The Sense of Presence

In A Testament of Devotion, Thomas R. Kelly wrote about the sense of Presence. He recorded a testimony of John W. Rowntree who, after learning his blindness had no remedy, he left the doctor’s office and steadied himself against a railing. He “suddenly felt the love of God wrap him about as though a visible presence enfolded him and a joy filled him such as he had never known before” (p. 94).

I’ve thought of at least three times when I’ve had that experience of Presence during hard times. Once while walking the track at Asbury College, I fought to gain control over unexpected losses. It was then that God assured me He was and would be in control. Nothing changed except His flooding me with peace.

While prepping tax records, I occupied my mind with thoughts of our second son and the sudden death of his wife. How would he handle the boys and still work? On the recorder a song played about the holiness of God. A wave of God’s presence filled the room and my mind, assuring me of His watch care.

Standing by Bill’s hospital bed in 2010, I recalled a verse in Psalms. “O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (34:8). I knew God would see Bill through Legionnaire’s disease with renewed hope and strength.

Those experiences are in the past. “Between the relinquished past and the untrodden future stands this holy Now…for within the Now is the dwelling place of God Himself” (Kelly, pp. 95-96). My assurance is in an Eternal God who does not live in time, but that is where He has placed me/us. For in the Now I trust God with unspeakable joy and peace. His divine Presence flows through me and give me a new song. “God of grace and God of glory, On Thy people pour Thy pow’r…Grant us wisdom; Grant us courage For the facing of this hour” (Harry Emerson Fosdick).

God’s Words of Endearment

In the eighteenth century, the word endearment came to mean “an expression of love.” When we come to the Decalogue, we find primarily an expression of love. When we focus on God’s words as an expression of love rather than a series of obligations, our image of God goes from a wrathful deity waiting to strike hapless individuals to a Father showing His children how to live a full and abundant life, free of fear.

But in the seventeenth century, endearment had a different connotation. It meant “an obligation of gratitude.” The gift of love is received, and in response the recipient does something. That is endearment. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said that the Ten Commandments do not tell me what I must not do; they tell me what I will not do as a believer. Your obedience to the commandments is not the means to your salvation; it is a response to God’s grace and His love for you.

The reason I prefer the word endearment to the word commandment is because commands are often viewed as a form of oppression or military might. As a result, we tend to think of God demanding and booming a list of rules at Moses. This creates a wrong image of God. If we look at a parallel passage in Deuteronomy 6, God’s intention and words are made clear.

“And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear [reverence] the Lord

our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.”

Deuteronomy 6:24

If that is the case, what is the intent of these ten words of endearment? In Deuteronomy 6:24, Moses said God’s statutes are for our good. God has given us these words not because He is sitting up on the mountain saying, “I’m God, and just to remind you, I am giving you these commandments and you’d better not disobey Me—or else.”

In John 3:17, Jesus said He had not come to judge the world, but to save the world. Later He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

When I look at the Decalogue, I understand what God is primarily saying to the people of Israel (and as an extension, to us): “I am giving you these words because they are the way of life. My intentions are good. If you will do these things, not only will your personal life be blessed, but society itself will be blessed.”

―from the first chapter of Words of Endearment: the Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love by William B. Coker, Sr.

Behind the Scenes

I’m pulling the curtain aside and telling you about what happened behind the scenes with the Cokers’ attempt to get published. It was never Bill’s desire to publish a book. When I and friends at church told him to write a book, he would say, “There are enough books out there already.” So when the boxes of Words of Endearment arrived, I put a book in Bill’s hands, saying he wrote a book. He said, “How did this happen?” I said he had preached the messages and I put them together as chapters in a book for the people who love him.

I did not try to keep the book a secret, but evidently it surprised Bill. You could say that I went through the process behind his back. We spend our days at our computers: my desk and computer against one wall and the his against a wall across the room. Thus, we have our backs to each other. Bill plays solitaire on his computer; I write, edit, and connect with readers and publishers.

Some evenings, while watching TV, sitting side by side on the couch, I often had the typed manuscript on my lap. Bill would ask what I was doing as I marked up the pages with blue ink. I’d explain it was one of his sermons. Avoiding the word “editing,” I’d say I was moving his preaching voice to a reading voice. That satisfied him―until the next night and we’d have the same conversation again.

Having no success securing either an agent or a traditional publisher, I chose to self-publish with Sermon to Book. When I told them the messages were on cassette tapes, they must have thought I was communicating from the Dark Ages. Our grandson Michael came to the rescue, converting cassette tapes into digital audio files. That became our foundation.

While this was pricey, the STB staff did an excellent job with editing, cover design, and communicating with me. Understanding they were dealing with a middle “man,” they showed respect to both Bill and me. I would get the edits, grateful for comments about Bill’s intellect and biblical knowledge. At times, an editor would write, “I had not thought of it this way,” or “He explains the text well.” If one asked for more material or wanted another illustration, I had to resist devising copy of my own. I’d say we had to be faithful to what Bill wrote and not expand, for he could not help and it was not my place or theirs to add copy.

I could not have done the editing and proofing without the help of Becky, Bill, Jr., and a team of beta readers. They found typos I had not seen, and they also pointed out weak points needing a bit of clarity. Thanks to all who helped behind the scenes, without applause.

When we received the first book off the press, our final proof, the thing that thrilled me most was seeing for the first time the spine of the book. This would be what potential readers would see on a shelf in a bookstore. We approved of the proof and it was off to Amazon to POD (print on demand). The first month Amazon reported 19 e-books  and 119 paperback books sold. I have mailed over 180 books out with Bill’s stamped signature. And that should be only the beginning.

Questions to Ponder

Family: Coker and Laird and ours

Several months ago I wrote down two questions I heard on the radio. I’ve kept this scrap of paper on my desk and it’s time to use it and then toss it.

“What do you want?” is a loaded question and could go anywhere in my mind. While it rattles there, I think of many things I want to gain or see happen. Relationships is my first thought, for these are important among family and friends, even with those I hardly know. For that latter category, it’s good to keep relationships functioning well with storekeepers, postal clerks, and neighbors. In the process of taking packages of Bill’s book to the post office, I’ve become acquainted with one postal clerk. She has the book, Words of Endearment, and says she’ll read it on the plane during her vacation trip. When a problem arose with delivery of one book, she said if she’s not there, for me to return home and come later.

Family relationships are most important. We pray that our family circle not be broken here or in eternity. We stay in touch by way of technical devices. My siblings now meet monthly on Zoom and it’s been a blessing for us all. Because of Bill’s book, several nephews have bought books and report on their reading. That’s a renewed joy.

Friends communicate via email and phone, letting us know how Bill’s preaching has impacted their lives. They are grateful now to continue that influence with his book. We’ve connected with former Asburians and Emmaus folk, as well as church members. Their memory of our times together is better than mine, but it’s refreshing to know they want to renew our relationship.

“Where am I led?” is the second question and the emphasis is on “led.” It’s not always where I want to go or my first choice. When we moved to Indianapolis the summer of 2017, I knew it was a good decision, and it’s proved to be the leading of the Lord. I’m led to study God’s Word more so this year I bought the NLT Pray for Life Bible to lead me in reading through the Bible in a year. Each day has a prayer emphasis on a life issue, passages from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs. So far I’ve not missed a day, about 20 minutes of reading. For prayer time I’m led by Mary DeMuth’s Pray Every Day podcast and her book Jesus Every Day. When she asks, “Mind if I pray for you?” I’m ready.

These two questions could have more answers. Why don’t you ponder them and let me know your answers?

Busy Beginning

As I ended the old year and began the new year, my focus has been split between marketing Bill’s first book, Words of Endearment, and preparing his second book to be published – Prayers for the People. These are two different publishers and their specs vary but for our good.

Book sales for Words is going well, both with Amazon and from my own supply of books. The main differences provided early sales to arrive for Christmas when ordering from Amazon, and I stamp Bill’s signature on the books bought from me. Delivering books to the Post Office gave me the unexpected privilege of talking with the clerk. She knew the “media mail” was Bill’s book, and on the fourth trip she said, “I ought to read his book.” I had brought along a book, just in case (suggestion from our friend Stefanie), and the clerk received it gladly.

The most satisfying part of this marketing venture are the notes we receive with payment, along with comments on Facebook. These confirm that Bill’s influence continues way past his time of preaching and teaching in person. I’m including some comments here, yet it’s only a smattering, for we’re grateful for all:

“His influence is beyond measure.” – “Lots of good memories of you both.” – “My husband is thrilled to have a copy, a belated Christmas gift.” – “I’m sure we are going to be unable to put it down.” – “Emmaus: what a blessing!” – “I am eager to read it slowly so I can take it all in.” – “We pray many people will be touched by your words. However, we continue to be touched by your lives.” – “We will treasure this for years to come. We are deeply appreciative of your hard work.” – One Emmaus pilgrim noted that Bill’s intelligence and silliness on her walk “changed something inside of me!” – Another Emmaus friend wrote, “Give Bill a hug from me.” – One grandma bought books for all her grandkids, even the four-year-old, for she “wants them all to know about God’s love.” – Others bought books for siblings and friends.

So many more; I could fill up the page. Bill smiles broadly with a bit of embarrassment as I read the compliments to him. And he’s not quite comfortable when I say that he “wrote a book.”

And this week I fill out forms (AIS – Author Information Sheet) for the process of publishing Bill’s book of pastoral prayers and benedictions. It should be available later this year. Continue to pray for us both as we get God’s words out to those who know it and to those who don’t.

Christmas Sunday

Our heavenly Father, on this Christmas Sunday we rejoice in the good news of Your Son: ‟To us a child is born; to us a son is given.” We thank and praise You for Your great love and for the gift of salvation made possible through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We rejoice once again in the message of the angelic choir: ‟Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.”

Father, even though centuries separate us from the birth of our Lord, remind us that it was in a time and place not terribly unlike ours. You caused a virgin girl to conceive and bear a child and call His name Jesus―Savior. In the humble setting of a cattle stall the Word became flesh and the light of eternity broke through into our time-bound world. The words of the apostle John never lose its excitement: ‟We beheld His glory, the glory of the only Son of God, full of grace and truth.” Fill us with anticipation for that time when we shall see Him ourselves.

As we celebrate Christmas, we remember that the Savior was not received hospitably by those people who claimed to be waiting anxiously for Him. The religious leaders of the day sought His life, because they saw Him to be a threat to their traditions. Herod the Great sought His life, because he saw the Messiah as a threat to his own rule. Under Pontius Pilate, the Romans crucified Him because they saw Him as a potential troublemaker.

Father, we cannot view these people as different than ourselves. Too often we have felt Jesus was a threat to our chosen ways as we refuse to bow in submission before Him. We have seen Jesus as a threat to our happiness and have hesitated to commit ourselves to doing His will. We have sometimes viewed the Christ with indifference and considered Him to be irrelevant for our modern times. We have seen His claim to Lordship as an infringement on our rights.

We pray for the millions of people who miss the true meaning of Christmas, because they have no personal relationship with the Savior. They still walk in darkness, seeking in empty forms and traditions peace of mind. They continue their pursuit of happiness along paths leading nowhere. On this Christmas, Father, we pray that some will come to recognize they will find no respite from their restlessness until they find You, for You have made them for Yourself.

We pray for those who have left home and family to bring the news of Christ to those yet to hear and understand. Especially at this time of family gatherings and familiar traditions, we ask that the Holy Spirit encourage their labors and bring a fresh sense of our Lord’s presence.

For each of us who worship, let the joy of Christmas renew within us the thrill of hope, and may the peace of Christ keep our hearts and minds fixed on Him. We pray in the name of Jesus and for our sakes. Amen.

Writer or Author?

Until I have a book published, I’ve decided not to call myself an author. But I am and have been for a long time, a writer. I journal and save them, but don’t know what use they will be. However, Matthew McConaughey recently had a book published, Green Light, and he gleaned from journals he’d kept for years.

[Wish my journals looked like this, classic and neatly tied for storage.]

My professor of journalism at Asbury College recommended me for a temp job at Asbury Theological Seminary when they needed an editor for their publication. That started my career. Then Chuck Keysor hired me at Good News magazine. I held several positions and two articles appeared under my name. Before we left Wilmore, KY, for Bill to pastor World Gospel Church in Terre Haute, IN, Dr. Keysor trusted me with editing Sunday school curriculum. Having written magazine articles and devotions in several publications still didn’t qualify me as an author (in my mind).

Now that Bill’s first book is to be released on Amazon on December 16th, I’ve considered calling myself a co-author. But that is not on-target. I collected, edited, and organized Bill’s sermons, but I did not write them. He preached those messages, and I prepared them for publication. If you’re interested, look soon on amazon.com for Words of Endearment: the Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love. The paperback book sells at $12.95 and the ebook for $6.50. You can pre-order the ebook, but not the paperback. These contain 12 sermons, 11 on the Ten Commandments, and a closing chapter on Rightly Handling the Word of Truth.

This blog posts did not start out to include a commercial; but there, I’ve done it. I want to express my thanks for all those who have contributed to my craft of writing, beginning with my literature teachers who showed me the value of reading good books. As I wrote book reviews, I honed my skills and learned from the best authors. I’m also grateful for all of you who comment on my blog posts, and I’ve paid attention to what you like best.

I close with a few quotes from my collection on writing:

“A writer is a world trapped in a person.” –Victor Hugo

“I write because I do not know what I think until I read what I say.” –Flannery O’Conner

“The genius of the story is that it’s about ordinary life writ large.” –anonymous

“Writing demands your complete attention.” –Donald Miller

And my favorite from Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

First Sunday of Advent

Bill Coker gave this prayer several years ago at World Gospel Church, yet the points and subjects sound like today. This is part of a collection of pastoral prayers which will be Bill’s second book to be published in 2021.

Our heavenly Father, by Your great mercy You have bestowed on us every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. We praise You for Your faithfulness and the abundant gifts of love showered upon us. Truly our lines have fallen to us in pleasant places, because even our most difficult circumstances are pregnant with potential blessing. We know all of this is possible only because of Your love.

We are thankful for the opportunity many of us have enjoyed this past week, to be with family and friends to share our Thanksgiving celebration. We are grateful for this reminder of Your many blessings. For some of us, though, an empty chair has emphasized the absence of one whom we love; an empty dream has crushed our hopes; an empty expectation has frustrated our plans and brought disappointment. Our holiday has seemed hollow and our efforts at being thankful a bit feigned. We are grateful that we have a Savior who understands us, who feels our pain and knows our sorrow.

On this first Sunday of Advent, as we turn out thoughts toward Christmas, we ask for Your Holy Spirit to prepare us for celebration of the coming of Immanuel. Help us not lose sight of the spiritual significance of this season, even as we enjoy the sights and sounds of the holidays. Bring to our minds again the promise of the coming Messiah whom the ancient prophets proclaimed. Remind us again that people heard, yet when the fullness of time came, they were not ready for the Christ.

Prepare our hearts, O God, for we want to make room for Jesus. We want to live in readiness for His Second Coming, even as we celebrate His first coming. As we marvel again that the Word became flesh, may we not forget (as preposterous as it may sound to the unbelieving heart) that Jesus is coming again, and every eye shall see Him and every tongue shall confess He is Lord.

We pray for our bloodied world, so torn by racial tensions and political conflicts. We hurt for the innocent victims caught in the crossfire, for those whose families have been racked by the pain of death, for those who seek to find hope in the shattered ruins of their country. We pray for the hardened hearts of those whose violent hatred disregard the sufferings of the innocent in order to inflict death and devastation.

As we celebrate the Advent season, keep reminding us of the people who live in the inner cities of our larger metropolises―for those who watch firsthand the disastrous consequences of drugs and crime as their neighborhoods and families are ravished. In our comfortable lives we cannot imagine the frustration of those who find themselves locked into the vicious cycle of poverty, lack of opportunity, and apathy. Forgive us for protecting ourselves by putting it out of our minds and by blaming society for the nightmare of children born into this hopelessness. Forgive us for doing nothing, even though we cannot honestly see how we could make any difference in this horrible mess. Forgive us for being inoculated even against caring.

Change us, Lord. Change our church by changing us. Change our community by changing our church. Change our city by pouring out the Holy Spirit upon us in such measure that our own sense of inadequacy is overcome and the power of Your Spirit in us shakes our world.

We love You, Lord; we lay our lives before You. Do in us all that needs to be done, so that You can do through us all that should be done. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Balance and Flexibility

During a check-up on my knee replacement of 2006, the doctor advised only two procedures to follow: balance and flexibility. If I pay attention to those concerns in my daily habits, my knee will last until I’m ninety. That’s what the doctor said.

As for physical therapy, I’m poorly disciplined. The only exercise I practice daily is stretching. I have added an attempt to balance without holding onto the counter as I stretch my legs, and I’m getting good at it. Concentration and practice help my balance. I trust that these stretches also aid flexibility.

Balance and flexibility are also good in life’s other avenues. Reading interviews with three authors, I noticed each stated that they (2 females and 1 male) have to pay attention to balance in their schedules. While writing is a priority, their families come first. Their schedules not only make room for family activities, they are open for interruptions. That spoke to me, for if I’m writing in the morning, I don’t want to stop at noon when Bill asks for lunch. Thus, my attitude is reflected in my actions, and balance and flexibility are not honored. Neither is Bill’s request.

When we’ve visited friends on various mission fields, we’ve noticed their flexibility. Few activities seem to happen on schedule, and those who lead or participate rotate their duties. Yet, the ministries proceed and get results. Missionaries adapt to the culture and thrive―while also balancing their attention to family.

Moral of blog: balance and flexibility are good not only for knees but for life and its goals.

Election Results November 2020

I’m one of those who votes for the platform, not the person. I’ve been told that I’m a one-issue voter, and I don’t deny it. The Democratic platform is pro-abortion, and the Republican platform is pro-life. Life matters to me, so you can be assured that I voted for the party of life.

Carrie’s Baby

As of today, life did not win this presidential election. I want to cry, but instead I’m singing a stanza of an old hymn, “This Is My Father’s World.”

“This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. This is my Father’s world: Why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King: let the heavens ring! God reigns: let earth be glad!”

With all my being I know that God is the Ruler yet! Don’t be mistaken, I’m not ready to be glad about the results of this election. The assurance of God’s victory is slow to come for me. But I will still fight on the side of what’s right: life begins at conception and ends at natural death. Right now I need to trust God, for He will be victorious in the battle between life and death. Let’s pray.