In A Nutshell | October 23, 2020

Building a Saintly Legacy

All Saints Day is a longstanding Christian tradition through which we remember
and reflect on the lives of those who came before us — those who helped us to build a
foundation for our faith.

It is a bittersweet occasion as we reflect on their passing with sadness, while also
rejoicing in the life they lived and the influence they had on us, particularly those who
took time to share their testimony in an effort to shape us spiritually.

As we learn from the first two verses of the 12th chapter of Hebrews, “So since we
stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses,
let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let
us run with endurance the long race set before us.”

So, what will our legacy be? How will we affect the lives of those who follow us?
As we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road, what will be the status of Oak Chapel?
What influence, if any, will our church have on the community? Will we be a vibrant and
flourishing church, or will we be languishing on the verge of closure?

No one knows for sure, but what we do know is that it is imperative for us to
continue laying a foundation for the future. We have been interrupted by the
coronavirus, but we can’t let that be an excuse. The key to the future of our church, and
all churches for that matter, is the infusion of young people and young families.
We can be faithful and prayerful that God will help that to happen, but we can’t
just sit around and wait. We must be active participants in the endeavor, welcoming,
encouraging, and sometimes even pestering young people to consider making the
church a foundational part of their life.

Bringing people into the church is a difficult, but certainly not impossible task.
However, it will never happen if we don’t first ask and invite others There is certainly
trepidation in doing so because most of us fear rejection, but if we never ask, others
may never come.

I believe that each of us has one person or one family — perhaps even members
of your own family — whom we could invite for a visit. Obviously a well-crafted “pitch”
would further enhance your prospects for a positive response.

We might begin by asking ourselves why we come to Oak Chapel. Is it the
vibrancy of worship, the allure of fellowship, the excitement of opportunity, or simply the
comfort of connecting with others in covenant with the Lord God Almighty? Perhaps it is
all of the above.

Whatever the case, it’s time to share our sincerity, our compassion, our energy,
our enthusiasm, our service, and our love for others so that they may be enticed to
make Oak Chapel their church home.

Time is running out. None of us knows what the future holds. But we can gain
assurance and peace of mind in the knowledge that our efforts to help build the
Kingdom of God here on earth are sincere, genuine, and exhaustive. That is a saintly
legacy that will bring us joy, comfort, and peace.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | October 16, 2020

The Responsibility of the ‘Elect’

Election Day is just a few weeks away, and what a relief it will be when the
incessant political ads, nasty campaign rhetoric, and vitriolic debates finally come to an
end. It almost makes you want to crawl under the couch and hide until Nov. 4, but we
know we can’t do that. Given the privilege of voting, it is important that we exercise that
right.

Unfortunately, many of us are resigned to the possibility that no matter whom we
elect, things will not get any better. So, instead of focusing on “elect” as a verb, perhaps
we should reflect on “elect” as a noun. In that context, “elect” means “those chosen by
God for salvation.” What a privilege — even more so than our cherished right to vote.
Now would be a good time for us to consider what it means to be part of the
“elect” and what responsibility we have in that role. Just as we are expected to be fair,
honorable, and thoughtful as we cast our ballot, we must also be fair, honorable, and
thoughtful as members of the “elect.”

All of this forces us to think about our words and our actions as part of the “elect.”
Are we honoring God and others by being kind, caring, and compassionate, or are we
sinking to the level of the serpent by stirring up controversy, rage, and even hatred?
I have vowed to be apolitical from the pulpit at Oak Chapel, and I plan to remain
that way, but I have to say that the first Presidential debate was not exactly a shining
moment for our country, regardless of one’s party affiliation. Instead of a reasonable
give-and-take about the important issues facing us nationally and globally, the debate
quickly deteriorated into an uncivil display of insults and name calling by both
candidates. All of this led me to wonder what the rest of the world must be thinking
about our country and our political system.

Whom we elect in November is of vital importance, and it is imperative that all of
us consider exercising the right to vote, but of far more importance is who we are and
how we act as members of the elect. We do, indeed, have “A Story to Tell to the
Nations” — “a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light” — but few people are
paying attention because our words and our actions often hamper our efforts to be kind,
caring, compassionate Children of God.

Before we vote to elect a candidate on Nov. 3, let us first ponder our role and
responsibility as members of the elect. Then, let us reflect the light of the God we serve
so that all people will see that light and recognize, respect, and revere Him as the true
leader of all creation.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | October 9, 2020

The Frightening Reality of Spiritual Warfare

Is it possible for a church to be haunted? I pose this question because last
Saturday, as I was preparing for Sunday’s service in the Sanctuary, I heard a series of
loud bangs that startled me.

The unexpected and unsettling noises seemed to be coming from Fellowship Hall
or possibly as far away as our Educational Wing. I quickly assured myself that someone
with a key had entered the church, but just to be sure, I went to the Narthex and peered
out the window, fully expecting to see another car in the parking lot. To my surprise (and
dismay) there was only one vehicle — and it was mine.

So I started to check around to see what the source of this unwelcome sound
might be, but I found nothing, so I went back to the Sanctuary. A few minutes later,
there was another series of loud bangs. This really concerned me, so I made another
sweep of the building and again found nothing. Whatever courage I may have had was
now depleted, so I made my way to my office, gathered my things, and made a hasty
exit, trying to keep my wits about me and making sure that I locked the glass doors
behind me.

On my way out of the lot, I decided to call the Shallenbergers. Blair and Cathy
know everything there is to know about our church, I reasoned, and they were just a
mile or so down the road. They very kindly agreed to meet me at the church and take a
look around. I was grateful for their offer, and I followed the two of them up and down
the hallways, but once again, we found nothing.

The next day, Miriam Zech allayed my fears by assuring me that it was the boiler
that was making those ghastly noises. Still, it was a reminder to me about the presence
of spiritual warfare in our lives, and even in our church.

Fortunately, we are not unprotected. In Ephesians 6 we are advised to “be strong
in the Lord and in his mighty power [to] put on the full armor of God, so that [we] can
take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and
blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark
world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on
the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, [we] may be able to stand
[our] ground.”

The enemy is real, formidable, and stealth. It lurks around every corner, setting
traps and looking to catch us in its snare. We need to be careful, vigilant, and prayerful
at all times.

October is a month when we like to scare ourselves with images of ghosts and
goblins, but even though we can see them, we know that they’re not real. It’s the evil
spirts we cannot see that are the most dangerous. So be watchful, be alert, and ask
God to protect you so you are never caught off guard.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | October 2, 2020

The Nobility of a Straight Shooter

            If you have ever played golf with our very own Tom Wheeler, you know that he is a straight shooter. While my shots go right into the woods, left into the water, and short into the sand, his balls go right down the middle, time after time after time.

            I have been greatly blessed by our weekly outings during the past few months because when you play with Tom, your score on each hole is secondary to the overall experience as you soak in the beauty of nature and the warmth of fellowship.

            Not only that, but Tom is also exceptionally kind and gracious when it comes to the deficiencies in my game. He is quick to offer an encouraging word when I miss a two-foot putt (although he usually declares that anytime I’m within five-feet of the pin, I should “pick it up” — in other words, “it’s good”), and he never allows me to mark anything higher than a “7” on my scorecard.

            My experiences with Tom on the golf course have caused me to rethink some of the situations that I deal with in life and ask myself, “Is this really that big of a deal?” “Should I really be so upset over such a trivial issue?” “Can I not be better at overcoming the relatively minor setbacks that I encounter almost every day?”

            I’m not suggesting that golf is a metaphor for life, but there are many lessons that can be applied to the ways in which we respond to the obstacles we face. First, we should always be a straight shooter — with ourselves and with others. Jesus was certainly direct — sometimes even painfully so — when he admonished his disciples. We, too, should face the facts, tell the truth, and deal with the reality of the situation. At the same time, we need to take things in stride, understand that none of us is perfect, accept the fact that mistakes are a part of life — and move on.

            Most importantly, count your blessings and smile. Things could be worse, and for many people they are. Stand strong on the solid foundation that lifts you up and sustains you — the rock of your faith in Jesus Christ.

           There are many things that are out of our control, but there are a number of things that we can control. So instead of worrying about my next shot on the golf course or the next challenge I face in life, I need to step back, reflect on my many blessings, and give thanks for the fact that I serve a straight shooter, who is also incredibly kind, loving, forgiving, and merciful —  and in the end, that’s all that matters.

            If I find myself in the woods, or in the water, or in the trap, I know that there is a way out, and that He will lead and guide me. So why worry? What good does it do?

Let us find assurance in our faith and help others who are struggling by being a straight shooter who is also kind, caring, loving, and compassionate.

                                                           Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | September 25, 2020

Time to Turn Over a New Leaf

The leaves on the trees that line the western edge of our parking lot are just
beginning to turn, signaling the arrival of fall. One tree in particular — the fourth from the
left to be exact — has taken the lead with a brilliant burst of autumn red and gold.

This annual ritual of autumn is once again playing out across the country, with
October being the prime month for nature to display its captivating array of colors that
burst forth each year.

All of this caused me to pause and reflect on the change we can make when we
step up and display our unique spiritual colors. As we come down the homestretch of a
particularly perplexing and troubling year, we look forward with great anticipation and
hope toward what we hope will be a much more calm and peaceful future.

In order to affect change, we must first ask ourselves, what changes are we
willing to make? What recurring habits do we need to break? What positive steps do we
need to take to end the current cycle of despair and lay the foundation for a brighter
tomorrow, with colors that rival those of the fall season?

One suggestion would be to consider what you might do to advance our mission
here at Oak Chapel. So many of you have labored faithfully and joyfully for many
decades, and the fruits of your labor are undeniable. Are you ready for a rest, or do you
think you might have renewed energy for 2021? Perhaps you’d like to jump into another
area of service. Whatever the case, we welcome and encourage your participation and
your leadership.

Likewise, if you are new to our church or if you haven’t been as active as you
would like, the opportunities for service are limited only by your imagination. Jump into
an existing endeavor, or propose something new and different.
While autumn is a precursor to winter, typically regarded as a season of
dormancy, we are all aware that the saplings of spring follow quickly, bringing
unforeseen opportunities and unimagined new life.

Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper
time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Let’s keep working — together — and
never give up! God has a plan for Oak Chapel, and you are an important part of that
plan!

As the posters featuring Uncle Sam during World War II proclaimed, “We need
you!” and we would love to have you onboard. If there is a committee that intrigues you
or a project that attracts you, please let us know, and we will provide an opportunity for
you to join us as we serve the Lord by serving our neighbors.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | September 18, 2020

Nutshell – Try a Little Kindness

Glen Campbell was a multi-media mega star in the 1960s and 1970s with a wildly popular variety show on television, and a seemingly non-stop string of hit songs as a recording star.

His songs, which dominated both the country and pop music charts, included “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Gentle on My Mind,” and a host of others, but it was one of his lesser-known compositions that carried perhaps his greatest message.

In 1970, Campbell recorded “Try a Little Kindness.” It turned out to be a minor hit, but its lyrics are timeless, and especially meaningful in today/s world, particularly the following…

You got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Don’t walk around the down and out
Lend a helping hand instead of doubt
And the kindness that you show every day
Will help someone along their way

How appropriate that we reflect on these words a half-century later with both regret and hopefulness. Regret in that we are in the same position we were 50 years ago when it comes to the ways we treat one another, which often range from indifferent  to deplorable. Hope in that there is still time to reflect on, embrace, and implement this message of kindness into our daily routine.

What if we all led our interactions with others by showing just a little kindness? What if we all let our light shine for everyone to see? After all, as disciples of Christ, we are well aware of the light we carry and the importance of letting it shine for everyone to see. By doing so, we will overlook the blindness of others (and our own), especially the narrow-minded (which sometimes includes us), and show them the light so that we can see clearly.

In Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew we are reminded that “we are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

When we show a little kindness and lend a helping hand, we light the path and soften the heart of others. So, as we head into autumn, I would encourage you to join with me in my efforts to “show kindness every day,” and “help someone along the way.”

Who knows, their hearts might be touched, and they just might return the favor.

                                                           Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | September 11, 2020

Hidden Blessing Follows the Day the Earth Stood Still

            Each of us, I’m sure, can remember where we were and what we were doing when terrorists hijacked two jetliners and flew them into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

            It was a bright and beautiful morning, the Wayne County Fair was in full swing, and suddenly our world was shattered in an instant. I remember a co-worker rushing into our office after the second plane crashed into the South Tower and saying, “Welcome to World War III.”

            It was, indeed, a harrowing time for all of us. Our relatively peaceful and comfortable routines were upended as we were forced to reckon with our own mortality.

            Not surprisingly, the sanctuary at Church of the Cross, where we attended at the time, was packed that following Sunday morning. There were a number of unfamiliar, but welcome, faces of people filled with angst and uncertainty. This was probably the case at Oak Chapel, too.

            “What next?” I wondered. “Don’t ask,” I thought. Turned out, I didn’t have to. A delightful woman in our church who regularly delivered the children’s sermon had been killed the day before in an automobile accident on Route 83 North. A pickup truck tried to pass, but then panicked when he saw another car coming in the opposite direction. He laid on his horn and startled the woman’s husband who was driving. He tried to ease off the road so the pickup could get over, but his tire ricocheted off the berm, sending their vehicle across the other lane where it was hit broadside by another car, instantly killing his wife. I cannot express the grief we all felt that morning, but I will never forget it.

            Somehow we all regrouped and rallied by falling back on our faith and moving forward with our lives. When tragedy strikes, Scripture provides comfort, including these words of encouragement from the Book of Psalms: Psalm 55:22 – “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken;” Psalm 56:3 – “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you;” and Psalm 147:3 – “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

            God is always with us! We all know that, but in times of adversity and trauma, we often lose sight of His promise to comfort, assure, and heal. Despite the horrific tragedy of 9/11, we managed to regain our footing and carry on.

            And, oh by the way, something else happened the following day that would affect our church nearly 20 years later. Joshua James Cline was born on Sept. 12 of that year. Soon he will be helping to lead our youth and our church to what we believe will be a period of revival and greater glory! Praise be to God!

                                                           Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | September 4, 2020

It’s a Beautiful Day in Our Neighborhood

            Growing up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, the city in which Mr. Rogers Neighborhood originated, I had no idea just how much of a national and international icon he had become. It wasn’t until we moved to Ohio in 1984 that I realized the extent of his profound and far-reaching influence.

            Fred Rogers was unique in many ways. Revered by some, ridiculed by others, he was both a comforting voice for millions of children and a target for parodies and insensitive jokes by scores of comedians.

            All of this caused me to reflect on the many similarities between Mr. Rogers and Jesus himself. Both were deeply concerned about the oppressed, the lost, the lonely, and the underserved. Both had a kind and gentle nature, but neither was afraid to speak up against bias, discrimination, cruelty, and a range of other social injustices. Both professed love for all people, especially those who may have appeared to be different from the mainstream. And, unfortunately, both were mocked incessantly throughout their lives, yet they maintained an aura of grace and dignity.

            Fred Rogers is gone now, having passed away in 2003, but Jesus remains with us through the Holy Spirt and the Holy Word of God, providing a calm and gentle voice that brings us perspective.

            Perhaps now would be a good time to further immerse ourselves in Scripture and reflect on God’s wisdom while also revisiting some of Mr. Rogers’ timeless advice. Their messages were poignant for children, but they were often lost on the rest of us. We were prone dismiss them as being for young people only. Now, we know better.

            Two of Mr. Rogers’ many quotes have stuck with me over the years, including this one that is both practical and spiritual: “Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”

            Another famous quote is this one: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

            The takeaway for us is this: Do we know where to find the helpers? I would hope that all of you would feel comfortable looking for help from your pastor and your fellow church members. Likewise, we, too, can be helpers to those in need, and in so doing we honor God by carrying out his greatest commandments to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”…and to…”Love your neighbor as yourself.”

            When we live by these commandments, it is indeed “a beautiful day in our neighborhood!”

                                                           Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | August 28, 2020

Out of the Fog and Into the Light

            A few weeks ago, as I was making my way to the church office, I encountered a heavy fog at the foot of Warner Hill. I could barely see the road in front of me as I ascended the imposing grade.

            Then, suddenly, as I reached the top of the hill, I was greeted by a bright blue sky and plenty of sunshine. Such a dramatic contrast! One moment, my visibility was almost completely obscured; the next moment, I could see for miles.

            What an appropriate metaphor for our journeys in life! Some are clouded and uncertain; others are clear and bright. Regardless of the conditions, however, Jesus assures us that he is always with us and that he will never leave us.

            When we encounter the fog in a figurative sense, it is often a result of something we did or failed to do — an error in judgment, a poor choice, an unwise behavior. The fog rolls in, and we struggle to see our way to clearer thinking, realizing that we must change our ways and follow the path He set before us. Other times, the fog sneaks up on us, and, through no fault of our own, smothers us, making navigation almost impossible.

            An old high school coach of mine had a unique theory: when you drive into fog, hit the accelerator and drive out of it as quickly as possible. There is some logic in that, theoretically, the faster you drive, the more quickly you will get through the fog, but such decisions bring considerable risk — namely the danger of driving off the road or into another vehicle.

            Some of the more prudent thinkers might suggest that it would be best to pull over, find a safe location, and wait until the fog burns off — but that could take hours.

            How about you? What do you do when you encounter a deep, dense fog in your life?

For me, well, I’m not one to pull over. I guess I’m stubborn regarding time, so I usually proceed slowly and with an abundance of caution.

            When it comes to that figurative fog in life that clouds our vision and impedes our way forward, I also proceed slowly, but now I’m starting to wonder. Perhaps I should move to the passenger seat and let Him do the driving.

            In Isaiah 7:11, we are advised to  “Ask the Lord [our] God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” The bottom line is that we should seek His guidance at all times, whether deep in the valley or high atop a mountain.

            And there is also this from I Peter 2:9 — a reminder that we are “God’s special possession, that [we] may declare the praises of Him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

            The best advice, the clearest option is this” “Follow Him, and we shall prosper!”

                                                           Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | August 21, 2020

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Paul and Janet Kauffman celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this month. They were married by the Rev. John McLachlan in 1970 when Oak Chapel’s sanctuary was practically brand new. During the past half-century, their relationship has been a testimony to their faith and their desire to place Jesus Christ at the center of their union.

When Paul proudly made the announcement during our worship service a few weeks ago, it made me wonder how different our relationships with others would be if Jesus were at the center of each one.

The old saying, “Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd,” really doesn’t apply when it comes to our meaningful relationships. In fact, three is the perfect number, provided that Jesus is art of that union. For when He is at the center of a relationship, the prospects for open dialogue, cleansing forgiveness, and long-term reconciliation are much greater.

The presence of Jesus is particularly critical in marriage, as Paul and Janet have so clearly demonstrated for us. We all face challenges, even occasional crises, in our marriages, but if both parties are willing to yield to Jesus, the probability that husband
and wife will be able to resolve their differences and strengthen their bond will grow
exponentially.

If you are married, or if you are thinking about getting married, be sure to invite Jesus into your covenant. He will guide you through the storms, light your paths in times of darkness, and rejoice with you during times of celebration.

Of course, you don’t have to limit Him to your marriage. Welcome Him also into your relationships with your sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers, friends and neighbors, and, yes, even antagonists and outright enemies. Granted, those may be a little more difficult because often others refuse to allow Jesus to have access to their lives, much less their relationships. But fear not, be faithful and prayerful because He can help to heal any relationship, no matter how estranged or shattered it might be.

So, the question for all of us to consider is this: “Where is Jesus in your relationships with others?” Perhaps there is someone in your life with whom you would like to reconcile. Make it a point to do so before much more time passes because none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

The world tells us that when we humble ourselves, we become small. But the Lord says the opposite. When we humble ourselves, we stand tall. Where do you stand right now? We’ve all been through a lot these past five months. Maybe we can help lift one another up, even if we have been quarreling recently, even if we have been arguing incessantly, even if we have not spoken for years. Don’t be afraid to make the first move, but before you dial the phone or send a text, reach out to Jesus first, and ask him to lead the way.

As the storied hymn suggests, “When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.”

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

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