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Missed Invitation

It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized I had missed attending the graduation party for a high-school senior from our church. Earlier in the day, Bill had even asked if we could go someplace. We went for a drive in the country and enjoyed it. Upon returning home, Paul told me about the graduation events he’d attended. That was when it clicked. I had an invitation, and I had missed the party. I had not put it on my calendar, but had only shoved the postal card invite behind other mail on my desk. It would have been a better use of our Saturday afternoon time, but no. Sending a card of congratulations became my only recourse.

This got me to thinking about other missed opportunities. At Asbury College I forgot to purchase a ticket for a play, The Diary of Anne Frank, put on by drama students. This book is a favorite, so I wanted to see the play. I even walked over to the theater on campus, but it was only to appease myself, eventually to make me feel bad about missing out because of my neglect.

Another story: I was getting ready for an event to start soon when a door-to-door salesman came to our house. Taking time to listen for a while, I finally told him I had to leave for a meeting. After he left, I felt guilty. Not because of putting off his sales pitch, but because I did not use our time together to give a witness about what mattered most to me. I was going to a meeting related to my spiritual growth, and yet I had missed out on an opportunity to talk about Jesus.

The invitation that no one should miss is the call of Christ to follow Him. His invitation is given to all. Listen as I wrap that invitation in the words of Scripture. Jesus did “not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Lately I’m been thinking of and praying for loved ones and friends who need to respond to the call to follow Jesus. And I don’t want to miss out on extending that invitation.

What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals

Looking for something else, I found this article. Isn’t that the way with lost and found? Anyway, I don’t know who wrote this piece, but I do know by the style that neither Bill nor I wrote it. Both of us, however, would agree with the author. So let it stand as anonymous and see what response you have: good or not or in between.

March 29, 2017. #hymns #music

I don’t think we should go back to using hymnals. But I do think there’s value in considering what we lost when, over the course of a relatively short period of time, we gave up hymnals for PowerPoint projection. Not all of us, mind you, but most of us. It’s worth considering because it helpfully shows what we stand to lose when we switch from one media to another, and especially when we do so quickly and without due consideration.

If we were to go back in time twenty or thirty years, we would find that most churches had hymnals. They had hymnals because it was the best way of providing each member of the congregation with a copy of the songs. You’d hear it in every church: “Take out your hymnal and turn to hymn 154…” And then hymnals went the way of the dodo and we began to look instead to words projected on a screen. Here is some of what we lost along the way.

We lost an established body of songs. Hymnals communicated that a church had an established collection of songs. This, in turn, communicated that its songs were vetted carefully and added to its repertoire only after careful consideration. After all, great songs are not written every day and their worth is proven only over time. Therefore, new hymns would be chosen carefully and added to new editions of the hymnal only occasionally. Churches would update their hymnals, and, therefore, their established body of songs, only once every ten or fifteen years.

We lost a deep knowledge of our songs. When we removed the hymnal, we gained the ability to add new songs to our repertoire whenever we encounter one we deem worthy. And we do—we add new songs all the time. As we add new songs with greater regularity, we sing old songs with less frequency. This reduces our familiarity with our songs so that today we have far fewer of them fixed in our minds and hearts. Few congregations could sing even the greatest hymns without that PowerPoint screen.

We lost the ability to do harmonies. Hymnody grew up at a time when instrumentation took a back seat to the voice. Hymns were most often written so they could be sung a cappella or with minimal instrumentation. For that reason, hymnals almost invariably included the music for both melody and harmonies and congregations learned to sing the parts. The loss of the hymnal and the associated rise of the worship band has reduced our ability to harmonize and, in that way, to sing to the fullest of our abilities. It often seems like all we want from the congregation is their enthusiasm.

We lost the ability to sing skillfully. As congregations have lost their knowledge of their songs, they have lost the ability to sing them well. We tend to compensate for our poorly-sung songs by cranking up the volume of the musical accompaniment. The loss of the voice has given rise to the gain of the amplifier. This leads to our music being dominated by a few instrumentalists and perhaps a pair of miced-up vocalists while the larger congregation plays only a meager role.

We lost the ability to have the songs in our homes. Hymnals usually lived at the church, resting from Monday to Saturday in the little pockets on the back of the pews. But people also bought their own and took them home so the family could have that established body of songs there as well. Families would often sing together as part of their family worship. It is easy to imagine a family singing “It Is Well with My Soul” after eating dinner together, but almost impossible to imagine them singing, “Oceans.”

It is probably too late to go back to the hymnal. I am not at all convinced we ought to. But it is still worth considering what we lost along the way and how congregational singing has been utterly transformed by what may appear to have been a simple and practical switch in the media. That little change from book to screen changed nearly everything.

A New Holiday

Excited to show my daughter-in-law Rhonda the plants in the Conservatory at Garfield Park, we arrived on a Friday afternoon to find out that it was closed. Why? A woman in a parked car told me the reason: closed for Juneteenth, a new holiday. It took me a while to understand what she said, but her knowledge helped us to appreciate what the day was all about. The name is short for June Nineteenth, and some may call it Freedom Day. It commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States. Bill and Rhonda had heard about it on their drive to Indiana from Ohio. The Conservatory staff decided to observe it right away.

Today I heard about another named day, though not a federal holiday. June 29, in Christian circles, is known as the Day of the Christian Martyr. This day was established with the traditional date when the apostle Paul was martyred. The Voice of the Martyrs gives several ways to observe this day. An email arrived with the story of a young girl who was “shot to death on her doorstep by Marxist guerrillas because of her witness for Christ.” Her name is Rocio Pino.

How do these two days connect? Both speak for the hard facts of how a nation can hold people in bondage and even take their lives away. Both have the connection of humans being persecuted. Both are about our desire and need for freedom. Both call us to the place of prayer: asking forgiveness, even when we were not those who did the wrong, the evil of taking life, and asking for mercy and justice for those caught in the horrific systems built upon slavery and persecution. I dare to say, like a friend does frequently, that we should also pray for the persecutors, that they would surrender to God and have Him change their hearts and minds.

Distracted or Dedicated

I forgot to turn on Bill’s microphone from the sound booth at church.

The sound techs needed some relief occasionally, so I took the training. I liked being above the crowd, looking down from my perch, seeing everyone enter and some go out and return during the service. But that was the very reason I forgot to mike Bill. I am easily distracted.

I would spy a friend, and while I did not speak to her, I watched her find a seat and greet her pew partner. My eyes (and my mind) had wondered from the switchboard and I forgot my task. But not for long. I switched on the sound for Bill’s mike and started the recorder.

That job didn’t last long, understandably, for they wanted someone who paid attention.

My distractions take another form these days. Two years ago I still had a flip phone and my family wanted me to get a smart phone. They teased that I had a dumb phone. My answer: It’s a phone. I don’t need all the extra components. I finally gave in, yet I bought an Android. And I like what I can do with it, especially texting, the one thing my family most wanted me to use.

Now this cell phone has provided several nice distractions. While eating lunch, we listen to music such as the Gaithers, Hauser, Andrew Peterson, and André Rieu. Even while getting the spelling right, I got distracted and listened to Michael Ball sing “Love Changes Everything.” Guess what popped up next? A message by Joseph Prince: “Feeling Distracted, Depressed, or Burnt Out?” Perhaps another time. I’m not depressed or burnt out. Only distracted too much, too often.

Why should these distractions bother me? They eat up the time that should be dedicated to more productive work. Marketing is on my “to do” list today. It’s three o’clock and I’ve not even opened those files. I am, however, writing this blog post, overdue, for this is only my second post for the month of May.

I’ve been told about some programs (apps) that could keep me from turning on any social media site. That would eliminate distractions while working on needed projects, but I use Facebook and emails to connect with people re: marketing and publishing. So I’m back to that ugly word “discipline.” It’s a matter of being dedicated to the best even when I enjoy something good. So there. I’ve confessed, but I have to save myself from being distracted next time.

Whatever It Takes

Pilgrim and Evangelist

During our early years of ministry we lived in Mississippi near my husband’s uncle, who was also a pastor. Uncle Bud never served large churches but sometimes joked that he kept other pastors from serving small churches. Those were special years with Uncle Bud and Aunt Roberta mentoring both Bill and me.

   When Uncle Bud admonished one of his sons about the unhealthy practice of tobacco, that son responded by pointing out his father’s use of coffee. From that day on, Uncle Bud did not allow even this harmless habit to be a stumbling block for his son who needed to come to faith. His example made a lasting impression on me.

   Like the church at Corinth, we need to heed Paul’s warning and be concerned about our weaker members. “Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). Not all habits and practices are sin, but they may get in the way of someone coming to Christ or growing in their faith.

    I have to ask myself if I will do whatever it takes to be a good example before others, especially family members. What habits or practices are holding others back from making a commitment to follow Jesus? Can I be honest enough to cite errors in my way of thinking and doing? It’s not a burden to carry but an honor to be a witness to those who need to see Jesus in me.

    One son asked how I got to be a legalist. That tells me something about how my actions reflect my faulty witness. It’s a starting place for change. I invite you to give me examples of legalism in my life’s practices. I want to be faithful to the calling of Christ on my life and not hinder others.  

   And how about you? Let’s not hold onto freedom too tightly.

Marketing’s Rewards

This may go against stats on Amazon or the finance report of sales. But the best part of marketing for me has been the rewards found in contacts and notes of appreciation. I’ll share some of those a few lines later. For now, I want to post two dates.

Bill’s first ever book, Words of Endearment: the Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love, has a publication date of December 16, 2020. Bill’s second book, Prayers for the People: from the Heart of a Pastor, appeared on Amazon yesterday with a publication date of April 28, 2021. That’s publishing two books in four-and-a-half months. Unusual!

Each book was self-published; we paid for publication. Sermon to Book published Words. Prayers had EABooks Publishing. I appreciate both systems, best suited for each book.

I’ve worked on the collection of pastoral prayers for the longest because I would look through Bill’s notebooks and type a prayer or two, then return to other writing projects. Therefore, the book of prayers extended over several years without being ready for publication. Then Jim Watkins, acquisition editor for EABooks, asked if I had a book ready. I first thought of Bill’s Advent sermons, but the timing didn’t work out. Then I looked at the collection of prayers, and knew it would not take much to get it ready. Four months later we have a book for sale.

That brings me back to the subject of marketing. With self-publishing, the main sales are from Amazon and from the author copies I buy and sell. For these four months I’ve gone to the post office at least once a week with packages of books to mail. Then the rewards come in, and I’m not speaking of checks and PayPal. Read here a few of our rewards:

Words of Endearment has really stretched the Ten Commandments for me. My husband died in 2019. With God’s help, I am learning to go on. Now your book has helped me.”

“I can hear Bill’s voice speak the words.”

“We are looking forward to sitting under Pastor Bill’s teaching once again as we read this book.”

“Bill, God used you in a mighty way on a men’s Emmaus Walk. Your words totally changed my husband’s life. We are so excited to read your book.”

“I look forward to discovering what Bill has written in his book. The title already provides a life-giving ponder.”

“I plan to read Bill’s book slowly so I can take it all in.”

“Thank you for the deep study of the Ten Commandments.”

“Thanks for contacting me. Bill was always such a joy to listen to – the power of conviction!”

“Bill may not be able to preach like he used to, but his ministry to touch lives is continuing.”

”Pastor Bill, thank you for researching and preaching it. Ann, thank you for putting it into a book.”

“We look forward to spending time with the Lord and the Words of Endearment.

“Seeing my adult children’s response to the book blessed me so very much.”

“We are excited to share a few copies of Bill’s book with others and to know they will be as blessed as we are with this gift of God’s Word made clear.”

From the Asbury University Alumni officer: “Thank you for sending us the beautiful book of sermons. We are glad to add it to our display for the encouragement of our alums and guests. We did share them with our Archives department and our gift officers.”

Interviews in God’s Timing

ALC: Why is a pastoral prayer—corporate prayer—important?

WBC: Pastors have the opportunity to present the issues of concern before the people…. Since Jesus said we ‟should always pray” (Luke 18:1), we know that the discipline of prayer aids individuals and the congregation as a whole.

ALC: How does corporate prayer involve the people and their needs?

WBC: Often the pastor knows about the different concerns of the people…. Prayer unites the congregation by being confident in our great Physician and His  invitation to pray for others.

ALC: Explain the difference between preparing a pastoral prayer ahead of time vs. spontaneous thoughts (ex tempore) at the time of worship service.

WBC: A pastoral prayer needs preparation; it’s that important. Pastors would not think of delivering a sermon without proper preparation and effort ahead of time. Thus, since the pastoral prayer is a vital part of worship, it needs preparation…. You prepare yourself to pray as well as work on the prayer itself.

From Bill’s next book to be published soon, Prayers for the People: from the Heart of a Pastor, these excerpts are from the front part of the book. The major portion of the book is a collection of Bill’s pastoral prayers offered during the worship services at World Gospel Church, Terre Haute, IN.

As I proofed the book’s manuscript, I read these interviews I had staged with Bill. What struck me was the timing of the content. Four years ago I prepared the questions and interviewed Bill. I hardly had to edit his answers. He spoke clearly and to the intent of the book’s purpose. I divided Unit One into three interviews: The Why, Know Your People, and The How.

How did timing come into play? If I had waited until this year or even last year, Bill’s dementia would have prevented him from being able to construct mentally the answers. He would not have understood the content of my questions, nor the purpose of the book. Words would not have flowed into a clear response from him.

I am grateful to God and His timing. For without these interviews the questions would have remained unanswered. My fudging the content would not have given you, the readers, a look into the why and the how Pastor Bill viewed the importance of pastoral prayers during worship.


Prayer for Easter Sunday

Our heavenly Father, we cannot imagine what it was like, when on that first Easter morning the women went to the tomb and heard the announcement: “He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:6). The words were easy enough to understand, but the fact must have been incredible. We are not surprised they were stunned, for they groped to find the significance of what had been said. Some had doubts only answered by seeing. Even after more than 2000 years, the message still seems too good to be true.

   As we worship this morning, we pray for the presence of the Risen Christ to be among us. May we be responsive to His speaking and ready not only to believe Him but to follow Him. You have not left us alone, for the Holy Spirit is with us and dwelling in us who are obedient to the teachings of Christ. Though we have no merit of our own, You have given us grace upon grace, and You have been faithful to the covenant established through the redeeming death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are thankful for Your great love and for the unspeakable grace by which You have saved us.

   We give thanks, Father, for all things bright and beautiful, making faith in eternal life more sure: for our families who nurture us, for friends who love us. We thank You for Scripture which has guided us, for the fellowship of the Church which has sustained us during difficult times, and for the faithful witness of those who have held forth the Word of truth. We thank You for the saints who have died in the Lord, whose lives are still an inspiration to us. Above all, we thank You for our Lord Jesus Christ, who brought life and immortality to light, the hope to which we cling this Easter morning.

   We pray for those among us who live in defeat, for whom the note of victory sounds distant and unreal. You know their frustrations, the circumstances which seem insurmountable, the temptations which overwhelm them, the failures which dog their consciences, the griefs too heavy for them to bear. Into their darkened lives, we pray that the dawn of Easter morning might break, and in their desolate places we pray You might cause the desert to bloom like a rose. Grant Your song of redeeming grace to reverberate in the depths of their souls, and they be restored to victory.

   We pray for Your Church, Lord. We are grateful for her tenacity to stand firm for truth, for the faithfulness of those who have loved You and carried their banners high even in the heat of battle. Grant in these days of danger and opportunity, we who now are given the charge to be faithful even to death might be united in the conviction that Jesus is Lord. May we be courageous in enunciating clearly and fearlessly the witness of the resurrection of our Lord. Send us from this time of worship to live as men and women whose citizenship is in heaven, where we await a change in our lowly bodies to be like Christ’s glorious body, by the power which enables Him to subject all things unto Himself.

   We pray for our missionaries who are celebrating Easter in those lands where You have sent them, and we pray for national pastors in mission churches who proclaim to their own people the joyous good news that Christ who died for their sins is alive forevermore. Pour out Your Spirit afresh upon those pastors and their churches, that the name of Jesus may be glorified. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen. [From Prayers for the People: from the heart of a pastor, Bill Coker, Sr.]

10 Words and Good Friday

$10 for 10 Words. If you order Bill’s book, Words of Endearment: the Ten commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love, today 4/2 or tomorrow 4/3, from me it will be $10/per book, free shipping.

What do the Ten Commandments have to do with Good Friday?

“God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16) us His words, a revelation of His love, a portrait of who He is. These Ten Commandments are words of love: Words of Endearment.

“God so love the world that He gave His one and only Son…” (John 3:16). This Friday that we call “Good” reminds us of God’s best gift, His Son. Jesus, who took our sins to the cross, became the perfect sacrifice for us, for everyone, for the whole world. God loves you, me, us all. The evidence of His love, Jesus, hung on a cross and suffered a cruel death. We cannot express our gratitude and love enough for such a gift.

At the risk of being commercial, I want to express my thanks by offering a discount on Bill’s book, ordered from me with his stamped signature. If you order today or tomorrow, the cost will be $10 (not $12.95), free shipping. Send me a message on Facebook or email me at: al2.coker@gmail.com and I will mail your books next week. I need your mailing address. Pay by check (7718 Ashtree Dr., Indianapolis, IN 46259) or use my email address for PayPal.

Prayer for Maundy Thursday

O God, our heavenly Father, we come to this hour of worship to remember the suffering of Your Son for the sins of the world, to reflect on the purpose of His suffering, and to remind ourselves of the example He has given us in His humility and selfless obedience. We know our own unworthiness, but are comforted by Your love and the promise of Your forgiveness.

   Father, open the eyes of our faith to behold Jesus among us. Intensify our longing to live each day with Jesus, not trapped by a world far removed from eternal concerns. By His truthfulness, enable us to see our true selves. By His encouragement, clarify our vision to see what we can be through grace.

   Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, direct our worship and deepen our adoration. By His sanctifying ministry, cleanse us from all that hinders us from following our Lord and keeps us from knowing the joy of His peace that passes all understanding. By His empowering, give us victory over those sins and circumstances which bind us to what we used to be. By His assurance in our spirits, settle any doubts which disrupt the harmony of our souls.

   Forbid, Lord, that we should rejoice in the blessings of Your great love for us and yet lose sight of the millions of people who have no knowledge of our Savior. Whether in the uttermost reaches of earth or in the closest proximity to our homes, these are people for whom Christ Jesus was willing to be made sin, and for whom He brought hope of eternal life. Forbid that we should accept love without giving love.

   Guide us, Lord, to a renewed sense of commitment of ourselves to the kingdom of heaven, and to a refreshing sense of abandonment to Your will. Hear our prayers, O Lord, for we pray in the name of Him who loves us and gave Himself for us, even Jesus Christ. Amen.