Saturday, March 28, 2015


“For we are His workmanship (poiema)
created in Christ Jesus for good works…” (Ephesians 2:10).

The squeaks in our kitchen floor
call back all of that rain and our prodigal contractor.
We came here each evening to sweep away the water
those twenty-eight years ago.
Now, our children grown and gone,
our backs and knees recall those years,
and each is precious for its pain and trouble.
They’ve been quilted together,
each a few words stitched into His poem,
for we are His workmanship.

You are right, of course—
I do keep too much old stuff around.
I want that worn-out, “spare” lawnmower
to belch its smoke when I turn the key.
It should, by now, be rusting in the front yard
of the lawnmower man on Highway 13
or crushed into a compact block
in the scrap yard off the Bucsville exit.
I want that Merry Tiller my daddy used
to rid your garden of weeds again this spring
and the paper clip to hold its throttle in place.

I want to be the hand of redemption for these old scraps
as you have been for me.
It took patient conversations by the fireplace
stitches on Saturday mornings,
the words you put into my lunch bag each day,
the times you asked if I liked your new recipe,
the times we prayed together and overcame
to hold our pieces together.

For we are His workmanship,
     His fan-pattern quilt,
          His poem
                the broken stuff He has made beautiful.
He has sewn those pieces together just right
using your hands.

For Sara
March 2015



Finley Address 2015

I have neglected this blog for several months because, as I'm sure it has been for most of us, life has been so busy. I also felt that I had so much to say that I did not know where to begin. I believe I may have found a good starting point here. I have posted below my Finley address because some have asked for it. I am overwhelmed not only that I was selected, but also that God would have used the words He gave me. Please pray that I will be a faithful steward of whatever attention this brings and direct any honor to Jesus, where it truly belongs.

I could, right now, very easily compose a long list of faculty and staff members at Hoover High School who are deserving of this award—there are so many caring and dedicated and skilled people there! And so, I was genuinely flabbergasted in the assembly last month when the award was announced, and everything just sort of went into slow motion for a while, and I could not really believe it was all happening, that he had actually said my name. But now that I have gotten my mind around it, my main impulse is just to say, “Thank you!”

 First of all, I need to thank my family, and especially my wife, Sara. Sara, the longer I live the more I recognize what a gift you are—without you I am not complete. Robert and Elise, thank you for helping me learn what is really important in life. You know I love to read, but you have taught me far more than books. I have often been a slow learner. I appreciate who you are, and I love you. Thank you.

Next, I need to thank this community. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to touch the lives of some of your young people, and thank you for not only sponsoring here excellence in academics, the arts and athletics, but also for caring about character. I’m thankful that character was woven into the culture of this school system early on by such people as Coach Bob Finley. I can tell you how much it has meant to the students I have nominated for Finley awards through the years to receive that letter from our principal telling them someone has noticed them and appreciated. I want to say to these students who are here tonight receiving awards that we teachers appreciate you, and we depend on you. Thank you, and congratulations!

And now finally, and most importantly, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I must tell you that, if there is any good in my life, it came out of those times when I was following Him. I don’t consider that I “have my act together.” I’m just trying to follow Him. He has even given me the desire, strength and wisdom to follow, when I have allowed Him to. So, any honor is really His.

I suppose that, over the years this banquet has been held, many who have spoken have set out to define the word character. I wish I had the benefit of all those ideas. Lacking that, I will offer a definition I am sure many are familiar with, and here it is: character is who we are when we think no one else is looking or that no one knows our true identity (as, for example, when we are on the Internet or when we are in traffic). In those moments we are, simply, what we really believe, and what we really believe about the way things are will come out in our thoughts and actions. So, over the next minute or two, may I give you three of my core convictions or beliefs that I believe have a direct bearing on character? And let me say at the outset that I have not, in any sense, mastered these.

Core Conviction #1:  I believe people, all people, are important. I believe we are going to be truly surprised someday because many who are now last will be first, and many who are first will be last. If all people are important, then I should make time for those whom God brings into my life and get connected with them at their points of need. Now, points of need are always right under a teacher’s nose.  But let me give you another great example of what I’m talking about here: My friend Jack Lavallet has a very demanding job, no less than five children (whom he and his wife Teri have adopted or fostered), and heavy responsibilities outside of work, for example, at church. Jack is confined to a wheel chair and has limited use of his hands, but he gets it all done, and he is never in too much of a hurry to find out how things are going in the lives of those he encounters—he then remembers  what you tell him and will ask you about it the next time he sees you. He believes people are important.

Core Conviction #2:  I believe words are important, and powerful. (You know, I just love to say that as an English teacher!) This can work both ways, though—words can do great harm or great good. Words can wound for life or discourage to the point of despair; they can start wars, dissolve marriages or relationships, get you expelled from college, get you fired, destroy a life-time’s work or land you in a prison cell. They can embarrass or shame the speaker (or texter or tweeter, as the case may be) for a lifetime. Often when a word leaves our lips (or key pad), it is gone forever. Irretrievable. Out there in the public domain. Think about this for a minute: anything you say can end up on YouTube in less than a minute. I believe someday we will give an account for every word. I have in my classes what I call the “room-full test.” I let students bring in their favorite songs to analyze, and I tell them it must pass the “room-full” test. This means they are to imagine everyone whose opinion they care about, including their grandmothers, youth pastors and future employers, lined up around the walls of the room listening in. The question then becomes, “would you be comfortable sharing your song?” That seldom fails to answer questions about propriety. So, the wrong words may cause harm. *****On the other hand, words can heal, reconcile, restore, encourage, and here’s a great word: edify. We must choose how we will use our words. I believe that there is some fundamental aspect of God’s very nature and of ours that requires, and inherently values, words of the proper kind and source. I think words are important, that they shape the human soul, and that we should be selective about the words we immerse ourselves in. A person of character would be careful and kind with the words he (or she) uses because words have great power for good or for evil.

Core Conviction #3: Finally, I believe that work is sacred. Again, this, to my understanding at least, goes back to our being created in God’s image. God works, He creates, and then man is His masterpiece. (Incidentally, in the Greek, the word for masterpiece is similar to our word poem; so, that makes us God’s poem, his workmanship.) God then sets man in motion to manage His creation, to work, in other words. So, I believe that work can become an act of worship when it is done as unto God with all care and concern and joy and skill. I must care deeply, therefore, about the quality of the work I do. I have been fortunate to have worked around those who continuously strive to improve their craft and skill in teaching, and that has inspired me, especially as it concerns the application of technology. Now some may say, “Well, OK, I get the point about work, but I don’t really work yet, for I am merely a student.” To you I would say that your biology class can become the most spiritual activity you do all week. So could taking out the garbage and, well, you get the idea. Your greatest challenge in this area, at least from my perspective in the classroom, seems to lie in your being able to set boundaries for, and finding a proper balance in, your use of technology. That’s ironic because technology can also be one of your greatest advantages. I believe work may actually become a sacrament or an act of worship and communion with God.

So, then, I believe people are important, words are powerful and work is sacred. Sometimes the most obvious truths become the most obscure or the most overlooked. I think of these beliefs more as ideals than as rules. I haven’t mastered these. They are goals, guiding precepts, points of clarification. Because life and character, for me, are not about rule-keeping; they are about following a living Saviour.

I appreciate the opportunity I have had to share these thoughts with you this evening. Thank you for your kind attention, and God bless.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What is the proper goal of my ministry to others?

If the biblical goal for every man is to be a disciple-maker, then every man must be ministering to others.

What is the proper goal of a man’s ministry to others?

o   Not attendance in an activity—but I can seek to increase it.

o   Not solving everyone’s problems—but sharing them is part of normal Christian community.

Proper goal is that people I minister to are growing in their personal relationships with Christ (something I cannot (and should not try to) directly control; although, I can first model it, then encourage it and seek to facilitate it, and mostly pray for it).

What, then, are the parameters I would use to identify such growth?

1.  Joy and discipline in personal time in Word and prayer (Ps 119:97, II Tim 3:16-17)

            Time in Word should be producing both knowledge and insight.

2.  Awareness of His presence and conversation with Him (I Thess 5:17)

3.  Becoming Christ-like in relationships (John 13-34-35)

4.  Developing a servant heart (Mark 10:45, Phil 2:7, Mark 9:35)

5.  Control of the flesh through the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16)

6.  Identifying and dealing with idols (Ex 20:3)

                                    Time and money
        Indicators:        Source of refreshment/ recharging

                                    Thoughts/ fantasies/ “dreams”

7.  Sharing faith with unbelievers and encouraging Christians (Matt 4:19, Heb 10: 24-25)

8.  Committed to a local church—using gifts  (Eph 2:21-22, Heb 10:24-25))

9.  Stepping out as  leaders/ initiators

o   A faithful man (II Tim 2: 2)

o   Led by Spirit (Rom 8:14)

o   Of proven character (Rom 5: 3-5)

o   Loving in deed and truth (I John 3:18)



Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mountain Aire

 Mountain fiddle,

let cove ring and high bald tremble.

Front-porch Celtic cousins stare, mingle, whittle,

Through gap and holler, foller
dulcimer tones,

bagpipe drones.
banjo rankle, plunk, canter.

Flowers sing,
the highland fling.

Moss-covered ridge rock turning
in the rhythm.

                                                    Cabin at Tannehill State Park
                                               (Watercolor by Bob Cofield)

                                                                             Cosby, TN
                                                          (Photograph by Bob Cofield)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

That the Writings of the Prophets May Be Fulfilled

From my personal devotional this morning (Matthew 26 from Moody's Today in the Word series), I was struck by how Jesus deliberately chose to endure the betrayal and suffering of the cross. In the midst of it, he would occasionally comment "this must be done to fulfill the writings of the prophets." What truly struck me was that he cares very much that the words of the prophets be fulfilled---and this will apply to His Second Coming, as well. Let the world call me a fool, but I believe this. I know Him and trust His words enough to know that He will do exactly what He says He will do.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

“The Tongue (As it is Addressed in the Book of Proverbs)”

Small Group Lesson                      March 23, 2014

(Outline of this lesson is from Lifeway's Explore the Bible Series. Questions are my own.) 

Introduction:  God’s own words are able to perform great tasks. He spoke the universe into existence. When He speaks, legions of angels are able to spring into action to carry out His every command. His words never “return void, but will always accomplish the purpose for which [He sends] them out” (Isaiah 55: 11). His words bring eternal life, wisdom, healing, comfort, reproof and correction to us, but also judgment to the wicked and unbelievers. Jesus is, Himself, “the [very] Word made flesh.”  We need His words continually to maintain our spiritual lives:  “…man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8: 3). Also, the Word of God is "living and active...discerning the thoughts and intents of [our] hearts" Hebrews 4: 12). Psalm 119 is entirely about the necessity of the Word to our spiritual lives.

Because we are created in His image, our words, also, are vitally important and powerful, either for good or for evil. We can destroy another person’s self-image, hope or happiness with our words.  We can deceive, mislead or cause another person to lose faith. On the other hand, we can encourage, build-up or counsel another person for good. With our words we can become followers of Christ or invoke God’s aid or guidance.  A few words can begin a war or conflict or bring about peace, unite two people in matrimony or dissolve a marriage, make a life-long enemy or begin a life-long friendship, seal a business deal or cause a lawsuit or criminal proceeding, cause a multitude to panic or restore peace, destroy or tear down another person’s public reputation and start a vicious rumor or rescue a person from slander. In short, our words are NEVER without consequence, and God holds us directly accountable for our words: “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned [judged] (Matthew 12:37). Judging from the volume and content of scripture devoted to this topic, our words are a really big deal to God. He even tells us that our religion is worthless if we (habitually) fail to control our tongues. “This is especially true when we are under stress” (Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, 142). One reason this is reasonable on God’s part is that our words reveal what is in our hearts, and God looks upon our hearts to judge us (Matthew 12:33-34). Psalm 15: 1—2 also connects our hearts with our words.

I.   Recognize the Power of Words    (Proverbs 18: 19—21; also, read James 1:26, 3:1—12 and 4:11)

(Illustration of the Boxer Rebellion in China.)

(Just be thinking about these questions for the time being. We will return to them in a moment.)

1.  Think of a time when you were wounded, deceived or discouraged by someone’s words.


2.  Think of a time when you were encouraged, comforted or given needed direction by someone’s words.


3.  Which of your own words have you come to regret? When have your own words accomplished great good?


II.  Think Before You Speak (or Write/ Tweet)  (Proverbs 17:27—28 21:23; also Ephesians 4:29, I Peter 3: 8—9, Colossians  4:6, Psalm 141: 3)

1.  How might this admonition be especially important in a digital age?


2.  What is the standard set by Ephesians 4: 29 for thinking before speaking?

3.  How might the Holy Spirit be involved in this?


III.  Guard Against Gossip   (Proverbs 11:13; 26:20—24)

1.  What is the definition of gossip? What is the distinction between gossip and “sharing concerns about other people”?

2.  How should we react when someone approaches us with gossip?

3. How might it be possible to spread gossip using non-verbal forms of communication, such as innuendo?

4.  What negative effects does gossip have upon the purveyors, the victims, non-believers and the body of Christ?

5.  How can we shut it down?


IV.  Guard Against Falsehood   (Proverbs 10:18—19; 12:17—19)

1.  How is slander falsehood?

2.  What is duplicity?

3.  What is integrity?  What are some common provocations for compromising our integrity with our words?

4.  Might insincere flattery be lying?


V.   Use Words to Help and to Heal (and be Open to Correction)   (Proverbs 25: 11-13, 31: 8—9)

1.  When does Biblical admonishment become contention?  (Romans 15: 13—16)

2.  When is it sin NOT to speak up?  How is the concept of “Social Justice” misused in today’s Christian culture?

                a.  False means of salvation

                b.  Social justice vs. egalitarianism and “when helping hurts”; the “radical” fallacy

3.  Might healing involve wounding?  (Proverbs 27: 6; James 5: 19—20)


(1)  Ask God to cauterize our lips   (Isaiah 6: 1—8)

Conclusion:        (2)  Maintain on-going prayerfulness                      (From Kent Hughes)

                                (3)  Resolve to discipline ourselves

Sunday, March 30, 2014

“Pied Beauty”

In his poem “Pied Beauty,” Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in 1918,
           Glory be to God for dappled things—
            All things counter, original, spare, strange;
            He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
            Praise him.

In this poem Hopkins seems to have identified and beautifully expressed one of those attributes of our God that I most naturally worship Him for, namely, His infinite imagination and creative genius. Wondrous is the word that comes most readily to my mind. This weekend I saw a fish at the Dolphin Island Aquarium that was stunningly imaginative, counter, original, spare and strange: a lion fish.

On the way home along the Interstate, tree buds tinted their branches green against a grey clouded sky. The Carolina Jasmine accented with yellow and the Redbuds with purple-red. Unidentified rust-reds (young maple?) and whites (plums?) counterpointed. Oh, He fathered-forth whose beauty is past change. Praise Him.