Reflections…………………….See What I See

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Today, December 22, my children, their wives and the grandchildren gathered at the Coker House for our annual Christmas celebration. Traditionally I try to have time with the grandchildren to share the true meaning of Christmas. Taking the account from the book of Matthew, the grandchildren were amazed how far Joseph and Mary traveled for the census taking in Bethlehem. They were equally amazed that even today we have a census taking. No riding for days on the back of a donkey while withstanding the uncomfortableness of being nine months pregnant only to be told by the Inn Keeper the Inn was full. No IPhone or IPad to make advanced reservations. This generation of children have never lived or thought about such an inconvenience or circumstance.

Equally amazing to this young generation was the story of the shepherds who spotted the star their grandparents had told them would appear when the Saviour was making His appearance on earth. We tried to emulate the excitement they must have had at such a grand event. Unlike the story in Luke, Matthew emphasizes the shepherds’ visit to Herod before going to see the young Jesus. This point in the story was the grand opportunity to introduce the concept of “gift” giving. ……..For God so loved the world He gave………….. The concept the gift doesn’t become a gift until it is received allowed a great opportunity for Granddaddy to share the gift of eternal life.

Certainly, very few people in Palestine saw and heard and understood what took place that night so long ago. Like today, the choirs of angels singing were drowned out by the busy streets (shopping malls). A lot of gift wrapping going on at the Christmas bazaar. If anyone did see Mary and Joseph on that most fateful night, they were too preoccupied with their own issues or problems to offer any assistance. You see, what we see and what we hear in life depends not upon the events but rather who we are as people. It’s not what is out there but what is inside of us.

Ask yourself what did you hear this Christmas? Would I have seen the ‘star in the sky?’ Would I have heard the Angels (carolers) singing? Would the rush of buying Christmas gifts have blinded me to the many issues that confronted the sheep without a shepherd. Do I need to seek a quiet place and reflect upon that night when the shepherds lead the parade with the Hallelujah Chorus.

………….busy housewives stop their labor,… the courtroom there is no debate….all the work on earth has ended……as the King comes through the gate………………..

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Elizabeth and Mary

Despite the Scrooges among us who annually decry the commercialization, the crassness and the blatant sentimentality of so much of the Christmas preparations, it is still a magical time of the year. The daily popping out of multi-colored lights at doorways and windows, the tree lots that seem to spring up overnight, the magnificent window displays, the wreaths, the tinsel, the reds and greens and sound of bells–it all evokes a tone of excitement and anticipation. It is as if the entire world is preparing for a visit from an emissary from another world.

Of course, like typical Americans, we overdo it. Much of the music is too loud and incessant; we are saturated with carols long before Christmas ever arrives; many of the decorations are too big, too gaudy; but still, isn’t it a remarkable time of year?

Our impulse to have a fairy tale stage seems to take our minds off the harsh Christmas realities. For even as we are caught up in the glitter and the tinsel we know that all is not well in the world. Fact: Murder and robbery in the United States reaches its highest peak in December. Fact: The Christmas season ranks just under Memorial Day weekend in the number of car wrecks on the highway. Fact: The suicide rate will begin its annual climb until it peaks out at what some call the “big downer” New Years Eve. This is the reality of Christmas. No tinsel, no glitter–just harsh reality.

So we turn from a fairy tale setting that appears to gloss over and deny to a Christmas Biblical narrative that appears on the surface to do the same thing. The story has the ring of a fairy tale. There is Elizabeth, for example, and her husband Zechariah, an elderly couple who have long since despaired of having any children, suddenly making an announcement to the community that she is with child. His name was to be called John. Later he would be known as the Baptist. Even Zechariah is unbelieving as he says in amazement, we are told, “I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years. Yet, it happened.

Across town there is another birth announcement, and this one too has the ring of mysticism. The young girl Mary, who is barely more than a child herself, the betrothed to Joseph, suddenly finds herself with child. Like Elizabeth, she is a peasant, a nobody, a nameless face in the passing parade of history. Yet, she is told that this child is to be called Emmanuel, which means God with us.

And then the two get together, the old lady pregnant with John, who will be called The Baptist, and the young child pregnant with Jesus, who is to be called Emmanuel. And the child in Elizabeth’s womb kicks at the sound of Mary’s voice. Whatever are we to make of this strange story of visions and angels and virgin births. Truth? Fiction? Legend? Fact?

There are those who would quickly tell us that we are doing with our religion the same thing that we do with our Christmas tinsel and glitter. They tell us that the story, like the decorations, offer us a temporary release from our hum drum realities. They will tell us that the story is little more than a fairy tale for adults who are seeking the lost innocence of our childhood. Like so many things associated with Christmas there is a “It isn’t really so, but wouldn’t it be nice if it were?” ring to it all. It seems to have little relation to Christmas realities–the crime, the wrecks, the increased mental anguish, world-wide tension, and complicated personal lives.

But in the midst of all of this I would simply like to make one observation. Mary and Elizabeth did not live in a fantasy world of tinsel and glitter. Like us, they lived in a world that had its harsh realities. If our world has its terrorists groups–the PLO and Afghanistan. so too did their world–the Iscariots and the Zealots. If our world has its decadent dictators– so too did their world–Herod Antipas of Jerusalem. If in our world we hear freedom’s cry coming from China, so it was in their world, with cries of freedom from the Jews and the rumblings of Rome’s legends. Their world and our world aren’t really so far apart.

And, like us, they lived in a world that had its own private realities. They lived in a world where old ladies were not supposed to get pregnant and neither were young ones who were not married. They lived in a world where human life was held cheap, a world that eventually took the lives of both of their children. And yes, they lived in a world that did not understand the ways of God.

The point is this. It was in the very midst of all of this harsh reality that Elizabeth and Mary continued to believe and hope in a God who can do marvelous things. They did this in a world very much like ours. And that is why God so uniquely came to them. Not because they were somehow protected from harsh reality. But precisely because in the midst of harsh reality they continued to be open to the voice of God.

It was faith that enabled them to experience the things that they did. Above the din of clanking armies and a torn homeland these two women heard the silent voice of God. While others went about their daily routines they saw the choirs of angels singing. They saw, they heard, they believed. And thus came our Lord into the world. He, his disciples, and even Mary and Elizabeth were not immune to life’s hardships. But he taught them how to live in this harsh reality. He can teach you, too. Amen.


Editor’s Note:  Sermon notes from a sermon given by Brett Blair.
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I am told people who are writers, or in my case ‘bloggers’, go through hills and valleys with their writing. Some days you are filled with topics and can write for long periods of time. Other days you are without words. Today is the first day of Advent and I found myself “ramblin” at my keyboard.

Our house has the sounds of grandchildren who are visiting for the weekend. With these children every thing is an adventure. June, my wife, a former kindergarten teacher has story upon story she can tell and activity upon activity in which she can engage them. For these young children coming to grannie and granddaddy’s is a real treat.

Luke, my four year old grandson and I took an extended walk at 7:15 this morning. The sun was shining, the birds singing. My objective was to intertwine nature with God and His creation. Amidst all of the signs of nature and creation I immediately recalled a story I had heard several years ago……….

“God are you really there?” the little boy, Jimmy, said out loud.

To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. “Yes Jimmy? What can I do for you?”

Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked. “God? What is a million years like to you?”

Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. “a million years to me Jimmy, is like a minute.”

“Oh, said Jimmy, “Well then, what’s a million dollars like to you?” A million dollars to me Jimmy is like a penny.”

“Wow!” remarked Jimmy, getting the idea. “You’re so generous…can I have one of your pennies?”

God replied. “Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute.”

My walk with Luke was one of the most interesting walks I have ever had. Filled with questions about God, nature and peppered with “why, Grandaddy?” I found myself enlightened and challenged. At the end of our morning journey I immediately recalled a note I had stored away in one of my “writer’s” folders concerning the greatest gift a young boy said he had ever received.

This man recalled when he was a young boy his dad wrote him a note and gave him the note at Christmas.

“Son, this year I will give you 365 hours. An hour every day after dinner.

We’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about. We’ll go wherever you want to go. Play whatever you want to play, every day of the year.

It will be your hour.”

That dad kept his promise and renewed it every year.

At Christmas God sends you the greatest gift you will ever receive. It is wrapped in your heart. A promise to talk about whatever you want to talk about, go wherever you want to go, play whatever you want to play, every day of the year. And He is keeping that promise.

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Reflections…..Lessons Learned On The Road To Christmas

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Emerging from Thanksgiving holiday with an expanded waist line and a heart full of gratitude I look toward the Christmas Holidays with excitement.  Several years ago I found that I was succumbing to the busyness of purchasing presents, planning travel, … Continue reading

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Reflections………………Going Home

Thanksgiving morning meant only one thing for this young boy of 14. Today I go rabbit hunting with my dad, brothers and other relatives. Equipped with my single barrel 410 shotgun I was prepared to be a ‘man’.  One of the things I learned  about hunting early on was as everyone else listened and followed the barking, known as the chase, if I would stay back in the vicinity of where the rabbit was bedding before we ‘jumped’ it up, it would make a large circle and start back toward its home where I’d be waiting.  On more than one occasion this proved to be a successful tactic.   This lesson is true in many areas beside rabbit hunting.

If you stop and ponder the situation, animals invariably have a desire to go home. The most famous of stories is of Lassie returning home. A trip that took several days. The most pronounced exhibition of this phenomena is that of the Salmon.

Salmon babies, known as “fry”, hatch out in lovely flowing fresh streams of water. They have plenty to eat and a safe place to live. Then they leave (sound familiar). They travel downstream to escape this nice, safe habitat, so they might merge into larger streams, rushing mighty rivers, and ultimately into the vast ocean. It is here they are transformed into a salt water salmon. (what a metaphor).  “And then they “go home.” They journey through the ocean,  back into the fresh water rivers, navigate through locks and dams, bears and eagles and eager fishermen, and finally make it back home, to the place they were born and nurtured.

Thanksgiving arrives this Thursday. Our annual Thanksgiving holiday may be our most prophetic of all holidays. Like the salmon, I have a burning desire to “go home.”  We embrace every part of our family heritage. We join together and become greater.  We are individuals with  a vital future found in the company of others. Why? Because we return to our roots even as we are looking towards the future.

It is so easy to look beyond Thanksgiving. The “gathering together” for a bit of family time at Thanksgiving has now become a “staging time”,  a foray into the shopping malls and big box outlets with an activity classified as “Black Friday.” After years of consciously trying not to ‘intrude’ on the sacred “family holiday” of Thanksgiving, retailers have now decided that “Black Friday” can legitimately begin before the turkey gets cold on Thanksgiving Thursday.

So what is Thanksgiving about in 2018? Living in a fast food nation and a “take out” culture it is the one day when we remember old recipes, when we literally and intentionally “taste” our past and let the food tell the story.  As the Coker family gather together we will be looking back at family and traditions and looking around the table at ones we love. It is our goal that Thanksgiving will bring out of each of us not a thankfulness for ‘things, but rather, an awareness that Thanksgiving is not about where we are, what we are eating, or what our shopping strategy is for Friday. Thanksgiving must be rooted in a thankfulness for relationships we have been given and the warmth that only comes in Going Home.

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My eighth grade science teacher, Mrs. Gladys Sigman, established early in our science class, “If you make a declarative statement, you must have evidence to prove that statement.” The same axiom was seen as the local farmers and workmen gathered in Brown’s general mercantile store when they would call someone down when there was doubt in what was being said, “you’re just blowing smoke,” or if it really was blowing smoke and there was no evidence to substantiate the comment it was not unusual to hear, ‘that’s a bunch of b—s—.” During my graduate studies at Western Michigan University, Professor Donald Blash returned my research paper with comments written in bold red letters, “there is no empirical evidence to prove your hypothesis!”

Eighth graders understood the premise, the local farmers understood the premise and certainly I understand it too. I need some help! If this group of diverse individuals from a wide cross section of the culture have no problem understanding “you must have evidence to prove your declaration,” how is it the most educated people in our country, individuals chosen to be our leaders and given the responsibility to make laws that govern our very existence do not understand the premise that every eighth grader in the United States understands?

I have long considered myself to be pragmatic and not driven by political parties. After carefully weighing the principles involved I cast my vote accordingly. I always try to weigh everything through the filter of Holy Scriptures. However, as I find myself getting more involved, hopefully from a pragmatic viewpoint, I find myself trying  to figure out “Why?”  I like what Tim Keller, noted Presbyterian pastor, said in the New York Times: “Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics. Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for social status quo. …to not be political is to be political.”

The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.’

                                                        —-OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

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Reflections……………………..Back in time to 59

The room was ablaze with school colors. Bright red and black table cloths adorned with beautiful white mums created a festive atmosphere. At one end of the room was stacked yearbooks with specific notations to the various class members. The background music was ‘love songs, punctuated with ‘rock and roll.’ Yes, tonight was the class reunion of the class of 1959. It was number 59.

As the class members entered the large room it was evident their vision was not as keen as it once was. Their hearing not as acute. Their step was guarded. However, the smile on their face was reminiscent of a night at the ‘sock hop’. Broad smiles and gentle laughter marked the beginning of a night to remember. This is the generation when ‘the Platters’ were the number one singing group and their song ‘Only You’ brought back thoughts of holding that someone special as you danced to their music.

A game of trivia with questions covering events in 1959 brought rounds of laughter and an occasional ‘you got to be kidding.’

At our previous reunions discussions centered around success as measured by occupations, children, grandchildren, where you lived. This time the talk centered not on material successes but on recognizing people for who they are, the sacrifices they had made and the services they had rendered. It was refreshing to have moved from a World’s model which measures value in terms of wealth, fame and power to a model which measures value in who you are.

We had to have an earlier departure than at our previous reunions where we stayed until the late hours. After all, we had to get home before dark.

Old Friendship

Beautiful and rich is an old friendship

Grateful to the touch as ancient ivory.

Smooth as aged wine, or sheen of tapestry

Where light has lingered, intimate and long.

Full of tears and warm is an old friendship

That asks no longer deeds of gallantry.

Or any deed at all—save that the friendship

shall be

Alive and breathing somewhere, like a


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I watched as the young men came into the gymnasium for the beginning of a new athletic season. They were healthy, full of energy with an attitude of excitement. Each of these men were given a notebook which they fondly referred to as the “bible.” Within the content of this notebook was the offense and defense the team would be playing for the coming year. It was filled with every conceivable behavior that could occur on a football field.

During the next three weeks, the players met with coaches executing the plays listed in the playbook. Coaches were quick to make corrections when a play was not performed in the manner listed. In addition to meeting twice a day on the athletic field, there were numerous ‘skull’ seasons where the mental aspects of the game were discussed and discussed.

The first game was between two strong teams, and early in the game one of the players shoved another player from the opposing team in the back resulting in a penalty for ‘unnecessary roughness.’ The penalty gave the opposing team a first down which eventually lead to a score. The Head coach was livid. He did not call the other coaches for a conference. He did not tell the player to meet him in his office on Monday. He did not put his arm around him and assure him everything was okay. He did not send him to a safe place to ‘think about it’. None of these responses were present. What was present was a direct discussion with a correctional attitude and rebuke, “That’s not who we are!! We don’t do that.” The player was removed immediately and a substitute took his place. His offense? He had violated the rules of the book. The ethics of the game as outlined had been practiced numerous hours and days before this first encounter. Discipline was quick and meaningful with a direct reference point for correction.

The aforementioned scenario is not isolated and is just a point of reference. The incident outlined is not hypothetical, it is real and was televised nationally. The team and coach happens to be the team with the most wins in the history of football and is presently ranked number one in the nation. Think about it.

When a child is born they begin their first practice the day they are brought home. Their coach and most important teacher is their parent. Their pre-season lasts for 18 years or until they depart their home for their first game in the game of life. What happens in these first 18 years is determined by their coach/teacher/parent.

Like all good coaches, the parent needs a game plan which is implemented on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. The fundamentals of the game plan is taught, practiced and carried forth in preparation for their first big game. Like the coach in a football game, the parent must choose a course of action, if not, the culture or someone else will train your child. Parents may embrace a plan that seeks the greatest good for the largest number of people. This plan would be a utilitarian approach. Another option  is what I refer to as egoism. I am sure you have seen this ethical approach. It is based upon the children being in charge with everything revolving around the “I” concept. A frequent approach in our society and a more liberal approach to the game plan would be an offensive strategy embracing the concept of no right or wrong. What is right for you is right for you. And, what is right for me is right for me. This approach is called situational ethics.

By far the best strategy for young children is ethics based upon virtue. Theories based upon virtue emphasize not whether specific actions are right or wrong, but the moral character of the individual. Right and wrong behavior are the by-product of moral character. Many times this approach is referred to as Christian ethics. It truly uses the authentic Bible to ascertain what God would have us do. Right and wrong are clearly defined, and like the coach before the season begins, the parent must clearly define the learning, and, in the same manner the athletes call their play book “the bible”, our play book should be the Bible where right and wrong are clearly defined and should be taught, practiced and implemented.

The big day has finally arrived. Your child has graduated from high school and plans his/her departure from you home. What will they be doing?? They will be doing what you have taught them. What will happen when they are challenged in the college classroom, on the job or by friends. Their response will be in accordance with the ethical game plan you have taught them. One thing for sure, you cannot go with them. There is only one ethical approach that allows your child to have someone with them. The Master Teacher will walk beside them everyday and they will never walk alone.

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I stood on the advanced tees at the golf tournament saying to myself, “I don’t believe I am supposed to be hitting from these tees. They are for ‘old’ people. You had to be 70 years old to hit from the forward tees. You were classified as a ‘super senior.’ I was 73 at the time and for three years I had pushed to the back of my mine the fact I was not a ‘super’ senior. Turning 70 was rifted with emotional landmines. All this hullabaloo about aging gracefully was ‘for the birds.’ “I’ll show them!” Off to the gym on a regular regime, eating all that healthy food and oh! yes, a little aging cream to make my eyes look normal. I didn’t have an aging problem. I had an attitude problem. I had to accept the inevitable changes of aging rather than seeing them as a crisis. Aging changes everyone.

The realization of the my attitude came to me as I sat in a restaurant when in came several “blue-haired” ladies with red hats on their heads. For the next 45 minutes I observed some of the happiest people I have seen. Their enthusiasm was contagious and their laughter made the entire restaurant fill with glee. That’s who I wanted to be.

During my semi-crisis I had told a friend “I don’t mind growing old, I just mind growing ugly.” The Red Hat Society made me realize there is more to life than how you look. Start with a great sense of humor, find meaning to life, find things that are important to you, follow your passion, keep things out in front of you, ‘be cool’. Keep the sizzle in your love life.

That sounds all great but how? Let’s begin with not getting bogged down. It can drive you mad. There is not anything you can do—-the clock is ticking. If you live to be 90 years of age you are probably not going to be living alone in a beautiful apartment and driving your car to the grocery store or walking a mile every day. Accept this statement and you have begun your first step. You are in the process of being ‘born again,’ only this time not as a baby or as a Christian but as a Senior Citizen.

Phase two after your new birth is to get over the stereotypes about being old. It is not disgraceful to morn the lost of your beauty, but don’t be a mama cat trying to be a kitten. Find out what to expect for someone your age. A good source of information is on line at Web MD. Stay active with moderate exercise everyday. Don’t drift into isolation or bitterness as this will lead to depression. If you are going down, go down swinging. And by all means don’t focus on “what is not working.”

The famous psychologist Carl Yung said “humans are created with the longing for belonging which is found in a community. Consistently engage with others who are like-hearted, cultivating your vertical relationship with God and your horizontal relationship with others.

So I journey with rejoicing

Toward the city of God’s light,

While each day my joy is deeper,

And the pathway grows more bright.

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Reflections…………………………..Mental Health


“Hurry Gary, we have got to get this pie over to our new neighbor.” Pie in hand mama and I went to visit our new neighbor. Upon arrival our neighbor was most gracious and laughed when she told us she already had two pies given to her by other neighbors. After a short visit Mama familiarized her with the local churches and invited her and her husband to join us on Sunday for the services. As a young boy this community was a bedrock of Godliness.

I was saddened on my recent trips to the community, that I call home, by the wide spread prevalence of mental illness. I hasten to add the definition being used for mental illness is illegal drug use, alcoholism, and suicide. It appeared everyone I came in contact with knew someone taking illegal drugs. My immediate question is “why.”

My generation were people of faith. We accepted the miraculous, we acknowledged freedom in Christ, we experienced the forgiveness of sin and believed in supernatural healing. In this small community, and others, we look around us and see people, even believers, struggling with severe mental and drug issues. “What is going on?” It makes for awkward and limited conversation. Is it possible, “we are flying by the seat of our spiritual pants when help is needed?” Is it possible Rome is burning while we gather in our “holy huddles.” Could it be our faith is no longer public but contained within the walls of the church and has slowly stopped influencing out public spheres?

The church and the church family could and should be a center of help and information for persons suffering drug and mental issues. Pastors should have training in how to deal with these common mental health issues and maintain a current list of resources available for individuals in need. There should be a consortium of churches working together within the community and every congregation should know of the churches’ resources and outreach. It is the church that should lead the way moving beyond the whispering, the silence and the stigma associated with the problem.

For the local congregation, ministry to drug users and people with other mental illnesses will not be easy, quick or fashionable. It may not even be rewarding, but is right and fitting for people called to love as Jesus loves to serve and represent His healing grace.

The sectarian lifestyle has broken down the foundation of the community and excludes God’s creation from our service. Consequently many Christians have a tendency to curl up and moan. Our most articulate need is to keep putting forth arguments offering the position of God. What is happening will not go away. The public needs to hear the counter balance, i.e. The Truth.

Disciple: “but Jesus how will they know who we are?” “They will know us by our love for one another and the fruit we bear.”

…if you are thoughtless
…about the faithless
…you will be fruitless

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