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.

A Blogging Milestone

The 1000 Milestone

I noticed that the total count of my posts, pages, sermons and comments on my blog has passed the 1000 mark.  More than five hundred of those blog events are posts.  Just over one hundred fifty are sermon manuscripts of messages prepared since coming to Copper Hill UMC.  To be honest, I thought I would reach this 1 K milestone much sooner.  But with a semi-retirement pastorate and two wonderful grandchildren in my life, I’m been much busier than anticipated.  In addition, my personal blog now has much more competition for my computer time than it did when I began in 2010.  Now I have a busy Facebook presence and a Pinterest account, plus I manage a second blog for our church, contribute to our church’s Facebook page, and help my wife with her blog-style website as well. 

 

Posts + pages + sermons + comments > 1000

 

New categories

 

 

 

New Page Software

 

 

 

Better Pictures

Renewing my blog

One goal as I reach this milestone is to renew my blog.  Change is inevitable.  It takes intentional change to create a fresh face and keep progressing.  

Toward this end, I decided that two new categories would be helpful both to me in initiating new material and to my readers.   The new category called “Country Touches” will be pure fun—interesting pictures and observations.   Another New Category named “Best Five” will be a vehicle for passing on to my readers some quick lists of top five in my experience in any area that comes to mind.  I hope it helps others tap sources of wisdom that I have discovered.

 

I’m also experimenting with new page creation software by SiteOrigin.  The Country Touch post about my sister’s outside décor was the first to use that software.   It looks like a hit.  I’ve experimented with a program called Sway as well but it did not format well online and I think SiteOrigin will replace it. 

 It is a constant goal to use higher quality pictures and pictures that fit the content better.   I hope there is a new phone camera in my near future to help this goal along.

Three goals for future blogging

This milestone has also made me stop and review my blogging goals.  What do I intend to do with my blog going forward? 

More wisdom

I plan to continue the emphasis upon wisdom.  Learntobewise.com has become more than my blog address, it has become a mission.  Wisdom is so lacking in our world today.  In fact, in general I believe we do not have wisdom enough to know we are short of it.  Action is valued; adrenaline is sought; acting is pursued; sports prowess is idolized, but wisdom is neglected. So I pray that by God’s grace I can make my blog a place where words of wisdom are shared, both ones I write and ones I find and forward to my readers via my blog.  I pray that God gives me wisdom enough to do so (James 1:5). 

More fun

I want my blog to be a place for some fun, both for me and for my readers. Look for more posts in categories like Americana, Country Touches, and on subjects like being a Grandpa, vacation accounts, daylily galleries and Christmas train set pictures. They are all blogging fun for me and I hope for my readers as well. 

More public messages pages

I plan to continue building the sermon archive on my blog as a reference and resource for parishioners, other pastors and Christian workers.   Crafting sermon outlines and writing messages for our congregation comes relatively easy to me and if I can provide resources to others, I would consider that a privilege.  It fits with my goal about sharing wisdom and it would extend the use of my gifts and my influence as a Bible teacher and preacher.   I am especially humbled to note that many readers of my blog are international.    And I am aware from my missions trips that Christian workers in other places often do not have access to all the Bible education that I have had.   Besides, it is wise use of time and resources to edit slightly what I already write each week as a part of my pastoral ministry to also build my blog. 

 

 

  More Wisdom

 

 

  More   Fun

 

 

 Message Archive

Family times are times when knowledge is passed down

Chewing on a memory

Last week I took time for a walk up into the woods.   The woods that I normally walk is filled with beautiful stands of oak, but on this particular noontime walk I happen to notice that there were many smaller black birch trees scattered in the hilltop area where I had stopped to half sit, half lean against a loaded-pallet sized boulder to rest.   

I was suddenly taken back in my mind to a walk that I had taken with my family as a boy.  Occasionally we picnicked in a deep wide ravine which we called Tough Gully.  One day as we were hiking back up out of the gully from our picnic, my father pointed out a large black birch tree with branches hanging over into the field where we were walking.  He plucked some twigs and told us to chew them because they would taste like root beer.   I did.  

Now on this day, more than 50 years later, I suddenly remembered and I walked over to the nearest black birch and knocked down a twig from its 9 foot perch with my walking stick and began to chew it, and, sure enough, it tasted like root beer!    Thanks, Dad for the memory and the lesson.   I’m sure such demonstrations are one of the reasons I know what a black birch tree is today and how its twigs taste.   I snapped a picture of my twig with the tender bark gnawed away.  

On the way down the hill from my walk I saw a young man walking up and I thought he might think it strange to see me chewing on a twig. So I explained what was going on.   He gave me the strangest look.

I wondered to myself.   Who in my family will know this little piece of forest lore when I am gone?  Not that it is an earthshaking or survival-crucial fact.   But how many other tidbits like it will fall forgotten when my generation passes? And how much practical info must have already fallen forgotten when the generations before us have gone on?   

I thought about how important it is to spend somewhat unstructured time with future generations.  For as things come up in life experience or in conversation, it is then that we in the older generation have an opportunity to pass on something that we have learned or that was passed on to us.  Some of it might be interesting trivia, like enjoying the root beer tastes of a black birch twig.  But something else more weighty that we share might someday become crucial for the emotional or spiritual or even physical survival of someone we love.    Chewing on the memory made me value all the more the time I get to spend with my daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren. 

 

 

How to honor Jesus at Easter

Business as usual not an option

What will you do to honor Jesus this Easter?   Let’s be creative and look past traditional habits and token self-denials.  Are there other practical answers to that question?  Unfortunately, many people who answer to the label as Christians will do little or nothing to honor Jesus this Easter!  No one could guess from their Holy Week activities that they were a Christian at all.  That’s not the way it should be.

Honor Jesus with action

During Holy Week true Christians remember the suffering of Jesus including his death on the cross.   Easter is the highest point of the church year, the time when we remember Jesus’ climactic victory over death.   Above all times, this is when Christians should be most active in celebrating their Savior.    And our celebration should not just be with words.  Words alone cannot honor one who taught us to put his sayings into action (Matthew 7:24-27).  But not everyone will want to honor Jesus in exactly the same way.  So here are five suggestions all of which will help us truly honor Jesus this Easter.

Five suggestions

  1. Give a gift of your time and love to help someone in need. This could range from random acts of kindness to strangers to volunteering at a nursing facility to visiting a disabled friend to doing outdoor work for an elderly neighbor to…    The more in-person the gift, the better for this one.   Jesus was always helping someone in need.   He told us he came to serve others and urged us to do the same (Matt. 20:25-28). 
  2. Give a gift of money to a cause that helps those who are among people who the OT would include among the “oppressed.” Such causes include aid to those suffering from natural disasters, aid to refugees, aid for victims of racial injustice, groups working against systemic poverty, food banks, etc.   If we are not willing to acknowledge God’s gifts to us and give of our finances to others, we have not yet caught the Spirit of Jesus. 
  3. Worship at church during Holy week. First of all, Jesus deserves to be honored by our presence in services in his honor.  Second, it is the upward look that sustains our outward focus and dims our self-centeredness.   At Copper Hill there are three opportunities from Palm Sunday through Easter.
  4. Speak to someone about your faith in Jesus. This conversation could be a short personal anecdote describing some way that your faith has helped you.  It could be an invitation to a friend to attend a service with you.  It could be an offer to pray for someone who is going through a tough time and would appreciate a prayer.   There’s no better time than Easter time to make Jesus a positive part of our conversation. 
  5. Read the story of Jesus’ last days again (Matthew 26-28 and/or John 13-20) or watch a video of it such as the Jesus Film with a friend. It is the most watched film in history and was digitally remastered for HD with a new sound track in 2014   http://www.jesusfilmstore.com/35th-Anniversary-JESUS-Film-Blu-Ray-Disc/productinfo/ZBRD-35TH-BLU-RAY/.    The original version is available on NETFLIX. 

 

 

How to Observe Lent

People always wonder, “What should I do to observe Lent?”  Here are three excellent suggestions I have printed in my bulletin for Ash Wednesday for the last two years.  They are strongly inspired by the 2015 Lenten Letter of Methodist Bishop Jane Allen Middleton to whom I give credit for these ideas. 

Give Up”  — Sacrifice of some kind is an honored Lenten tradition. The sacrifice of Jesus for us inspires us to discipline ourselves by meaningful sacrifice.   

Take Up”  — Jesus encouraged us to take up our cross and follow Him. Often this means tackling some project or ministry on His behalf. We are His hands and feet of love and caring. We are His influence working for justice and healing. So during Lent is an ideal time to take up a special ministry for Jesus. 

Look Up and Open Up to “Receive from Jesus.”  —  We live in the age of the Holy Spirit, and God does not expect us to live the Christian life in our own strength. So during Lent is an ideal time to draw on God’s strength. Another great way to observe Lent is to choose an additional way to draw close to God and allow His Spirit to fill you.   

Real faith Involves discipline

A gem from my favorite devotional

One of my favorite devotional books is a little volume titled, “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants” by Ruben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, (The Upper Room, 1983).   A rich collection of readings for each week,  taken from various classic Christian authors always  provokes thought and provides inspiration.    This last week I discovered again a quote from Albert Edward Day taken from his book “Discipline and Discovery.”  I found it so amazingly relevant to our world today and to the state of the church today that I thought I would share it with my readers. 

True faith calls us to disciplines of discipleship

True holiness is a witness that cannot be ignored.  Real sainthood is a phenomenon to which even the world laying pays tribute.  The power of a life, where Christ is exalted, would arrest and subdue those who are bored to tears by our thin version of Christianity and holy uninterested in mere churchman ship.

We have talked much of salvation by faith, but there has been little realization that all real faith involves discipline.  Faith is not a blithe “turning it all over to Jesus.” Faith is such a confidence in Jesus that it takes seriously his summons, “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

We have loudly proclaimed our dependence upon the grace of God, never guessing that the grace of God is given only to those who practice the grace of self-mastery.  “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you both to will and to work his good pleasure.”  People working out, God working in – that is the New Testament synthesis.

Humans, working out their salvation alone, are a pathetic spectacle – hopelessly defeated moralists trying to elevate themselves by their own bootstraps.

God, seeking to work in a person who offers no discipline cooperation, is a heartbreaking spectacle – a defeated Savior trying to free, from sins and earthiness, a person who will not lift his or her face out of the dust, or shake off the shackles of the egocentric self.

We must recover for ourselves the significance and the necessity of the spiritual disciplines.  Without them we shall continue to be impotent witnesses for Christ.  Without them Christ will be impotent in his efforts to use us to save our society from disintegration and death.    

                                               –Albert Edward Day

 

Houghton Magazine hits a home run

Fancher Building (three-quarter view), Houghton College

Since I am an alumnus of four different colleges, I receive more than my share of college magazines.  Usually they are marginally useful,  just a vehicle for touching base with good memories, educational traditions, and news from former peers.  But this winter edition of Houghton Magazine easily stood out as one of the best of the genre.  On the issue of relevance alone it stood above the crowd.  Titled “Reconciliation,” it addressed the issue of racial division in our country, not so much from a philosophical point of view as by examples of servants of God who are working to bridge the racial chasms in our country in various ways.   It featured articles by three different alumni from different generations who are all working directly and in different ways to heal the divisions of our land.  Outstanding pieces by our President, Shirley Mullen, and the new college chaplain, Michael Jordan, added to the issue’s power.  

In addition. I was very happy to see in this issue other evidences that Houghton itself continues to be a healing force.   In the same issue the college announced the initiation of the new Associate of Arts program in Utica, aimed primarily at helping refugees in that city.  That initiative is modeled after the highly successful and acclaimed effort in Buffalo.   In addition, the college noted that this year’s freshman class has the largest percentage of American-born minority students in the history of the school.

 

Reflection on Super Bowl Advertising

Is everyone a preacher?

I was going to write a typical article rating Super Bowl advertising again this year. I watched the game especially for that purpose. But as I watched the different advertisements, I was surprised by the number of advertisers who all but forsook the direct advertising of their product in favor of generalized moral admonition. It struck me that nowadays it seems everyone’s a preacher!

I was glad for those who spoke up favoring immigrants

Now since I am a preacher by profession (for almost 38 years now), you would think that I would be glad for this turn of events. And, in one sense, I am for it reveals that the high leadership in many of our top companies realize that some of the major issues of today are moral issues and they are courageous enough to speak out. I’m also glad to have allies in speaking up for some key topics of today. I noticed the issue that was most frequently spoken about in Super Bowl ads was the matter of welcoming immigrants, a subject dear to my own heart. All of us with the exception of Native Americans, are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Having worked directly with Burmese Karen immigrants as a teacher during my last pastorate, and heard the stories about refugee camps, it is very easy for me to be in their corner. I also feel the Bible is very clear that we need to be welcoming to those who are strangers and immigrants among us. (For a complete Biblical statement on immigration see https://www.wesleyan.org/237/a-wesleyan-view-of-immigration)

But I’m uncomfortable when everyone is a preacher

But, in another sense, I found myself being surprisingly uncomfortable with the concept that everyone is a preacher. Is it that I am jealous for my position or my profession? Not directly. The more voices take the side of justice and righteousness, the more powerful the cause. To be jealous because someone else speaks up for good would be foolish. Why my concern then? My discomfort arises from the questions of motive and authority for moral exhortation. That’s a mouthful. But let me explain like this.

The preacher’s motivation must have integrity

Would companies like Budweiser and 84 Lumber have advertised as pro-immigration as they did if they had thought that it would be unpopular, detrimental to their bottom line, and cause the company’s leadership difficulty? I doubt it. They advertised as they did because they knew that those positions are very popular and would result in a good feeling about their company in most circles. But true preachers are called to speak the truth even if it hurts their own position and popularity. Most American preachers today cannot do so very often because in many American churches, we would either be voted out or people would stop attending and supporting the church. But in a true church, one where growing in discipleship is prized, people expect that sometimes the preacher will tread upon their toes, so to speak. To put it another way, sometimes the truth will cut across the grain and that is a good thing. How can we grow if that does not happen? Now you can see the motivational issue for my concern. Not just any preacher will be faithful to say what is not popular yet needs to be said.

The preacher’s authority must come from God’s Word

The second half of my concern has to do with sources of authority. When everyone is a preacher, everyone is entitled to use whatever source of authority they feel is right. Most of the time popular figures are drawing from some kind of perceived cultural consensus that supports what is being advocated. There is a strong relationship between the laws of society and cultural consensus. But for both Jews and Christians, the only true source of moral authority is the revelation that comes from God in Holy Scripture. When everyone’s a preacher, it is anybody’s guess what the relationship or lack of relationship will be between what is advocated and what the law of God says. That is another key source of my concern. The Christian preacher’s first job is to see that what he or she teaches is congruent with, indeed arises out of the Words and teachings of Scripture.

So not everyone is a preacher!

So there you have my concerns. When politicians, beer advertisers, movie stars, sports figures, businessmen and TV personalities all become preachers, there will be an increasing need for people to discern who the true prophets are. The genuine purveyors of godly ethics will be distinguished as those whose authority is not their own, it is derived from God’s Word; and the preachers to be listened to will be those whose motivation over time shows love for God and for others above oneself. Anyone can address an issue and oft times they should as a part of their own moral responsibility, but not everyone is a preacher!