Will There Be Anyone There?
A Brave Naval Officer Retired
Yvette, my faithful alto, orchestra librarian and lyric projection-Rembrandt, was really Lt. Commander Yvette Cofresi-Eiland of the US Navy. When she wasn’t joyfully helping me, her faithful Music Pastor/Choir Director/Worship Leader, she was administrating mega-money for our nation’s defense at the Pentagon. She invited me to lead The Star-spangled Banner and sing You Raise Me Up at her retirement ceremony at the Women in the Military Center at Arlington National Cemetery. The Navy is rich with traditions born of the wood and canvas days of centuries past. One of those traditions calls for a retiring officer to be “piped ashore” by a bo’sun and a team of fellow-officers and enlisted personnel saluting the departing shipmate. They do this even when there is no ship involved.
“I Have the Watch.”
Just prior to this final tribute, Lt. Commander Cofresi-Eiland was called “front and center.” While she stood at attention, a fellow officer read a moving piece about “standing her watch,” drawing upon the necessity of keeping watch while at sea as a metaphor for serving your country while in the military.
- When her peers went their own ways to start careers and families, she stood her watch.
- When her family called for fellowship and holidays, she stood her watch.
- When the Navy sent her north, south, east or west in this land and across the seas, she packed her things and went to her post to stand her watch in some strange, new place.
- All the while she was training those under her command.
Over the years the size of her command grew with her rank as she continued to nurture those who looked to her for leadership.
A young officer was called front and center to stand facing her retiring Commander. As she saluted her superior she said these words. “I have the watch, M’am. You are relieved.” With crisp naval discipline in every gesture and step, the retiring officer turned and was piped “ashore.”
By this time I could not fight back the tears.
This was a picture of my ministry! The truth of it consumed my heart.
It still does.
I’ve been on this watch (music ministry in the local church) in one capacity or another since 1971. I think I have of plenty of time to go yet but, if the Lord delays His coming, I will be “piped ashore” one of these days.
- My watch will be finished.
- A younger leader will relieve me of my command.
Just as wood and cloth gave way to steel and steam and these gave way to satellites, computers and nuclear propulsion, the ministry of music and worship will go on without my presence.
But I can leave something of my heart behind.
I can seek out the young anointed ones now.
- They are not my competitors they are my charges.
- They are not threats to my security; they are trustees of my survival.
I must seek them out.
- I must befriend them and earn their confidence.
- I must respect them and listen to them.
With such initiative on the part of my generation and those in power today, many of them will respect and befriend us. As we earn their confidence, many of them will listen to us. Things that took me years to learn, I can transfer in a sentence, or a seminar, in an article or an afternoon phone call.
The passing of the faith from one generation to the next is a vital part of the spirituality of the church.
- How good are we at “transferring the watch” from generation to generation in the church?
- How often does one generation hold on to power at the expense of the next generation?
- How many times does this vise-grip on power produce rebellion in the next generation and an iconoclastic spirit that destroys what has gone before rather than reform it?
A Tale of Two Men Named Saul
There are two leaders called Saul in the Bible: King Saul and Saul of Tarsus, whose name was changed to Paul. Though both King Saul and Saul of Tarsus were of the tribe of Benjamin, two men could not have had two more contrasting beginnings in the public record.
King Saul was a man of impressive height and appearance. (1 Sam 9:2 )
- He was self-conscious and shallow, finding no real depth in his relationship with God.
- His striking appearance concealed an empty soul.
- God gave him a new heart and his own band of musicians but neither was maintained.
When we get our first glimpses of Saul of Tarsus in Acts no comment is made about his physical appearance. In the scriptural record, the stuff inside the man Saul of Tarsus is the stuff of interest.
- He attended the stoning of Stephen, approving the assassination.
- He breathed murderous threats and accusations against the followers of Jesus.
- His inner thoughts become violent acts as he dragged men and women from their homes and delivered them to prison. (Acts 7-8)
Their endings are of equal contrast.
- King Saul lost his son’s loyalty and his kingdom to a young man named David. It was the stuff inside of David that was the stuff God was looking for—a heart in the likeness and in the pursuit of the heart of God.
- Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul. His passion for the things of God was transformed by a vision of the resurrected Jesus and, therefore, by a vision of the Cross. His religious zeal was transformed by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. His inner thoughts became the righteousness of Christ. His outward actions, springing from those inner thoughts, became deeds of mercy and service. The pride of his life melted into the humility of the life of Jesus as he let go of earthly acclaim to please the one he met on that road to Damascus.
One of the greatest contrasts in these two Saul’s is found in their attitudes toward the next generation.
- King Saul was so threatened by David he lost his sanity and became a spear-throwing monster.
- The Apostle Paul sought out the Timothy’s and Titus’s of his day and invested himself in them.
That’s what I want to do.
It is what today’s leaders must do.
Conversation by the Bay
In 1997, just before Matt Huett became my son-in-law, he and I were walking one day beside Hillsborough Bay in Tampa. I think he decided to test his future father-in-law. He said this. “I don’t like the way we have church. In fact, I don’t like the way hardly anybody has church. What do you think of that?”
“Matt,” I said, “I am a man of the 20th century. I was born in 1949 so my life has made up the second half of that century. You are a man of the 21st century. Why should I expect you to agree with my methods? Here’s what I will promise you. I will not fight you as you try to change things, the way my parents’ generation fought us Baby-boomers every step of the way. I know things have to change. Let me help you change them!” In the subsequent years, Matt has been a wonderful source of perspective for me on our generaitonal differences.
To all you twenty-something/ thirty-something worship leaders out there in the local church, I say this: Go for it! Seek God in your generation, in your languages, in your styles. Along the way, realize yours is not the first generation to do this. Some of us who have been seeking God in our generation are doing so precisely to help you find Him in your generation.
Our Time Is Coming—When We Will be Piped Ashore.
When the time comes for you and me to be called “front and center” to transfer our watch to the generation coming behind us:
- Will there by anyone standing there?
- Will there be someone there we loved and trusted, who received our best seed into his/her heart?
- Will anyone say, “I have the watch, sir, you are relieved.”?
- Will our ministry fade into history as we are piped ashore?
Or, will our legacy go on with new names and faces into a new future with a holy nation, a chosen generation, and a spiritual house secure because some is standing watch?
Ps 145:4 NKJV
One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved