In A Nutshell | July 30, 2021

Worth the Effort

As the Olympic Games wrap up their first week of competition in Tokyo, I am reminded of the effort that it takes just to get there, let alone win a medal. Hours and hours of intense training and grueling workouts have been invested by every athlete during the months leading up to the Games, even though the likelihood of finishing in the top three, much less capturing the Gold, is remote at best.

None of us will ever compete in the Olympics, but we do have a very important race to run. Unlike the Olympians, however, we have the assurance that our spiritual journey will not end in disappointment, but rather in victory, if we follow the guidance of Scripture and abide by God’s instruction.

In I Peter 1:5-10, for example, we are encouraged to “make every effort to add to [our] faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

Clearly, we have lost sight of this call from God to build up our spiritual endurance by practicing habits of self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and ultimately love for one another. These five simple disciplines would dramatically change the world in which we live because we would be transformed. Instead of road rage, there would be self-control; instead of giving up, there would be perseverance; instead of debauchery, there would be godliness; and instead of hatred there would be love — and with that combination, what a wonderful world it would be.

But it doesn’t end there. The passage goes on to say, “for if [we] possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep [us] from being ineffective and unproductive in [our] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through an active and genuine commitment to these disciplines, we can truly become Christlike.

Unfortunately, we fail in these areas because, as the passage continues, we have become “nearsighted and blind, forgetting that [we] have been cleansed from [our] past sins.” We are, in fact, new beings in Christ Jesus. “Therefore, [we should] make every effort to confirm [our] calling and election. For if [we] do these things, [we] will never stumble.

I realize as you read this that your visceral reaction would likely be, “c’mon, that’s impossible; there’s no way anyone could be that obedient,” and in many respects, you’re probably right, but I would suggest that we at least consider giving it a shot. After all, what do we have to lose when compared to all that we have to gain.

Like the Olympians in Tokyo who are willing to invest absolutely everything even though the reality is that only one will finish first, certainly we can all invest a little more in our discipline to the Word of God, and we can all become champions with, in, and for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 23, 2021

A Refreshing Change

When our current church was built in the late 1960s, I have to believe that the Trustees discussed the possibility of air conditioning, but they probably nixed the idea because of cost. Air conditioning was more of a luxury than a necessity back then.

A lot has changed in 50 years, and air conditioning is no longer considered a luxury. Most people expect that a building (even a church) will be air conditioned these days. In fact, two area churches, both of which are much older than ours (New Pittsburg just down the road, and East Greenville, just outside of Dalton where I served in 2018-2019) have air conditioning and have had for some time. It only made sense for Oak Chapel to eventually follow suit, and we will with the hopes of having a system in place before the end of the summer.

We recently received two very generous estate gifts that will cover a significant portion of the cost. In addition, we have a connection to the company that will install the system, so we are getting a very favorable rate from them.

Finally, it just makes sense, not only for worship services in the summer, but also for weddings and celebration-of-life services as well as meetings, conferences, Vacation Bible School, and other events that typically take place when it’s hot outside.

Air conditioning will be a refreshing change in our sanctuary, but there is a much more important type of refreshment — that of the soul, which can take place every Sunday (and every day for that matter), regardless of the temperature inside or outside.

The Bible is filled with references to spiritual refreshment. Our creator knew that we would need to be refreshed physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually throughout our lives. A refreshed soul is a hearty soul, strengthened and empowered to do the work of the Lord, but a tired soul quickly grows weary and is less likely to carry out God’s work on earth.

As we know, Psalm 23 brings great comfort with these words in the first four verses of the passage: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Romans 15:13 also offers this uplifting advice: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And Psalm 16:8-11 gives further encouragement with these words, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

God is with us always, and in that we can take great comfort and refreshment,
with or without air conditioning.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 16, 2021

Reflecting on the ‘Sounds of Silence’

Because it is so rare to experience complete silence in our bustling world today, I was caught off guard earlier this week when I stopped into the sanctuary and heard absolutely nothing. No trucks barreling down Route 250, no motorcycles racing down Old Lincoln Way, no birds chirping in the Serenity Garden, no water running through our pipes, and no vents clicking on and off in the ceiling — just total silence.

I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable with the “sounds of silence.” After all, there always seems to be some sort of ambient noise in the background. So I took a moment or two to sit down and reflect on the beauty and serenity of silence. My mind was clear — no distractions or interruptions — just me and God and silence.

It didn’t last long. Soon I heard the rumbling of traffic on the roadways outside, and then the birds singing their morning song in the garden. Silence — so sweet and relaxing, but also so rare and so fleeting. We don’t get too many opportunities to revel in complete silence, but when we do, it is wise for us to savor the moment, to clear our mind, and to strike up a conversation with the Lord.

On the other hand, silence in the church isn’t always a good thing. At Oak Chapel and at many churches across the country and around the world, there is too much silence. In many churches, the silence lingers for six full days until people begin to gather for Sunday worship; then the church comes to life again, but sadly for only 60-90 minutes. By Sunday afternoon, the church is empty and quiet and often dormant for another week.

As we look ahead toward fall, I am hopeful that you will join me as we seek to bring new life — and much sound — to the church in the way of activities, mission projects, outreach efforts, Bible studies, youth events, fellowship dinners, and a variety of other initiatives.

Let us become an active, vibrant, and even noisy church where activities, projects, and other initiatives extend beyond Sunday morning. In order for this to happen, we have to develop a vision and prepare a plan to execute that vision. It all begins with prayer and a rekindling of the Holy Spirit within. Let us all join together to “wake up the echoes” and make Oak Chapel a hub for prayer, fellowship, encouragement, inspiration, and so much more. Let us become a popular destination where people want to come to enrich themselves spiritually and lift others up, especially those who may be struggling.

Oak Chapel has not survived for more than 200 years by accident. The dedication, commitment, and vision of our ancestors have ensured a sacred place for all of us. Let us honor their work be accelerating our efforts so that our church not only survives but also thrives for generations to come.

On Sept. 19, we will celebrate “Back-to-Church” Sunday, similar to the rally days of old. In the weeks ahead I would like to ask you to spend some “silent” time praying and reflecting on what God might be calling you to do to reinvigorate the church and reignite your soul as well. It should quite a ride. Reserve your spot now!

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 9, 2021

Even After All These Years, Some Things Still Surprise Us

When we get to a certain age, like me for example, we tend to think that we have “seen it all” and that “nothing surprises us” anymore. Some people go so far as to think that they “know it all.”

Clearly, we know better than that. We certainly have not seen it all, many things still surprise us, and we definitely don’t know it all.

In some respects, the older we get, the more surprised and even shocked we are at the things that happen in everyday life.

What has bothered me most in recent years is the growing incivility we are showing to one another. Not only are we not getting closer to God’s primary command to “love our neighbor,” we are actually drifting further away from it.

Gun violence, road rage, and mass shootings are the most dramatic examples of this incivility, but it exists at a more subtle level across our nation, throughout our community, and sometimes even in our home.

I realize this is a downer of a message on a Friday, but it is only part of the story. The good news is that there is hope for a much better world if we simply adhere to the Word of God and follow His commandments.

As I have said many times, tolerating one’s neighbor, much less loving them, is not an easy task. In fact, it can often be incredibly difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible. But, if we have faith in the God we serve, and if we choose to follow his guidance, we truly can change the world, and I believe it must begin with us.

Although the church is far from perfect, I believe that devout worship, earnest prayer, genuine fellowship, and serious discipline will lead us closer to God, and, in turn, closer to our neighbor.

For this to happen, however, we can’t wait for our neighbor to make the first move. We must be like the Good Samaritan and choose to “cross the road,” even when it does not seem prudent to do so. It’s really our only chance for survival. We simply cannot continue to insult, attack, and even kill one another.

I understand that many of us have become so discouraged that we have just about given up on loving our neighbor. We seem resigned to the fact that it appears to be a lost cause. He or she is just going to slam the door in our face anyway, or so we think. But maybe not. Maybe a conciliatory gesture to our neighbor will be matched by a softening of their heart through the intercession of our Lord.

Remember the uplifting passage from Philippians 4:13: “[we] can do all things through Christ, who strengthens [us].” Clearly, we can’t do it all on our own, but through Him, everything is possible.

Even if we decide not to do it for ourselves, let us do it for our children. They deserve better, and if they see us reach out to our neighbor, perhaps they will be inclined and even inspired to do likewise.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 2, 2021

‘Pull Up a Chair’ as We Dedicate our Garden and Chapel

When someone invites you to “pull up a chair,” it is usually a symbol of good old-fashioned hospitality, as if to say, “you are welcome to join us.”

I would like to echo those sentiments as we further advance our efforts to be an open and welcoming church by inviting you to “pull up a chair” for this week’s 4th of July service.  

We are hoping to worship outside as we dedicate our new Serenity Garden and Outdoor Chapel. Right now, the weather forecast looks good, and there is always a cool breeze up on the hill, so it should be a great day to expand our ministry at Oak Chapel.

You might be asking yourself, what is the significance of a Serenity Garden and Outdoor Chapel? Is not the current sanctuary sufficiently beautiful and sacred?

The answer to that question is, “yes, it is indeed,” but there is something special about worshipping outside in the beauty of God’s creation that stirs the spirit. There is also considerable significance to turning our sanctuary “inside-out” as we discussed last year, to make it less intimidating and more inviting to those who currently don’t have a place to worship.

So, we invite you, and encourage you to invite others, to bring your favorite (and most comfortable) outdoor chair and gather on the lawn for our first service in our new outdoor chapel this Sunday. If, however, you don’t have a favorite outdoor chair (or forget to bring one), don’t worry. We will have chairs from the church placed on the sidewalk as well as the ramp to the entrance.

A great deal of time and effort has gone into planning and creating this sacred space. One might suggest that we didn’t “need” a garden or an outdoor chapel, but this endeavor was not based on need. Instead it was based on a vision for spreading the Good News and sharing our faith in a venue that would be less threatening and more inviting to those who may not be used to traditional worship. We are hoping that our new sacred space will attract new people to the church while providing a place for all of us to reflect and pray along with our fellow congregants, friends, and neighbors.

Romans 12:13 encourages us to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need and to practice hospitality.” Oak Chapel has a long history of doing both, and our hope is that by worshipping outside and providing a place for prayer and reflection we will further enhance those efforts.

So once again we invite you to spend a portion of your 4th of July holiday with us. Pull up a chair as we worship and fellowship together this Sunday.

 Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | June 25, 2021

Very Often, the Greatest Things in Life are Free

When I was a kid, I loved getting things for free. Obviously, I did not have a
source of income at that age, and although my parents were very generous, it didn’t
mean that I could have anything I wanted, so I resorted to looking through catalogues
(there was no Internet at the time, of course) to see what was available for free. I even
sent away for a booklet, titled, “1001 Things for Free.”

Usually, I would send away for some sort of mini-toy or trinket. It would take
weeks and weeks to arrive by mail (unlike today’s overnight delivery), but that only
heightened my excitement and anticipation. When the item finally arrived, I would rip
open the package and let the brown wrapping paper fall to the floor.

As I grew older, I would beg my parents to take me to Pittsburgh Pirates games
(my hometown team) when they were giving something away. Whether it was a ball, a
bat, a hat, a shirt, or a bobblehead, I would do everything I could to get one. I still have
a few of those items to this very day, more than 50 years later. Even though the item
was free, it had great value and meaning to me.

All of this raises a provocative question: If something is free, does it have value,
or is it worthless because it came at no cost? I guess it depends on the item and how
much it means to you.

Jesus’ death on the cross came at an enormous price, but there was absolutely
no cost to any of us. It was freely given and we have freely received it, but given the
magnitude of His sacrifice and the incredible payoff — salvation — why is it that so
many people fail to see its value? Why is it that so many people not only fail to accept it,
but many outright reject it? Is it because it came to us at no charge?

That’s a difficult question for us to answer because we have become so deeply
ingrained in the faith. We understand, accept, and embrace Jesus’ death on the cross
and resurrection from the grave as the only way to eternal life.

In Scripture, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes
to the Father, except through me.” He could not have stated it any more clearly or
emphatically, yet many still do not believe or accept it.

What can we do to persuade people to at least listen to these Holy Words? I
believe the process should begin with prayer — not once, not twice, but continual prayer
that the heart of the nonbeliever will be softened. Then we need to summon the courage
to share our faith with the nonbeliever, but as we do that, let us be sure that our actions
mirror our words. What that means is we need to show that we are disciples even
before we say we are.

It is then that others may see the genuineness of what we say because it will be
undergirded by the integrity of what we do. As we enjoy these summer months, let us
be reminded that our faith never takes a vacation. Share your testimony, love your
neighbor, plant a seed, and invite God to take it from there.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | June 11, 2021

Take Time to Rest, Relax, and Reflect This Summer

Maybe it’s my age, but people’s driving habits are getting on my nerves more than ever before.

A few weeks ago, an SUV was tailgating me all the way down Route 585. When we got to the traffic light in Smithville — the county’s most well-known speed trap at just 25 miles per hour — the SUV swerved around me and passed me on the right side. I thought it was impossible to pass anyone in Smithville, and I wouldn’t have believed it, had I not seen it with my own eyes.

Surely an officer from Smithville Police Department would pursue the SUV, pull it over, and levy a heavy fine — or so I thought — but there were no police cruisers to be found. The SUV then sped off in the distance at a rate of speed that must have exceeded 75 miles per hour. I wondered to myself where they were going in such a hurry, and concluded, that it was probably nowhere in particular.

Why is it that we are speeding through life at an increasingly accelerated pace? What’s the hurry? It seems like the faster we go, the less we accomplish and the less enjoyable life becomes.

In 2016, we lost a young and talented professor at The College of Wooster when she was rammed broadside at the intersection of Highland and Burbank by a car traveling more than 80 miles per hour. She had just gone to Buehler’s to purchase one final item for her daughter’s birthday party, which was the next day. The accident occurred less than a quarter mile from her home. Imagine the horror for her family and the anguish of knowing that there would be no more birthday parties with Mom.

I’m probably as guilty as anyone of rushing through life. Somehow, I think the faster I go, the more I will get done, but the reality is that I usually squander the free time I have created and wind up getting less done.

The value of rest, relaxation, and reflection is undeniably therapeutic. So, as we enter into summer, I wonder if we might be intentional about slowing down our pace of life, taking a few minutes to sit beneath a shady tree or lie next to a peaceful body of water as described in the 23rd Psalm when the Lord “maketh [us] to lie down in green pastures: and leadeth [us] beside the still waters.” Through this process, “He restoreth [our] soul [and] he leadeth [us] in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Comforting Scripture to be sure, and there is plenty more where that came from. In the
11th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Come to me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In Psalm 91, we are told that “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Summer is here, so why not make a concerted effort to slow down, cut back on your hectic schedule, and truly keep the Sabbath pure and holy? I wonder how much our quality of life will change for the better? I guess we won’t know until we try.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a peaceful spot, why not consider our new Serenity Garden? It is beautiful, especially at dusk when the lights illuminate the cross. While there, I’ll bet that all will be well with your soul.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | June 4, 2021

Oak Chapel’s ‘Team’ Ready to Take the Field and the World by Storm

The Cleveland Browns are the new darlings of the National Football League. Many of the so-called experts are picking them to go to the Super Bowl in 2022. Excitement and anticipation are running high, but the question is, how did they get here? After all, they were hardly an overnight sensation.

It has taken more than 20 years for them to re-establish themselves and become relevant again. General Manager Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski are getting much of the credit — deservedly so. The general manager is charged with finding the right players and gradually building a talent-laden team. The head coach is then responsible for blending that talent and creating a successful team.

Oak Chapel is not a football team. We don’t have a general manager or a head coach, and yet, we operate on many of the same principles. We are to encourage and inspire others to join our congregation and then provide leadership so that we can accomplish our mission.

In football, the summer is considered part of the off-season, but it is also an important time of preparation. Likewise in the church, the summer provides for us an opportunity to plan for the year ahead.

A church pastor might be considered part general manager, part head coach. He or she needs to encourage people to join our church and then inspire them to carry out the work of the Lord. So, as we approach the fall, I am encouraging all of us to “get in shape” and join forces as we move toward “primetime” on the church calendar, with the hope that we can reach the “Super Bowl” when it comes to serving the Lord at the highest possible level.

How do we do this? Well, we don’t have the budget to sign any high-priced free agents. We do, however, have something of much greater value to offer, something worth than anything money can buy — a relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who provides a pathway to salvation and eternal life. That, in and of itself, should be enough to attract people, but there are other more immediate benefits, including the power of worship, the comfort of corporate prayer, the camaraderie of fellowship, and the sense of peace that transcends all understanding.

Through God’s grace and guidance, we become equipped to minister to others while sharing His transformative Word. Join me as we get ready for the fall. God willing, there will be no more restrictions or distractions — only a clear and direct route to a more fulfilling, rewarding, and enjoyable life — in this world and the next.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | May 28, 2021

Join Us as We Celebrate the Valor of Veterans and the Triumph of the Trinity

What a difference a year makes! Last year’s Memorial Day weekend was anything but a holiday. No picnics, no amusement parks, no ballgames, and very few vacation options. This year, restrictions are being lifted, and life as we knew it just a few years ago is beginning to return. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

At Oak Chapel, we will usher in the summer season this Sunday with a very special Memorial Day Service that will honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to preserve our freedom, as well as those who served our country, including the very loyal and dedicated veterans in our congregation.

Laying down one’s life — or even the willingness to do so — is the highest form of love and devotion. As we will discuss on Sunday, Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “no one has greater love than to give up one’s life for another.” Indeed, that is the ultimate sacrifice — the one that Jesus made for us on the cross. His selfless act and subsequent resurrection atoned for our sins and created a pathway to eternal life in our Father’s Kingdom.

Memorial Day is a bittersweet occasion. It is a day in which we mourn the loss of so many innocent but courageous souls, while reflecting on the magnitude of their incredibly selfless gesture.

We will also celebrate the Holy Trinity on Sunday, a day in which we recognize and honor the doctrine of the Holy Trinity — three persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

While this remains a mystery in many ways, we know enough about the Trinity to understand its significance and its value in our lives. God the Father, creator of the universe, formed us in His image and likeness, meaning that we have much in common with Him and are, in fact, a descendant of His. God the Son — well we know His story and His Role in saving us after our original sin and our continued fall from grace. And finally, God the Holy Spirit, perhaps the most underrated and undervalued member of the Trinity. He is a gift and a constant companion, sort of like a built-in GPS system — there to guide us away from trouble and toward our ultimate destination.

Let us rejoice on this special Sunday as we celebrate the gift of life and the gift of faith, which comes to us from the Holy Trinity. We hope you can join us for what we hope will be a joyful and uplifting celebration!

Until then, I leave you with a familiar passage from II Corinthians 13:14, which is often used as a concluding exhortation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | May 21, 2021

The Spirit is Present (and Moving) Among Us

Prayer can take place anywhere at any time, but I find such moments of reflection especially meaningful in the Sanctuary. As I have mentioned in the past, I try to stop in at least once each morning just to “check in” with the Lord and offer a few praises and petitions before closing with the Lord’s Prayer.

My routine is the same each day. I kneel in front of the cross and offer my prayers to Him. What I have discovered in recent weeks is very intriguing, if not fascinating. The Dove that Jen Moser so skillfully hung in place several months ago to tie in with one of my sermons, remains there as a reminder that the Holy Spirit is always with us, but what is truly amazing is that while I am there, the Dove actually sways and rotates ever so slowly. Everything else in the church is still. There is no discernable air flow, but the Spirit still moves — and I swear it’s not just my imagination.

None of this should surprise me, however. After all, the Spirit is never still; it is always moving — encouraging, inspiring, enlightening, consoling, admonishing. It is wise for us to pay attention to the Holy Spirit, to seek and follow its guidance, to be moved to answer God’s call to us as His servants.

There are many Scriptural references to the Holy Spirit, including perhaps the most familiar from the Book of Acts, Chapter 2, which describes its miraculous and awe-inspiring arrival on Pentecost, which will be celebrated in our church and around the world on Sunday. That passage not only chronicles the impact of the Spirit, but also its role in the final days of this world when God says…

In the last days,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.[

Imagine what that will be like! Clearly the disciples were bewildered and perplexed on Pentecost, but they were also lifted up by the presence of the Holy Spirit. What will our reaction be when he comes again in glory? We need not be frightened, but instead joyful because we know that through our relationship with the Lord, our place in His Father’s Kingdom for eternity is assured.

Join us for Pentecost this Sunday as our women lead us in worship, and don’t forget to wear red to symbolize the passion you have for the Lord.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

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