In A Nutshell | October 7, 2022

A Youth Movement and Other Signs of Growth at Oak Chapel

It was so heartwarming to see eight young people at our most recent Youth Fellowship gathering this past Sunday — the largest such gathering during my tenure at Oak Chapel. 

Jen led the group, and she did a terrific job, engaging in a game that had them laughing and interacting the entire time. Two weeks earlier, JJ led an equally robust session by using our video screen in the Gathering Grounds. 

Jen and JJ get it — in order to attract and retain young people, we have to offer activities that are enjoyable as well as educational. I have no doubt that our youth leaders are taking our program in a very positive and encouraging direction.

My hope is that we can continue to grow our youth group and build a strong foundation for the future of the church. Even though many of the current young people do not belong to our church, I am optimistic that they will reach out to their friends, especially those who do not have a home church, so that Oak Chapel can flourish in the years ahead.

The recent growth in our church — both children and adults — has not happened by accident. Many of you have reached out to others and invited them to Worship, Sunday School, Bible studies, service projects, youth activities, and other church functions. I commend you for your actions, and I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.

Of course, the Holy Spirit has played a role as well, preparing the hearts and minds of others to consider expanding their faith. Romans 15:13 tells us that the power of the Holy Spirit can help us to “abound in hope.” John 14:26 reminds us that the Holy Spirit is an advocate — sort of like a Guardian Angel, who will “teach [us] all things.” 

Then there is this assurance from Romans 8:26 that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”…and “intercedes for us through wordless groans” — in other words when we don’t know what to say. Finally, from Galatians 5:22-23, one of my favorite passages: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

The Holy Spirit is indeed powerful and productive. Is the Spirit moving you? If so, answer the call and reach out to others so that all men, women, and children may know God and make Him known.

In A Nutshell | September 30, 2022

Let Us Break Bread at a Table Where All Are Welcome 

Communion is a holy and sacred sacrament in our church and in thousands of other churches across the country and around the world, but it is not without controversy. 

As members of the United Methodist Church, we believe that all are to be welcomed to the table. There is no judgment rendered, no membership needed, no identification required. That, we believe, is what Jesus intended from the origin of the Sacrament at the Last Supper. 

Not all denominations share that same approach, however. Some churches subscribe to the belief that if one is not baptized into that denomination, they may not partake of the Eucharist, thereby denying access to those who do not belong. While we respect the policies and practices of other denominations, we certainly do not agree with the principle of exclusivity, especially when it comes to communion. 

There are other differences among Christians when it comes to the sacrament of communion. For example, Martin Luther, a prominent leader of the Protestant Reformation, believed in transubstantiation — the idea that the bread and wine were actually transformed into the physical flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. This may be based on a passage from the Gospel of John (6:53-58), which states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” 

John Wesley, on the other hand, believed as many as us do today, that the bread and wine (or juice) are symbolic, but no less important, representations of Jesus’ body and blood. 

What one believes in this regard is less important than how one approaches the sacrament of communion — and that is to (1) treat it with great reverence and respect, (2) rely on it to affirm our covenant with the Lord, and (3) make sure that the table is open to all who seek to partake of this blessed tradition passed down to each of us by Jesus himself. 

Let us all come together in a spirit of unity as we celebrate World Communion Sunday this weekend. 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | September 23, 2022

Words That Will Never Pass Away 

The slow and agonizing decline of our community newspaper is a sad story indeed. The Daily Record has faithfully appeared on our doorstep, first in the afternoons and then in the mornings, for more than a century, but the publication now appears to be on the critical list. The rise of digital media and the acquisition by a national media group have conspired to rob our local paper of its mission to inform, educate, and enlighten its subscribers, but now it seems that it will be just a matter of time before the publication as we know it fades out of existence. 

Fortunately, our spiritual source of information and inspiration — the Bible, of course — remains strong, reliable, and infallible, despite the desire by some to see it fade out of existence if not completely destroyed. 

Scripture provides some assurances that the Word of God will never pass away, including the compelling passage from the Gospel of John (1:1-5), which states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 

Consider the magnitude of those five verses. The Word has been here since the very beginning, and not only was the Word with God, the Word was God. That is a pretty profound statement, and certainly one with noting. Through His Word, the world was spoken into existence. In Him there is life and light — the light of all humankind, a light that shines in the darkness and cannot be extinguished. That should give us hope that no matter how much darkness rolls into our life, it cannot overcome His light. 

Later in the first chapter of John (Verse 14), we read this transformational passage: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

Unlike The Daily Record, the Son of God and the Word of God will never pass away. Both will last forever, and our adherence, dedication, and commitment to both will take us from this world into the world to come — right to the gate of God’s Eternal Kingdom, placing the ultimate Good News right on our doorstep! 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John 

In A Nutshell | September 16, 2022

Discover the Sanctity of the Great Outdoors This Sunday   

Your pastor went to great (and perhaps dangerous) lengths to illustrate ways in which we can (and cannot) grow closer to God by climbing the scaffolding in the sanctuary two weeks ago. What we learned (and really already knew) was that physical elevation has no impact on our relationship with the Lord. 

There is, however, a safer and more efficient way to feel God’s presence, and that is through nature. The 23rdPsalm — the most famous of all the Psalms — eloquently describes the beauty, the serenity, and the sacredness of nature. We are all familiar with this Psalm. In fact, some of you know it by heart.

What this Psalm teaches us is that with the Lord as our Shepherd, we lack nothing. He guides us into the beauty of his creation — specifically lush green pastures and tranquil still waters. It is there that we find peace and a place where he can restore our soul (and we all need spiritual restoration from time to time). He also sets us on the pathway of righteousness, where we can follow him and lead the type of life he intended for each of us. Even when we encounter difficult times, he is with us, so we have nothing to fear. As our shepherd, his rod and his staff protect and comfort us. He also prepares a bountiful table for us, where he shields us from our enemies, anoints us with oil, and causes our faith to expand and grow. With the Lord as our Shepherd, we have nothing to fear. His goodness and his mercy shall follow us each and every day, and one day, we have the assurance that we will dwell in His Father’s Eternal Kingdom forever. 

This coming Sunday, we will have an opportunity to commune with nature and experience the beauty of God’s creation as we worship God in the serenity of the great outdoors when we gather at the Grossniklaus Pavilion (185 Cherry Lane). Our service will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the pavilion (rain or shine). Hot dogs, hamburgers, and beverages will be provided. If each family could bring a covered dish, a salad, or a dessert to share, that would be great, but if you are unable to do so, don’t let that prevent you from coming. All our welcome, including friends, neighbors, and other guests. Our picnic will take place onsite immediately after the service. If you have any questions, feel free to call or text Pastor John at 330-988-2577. 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | September 9, 2022

All’s ‘Fair’ in Wayne County This Week

I had never been to a county fair before I moved to Wooster nearly 40 years ago. Since that time, I have observed the far-reaching impact of this all-consuming event, from animal auctions to school projects to marching bands to some of the best palate-pleasing delicacies around.

During the coming days, people from Wayne County will spend countless hours at the Fairgrounds while scores of others from across the region will visit the area, bringing in thousands of dollars in revenue.

The Fair is arguably the biggest single event in the county each year. It is a time for fun, food, and fellowship. This marks the 173rd anniversary of this iconic event, which is an indication of its vitality and staying power.

The Fair and the Church have a few things in common, at least in terms of longevity. In fact, Oak Chapel has been around nearly a half-century longer than the Fair, but the similarities seem to end there.

At one time, the church was met with similar anticipation as well as loyalty and dedication, but that’s not the case any longer. Our enthusiasm is waning as our numbers continue to decline and our support diminishes. The Fair remains a strong and viable entity, but the church is growing weaker and less influential. 

We don’t have to worry about the future of the Fair, but what about the future of our beloved Church? Will Oak Chapel still be here in 10 or 20 years, and if so, will it be a productive and thriving entity or will it be a fading shadow if itself?

We hold the key to the future of the church, and it is never too late strengthen our foundation, but before we attempt to fortify the church, we must first lift up each other as instructed in I Thessalonians 5:11 which advises us to “encourage one another and build one another up.” 

We can certainly check that box here at Oak Chapel. The good people of this church have always done that and continue to do so, but we must also move beyond our walls and continue to sow seeds. 

Furthermore, I Corinthians 14:3 states that “one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” In other words, when we share our faith along with the Word of God, we inform and inspire others in the hopes that they will consider a relationship with the Lord and build up the church in the process. I think we would all agree that that’s a proposition that is more than “fair.”

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | September 2, 2022

An Invitation to Visitation

One of the most important, but often underserved, responsibilities of those in ministry is visitation, particularly to people who are hospitalized, housebound, or in long-term care facilities. 

Even though I sometimes put visitation off and fill the time with some other activity or obligation, when I finally get around to visiting, I find the experience to be energizing and exhilarating.  

Jesus famously said to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew (26:31-40): “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people, one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” 

This passage is clearly about much more than visitation; it is about reaching out and caring for those in need, particularly those who live on the margins.  

The people of Oak Chapel have a longstanding tradition of love and compassion, as well as a call to action for those in need. Perhaps this fall, we can make a special effort to focus on visitation to brighten the spirits of another. You will bring joy and encouragement to those you visit, and you will be blessed as well with a special feeling of fulfillment in the knowledge that you have heard God’s invitation and answered his call. 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | August 19, 2022

Timing is Everything in God’s Universe  

Timing is everything — in both heaven and on earth. We have no control over God’s timing, but we do try to manage our time in this life as best we can, even though that can be a major challenge. 

For example, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics must respond as quickly as possible to emergency 911 calls because the outcome is often a matter of life and death. Conversely, we often take our time when contemplating difficult decisions because they usually have major implications.  

Scripture provides a number of references to time, most notably the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is well known for its helpful perspective in Verse 1 of Chapter 3: “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  

Passages like these are clear and full of wisdom, but others are a little more cryptic and need to be processed, including this passage from II Peter 3:8-9, which states, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  

There’s a lot to unpack in these two verses. The thousand-year reference in regard to the Lord indicates that time is not a factor as far as God is concerned. When you think about it, he has all the time in the world — eternity to be exact. So time has no dominion over him. The second part of the passage relates to the first in that our conception of time is not at all like his conception of time. When we go to him in prayer, we generally want an immediate response and a quick resolution. What we fail to understand is that God will respond to our plea as he sees fit. He has been enormously patient with us; we should reciprocate by demonstrating patience with him. He has a perfect plan and wants no one to perish, so he seemingly wants to provide as much time as possible for “everyone to come to repentance.” 

In the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark (13:32-33) provides the most sobering instruction regarding time, particularly how fleeting and uncertain it is in this life, with this passage: “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” so “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” In other words, we may have all the timing devices in the world and think that we can control time, but God is the only one who can control the world’s clock, so it is wise for us to stay awake and stay alert, living each day to the fullest as if it were our last because one never knows — it could be. 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John 

In A Nutshell | August 5, 2022

Neutralizing Bullying Behavior

This world has far too many bullies, and most of us have come face-to-face with at least one of them in our lifetime. My most memorable (and most unpleasant) encounter came on the playground of St. Bartholomew Elementary School in suburban Pittsburgh when I was in sixth grade, circa 1968.

Our resident bully was named Ricky. He was a year older than me, and he and his bully buddies developed this ritual of corralling younger kids and tossing them over the hill (actually, it was a small embankment, but that did not make the prospects of being tossed any less frightening). 

One chilly spring day, Ricky arbitrarily determined that it was my turn to be tossed. In hindsight, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal — roll down the hill, dust yourself off, and come back into school for the next class. But it was more than the physical violation, it was also the humiliation that bothered me. So, when he pointed me out and grabbed me, I instinctively pushed back, which both stunned and angered him. As he and his fellow bullies surrounded me near the end of the recess period, the bell suddenly rang out, and a group of nuns came out of the convent to usher everyone back into the school in an orderly and expeditious manner. 

Needless to say, Ricky and his bullies scattered at the sight of the nuns and slithered back into the school. 

I heaved a sigh of relief, and for some reason, I was never targeted again, maybe because I stood up for myself, but a few years later, when we were both in high school, our lockers for gym class were adjacent. I doubt that he remembered me, but he had certainly mellowed over the years. We never actually became friends, but at least there was peace between us, perhaps because I had grown slightly taller and stronger than him.

In reflecting on the incident, I wonder what makes people become bullies. In the case of Ricky, I later learned that his father died in a car accident when Ricky was 7 years old. That, of course is no excuse for becoming a bully, but it may have been a contributing factor.

These days, bullies bring weapons instead of rituals in response to life’s events, which begs the question, “What can we do to circumvent behavior that ranges from intimidating to terrorizing?

Proverbs 6:16-19 outlines six things that the Lord hates, including “hands that shed innocent blood, hearts that devise wicked plans, and those who sow discord among brothers” — all of which could describe a bully.

At the same, Matthew 7:12 suggests that we should lead by example and practice the Golden rule, which states, “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” In other words, be proactive, take the high road, and set the example of love and forgiveness.

This doesn’t always work, of course, so if all else fails, we can lean on Psalm 18:3, which states, “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

In my case, perhaps the Lord saw to it that in my moment of crisis, the bell rang and the nuns came to my rescue — in just a nick of time.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 29, 2022

Our church has been hit rather hard this month with the passing of two longtime and respected members of our congregation.

Christy Rickard, was the chair of our Membership Care committee, and she really embraced that role, reaching out to those in need and making everyone who entered our doors feel welcome. 

Arden Boyer was born into this church and served on just about every board and committee imaginable. Like Christy, he was greatly loved, admired, and appreciated. 

But now, as we head into a new month, the realization that both are gone — at least in a physical sense — is quite sobering. We miss both of them very much, and although we know that others in our congregation will step forward to serve the way that they did, those two will never be replaced and certainly never forgotten. 

So what do we do with this unavoidable presence of physical death? It always seems to be lurking, regardless of one’s age, and we know that tomorrow is promised to no one.  

Well, I think we can take a cue from Christy and Arden in terms of the way that they lived their lives and prepared for the glory of the eternal life to come for those who believe. 

Christy and Arden lived each day to the fullest, but more importantly, they lived each day for the Lord, dedicating themselves to his service, knowing that they could be called home at any time.  

This month as we honor them, we also contemplate our next move, and we can certainly take a cue from them in terms of the way they prepared for God’s call and listened for guidance through His Holy Word. 

Those passages include the first eight verses from Psalm 121, which states, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip, he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you, the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, or the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm; he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.”  

And, of course, further inspiration comes from the first six verses from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, which brings consolation and affirmation: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God;believe also in me.My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

God has a plan, and as believers we have a prominent place in that plan, so let us not fear death as the end but embrace it as a new beginning in our faith journey. 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John 

In A Nutshell | July 22, 2022

Let Us Be Cautious About the ‘Junk’ We Consume

You may think that you have heard it all, but chances are you have not heard this: Our country now has a day set aside to recognize the not-so-healthy snacks we consume. It’s called “National Junk Food Day,” and it has been designated as such by an organization known as National Today. It was celebrated just this past week, and will forever be assigned to July 22nd.

I’m not sure how they come up with these things, but my guess is that a small group of people gather in a conference room and converse about various things to designate on specific days. I can only imagine the discussions that take place in that room, but I would surmise that they are lively, entertaining, and sometimes even absurd. Ultimately, they settle on a subject and a day.

In the case of National Junk Food Day — as with the other 364 designations they make — these so-called experts have come to their conclusions in what one has to believe is a very unscientific manner.  

This day is dedicated to the foods we like to eat but know that we shouldn’t. On this particular day, however, people are invited to eat junk food for every meal. Now that’s one way to ensure an upset stomach.

In case you didn’t know, junk food emerged in the United States in the 1950s. In general, it consists of items that are high in fats, sugars, salt, and calories. 

Unfortunately, they are also highly delicious and exceptionally irresistible, which leads to high rates of consumption and rapid increases in weight gain. 

Those who have christened National Junk Food Day tell us that we are allowed to consume our favorite decadent snacks without any guilt on this particular day — like we need permission from someone else to consume junk food. On the other hand, if we limited our junk-food consumption to just one day, how much healthier would we all be?

So, what’s the point to all of this? Well, the junk we consume is not limited to what we eat. There is plenty of other junk that attracts us and ultimately brings us down with high-risk consequences. These include such temptations as drugs, alcohol, gambling, greed, lust, deceit, theft, and so much more.

Scripture provides plenty of guidance in regard to what we consume, particularly this passage from I Corinthians, Chapter 6, Verses 19-20: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Temptations of the flesh are persistent and pervasive, but ultimately, it comes down to a choice. The best way to avoid the consequences of junk consumption is to avoid ingesting them in the first place.

Let us respect our body as a temple, and to the best of our ability – with both discipline and willpower – let us not defile it with any type of junk.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

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