In A Nutshell | April 1, 2022

Fool for Christ

“Everybody plays the fool sometimes; there’s no exception to the rule.” So goes a line from a one-hit wonder from The Main Ingredient in 1972.

Indeed, we’ve all found ourselves looking or sounding foolish at one time or another. No one wants to be in that situation, but it’s part of life.

As one who tries to avoid embarrassment at all costs, I am especially sensitive about playing the fool, but it happens, and there’s not much we can do about it.

When it comes to our faith, however, there is something we can do about it, and we can look at it two ways. The Old Testament Book of Proverbs is filled with admonitions about foolishness.

For example, Proverbs 12:16 states that “fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook the insult.” We might look at this passage as a way of saying, “take the high road at every opportunity.” Someone might insult us, and we may be taken aback by their words, but we can quickly regroup and choose to either ignore or disregard what they said. In the long run, we show wisdom and even gain the admiration of others by keeping silent in certain situations.

Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” This is another way of saying, “be wary of the company you keep.” Our parents told us, and we, in turn, tell our children that an individual will be highly influenced by the people with which we associate. “Be careful; don’t be fooled!”

Proverbs 18:2 addresses the foolishness of stubbornness with this passage, “fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions.” We all know at least one person like this — people who only care about their perspective and refuse to listen to another’s point of view. Clearly, this person would qualify as a fool.

Proverbs 29:11 offers valuable instruction, especially in today’s world with these words, “fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” It’s another way of saying that volatile situations can be diffused when “cooler heads prevail.”

There are many other passages in Proverbs that speak to the folly of foolishness, but there is at least one passage in the New Testament that advises us to become a fool for our faith. Specifically, I Corinthians 4:10 in which Paul makes the argument that serving Christ requires a level of commitment, a complete surrender of self that runs counter to the generally accepted ways of “Me first” in this world. This includes sacrifice, self-denial, and giving up all that we have to follow Him.

Most of us don’t reach that level of “foolishness,” of faithfulness, but we can certainly be aware of the fact that His call to us often requires that we put the needs of others ahead of our own and that we make Him Lord of all.

Today is April Fool’s Day — not a Holy Day be any means, but still a day to reflect on both the danger and the wisdom of being a fool.

Be careful not to fall victim to the pranks of another, but let us all be willing, through our complete commitment of faith, to be a fool for Christ.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 25, 2022

Adjusting to our Blind Spots

With the many enormous advances in automobile technology, why do we still have blind spots when we try to change lanes? Surely, our brilliant automotive engineers could have come up with something to overcome that.

Some say that if the sideview mirrors are properly adjusted, there are no blind spots; but most people arrange their mirrors incorrectly, thus creating a blind spot. If that source is correct, they must be referring to me because just last week, I almost collided with a car in the left lane, even though I thought it was clear of any traffic. 

The young lady in the light blue car, hit her horn, but kindly made no visible gestures with her hands in my direction as I hurriedly swerved back into my original lane.

Another source stated that nearly all vehicles have a blind spot, regardless of the design. That made me feel a little bit better, but I had to acknowledge that if I had collided with the young lady in the blue car, it would have been my fault.

I raise this issue about blind spots because I believe we all have them. Our biases and prejudices, whether they be innate or learned behavior, can be problematic at the very least and dangerous if not adjusted.

The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, Verses 3 through 5, provides invaluable advice with this familiar passage…

Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.” 

Just like the blind spot on the roadway, our nation and our world are becoming increasingly dangerous because of blind spots — not so much that we have them, but that we are unwilling to do anything to adjust them. In fact, quite the opposite is occurring. We are digging deeper and deeper into our own dogma and failing to listen to the point of view of others. What this leads to is essentially a lack of communication as we talk past each other while failing to at least listen and process their point of view.

While it is important to hold steadfast to our spiritual beliefs, we must take time to acknowledge the viewpoints of others, even if we wind up disagreeing. There are certain beliefs about which we do not compromise, but there are others about which we can find common ground.

So, before we dismiss and ultimately destroy one another, let’s reach out and consider the experience of others, while showing the grace and mercy, the love and compassion that our Lord showed us. 

After all, we are all children of God, who reminds us in the 22nd chapter of Matthew: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 18, 2022

Faith Often Calls for Clear Thinking, Quick Action

It was a rainy, foggy morning in March of 1974, just three months before our high school graduation. My friends and I were on our way to the bus stop, chatting about who knows what, when we came upon a frightening sight.

One of our classmates laid motionless on the asphalt pavement. We had no idea what happened, but quickly learned that moments earlier, she had been struck by a car, which then sped away and left for her dead.

My friends and I, being typical teenagers, were at a loss as to what to do. This was long before the option to call 911 and even longer before cell phones. We paused briefly as her friends huddled around her. Not knowing what to do, we continued on to the bus stop. We were shaken by the incident, but too immature to know how to respond. I felt especially bad, knowing that we should have done something, even though it looked like there was nothing that could have been done.

A couple of hours later, during a change of classes, I saw the girl who had been hit by the car. I’m sure I looked as though I had just seen a ghost, probably because I thought I had. In reality, she had only suffered a glancing blow, and it was her head hitting the pavement that caused her to lose consciousness. 

At that point, I didn’t know what to say or do, so I did what many awkward high school students would do — I turned and walked the other way. Of course, this made me feel even worse. Not only did I fail to take action the first time, but when given the opportunity to express some words of comfort, I cowardly walked away.

That incident took place nearly 50 years ago, and I am still haunted by it, but if there was a silver lining, it was the fact that I learned a very important lesson — a call to action if you will.

The Book of James has some stern words regarding this dilemma. In Chapter 2, Verses 14-17, we read this familiar passage: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

I felt somewhat dead inside on that day. I don’t know what I could have done, but I should have done something. Clearly, I should not have walked way, but I did — twice. 

Fortunately, from this experience, I am far more inclined to provide tangible assistance and not just say, “Go in peace.” It may sound nice, but it is actually a very hollow response. 

I didn’t know this classmate very well, but that’s no excuse. God doesn’t instruct us to reach out only to those we know. Instead, he encourages us to reach out to strangers, even enemies. I try to keep that in the forefront of my mind these days so I will be ready the next time I encounter a similar situation.

After all, Jesus could have walked away from us, but he didn’t. Praise be to God, that he saw our life-or-death situation, and chose to step in and save us.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 11, 2022

Opportunities to Re-Engage with the Word of God 

Now that we are becoming a little more comfortable gathering together in small groups, I would like to make a pitch for Christian Education at Oak Chapel. We currently have two Sunday School classes and one Bible study, but we hope to expand our offerings in the coming months.

On Sunday morning, all are welcome to study God’s Word and its application in today’s world in the adult Sunday School class that meets in the Sing-Mar Room from 9:30-10:15 a.m. While the current study follows a book by Phillip Yancey about Grace, you don’t have to be there every week to benefit from the discussion. In fact, each week provides a new topic and a different opportunity for an engaging discussion.  

Also on Sunday morning, our young adults are participating in a study about Bible Basics, led by Rich and Cyndi Boyer. These take place on the second and fourth Sundays of the month. This class, which meets later in the morning (11:30 a.m.) following the worship service, probes basic Biblical concepts at the grassroots level, and provides easy access, whether you have studied Scripture for many years or are relatively new to the process. Either way, there is no reason to be intimidated or anxious. We all have new things to learn, and we are all respectful of each other’s faith journey, regardless of how far along it may be.

In addition to our Sunday morning fare, we have other interesting opportunities. Pam Domer leads a study every Monday morning from 9:30 -10:45 a.m., and all are welcome to attend. Currently the group is studying the Book of Acts, which has many insightful applications to our current faith journey. We are still meeting via Zoom, but we are hoping to gather in person sometime this spring, and we still have plenty of room for anyone who wishes to join.  

The newest option, which will be led by Bruce Bloch, is titled “God’s Chosen People: A Zero Sum Result.” In this provocative study, we will probe questions regarding God’s chosen people and ask whether we err in distinguishing between the Old and New Testaments. This study may begin in our regular Sunday School hour and possibly progress from there, or be scheduled for a different time. Either way, all are welcome.

Of course, we are intent on providing a regular Sunday School class for children. We have people willing to lead the class. All we need are the children. Perhaps you can help by encouraging young people in your family or your neighborhood to join us.

Most of us are acquainted with Scripture, but many have a rather limited understanding. These studies provide opportunities for all of us to grow together in knowledge and in faith in a welcoming, non-threatening environment. Be assured that there is no judgment when it comes to our Biblical IQ. We are here to support one another and to expand our awareness of God’s Holy Word. Please consider joining the group that appeals most to you…and think about bringing a friend. 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John 

In A Nutshell | March 4, 2022

Reflect, Repent, Reconcile, and Reconnect This Lent

The older I get, the more I regret. Thoughtless words, careless actions, and bad decisions over the course of my lifetime cause me to wonder  why I didn’t exercise better judgment and greater forethought. Thank God for the gift of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ! Where would we be without His grace and mercy?

Although we can’t take back what we’ve said or done, we can have it expunged by our Savior, whose blood cleanses our soul and purifies our spirit. During this solemn period of preparation, we have a unique opportunity to strengthen our faith by reconnecting with our God and rethinking the way we live our lives.

The first step in the process of reconciliation is the awareness of our sinful nature and the desire to be more obedient. We are invited to bring our sins to the foot of the cross and to repent with sincerity and transparency. This helps us to re-establish our relationship with the Lord and pursue the pathway to redemption.

During the Lenten season, we invite you to expand your commitment through prayerful reflection and worship. If you happened to miss our Ash Wednesday Service this week, you can view a pre-recorded version on our website. Then, on Sunday evening, we invite you to participate in the first of our five Lenten Services, during which we will gather at one of five area churches — Oak Chapel, Church of the Cross, Moreland, New Pittsburg, and Wooster — each week.

We will also have other opportunities for fellowship during Lent, including our monthly Retirees Breakfast on Monday (March 7 – 8 a.m.) and the United Methodist Men’s Breakfast next Saturday morning (March 12 – 7:30 a.m.) at Greenleaf Restaurant. In addition, Art & Soul meets Monday (March 7 – 7 p.m.) at the church, and Days for Girls gathers the following Tuesday (March 15 – 1 p.m.), also at the church. And don’t forget about choir. Our faithful ensemble rehearses on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m., and there is still have plenty of room for more singers.

With the weather improving and the pandemic fading (we hope), let’s breathe new life into this great church. Active involvement not only serves the Lord, but it can also be a source of great joy for those who participate. I remain optimistic about the future of Oak Chapel because of people like you — loyal, dedicated, selfless, caring, compassionate, and so much more.

What we do throughout the Lenten season and in the months that follow will have a profound impact on the course and direction of our church. Let us join together with a renewed commitment to discipleship, and let us honor our ancestors who worked so diligently to ensure that our church would not only survive, but also thrive. 

It will take a period of time and a considerable amount of effort, but I believe in each of you, and I am confident that you will do everything in your power to guide this church into an exciting new era of service and stewardship.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 25, 2022

Ashes to Ashes, Death to Life

Our Lenten journey officially begins next week with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. I hope you will consider joining us for a brief, but meaningful service at
7 p.m. that evening.

This storied tradition of Ash Wednesday dates back centuries and reminds us that our life in this world will one day pass away, but our life in God’s Heavenly Kingdom will last forever.

This message is often hard to grasp, even for believers, but through Ash Wednesday we begin to realize that in order to have abundant life in the spirit, there must first be death to our sinful nature in the flesh. Jesus came into this world to conquer sin and death, but in order to do that, he first had to die on the cross so that he could be raised up in the spirit.

According to I Corinthians 15, if there is no death, then there is no resurrection, and if there is no resurrection, then our faith is futile because we have not been rescued from our sins and redeemed by his blood. But the good news comes to us beginning in Verse 20 of that chapter, which states, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.   For as in Adam, all die, so
in Christ all will be made alive.

Then,” the passage continues, “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” From that perspective, we might say that Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the end for the Grim Reaper and the beginning of abundant life for us.

In 1973, The Fifth Dimension released a song, titled, “Ashes to Ashes.” It was on the “B” side of one of their hits (I forget which one), but it was a catchy tune with some meaningful lyrics that relate to this discussion: “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, it will never be the same, but we’re all forgiven, we’re only living to leave the way we came.”

There is considerable truth to that riff from the standpoint that our mortal bodies will pass away and that we will never be the same, but the good news is that we’re all forgiven and basically living to leave the way we came — in other words, in the spirit.

So let us spend a few moments together on Ash Wednesday as we take stock of who we are now and how we will be transformed through the spirit so that we can all be reunited together as one and rejoice in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 18, 2022

Making Our Way to the Cross

You never know what you might see simply by gazing out the window. A few weeks ago, I watched a man walk toward the church on West Old Lincoln Way. It’s not really a safe roadway for pedestrians in ideal weather conditions, but with all the snow that had piled up on the berm, it appeared to be particularly treacherous.

I had no idea where the man was headed until I saw that he had turned left and was now on church grounds. I wondered if he might be on his way to our outdoor pantry, but instead he stopped at the Serenity Garden, set down his backpack, sat down on the bench, and, I assume, reflected and prayed in front of the cross.

I was struck by the fact that this gentleman, whom I did not know (or at least did not recognize), had made an intentional journey to the cross. He could have reflected or prayed anywhere else, but he chose the cross in our Serenity Garden on that day.

In addition to being gratified that he chose to come to our church, it caused me to think more deeply about what it is that brings us to the cross. Many of us were introduced at a very young age and have never known life without the cross. Others come at various stages in life. Some are led by family, friends, mentors, or even strangers. Some find their way in times of triumph; others connect through tragedy.

It really doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you reach your desired destination. Once you arrive, however, it is important to remember that it is not really the end, but rather the beginning of a lifelong relationship with the one who hung there, dying an excruciating death so that our sins would be blotted out, and so that we could experience life eternal through his glorious resurrection.

Paul’s journey to the cross was both intricate and inspiring. In Philippians 1, he talked about his time in captivity, but actually reveals the joy in his journey when he says, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare
all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

Paul, the one-time persecutor of Christians (a.k.a. Saul), had a life-changing experience on the road to Damascus, where the Lord intervened and dramatically changed his journey. Our path to the cross may not have been that dramatic or traumatic, but the point is that we found our way. Moving forward, our mission is to provide instruction and direction so that others may also find their way to the cross.

Please join us this Sunday as Rev. David Wilcox helps us to “See the Larger Picture” with his inspiring message. Be sure to bring the kids, too, because he will have some words of wisdom for them as well, and don’t forget to bring a dish to share for the Fellowship dinner after the service.

As always, our time of worship and fellowship is blessed by God as he further reveals himself and provides clarity for our journey, which will ultimately take us from this world safely and securely into the next.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 11, 2022

Paralympians Excel with Optimism and So Can We

The fortnight of Olympic competition reaches the halfway point this weekend, but the real heroes will take center stage next month when the Paralympic Games are held in Beijing.

These athletes may not receive the same attention or acclaim as those currently competing, but a strong case could be made that they should. Paralympians have a limiting factor of one sort or another that prevents them from competing in the Olympic Games, but no one would dare call them disabled because these athletes don’t
consider themselves less capable than anyone else. Their stories and their performances are particularly inspiring because of the great desire, uncommon stamina,
unyielding fortitude, and exceptional effort they have shown, as well as the many obstacles they have had to overcome.

Adversity is a part of life for all of us. Some have daunting obstacles to overcome, while others must deal with less extreme challenges. Regardless of the size or scope of one’s hurdles, our foundation in faith can be a vital asset in all circumstances.

Scripture has a number of passages that offer encouragement and assurance. Most deal with spiritual distress or persecution, but the wisdom of God’s word can also be applied to other phases of life.

One of the most familiar and comforting excerpts comes from Psalm 46:1, which reminds us that “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in times of
trouble.
” This short but powerful phrase assures us that God gives us both shelter and
strength, and that he is always with us, especially when we struggle.

Proverbs 3:5-6 provides perspective with these familiar words: “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.” This passage grounds us and fortifies our faith, making us better equipped to deal with life’s setbacks and disappointments.

The Book of James (1:12) sheds light on the spiritual benefits of endurance with this insight: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” There is indeed a great benefit to standing tall in times of trouble. Many people choose to give up when things get tough, but those who stand strong not only survive, but ultimately thrive.

So when we face troubled times, we can turn to Scripture and be lifted up. In II Thessalonians (3:3) we read that “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect
you from the evil one.
” Philippians 4:13 offers additional inspiration to the Paralympians
and all the rest of us as well with the assurance that we “can do all things though him who gives us strength.

While it is quite common to be discouraged by life’s disappointments, we should never allow them to defeat us. Instead, let us rest on our faith and stand tall in the face of adversity because, as we know, through God all things are possible.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 4, 2022

God and the Groundhog: Whom Do You Believe?

There is an unwritten rule in ministry that a pastor should not preach about Groundhog Day more than once in a career. So, since I invited Gabe the Groundhog to speak through his alter ego (Bill Braucher) a year ago, I will honor that rule and not address the issue again during our Worship service. I will, however, make mention of our furry friend and pose a perplexing question about our faith in this week’s Nutshell.

As you probably know by now, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow at Gobblers Knob on Wednesday morning, meaning that there will be six more weeks of winter. No surprise there. Did we really need a groundhog to tell us that? Probably not.

It does, however, raise the issue of silly superstitions and other sources through which people base their beliefs. Most rational human beings know that a groundhog has no special meteorological insight and therefore cannot predict an extension of winter or an early spring, yet hundreds gather well before dawn in frigid conditions every February 2nd to celebrate the occasion and to witness whether or not he sees his shadow.

It’s easy to mock and denigrate this annual event as nonsense, but perhaps we should take a step back and realize that many people view Jesus with that same sort of skepticism. After all, they say, why would a great and powerful ruler who has dominion over all of creation allow himself to be insulted, scorned, and crucified for our sins? To
them, it just doesn’t make sense. How can Christians believe this and then mark the
occasion every year with an event known as Good Friday?

If we step back for a moment, perhaps we can understand their perspective, but it is important for us to point out that the crucifixion, as compelling as it was, is only half the story. Just a few days later, Jesus, who was put to death as a human, overcame a sin-filled world with His glorious resurrection.

Granted, many reject the notion that Jesus rose from the dead, but the evidence is pretty persuasive, and in order to understand and accept this fundamental truth — the very foundation of our faith — it is helpful to delve into the Word of God by reading the Scriptures. For me, the most persuasive argument for this mystery of faith can be found in the Old Testament where the prophets, most notably Isaiah, tells the story of the Messiah well before it actually takes place.

Some say that Scripture is confusing, even cryptic — and it is true that there are passages that are a little more difficult to understand than others — but the truth of the
Gospels is undeniable, and our faith is strengthened each time we read and re-read the
accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If we take time to acknowledge a groundhog, certainly we can summon the wisdom to accept and embrace our Savior. As we look ahead to the Lenten season, let us all take time to review the Gospels and to pray for the eloquence to share the Good News in a loving, caring, compassionate way so that others may see, believe, and be saved.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | January 28, 2022

Life’s Lessons Often Revealed in the Snow

As I gazed out of my office window earlier this week, I watched the snow fall — slowly, steadily, even serenely — adding several more inches to the nearly half-a-foot that had already accumulated.

Even though we typically don’t get a lot of snow in our area — at least not as much as, say, Syracuse, where our son and his family live — there is at least one inescapable fact about snow (or rain for that matter) — once it starts, we are powerless to stop it. All we can do is react once it has fallen. This usually involves potentially treacherous slipping, sliding, and skidding, but it can also set the stage for enjoyable activities, like skating, skiing, and sled-riding.

Indeed, snow presents a paradoxical dilemma for humankind. When it falls, it is beautiful, but after a while, as it begins to pile up, it creates problems for those who need to get from one place to another. Then, when it mixes with road salt, oil, and other
sources of grime, it leaves an unsightly black residue on our garage floor.

In that sense, snow can be a metaphor for life — pure and clean when we enter this world, but dark and dirty when we stray off course. Likewise, snow can present perplexing problems as well as joyful opportunities. Snow, like life, is what we make of it.

One notable difference between snow and life is that we usually get a warning about snow in a weather forecast, while events in life often catch us completely off guard. Nonetheless, we can be prepared for life’s storms through the wisdom of Scripture.

For example, the Gospel of John (16:33) states, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” There will be trials — we all know that — but the mere presence of Jesus in our lives gives us a sense of security in the midst of a storm.

In II Corinthians 4:8-9, we are advised to never give up, regardless of the circumstances because, “we [may be] hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” As baseball legend Yogi Berra once infamously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” but with Jesus it’s never over, even to the point of death, because with him and through him, we will rise again and overcome all the woes of this world. 

And finally, there is this from Lamentations 3:21-24 — “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’

We do, in fact, have hope from the beginning of our life to the very end when we covenant with Him. His love and grace and mercy are infinite, and His pledge to always be with us is affirmed through our rock-solid faith.

Take heart, the trials and tribulations of this life will give way to the glory and majesty of the world to come when we covenant with the Lord.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

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