Sermon: A Praying Church

You want to see what a sample of my husband’s sermon outlines looks like? It’s minus the color for emphasis. The words I don’t understand are Greek or Hebrew.

A Praying Church [Acts 4:23-33]  W.B. Coker, Sr.

Greatest miracle is the Church – ordinary people

} No question of the effectiveness of the early Church

>Why? Not perfect nor without problems

} One important factor → the power of prayer!

> Still essential for the Church today!

What Makes Prayer Possible?

  1. Confidence in prayer → changes things

> Eastern world more open to supernatural

  1. Confidence in God → Creator of all things

> Sovereign Lord – Devspota = power & control

> Loving Lord – who so loved the world…

  1. Confidence in their relationship with God

> Jesus’ radical teaching on Abba

> Whatever you ask the Father… [Jn 15:16]

  1. Confidence in each other – community of believers

> Walter Wangerin → the third party in marriage

> oJmoqumadovn = unity of purpose and passion

> They lifted their voice – singular focus

What Makes Prayer Powerful?

  1. Precludes self-reliance → Jr 2:13

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken

me, the fountain of living waters, to hew out cisterns for

themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

  1. Perfects our focus → our work ║ God’s work

> That we continue to speak Your word boldly

> You heal & do signs and wonders in Jesus’ name

  1. Particularizes our faith – vague in the aim [Sangster]

> Focus on our purpose, on God’s will

  1. Promotes fellowship – unity of the Spirit

                > they were all filled with the Holy Spirit

  1. Prevents faltering – not “going it alone”

                > …they continued to speak…with boldness

What Makes Prayer Priceless?

  1. Makes our relationship with God personal

We are objects known to God until we “unveil”

ourselves in prayer… By confessing our sins and

“making known our requests”, we assume the high

rank of persons before Him. And He, descending,

becomes a Person to us. [C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm]

  1. Confronts us with the necessity of commitment

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done

  1. Decisive battleground for the issues of life [Fosdick]

>Fight out the purposes of life

>Struggle with the desires of the heart

>Hunger and thirst for righteousness

>Strive for power to see & courage to do God’s will

Pay Attention

I’m reading the book of Proverbs during September, convenient one chapter per day. I like the triplet that runs throughout the book: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Knowledge is the facts, and understanding must follow before wisdom can help us with application of the truth.

Both chapters four and five begin with “pay attention.” That’s been my motto for several years, for that keeps me from having accidents, even slight ones. For example, while putting on makeup, I once mistakenly applied lip liner to my eyebrows. I left them red until my daughter noticed. I know things like this happen when I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing but thinking about something else. I’m told that’s the way with old folks, especially when doing what we’ve done for years, our minds tend to drift elsewhere.

Wisdom’s path leads to health and long life (3:11; 4:10, 22). Being attentive has value in physical ways, but can also be applied to my Christian walk. Then it means being steady in my disciplines, not stumbling onto the wrong paths, being sure and safe in God’s righteousness. Being attentive leads to better understanding, good instruction, and worthy teaching. “Love wisdom and she will guard you” (4:6). The righteous path is like dawn’s light. The wicked way is of darkest gloom (4:18-19).

In Proverbs, Solomon personifies Wisdom and contrasts her to the “forbidden woman.” We can take that as literal or figuratively, as in falling into worldly ways, seeking what everyone does, going along with the crowd. James writes about this in his epistle: “Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” (4:4). Ironically, considering his own life, Solomon closes chapter five of Proverbs writing about the goodness of marriage – one man and one woman being lost in love forever (5:19). It is “stupidity” (5:23) to seek another when you have your own lover, bound by your marriage covenant/vow/pledge. As we say at our house, “It’s in the contract.” We made a vow and we keep it faithfully. It’s good. So pay attention to all these things and wisdom will be ours.


Shaken Up (unpublished devotional)

The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.  –Hebrews 12:27

My little corner of the world seemed to be all shook up. All that I knew, all that gave me comfort and security, came unglued around me. Because the college board of directors did not renew my husband’s contract for the following year, I also would lose my job. While my work was not directly connected with the college, my boss was a member of that board.

I received a phone call from Bill while at work. He stated that he’d received a letter, pushed under the door of his office. He had no way to respond because board members had gone home and the president had left for a meeting out of town. The letter contained no satisfying explanation With a weak voice I asked, “What will we do now? What will happen next?” The phone seemed stuck to my hand, for nothing more could be said.

As my mind raced back to the scripture I’d read that morning, I walked slowly back to my office, pulled my Bible out of the desk and turned to Hebrews 12. “I will shake …” (v.26). Yes, that passage described our situation, but it also gave me something solid on which to stand. God promised “what cannot be shaken may remain” (v. 27). Faith is based on a firm foundation. God would provide and be there for us. God did that by opening a door to go back into the pastorate.

Do you need to hear God’s clear guidance from scripture for a personal application? His word is true and reliable. God has built a firm foundation for our journey through life.


It’s a lost art, for “paying a visit” is seldom practiced anymore. Yet last night a couple phoned and asked if we’d be home for a while. They wanted to bring over some homemade soup. Bill and I washed the supper dishes, brushed our teeth, and soon welcomed our friends.

We had a nice visit in the living room. The conversation started with a comment about our couch made by a friend in Kentucky. From that opening, we talked a bit about Bill’s piano teacher, how she was a part of the Coker family. She ate Sunday dinner with them most every week, and when she moved into a nursing home, she gave the Cokers several items of her furniture, some of which we now possess. Then our talk went back and forth, sharing family memories.

Now we did not schedule this visit nor did we plan ahead what we’d talk about. In fact, when I hung up the phone I gave some thought to questioning why our friends were coming. Yes, the soup was a nice gesture, but did they have something on their minds that was important to tell us. I don’t think so. It was an unplanned visit, something we rarely do these days.

I thought back to our former neighbors and how we would pop in unannounced. Bill did not knock, but would walk through their unlocked back door and holler out, “Hello, the house.” The lady of the house would appear in the kitchen and ask us to sit and have some coffee. We paid frequent visits and always felt welcomed, assuming that we had not interrupted anything important. For meals we would plan the day and time, usually after the men had a good catch of fish from the ponds.

Back during our pastorate days in Mississippi, these home visits were often labeled as “pastoral calls” on the quarterly report, but we did not plan them as such. We only wanted to share our lives together. And when we have returned to those circuits we have always been welcomed anytime and for any length of time. I miss those casual visits with country folk, for our lives felt comfortable, honest and safe.

Now we visit even our family members via the tech world – cell phones, texting, emails, Facebook and other social media sites. It’s good to stay connected anyway we can, but those home visits, casual and unimportant as they seemed at the time, make me homesick in a good way. Call (or not) and come visit. You are welcome (most) any time.


Complete in Christ

Guest Post: Roxanne Knott: – August 5, 2016

My friend Roxanne Knott has written something we all need to hear. Thanks for listening.

“So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” Colossians 2:10

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:19

There have been times in my life when I have felt like something was missing. Like there had to be something more to my life. It wasn’t that I was lacking the things I needed in my life. There was something inside that made me feel like I was just not complete. I would begin to think I will be happy and complete when ______ happens.

When I am out of school and get the job I love; when I get married; when I have children; when I get to be a stay at home mom; when I am doing full time ministry. The list could go on and on. Can you relate? Maybe you are there right now. What are you striving for today that you think will make you complete?

Well I have some good news for all of us today. The search is over. We don’t have to strive for completeness in anything or anyone other than Christ Jesus. We have already been made complete in Him and His love.

Though the things that we are looking or hoping for are not bad things and they can make us happy, we should not think we have to have them in order to be complete.

Once we realize we are already complete in Christ and we become content with where we are, we can then enjoy the other blessings that God brings into our lives. They end up being like the icing on the cake because we already have our worth, identity and completeness from Christ.

Before I became fully aware of this truth, I was blessed with some of the things I had desired. They did not immediately take away the feeling of incompleteness, however. I was still striving for something more. Because of this, I was unable to fully enjoy the blessings God brought into my life because I was always looking for the next thing I thought would make me happy and complete.

Once God had shown me I am already complete in Him and His love, I was then able to begin fully enjoying the blessings of God. I do not take them for granted nor do I continue to strive for something else. I now do my best to daily enjoy the fullness of life as our verse for today says. This has brought a peace and contentment into my life that I am grateful for.

We have everything we need when we have Christ. Through Him, we experience the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Prayer: Lord Jesus help me to see my completeness in you. Help me to live in the fullness of your love daily. Help me to see that my worth, my identity and my completeness come only from you, not from the temporal things I seek. In Jesus name. Amen.



In Sunday school this morning I followed along in the translation of the Bible I use while a young lady read aloud from another translation. The passage: Ezekiel chapter 18. I could easily follow the few variations of word choices, but noticed that the agreement of nouns and pronouns differed. Where the verses stated a person, a father, a son, the pronoun that followed was read not “he” but “they.” Agreement changed from singular to plural in an attempt not to be gender specific. Instead of using the singular “he,” her translation read the collective pronoun “they.”

This style chosen by the publisher indicates, to me, a change in relationship. The context of this chapter is about who receives life or death, salvation or judgment. It’s a personal thing, not collective. A father or son who sins receives personal judgment; a person who does what is just and right receives life. God administers salvation and judgment in a personal manner, not collectively. Yes, the translations chose a style suited to our generation where we do not want to make gender specific references, but we lose the personal element – that each person is judged on his or her own merit, each person’s state of righteousness by faith.


How much do I love thee?

I have long been impressed with the slogan for Hallmark cards: When you care enough to give the very best. These nine words capture not only my thoughts about giving my best, but they strike an emotional chord about my caring.

In what at first seems to be a contradictory idea, G.K. Ches­ter­ton said: If something is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly. Chesterton was not suggesting that any old thing will do, but that whatever is worth doing should be done even if my best is only a poor second to what someone else might be able to accomplish.

Obviously, neither of these statements is Scripture. With tongue in cheek, I would say that both of them convey the truth of God’s Word. If I care enough, that concern will be manifested in the quality of my caring. And if something is deemed worthy, it demands all that I can give, even though my best may seem unworthy.

Translate Hallmark and Chesterton into our lives as Christians, and we see what a drastic difference it would make. Instead of the leftovers so often served up to God, we would begin to dip off the cream – to give God our best.

When I was a student pastor during seminary days, I received a call from one of our parishioners. She told me they had killed a beef for their freezer and wanted to give us some meat. Since we were living on a limited income, her call was welcomed.

She was cleaning out her freezer for their newly-killed beef and gave us several packages of steaks and some butter. When I got home and opened our care package, I discovered that the date on the wrapper of the steaks was almost two years old. Inside the wrapper, the steaks were yellow with freezer burn. Ann cooked the meat, but we ended up throwing it away. We could not bring ourselves to eat it. And the butter? It was so rancid we did not even try using it.

I thought, “Lord, how often have we given you the rancid leftovers – what we didn’t want?” And what if we were willing to do what we can, even if it wasn’t as good as someone else might do? Would that make a difference?

When our children were small, they gave me some of my most cherished gifts. One was a tree limb from which they had pealed the bark and written: To Dad, the champ. This was to be my bat when we played baseball (with a tennis ball) in the backyard. A second gift was another pealed tree limb (they seemed to like limbs) on which they had taped two old toothbrushes to make a backscratcher.

I still have both of these gifts. They are trea­sures, and their value lies not in the quality of the crafts­manship, but in the love by which they were given. They had given their best, poor by some standards, but precious to a father’s heart. God does not ask any more from us. But God does ask for nothing less than our best, as poor as that might be.    ~William B. Coker, Sr.

Teaching Mom

Married with four children, I started college. I asked for only one concession – not to attend Saturday eight o’clock chapel. Granted that, I did not ask to be exempt from the Physical Ed classes. After taking the general course, I had to pick two more – archery and golf seemed safe.

After finishing the golf course, our youngest son Tom had me promise to play a nine-hole round of golf with him. Sounded like fun, so with borrowed clubs we started out. Around the fifth hole it started sprinkling. This seemed, to me, a good reason to head for home. “No,” Tom insisted, “You promised nine holes. A little rain is no excuse.” Thankful we didn’t have to play in a downpour, we finished the course and Tom was ready to go home so I could start supper. Making me keep my promise was a good example, one that matched another concept: “Finish what you start.”

Playing sports is not my strong suit, so when our oldest son Bill offered to train me in a game of tennis, I hesitated but thought it worth the time spent with him. One reason I liked golf is that the ball is not coming at me, but the tennis ball didn’t seem that offensive. At least it has more bounce than a baseball. The tennis lesson was going well, or so I thought, until Bill came around the net to give a hands-on demonstration. It had to do with my elbow. He said, “See this. It bends.” When the ball came to me across the net, I’d bend at the waist with my elbow stiffly in place to meet the ball. That tennis lesson turned into an anatomy lecture, and one game was enough for me.

Now you’d think cooking would be a better activity with my daughter Becky. But when it comes to baking cakes, she has me beat. Two-layer birthday cakes challenged my skills. The top layer would always split. I did take pride in one birthday cake when I made a battlefield on top. I used my son’s tiny toy plastic soldiers and positioned them in the hills and valleys of the iced cake. Years later I watched Becky take cake layers out of her oven, grab a long knife and slice the rounded top off, even with the pan, then dump the top into a trash can. I gasped. She saw my shock and asked, “Would you have me eat all those cake tops for every wedding cake I make?” So that’s how you get layers to stack evenly.

Our second son John taught me about listening and watching, both examples of patience.  In high school one of John’s favorite singers was Elton John. I only heard the beat and volume. One day I took the time and sat with John to listen to some recordings. Above the beat I heard the words, the message Elton was sending. Some made sense, and for those that didn’t, we talked. Years later I watched John sit by his youngest son as they ate lunch. Patience was the name of the game, for his little boy’s eating habit was slow motion, waiting between bites, more interested in talking than eating. Neither were in any hurry to leave the table.

A mother is expected to teach her children, and I’m sure they caught some worthy truths. But I’m grateful for those experiences when the reverse happened, for I learned from each of my children how best to engage in the lessons of life.

Eating Out


The one family event that I’ve boasted about the most was going to T. Pittari’s Restaurant on South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana. Whether Dad received this dinner as a gift from work, I never knew. My memory of T. Pittari’s is based on Dad wanting his children to know how to behave in a fine restaurant. As a treat for all four of us children, Dad and Mother made reservations. The host seated us in front of elaborate table settings, including etched glassware. Before we ordered Dad had arranged to have the waiter explain the silverware and the order in which we were to use them. The waiter gave some brief instructions about proper etiquette and had us place the napkins in our laps. He also told us that it was not proper to gaze around the room and look at the other patrons. That may explain why my memory has us seated off to ourselves, like in a separate room (probably not true to facts). T. Pittari’s is no longer in operation, but its fame lingers because of the gourmet dishes of game, live lobsters kept in a tank, and the high prices. One report noted prices as “unreasonably expensive.” Because of this experience I have never been embarrassed at any formal dinner. I’m grateful to our parents for this valuable lesson and thankful to T. Pittari’s staff for allowing it to happen. ~ Ann

New Wine in New Skins

Over the years I have kept a few things as reminders of people and events – nothing that would mean much to anyone else, but things that help me trace my footprints back over the years.

In my box of memories I found an audio tape Ann had sent me while I was in Israel during the summer of 1972. I stuck it in a tape player and listened to the voices of our four children; they sounded so much like our grandchildren now. Their voices were not the only ones on that tape. I heard my mother (who died in 1983) say that she was praying for me every day. Then my father (who died in 1974) said a few words. Before he began to speak, I could already anticipate his first two words: “Hey, boy….” That’s the way he began every telephone conversation with me.

I could not hold back the tears. Those voices recreated for me scenes that are a precious part of who I am and brought back feelings that neither time nor change has been able to obliterate. As long as I live, they will always be a part of me.

As I put my treasures back in the box, I thought of the words of Jesus in Matthew 9: “People do not put new wine into old wineskins – otherwise the skins burst, the wine is spilled and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into new skins and both are preserved” (v. 17).

This verse had come to mind because of something I’d read in a book by Donald Bloesch, The Crisis of Piety. In introductory comments to his second edition Bloesch had written: “The question remains: Can the new wine of the gospel be poured into the old wineskins of the institutional churches? It may be that the hope of the church lies in the movement of the Spirit raising up new forms of Christian witness and service that do not negate the wider church but serve to reform and purify it.”

In regard to a contemporary worship service, I have not wanted to see us lose the heritage of our hymnody. To do so seemed the same as throwing out the box where we have kept the precious memories not only of our past, but of what has made the church the church over the past 300 or, for that matter, the past 2000 years.

However, those who have not shared our past want newer wineskins; and why shouldn’t they? They would not have wept with me at the sound of my mother’s and father’s voices, so why should they have deep feelings for those things not belonging to them? They have only to remember that it was the wineskins that were to be new. For centuries the wine, though newly “vintaged,” is still being produced the same way. In a sense, the wine was the same; the containers needed changing.

I am not the only “foot-dragger.” Nor is it only those of us who are older. Some of us are hanging on to old ways, even those that may not be that old. Our ways are familiar. Our hanging on may simply indicate that it’s easier to keep the old skins rather than make new ones; or because we would be inconvenienced. In other instances, we may have sanctified the old skins and declared them to be God’s own – anything else would be against God!

We all need to heed Bloesch’s observation: “It may be that the hope of the church lies in the movement of the Spirit raising up new forms of Christian witness and service.” It will mean putting away (not throwing away!) our box of precious memories and moving on. That’s what I had to do that afternoon. We all have to. ~William B. Coker, Sr.