In A Nutshell | July 28, 2023

God’s Presence in the Face of Evil

The concept of God’s omnipotence is, indeed, complex and cumbersome, especially in the context of evil. How can the goodness of God coexist with the evil of this world? Well, it’s not really a question of why God can’t eradicate the malevolence in this world — I think a majority of us believe that he can — it’s more a case of why he doesn’t

That’s what is so perplexing: Why does he allow the violence, death, and destruction to continue, especially when so many of the victims are innocent? Certainly he is the all-powerful Almighty, but he often appears to be standing on the sideline as a casual observer when we need him most. 

I don’t claim to have the answer, but I would suggest that we turn to the Book of Isaiah (55:8) to at least begin the conversation. It is there that God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.

God’s plan and his vision are beyond our purview. Too often we try to “figure him out” or “think like him,” and that often leads to inaccurate conclusions harmful consequences. For example, when my mother lost her third child, a well-meaning neighbor said, “Well, God must have needed another angel.” Needless to say, that brought no comfort or consolation to my mother. 

Noted theologian John Cobb also attempts to provide insight with his hypothesis that instead of taking direct action (which he can and does on occasion) God is calling on us to respond in times of trial and tribulation — to provide comfort, encouragement, and assurance to others who are hurting. 

It would seem that the ball is in our court right now to do what we can do to respond when evil or adversity enter the picture. We do this in honor of the appeal that God makes to us by reaching out to those in need, knowing that one day, he will return to eradicate all evil and establish a new kingdom in which there will be no pain or suffering, just joy and exaltation. 

In A Nutshell | June 23, 2023

What is Our Mission? 

At the height of the Apollo space missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of us were captivated by the television coverage of humankind’s exploration of the last frontier, particularly the lunar landing in July of 1969. As Neil Armstrong stated so profoundly through a static microphone when he set foot on the moon — it was, indeed, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Only a handful of individuals have ever walked on the moon’s surface. It’s something most of us will never do, but that does not in any way minimize the value of our mission here on earth. Each of us is called to God’s service, often in ways that match up with our talents, but sometimes in other ways that do not.

Either way, we all have a mission — just like the astronauts — although for most of us, the mission is not that complex. Still, what we do in our lifetime is important, particularly what we do in service of the Lord.

Oak Chapel has a rich tradition of service, dating back to its founding more than 200 years ago, and that service continues to this very day, including this Saturday with Community Impact Day. We will gather in Fellowship Hall at 8:30 a.m. for a light breakfast and devotion, followed by a busy morning of packaging meals and health kits for those in need. The event will culminate with a delicious catered lunch. What a wonderful way to spend a portion of your weekend!

If you are free on Saturday morning and have not yet signed up for the event, make it your “mission” to do so by contacting Pam Domer, who is coordinating the event. She can be reached at pamdomer@gmail.com or 330-601-3926. Join us for this wonderfully productive and fulfilling mission project, and help us to carry on our long history of distinguished service in honor of our Lord.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | June 16, 2023

Join Us as We Pay Tribute to Our Fathers on Sunday

Oak Chapel will honor its fathers — past and present — on Sunday with a special outdoor Father’s Day service. Please feel free to bring a comfortable chair to sit on, but if you don’t have one, we will have chairs available for you. The forecast is calling for dry weather, cool breezes, and a high of 82 degrees (but it should be in the 70s during our worship time), so we can look forward to a pleasant morning together. (There will be no meal after the service).

Sunday’s gathering will be bittersweet as we take time to remember Roger Martin, who died peacefully on Thursday morning at the age of 94. Roger was a true icon in our church. Deeply devoted in his faith, he assisted with many projects over the years, including the bell when the “new” Sanctuary was constructed in the late 1960s. 

Roger loved the Lord and his fellow congregants at Oak Chapel. Sunday morning worship was particularly important to him. He rarely missed a service, even as his mobility became limited in recent years. When I would ask him how he was doing, he would always respond with these two words: “Still vertical.” It was his way of saying that he was still with us after all these years, but he also indicated that he was ready for the Lord’s call at any time, and he was looking forward to reuniting with his beloved wife, Juanita, and one of their three sons, who died previously.

Please join us as we lift up Roger and his family, as well as all of our fathers, including our Father in Heaven. Psalm 103 brings us comfort with this passage from Verse 13: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

May God continue to comfort us as we mourn the loss but celebrate the lives of our earthly fathers.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | May 26, 2023

Join Us for a ‘Neighborly’ Service and Cookout on Sunday

In the Gospel of Luke, an expert in the law asks Jesus a very important question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking, “What is written in the Law?” 

The expert then says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus replies, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” But the expert in the law asks for one final clarification: “Who is my neighbor?”

It is at this point that Jesus shares the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which, as we know, details the saga of a man who provided special care for a stranger who had been beaten and robbed and then ignored by a priest and a Levite, both of whom chose to turn their back his plight and pass by on the other side.

All these years later, we continue to ask, “Who is our neighbor?” Is it the person who lives next door or across the street? Is it someone on the other side of town or the other side of the country? Is it, perhaps, even someone on the other side of the world?

The answer to all of those questions is a very emphatic “Yes!” Everyone on God’s green earth is a neighbor, and how we treat each person is foundational to our journey in this world and our fate in the world to come.

This coming Sunday, we will have an opportunity to worship and fellowship with our neighbors from New Pittsburg United Methodist Church, with whom we will become yoked in July. The autonomy of the two churches will remain in place, but the relationship will be forever united.

Please plan to join us for a meal in Fellowship Hall after our worship service. The men of the church will provide hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. If everyone could provide a side dish, salad, or dessert to share, that will make the meal complete as we celebrate with our neighbors in Christ Our Lord.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | May 19, 2023

Charting a Plan for Our Future

As most of you know by now, I will begin serving a second church in July. While I did not pursue this position, I am happy to serve God as called, but I want you to know that my commitment to Oak Chapel will never change. What may have to change somewhat is how I allocate my time. 

While I was appointed to Oak Chapel in 2019 as a “three-quarter time Pastor” (e.g. reduced salary and no insurance benefits), I was thrilled to accept the position, and I have tried to treat it as a nearly full-time appointment. Unfortunately, I will now have to cut back in a few areas to make the arrangement with New Pittsburg work. As I review my weekly routines, one thing I may cut back on (but not cut entirely) is the weekly Nutshell. I know that many of you read it religiously every week, and I am grateful for that. Others may skim through it, or not read it at all. As a result, we will need to cut back the frequency of that missive.

Regarding other changes or cuts in the future, we’ll need to see how things play out, but I am hoping that any other changes will be hardly noticeable. 

As we know, change is a part of life. Some changes we celebrate; others we dread, but either way we must deal with them in the best possible way. I am approaching the upcoming arrangement with optimism that we can all work together as we have for the past four years and that we can welcome our association with our brothers and sisters from New Pittsburg. 

Be assured that I love this church just as I love all of you, and I will remain loyal even after my pastoral duties come to an end. God has a plan, so let’s honor it and embrace it to his glory and our potential benefit, knowing that he will be with us every step of the way.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | May 12, 2023

Witnessing the Beauty of God’s Creation from up on the Hill

As I gaze out of my office window, I am mesmerized by the brilliant yellow-green pasture just beyond the Mykrantz’s Farm. I have never witnessed such a spectacular sight. I thought I heard someone say that it was “granola,” but what they actually said, I think, was that it was “canola” (as in cooking oil). Whatever it is, it certainly serves as a reminder of just how beautiful God’s creation can be. 

Equally breathtaking in recent months have been the skies above with brilliant blues, whites, oranges, grays, and several other shades, along with an occasional rainbow after a thunderstorm. And what about the cloudless night sky that reveals the bright stars above? Nothing can match the simple but majestic beauty of nature, captured so eloquently in Psalm 19:1, which states, “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Indeed, God speaks to us through nature in ways that stir the soul and lift the spirit, causing even the non-believer to pause, look skyward, and conclude that there is a God after all. This gives us an opportunity to initiate a conversation with others — even complete strangers — about our faith. Perhaps some simple small talk could lead to a testimony of faith that enlightens and inspires another.

Secondly, it is vital that we recognize the fragile nature of our planet and the finite supply of the resources we enjoy. Pollution and climate change have become hot-button political issues, but there is really nothing political about either. Isaiah 24:5 states that “the earth is defiled by its people; [we] have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.

Let’s reverse that trend! In fact, let us set the tone for a re-awakening of environmental stewardship. It’s not political; it’s responsible, and not only does it benefit future generations, but it also solidifies the covenant with our creator while bringing honor and glory to His Name.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | May 5, 2023

A Blast from the Past: Vacation Bible School Returns this Summer

Vacation Bible School is a cherished part of American culture, but participation has fallen off dramatically during the past 25 years. What was once a summer rite of passage is now a shell of its old self.

At Oak Chapel, we have not had Vacation Bible School for the last four years. We might be tempted to excuse ourselves by saying, “well, we just don’t have enough children to make it worthwhile,” but that would be a major mistake. The future of our church, our nation, and even our world depends on our spiritual foundation, and for many young people it begins with VBS.

In the Gospel of Matthew (19:14-15), Jesus said, “‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’ And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

With that in mind, we invite and encourage you to support our efforts this year. Church of the Cross, just north of Wooster in what used to be known as “Madisonburg,” will host the event June 2-3 because of its central location among the four participating churches (which also includes Orrville and Smithville United Methodist Churches).

If you are interested in volunteering with curriculum, set-up, food, or any other aspect of the event, we would welcome you to do so. Equally important, would be any efforts you could make to recruit young people in Kindergarten through Sixth Grade.

Our future depends on breathing new life into Vacation Bible School, and the investment of time is minimal — an evening session on Friday (June 2) and morning and afternoon sessions on Saturday (June 3). 

For more information, or to register, please visit the website (https://rb.gy/rj3sy). If you have any questions, please feel free to ask Pastor John.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | April 28, 2023

Church Closings are Cause for Alarm

The announcement that another Ohio church was closing barely made news last week. Church closings have become all too commonplace in recent years, leaving us to wonder what our world might be like if a day comes when there are no churches at all.

It may seem unthinkable that one day there may be no houses of worship, but we would be foolish to think that such a scenario could never happen.

The most recent church to close was St. Mary’s in Conneaut, Ohio, which has served its parishioners for the past 136 years. It is the ninth Catholic church in the Diocese of Youngstown to close in the past two years. 

Sadly, church closures are not limited to one region of the country. The Diocese of Columbus is planning to close 19 churches this summer, and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati recently eliminated three-quarters of its parishes following a 20-percent decline in weekly attendance during the past decade.

We’ve seen plenty of closures in the Methodist Church as well during that same period, and the trend is likely to continue. Perhaps it is possible that the church as we know it will disappear from the earth as prophesized in the Book of Revelation.

Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, said that just 30 years ago, only seven percent of American adults identified as non-religious. Today that number has grown to 30 percent, and the future looks even more ominous.

“We’re going to see a massive change in American religion in the next 20 years,” Burge said. “We’re going to see whole denominations closed, just shut down and stop operating in any meaningful way. We’re going to see thousands of church buildings empty across America.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe there is no hope. But we can’t afford to accept that. Our entire faith is built on hope, so we must continue to bring new life and new members into the church. It is, after all, what Jesus called us to do when he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

We best take his command seriously…before it’s too late.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | April 21, 2023

Applying the Wisdom and Discipline of Proverbs to Everyday Life

The Book of Proverbs is renowned for its wisdom and discipline. One of my favorite passages and one of the most well-known is Proverbs 3:1-6, which states, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart,  for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you;  bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name  in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,  and he will make your paths straight.

Given such readily attainable wisdom, one has to wonder why humankind continues to stumble with repeated missteps that result, in part, from a failure to learn from past mistakes? In particular, why are we not wiser when it comes to conflict? Have we not learned that violence and warfare begets more hostility and heightened aggression? How many more lives must be ruined? How much more heartache must there be? Can we not somehow get back to the basics of righteousness, justice, and equity? 

It all seems so pointless and so hopeless, but imagine the peace and prosperity we would enjoy if we were to truly embrace His teachings and keep His commands in our heart. Imagine if we were to let love and faithfulness never leave us, but instead  bind them around our neck and write them on the tablet of our heart.  Imagine if we were to trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding, and in all our ways submit to him. Imagine how straight he would make our paths and how much better our world would be.

The truth is that we don’t have to imagine. All we need to do is to trust, follow, and obey!

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | April 14, 2023

Sorting Out the Change that Lies Ahead

I have always been somewhat of a slow learner. It often takes two or three explanations or clarifications before I have a complete understanding of the subject matter. With that in mind, I would like to further clarify my recent appointment (also known as a “second charge”) at New Pittsburg United Methodist Church. 

When I gave the information to our Staff-Parrish Relations Chair, Joyce Varns, who did an excellent job in explaining the situation to the congregations a few weeks ago, I did not have all of the facts straight. I thought that I was going to remain three-quarter time at Oak Chapel and become one-quarter time at New Pittsburg, thus making me essentially full time. I have since learned that that is not the case. I am still three-quarter time overall, which means I am three-quarters of three quarters at Oak Chapel (about 65%) and one-quarter of three-quarters at New Pittsburg (35%). 

Even with this revision, I do not anticipate a significant change in my role at Oak Chapel. I am still completely committed to our church, and I plan to be available as much as possible. We just may need to cut a few corners here and there in the future. In light of this readjustment, you may be asking, are we still paying the pastor the same salary? The answer is “No.” My annual compensation has been cut by at least $6,000.

I thank you for your great support as the two congregations work together to serve our Lord Jesus Christ for as long as He deems necessary. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by phone or text (330-988-2577). Thanks again for your support!

Also, just a reminder that we have added a Fellowship Dinner this month, and it will be held this Sunday (April 16). Please consider bringing a dish, salad, or dessert to share. The Wooster Township Fire Department will be giving a demonstration of how to use our AED equipment. We hope the need will never arise, but it is important that we are all prepared in the event of an emergency.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

Clarification: In my efforts to be fully transparent and forthcoming, I believe that I actually “muddied the waters” just a bit. My goal was to let everyone know that if my time at Oak Chapel would be reduced in any way, the church would be paying less in compensation as a result. What I failed to clarify is that the compensation from New Pittsburg United Methodist will make up for that and, in fact, result in an overall increase in compensation. I realize that this entire situation has been confusing in many ways, including to me, but all is well. My commitment to this church remains as it always has been, and I am confident that between the two churches, each will receive the ministerial and spiritual support they need. If anyone has any questions at any time, please feel free to contact me. – Pastor John

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