In A Nutshell | September 3, 2021

On the Grand Scale, Spiritual Baggage isn’t Worth the Weight

I almost hate to admit this, but I am a closet weight watcher. I step on the scale every morning, just to see how adversely the previous day’s caloric intake affected my bottom line. Overall, my weight is fairly consistent, and who really cares anyway? At my age, I’m well past any body-building competitions (not that I ever was to begin with).

No, my body mass isn’t all that big of a deal, but my spiritual baggage is, and, at the very least, I need to find ways to trim it. For example, how much extra weight am I carrying with my inherent biases and prejudices? Should I not seek to reduce or eliminate those entirely? What about my general attitude and approach toward others? Is there room for some positive adjustments in that area? And finally, the biggest weight of all — the sinfulness that I carry on my shoulders. What can I do about that?

Well, as we know, that last question was answered long ago on Calvary where Jesus took on the weight of the world’s sins (including mine) when he hung on the cross. My sins and the sins of others died with him on that day, and the opportunity to become holy and obedient rose with him on that glorious Easter Sunday.

So while my preoccupation with physical weight is no big deal I can also take comfort in the fact — and so can you — that the burden of spiritual weight has been lifted by the Lord God Almighty.

However, we may all be overdue for a reduction of the other types of excess baggage that weighs us down and prevents us from being the person that God has called us to be, particularly the grudges we hold against others who sin against us. Isn’t it time to let those go, too? We’ve all heard the expression that when we are in conflict with someone else, it’s not that we hold a grudge, but rather that the grudge holds us. If we allow it to do so, it prevents us from forgiving and reconciling with others. Some grudges last weeks, other months or years, and some even last a lifetime. We need to be sure that we prevent that from happening. We do not need to keep a record of the transgressions of others or even our own because Jesus took care of that, providing a pathway to eternal life for all who would believe.

So, today, I encourage you to get rid of that spiritual scale — that which records our wrongs and the wrongs of others. Instead, through prayer and supplication, let us renew our spirit each day through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As always, Scripture provides a very helpful blueprint for us to do this, even in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus where in Verse 18 of Chapter 19, we are advised that we “shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of [our] own people, but [we] shall love your neighbor as [ourself].” That’s what the Lord commands, and we would be well-advised to heed his call.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | August 27, 2021

Searching for Spiritual Safety in Scripture

The perilous and heart-wrenching images of refugees desperately trying to escape from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover has left many of us feeling helpless and somewhat hopeless, but there are occasional bright spots. For example, the father of one young Afghan family that was fortunate enough to make it out of the country expressed his relief upon arriving in the United States, saying, “we feel safe here.”

It reminded me how rarely we have to worry about our own safety in this country. Yes, there are plenty of things about which to be fearful, but our physical safety is rarely threatened, at least not in our community. There are, however, many in this country and
around the world, who live in fear for their safety on a daily basis as violence escalates in cities and towns everywhere.

I can’t remember too many times in my life fearing for my physical safety or the safety of my family. I guess the last time might have been just after 9/11 when we looked to the skies and wondered when the next wave of attacks might be coming.

In situations like that, we are moved to pray, even though we know that we are not always delivered from harm’s way in a physical sense. We do, however, have the assurance that we are always assured of spiritual safety. Here are five excerpts from the Bible that provide perspective and encouragement…

Joshua 1:9 tells us that we are to “be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” That assurance, at the very least, should give us peace of mind.

Psalm 81:1-2 says that “he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” I believe that God travels with us wherever we go and provides for us regardless of what we might encounter. Perhaps this is enough for us to summon the courage to stand up against that which threatens us and even to rescue others from danger.

Proverbs 18:10 reminds us of the power and might of the God we serve with this passage: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” This is particularly valuable when faced with temptation, encouraging us to run away from the darkness and toward the light.

James 1:12 affirms the value of perseverance with this passage of wisdom: “Blessed is the [one] who remains steadfast under trial, for when [one] has stood the test [one] will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

John 16:33 provides perspective in the end by assuring us that if we walk with God, we will find the ultimate safety. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Let us take heart in the fact that the God we serve has authority over all of creation and that He will never leave us and never forsake us. So let us do all that we can to create an atmosphere of safety for all through our obedience to His Sacred Word. Feel safe and be safe with the inner peace that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | August 20, 2021

Draining the System and Purifying the Soul

Each day, on my way to and from the church, I pass ADS (Advanced Drainage Systems) on Warner Hill. Invariably, there is a fully loaded truck leaving the facility or an empty truck returning from a delivery. I guess I never realized how much of this pipe runs beneath the ground we stand on and how important its function is in facilitating the proper disposal of storm water and wastewater.

All of this reminded me that our spiritual life also requires drainage on a daily basis, but fortunately we do not have to rely on ADS to remove that which stains our soul and threatens to clog our system. A simple but sincere prayer of confession can immediately
eradicate our transgressions and purify our entire being. We know this from a variety of
passages in the Bible, including this from I John 1:9, which states that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
No Advanced Drainage System required.

As humans, we generate a lot of waste in a spiritual sense, but as a fellowship of believers, we know that we are not alone in our transgressions. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Fortunately, that is not the end of the story. Later in Romans 5:8, we are assured that “God shows his love for us in that
while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
” We tend to think of Jesus’ death and resurrection as a one-time event, which of course it was, but we often overlook the fact
that His mighty act wiped out all sin — past, present, and even future — and that as we
are forgiven, we must also forgive others.

So what can we do in response? Well, Romans 6:1 addresses that with these words, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Indeed, new life is what we seek — new life in Christ Jesus.

In order to do that, we are advised to take a page from the Book of Galatians, which instructs us to “walk by the Spirit, and…not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Such an effort would be impossible if we live according to the ways of this world, but entirely doable if we follow Jesus and live by the spirit. We are, after all, temples of the Holy Spirit, and we are commanded to live our lives with respect and reverence.

Yes, unfortunately, we will continue to trip, stumble, and even fall throughout our lives, but James 4:7 gives us hope that we should “submit ourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from [us].” In other words, there is a way out, a way to avoid temptation and reject evil.

May this encouragement fill you with hope and bring you joy with the knowledge that the Lord God Almighty is always with us, always looking out for us, and always there to forgive the sins of those who repent.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | August 13, 2021

In the Presence of Greatness

I have always admired Peyton Manning. The former NFL quarterback and newly minted Hall of Famer, was a prolific player, especially when rallying his team in the final minutes. I really enjoyed watching him as he showcased his incredible skills, but even more impressive was the way he handled himself, especially after a tough loss. He responded to tough questions from the media with patience, grace, and dignity, demonstrating a level of humility and perspective not often found in world-class athletes.

In the five years since his retirement, which culminated with a Super Bowl victory, Manning has demonstrated his skill as a relatable communicator with a compelling sense of humor. Whenever I think of Peyton Manning, “greatness,” “respect,” and “admiration” are some of the first words that come to mind.

Reflecting on Manning’s aura makes me wonder how much greater we will be affected when we stand in the presence of the Lord God Almighty. Ironically, the Feast of the Transfiguration came on the same weekend as this year’s Hall of Fame Induction. In
case you need a little refresher, here’s what happened, according to the Gospel of Matthew 17:1-7:

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”

All of this makes me wonder what it will be like when we see Jesus. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine, but we do get a glimpse from this passage that describes
“His face shone like the sun” and “his clothes as white as the light” Then, we have to
imagine what it will be like when we hear the thunderous voice of God the Father. Like
the disciples, we might just fall facedown on the ground, but we can be assured that
Jesus will comfort us and tell us not to be afraid.

What a wonderful glorious day that will be, but we don’t have to wait until then to be in the presence of His greatness. Through our commitment to His Word, our obedience of His commandments, and our participation in worship of Him, we can, indeed, experience the wonder of His greatness in this life and reflect his light through our words and actions so that others will come to see and believe in His greatness.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | August 6, 2021

Memorable Mentors are Worth Mentioning

Phil Shipe was a man of many talents. In addition to his success as a football coach, wrestling coach, and physical education instructor at The College of Wooster, he was an
accomplished artist, whose paintings on barn siding drew national acclaim. But Coach
Shipe’s greatest and most endearing skill was his ability to mentor young people, both individually and collectively. His former athletes and students had high praise and great
appreciation for the interest he took in them and the advice he provided for their lives.

I had the great good fortune to befriend Coach Shipe long after he retired. He invited me to his home and to lunch on a number of occasions. Our most memorable meeting came at the old Friendly’s Restaurant on Beall Avenue in the early 1990s. During the course of our conversation, he figuratively painted a wonderful picture of life and the importance of making the most of every day and every moment. I still think about Coach Shipe and the valuable lessons he shared with me and so many others.

Scripture provides great insight into the importance of mentoring, beginning with that iconic sixth verse from Proverbs 22, which states, “Train up a child in the way he [or she] should go [so that] even when he [or she] is old he [or she] will not depart from it.” We do, indeed, learn life-long lessons when we are young and impressionable.

It is also vital for us to recognize that we quickly grow from mentee to mentor. In II Timothy 2:2, we are instructed as follows: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men [and women] who will be able to teach others also.

It is essential for us listen to and follow the advice of our mentors, but also to prepare to become mentors ourselves. I am reminded of the many mentors who have shaped the history and tradition of Oak Chapel, including Rev. John McLachlan, whose memorial service will take place tomorrow in Alliance. I never met Pastor John, but I feel as though I know him in some intrinsic way, and I am certain that I benefit from his teaching and mentoring to this very day because of the foundation he helped to build and solidify here at Oak Chapel, not only physically in his oversight of the construction of our current sanctuary, but also spiritually in the advice and counsel that he shared, which is being passed on to this very day.

Although I did not know Rev. McLachlan, I did (and still do) know Rev. Keith Bohley, and his teaching and instruction had an enormous impact on me. In fact, a very memorable breakfast meeting with him some 25 years ago (ironically enough at that same Friendly’s restaurant), set the tone for my entry into ministry. It was there that he asked me to lead a Sunday School class at Oak Chapel, and my ministerial journey developed from there.

Hebrews 13:7 speaks to the issue of those who have mentored us through this
wise instruction: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and
considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.

Imitation, as the old saying goes, is the highest form of flattery. Let us imitate the lives of our ancestors so that those who follow us, will also imitate the guidance we provide, passed down by our mentors so that the church can continue to grow and flourish.

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 30, 2021

Worth the Effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 23, 2021

A Refreshing Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 16, 2021

Reflecting on the ‘Sounds of Silence’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 9, 2021

Even After All These Years, Some Things Still Surprise Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

In A Nutshell | July 2, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John

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