In A Nutshell | April 16, 2021

Run the Race, Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

Track and Field has never been my strong suit. I was always pretty slow afoot and somewhat limited in terms of jumping and throwing. However, last week, as I volunteered at the annual Triway Junior High Invitational Meet, I was reminded, in a
metaphoric sense, that we all run the same race. Some are faster than others, some
jump higher, some throw greater distances, but everyone is invited to participate.

In II Timothy 4:7-8, there is that often-referenced passage, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.   Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” This iconic Scripture serves as an appropriate metaphor for the life we live, but we also know that life is more of a journey than a race. What is most important for us as Disciples of Christ, is to walk the walk (in other words live what we believe), and talk the talk (meaning that we should also share our faith with others). How fast we go is of little consequence.

Another lesson from last week’s meet was an acknowledgement of the similarities and differences that make up who we are as Christian disciples. Each of the competitors was wearing a tank top and shorts in the colors that represented their school and their team.

Indeed, teamwork is an integral part of our faith journey, but we must insist on an all-inclusive team, regardless of color — specifically skin color — as well as ethnic origin, socio-economic standing, or any other variable that leads to separation or division. All too often, people, even Christians, select teams that inherently, or even intentionally, leave others out. Clearly, this is not part of God’s master plan, especially with regard to the church.

Finally, in Track and Field, as in life, there is a winner and a loser. The winner usually receives an award and plenty of praise from others, but in the context of our faith, we are not looking to elevate one person over another because we know that is not the case, certainly not in the eyes of God. What matters most to Him is that we all live a life of love, compassion, grace, and mercy. Those are the true champions in His eyes.

If we adhere to God’s Word and live by His commands, then where we finish won’t be nearly as important as how we finish. What matters most is that He will welcome all the faithful when they cross the finish line and enter into His Father’s kingdom.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | April 9, 2021

In and Out Might Not be Our Best Option

Quick lube oil change stations have been with us for some time now, and they
serve as just one more example of our desire to get things done quickly. We can’t seem
to take our time with anything these days. The faster the better…but to what end? What
are we doing with the time that we presumably save?

I would like to suggest that we attach a prefix to the first day of the week and call
it, “Slow-Down Sunday.” After all, that’s what God intended at the dawn of creation — a
day of rest. Unfortunately, we have made it just another day for shopping, leisure,
traveling, and, yes, even working. I don’t know exactly what God intended when he
proclaimed that we were to “Keep Holy the Sabbath,” but I’m pretty sure he didn’t
envision it to be the way it is today.

So, from here on out, I’m going to suggest that we take back the Sabbath. I have
been as guilty as anyone for using the day to “get stuff done,” but in the process, I have
realized that we have robbed ourselves of the time for rest, reflection, and relaxation
that God intended all along.

We wonder why we’re always so tired and weary. Perhaps a day of rest to
recharge our body, mind, and soul would make all the difference. Easter is over; it’s
time for a fresh start, but let’s try not to go in the same direction. Let’s try to slow the
frenetic pace we have gotten used to, which drags us down, adds to our stress, causes
perpetual fatigue, and often makes us sick — physically, mentally, emotionally, and
even spiritually.

Like so many things in life, keeping the Sabbath holy and peaceful is a choice.
Begin the day (and everyday) with reflection and prayer. Give thanks for another day of
life, and consider the opportunities we have to love and serve the Lord and one another.
Then engage in active worship at the church. Afterward, take time for fellowship with
friends and family, and maybe even sneak in a nap.

We simply cannot be at our best when we are exhausted. Let’s make a pact to
slow things down, enjoy the finer things in life, experience nature, re-engage with loved
ones, and just take it easy. Our bodies will be stronger; our minds will be sharper, our
emotions will be more balanced, and our soul will be more serene.

If we do this, we will be better off as a result, and our relationship with God and
others will grow and prosper.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | April 2, 2021

Filling the Void with Active Engagement

Believe it or not, the saddest time of the week for me is just after our worship
service ends on Sunday morning and everyone has gone home. The church is empty
and dark, and the idea that it will be largely vacant for another seven days is very
disheartening.
At the same time, I am reminded that emptiness often gives way to new life. For
example, on this Good Friday, as we solemnly mark the agonizing crucifixion of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we must remember that the cross became vacant when
his body was removed. Likewise, the tomb in which he was buried, was also empty by
the time the sun rose on Easter morning, signaling a fresh new beginning for all of us.

The cross and the tomb will forever remain unoccupied because His death and
resurrection were so magnanimous that they will never have to be repeated again. He
carried the sins of the entire world on his shoulders — an unjust, unrelenting, and
unimaginable burden — so that we could be liberated. Then, his glorious resurrection
defeated permanent death and opened the gates of Heaven for those who would
choose to accept and follow Him.

What does all of this have to do with our present-day church? Everything. Let’s
face it, we’ve been dying a slow and agonizing death for many years — long before the
pandemic. Apathy, indifference, complacency, and a variety of other factors, including
the many other options available in today’s fast-paced world, have led to shrinking
church body.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that in Christ there is always hope and an
opportunity for rebirth. In fact, as the weather warms up and the pandemic fades, it is
time for us to seize the opportunity to grow in ways that we have never grown before.
Let’s make Oak Chapel so much more than a one-hour experience on Sunday
mornings. Let’s take full advantage of the wonderful facility that our ancestors built for
us. Let’s get back to some of the storied church traditions that had to be suspended
during the past year. Let’s be active in creating new opportunities for fellowship and
mission. Let’s be intentional about inviting others, particularly young people, to our
“kind, caring, compassionate church in the country.”

God will lead us, and God will bless us, but we have to fight the inertia that has
set in, not only during the past 13 months, but for many years prior. It’s time to shake of
the ill effects of inactivity and make our church the active, attractive, and vibrant place it
was always intended to be — a must-see destination for all.

I hope you’ll join me as we use Easter Sunday as a springboard into a whole new
world of dynamic worship, fellowship, stewardship, and evangelism. Then, we’ll see
what God has planned. I believe it will exceed our wildest expectations.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 26, 2021

A Matter of Life and Death

One of the more difficult but also rewarding responsibilities in ministry is
providing comfort to those whose journey in this world is coming to an end. It is a time of
deep sadness but also great joy for the person who has lived a life in Christ.

Last weekend, I visited a member from my previous church at East Greenville.
Her daughter called me a few days earlier and said quite simply, “Mom’s dying.”

I was stunned to hear the news. Although the woman was in her eighties, she
had been a very active and vibrant member of the congregation.

When I arrived at her home, it was difficult to determine how aware she was of
my presence or what was happening around her, but we took time to pray and to offer
words of encouragement as we anointed her forehead with oil.

I was honored and blessed to be with her in her final days. After all, no one wants
to die alone, but I realized that she was not at all alone. The Lord was with her to
comfort her and bring her safely back home to her eternal reward.

The experience left me with a range of emotions, and a few questions — “Why
does dying have to be so difficult.” In fact, “Why do we have to die at all?

Scripture addresses the subject of death in several passages, including this from
the 12 th chapter of the Gospel of John, which we read at our worship service last
Sunday.

“The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you
that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a
single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will
lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them
forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my
servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.”

So, according to God’s plan for all of us, there must be an earthly death before
there can be an eternal life. We know that, although the prospect is often unsettling and
process often grueling. Perhaps we should consider what happens before that. How
many seeds can we sow and how much fruit will they bear in honor of the Lord during
and even after our life on earth? That’s the real question.

If we are to serve Him, we must follow Him. He then promises to be with us so
that when the process of death is complete, the restoration and resurrection will take
place as it did for Jesus on that glorious Easter morning more than 2,000 years ago.

Let us take comfort in the fact that Jesus paved the way for us so that death in
this world would lead to life in the world to come. This should give us hope and joy as
we prepare for ourselves and others for life everlasting.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 19, 2021

Snapshot of a Growing Church

For many years, USA Today has published a “Snapshot” poll in the lower left corner its front page. The poll measures the preferences of Americans on a particular topic each day. Last week, the newspaper published a poll about what activities Americans have missed most during the pandemic.

Not surprisingly, restaurants topped the list at 59-percent. After all, who doesn’t like to eat out, right? Going to movies and concerts was a distant second at 39-percent. Going shopping was third at 20-percent, although our shopping habits have certainly changed during the pandemic.

I was surprised and pleased to see houses of worship next on the list at 19-percent, finishing just ahead of fitness centers (16-percent) and grocery stores (15 percent).

I’m not sure that 20-percent of our nation’s population even attends worship services anymore, but it is nice to know that the yearning for such services is still relatively high among our citizenry.

There’s nothing quite like in-person worship. The fellowship, the spontaneity, and the connection combine to give us the feeling of community on Sunday morning. Activities during the week give the church additional vibrancy and purpose.

We are hopeful that by late spring or early summer, everyone will feel comfortable coming back to our Sanctuary and worshipping with us. We miss all of our members and friends who have been unable or uncomfortable worshipping in person.

In the meantime, we will continue with the livestream through the pandemic and far on into the future. In fact, we’d like to continue that service in perpetuity for those who are homebound, those who may be traveling, and even those who might sleep in on a Sunday morning but still want to worship, not to mention those who might randomly tune in on their own. Our thanks to Tom Rife for his efforts to get us up and running with a very professional video presentation each Sunday, and Jen Moser for her guidance and assistance along the way. We are very grateful, and we are reaching people through this medium that we never would have reached previously.

Whatever happens moving forward, we can and will continue worshipping together, but we have another very important responsibility along the way — we need to grow. We need to invite others, particularly young people with young families, to plant seeds for the future of the church. Our ancestors, who invested so much in Oak Chapel, never would have envisioned a day when we would close our doors, so let’s make sure that we not only stay open, but that we also flourish and thrive.

With spring rapidly approaching, it’s time to shake of the chill of a bitter cold winter and move forward with an active and comprehensive plan for vibrancy in our church. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions for new programs or other initiatives, or if you would like to join any of our existing activities or mission efforts, please let us know.

An active church is a growing church. We invite you (and anyone else you would like to join you) grow with us in the year ahead.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 12, 2021

A Tribute to the ‘Tower of Power’

As I approached the church late last week, I was greeted by three large
American Electric Power trucks and a host of workers in bright lime green vests. It was
clear that they were on a mission to replace one of the existing poles with a new one on
church property.

I was stuck by the size of the pole. It’s not like I had never seen one before, but
most of the ones we see are perpendicular to the ground. This one was parallel.

It reminded me of the cross. Not only would Jesus be unjustly crucified on it, but
He would be further humiliated by being forced to carry it up the hill on Calvary.

Like the pole, the cross is a symbol of power, but it is also a representation of
humility and submission. The pole has no power without the wires that hang from it. The
cross itself had no power had the Messiah not hung there for several agonizing hours
on the day of His death, but now it stands strong as the iconic symbol of our faith.

All these years later we gaze at the cross with a myriad of emotions. On the one
hand, there is sadness, regret, and horror. On the other, there is joy, freedom, and
praise.

Oh, but for the cross, where would we be today? As we continue to progress
through Lent, let us take some time to gaze once again on the cross to reflect on His
suffering and to marvel at His sacrifice. That could have been the end of the story, but a
few days later, He would rise again in great glory, power, and majesty, providing a
pathway to salvation for generations past, present, and future.

Lent is a sad and solemn time. It is a time for reflection, repentance, and
reconciliation, but it is also a time of preparation when we can come out of the darkness
and into the light.

As we humbly confess our sins, let us also take time to restore our covenant with
him and turn our back on sin. When Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” He knew that we
would not be perfect beings. He knew that we would be vulnerable to temptation and
that we would occasionally trip, stumble, and fall, but He also knew that we had the
wherewithal — with His help — to not allow sin to reign in our hearts.

That is the key message of His ministry, especially poignant during this Lenten
season. We must continue to walk in the light so that the enemy will not gain a foothold,
and that sin will not control our lives.

Depending on when you read this, there will be roughly three weeks before we
mark the dramatic events that would change the fate of humankind, from the Last
Supper to the Crucifixion to His Glorious Resurrection.

Even in these often dark and dreary March days of Lent, we know that the time
for rejoicing is near. Let us join together and honor the Lord God Almighty with some
meaningful prayer, deep devotion, and compassionate service during the climactic final
few weeks of Lent. Then we will really be equipped to celebrate when the Day of Glory
comes on Easter Sunday.

Until then, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | March 5, 2021

‘Drive-By’ Observations of Oak Chapel

It never ceases to amaze me the things I encounter in the parking lot of our
church. I mentioned a few weeks ago that the Coroner’s truck was parked there for
several hours, which was unnerving to say the least.

Last fall, a couple of young men drove up and were taking pictures of the church
on their phone. That, too, was unsettling until Miriam assured me that they were
probably playing a game of Pokémon.

Then a week or so ago, a purple pickup pulled in during a driving snowstorm.
The driver got out of the truck, pulled a bicycle out of the back of the truck, and merrily
peddled on his way — with at least two inches of snow on the ground.

When I was young and foolish (as opposed to being old and foolish), I tried to
ride my bike in the snow. It only took me one time to realize that bicycling in the snow is
pretty much impossible. I didn’t know where this guy was going or if he would ever
come back, but evidently he did because the purple truck was gone the next day.

All of this has caused me to wonder what people are thinking when they drive by
our church or pull into our parking lot? Do they see it as an inviting, welcoming place, or
are they simply using it as a meeting place, a staging area, or a turnaround? I wonder if
any of them would ever consider joining us for worship.

What would it take for those who use our parking lot for other purposes or drive
by the church to consider joining us for worship? How about those who never even
make it to the parking lot, much less the sanctuary? How might we persuade those folks
to worship with us?

Perhaps we should be more vocal, more inviting. Perhaps we should follow the
lead from Psalm 66, which lays out a nice invitation that is both compelling and
captivating…

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!”
So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you,

They sing the praises of your name.
Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!


Maybe we should be more intentional about inviting others to “Come and see
what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind.” After all, many people don’t
know or fail to see the power and majesty of the Lord God Almighty.

What better time to invite others than during this solemn Lenten season. It gives
us a great opportunity to be inclusive so that others can share in the joy and glory of
Easter Sunday. There is plenty of room to socially distance in the sanctuary or to
worship from the parking lot in the safety and comfort of one’s vehicle.

Why not offer that invitation today? Fear not rejection or ridicule. Instead, let us
spread His Word as we share our faith. Let us give others a chance to experience what
we experience with fellow believers — the glory and majesty of our Sacred Savior.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 26, 2021

Is Our Long-Awaited Youth Movement Finally Here?

Three cheers for Erica Boyer! She has been a real champion in sharing her faith
and her love for Oak Chapel with others. She has been inviting many of her peers to
experience our church and perhaps become actively involved with our ministry.

This past Sunday, she brought four of her friends, and they really seemed to
enjoy their visit. They were engaged during the service and excited when they visited
our new youth room. One of the young men even said, “This is my new church.”

We have been hoping and praying for this moment for some time, so I think it is
important for us to capitalize on the opportunity. Let us warmly welcome these young
people and those who follow into our church. Let us invite them to become involved and
develop a real sense of purpose. They are already asking about church projects and
mission opportunities, so I am hopeful that we can integrate them quickly into the life of
the church. I hope you will join me in this venture, as we attempt to grow in the coming
months. If you know of anyone in this age group that might be interested in joining our
group, please let us know. All are welcome!

So much of Scripture talks about patience, prayer, and perseverance, and I
believe we are seeing the fruits of those virtues right now. If we are faithful and
obedient, God will answer our prayer in His time, and I believe that His time has come.
We are ready to grow and expand our base so that we can become a multigenerational
church.

Imagine the possibilities as young people bring new excitement and enthusiasm
to our mission. Imagine the potential of young families connecting and establishing a
rock-solid foundation for the future. All of this is possible through the God we serve and
the covenant we create with him.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has
been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We don’t have to travel to all nations; we can have an impact right here in Wayne
County. Let us welcome others and teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded,
so that they, too, might become disciples and share in the promise of salvation.

Imagine for a moment what it will be like 15-20 years from now when our church
is flourishing and possibly even expanding. Such thoughts are enchanting and
exhilarating — and it’s all possible through our divine partnership with God.

I salute all of you as faithful servants and invite you to join with me as we prepare
and plan for a future of prosperity. It all starts with a dream.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 19, 2021

Keep the Faith: A Revival is Coming

I had a conversation last week with a longtime friend who asked me if I thought
revival was coming anytime soon. I wasn’t sure how to answer, especially given the
current circumstances, which would lead us to believe that we are nowhere close to any
sort of spiritual awakening. In fact, I fear that we are headed in the opposite direction.

But then I read the following passage from Psalm 102, and I quickly realized that
the Lord often surprises us with blessings of hope when we least expect it. While I have
been discouraged by the consequences of the coronavirus, which have had a
devastating impact on church attendance, I realize that God is always with us, and so I
encourage all of you to stay connected with us — whether remotely or in person —
because there is a promise of future prosperity. We just have to remain patient and
faithful. Here’s what the passage says…

Let this be written for a future generation,  that a people not
yet created may praise the Lord:   “The Lord looked down from his
sanctuary on high,  from heaven he viewed the earth,   to hear the
groans of the prisoners    and release those condemned to death.”
  So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in
Jerusalem   when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to
worship the Lord.

There is a generation coming that will praise the Lord just as we and our
ancestors have tried to do. We may not see ourselves as prisoners, but, in fact, we are
slaves to the Word of God, and although we may now be groaning, the Lord is looking
down from his sanctuary on high. He knows what we’re doing and how we are
desperately committed to keeping the doors of Oak Chapel open for that future
generation to one day come through. He hears our prayer and will release us from what
now seems like the slow, disheartening, and agonizing death of our church.

We are called upon to keep the faith so that the name of the Lord will be
declared, not only in Zion, but also in Wayne County; not only in Jerusalem, but also in
Jefferson.

The day will come when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the
Lord, and each of us will have had a role because of our efforts to keep the church
afloat.

So be not discouraged, a revival is coming. Whether it happens in our lifetime, I
cannot say, but I do believe that God will bless our efforts, and so I share my heartfelt
gratitude with each of you. Let us never give up, for the God we serve is faithful and
true, and his will shall be made known to a new generation of believers.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | February 12, 2021

Ash Wednesday Symbolizes Death to Sin, Life in Christ

It’s been almost a full year since we last opened the solemn season of Lent with
the imposition of ashes. As you may remember, we gathered in the sanctuary with our
friends from New Pittsburg United Methodist Church to mark the 40 days leading up to
the epic events of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the glorious resurrection of the
Lord.

As it turned out, that would be one of our last public gatherings because word of
the coronavirus was about to force us to close our doors for three months. It would be a
dark and difficult year. Nearly half-a-million people would lose their lives, either directly
or indirectly, because of COVID 19.

Now, it appears that we are headed out of the darkness and into the light.
Promising vaccines are being administered as we speak, and perhaps by summer or
fall, this taxing ordeal will finally be behind us.

With good news on the horizon, we were hoping to gather in person for an Ash
Wednesday service next week, but for a variety of reasons, we have decided that our
Ash Wednesday service will be virtual this year. You will be able to access the service
through a link on our website (oakchapelumc.com).

As we prepare for that service, let us reflect on the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 9,
which is where we learn about the origins of this custom of imposing ashes…

Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to
execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.”    And I saw six men
coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly
weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his
side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel
went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the
temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his
side   and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the
foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in
it.”   As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without
showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the
mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark.” 

The graphic and unsettling passage of Scripture reminds us the Lent is very
clearly a time of judgment, but it is also a time for repentance and ultimately salvation.
Those who were marked were spared. Consider the irony of the mark we would
ordinarily receive on Ash Wednesday — ashes, the symbol of death. However, when
you think about it, it all makes sense. Jesus Christ died for our sins. In the same way,
we must be dead to sin so that we can be alive in Christ. Let us all come together as we
prepare to mark the beginning of Lent — albeit virtually — on Ash Wednesday.

Until we meet again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

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