Found: An Un-Preachy Preacher

December 14, 2010

To my knowledge, Preacher Mike is the first church authority — sorry Mike, couldn’t think of another descriptor — to pay attention to ThumpMe.

For political reasons, I pretend to read many blogs, but I actually read Preacher Mike’s because it’s interesting and un-preachy (new word).

Preacher Mike (Mike Cope) lives in Abilene, Texas and teaches at Abilene Christian University. He’s also the vice president of the non-profit educational organization Heartbeat. The Heartbeat What Really Matters project facilitates discussion about the things that matter — friendship, decision-making, social injustice. Cope joined the project after his young daughter, Megan, died in 1994.

Though he doesn’t know it, Preacher Mike is the reason I finally sought an answer to one of life’s nagging questions: What the hell is the difference between a pastor and a preacher? I still don’t get it.

Thanks to Preacher Mike, I’m adding another person to my “Phenomenal People I Haven’t Met” list, which also includes J.P Donleavy, Diego Maradona, Ralph Steadman, Umberto Bossi, boringfileclerk (@boringfileclerk) and Jack Nicholson. It takes all kinds.

So Preacher Mike, let your hair down.

The Devil makes a cameo in the Old Testament. In the new, his name is thrown around a few times. Why don’t we hear more about the Devil?

Preacher Mike: A little Satan goes a long ways.

It’s in the gospels, of course, where we’re really introduced to the devil, “a quasi-personal ‘accuser’ which is doing its best to drag Jesus down into the trap” into which God’s people had already fallen (N. T. Wright).  But a foreboding sense of darkness and evil goes far beyond that in scripture.

Jesus or God says something about not needing a building to worship or celebrate so why do we have churches?

PM: Great question – especially since the early churches met in homes (for the most part).  As churches grew in number, they eventually got too big for homes.  So before long, there were church buildings.  (I can still hear in my mind the voices of Sunday school teachers urging that “the church is people not the building the people meet in.”)

God doesn’t need a building; however, churches need a place to gather.  Of course, you’re probably aware of a growing “organic church” movement – where people are saying “enough with spending gabillions of dollars on buildings [a sort of modern edifice complex] where people hardly know each other; let’s go back to meeting in our homes.”

Do you think Jesus is funny?

PM: I’m guessing he was quite a bit of fun to be around, yes.  Unfortunately, the written pages of the gospels aren’t very good at communicating smirks and winks.

An example of his humor (from Matthew 7): people who judge others are like those with planks coming out of their own eyes who are trying to delicately remove specks from the eyes of others.  As Larry the Cable Guy might say, “I don’t care who you are. That there’s funny.”

Will you be disappointed if your kids decide to religion when they’re older?

PM: I had a daughter, Megan, who died in 1994.  I’m within a couple weeks of finishing a book called Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me About Life.  She was (and I don’t say this in a maudlin way) my greatest teacher.

We still have two boys, ages 28 and 18.  And yes I’d be disappointed – but would still love them completely – if they decided not to follow Jesus.

However, there is a great deal of “canning religion” that needs to take place.  In some ways, I think it’s fair to say that people got mad at Jesus because he regularly took on religion.  The essence of a life of faith and the entanglements of religion can be two very different things.

OK. When something happens in your life and you send up a prayer and the outcome you hope for is realized, is it God or fate?

PM: I don’t know.  My track record isn’t good.  I begged God to heal my daughter and she died.  The best prayer I’ve found in scripture (other than the Lord’s Prayer) is this:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

What if the outcome is entirely different than the one you hoped for?

PM: Prayer is a mystery.  My prayer life is at its strongest when it is centered on the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms.  I don’t expect God to be a genii in the bottle who comes out and grants my wishes as I summon God through prayer.

In The Acts it’s suggested that if “we’re good” God/Jesus will forgive us. Then it says if we fear God we will be forgiven. That doesn’t make any sense.

PM: Ivy, you’re tossing me a big fat pitch here.  You’re begging me to witness to you, aren’t you?

Actually, you have a knack for getting down to the nitty gritty.  That’s why I’m a faithful reader of your blog.

On one hand, we Christ-followers know that salvation is by the faithfulness of Jesus not by our own efforts; yet on the other hand, we know that faith without works is dead. (You’ll be in the book of James soon).

The New Testament writers (including Luke) indicate that salvation is a gift of God.  It is an act of grace that is based on the faithful life of Jesus.  Yet that gift comes with a life-transforming mandate: to “walk worthy of our calling” or to be transformed into the kind of people Jesus calls us to be.

Being a person of forgiveness doesn’t earn you brownie points with God so that God is now in your debt; however, being “saved” by God does compel you to become a person who turns from bitterness to forgiveness.

So in the history of Christianity (and anecdotally all around), you can witness two problems.  When Christians forget that salvation is God’s gift, the burden of legalism is laid on people.  Say “hello” to guilt and spiraling depression, as well as to pride and judgmental spirits.  And when they claim to be saved but continue to be selfish, bitter, racist, materialistic, etc., this is what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” (another tragedy).

The New Testament envisions communities of faith that are full of compassion and justice – not so they can be saved but because they have been saved. The transforming of their lives from hatred to love, from stinginess to generosity is itself part of the saving/delivering work of God.

What’s your favorite book? Why?

PM: If you mean ANY book, then I’d say “The Hobbit.” Part of that is nostalgia.  I loved reading it to my boys when they were young.  But another reason is that I can identify with Bilbo.  There is a Took part of me that wants to be a person of courage; yet there is a Baggins part of me that is always trying to hold me back and to be safe.

If you mean a book of the Bible, then it would come down to Psalms, Isaiah, Luke, Romans, or Hebrews.  (I’m guessing the last one isn’t on many lists.)  I’d give the nod to Luke.   However, without a doubt, my favorite section of any book is Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount.

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10 Responses to “Found: An Un-Preachy Preacher”

  1. farlane said

    Thanks for an interesting read and the knowledge of the difference between a pastor and a preacher.

    Preacher Mike sounds like a good guy, even without adding his preference for The Hobbit.

  2. Mark said

    Way to go Preacher Mike.
    Preach it!!

  3. Laura Oldenburg said

    Thanks mike
    once again you said it all in simple clear words. You make me grateful to have you speak for those of us believers who struggle with all the ideas you talked about. Love Thump me as she is honest and searching.

  4. Viggo Ulrich said

    What a blessing both of you have been to having open questioning minds. I fear those who have all the answers, especially when they don’t even know my questions. Both of you are encouraging reads!! May you be blessed!!

  5. Charles Mattis said

    Thanks “ThumpMe” for posting this interview. I am biased because I am a believer and a friend of Mike’s so the “let your hair down” request gave me a grin (we both have a significant balding pate); however, the mystery remains…if we are honest there is a thin line between belief and non-belief.

  6. marg said

    Preacher Mike: Sure wish society would embrace your idea of looking for those who are most compassionate, kind, loving etc. to give graduation awards to! Thank you for sharing.
    ~marg~

  7. My first time here. Linked from FB. Sure enjoyed the interview. wb

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