In A Nutshell | June 10, 2022

What a Day for a Daydream! 

Enjoy!

Nutshell (June 12): What a Day for a Daydream! 

As the turbulent decade of the sixties came to a close, more and more pop-rock groups released mellow, peace-seeking songs, among them John Sebastian’s composition, “What a Day for a Daydream,” performed by Sebastian’s group, The Lovin’ Spoonful.  

The tranquil ballad evokes images of cool, breezy, laid-back summer days when we yearn for a quiet meadow or a gently flowing stream, where we can close our eyes, and cast our worries aside as our mind flutters through idle, insignificant, and often incoherent thoughts. 

 It is, indeed, advantageous to take time to relax and clear one’s head. Once we have done that, however, it is important for us to sharpen our focus and seek clarity in all that we do. 

This past week, I attended the East Ohio Annual Conference. Because of Covid, this was our first in-person gathering in three years. Since our last gathering in 2019, the venue has changed. Instead of the peace and serenity of Lakeside, we met in an urban setting — Downtown Akron at the John H. Knight Center, which is quite different from the historic Hoover Auditorium at Lakeside. 

I guess the location really shouldn’t matter. After all, it’s the content of the meeting that matters most, provided of course that we are giving the speakers our undivided attention, which shouldn’t be a problem because most of them are engaging, if not dynamic. 

Still, I found my mind wandering from time to time, reminding me that I need to be brief and to the point when sharing a message with you on Sunday morning. 

The Bible provides plenty of guidance in regard to paying attention, including Hebrews 2:1, which states, “Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away.” 

There is, indeed, a danger of drifting away if we are not paying sufficient attention. Our inattention can give way to complacency, which can lead us into temptation and make us vulnerable to the evil that surrounds us. 

Another verse that stresses the urgency of paying attention comes from I Peter 5:8, which warns of the danger of temptation when it says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 

Not only does inattentiveness cause us to drift away, it also threatens to make us vulnerable to the enemy, which has one objective in mind — total destruction. 

The Book of Proverbs also has a lot to say about paying attention, including this passage from Proverbs 22:17, which says, “Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach.” 

It is prudent for us to listen to the wisdom of those who have come before us; those who have experienced more in life than we have. Those people can provide invaluable advice that will help us to avoid the pitfalls of inattentiveness. 

Those who pay attention increase the likelihood that they will have success in life and avoid the pitfalls of ignorance. So, too, in our spiritual life — if we pay attention and follow God’s Word, he will guide us on our journey. 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John 

In A Nutshell | June 3, 2022

Adapting to Change

Believe it or not, the last known telephone booth in America was removed from the corner of a busy intersection in New York City late last month. One would have thought that pay phones would have disappeared long ago, and for the most part they did, but the one in New York City hung on until the bitter end, even though just about everyone in the country now has a cell phone.

True, there are still many landline phones in business, industry, government, education, and other organizations, but for the most part they are becoming an archaic form of communication. Many people have removed landline phones from their homes, in part because the only incoming calls come from telemarketers or scam artists.

All of this raises the question about how we, as Disciples of Christ, deal with change, particularly in the church. There are many changes forthcoming in the United Methodist Congregation — some of which are being openly embraced; others of which are being soundly rejected.

So, what are we to do, and what type of guidance can we derive from Scripture in regard to change? Well, more than you might expect, according to several familiar Biblical passages.

Romans 12:2 states that we should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In other words, we are not to fall victim to the conventions of this world, especially if they run counter to God’s teaching. At the same time, we are encouraged to be transformed by the renewal of our mind and to pursue that which is “good and acceptable and perfect” in His eyes.

Indeed, transformation is part of our spiritual journey in this world. Colossians 3:10 advises us to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Even as the world changes, we know that the God we serve does not. This is reinforced in Hebrews 13:8, which states that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

So then, how do we remain firm and grounded in a world that is changing faster by the day?

Well that response is nuanced, but it is best for us to be open-minded, to jettison judgment, and to lean on love. The Gospel of Matthew warns of the perils of judging others. Corinthians 13:13 emphasizes the power of love with this passage: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We can always rely on our faith, our hope, and, of course, our love, which conquers all — even in the face of relentless change. 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | May 27, 2022

What Can the Church Do?

Here we sit, fewer than two weeks after a mass shooting in Buffalo, and we are mourning another horrific tragedy — made even worse by the fact that almost all of the victims were young children.

Loss of life brings sorrow at any age, but when children are the ones who perish, the level of anguish is heightened exponentially.

The fallout from these shocking events is both predictable and disheartening. It begins with shock and outrage, and is followed by finger pointing and eventually the all-too-familiar political acrimony.

Early on and throughout the grieving process there are vigils and well-intentioned promises of “thoughts and prayers.” This is all well and good, but it causes me to wonder if there is anything else the church and its members can do in times like these.

Certainly prayer is essential, followed by words of comfort and offers to ease the burdens of those who grieve through donations and other forms of outreach, but I am curious if there is a way that we can ramp up our efforts and have more of an impact before the next tragedy takes place.

The first five verses of I John 5 provide some insight about the value of obedience and the blessings that come with it: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Could it possibly be that simple? Can we possibly overcome the world and all the evil that exists in it just by loving God, loving his children, and keeping his commandments?

Well, if everyone embraces this call and actively lives accordingly, it is reasonable to think that we can at least mitigate, if not overcome evil. Unfortunately, not everyone will buy in. 

Disobedience and disrespect run rampant in our nation and in our world, so to expect perfection is unrealistic. That won’t happen until he comes again in glory to judge all of humankind.

In the meantime, however, we can follow the passage from I John as a way of improving the world incrementally. In this way we are being proactive with our faith, honoring His Name, and showing others that we serve a living and active God who can make a difference in our world if we allow him to do so. A little bit of obedience goes a long way; a life of obedience goes all the way.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | May 20, 2022

Exercising Caution at Life’s Crossroads

Have you ever cruised through a yellow light at an intersection? Of course, most of us have at one time or another. Sometimes, the changing light catches us off guard, and we have no choice but to proceed through the intersection. Other times, we are in a hurry, so we press our luck and push through, hoping that no one is trying to get a head start from the other direction.

Caution lights actually require us to stop, according to the strictest letter of the law, but most people don’t get pulled over unless they clearly go through when the light is red. Still, stopping while the light is yellow indicates an abundance of caution and assures that there will not be a collision at the intersection.

All of this begs the question about yellow caution lights in our daily lives — the ones you can’t see but know are there. Would it not be best for us to stop at every figurative intersection in life to ponder our options while ensuring safety for all concerned?

The Bible offers plenty of instruction when it comes to caution, including this passage from the New Living Translation of Proverbs 14:16-18, which states, “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence. Short-tempered people do foolish things, and schemers are hated. Simpletons are clothed with foolishness, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.

How fitting this passage is for today’s chaotic environment. The more cautious we are, the more likely we are to avoid danger. However, some will say that the really successful people are the ones who take risks and throw caution to the wind. I suppose there is a time and a place for both approaches, but for the most part, exercising caution is the most prudent way to go.

The passage also addresses the danger of being short-tempered, thus ignoring the well-known passage from the Book of James, which advises us to be “slow to anger.” When people “fly off the handle” and act out of emotion, they almost invariably regret their words and their actions.

So, what do we do when we approach the next figurative intersection — the one that requires us to be careful and make wise decisions? Well, we learned that lesson many years ago when our parents first showed us how to cross the street: Pause, look both ways, and proceed with caution.

Simple enough, but often ignored by adults who should know better. It would be wise for all of us to slow down and use the discretion that God has given to us before we speak or prepare to make an important decision.

Of course, slowing down requires patience — a virtue that seems to be in very short supply these days. Perhaps that’s why Psalm 27:14 repeats itself when it states, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Take your time. Be cautious and be courteous at the next intersection. It is the safest and most sensible approach to driving and to life itself.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | May 13, 2022

Faith Over Foolish Superstitions

Are you superstitious? Some people are over the top in that regard. Others pay little or no attention, but because today is Friday the 13th, perhaps we could take a look at what it is that causes us to avoid broken mirrors, cracks in the sidewalk, and walking under ladders.

When I was growing up, my friends and I had what we thought were good-luck charms. As I mentioned recently, I had a rabbit’s foot that was supposed to bring good fortune. Even at a young age, though I think we knew that that was pure fantasy, but we played along with it anyway.

We also had things that we avoided because of urban legends that caused us to be superstitious. One such example was avoiding a particular path in the woods because someone was allegedly buried there. Another one was to stay away from an abandoned house because the family that lived there disappeared one day many years ago, and if we went inside, we, too, would disappear.

As we grow older, we become less likely to fall victim to superstition, but young people, especially in this era of pervasive social media are particularly vulnerable to such falsehoods. As a result, it is important that we help them to build a strong foundation in faith through worship, education, service, prayer, and devotion.

The Bible also addresses the subject of superstition in a number of passages, including I Timothy 4:7, which advises us to “have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train [ourself] for godliness.” Colossians 2:8 states that we are to “see to it that no one takes [us] captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Well, that certainly seems like excellent advice. Still, some people occasionally get caught up in practices or rituals that are complete nonsense, so just to be safe, we are advised to turn away from such practices and instead focus on what is true and genuine in Scripture.

The best way to defend oneself against superstitious practices is to be grounded in Christ, and for that we turn to II Timothy 1:7, which reminds us that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. That will lead us away from the darkness and into the light.

And, of course, we all know the rock on which our faith is built. The familiar passage comes to us from the Gospel of John 14:6, when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Superstitions have no dominion over us if we follow the Lord, keep His commandments, and pledge to love him with all of our heart, our soul, and our might, and to love our neighbor as ourself.

That’s no superstition. That’s an absolute truth and the fundamental foundation of our faith on which we can be fully assured.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | May 6, 2022

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Empathy is a powerful human emotion, but none of us really knows what it is like to “walk in another person’s shoes.” It becomes even more difficult when we try to imagine what it’s like to travel about with no shoes at all.

Most of us have at least three or four pairs of shoes; some people even have as many as 30 or 40 pairs, but many people around the world, particularly young children, do not have a decent pair of shoes to wear.

We now have an opportunity to do something about that and change lives in the process. Our church is participating in a drive to provide “Shoes for Orphan Souls.” Simply purchase a new pair of children’s shoes and place them in the box in the Narthex. The boxes will be collected this weekend and sent to orphans and vulnerable children around the world. For those outside of our area, buckner.org/shoes to contribute.

Here’s what happens when you donate. First of all, you dramatically improve the health of these children by protecting their feet against disease and infection, and giving them a comfortable way to get around.

Shoes also enhance a child’s educational outlook by eliminating at least one barrier to school attendance. In addition, shoes provide opportunity by connecting families to critical services, programs and mentoring at Buckner Family Hope Centers around the world.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, new shoes provide hope by demonstrating God’s love through your faithfulness and generosity, lifting the spirits of so many young children and helping them take that first step out of poverty.

Jesus was especially tuned in to those who lived in poverty. In Matthew 7:12, he said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” That is the essence of empathy.

Not only did Jesus speak about empathy, he lived it, as we read in II Corinthians 8:9, which states, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

As his disciples, we are rich in the spirit, and that inspires us to reach out to the “least among us,” particularly the children.

And finally there is this from the first five verses of Philippians 2, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”.

Our current shoe drive is in no way an obligation, but instead an opportunity. So we invite you to join us, if you will, as we reach out to those in need. Children’s shoes can be purchased economically at a number of locations in our area. The drive ends this week.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | April 29, 2022

Surrendering to the One True Superhero

I was never really a big fan of the Marvel Superhero Comic Book series, although several of the guys in my neighborhood were voracious readers of the franchise. In fact, one of them was a talented artist and even created his own storylines.

As for me, I preferred to watch the exploits of these superheroes on television, first the reruns of Superman and later the wildly popular Batman series, which aired as many as three times a week in primetime in the mid-1960s.

We would watch the episodes each evening and then talk about them on the bus as we traveled to school the following day. Even though we were only in elementary school, we knew that these programs were pure fantasy, and even a little bit silly. Still, it was fun to imagine what it would be like to have super powers.

Now that we are adults, we occasionally live our lives as if we were superhuman, extending ourselves in a variety of ways. We do this with good intentions, often in the context of trying to help others, but ultimately, we realize that we are not superheroes and we have no special powers. The reality is that there are some things — many things — in life that we cannot overcome. 

Despite this realization, we know that we have an advocate in Jesus, and as we read in Philippians 4:13, “[we] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us].” Exactly how and when this applies to our life is hard to say, but we know that through him, anything is possible.

This gives us hope, even in the most dire of circumstances, and it also teaches us, as the legendary hymn, “Jesus Loves Me,” so clearly states, “We are weak, but he is strong.” 

It is here that we encounter an irony in our faith. When we surrender to him instead of foolishly trying to do things that are clearly beyond our realm, we actually become stronger and wiser.

Proverbs 9:10 offers another irony when it states that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” When we fear the Lord, we actually become more courageous.

This is why it is so important to proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, to commit ourselves to him, and to foster a lifelong relationship, through which he can guide and counsel, provide and protect.

Superheroes are fun, but they are pure fantasy. The God we serve is real, alive, and everlasting. Let us take comfort, gain wisdom, and build strength in our relationship with him, and let us invite others to covenant with him so that they, too, will have greater comfort and clarity in this world and greater affirmation and assurance in the world to come in our Father’s Heavenly Kingdom.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | April 22, 2022

Worth a Visit

Life in ministry brings all sorts of responsibilities — one of the most important of which is visitation. Whether someone is housebound, hospitalized, in an assisted-living facility, grieving, or imprisoned, pastors are expected to visit, encourage, provide companionship, and lift up others through scripture and prayer.

These types of visitation are often bittersweet. While it is a joy to connect with those who are hurting, lonely, or struggling in some other way, it is difficult to see them facing these types of hardships.

Recently, I set aside some time to address these needs. It began with a funeral service for a member of my former church. It was an honor to share a tribute to this faithful servant while providing some comfort and even some levity for his grieving family and friends. 

My next stop was an assisted-living facility where I stopped in to see three members of our church. Each visit lasted about 45 minutes. I was blessed to offer words of comfort, and I could see that each person appreciated the companionship because so often they spend hours, even days, alone in their room. In between my various stops, I encountered a couple walking together down a hallway. I tried not to eavesdrop as I followed behind, but I could tell from their conversation that each had lost a spouse and that both really enjoyed each other’s company.

Also that week, I stopped in to see a church member who had been hospitalized. Fortunately, it was not a life-threatening situation, but it was enough to cause some concern. Once again, the individual greatly appreciated the visit and seemed gratified to know that someone cared.

How does all of this relate to our faith journey? Well, Jesus made it clear that we are all called to reach out to the least among us. For it is there that we will truly find him. That is not meant in a judgmental way, but simply an acknowledgement of an individual’s circumstances. 

Here’s what Jesus said about the situation in the Gospel of Matthew: “Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left. “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

Let us never forget those who live on the margins — the downtrodden, the desperate. They may not look or sound like us. Their background may be completely different from ours, but they are children of God, and when we reach out to them, we will also encounter our Lord in all of his glory and splendor.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

Oak Chapel UMC

4203 West Old Lincoln Way

Wooster, OH 44691

330-264-2537

www.oakchapelumc.com

Serving God and Community

In A Nutshell | April15, 2022

Strangers in the Night

One never knows who or what might be encountered in a church parking lot, especially after dark.

Here at Oak Chapel United Methodist, which sits at the confluence of two busy roadways, we’ve had crows, cats, and all kinds of other critters, but we’ve also had visits from a wide range of people who use our lot as a rest stop, a meeting place, an outdoor walking venue, and who knows what else.

Just last night, following our Maundy Thursday service, we noticed an unfamiliar car idling in the lot right around dusk. One of our church members approached the vehicle and asked what the driver was up to. He said he was low on gas and wanted to know if he could use our lot to stay overnight and get some sleep in his car.

Part of his story didn’t add up. If he was low on gas, why was he wasting his valuable fuel by allowing the car to run? Our church member, a kind, caring, and compassionate individual, suggested that I go out and speak to the occupant, and so I did. 

The man inside was really downtrodden. He was 64 years old — just one year younger than me — but at a very different place in life. He had a variety of health issues, including respiratory challenges that led to him have a tracheotomy in his neck. He even asked me if God still cared about him.

I was really conflicted. I had to look out for the welfare of the church and the safety of our members, so I was reluctant to have him spend the entire night in our parking lot. On the other hand, was it really that big of a deal, and what harm would he cause?

Still, I felt it might be best to ask him to find another place to stay, so I told him that the local sheriff and the state highway patrol often drive through our lot at all hours of the day and night, which was true. I handed him two $5 bills so that he could get some gas and maybe a fast-food meal, but I also decided that I couldn’t simply send him on his way, so I handed him my card with my contact information. 

Then I recalled that haunting passage from the second chapter of James, which states, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

I felt like someone had just shot a hole in my faith. But it was too late. He was already gone. I can only hope that he will keep my card handy and call on me once again for help. This time, I won’t let him, or my Lord, down.

Such is the quandary we face, discerning between good works and personal safety. As disciples of Christ we want to extend ourselves, and reach out to the “least of our brethren.” At the same time, we need to have some common sense and take precautions where health and safety are concerned.

I don’t know how this story will end. Will he call me back, or will I never hear from him again? Time will tell, but in the meantime, I pray to God that he watches over this man and guides me to the proper course of action next time.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | April 8, 2022

What Happens When Something Spills?

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” What it means essentially, is that there’s no reason to be upset about something that has already happened and cannot be changed.

Ha! Easier said than done. There are countless examples in life when we spill something — literally or figuratively — and fret about it for hours, days, even weeks.

The other day as I was preparing to enter the church, trying to carry too many things at one time, my little plastic container of Eclipse gum tumbled to the asphalt and spilled half the contents onto the parking lot.

Not only was I disappointed at having lost a handful of gum contents, I was upset with myself for trying to carry too many things at one time. I should have been more careful.

It is, indeed, frustrating, when we spill something, especially when it could have been prevented by being a little more cautious.

There is one area, however, where we need to be especially careful, and that is in regard to that which spills from our mouths, specifically the words we use. Sometimes, we react emotionally to certain situations and say things we later regret. Other times, we hold back, reflect on the situation, and develop a more measured, diplomatic response. In almost every case, it is wise for us to opt for the later rather than the former.

The Book of James, Chapter 3, offers some stern but very wise advice in regard to the things we say.

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

How fitting and relevant a passage for the state of affairs in our nation today. We greatly value our right to Freedom of Speech, but with that right comes a great responsibility. The things we say can inspire, but they can also inflict great pain. We need look no further than the incident at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony to see just how volatile our words can be.

As faithful disciples of Christ, we have a right and a responsibility to speak what we believe is the truth, but we can do so in a way that is measured and not malicious. In that way, what we say will be much more palatable and have a much greater impact on the recipient.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

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