In A Nutshell | January 22, 2021

Sleep Tight and Then Actively Bring the Church to the People

            What keeps you up at night? We all have something that occasionally causes us to toss and turn. For me, it’s not so much about falling asleep — I can do that pretty much anywhere at any time. My problem is that if I awaken in the middle of the night, I often have a hard time getting back to sleep.

            Lately, what has awakened me most is the uncertainty as to whether I set the alarm at the church. It’s easy to do, and I remind myself to do so by using the app on my phone as soon as I lock up the church doors, but something always seems to happen between the time I leave the church and the time I get into the car (a span of just 30 seconds) that causes me to forget.

As a result, I often wake up in the middle of the night, and realize that I have failed to arm the system. Fortunately, I can do it from the comfort of my home, so I just pick up the phone, go to the app, and arm the system (provided someone else hasn’t done so in the meantime). Then, I can roll over and go back to sleep.

All of this made me think about the early days of our current sanctuary. I assume that back in 1970 the church would be locked up at the end of each day, but I doubt that Pastor McLachlan lost sleep over external threats to the church, and I am certain he had no security system to arm each night.

I am very grateful to our Trustees for their swift and decisive action in providing a reliable security system for our church, and for the plans to install additional cameras to increase surveillance, which we hope will reduce threats to the church that means so much to us.

At the same time, I lament the fact that our church doors can’t be open all the time — to anyone who wants to draw closer to God anytime of the day or night. I realize that this is a very naïve and unrealistic objective, especially in today’s increasingly unsafe world, but I also believe in my heart that access to the church should not be impeded under any circumstances. What a dilemma — idealistic expectations versus real-world circumstances.

I realize that one day — in accordance with God’s plan and timetable — we will have unrestricted access to the Him in the glory of His Kingdom, and we can all rejoice in that.

The question is, what can we do in the meantime? How can we make our church more enticing to those on the outside — those who could benefit most from a relationship with the Lord.

The answer, I think, comes from I Timothy 4:13-16, which states, “Until I arrive, pay attention to public reading, preaching, and teaching. Don’t neglect the spiritual gift in you that was given through prophecy when the elders laid hands on you. Practice these things, and live by them so that your progress will be visible to all. Focus on working on your own development and on what you teach. If you do this, you will save yourself and those who hear you.”

Our gentle words and our compassionate actions will encourage others to seek the Lord and set our minds at ease so that we can all get a good night’s sleep.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | January 15, 2021

Bundle Up This Winter and Don’t Be Cold-Hearted

Did you know that January 18-25 is typically the coldest seven-day period of winter in Ohio? Me neither!

The bad news is that’s next week. The good news is that once we get through it, things should get slightly warmer, or at least not any colder.

However, as we know, the weather in our state often changes suddenly, unexpectedly, and without notice, so bundle up and beware.

According to Aaron Wilson, climate specialist with the Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), “the polar vortex — a wide area of swirling cold air near the North Pole — has weakened and split in two,” What this means is that temperatures could plummet to single digits and possibly even sub-zero — the very thought of which sends chills up and down my aging spine.

At the same time, according to Wilson, “this winter’s weather is also being influenced by La Niña, meaning the temperature of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Central and South America is colder than average.” These conditions affect weather patterns around the globe, including Ohio, which could mean “a wetter and warmer-than-average winter and spring.”

Makes me wonder why the weather can’t make up its mind. But then I am reminded of how difficult it is for many of us to make up our mind. Let’s face it, we all run hot and cold from time to time, and like the weather, our disposition often changes in an instant.

So, as we head into what may be the coldest weak of the winter, ask yourself to gauge the temperature of your heart. Is it warm and steady, or is it cold and variable?

To give us some spiritual perspective, consider these passages from Scripture as you adjust your internal thermostat…

  • Proverbs 4:23 states that we are to “keep [our] heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” If our heart is so cold that it freezes, how can we possibly enable the springs of life to flow from it?
  • Psalm 51:10 asks God to “create in [us] a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within [us].” More good advice because as temperatures drop, it is advisable that we clean or change the filter in our internal furnace so that we are renewed by the Spirit from within.
  • Psalm 73:26 encourages us to remember that even when our “flesh and heart fail, God is the strength of [our] heart.” Now, that’s encouraging, right? When all other means of warmth fail, God is always there to bring warmth to our heart and comfort to our soul.
    Let us not allow our hearts to be cold or hardened in this or any other season. Instead, let us abide in the Spirit as it touches and softens our hearts, so that compassion will flow freely, and that we may bring others closer to the Lord, leading to what we read in Psalm 34:18, which reminds us that he will “heal “he brokenhearted and save the crushed in spirit.”

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | January 8, 2021

Responding to Life’s Curve Balls

When life throws you a curve, should you take the pitch, or swing as hard as you
can and try to hit it? I guess it depends on the situation, but often you don’t have much
more than a split second to make a decision.

Life is full of curve balls, and when they come our way, we need to respond in
short order. Last Sunday, for example, I was preparing to come to church to get ready
for our first worship service of the new year. I was looking forward, as I always do, to
communing with each of you. Then I learned that my granddaughter had tested positive
for the coronavirus.

First, there was the initial shock and concern for her. Then, I had to think about
my next move. Should I come to church and lead worship as I am called on to do, or
should I stay away and enter into quarantine? What was the right decision? Either way,
I didn’t have much time to make it.

In the meantime, my son and daughter-in-law (who is a medical doctor) called
and strongly advised me not to go. By this point, I was already in the car headed to the
church, so I called Jen and asked her and Miriam what they thought. Ultimately, we
decided it would be most prudent for me not to come. I could possibly infect others,
despite that fact that I would stay masked and distant from everyone else. What I
initially thought was the right and responsible decision turned out to be a wrong and
potentially dangerous option, so I turned around and went home.

Fortunately J.J. was planning to be there, so I called and asked if he would take
over. Like a faithful disciple and a real trooper, he willingly and graciously stepped up
and did a great job leading the service, much to the delight of all of us at Oak Chapel.
So, what’s the moral of the story? For me, I guess it’s that I need to step back
before I make any decision, even if I don’t have a lot of time. I might think I have all the
facts, but if I don’t seek God’s wisdom and listen to other believers, I’m probably going
to set myself up for failure.

There is plenty of Scripture to guide our decision making, including this from
Psalm 27:14 – “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the
Lord.” Valuable advice in just 16 words, four of which are repeated: “Wait for the Lord!”
And, consider this well-known passage from Proverbs 3:5-6 — “Trust in the Lord
with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways,
acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Perhaps we can remember those passages moving forward, so that every
decision we make will be based on His Wisdom and guidance.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | January 1, 2021

Chances are, you are becoming less and less likely to answer your cell phone when an unfamiliar number comes up on your screen and the audio voice inside proclaims, “unknown caller.”

That’s where I was a week ago when a Mount Vernon number appeared. One ring, two rings…O, what the heck, I’ll answer it, and I’m glad I did. On the other end of the line was our dear friend and former pastor, Keith Bohley, who served at Oak Chapel from 1987-1996.

It was great to hear his voice. He sounded as strong as ever, despite a health scare this past fall. He was calling about the sudden passing of Roger Burckhart. He related to me a story of when he was appointed at Oak Chapel and Roger, along with Roger Martin, arranged for some trailers to transport the Bohleys’ furniture and other belongings to their parsonage on Warner Hill — just one of many fond memories of his highly successful tenure here.

I then reminded him of one of my favorite memories. It was 1995, just before he was called to another church. My young family and I decided to sample Oak Chapel one Sunday that spring, and we were immediately hooked. First, we realized that we had a number of friends and acquaintances who attended the church. Then, we heard Rev Bohley preach a brilliant sermon, and we agreed, this was the place for us.

Later that year, Rev. Bohley invited me to breakfast at the old Friendly’s Restaurant at the corner of Beall and Winter near Wooster Community Hospital. As I have related several times, it was there that he asked me to lead a young adult Sunday School class.

“Me,” I thought. “No way,” but for some reason I said, “Sure.” Neither of us could possibly have known that more than 20 years later I would be asked to serve as pastor at Oak Chapel. As they say, “God works in mysterious ways!”

I reminded Rev. Bohely how grateful I was for his invitation to breakfast and all that followed. He planted a seed that fall day in 1995, and I guess you could say, I have grown into an “old Oak” in the process.

On this New Year’s Eve, when we listen to Guy Lombardo’s rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” (at least we used to listen to that on New Year’s Eve), I am reminded how precious our acquaintances are. Rev. Bohley was saddened to hear about Roger’s sudden passing, but no doubt comforted by the fact that because Roger was a faithful believer, he was now safe and joyful in the Kingdom of Heaven.

At last, a year of turmoil and unrest will pass at midnight tonight, and a new year will begin. We don’t know if things will be better, but we can certainly hope. Regardless of what is to come, however, we can take heart in the relationships we have with our fellow believers, and most importantly the relationship we have with the Lord God Almighty!

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 25, 2020

A Christmas Eve Paradox: Two Dead Mice, One Bright Light!

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the church house, not a creature was stirring, not even a church mouse. That’s because the newly installed security system at Oak Chapel caught them roaming the halls after hours and zapped them.

Well, that’s not really the way it happened, but two mice did, in fact, perish during Advent. Now, I’m a person who respects all forms of life. I even capture spiders that get into our house in Dixie Cups and usher them outside where they belong. So I have to admit that I was saddened when the two furry creatures lost their lives, especially because both of them died in my office.

This Christmas Eve at Oak Chapel will not be at all quiet, sad, or mouse friendly. Despite the current circumstances, we will worship in a way that is joyful, responsible, and safe. The sanctuary has been hydrostatically sprayed, allowing us to seat 75 people with appropriate social distancing and individual masking in a pristine setting.

If you have become accustomed to worshipping from the parking lot in your car, you can continue that practice on Christmas Eve and beyond by listening on your radio at 97.9 FM. We will also have several rooms available for those who wish to worship privately with their family. In addition, there will be seating in Fellowship Hall with a video feed, and we are planning to livestream on the Internet, which means that if you can’t make it to church, you can watch from the comfort of your own home.

Regardless of where you spend Christmas Eve, be sure to take some time to reflect on the sanctity of the occasion, and carve out a warm place in your heart for the newborn Savior.

And speaking of the Savior, did you have a chance to witness the “Christmas Star” earlier this week? It happened a few nights ago during what is called a “planetary conjunction,” which occurs when two planets come together (in this case Saturn and Jupiter).

According to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), “the planets regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system, with the positions of Saturn and Jupiter being aligned in the sky about once every 20 years. What makes this year’s spectacle so rare is that it has been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night.”

Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), the conjunction occurred on the same night as the winter solstice — the longest night of the year. Maybe, just maybe, this bright light is coming to us at the conclusion of a very dark year for a reason — perhaps to provide a source of desperately needed light. Either way, we can rejoice as we continue to follow the brightest light of all — that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 18, 2020

What if He Didn’t Come?

As a person of Irish descent, I am proficient in at least two areas: worry and pouting. While I plan to address both flaws in the coming year (as I do every year, with little or no success), I realize that it will be difficult to exorcise either because they are so deeply engrained in my ancestral DNA.

When I was young, these two shortcomings were particularly noticeable during the Christmas Holidays — worry about whether Santa would come and bring everything I asked for, and pouting when I didn’t get everything I asked for, or what I got didn’t work the way I thought it would. I know, spoiled kid, right?

Over the years, I have been able to distance myself from these weaknesses, but I still suffer from the lingering effects, although now many of my doubts are articulated in a way that is hypothetical.

For example, I sometimes ask myself, “What if Jesus didn’t come?” What if God the Father, instead of showing grace and mercy, responded with justifiable anger and malice, thus condemning all of us to an eternity of damnation?

Fortunately, He didn’t do that. Despite our disobedience — or more accurately, because of it — He sent His only begotten Son to take the burden of all of our sins on His shoulders during the crucifixion and then bury them forever a few days later with His miraculous resurrection, which conquered both sin and death.

Every once in a while — at least twice a year (once at Christmas and again at Easter) — we pause to reflect on the magnitude of this benevolent sacrifice, and wonder how any of it was possible, or why He would even bother to save a planet full of wretches like us.

Then we read the famous passage from John 3:16, which states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

No more angst, no more worry, and certainly no more pouting, but it’s important we not stop there. Rather, we should continue to process the verses that follow: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

So this is the verdict for us: “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

This might be a good time to assess where we stand. If we live by the truth and come into the light, we have no reason for worry. Fortunately, we don’t have to ask, “What if He didn’t come?” We know that He did, and that He will come again.

Now that we have seen the light, it is essential that we guide others to the light, and what better time of year to do this right now, during Christmas, which is, in and of itself, a festival of lights.

So let us all prepare for a night that is both silent and holy — a night in which the Son of God becomes love’s pure light. “Radiant beams from Thy holy face. With the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.”

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 11, 2020

Gazing into the Eyes of a Shepherd

On Sunday, we will light the third candle of Advent. This candle is unlike the
others. It is pink in color, representing joy instead of repentance, which is symbolized in
the other three candles — typically purple, or, as is the case at Oak Chapel, blue. The
pink candle is also referred to as the “Shepherd’s Candle.” How appropriate because we
often refer to Christ as the “Good Shepherd.”

The concept of the word “shepherd” is intriguing because it can be used as a noun
or a verb. As a noun, we think of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. In
Scripture, we know that a shepherd will often leave his flock to go and find the one that
has gone missing. As a verb, we refer to the concept of ‘shepherding,” which describes
the shepherd’s effort to keep the flock together and moving in the same direction.

Whichever way we use the word “shepherd,” we know that it serves as the perfect
metaphor for the way in which Jesus watches over us. Yes, he would leave the flock to go and rescue us when we lose our way, even if we are the one responsible for straying.
Most of us have done that at least once or twice in our lives, but he is always on the
lookout, always close by to gather us in his arms and take us home.

Likewise, Jesus seems to always be shepherding us — poking and prodding us to
move one way or the other, to answer his call, to put us in a safe place, or simply to guide
us on our path in this world.

Like most children, one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season was when my
Dad would climb into our soot-filled attic and bring down the decorations. We always
bought a real tree and adorned it with those big, bright bulbs that would get so hot they
would melt the tinsel on the tree. We also had a little train set that always seemed to jump the tracks. Finally, he would bring down the manger set, which we still have to this day.

It was my job to set up the Nativity. I would carefully arrange the empty crib in
between Mary and Joseph. Then I would set up the three wise men on the left and the
animals on the right. Finally, I would put the shepherd into place. I never realized how
important a role he had in the nativity scene, but it made perfect sense for him to be there to adore the greatest shepherd of them all.

Since those days of my youth, setting up for Christmas has become more of a
chore than a joy. In fact, Sheri does most of the work. I still try to put up outside lights, but that requires me to get up on the roof, which is probably not a good idea at my age, so I may refrain from doing that this year.

I will, however, take time to look at the manger scene. We now have two of them.
At some point, I will gaze into the eyes of the ceramic shepherd, give them a wink and a
nod, and thank him for not only representing the Christ Child, but also for reminding us
that we can all be shepherds, especially during this sacred time of year.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 4, 2020

Oak Chapel Intends to be ‘Open’ on Christmas Eve

What will Christmas Eve look like this year at Oak Chapel? Hard to say for sure,
but right now, we are committed to being “open” that evening so that you and your
family can worship with us in a safe and secure environment.

Because of the spike in Covid cases in our area, it is unlikely that we will have a
hearty gathering of more than 100 people that we had last year. Still, we want to provide
a variety of options, including an opportunity for as many people as possible to worship
in person that evening — with appropriate safety protocols in place — so we’ve hatched
a plan.

We believe that we can safely accommodate 75 people in the sanctuary at one
time. If you are comfortable there, we will help you find a desirable seat that evening.
The sanctuary will have been cleansed by a new electrostatic sprayer which has been
graciously made available to us through one of our members, who will execute the
cleaning process prior to the service. The unit, which is used in hotels and other
commercial settings, has been proven to eliminate 99.9-percet of bacteria and viruses,
as well as fungus, mold, and mildew at the source. It also inhibits growth and eliminates
odor at the molecular level. This, we believe, will provide a very clean, sterile, and safe
environment in our church.

If you prefer to worship inside but remain separate from others, we will make
various rooms available in the educational wing, with audio and possible video
available. You can reserve a room here or by calling the church office (330-264-2537) Monday through Thursday mornings from 9 a.m. to Noon. Reservations will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis until Dec. 18. Several reservations have already been made, but there are still approximately four rooms available for you and your family.

If you wish to continue to worship from your car, the FM feed will be available. In
addition, we hope to have a livestream option, which you can view on your phone, tablet
or computer in your car or in the comfort of your own home.

We will not let the coronavirus impede our efforts to offer meaningful worship
opportunities on Christmas Eve and beyond. We just need everyone to understand the
parameters and be considerate of each other, so that everyone can be blessed during
this sacred time of year.

Remember that masks will be required in all areas inside the church, with the
exception of our family rooms. Also, we encourage people to be respectful of others
who chose not to congregate after the service.

Through the grace of God and the cooperation of others, we will all get through
this together as one in unity with Christ our Lord!

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | November 27, 2020

Join Us As We Journey ‘Back to the Future’

        In the early days of television, everything was live. No video tape, no digital editing. Oak Chapel is preparing to go “back to the future” in the coming weeks when we begin streaming our worship services live and also archiving them for future viewing.

            This, of course, is nothing new. Many churches across the country and around the world have been using Facebook Live and various other platforms to stay in contact with their congregants during the pandemic while also reaching out to others who may not have a home church.

            This is a positive application of technology, and admittedly, we are a little late to the game. One of the reasons I chose to wait was my concern about what it might do to Sunday morning attendance in the sanctuary. Call me old fashioned, but I believe strongly in the fellowship that grows out of in-person worship. After all, Jesus said, “wherever two or more are gathered, I am there also.”

            I sincerely hope that one day soon attendance for worship in our sanctuary will grow exponentially. In the meantime, however, given the circumstances we now face, we feel it is important to give all of our members the opportunity to commune with us virtually on Sunday mornings.

            Just as important is the opportunity for others to be introduced to Oak Chapel. This is such a wonderful church with a rich tradition, a loving congregation, and a commitment to serving Christ and others. We have so much to offer, and my prayer is that others will see our church as a safe place to land, to find refuge from life’s adversities, and to come into a relationship with our Lord that is loving, assuring, forgiving, and comforting.

            I am hopeful that with the promising news about various vaccines, we will have an opportunity to return to the way things used to be in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, however, let us be in prayer for our neighbors, our church, our community, our nation, and our world. May God help us to emerge from this crisis with a clearer understanding of the fact that we cannot control everything, or more accurately, that we cannot control much of anything.

            God is our creator, and he has dominion over the entire universe. Because of our sin, we have become separated, in some cases even estranged, from Him. Let’s make a vow to not let that happen in 2021. Granted, we can’t be perfect, but we can strive for holiness, and we can remain connected with Him and with fellow believers, whether we do so in the safety and security of our sacred sanctuary or online with our phone, tablet or computer.

            Remember these comforting words from Hebrews 13:5 in which God said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

            That’s a promise that will never be broken.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | November 20, 2020

Christ the King Sunday ‘Sets the Table’ for Thanksgiving Celebration

            As we prepare for next week’s traditional Thanksgiving celebration, albeit in a much more restricted way because of the Covid crises, let us be reminded that there is another celebration that precedes Thanksgiving and sets the tone for the Christmas season.

I had forgotten, but fortunately Pam Domer reminded me this week, that Sunday is The Feast of Christ the King. What does that mean? Well, its roots are in the Catholic Church, and it began in 1925 when Pope Pius XI instituted the event with the intention that it be “celebrated throughout the universal church.” Turns out, his vision took hold because we continue to celebrate the occasion to this day, almost a century after it was first instituted.

At the time, the Pope was concerned about “the increasing denial of Christ as king and the rise of secularism throughout much of Europe.” It was a time when “many Christians began to doubt Christ’s authority and existence, as well as the Church’s power to continue Christ’s authority.” Unfortunately, those same doubts persist to this day, making the Pope’s declaration more important than ever.

Pius XI set forth three objectives in instituting the Feast: (1) that “world leaders would acknowledge the church’s right to freedom and immunity from the state;” (2) that “leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ;” and (3) that believers “would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, just as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, and bodies.”

The world has changed considerably during the past 95 years, making it unlikely that all world leaders would acknowledge and respect Christ, but there is still an expectation, especially in our country, that the church has a right to freedom and immunity from the state.

Unfortunately, distrust of world authority is arguably at an all-time high, and the rejection of Christ as our supreme leader continues in earnest. The question becomes, “is it too late to reverse this trend?” The answer is a definitive “No!”

As we reflect on Scripture, we are reminded of Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, Verses 42-45, when he said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If only our public officials would embrace this call. Some do, but many do not. Fortunately, we can live according to Christ’s kingship, which is one of humility and service.

We know that Christ is coming to judge all the nations. As we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, we take note of his love, grace, and mercy, which will endure forever. “Christ the King gives us true freedom — freedom in Him.” Reason to celebrate for sure!

                                 Until we meet again, be blessed! – Pastor John

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