My 5 Highly Recommended Books on Basic Christian Beliefs

Creed by Adam Hamilton

Creed, What Christians Believe and Why, Adam Hamilton, Abingdon Press, 2016
A very readable, yet thoughtful presentation of basic Christian faith written for the contemporary mindset; faithful to the historic Christian beliefs yet with room for a "generous orthodoxy." Material grows out of the Apostles' Creed, hence the name. It sticks to the essentials, and is eminently suitable for group Bible studies. Makes the Creed come alive. Surprisingly inspiring to read even for this seasoned Christian.

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

The Purpose Driven Life, What on Earth Am I Here For?, Rick Warren, Zondervan, 2002
Begins with the culture challenging words, "It's not about you!" and gets better from there. A best-selling presentation of Christian faith for the contemporary mind. More thorough than some since it is designed for a 40 day devotional journey yet very basic and very readable. Very down to earth and makes Scriptures used easy to grasp. A must read today.

Christian Basics by John Stott

Christian Basics, Beginnings, Belief and Behavior, John Stott, Baker Books, 1999
Written by a famous and long admired British pastor and theologian. Concise and direct; very quotable. An extremely clear logical presentation of our faith. Study guide included.

The Faith by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett

The Faith, What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It and Why It Matters, Charles Colson and Harold Fickett, Zondervan, 2008
The only one of the five not written by a pastor. Yet Colson became a brilliant apologist for Christian faith after his conversion and writes convincingly. He put his faith into practice by helping prisoners. A little more theological and deeper than most yet very rewarding and inspirational. Well illustrated.

United Methodist Beliefs by William H. Willimon

United Methodist Beliefs, A Brief Introduction, William H. Willimon, Westminster John Knox Press, 2007
Written by a popular Southern Bishop of the United Methodist Church to help people learn the basics of the faith. The strength of this book is how it relates the key doctrines of the faith to Methodist history, tradition and practice.

Telling the rest of the story of countries like Haiti

Today’s Hartford Currant had an excellent article that gets at the rest of the story about countries like Haiti, the part of the story that is not told. It’s not the whole story either. For starters, the government corruption endemic to so much of Latin America afflicts Haiti as well. But Americans need to know the part of the story Bill Heiden is telling. Haiti Commentary

Experience the Good Things of God’s House for Yourself

God’s promise of blessing in God’s house

If you are one of those who tries to get by without actually attending church much, I urge you to reconsider! 

Often I’ve said, “It is a blessing to be able to be in God’s house on Sunday morning.”  People probably think I am just advertising since I am the pastor.  But my statement is based on my own experiences of spiritual renewal, emotional and physical healing and finding encouragement during worship.  It is also based on the multiple testimonies of others.  Recently as I was reading daily devotions, I found a matching objective foundation for my thesis.  In this Bible promise, God specifically promises to bless God’s people in the house of worship.   

Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.  Exodus 20:24 NIV

So God has specifically promised to give blessing in the sacred places set apart to honor his name.  I say that’s a reason to be there!

 

 

God meets us when we are praying alone too

It is not that God does not give us power and strength when we come to him alone outside of God’s house, in our own homes or on a walk in nature, for example.  He does. Jesus in John 4, taught us that worship can occur anywhere.  And in fact, Jesus often spent time alone in prayer outside and he urged us to spend some time in private prayer too (Matt. 6:6). Rather, what the promise we are studying is saying is that God promises to give additional blessing in his house.   Part of this added beneficence from congregating in sacred spaces is the synergy that happens when the people of God are together worshipping.  But according to the promise, part of the power of being in God’s house is also God’s sovereign choice to bless his people in his house.   God desires to be gracious to us there!

 

 

What is so special about church?

The Psalmist David experienced blessing in the temple in his day. He gave credit for his blessings in the sanctuary to the character of God.  David testified: 

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 
Psalm 63:2  NIV

David is also specific about two of the benefits he had received as a result of his worship in God’s house. 

You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.  Psalm 68:35  NIV

 

The power and strength that we feel in church comes to us in personalized ways through several means.  First, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our hearts renews us like fresh water revives a famished plant (Psalm 1:3; John 4:14).  By being in God’s house for a service of worship we are deliberately spending time and focus to open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit’s influence.  Second, in God’s house, there is added exposure to the Word of God.  The Word of God molds us and guides us (Psalm 119:105).  Third, as we individually and collectively make God’s house a house of prayer, we experience the presence of God. Fourth, the sacraments God has instituted through Jesus are celebrated and received in the house of God.    Finally, when we are together in God’s house, we receive encouragement and a sense of connection with others in the body of Christ.   All these together result in tremendous benefits to those who are often found in God’s house for worship. 

Blessed are those who dwell in your house…
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.
Ps 84:4, 10  NIV

Well, I guess it isn’t just me who gets blessed in church.  See you there! 

 

A Response to President Trump’s slur against African Nations and Haiti

I have been to two such nations

It is hard to know how to respond to the situation when the President of our country is purported to have made a slanderous and vulgar remark against underdeveloped countries that is being widely reported and hardly denied. 

In my position as a spiritual leader who has traveled for ministry to two such nations, including twice to Haiti, I cannot help but respond.  As I thought about it, I have some suggestions for us all. 

But first, at the outset, I would say that because of the love of those whom I have met in Haiti and Zambia, I am offended on your behalf.  Let me recall just one incident.  As my time as a Bible teacher was nearing conclusion in Zambia, one day I was sitting in the back observing a student-led chapel service.  The students came back to me and asked me if they could pray for me. I will never forget being seated in the center of the circle at the front of the chapel, surrounded by, covered by, blessed by praying hands over me.   I lived for months in the aura of that prayer.  I am deeply offended for my friends.  I do not even remember being remotely aware that I may have been the only white-skinned person in the service that day.  It was not relevant.  One who says such things as the President is reported to have said has never sat where I sat. 

Five Suggestions

  • First, the situation is certainly a call to prayer.  When things like this occur, it aggravates the polarization of our country.  We need to pray against such increased division. It takes our focus as persons and as a nation off what it needs to be on. If a person happens to be Republican in political persuasion, it is doubly a call to prayer as such things are embarrassing and fracturing to your party.   Remember we are called in Scripture to pray for those who are over us (1 Tim. 2:1, 2).
  • Second, this week’s presidential slur is a call to make our own position as Christ followers known.  Silence is still often construed as agreement.  We affirm that Jesus loves all people and calls men and women of every nation to follow him and to love one another.  We must make our position clear. 

“In a statement to the church from the President of the Council of Bishops, Bruce Ough writes, “We call on all United Methodists, all people of faith, and the political leadership of the United States to speak up and speak against such demeaning and racist comments.”

In his response to the situation, Bishop Bickerton continued with a quote from Martin Luther King whose memory we honor tomorrow.  

"On this weekend before Martin Luther King Day, it would do us well to remember the words Dr. King wrote from a Birmingham jail. Dr. King said, 'We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.'"

  • Third, just because the President stoops to use vulgar language is no excuse for others to start doing so.  I can’t believe the Facebook pages and news sources where I have seen the word he used, sources that would previously have never even thought about using such a word or printing such a word themselves.  But because the President said it, somehow it’s okay?  Beware!  The Bible admonishes plainly that obscene and vulgar talk is out of place for Christians (Eph. 5:4).   May our standards of speech and writing remain high. 
  • Fourth, we need to look for ways to take action to make a positive difference.  Extend a hand of friendship to a co-worker of a different race or ethnic background.  Assist an immigrant in their quest to learn English or get citizenship or a job.  Work for a cause that helps refugees or storm victims from Puerto Rico, for example (Gal. 5:6).   Actively love!
  • Fifth, this sequence of events is a reminder to us that character matters.  Character matters when we select leaders of local organizations.  Character matters when we elect officials for our country.  My character matters and yours does too.   Every day we are making decisions that either strengthen our own characters and make them more Christ-like or compromise them.  If we compromise them, sooner or later our words will betray us.  If we build our character by the Holy Spirit’s help, we will be better prepared for the challenges ahead and others will be able to rely upon us to be faithful, diligent, and trustworthy (Rom. 12:2). 

Country Santa

Just a mile or so away from my house is a man who collects small old Farmall tractors.   Seems like I am always chasing a deadline when I go by,  but today, by some miracle,  I was running just a little early so I pulled in and introduced myself.   I wanted to meet the curator of this collection which I have admired ever since I moved here.  An immediate reason was also that I wanted to ask permission to take a photo of this country Santa that he has in his front lawn.  I found the collector to be a very amiable and hospitable guy named Bernie Merli and he calls his place “Acre Farm.”  I just have to go back when I can talk longer.   His Santa is perfect for a “Country Touch.”   When it rains, he either covers Santa or takes him inside.   He covers the tractors during the winter so I can hardly wait til spring to get better acquainted. 

Homemade tree ornaments tell a story

Memories of simpler times

The other night I was with friends who were sharing memories of earlier Christmases.  Carolyn commented that she had recently found a box of homemade ornaments dating back to the early days of her marriage.   They were walnuts painted silver, filled with clay with a ribbon in the middle for hanging.   She got one out, fixed it up and put it on her tree this year for memories sake. 

I explained that at the first Christmas of our marriage, JoAnne and I did not have money for ornaments so we made all of ours to put on our rather sparse field-cut tree.  We made geometric cardboard ornaments and covered them with foil wrapping paper.  One was a cube, one was a tall 3D triangle, and the prize one was a dodecahedron.  Don't ask me how I made it.   But anyway, one by one they became shabby with use and were discarded, all but one - the dodecahedron.  Year after year I would hang it back on the tree in memory of our first Christmas.  It is still there, tucked in the back were people can't see that its paper is faded and coming loose after all these years.  

A project remembered

Another set of ornaments on our tree remind us of a fund-raising project we participated in.   I don't even remember the details.   JoAnne and I were overseas in the military at the time at a Navy base.  We were helping raise some funds by selling Christmas ornaments to other military families.   The catch was that the ornaments came as a flat unpainted wooden sheet.  The ornaments had to be carefully punched out of the sheet, the rough edges sanded off, and then painted attractively.   We purchased one of the sets that we painted and have treasured it ever since.  When we see them on our tree they remind us of a rewarding and unique chapter in our lives and the people we knew in that time frame.    

Let hobbies help with Christmas

Another way the we have home-made ornaments for our tree is because of JoAnne's needlepoint hobby.   She has always loved needlework, though she does not get to do as much of it as she would like.   These three ornaments were pieces she chose for needle point projects.   They incorporated a welcome new challenge because of the little beads involved.   But the end result was very practical; more  exquisite tree ornaments. 

Beautiful crafts from friends

Another category of homemade ornaments on our tree are the beautiful hand-crafted ornaments we have received as gifts from friends.   These have multiple advantages over department store theme packages that have to be re-purchased every year.  For one, they bring back memories of the friend who made them.   A friend named Elaine in our first church made this beautiful beaded bell.  When we see it on the tree we can remember to pray for her as she is now going through a difficult time.   A new friend of our family named Deb that we have just had the joy of meeting in the past couple years here at Copper Hill Church gave us the amazing 3-D crocheted angel figure.  It is so perfect, I could not believe it was hand-made.   In this way, our tree becomes a tapestry of friendship and memories.   To me, this is so much more meaningful than the stock theme tree décor one can purchase in a plastic case at a big box store.   Celebrating friendships and memories enriches the Christmas season so much.  Its another reason I love homemade ornaments on the tree.     

A gift from the conductor

One very special homemade ornament on our tree was given to JoAnne by the conductor of the hand-bell choir at Community Wesleyan in Kirkville, NY.    As pastor, I encouraged ministry leaders to thank members of their ministry team for their hard work.   It is an excellent leadership practice.  Well, Richard Filmer, director of the handbell choir of which JoAnne was member for several years went above and beyond and used his skill as a woodworker to saw out this exquisite triple bell for each choir member as their thank you gift.    It was difficult to make as it involved sawing in one direction; then holding the pieces together while turning the piece 90 degrees and sawing the pattern again.  Somehow the woodworking excellence that it took to make it speaks to me of the musical excellence that Richard always tried to bring out of the bell choir.   So this piece is special.  

Before Frost

Hurry before it frosts

It’s an annual tradition for me to gather cut flowers the day before the first frost and make a couple last flower arrangements for the season.  I enjoy this ritual immensely.  It is really the only time I cut marigolds as they are laborious to arrange and they look so great in my flower beds that I don’t want to sacrifice any blooms until frost is imminent.  Because of the urgency of this pre-frost task, I have been known often to pick the flowers by flashlight because I have been too busy to pick them earlier. First frost never seems to come at a convenient time.  Now, I could just let things go.  After all, I’ve enjoyed the flowers all summer.  But I simply can’t stand doing that when I can have at least one more beautiful bouquet.

Delayed frost this year

This year here in Connecticut has been an unusual one.  Twice the weatherpersons predicted frosts and I went out and gathered flowers and arranged them.   But the anticipated frosts did not come. The second time we had a little frost on the cars but still none on my flowers.   So I had beds and pots of gorgeous flowers all through October.  Not until this past week, on the third warning, after my third set of pre-frost flower arrangements did it finally frost.  Thursday, November 9 marks the latest first frost I remember.  Attached are pictures of all three sets of night-before-frost flower arrangements.   By the third one, the zinnias were no longer available but I decided to try a miniature arrangement of verbena, lobelia and Dara carrot.   It goes so well with my wife’s fall décor.  My grandmother, Jessie Isaman, used to make miniature arrangements. I thought of her.

A reminder of the urgency of doing good

Picking flowers before frost speaks to me of the urgency of getting some special things done before…..   For people of my generation, several life events from the autumn of life could go in that blank.   “Frost” could be semi-retirement or full retirement.    It might be ill health which brings disability preventing us from doing what we had planned.  It could be the illness of a loved one.  It could be financial loss or an unplanned or a necessary move.   And “frost” ultimately might stand for our passing on to face our accountability before God (Rom. 14:12; Heb. 9:27).     

When I was still in full time ministry, there were some things I wanted to accomplish before I retired but I don’t think I felt sufficient urgency.  Hopefully I’ve learned from that and in my current part-time ministry, when I think of some key goals I almost nourish a sense that time is too short before “frost” arrives.  “Frost” in this case could be just the end of my current assignment or it might mean full retirement, but whatever it is, time always seems shorter than one thinks.  “Frost” will arrive before we are ready.

Make the most of time before “frost”

So before “frost” comes, whatever it may be, I want to pick some more blooms and arrange them well in my life.  What I mean is I want to live productively.  I want to take good advantage of the time God gives.  The Bible exhorts us to “make the most of every opportunity” (Eph. 5:16); and I believe that God has a purpose for every day (Eph. 2:10).    So I’ll use my urgent gathering of flowers before yearly first frost to help me to have a healthy sense of urgency about doing the good deeds I need to do.   I could procrastinate but … it may frost!   I’d rather see the beauty of a few more bouquets.      

Before the first frost warning

My zinnias were at their peak.  The dara carrot looks great. My late shasta daisys  work well too.    The black and green vase was Grandma's.  She had great taste for that kind of thing. 

Before the second frost warning

Second chance.    Lots of marigolds still as the late rains helped them.  

A miniature bouquet before the third frost warning

I saved some little flowers for this one that I had not used before- lobelia,  dara carrot and verbena.   One of the joys of all flower arranging is learning to use what nature provides. My grandmother, Jessie Isaman, used to make miniature arrangements. I thought of her.

I just love marigolds

One last marigold bouquet.   I used some sweet potato vine for filler along with the licorice plant which grow abundantly in my tower pots.   I used the shrub out front and the seed stalks of the Japanese Iris for straight pieces. 

A pre-frost bouquet from 2016

The ultimate goal of bouquets is to fit well and beautify the place where you place them.  Here I am enjoying a cup of tea in my big chair along side my reading table with its cheery bouquet even though the flowers outside have frosted.  

One from 2015

This one includes some mums in one of the vases I inherited from my Grandmother Isaman.    The family flower arranging tradition stems (pardon the pun) from her. 

Social

The importance of marriage confirmed again

This article summarizes statistical research on the economic effects of marriage. It supplies stark evidence that marriage is one of the greatest factors combating poverty. The research urges young people simply to marry after age 20 and to marry before having children. If they do these three things they will have nearly an 80% chance of avoiding poverty. The support for the importance of marriage and its superiority to mere co-habitation is astounding.

New study on sexuality insightful

Here is a new study that once again points out that the modern idea that some are born homosexual or transgender is not completely supported by research. The true picture is much more complex involving a combination of genetics, choice and experience. The article also says that research shows that the observed higher ratio of mental health struggles among homosexual and transgender persons is due to more than just societal pressure. These observations open the way for one of the key conclusions of the article. The author suggests that rather than push people to express a supposed pre-disposition, we should be encouraging them toward what research shows to be healthy and wholesome choices.