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.
Contrary to popular opinion, the end of the year holidays are a very difficult time for many people. Depression is often worse then. Winter is coming on; other people seem almost obnoxiously happy and there are many social gatherings. If one is not in the best mood or has experienced personal reverses or some serious losses and is grieving, the holidays can make the situation worse. Here are some suggestions to help.
Practice giving thanks for little things. When we are depressed we focus on the negative. In wholesome contrast, the habit of thanksgiving helps us get a wider perspective on life and encourages us to appreciate what is good even amid our difficulties.
Get in touch with the losses, hurts and angry feelings in your heart. Frequently depression has components related to grief and anger from circumstances in our lives, sometimes cumulative circumstances. When we are depressed, we may not be dealing in a healthy way with these feelings. It helps so much to be conscious of the roots of our sadness and then to talk it out with trusted and wise friends, counselors or pastors. Hiding these feelings inside feeds our depression in unconscious ways. Praying about these feelings also helps; think of prayer as talking out our feelings and circumstances with God.
Keep interacting with your friends and family. When we are depressed, we have a natural tendency to isolate ourselves, but this is not the healthiest thing for us to do. Maintaining or even increasing our usual connections with family and friends will help us greatly in getting through our time of depression. The warmth of friendship and love is healing for us even when it is hard to reciprocate. True friends understand.
Remember the character of God. He is a God of Hope and Encouragement (Romans 15:5, 13). So drawing near to God helps immensely. If it is hard to pray yourself, ask a Christian friend to pray with you. Keep attending services, if at all possible. Remember that God knows the hurts of your heart (Psalm 10:14). When words don’t come, He hears your heart.
Find some key Bible verses that speak to you. Write them on cards and place them where you will see them often or put them on your computer desktop. They will help reshape your thinking. Reading in the Psalms will help you find them. Here are some suggestions to begin. 1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 11:28; Psalm 23; Psalm 28:7; Psalm 46:1, 2; Psalm 55:22; Psalm 56:3; Hebrews 13:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Isaiah 40:29-31; Isaiah 46:4, Isaiah 57:15; Philippians 4:4-8; and Psalm 103.
Finally, it you don’t find yourself making progress, seek help. It is a strong thing to do to recognize when we could use a little help and seek it. Counselors, pastors and doctors are trained to help in sensitive ways. Most everyone has times in their lives when they could benefit greatly from counsel.
The first one about the effect of the priority of amusements for children today is also a reflection of how families think about getting through the moment rather than thinking about the long-term effect of what is happening. This is also the case with the lack of putting priority on practicing our faith and with not putting priority on time for our marriages. Perhaps it is up to the older generation who have more time perspective to remind in tactful ways of the long-term view. But taking the longer-term perspective also needs to become more of a cultural habit of our society than it currently is whether the issue is family finances, raising of children, considering divorce, or professional growth.
My wife challenged me on Facebook to list the top ten books that have influenced my life. I don’t necessarily take up every Facebook fad. But this one I consider a very thoughtful and potentially helpful exercise. One of the proverbs I heard along the way is “Leaders are readers!” I agree totally. This challenge is also in keeping with one of the goals of my blog, to record the books I have read and comment on them. So here goes:
The Holy Bible – KJV Thompson Chain Reference. I was given this for Christmas by my parents when I was about 12 years old. It represents the Bible-learning culture in which I was raised. It was my earliest textbook for studying the Bible. I still treasure it and use it occasionally.
The Holy Bible – NIV 1984. This version of the Bible became the translation that I read day after day, the version that molded my mindset and helped me communicate the Gospel to a generation that had never heard of King James of England, nor did they understand his language. Now I read and use the 2011 NIV since I follow the Reformation principle that the Bible must be in the language of the people. But the 1984 version will always be in my heart.
Growing Spiritually – E. Stanley Jones. I was in seminary, I think, when I read this devotional classic. I was captured and challenged by the practical Wesleyan theology, poignant illustration from life, and excellent thinking by one who has become one of my favorite devotional writers. This book prompted a definite step forward in my own spiritual growth.
Developing the Leaders around You – John C. Maxwell. During my first pastorate I began to be mentored by the speaking and writing of John Maxwell. I didn’t know how much I needed it. I now have a dozen of his books that I have read and I still consider this one among his very best. I also have a shelf full of others on the topic of leadership. This book started me on a whole different journey of not just doing well myself, but enabling others to do well. This intentional focus as well as trying to teach church leaders to do the same has added untold dimensions to my ministry and extended its effectiveness many years. It has enabled me to be a factor in launching or enhancing the ministry of many others too.
Communication: Key to Your Marriage – H. Norman Wright. With this book there was a companion volume The Pillars of Your Marriage. They were not deep, but they were practical. They were intended for class use and included discussion questions too. I interacted with these books and other similar ones at a time in our marriage when I desperately needed to learn more about how to have a successful marriage. They were very helpful both to me personally and in my ministry over the years to others.
Secrets of the Vine – Bruce Wilkinson. Sometimes you are looking for books that will prod spiritual renewal in your life. This is such a book. I have now read the book at least three times. The first time I read it, I wrote in the cover, “I finished this book today…it was a life-changing experience.”
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – John C. Maxwell. This is John Maxwell’s classic. It has helped me immensely to understand leadership and learn to practice it. I am still learning and growing. This book confirmed for me that leadership is one of the three most essential areas of understanding/preparation needed by pastors. (The other two are preaching/teaching and counseling/personal work.)
Fresh Faith – Jim Cymbala. One of the areas I needed to grow spiritually as a pastor was faith. Reading Jim Cymbala’s testimony-laced books is one of the ways God has helped me to do that. It is challenging and inspiring to read what God is doing at Brooklyn Tabernacle and it makes one pray for greater faith.
Just Walk Across the Room – Bill Hybels. Another of the great mentors for pastors today is Bill Hybels. This book is among his best. It is such a practical and everyday approach to reaching other people for Jesus. I think it is evangelism as it was meant to be. It has helped me to look for opportunities daily to be a blessing for Jesus’ sake.
The Purpose Drive Church – Rick Warren. I had already been a pastor for 15 years when I read this book. I immediately said that it was the best book on how to do church that I had ever read. As far as I am concerned, it has not had a rival until Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide came out in 2012. Warren helped me to understand that discipleship was crucial and that I needed to help people step by step to move closer to the church as a part of their spiritual journey.
I’ve read so many books over the years that I can’t be sure I haven’t missed one somewhere. I reduced my library by more than half when I moved in 2013 and I still have four floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full in my office. I have tried to choose books for my top ten that represented important areas of reading. The best books often prompt us to read more by the same author or more in that subject area. All of these books have done that. And I keep buying new books and reading more. I admit that the time I now spend on social media has cut into my reading time, but it has not eliminated it. I am still completing new books! How about you?