In A Nutshell | March 31, 2023

Combing Through Life’s Unavoidable Problems

For most of us, there are at least two things that come with age: wisdom and gray hair. I’m not sure that I have become much wiser over the years, but I have certainly become much grayer. The person who cuts my hair tells me that gray hair is more difficult to manage, and I can definitely attest to that.

A few weeks ago I decided that enough is enough, so I bought a pack of 12 combs that I could store in my house, in my car, and in my office, hoping to bring some control to the chaos on top of my head. Some days it works; other days, not so much.

It’s not unlike the daily challenges we encounter in life. We can complain all we want, but at some point we need to step up and “comb through” the issues that we all face.

Fortunately, we don’t have to do this alone. The God we serve offers plenty of advice and encouragement through His Holy Word. For example, there are many Scripture passages that come to mind, including two that seem to stand out above the rest.

The first is from the Gospel of John (14:1), and it provides perspective through the words of Jesus himself, who said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” That trust lifts an enormous burden from our shoulders and reminds us that with God all things are possible.

A second passage comes from Hebrews (2:18), which states, “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” Jesus could easily say to us, “I know what you are going through, and I can help you as you deal with difficulties in life.”

Life is full of ups and downs, but we can find balance as we walk with Jesus and lean on His Sacred Word for guidance and clarity.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 24, 2023

Spring Has Sprung: Engage in Active Outreach 

Now that winter is over — at least officially — it’s time for us to come out of hibernation and back into the real world. True, March can a fickle month – warm and sunny one day, cold and blustery the next — but warmer weather is on the way, and perhaps we can make this spring a season of intentional outreach. 

In fact, our Outreach Team has already set the table for us with its “Peep” invitation initiative. If you haven’t seen or heard, this group has put together cute, colorful, and creative packets that we can hang on our neighbors’ door handles, informing them of our location and welcoming them to join us for worship and fellowship, especially on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

Of all the events on the Christian calendar, Easter is the climactic celebration of our faith. Just about everyone knows what it is and who He is, but fewer and fewer people are choosing to celebrate the occasion.

Granted many people only come to church on Christmas and Easter, but perhaps this can mark the beginning of a new journey for them. Eight years ago, on Easter Sunday 2015, a man showed up in our Sunday school class at Church of the Cross. He was already a believer, but not necessarily an avid follower. That day changed everything. He has been active in the faith ever since, and grows more devout every day. 

There are many, many others like him out there – waiting and wandering. Let’s make sure that they receive an invitation this year. Our outreach committee has made it very easy. Pick up a “Peep” invitation this coming week, and post it on your neighbor’s door handle. Perhaps that will be the catalyst to get them out of hibernation and into an active relationship with the Lord and His church. 

Be a difference maker, and pick up a Peep today!

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

In A Nutshell | March 17, 2023

Cold on the Outside; Warm and Welcoming on the Inside

Oak Chapel sits on a plot of land that might well be one of the coldest spots in Wayne County when the winter winds blow. This past week, for example, just days before the official beginning of spring, the temperature plummeted below freezing, creating a blustery wind-chill of 15 degrees.

Fortunately, things are much warmer inside of our church, and it’s not just the setting on the thermostat that makes everyone feel comfortable. Our friendly and hospitable culture also helps to make everyone feel welcome. 

As disciples, it is important for us to continue this mission by inviting others to come in from the cold and experience the warmth of a relationship with Jesus as well as a fellowship with other believers. 

In I Peter 4:9-10, we are reminded that “we are to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of [us] should use whatever gift [we] have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Hebrews 13:1-2 reinforces this theme by advising us that we are to “keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters,” and that we should “not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” 

I am happy to say that the people of Oak Chapel honor both of these passages in so many ways, including our robust outreach programs and our outdoor pantry, which plays a critical role in feeding the hungry in our community. We need to continue to reach out to them and others to also satiate their spiritual hunger — a hunger they may not even realize they have. 

Let us continue to be a warm and welcoming congregation so that more and more people will find the Lord and develop a life-changing relationship with Him. 

And speaking of hospitality, our monthly Fellowship Dinner will take place this Sunday. Please consider bringing a dish or dessert to share so that we can all enjoy the warmth of our relationship with the Lord and with each other.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 10, 2023

Take Your Time, But Give It Back, Too

The old saying, “Don’t lose sleep over it,” is sage advice for those who find themselves tossing and turning at night after experiencing an angst-ridden day. It’s best to let it go, if possible, and get a restful night’s sleep.

Sometimes, however, loss of sleep is unavoidable — like this weekend when we “spring forward” and set our clocks ahead by one hour, thus depriving us of 60 precious minutes of shuteye. 

So, let this serve as a not-so-subtle reminder to reset your clocks before you go to bed on Saturday night. After all, we wouldn’t want you to miss our worship service on Sunday morning. Besides, you’ll recoup that hour next fall when we turn the clocks back an hour. 

All of this made me wonder just how valuable one hour of our life — awake or asleep — really is. If it were possible to add an extra 60 minutes to your day, what would you do with that time? Would you read a book, grab a meal, take a nap, or attend to a project that you have been putting off for a while?

There is no limit to what we might do in terms of making use of that extra hour, but what if we were to consider how we could fill that time from a spiritual perspective? How about engaging in prayer, calling or texting someone who is homebound, visiting someone in the hospital or an assisted-living facility, or writing a quick note to someone who lives alone?

You might not accomplish all of this in a single hour, but it’s worth a try, even if you only complete one or two of these objectives. When you’re finished, you will take great comfort in the fact that you have answered the call of the Lord to love and serve your neighbor — and you will certainly sleep well that night.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 3, 2023

Doing ‘Our Best’ and Helping Others to do Likewise

In my early elementary-school years, I was a classic underachiever. My parents and my teachers told me repeatedly that I did not “apply myself” and that clearly I could do better.

Those admonitions went largely unheeded by me as I continued to languish in mediocrity. But one day, I’m not sure when it was or how it happened, I finally got the message. Maybe the Holy Spirit came upon me and woke me up. Since that time, I have become increasingly aware of the finite amount of time we have in this world, and the fleeting opportunities we have to make a difference. 

In the third chapter of Colossians there are several passages that speak to our potential as Disciples of Christ. For example, verses 23-24 provide this valuable advice, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

I find that passage to be both encouraging and inspiring, and that’s really an important part of what we are called on to do. Just as others tried to inspire and encourage me, we are urged to do likewise.

Think how much better our world would be if we would take the time to exhort others to reach their full potential, especially when it comes to serving the Lord.

Earlier in the chapter of Colossians, we are advised to “let the message of Christ dwell among [us] richly as [we] teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…singing to God with gratitude in [our] hearts. And whatever [we] do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

As we enter the second week of Lent, let us take the opportunity to actively engage with others, particularly those who are struggling to help them organize their life and find new direction in Christ our Lord. 

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 24, 2023

Time to ‘Get Together’ and ‘Love One Another’

In 1967, when the Vietnam War was escalating at an alarming rate, peace rallies were springing up in cities and towns across the United States. Thousands of anti-war activists — young and old — were coming together to plead with our nation’s leaders to put an end to the conflict.

That same year, a musical group known as The Youngbloods released “Get Together.” The song would become an anthem for that generation, and many generations that followed. Unfortunately, we have failed to heed that call. In fact, violence in our world seems to know no limits or boundaries.

To think that we might somehow wave a magic wand and put an end to the madness would be naïve at best, but now that we have entered the Lenten season, we have an extended period of time to devote to reflection and prayer, and among our prayers, we would be wise to consider a plea for peace among our nations, in our cities, in our schools, and in our homes.

The lyrics from that iconic Youngbloods’s song are remarkably spiritual, yet they still resonate to this day. Here is a brief excerpt…

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand, listen
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Who is it that “holds the key to love and fear?” Clearly, we could make a case that it is the God we serve, but we can also unlock them both if we follow His Word and love one another.

As we reflect on this Lenten season, I think we would all agree that it is time to “get together,” and “try to love one another right now.”

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 17, 2023

Better to Lean on the Cross than ‘Knock on Wood’

We’re all familiar with colloquialisms — expressions used over and over again to describe, explain, or summarize a particular situation. 

One of the more common examples of these popular sayings is “Knock on Wood,” something we say in the hope that our good fortune will continue. For example, a person who recently changed jobs might say something like, “so far, this position is much better than my previous one, and I am hopeful that it will stay that way…knock on wood.”

When we make a statement like that, we often look for a wooden surface to tap on with our fist, just to be sure that our luck doesn’t run out. This, of course, is entirely based on superstition.

We do, however, have a much more secure, reliable, and assuring source of wood, and that is the cross on which Christ was crucified. We even have a hymn that celebrates that wood – “The Old Rugged Cross.”

The cross is, indeed, a source of hope, encouragement, and inspiration, but instead of knocking on it, we are much better off if we choose to lean on it. It is, after all, the most visible symbol of our salvation. 

As we recall from that iconic hymn, the “old, rugged cross is the emblem of suffering and shame,” so we “cling to the old rugged cross” with the hope and expectation that “we will exchange if one day for a crown” (of righteousness).

Our faith teaches us to stand strong and not get caught up in foolish folklore or silly superstitions. Instead, reflect on the old rugged cross and rely on the Savior who hung there as an atonement for our sins and a pathway to liberation from sin and death.

As we prepare to enter the Lenten season next week, let us give thanks for the cross that promises eternal life for those who accept and believe in Jesus as the Son of God.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 10, 2023

After Further Review, Our Slate is Clean

Super Bowl LVII kicks off on Sunday evening, and once again the Browns will not be participating, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the game.

No one can predict the outcome (although many will try), but there are certain things we can count on, including an extensive pregame show, a lengthy halftime show, and at least a handful of times when the referee will say, “after further review.” This, of course, will come when one of the coaches challenges a call on the field, prompting the officials to consult with video replay.

Sometimes the replay is so clear that the call is overturned; other times, there is not sufficient grounds to overrule the call.

Unfortunately, we don’t have video replay in life. True, there are now cameras on just about every corner, not to mention the millions of Americans who can use their phone to record something as it takes place, but we really can’t “take back” what we have said or done. Once it’s out there, people seize on it, and often refuse to let go.

Fortunately in our spiritual journey, we don’t need to worry about God keeping a record of wrongs. If we are faithful and confess our sins, then our slate is wiped clean. No need to worry about a spiritual video that goes viral. When we confess, he wipes away our iniquities and cleanses our soul. [Isaiah 43:25]

When our journey in this world comes to an end, we don’t need to worry about some massive camera in the sky. True, we are called into account for our words and actions, but when we confess and he forgives, we become holy and pleasing in his sight.

All that’s left at that point is to “go and sin no more” [John 8:11] or at least ensure that sin does not reign in our heart [Romans 6:12], and to remember to forgive others as God has forgiven us. [Matthew 6:14-15]

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 3, 2023

Never Abandoned or Forgotten 

You probably noticed the abandoned vehicle in our parking lot a couple of weeks ago. Clearly, it was in a state of disrepair with deflated tires, crumbled fenders, and wide-open windows. Fortunately, whoever left the car behind was courteous enough to leave a note, stating that arrangements had been made to tow the car away. By midweek, the car was gone.

Every year thousands of stolen or disabled cars are deserted, but they are not the only items left behind. Many times, people are overlooked and even abandoned. It’s almost as if they have no place in society and no value in life. 

Clearly, as Disciples of Christ, we know better. No one, regardless of their circumstances, should ever be abandoned. In our faith journey, we know that even if we are deserted, “the Lord will keep us close” (Psalm 27:10). We also know that “the Lord himself goes before [us] and will be with [us]; he will never leave [us] or forsake [us].” (Deuteronomy 31:8).  

So, if God always looks after his people, why should we worry about them? The answer to that question is quite clear in various Scripture passages, including the parable of the lost sheep whose shepherd keeps watch over his flock and goes to great lengths to rescue the one who wanders off.

It’s not our fault when people fall through the cracks, but it is our responsibility to see to it that they don’t perish. When we see that someone is lost or abandoned, we should not look the other way, even if that person contributed to his or her own demise. We could argue that the plight of others is really not our problem, but when we are convicted by the Holy Spirit, we are driven to reach out and help in some way, and by answering God’s call, we know that we are doing His will.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | January 27, 2023

Adversity Brings Perspective

My recent bout with COVID reminded me once again that there is so much beyond our control. Because we have so many freedoms, we sometimes think that there is nothing we can’t do, but then reality sets in, and we realize how much of life is out of our grasp.

The Book of James captures this sentiment eloquently with this passage from Chapter 4 (13-15): “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’

Wow! Talk about perspective. Despite our best-laid plans, we are, indeed, a mist. We have no idea what tomorrow might bring — a major storm, a sudden illness, even a dead battery — and suddenly our plans change dramatically. 

The older we get, the more aware we become of our own mortality. There are times when I think about the ambitious plans I have and wish that I could live to 100, but there are other times when I am ready to go the moment the Lord calls.

Fortunately, we can trust in the Lord, thanks to this encouragement from the Gospel of Matthew (6:25-27): “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Instead, let us give thanks for every day, make the most of every moment, and worry not about tomorrow.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed!

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