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! 

 

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.