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.

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! 


Rose Arbor Project Completed

JoAnne has always wanted a rose arbor
JoAnne has always wanted a rose arbor



When I was a boy there was a white rose arbor in our side lawn. Pictures were often taken there. It marked the entrance to one of the flower gardens on our rural farm property. When my wife was a girl, she often spent summers at her Grandparents’ house. The entrance to the sidewalk was a white rose arbor with a gate. She has always wanted a rose arbor.

The opportunity did not present itself in either of our previous pastorates. Neither property had a spot that was conducive. But when we moved to West Granby, there was a fenced in area with a broken-down gate which needed to be replaced. Being a gardener, I immediately thought, “What a great place for a small garden and a rose arbor!” I no longer want a big garden anyway. I just want to grow a few strawberries and some cucumbers so we can make pickles. And I needed to replace that gate with something that looked better. A rose arbor would be perfect here. A friend said it looks very “New-England.”

First I needed to knock down the poison ivy which you can see growing on the fence in picture two. Fortunately, I am only very mildly allergic, which helps as the ivy keeps coming back and I am not bothered as I fight it. They I began planting roses where I thought the rose arbor would be as I knew it would take a couple years for them to really become established. One was a a transplant from Keely and Mark’s as it was in a place they did not want it. Others I ordered. If you look closely, you can see that I timed it well because by this fall, I had one rose cane growing over the top of the arbor. There are several colors and one white.

I wanted to make the structure durable so it is all made of treated lumber. Some of it is donated re-purposed decking. Eventually I hope to stain it all white and add a gate. The design underwent a few changes as it was being built as JoAnne and I looked at it and decided what looked best. I have worked on it little by little for a couple years, collecting and buying materials and cutting pieces. Then this summer, I knew it needed to come together.

Already it has become a photo spot as you can see from the photo I included. This is us posing in the Victorian costumes we wore to celebrate Copper Hill Church’s 200th Anniversary.

Wisdom for Preserving Things

NYAC Archivist, Beth Patkus, discussing preservation


Maybe it’s natural as we get older be more interested in preserving things. When I was younger, I don’t recall being interested in preserving history in the way that I am now. Especially since becoming pastor of a church with a 200 year time-line, I’ve become very aware of the value of the story that is told by the collection of anecdotes, pictures, records, and objects that are collected over the years.  For example, this year as a part of our 200th anniversary celebration at Copper Hill church, we read from the Bible that was printed in 1839, the same year that the church sanctuary was built.  I illustrated one sermon with anecdotes of revivals taken from the records of the church and a town history.


This last Wednesday, (August 10, 2016), our 200th anniversary committee sponsored a presentation by Beth Patkus, archivist of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  As a part of our celebration, we have discovered numerous old records, pictures, etc. And we are creating more historical material as the celebration proceeds.   We have also become very aware of how fragile the material is, and how prone it is to being lost during times between big anniversaries when it might be considered “in the way.”


Ms. Patkus’ presentation was very interesting and I came away with a number of immediate takeaways.  I’ll call them “Wisdom for Preserving Things.  Here are five.


  1. Label your pictures. Even the next generation will not know who many of the people are.  I have a picture of the congregation of my childhood church from my grandparent’s generation.  I would only know one or two people, except for the fact that the picture is accompanied with a labeling chart.  But I discovered a picture of a large baptismal class I had at Kirkville that is not labeled and already I am unable to recall names for some of the faces.


  1. Digital preservation does not necessarily replace physical preservation. This was a new thought for me. As a computer buff, I have come to think digital. But I am also aware that websites get completely redone, computers crash, and Beth informed us that even CDs and DVDs do not last as well as techies originally thought they would.    The cloud may help but it is still too new to see how well it will work for long-range storage.


  1. Use acid-free, lignin free and PH buffered storage folders and boxes. For photo albums with plastic, avoid PVC’s. I had heard of acid-free, but the rest of this information was new to me.  I am going to invest in some proper storage materials.


  1. Choose a good storage spot. This was just common sense, but I know I have lost things because they were not in a good spot. Especially avoid light exposure, high humidity, and potential for water damage. In addition, high temperature is detrimental.  When possible, display a copy rather than the original to avoid the long-term light exposure incurred by display.


  1. Don’t try to fix a torn or damaged artifact yourself. You’re more likely to cause irreversible damage. If the object is truly valuable, a conservator may be able to repair it properly (for a price).  We were glad we had followed this advice on a church-related but badly-torn poster one family found that may be 140 years old.


Observations for Mainline churches

George Barna is an experienced researcher who has studied churches for many years.  Here is an article that seek to flag possible issues that may be leading to the decline that mainline churches have been experiencing.    It is helpful as it reminds pastors like myself of pitfalls to avoid and emphases to maintain.

Here are some take-homes that I noticed for our own UM church in Copper Hill.

  1. I pray that I am allowed to stay at Copper Hill many more years.  I was shocked to read that the average tenure of pastors in mainline churches is only 4 years which is one-half what it is in non-mainline churches.   Annual conference just passed, and looking at the NYAC report of our UM area, I could tell that we are not doing well in that department.    This week I begin year four at Copper Hill UMC.   I am just beginning in the work that I believe God has called me here to accomplish.   I believe it is unfair to the church for a pastor to stay at a church less than six years unless there are extenuating circumstances.
  2. Unfortunately, I note in the article that Copper Hill is typical of many mainline churches in that we have been adding members but only fast enough to stay about even in attendance.  We need to seek ways to increase our outreach.
  3. Fortunately, we are well ahead of the curve in demographics.  We are blessed to have young adults with children attending, visiting, and participating in the government of our church.    This is awesome.
  4.  I note that Barna calls attention to the need for commitment.   Apparently, mainline churches are falling victim to their own pluralism.   If the pastor does not give a clear gospel message that calls for salvation through Jesus, the raison d’etre of the church is compromised.  The people in the pew catch the lack of purpose.   Over time, attendance falters; giving declines and extremely few from the younger generation feel called into ministry.     But if the gospel is front and center, the message of the cross has its own drawing power.   The church, properly presented, is part of the greatest cause on earth.  Churches with that attitude will have an excellent record of raising up both younger and middle-aged people for ministry.

We’re Praying for Another Divine Visitation

George Washington Praying at Valley Forge


Sometimes we are discouraged by the church’s decline

Sometimes we look around and are discouraged that the work of God seems to be in decline.   And it is not our imagination either.  One key indicator, though not the only one, is church attendance.  Stats show that the percentage of people attending church is down and that the regularity of attendance of those who attend is also down.   People in general feel that the church is losing its influence.  This is not the first time in US history this has happened.

But God has sent revival to the Granby area before

But the good news is that God has repeated visited our area and reversed the trend.   Here are three accounts of historical revivals in the Granby area that had marked positive effects upon the churches.   These are three actual accounts of Granby area revivals including quotes from eye-witnesses, accounts found in historical records.   I hope they will inspire us to believe that God is able to visit us again in the 2nd decade of the 21st century.

Jonathan Edwards 1741

Jonathan Edwards was one of America’s most accomplished intellectuals and theologians. Born in what is today South Windsor, CT, Edwards became a leader of New England’s first great awakening. His 1741 sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” first heard by throngs of believers in Enfield, CT is considered one of the most famous and influential ever delivered in the United States.  []

“We went over to Enfield where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton who preached a most awakening sermon from these words, Deuteronomy 32:35, and before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went out through ye whole House…. ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth. So yet ye minister was obliged to desist, ye shrieks and cry were piercing and amazing.” – Stephen Williams

In 1747, Jonathan Edwards joined the movement started in Scotland called the “concert in prayer,” and in the same year published An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. []

 East Granby 1814-1815

The reorganization of the Turkey Hills ecclesiastical society coincided with the religious reawakening that swept through Connecticut in the wake of what historians refer to as the age of “free thinking and free drinking.” In a July 1815 article on recent religious revivals, the “Connecticut Evangelical Magazine and Religious Intelligencer” lists Turkey Hills as one of the societies that “had been favored with special showers of grace.”

In the autumn of 1814, Mr. Nettleton commenced his labors in East Granby. This was a waste place. The moral condition of the people was exceedingly deportable. But God saw fit to turn again the captivity of Zion. Under Mr. Nettleton’s preaching, there was a very interesting revival of religion.  -Rev. Bennett Tyler

The effect of that revival upon the church, and upon the community, was most happy and lasting. The schoolhouse and private rooms were filled with trembling worshipers. A solemnity and seriousness pervaded the community, which had not been experienced for years before. – Rev. Jonas B. Clark

33 people joined the Congregational church during the year of the revival.

[East Granby: the Evolution of a Connecticut Town by Mary Jane Springman and Betty Finnell Guinan  pp. 117]

Copper Hill Church 1871

In the ministry of Lemuel Richardson, in 1871 there was an extensive revival of religion, attended with remarkable manifestations. The writer, at a single evening meeting in the church, which lasted from 7 o’clock until midnight, witnessed as many as 15 persons who became apparently unconscious. Some were stretched upon the floor; others were lying or being supported upon the seats. This visitation of “the Spirit” was regarded as a great blessing, and it certainly did strengthen the church in numbers. – Charles Horace Clark


[Revival] gatherings often attracted so many people that they had to be held outdoors. When they lasted several days, the participants camped out nearby. Thus they became known as camp meetings. There were camp meetings at various locations near Copper Hill throughout the 19th century.

[East Granby: the Evolution of a Connecticut Town by Mary Jane Springman and Betty Finnell Guinan  pp. 127]

Praying for God’s Visitation Today

At Copper Hill Church we are praying and preparing for God to visit his people again.   As a part of this, this Sunday we will be participating in the second area united Grassroots prayer service.  This series of prayer services is a cooperative effort of our church, Life Church and West Granby United Methodist Church and the three pastors.   At 6 PM, March 6, we will be uniting in prayer at Life Church.  Each prayer service has a special emphasis.  The first one, held at Copper Hill, emphasized prayer for our country.   This coming service, hosted by Life Church, will emphasize prayer for our churches and for New England as a region.    A third one to be hosted by West Granby UMC is planned at a date to be announced.





A wise article about church evaluation

One of the difficult things church leaders must do is evaluate how the local church is doing.   It is not as easy as it sounds and our tendency as leaders is to fall off on either side of the middle path; either by emphasizing quantity at the expense of  discipleship or by emphasizing quality at the expense of outreach.    Here is a wise article that will help us to keep a balance.


I vote for congregational engagement

Should worship planning and leadership be done to create a great performance or primarily to help the congregation be involved in what is happening?

This excellent article explains a conflict that exists in the Christian church today.  As the author says, a performance orientation in worship services that focuses attention on what happens up front can describe either a traditional service or a contemporary one.   But I actually think what has brought the contrast the author describes into sharper focus is the modern trend to place church congregations literally in the dark as in a theater.    This trend, I believe, decreases interaction and is culturally set up for a performance mindset.  It makes the congregation feel more like an audience.

I have always taught that the most important thing that happens on Sunday morning is not what happens on the platform, it is what happens in the hearts of those in the pews.  The job of worship leaders and pastors is to suggest/guide/facilitate those responses in the congregation.    But that job cannot really be accomplished unless the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in people’s hearts.   Every Sunday morning, what the pastor and others leading worship are trying to accomplish cannot be done by human beings.  The transformation of lives, the healing of souls, the conversion of wills, the sanctifying of lives–this is all God’s work.  Whatever happens up front has as it’s only purpose to help those who are attending to connect with God and his truth and respond to it.  Focusing on performance first will not get this job done.   Being aware that congregational involvement individually and collectively in the service is essential is basic to being used of God in worship.

I need to say though that focusing on congregational response in no way means that those leading worship should settle for less excellence in what they do than those who might have a performance mindset.  Absolutely not!    God’s work is worthy of our best efforts!    God uses excellence by his servants to affect the lives of others.   Those who minister show their heart for God in their excellence.

You can help Houghton College today!

Houghton LogoMy favorite college is having a one day campaign to enlist support.  It’s a two-way matching grant opportunity.   In this day when most college education neglects character, Houghton mentors students by example and curriculum design to become servant leaders in today’s world.    Many college graduates are having a hard time getting work, but at Houghton the situation is different.  They were recently recognized for outstanding success with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates. “The success rate for STEM studies has proven to be true at Houghton College where over the past five years, 100 percent of  graduates who obtained degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, physics, math, and computer science have obtained jobs in their desired field of study within six months of graduating from Houghton or gone on to Ph.D. or master’s degree programs.”   ( If you would like to help students at a college like that, I invite you to participate in this one day of giving.  Both your gift and your presence among the givers will make a difference.  I very seldom put fund-raising things on my blog.  There are just too many available.  But today I am making an exception for a great cause. All gifts made today toward the Student Scholarship Fund will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $150,000. In addition, if 500 donors make a gift today to scholarships or any other projects across campus, Houghton will receive a gift of $100,000. Visit to donate today.