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The mushrooms have arrived on the Red Fox Trail at Wolf Creek State Park. This Monday I went for an afternoon hike, looking to see what changes nature had brought since my last hike a few weeks ago with the VSSC Prayer Hikers. The biggest change was obvious from the very beginning – mushrooms! 

Below I share some of my amateur photographs of my favorite “shrooms” from Monday’s hike, interspersing it with the amazing poem about the struggle for women’s rights by Sylvia Plath titled “Mushrooms.” 

Hope you enjoy – the harmony we seek within is found outside in the amazing workings of nature. Pastor Bob <>< 

MUSHROOMS by Sylvia Plath 

Overnight, very

Whitely, discreetly,

Very quietly                  


Our toes, our noses  

Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.  


Nobody sees us,

Stops us, betrays us;

The small grains make room. 


Soft fists insist on

Heaving the needles,

The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.

Our hammers, our rams,

Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,  
Widen the crannies, 
Shoulder through holes.

We Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking


Little or nothing.

So many of us!
So many of us!                           

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

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What if the Apostle Paul was alive today? Would he be writing to us at Vine Street Christian Church trying to correct us; would he be thinking about what to say to you and me about our faith lives; and, would he try to explain the difference between our public religious life and our private relationship with Jesus? 

Here are 2 “annotated excerpts” from Romans, Chapter 2, (The Message) of what Paul might have to say to us today, if he only had the chance! 

God Is Kind, but Not Soft

Just because some people are on a dark spiral downward, doesn’t mean that you are on such high ground where you can point your finger at others. Think again! Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. After all, it takes one to know one. Judging and criticizing others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

So, you see, you’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

If you go against the grain of God’s ways, you will get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But, if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Christian won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within all of us that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Each person’s response to God’s yes and no in known only by God, and will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences.

Religion Can’t Save You

If you’re brought up Christian, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! 

I have a special word of caution for all of you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t steal!” are you going to rob people blind? Who would suspect you? The same with adultery. The same with idolatry. 

You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you (Christians) that the outsiders frown on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away.

Baptism, the sacred ritual that marks you as a Christian, is great if you live in accord with God’s law. But if you don’t, it’s worse than not being baptized. The reverse is also true: The non-baptized who keep God’s ways are as good as the baptized — in fact, better. Better to keep God’s law unbaptized than break it baptized. 

Don’t you see: It’s not the dunk in the water that makes someone a Christian. You become a Christian by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of water on your skin that makes you a Christian. And your recognition – your identity as a child of God — comes straight from God; not from any religious order, denomination, or church.

Meet me on the road to Damascus,                                                                                               Pastor Bob <><

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The Gospel & A Poem

In last Sunday’s worship service, we focused our scripture lens on the 18th Chapter of Matthew, when Jesus urges us to be transformed into child-like beings, so that we can enter the Kingdom. 

In a few short verses, Jesus teaches us how we can help him save the world today. And he’s very defiant in his choice of words. Notice the phrases, “unless you change,” and “you will never enter.” Doesn’t it strike you too that Jesus is doing the best he can to make his point to us! Here’s the text of this Jesus Teachin:   

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

In addition to the great stories of the Gospels, other art forms can effectively convey a gospel message in a unique and creative original piece of work. Notice below how a great poet conveys the same basic universal truth that Jesus teaches us in Matthew 18: That the world belongs to the children; so, let us do everything we can to be like them and protect them.   



Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

Have a blessed Middle Sabbath …                                                                                                         Pastor Bob <><

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This week I’m sharing a blog post from Sam Rainer, posted last month, about his new book. Sam, along with his father Thom, run a consulting practice for churches, and Sam also pastors a church in Florida. Though the blog post is primarily about a “New Members’ Class,” I thought his insights about the importance, purpose, and practice of church membership to be useful and enlightening, especially in this post-COVID age we’re living in. 

I hope you enjoy it. Have a blessed week, and hope to “see” you Sunday!                                                     Pastor Bob <><       

“Why I Wrote 7 Basics of Belonging: The Meaning of Church Membership”

by Sam Rainer, President & Senior Consultant for Church Answers

I’ve taught countless new member classes as a pastor. The people in these classes have any number of reasons why they attend. Some are already bought into the church and ready to join. Others are curious and want to know more information. I’ll never forget the time someone walked out of the class because they realized they were at the wrong church.

At Church Answers, we’ve written extensively on new member classes and their importance to church assimilation. These classes help set expectations so new members are not surprised about what the church believes or how the church ministers. They help orient new people to the culture of the church. They connect new people to existing groups. One of the best ways to get people to stick to the church is a regularly scheduled new member class.

Over the years, I’ve always thought a brief book on the basics of belonging to a church would benefit the classes I taught. During the pandemic, I decided to write the book. The effort produced 7 Basics of Belonging: The Meaning of Church Membership. Every church member should know and fulfill these seven expectations.

  • Worship: Saying “yes” to God
  • Grow: Making disciples who make disciples
  • Serve: Reaching outward beyond yourself
  • Give: Honoring God with your offering
  • Pray: Prioritizing God’s will through prayer
  • Seek unity: Keeping the main thing the main thing
  • Sacrifice: Putting others before yourself

The book helps clarify the expectations of new members. What is the big deal about church membership? Why should you join a church? These seven expectations offer clear guidance for those wondering why membership is important.

The book helps church leaders create content for the new member class. In my role at Church Answers, the most frequent request of me is help with creating a new member class. Specifically, pastors and church leaders ask for the content of the class at my church to help get them started. Not only did I write a book to give to new members, but the Church Answers team also created an additional resource to complement the book. Now you can get everything you need to lead a new member class with The Complete Membership Class Toolkit.

The book helps encourage new people not to be spiritual islands. Committing to church membership will help you grow spiritually. God did not design us to grow in isolation. Being on a spiritual island is lonely. The church is a community of imperfect people serving a perfect Savior together. We commit together to follow Him.

The book helps unify new members around the main elements of church membership. The real reason you join a church is simple. Jesus is there. When church members fulfill their seven basic responsibilities the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit becomes self-evident.

Every Christ follower is meant to be connected to the church. You are not here by accident. God has a plan for you, and that plan includes being a faithful and active part of a local church.

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UPCOMING BOOK STUDY AT VSCC: CHRISTIAN MINIMALISM (An excerpt from Becca Ehrlich’s new book, “Christian Minimalism: Simple Steps for Abundant Living”)


Being a Christian minimalist means living in a way that is different from the dominant consumer culture around us. Living as a Christian in a Post-Christian society is in itself countercultural; living as a Christian minimalist is doubly so. Society constantly tells us:

  • More is better. We are what we own, so we need to own lots of impressive and expensive things.
  • We are what we do for our job. Having an impressive job title should be one of our main goals. 
  • Our financial bottom-line is what defines our self-worth. If we don’t make a lot of money, we should work harder and climb up the ladder to make more money.
  • Being busy is a badge of honor. Resting is just wasted time that could be used producing more. 
  • Being famous, having power, and receiving worldly accolades are worthy goals to continuously strive for.

Christian minimalists, on the other hand:

  • Aim to live with less, intentionally consume, and focus on what’s most important, rather than continuously buying things that won’t ultimately make us happy. (READ Luke 12: 15-21).

Luke 12:15-21 — Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

  • Strive to focus on what God is calling us to do (our vocation) rather than basing our identity on our job title or how we make a living (READ 1 Corinthians 7: 17).

1 Corinthians 7:17 — Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

  • Understand, as Jesus tells us in the Gospels, that having money actually makes it harder to enter the kingdom of God (READ Matthew 19: 23-24) … 

Matthew 19:23-24 — Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

… and amassing wealth shouldn’t be our main goal (READ 1 Timothy 6: 10) …

1 Timothy 6:10 — For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

… Our identity is as beloved children of God (READ 1 John 3: 1) …

1 John 3:1 — See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

… Intentionally spend Sabbath time in rest and renewal alone, with our loved ones, and with God (READ Matthew 14: 23).

Matthew 14:23 — After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.

  • Know that fame, power, and worldly praise are not our goal; we are called to serve rather than be served, as Jesus did (READ Luke 22: 24-30). 

Luke 22:24-30 — A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

As Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12: 2). 

We are called to live differently than society’s accepted lifestyle driven by consumerism. 

From Pastor Bob: I hope you’ll join us for our upcoming Book Study of Becca Ehrlich’s “Christian Minimalism: Simple Steps for Abundant Living. As Becca says in the last line of Chapter 1: “Imagine what YOU could do if you simplify and focus on what really matters.” 

May Peace Abound and Life be Abundant!                                                                                                                                <>< Pastor Bob       

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PASTOR BOB’S SUNDAY PREVIEW: “5 Uniquely American Cravings”

Can we do this again? I’d like your help again in preparation for this Sunday’s message. I’m curious if the message last Sunday on “7 Simple Truths for 21st Century Christian” caused you to pause and reflect on what you really believe about God, and why? 

This Sunday, for the Sunday morning message, I plan to take the 7 simple truths and present a “spiritual lifeline” of my own journey, correlating the 7 truths from last week with my own formational phases of life. I’ll start as a 7- or 8-year-old in Akron, Ohio and follow my path to Arthur, Illinois. But I don’t want this to be only about my journey. I’m sharing my own experience so that you may perhaps see your own journey with new insights or clarity. 

So, since you’re willing to help again (!!!), this week I present to you “5 Uniquely American Cravings” based on the wisdom and reflection of Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a native of Viet Nam, but was expelled from the country during the Viet Nam War for helping build schools in rural villages. Thich Nhat Hanh is one the most popular spiritual writers in the U.S., focusing on how to learn, apply, and live the principles of Buddhism in a modern Western culture. He resides at his monastery and retreat center, Plum Village, in France.   

If you’re willing to help, I’d like you to read the following 5 Uniquely American Cravings that I am offering below, and offer 2 quick responses to each one. First, circle either Yes, Applies to Me or No Doesn’t Apply, based on whether or not you, in your own day-to-day life, find yourself craving, or strongly desiring, the cravings named below. Then, provide a 1-2 sentence response to tell me in simple words what your craving feels like, or how you respond to it. If any of the 5 cravings don’t apply to you, then just go on to the next one. 

And like last week, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of time in thinking about this – I’m just as interested in your first gut reaction to them.   

Finally … if you’re really motivated, I would love to have you send me your responses before Sunday. I promise I won’t mention any names in my message! You could email or text them to me, or, if you wish to remain anonymous, you could jot down your responses below and drop these pages in my box at church or in my office. I’d love to know what you think about these proposed truths, and why!  

CRAVING #1: Wealth.



CRAVING #2: Fame. 



CRAVING #3: Sex.



CRAVING #4: Fancy Food. 



CRAVING #5: Lots of Sleep.




Continuing to grow together in Christ …                                                                                                        <>< Pastor Bob


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