In A Nutshell | January 21, 2022

Searching for the Light that Illuminates all of Life

Debby Boone has the distinction of recording one of the most popular — and most disparaged — love ballads of all time. “You Light Up My Life” spent 10 weeks atop Billboard Magazine’s Top 100 songs in 1977, but it wasn’t long before the song became
widely parodied as people mocked the sappy tune.

Despite the derision, the message rings true. Each of us needs light in our life as we navigate through the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual darkness. Sometimes the light is so bright it illuminates the entire night sky, like the spotlights that call attention to the opening of a new store or the debut of a major event in a particular city. Other times, the light is barely visible, like a match in the wilderness where you have to squint to see it. Nonetheless, even a flicker of light is better than none at all.

In Scripture, there are numerous passages about the light, the most familiar of which come from the Gospels. Luke 8:16 quotes Jesus as saying that “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.” Clearly, if we are to serve as a source of light, there is no reason to hide or even minimize its glow.

Then, the Gospel of John (8:12) quotes Jesus in this famous passage as saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Later in the Gospel of John (12:36), Jesus states, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” This passage serves as both a challenge and an opportunity. Once we receive the light, we have a responsibility to live in that light to the point that we become sons (and daughters) of the light. This enables us to reflect His light and illuminate the pathway of righteousness for others.

In that same chapter of John, just 10 verses later, Jesus says, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” This provides hope and encouragement for all of us. Simply by believing in him, we are able to escape the darkness. The deeper our relationship with him, the brighter the light that
we cast.

And finally, from I John 1:7, we receive advice for our daily journey: “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” — an encouraging and uplifting message for all of us.

He is indeed the light of life and the light of the entire world — the only light we will ever need — and we are called on to walk in that light and to reflect that light so that others may see, believe, and follow Him.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | January 14, 2022

Consider the Ways We Can Answer God’s Call

With the increasing number of unwanted phone calls that we all receive on a daily basis, most of us are choosing not to answer unless we recognize the number. Likewise, when we order online, we are reluctant to participate in any of the online surveys that follow because they can interrupt our day and invade our privacy.

Nonetheless, businesses and other organizations continue their efforts to gather as much data about us as possible, and that includes soliciting our opinion and our preferences on a range of topics and products so they can develop effective marketing
strategies.

The church is similar in many ways. Although we try to not be invasive, and we certainly don’t gather data about you surreptitiously, we are interested in your preferences — what you like and what you don’t like, what inspires you and what doesn’t. All of this helps us to develop our worship, education, outreach, and missional plans for the church.

The Book of Acts (20:28) speaks directly to our role as members of the church with this passage: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

This simple, yet profound, passage speaks poignantly about how much God values His Church. It was not built just of human hands but “with his own blood.” Therefore, it is our responsibility to passionately care for the entire flock and to make sure that the church remains accessible to all people.

With that in mind, we are looking for your feedback and your direction as we plan for 2022, and it all starts this weekend. Our objective will be to not only discuss what we can do, but just as importantly, how we can encourage others to become involved in the
life of the church.

Following our service this Sunday, we will entice you to join us in Fellowship Hall with our monthly Fellowship Dinner, after which we will have a very brief presentation about where we think we are and where we might be headed in 2022.

We encourage you to join us if you are able. If you have time to prepare a modest dish or dessert, please do so, but either way, please consider coming to the dinner and the presentation.

As we know from Scripture, specifically Proverbs 16:3, if we “commit [our] work to the Lord…[our] plans will be established.” Let us then commit our work to the Lord as we make plans to grow individually and collectively in the coming year so that Oak Chapel may become the vibrant church it once was and so that it may serve God’s people for generations to come.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | January 7, 2022

Time to Trim the Excess and Fortify Our Faith in 2022

Another joyous Christmas holiday has come and gone, and once again I am feeling the effects of overindulgence. It usually begins with a Thanksgiving Day feast — complete with turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes — and concludes five or six weeks later with a hearty New Year’s Day entrée of pork and sauerkraut. Along the way, there are endless varieties of cookies, cakes, candies, and other snacks that challenge my resolve and ultimately tempt me into submission.

Don’t get me wrong; I am very thankful for the bountiful feasts and the seemingly endless selection of delicacies and other treats, but how much can one person consume in such a relatively short span of time with out popping a button on one’s shirt or finding the need to loosen one’s belt buckle by another notch?

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking about getting back into a fitness center or joining an aerobics class at the local YMCA while cutting some unneeded calories this month. Exercise is wonderful because it yields a healthier lifestyle. Likewise, reducing one’s caloric intake can lead to a more disciplined diet with healthier choices.

Not surprisingly, a similar routine would pay significant dividends in our spiritual life as well. Exercising our faith through consistent worship, intentional devotion, regular prayer, and active service would almost certainly strengthen our faith and fortify our efforts to live a life of obedience. At the same time, reducing, if not eliminating, those
things that contaminate our spirit and pollute our soul would bring us closer in our
relationship with the Lord.

The Bible addresses the perils of overindulgence in numerous passages, perhaps nowhere more eloquently than in Galatians 5:16-21, which states: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.   The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;    idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy,
fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions   and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and
the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

It is an ominous but insightful passage, which confirms that the Spirit and the flesh cannot live together in harmony. We must choose one over the other. So, now that we are one week into the new year, there’s still plenty of time to pursue that which is good and avoid that which is evil, not with futile resolutions, but instead through a renewed commitment to God’s Sacred, Holy, and Transformational Word.

We can make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others if we recommit to a life without worldly excess and replace it with spiritual abundance. This is an opportunity for us to rid ourselves of the waste and to embrace the benefits of spiritual nourishment and growth, and what better time than during the early days of the new year.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 31, 2021

Hold on to the Keys to the Kingdom

Few things rankle me more than losing my keys, and unfortunately I do it more often than I would like to admit.

You know how it goes, right? You come into the house from the garage with your hands full of groceries or some other item, and you set your keys in a place you wouldn’t ordinarily do so. The real problem is that you do it without thinking, so you can’t remember where you put them.

I’ve put my keys in a number of unusual places, including the kitchen cupboard, the washing machine, and the refrigerator. I search for 10, 15, 20, even 30 minutes before I either stumble upon them, or it dawns on me where I put them.

How frustrating! If only I had taken my time and carefully placed the keys in a safe and secure spot where I would be able to find them the next time I needed them.

Car keys, house keys, office keys, safe keys are vital to our existence, so why am I so careless with them?

Of course the same could be said for my spiritual life. I know who holds the key. I know where to find they keys, but to be honest, I’m not always as careful with them as I should be.

We need look no further than the Gospel of Matthew to remind us how important our spiritual keys are. Just after Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the Living God, Jesus responded by saying, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.  1 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.    I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Clearly, Peter was the chosen one on which the church of Jesus Christ would be built. He essentially gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, rewarding his faithfulness and forgiving his many human blunders.

Surely, Jesus would give the keys to the kingdom to us, would he? Well, maybe he would. Maybe he already has. We are called to go out and make disciples of all humankind. Peter provided the spark, but we can also carry the torch, but reaching out into our neighborhoods and informing others that they keys to the kingdom of heaven
are in their hands. All they need to do is accept and embrace them.

These keys are vital to our spiritual life in this world and absolutely essential to our salvation in the world to come. These are keys that we definitely don’t want to misplace, much less lose. We must be careful and vigilant with the key. We must not allow the temptations of this world to loosen them from our grip.

As we prepare to celebrate the dawning of a new year, let us be sure to have the keys close at hand so that you will have access to the Kingdom of Heaven and so that you can serve as a guide for others seeking, but unsure of their final destination.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 24, 2021

Embracing the Real Christmas Story

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…well you know the rest of the story, right? Santa and his reindeer brought gifts of joy to every girl and boy, and they all lived happily ever after.

Well, that’s one version of the Christmas story, but it is obviously not the original, nor is it the most important. Long before we had any notions of Santa, there was this account of what really happened in the Gospel of Luke…

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

That’s what really happened, and that’s what we will celebrate on Friday night at Oak Chapel. Our sacred service begins at 7 p.m. and includes an inspiring display of candlelight as well as an opportunity to receive Christ through the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Please consider joining us for what we hope you will find to be a joyful and uplifting service.

You may remember that two years ago, our service was almost sabotaged by a dense Christmas Eve fog. Last year, it was a driving snowstorm and the lingering effects of the pandemic.

What will this year hold? I dare not ask. I only know that as Children of God, we will preserve, triumph, and rejoice.

As we know, there are many passages in the Bible that tout the importance of perseverance, including this from including this from the Gospel of Matthew (24:13): “the one who endures to the end will be saved,” as well as this from the Book of James (1:12): “Blessed is the [one] who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Regardless of what happens next, we know that “[we] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us].” Even in our deepest, darkest moments, we are never alone, so let us worship together on Christmas Eve as a fellowship of believers, honoring this sacred celebration and praying for a Christ-filled New Year.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 17, 2021

‘Tis the Season to See the Light

One of my favorite Christmas activities — although we don’t do it as often as we would like — is to visit the various light displays in the tri-state area. There are many fabulous shows in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Some are professionally done and charge admission; others can be found at individual homes throughout the community.

Our young neighbors just down the street, for example, construct an intricate web of flashing lights accompanied by Christmas music every year. Other communities have public displays at such places as campgrounds and fairgrounds.

Because of my advancing age and declining dexterity, Sheri opposes any effort that I make to put up outdoor lights because some of it involves climbing on the roof, where one misstep could debilitate the pastor for months. As a result, I am left to observe and enjoy the work of others, which if fine by me.

There’s just something about a dazzling display of lights that lifts one’s spirit, warms one’s heart, and stirs one’s soul. Perhaps the most famous light came from the Christmas Star (a.k.a. the Star of Bethlehem), which revealed the birth of Jesus as
outlined in the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-11). It was then that the wise men saw the light
and were inspired to follow it to meet the newborn Savior. It was then that they proclaimed, “for we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.

Even in secular conversation, we use the phrase “see the light” to indicate an awakening, an epiphany, or a realization of something we had not seen previously, even though it may have been right in front of us.

Several chapters later in Matthew (4:16) we read that “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” That really refers to all of humankind because each of us at one time lived in darkness, but once we saw the light, everything changed, and the pathway to salvation was revealed.

In the Gospel of John (9:5), a more emphatic truth is disclosed when Jesus says, “while I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This, of course, begs the question, “When is Jesus in the world and when is he not?” We believe that when he ascended into heaven, he left us in a physical sense, but he remained present with us and in us through the Holy Spirit. The Bible reveals that when the Holy Spirit departs, the world will be tossed into complete chaos until Jesus returns in glory to judge and then to redeem, restore, and bring peace.

With that in mind, it is essential that we continue to seek the light and once we have found it, to never let it out of our sight, for the light symbolizes God, faith, and holiness throughout Scripture. As faithful disciples, we are called on to not only walk in the light but also to reflect the light so that others may see and one day believe.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 10, 2021

Generosity Reigns Supreme at Oak Chapel

The gifts are piling up under the Chrismon Tree in the Sanctuary, and Christmas is still two weeks away! How wonderful it is to be associated with such a kind, caring, and compassionate congregation! You have given freely and generously to a young  homeless couple and their two infant children even though you do not know them and probably never will, at least not in this lifetime.

Loving and caring for our neighbors, especially the ones with the greatest need, is perhaps the most basic and essential decrees of Christ’s ministry. There are numerous references throughout Scripture about the importance of looking out for “the least among us,” even before Jesus came into the world.

In Psalm 41:1-3, for example, we read this: “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.” Clearly, the Lord values those who reach out to and care for the poor.

Elsewhere in Scripture, the Book of Proverbs addresses the issue in several passages, including this stern message from Proverbs 21:13 — “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered,” as well as this encouragement from Proverb 22:9 — “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.

Further inspiration comes to us from the Gospels, beginning with Matthew 10:42 where we read, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward,” and then Luke 21:1-4, which relates a very familiar story: “Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, [then] he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins and said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’

And finally, there is this from I Timothy 6:17-19, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Indeed, we are advised to put our full faith and trust in the Lord God Almighty, and allow Him to direct us in our generosity toward others, for in this way we will lift up those in need while being richly blessed by the Lord Himself.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | December 3, 2021

May the Peace of Christ be with You, Today and Always!

As we prepare for the second Sunday of Advent, I invite you to take a few moments from the hustle and bustle of your holiday preparation to rest and relax.

This week, we will light the candle of peace, and let’s face it, we could all use a little more peace in our lives. Much of the stress we experience this time of year is of our own doing. We all make lists — long lists – which include shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking, decorating, and a range of other activities, but I’ll bet very few of us have any notations for “peaceful reflection.” There just isn’t time for that. We simply have too much else to do. Perhaps we can change that way of thinking during this Christmas season. Perhaps we can do less and enjoy it more.

Scripture makes many references to peace and the importance of pursuing it, including the Gospel of John, which reminds us that Jesus in the very foundation of peace when He says, “in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Later we would learn just how costly that peace would be as prophesied in Isaiah 53:5, which states, “[He] was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Even before his death. Jesus promoted peace to his disciples — and by extension, his present-day followers — when he said in another passage from John’s Gospel, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” This assurance of Christ’s presence serves to bring us peace, especially in troubling and turbulent times.

The Book of Romans drives this point home even further with passages that affirm the importance of establishing a relationship with the Lord. For example, Romans 5:1 states, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” while Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Much of life is fraught with uncertainty and upheaval, which raises the question, “What can we do to bring peace into our world?” The obvious answer is to live a life of righteousness as stated in Isaiah 32:17 – “the effect of righteousness will be peace, and
the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

What exactly is righteousness? Well, from a spiritual perspective, it can be defined as “acting in accord with divine or moral law, free from guilt or sin, morally right or justifiable.” Most of us seek to follow this directive, although we often fall short. Still,
making the effort is a positive step toward peace.

Moving forward, through the Christmas season and beyond, II Corinthians 13:11 provides this invaluable advice — “Finally, brothers [and sisters], rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of
love and peace will be with you.

In this, the busiest of all seasons, take time for quiet reflection for it is there that you will find peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | November 26, 2021

Book of Discipline Provides Enlightenment and Inspiration

When it comes to recommending great reads, The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline is unlikely to be found on anybody’s Top 10 list. However, because I am required to have at least some working knowledge of its contents, I can tell you that there is, in fact, great value, wisdom, and even inspiration in the book.

Each year, I have to update my license with the conference, and as part of that process, I am required to submit a variety of assignments and other documents. This year, one of my assignments called for a review of and a response to The Book of Discipline’s stance on the “nature and mission of the church.”

What I found was enlightening and encouraging, beginning with a review of our call as believers, which originates with this fundamental assertion: “The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

We, of course, already know that, but it never hurts to remind ourselves of our primary objective. The book goes on to provide important instruction for us when it states, “local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.” This emphasizes the value of our purpose as a church in the community, and affirms Oak Chapel’s more than 200 years of service in and to the community.

Among other instructions, The Book of Discipline tells us that we are to “proclaim the gospel as we seek, welcome, and gather others into the Body of Christ.” As we know, this is a real challenge, especially these days when church membership and attendance are dropping at a precipitous rate. In order for us to ensure the future of our church, we need to continue reaching out to others, particularly young families, and encourage them to join with us in active membership.

The Book of Discipline further supports this effort by reminding us that “we are called together for worship and fellowship and for the upbuilding of the Christian community. We advocate and work for the unity of the Christian church, and we call all persons into discipleship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Unity is critical to our mission. We need not agree on everything, but we must be committed to one vision “to minister in the world through witness by word and deed in light of the Church’s mission.” Furthermore, it is vital that “the visible church of Christ as a faithful community of persons affirms the worth of all humanity and the value of interrelationship in all of God’s creation.”

Right now, the “visible” church is fading and in danger of one day becoming “invisible,” but we can change that narrative by helping the church to re-emerge as a guidepost for the way we live. All we need to do to bring that to fruition is to “surrender to the Lord, follow His Word, obey His commands, and love our neighbor.”

Love for others commences with spiritual growth in Christ, which is described in The Book of Discipline as “a dynamic process marked by awakening, birth, growth, and maturation,” all of which leads us to “live in active expectancy, faithful in service to God and neighbor, patient in waiting for the fulfillment of God’s universal love, justice, and peace on earth as in heaven.” 

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | November 19, 2021

Lifting Christ’s Name with Praise and Thanksgiving

This weekend, we will celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a sacred but somewhat understated observance in the church. Our Catholic friends often refer to this as the
Feast of Christ the King, or the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the
Universe. Either way, it provides an opportunity for believers of all Christian
denominations to honor Jesus Christ as Lord over all of creation and Savior of all
humankind.

Originally celebrated on the last Sunday in October, it was moved more than 50 years ago to the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, which falls right before Advent. This brings an appropriate conclusion to one liturgical year, and a glorious beginning to another year on the church calendar.

We invite you to join us for this Sacred Sunday service and to enjoy a “feast” afterward as we hold our second Fellowship Dinner following the service. We encourage you, if you are able, to bring a dish (salad, dessert, casserole, or some other item) to share. This is always a favorite event of mine because the food is delicious and the fellowship is delightful.

After the meal, we will decorate the Sanctuary and other parts of the church. This is always a fun activity, and the more people we have, the faster the process goes. Then, the next time we meet will be the first Sunday of Advent, but in between many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Scripture is filled with references about being thankful in both the Old and New Testament, and I would encourage you to reflect on some of these passages or even
share them with others before, during, or after your meal on Thursday (or whenever you
gather for the holiday).

One of the more familiar passages comes to us from the Old Testament Book of Chronicles (16:34), which states, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love
endures forever.

Other passages come from the New Testament, including Colossians 4:2, which advises us to “Devote [our]selves to prayer, being watchful and thankful;” II Corinthians 9:11, which says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God;” and I
Thessalonians 5:16-18, which proclaims, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks
in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

A spirit of thanksgiving, or an attitude of gratitude, provides physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits for all of us. Psychologists tell us that thankful people are generally happy people.

So be thankful and be happy this week and every week, this day and every day, and because I won’t see you on Thanksgiving, allow me to leave you with these words of encouragement from Colossians 3:15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

A very Happy, Healthy, Holy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

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