Easter service a couple years ago that he thought was the best he'd ever been part of. Knowing Bob, that means that the resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed clearly. But afterwards, an older woman came up to him and complained that it was the first Easter service she could ever remember where the song "Up From the Grave He Arose" wasn't sung. (So we're not the only ones who sing that song?) He also mentioned a guy coming to him recently after one of his messages and bragging about his sermon. But he said, "It reminds me of the kind of messages you used to preach years ago when we came to this church." Some compliments hurt. Because they are complaints with complimentary ribbons on top. A few Sundays ago, when the second assembly was over, someone came to me and said, "That was great. It really seemed like you meant it today." Uh, yeah. Thanks. I don't usually mean it. This anecdote is so small and insignificant. But Bob was right about the long haul. I'd like to continue growing into the image of Christ so much that some day I can receive every criticism. I'd like to be so centered in my inner being, so reliant on God's acceptance of me, that I could hear the truth in criticism and not be bothered by what's not true. But in the meantime . . . I'll keep reading Henri Nouwen. He struggled with the same thing! - - - - Many of you know that Gailyn and Becky Van Rheenen just lost their son, Jonathan, in a traffic accident. He recently sent out this note to friends under the heading "Unspeakable Pain." With his permission, I'm copying these poignant words here. If you'd like to drop them a note, he can be reached at vanrheeneng@acu.edu or through Mission Alive. We cry sometime every night. Will the tears stop? As many of you know, Jonathan, our affectionate first-born son, died in an accident on the evening of February 12. Jonathan died instantly in the sleeping compartment of his truck when his 18-wheeler rear-ended another truck in slow-moving traffic. His co-driver fell asleep at the wheel. Jonathan died five days short of his thirty-fifth birthday, like a reed cut down by a sickle before its time. We feel unspeakable pain -- a void, an emptiness, a vacuum that will continue until we follow him in death. Children are to bury their parents. . . . Oh, if we could have died for him! Why could not the order be reversed? Jonathan and Nicole married on July 18, 2003, and in this short period of time, had two children, Eli (20 months) and Eva (8 months). Our younger son David commented that Jon was “living the life of his dreams.” All he wanted from God in life was an affectionate wife and healthy children. Phyllis Phillips, Jonathan’s mother-in-law, asked Jonathan what he wanted for his birthday. His reply was “I have everything I want.” He loved all people equally -- whether rich or poor, black or white. While shy and unassuming, he was the consummate encourager. We remember stories of him encouraging the mechanic fixing his truck, an African student struggling to adapt to the USA, and his son while learning to walk and talk. He was a man without guile -- loving, caring, ethical, a follower of “good.” He was a wonderful father, husband, brother, and son. The words of the birthday card that we purchased before his death but never sent expresses our sentiment: Happy birthday, son. You were born to be one of a kind . . . . Since the day you were born, We knew you would grow up to be someone special. Who could have imagined that your love for life and genuine compassion for others would touch so many lives. Our son’s accident closed an interstate highway for five hours. Traffic frozen, lives on hold, thoughts racing. And then, the traffic began to flow again, first slowly, then more quickly, . . . but with a new wisdom. Life is fragile and finite. We are only visitors passing through this world. Wisdom, however, lacks understanding. “Why, oh why, God? What have you allowed Satan to do?” We have tried to put our thoughts, our struggles, our prayers on paper and thus refocus life without our first-born. During our first years in Africa, when Jon was only one year old, we heard the blasts of machine guns nightly as Idi Amin of Uganda eliminated all dissenters. We talked our way through road blocks and made final trips to nourish the first struggling Christians among the Bakonjo people in Western Uganda. By God’s might and power 9 churches grew up among the Bakonjo of Uganda. When our team was forced to flee to Kenya, our partnering elders contemplated bringing us home. But God settled us among the Kipsigis people of Kenya for the next 13 years, where He worked in His mission through our team to raise up leaders to plant over 250 local churches. We remember our time in Uganda as our time to testing: Would we stay? Would God use us in his missionaries in Africa? When we retired from Abilene Christian University to launch Mission Alive, we felt that Becky’s declining eye-sight, a disease we earthlings call Retinitis Pigmentosa (a degenerative eye disease involving loss of peripheral vision and night blindness), was our “Uganda experience,” like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment [us]” (2 Cor. 12:7). We believe that when Satan saw captives set free from addictions and lostness in our new church plantings in Fort Worth, Austin, and Lexington, and developing plans for church planting in Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Providence, and other places, he has hit us were it hurts most, the death of our child to discourage and distract. It is the nature of Satan to hinder the mission of God. He is the great tempter, hostile to God, and working to overthrow divine purposes. He is the great dragon, waiting to devour the young Child at the moment of His birth. God, however, caught Him away to another land (Rev. 13:4; cf. Matthew 2). After his baptism, he sought to turn back the ministry of Christ through temptations before the commencement of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matt. 4:1-11). Satan entered the heart of Judas (John 13:2) and through religious leaders instigated and carried out plans to kill Jesus (John 8:44). Jesus shared in our humanity “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil -- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15). To some degree we have entered into the grief of God. We know what it means to lose a son. Because we know the battle (Eph. 6:12), we will not turn back from the mission of God. We know that Satan’s work is manifest not only in the world but paradoxically also in the church. Christianity in North America has become tainted: Too many Christians have a form of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Missional renewal and church planting are desperately needed in a generation in which too many churches have accommodated to the rationalism and life styles of popular culture and do not readily reflect the majesty, glory, holiness, and love of God. We have found this death to be dirty, bloody, foul, an unimaginable separation, soul ripped from body. We have seen churches likewise die because of immorality, anger, jealousy, gossip--the lust of the flesh entering the kingdom of God. We perceive resurrection to be the opposite: glorious, aromatic, clean, unimaginable connection, soul united with its Creator. We have experienced such church renewal through affirmation of spiritual reality, focus on holiness, confession, repentance, turning to and reconnection with God. The badness is eaten up in the goodness. Morality is swallowed into immortality. Resurrection transcends death. Thus we not like those who “grieve . . . without hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). God is at work in the midst of our sadness. Churches of Christ, black and white, were brought together. Jonathan’s co-driver Eric Dickerson, who died a few hours after our son, was in training to become a deacon at the Midwest Church of Christ in Louisville. Jonathan was a member of the Westport Road Church of Christ across the city. Christian leaders from the two churches came to both visitations and memorial services and cried on each others’ shoulders. Nicole amazingly attended Eric’s funeral to give support to his wife Sherri. Black and white, too divided in life, coming together in death! Eric and Jonathan were loving husbands and parents and Christian role models. May they enjoy God’s presence together! . . . We are thankful for the thousands of people who have sent us words of comfort through emails, cards, and telephone calls. You are comforting us through unbearable pain. Please pray for us, Jonathan’s wife Nicole, their children Eli and Eva, and his siblings Rebecca, Deborah, and David.