What Is Church To You?

by Ann and Bill Coker

Many a Christmas card has a picture of a church

“Suppose the apostle Paul had been asked, ‘What is central to your life?’ Paul would definitely have answered this question with a person: Jesus Christ. In fact, he began his first letter to the Corinthians with an emphasis on Christ being central in the church, before getting to his reasons for writing. You’ll notice the early church exhibited a great deal of difficulty, for he wrote of divisions, mentioning the quarreling among them. Before addressing these difficulties, Paul emphasized Christ being central.”

This is the first paragraph in the first chapter of Bill’s upcoming book: Let The Church Be The Church. As you can tell, the church is important to Bill and me – and to most Christians. And the central focus of the church is Jesus Christ. The church is (or should be) the place where we learn about Christ and how to follow and serve Him.

So what does the church mean to you? How important a place is it in your life? What impact has it played in your Christian growth and what people in the local church have influenced you for good? I recall a Sunday school teacher for junior high youth. Several times a year she gave an invitation for anyone to stay behind at the end of her class. Her purpose was to instruct us about a commitment to follow Jesus, to receive salvation. What also stands out in my memory is that her son did not join the church (with the usual group) until after he had made a commitment to Jesus. That impressed me, for I joined the church and then later I accepted Christ as my Savior.

I remember only one Sunday as a kid when I didn’t want to go to church. Don’t recall the reason, but I played sick while the rest of my family attended church. I was miserable; it was no fun missing Sunday school and worship service. Of course, you know that church has been vital to our family and ministry.

Bill’s new book – to be released at the end of this year – speaks to the church about the church. This is not a series, preached consecutive Sundays, but a collection of eleven messages over several years, all  delivered at World Gospel Church, but some repeated elsewhere. Bill examines the components of a dynamic church and the body of Christ taking shape. He ends with a building plan for the church, one without walls, heat, or air conditioning.

Ten Words To Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands – by Jen Wilkin

Book Review by Ann L. Coker

Two Companion Books on the Ten Words

Psalm One gives us the reason for studying the Ten Words (Commandments). “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (verse 2, ESV). God’s law was given for our delight. With this perspective, we move from thinking about the law as commands from a dictator to the delight of understanding who God is and that He loves us.

Jen Wilkin, a skilled Bible teacher and author, put in the research required to present such a study for her book Ten Words To Live By. She connects the Old and New Testaments, our Father God and Jesus Christ His Son. Her aim is not only obedience but Christlikeness. Wilkin gives proof to back her claim about the law being a standard for a good relationship between God and His people and enlarging that relationship between humans.

Wilkin’s writing style is personal and exalts God’s Word. The format of the book lends itself to individual and group study, for she includes in each chapter verses for meditation and questions for reflection. Space is available to write answers in the book. One unique aspect is her direction for the reader to write a prayer related to the study of that chapter’s Word.

My husband, Bill, published a book on the same subject: Words of Endearment: the Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love. Because of this connection, I read Ten Words To Live By to discover any similarities and differences. I was pleasantly surprised to find how well the two books connected, but also that Wilkin’s book gave fresh insights. Thus, I highly recommend both books for someone who wants to learn more about the Ten Words and relate them to knowing God and His love for us.

What Interests My Blog Readers?

Blog Readers

It’s satisfying to know that you read my Blog posts on a somewhat regular basis. You post comments on Facebook, and some of you “like” or add a comment on the actual Blog. Thanks.

Below is a brief survey that I hope you welcome. In my Blog I want to address what interests you, so answers here will help me. Writing is a joy only as I serve you. That’s my intent.

1) What would you like to know about me and Bill? I’ve noticed that personal Blog posts get more attention than teaching pieces. 

   a) Do you want to know more about Bill’s past, his family or ministries? Or do you prefer to receive updates on what’s happening with him now? Or both?

   b) What would you like to know about me — my history or present day?

2) Are you interested more in Bill’s published books or what’s being planned for the future? The process of writing and publishing? The response we receive?

   a) Teaser: the next book may be about the Church, a collection of Bill’s messages, even how to build a church. What questions would you like to ask?

   b) Podcast: Are you listening to Words of Endearment with Bill Coker? We’ve planned messages throughout the year. But what topics would you like to hear in the future?

3) Some teaching: family, church ministry, writing, pro-life, Christian experience?

What I learn from reading the Bible and other resources? What influences me to have a stronger Christian walk? Example: the term “walk” in the book of Ephesians. What are my struggles and how I overcome them?

That ought to keep you busy. That’s enough for now. I do appreciate your taking the time to answer so I can best serve you with my Blog and Bill’s books and Podcast.

May God bless you real good ~ Ann and Bill Coker

How Do I Encourage Myself?

Bill preaching at Acadia Camp Meeting, Louisiana

In that blank journal in which I’m answering their printed questions, a unique one appeared today. “How do you encourage yourself? Describe things that keep you uplifted.” The journal quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” This is how I answered their question.

Being self-encouraged is not at the top of the list, but others do encourage me. That’s why I count the “likes” and read all comments on Facebook. A friend said it’s not wise to read comments, but I do. Most are good. Our family and friends, who read Bill’s books and are now listening to his podcast, post comments that help me know the effort is worth it.

Yesterday, the day following the posting of the fifth episode of Bill’s podcast, he and I listened to his sermon while eating lunch. Topic: “Keep the Sabbath Day Holy.” Every now and then I’d show Bill the photo app and his face brightened. I’d say, “That’s who is preaching, and he’s good.” Bill preached this message in the fall of 1999, but now people are hearing him preach again. That’s encouraging. “Come and hear, all who fear God, And I will tell of what He has done for my soul” (Psalm 66:16, NASB).

Bill taught biblical truth, put in the research, and unashamedly added his comments, also giving personal application. As I listened, I was filled again with respect and admiration for my husband/preacher. And that encourages me to continue the effort, along with the tech team who do good magic behind the scene.

So what I’m emphasizing here is that it’s you, our audience (readers and listeners) who are the real encouragers and promoters for my dream job. We are grateful. Keep up the good work, and we’ll keep producing quality for you.

Five Things that Excite Me

Some are simple; some a bit complex. Some come with associations; others are personal with inner thoughts not expressed openly. A child’s smile is one. I can see them at church, at a store, or at home. At church, it’s Mia as she blows me a kiss with her hand to her lips. In a store a young boy catches my eye and as I acknowledge him, he smiles big. At home, the smiles were worn by our own children, and now it’s great-grandkids who come to visit.

Second (and these are in no particular order, only as I think of them), I get excited when I receive “likes” or comments on Facebook posts, and related to that now is when I see the number of downloads for Bill’s podcast. Today it’s up to 311 in three weeks. These responses connect me with family and friends over the miles that separate us geographically but not relationally. Getting Bill’s messages out is on one end, but getting reactions shows people are reading and listening. It’s greatly satisfying, a reward more valued than the sales recorded on a spreadsheet.

Does that “second” count for more that one? Next I get excited when Bill responds properly to something I say, showing he’s not confused. But often my excitement can be a negative response when Bill does something out of the ordinary, like wearing my red rain jacket (as he did yesterday). Or my negative excitement may be inward, not verbal. It’s when I see again and again that Bill has misplaced towels or his hearing aids. But I also smile when I notice Bill has straightened objects around the house. I place them at an angle and wait to see when he moves them straight, like framed photos on his desk or the wooden cross on our coffee table. Am I playing games with him, or only awaiting his and my reactions?

I think I’m up to four. When I receive positive feedback about something I’ve written, I get excited. It’s acceptable, a pleasant feeling. Even a reject letter often has encouraging words. Nice. Also I like a completed assignment (a devotion or chapter), or even finishing a picture in a coloring book. I hold it up to admire and ask Bill or Becky to look at it. The colors in some are imaginary, not true to the object (such as a sea or land creature).

Fifth but not least is when we’re in church and singing worship songs. The words often remind me of experiences when God answered some prayer or performed a wonder, a personal connection with His goodness. During worship – at church or during quiet time at home – my excitement is directed to the Lord and His character revealed to His people.

Get all excited! “It is good to give thanks to the Lord…to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning and Your faithfulness by night” (Psalm 92:1-2, NASB).

The Ultimate Sacrifice for All Time

Guest Blog from my writer/friend Linda Sammaritan

Every Christian knows the story of Christ’s Resurrection. We celebrate His victory over death and how His resurrection guarantees ours. Easter has got to be the most joyous holiday of all religions on earth.

But do we forget…

• That the Lenten season (between Ash Wednesday and Easter) was intended for us to remember Christ’s sacrifice?
• That our celebration of Christmas foreshadows that sacrifice?

I don’t like to dwell on the torture of crucifixion. Meditating on God’s blessings is far more comfortable, and besides, thoughts of man’s inhumanity to man (and Son of Man) don’t fit in with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to think on things that are pure and uplifting (Philippians 4:8).

I don’t want to think about how the baby Jesus might have felt finding Himself in a cold world, sensing its imperfection from the first moment of His conception. Better for me to picture the standard Nativity scene or imagine Him as a Child who was blissfully serene as He grew up in a small village in Palestine.

And I most definitely don’t want to consider the spiritual ramifications of His time spent on the cross. Let it remain a mystery to me, but the Bible hints at the agony when, for the first time in all of eternity, Jesus felt a separation from His Father. (Matthew 27:46)

When I was a very new Christian, I didn’t follow that last advice about letting things remain a mystery. I dared to ask God to show me what Jesus experienced on the cross in the spiritual realm. Since thousands had died by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans, what made this crucifixion different?

God answered that ignorant prayer!

For less than a nanosecond, He flashed the vision of the cross on the screen of my consciousness. I was devastated, I was humbled–by the magnitude of His love. There are no words to accurately describe what I saw.

This is as close as I can get:

As Jesus hung there in physical pain, the sins of every person who ever lived and whoever would live in the future slithered all over Him. He was buried under, swarmed over, smothered with sin’s vermin. If you’ve ever read 1984 and the torture described, Jesus suffered a million times more, no, an infinite number of times more.

I immediately cried for God to take the vision away! Not in words. No time for words, but a desperate plea from my spirit.

 In spite of the horror, I’m grateful God answered my prayer. It has kept me cognizant of what Resurrection cost the Son of God. I will never be able to offer a sacrifice to Him that compares to such all-encompassing love.

So what can I do?

• I can maintain a grateful heart. That’s the least I can do. May I never forget His sacrifice!

• I can listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit and be quick to turn in any direction He sends me.

• I can tell others who are not Christians what I know of His love and sacrifice. Like I’m doing right now. Who knows what person may come across this post who needs to hear the message of hope? To get an inkling of understanding about the God Who loves them?

All three of these bullet points have the potential for sacrifice on my part. The world is ugly and dangerous. I don’t know what difficult situation God may allow me to pass through. If I speak out for Christ in a world hostile toward Him, I could pay with my fortune or my life. The Holy Spirit has been known to ask the seemingly impossible. But if He asks, then He will empower me to do it.

Next week the Church commemorates what is known as The Passion. It starts with Palm Sunday when the crowds adored Jesus and hailed Him as their king. Within a week, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for His disciples, pleaded with His Father in prayer as He knew He would face an unimaginable horror, and was brought to trial by the Sanhedrin. They slapped and spit upon Him–their own Messiah! Then the powers of Rome tortured and mocked Him with thorns and whips and forced Him to carry the cross to Calvary where they would nail Him to the wood and allow Him to hang there, suffocating, until He died. All of what I’ve described is the observable sacrifice.

But remember the invisible sacrifice. While His body writhed in agony, His Spirit endured worse, as He became filthy with every sin that every person has committed and will commit in the future.

 That, my friends, was the ultimate sacrifice for all time.

Visit Linda’s website for more good reads:

Dream Job Got Bigger

Bill led Bible study at Free Life Community Church, Terre Haute, Indiana.

From the first time I got the idea to make Bill’s sermons available to more people, I called it my dream job. For I could see this dream meant work, but it was closer to being a passion. With the help of our German friend, Stefanie, we converted cassette taped sermons into digital format using Audacity. Putting these messages online happened with the skill set of John, a tech guy from the Wesleyan church we attended in Terre Haute, Indiana. Bill’s sermons on Ezra and Nehemiah may still be available on Sermon Cloud: www.sermoncloud/billcokersr  After we moved to Indianapolis, my friend, Jennie, let me know she listened to them.

During the past four years, we have seen three books published. First was Bill’s sermons on the Ten Commandments: Words of Endearment, then a book of pastoral prayers: Prayers for the People. At the end of 2021, The Scandal of Christmas (four Advent messages) was printed. We are grateful for how these books have been accepted. The most satisfying part for us has been connecting with family and friends (readers) who relay their appreciation. The next book in process is on the subject of holiness and co-authored by our son Bill, Jr.

In this time that seems like being on hold, our daughter, Becky, has encouraged us to start a podcast of her dad’s sermons. She believes that people would like to hear the messages, and we agree. I sent an email to a few friends and family members to ask if they would listen. So far, it is definitely yes. That’s when my dream job got bigger. I knew nothing about podcasting. That’s in past tense, for I’m learning. Podcasts on many and varied subjects are booming across the country and around the world.

We now have a superb team with millenniums who are tech savvy. Michael, our grandson in California, prepared the art for the app and is busy converting the tapes into digital format, and he will also handle the mix. I’ve written the intros and outros and will do marketing. Dan, a friend in the church we attend, will be the host, for he has a fine voice for an announcer. Erik, a super tech guy, is what I call our program master, advising me and handling the recordings, among other items in his skill set. And we have Becky as our motivator and encourager. Bill has been told what’s going on, and is in agreement. In April, a launch date will start with an announcement, a teaser, and will follow the next week with the first sermon: “An Introduction to the Decalogue.” This starts the series of messages coming from Bill’s book and connecting with the name of the podcast: Words of Endearment with Bill Coker. Look for it soon. We are confident that you will tune in to hear Bill preach online. Grateful in advance.

Sabbath Rest

I’m writing in a new journal that asks questions, and while these are not always to my liking, they do make me think. Today’s question: What is your favorite way to relax and rejuvenate yourself? This led me to think of changes over the years in our Sabbath habits.

Rest on the Sabbath is a command, but we’ve adjusted that to our desires. As a child and teen, our family restricted activities on Sunday. Mother and Dad prepared on Saturday for a more restful Sunday. Mother cooked the meal ahead and had only to warm it up when we returned from church. On Saturday Dad polished all the family shoes. They worked together on home-made ice cream as our supply for the week’s desert. We kids made sure we had clean clothes and chose what we’d wear on Sunday.

We attended worship service Sunday morning and youth group at night. We were not restricted about such things as watching sports on TV, reading Sunday comics in the newspaper, or playing outside. But we did no “work,” and that included sewing which I loved to do. We rarely went out for Sunday dinner – then or later when Bill and I were married. Most afternoons I curled up on the couch with the dog for a nap, special for Sundays.

Now in Indy, we are relaxed about observing what’s “work.” Becky prepares a special nourishing dinner while Bill and I wait (not to his liking ;-). I often think ahead about what I’ll do on Sunday afternoons: make cards, write letters, color, read. Since we have no evening worship service, I would prefer not to cook supper and have only popcorn and ice cream, but that’s not Bill’s choice. Over the years our Sabbath rest has changed, except for the priority of worship service.

Song of Personal Lament

Sunday evening, February 6th, our church held a Service of Lament, utilizing songs and Psalm 13. We were given instructions on crafting a personal lament. I give it a try here.

God is here and He is there with my sister and our friends who grieve.

I cry out for comfort for my sister and my friends whose loved ones have gone home to Jesus.

I know God is present and He sustains us in loss as well as celebrates our victories.

I long to see my sister and our friends know God is there, that He is real, with us all.

I cry out for comfort for my sister and my friends whose loved ones have gone home to Jesus.

I would not want my sister and friends to go one moment without God’s presence.

I long to see my sister and our friends know God is there, that He is real, with us all.

For myself and others I want God’s protection, provision, and presence always.

I would not want my sister and friends to go one moment without God’s presence.

I know God is present and He sustains us in loss as well as celebrates our victories.

For myself and others I want God’s protection, provision, and presence always.

God is here and He is there with my sister and our friends who grieve.

Here, There, With Us

Last month I bought a box of sympathy cards. After mailing cards to the family members, I have two left. I’m grateful for these beloved and the contributions they have made to our lives. Their love and Christian testimony continues to live within us. I’m also thankful for those who let us know about the passing of these loved ones and dear friends. My constant prayer for these families is that God will be there for them as He is here with us. He is the “God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Our afflictions do not have to be the same, similar, or from the same source, for it’s God’s comfort we extend to others.

During the Christmas season my main thought was about Emmanuel, God with us, and now it continues to be uppermost in my mind. God’s presence is real. I would not want to go one moment without the presence of God in my life. He is with me, here, and I rely on His presence.

I tend to pray in triplets: for God’s provision, protection, and presence. In Proverbs I take note of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, and I (we) need all three. I ask God to be there with those who are grieving and here with us as we pray for them. And I can trust that He will answer, the Holy Spirit filling us all and making His presence felt.

May you be enveloped in God’s presence with you, sustaining, satisfying, and supplying your needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To those who are in the long process of grief, be assured that God loves you and I love you.