Sunday, October 4, 2015
Today we worshiped at Shannopin United Methodist Church, Jordan Street, South Heights, PA 15081, 724.375.2239, www.shannopinumc.org, Rev. Dennis L. Bouch, Pastor.
Scripture – Mark 10:2-16 NIV
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
After being redirected, we were led to worship at a church we had been hoping to visit. There is not a lot to the building but visitors could benefit from directional signage for restrooms.
The large cross and pastel stained glass windows made the sanctuary seem inviting and gave it the feel of a family church, which it certainly is. We were welcomed by several members and the pastor came down from the chancel to greet us by name. We had met him where he served previously and I appreciated encountering another Marine.
The sermon on divorce brought an interesting statistic that nearly 52% of marriages in the US end in divorce. The message developed well with support of personal testimony and Scripture. It also brought back some memories.
Growing up I knew of one woman who was said to be divorced and had she not been an attractive redhead, I probably wouldn’t have taken such notice. She lived in a house we passed walking to school. I knew something about the residents of every house on the way to school, their name, profession, something. But this knowledge was given second-hand because it was something that just was not talked about. This was the only divorce I knew about through high school.
We were fortunate to live in a nicer neighborhood when we raised our children and sometime after they graduated high school the topic of divorce came up one day. That was when I learned our children were in college before they had a single friend’s family where the birth mother and father were still married.
In the course of one generation there had been a complete turnaround on divorce. One of my brothers divorced twice, went back to the same place he met his first wife to meet his second. Many others dear to me have ended their marriages in divorce, and I can no longer believe that God would have wanted them to continue in the bitterness and pain.
I was thankful to be able to partake of Communion and grateful that the words were spoken in offering the elements.
We were originally headed for a different, multi-site church, but it turned out they were enjoying a single service Sunday at the main site. This sort of thing happens when there is no advance notice on the website but God is never surprised, so we followed Him and found this church.
The church is located in a semi-residential area with plenty of street parking available. Once inside several people introduced themselves and welcomed us and after a quick trip downstairs to the restrooms we found seats. As we were getting situated, the pastor headed our way and welcomed us warmly then took us quite by surprise by recalling a visit we made to his former church 3½ years ago (obviously he possesses an enviable memory). He reminded us that he is also a Marine.
The sanctuary is adorned with some lovely wall hangings and beautiful stained glass.
When the service began, the pastor greeted everyone present with, “Good morning sinners!” and the first thought that crossed my mind was that this church has its head screwed on straight.
One announcement had to do with a collection to help provide mosquito nets for people in parts of Africa.
The sharing of joys and concerns was almost more like family time around the dinner table discussing the topics of note. It felt sweet.
The music was provided by the organist and two vocalists whose combined voices sounded marvelous together.
Because the liturgical calendar so stated, the message centered on the sensitive topic of divorce and was entitled, “Divorce or not to divorce?” I had to give the pastor credit for full disclosure as he stated he is divorced, and I believe someone with first-hand experience can speak on an issue from a place unimaginable to someone without that experience. Consequently I tried to listen carefully to what he said.
With a current divorce rate of 52%, he referred to divorce as a plague on society. He said it was painful whether one stayed in a dead marriage or ended the union, and that Scripture was never intended to be used as a weapon against those who divorce.
In Biblical times, to marry was to acquire property because that is how women were viewed. Jesus flipped that concept on its head when He moved divorce from being viewed as a cold, legal question to a relational one, and women went from being viewed as property to being seen as human.
He declared that God hates divorce because it hurts His children, but rule-following won’t bring about healing. The healing comes as a gift from God when we move toward real concern for the vulnerable and powerless.
I was blessed to be able to participate in World Communion Sunday.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You will continue to bless this church and encourage them to bring their lost neighbors to You. Amen.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Today we worshiped at North Hills Alliance Church, 2298 Rochester Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.364.5800, www.northhillsalliancechurch.org, Ernest S. Conley, Pastor.
Scripture – NKJV
Revelation 3:20 –
Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
2 Corinthians 4:6 –
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We have looked forward to visiting this church but then the opportunity arose to visit a combined outdoor service. We did get a peek at the beautiful sanctuary and hope to worship there. We were greeted by a number of people, engaged in conversations, and offered a tour. There is signage but none directing to the restrooms or nursery. A highlight for me was meeting two Marines after the service.
The congregation was asked to complete the sentence “Here is how Jesus has made me glad…” which yielded some great testimonies.
The message pointed out how the Old Testament directed to Christ and the New Testament reported His life. The Passover symbol of putting the blood of the lamb on either end of the doorposts to me correlated directly to Christ’s blood from His hands outstretched on the cross.
He spoke of how the cloud provided some relief to Israel from the desert sun and how the light from the pillar of fire would shine down on them at night.
The Bible does not state that God blessed the second temple, but the people took credit for it. During the Feast of the Tabernacles, 50-foot towers were constructed at the corners of the temple. They had lamps burning on top with wicks made from the priests’ robes. The towers were torn down the next day.
The area is dry most of the year and part of the ceremony at that time involved parading with a pitcher of water and praying for God’s blessing of rain for the following year. Then the water was poured out, symbolizing God’s blessings poured out upon His people. I felt this blessing was poured out when the wind brought the Spirit upon these worshipers outside today.
The theological and historical insights we glean from the Messianic teachings never cease to amaze me.
On a drive past this church a month or so ago we noticed a sign indicating it is now the worship location for a Messianic Jewish Congregation on Friday evenings, so we had in mind to worship with both congregations on different weeks. However, last week the Alliance church website noted today would be a joint outdoor service in celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, so we opted to take the opportunity to visit today. I am so very glad we did as we were greatly blessed.
We arrived early and were warmly greeted by a number of people, including some who kindly took the time for extended conversations.
Once outdoors we found a seat at a table – for the second week in a row, come to think of it, and were joined by one of the ladies who had introduced herself. It was breezy out, but a perfect day for an outdoor service.
Worship began with music led by the pastor of the Messianic Congregation, and after singing the last line of “I Will Enter His Gates,” i.e., “He has made me glad,” a mic was passed around for all who wished to testify how Jesus has made them glad.
The message, “Jesus in the Feast of Tabernacles,” revealed how the Old Testament speaks of Jesus and all the Biblical feasts point clearly to Him. The pastor referred to the report of the spies who first explored the Promised Land, and how most of them and those to whom they reported their flawed findings listened to how they felt, not what God said.
The Feast of Tabernacles was about God’s call for His people to live in a temporary home for seven days in order to remember His provision. This made even more sense to me when he made the statement, “Jesus tabernacled among men.” Jesus lived in the same sort of temporary home as we do, also temporarily, and we too must learn of His provision.
He spoke of Christ being not only our Savior, but also our Lord, including lord of our thoughts, and that we must submit our will to His. He has so much more for us if we will turn to Him and open our hearts to His Living Water.
We were unable to accept the gracious invitations to join the picnic following the service, but we did enjoy the heartfelt conversations.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to pour out Your blessings on these congregations. May they feel Your Spirit moving among them. Amen.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Today we worshiped at Rehoboth Evangelical Lutheran Church, 2800 Conway Wallrose Road, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.2806, www.rehobothlutheran.com, Rev. Susan Irons, Interim Pastor.
Scripture – Mark 9:30-37 (ESV)
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
I have looked forward to visiting here for some time as there is a striking arrangement of three crosses on the chancel wall. One of the lesser crosses touches the Christ cross which, to me, symbolizes the thief who repented at Calvary.
Worship today was held downstairs and followed their outdoor worship format. I didn’t get to see the outdoor worship shelter as it was still wooded the last time I stopped here. However there was a cross banner in the fellowship hall so I still had a focal point.
I worshiped here at an ecumenical Thanksgiving service once, but what I remember most about this church was picking up a neighbor girl from pre-school. Shortly after we moved to the area a neighbor mom was in need of someone to pick up her daughter from pre-school at this church as the timing was bad for her. Knowing little else about me but that I was a Christian, she entrusted me with this precious passenger, so today’s visit brought back pleasant memories.
The pastor who presented the message today is the Executive Minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. I got to read some literature she brought that included an article about a proposed upcoming interfaith cooperation class which I could pass along to a friend who is attempting a similar venture.
I sensed this is a strong family church and we were welcomed to the table we chose, fortunately one with children. This church is optimistic about the future and is on their way to becoming stronger.
The sermon started with a question posed: “If there was a fire, who would you rescue first, your child, your spouse, or your parents?” In the 1400s, Thomas Aquinas answered in the reverse of how we would answer now as children were considered less valuable. This adds tremendous weight to Christ’s taking up a child as an example of what we need to become.
The pastor did an excellent job of recovering a misplaced chalice during Communion and I was pleased to see the pastor served by the elder.
We last visited this church for a community service a good while ago, so it was almost completely new to us. We parked in one of the visitor’s spots, and as we approached the building two people were sitting outside the door to let worshipers know that, although this service had been slated to be held outdoors, it would be held downstairs instead.
The interim pastor and many women of the church were away at the women’s retreat, so the structure of the service was contemporary. Three gentlemen on acoustic guitars led the music and harmony was provided by members of the congregation.
We were greeted by a number of folks before and after the service.
We took a peek in the sanctuary, which looked lovely, especially the positioning of the three crosses in the front.
The room downstairs was set up with tables, which worked out well.
The guest preacher was Rev. Liddy Gerchman Barlow, who serves as Executive Minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. Her untitled message centered on the disciples’ argument about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ clear indication of the value of children and childlike faith. Her conclusion was that everyone can be great because everyone can serve and it is genuine unselfish love that makes the difference.
I appreciated the opportunity to participate in Communion as well as the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
Following worship we enjoyed a conversation with one of the women who welcomed us and who sat nearby.
Our prayer for this church:
God, we pray You continue to strengthen this congregation. Guide them that they might grow in Your service. Amen.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 707 Thompson Park Drive, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Pastor Mike Arnold.
Scripture – Luke 12:22-31 (NIV)
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
I was glad to visit this church again; it was good to hear God’s word spoken and appreciate my own guilty pleasure of great coffee. I am limited to decaf and it is seldom worth drinking.
I believe our first visit here was before we began the blog and the church was new to this space. They are at home here now with a number of satellite locations.
I noted a massive-looking wooden cross that I do not recall seeing before and a large projection screen above the worship team. We were welcomed by a number of people.
The sermon was delivered by the youth director who seemed very much at ease with his message. He developed it well with good Scripture references in a timely manner.
The theme of handling stress might be identified with “don’t worry, be happy.” God tells us not to worry or fear but we never seem to be comfortable doing so.
This being Grandparents’ Day, we opted to attend church with our grandchildren where they and their parents have been attending. It has been two years since we last visited this church and not a lot has changed that I could tell.
We were greeted at the door by two gentlemen and by a number of people once inside. Since Bob and I arrived before our family, we got a cup of coffee and sat down at one of the tables with a few members. We were warmly welcomed and invited into the conversation immediately.
The music was well done and enthusiastically presented at a volume that did not require earplugs.
This church has a relationship with a church in Mozambique and the picture board in the corner of the fellowship area brought back fond memories of Malawi.
The lead pastor was out of town so the message, “How Can I Handle Stress?” was presented by Tim Fray, the youth pastor. He spoke of the fact that everyone feels stress and that not all stress is bad; in fact, we function better with some stress. The problem arises with unrelieved stress, i.e., lack of rest. Rest is a good thing, and the Sabbath is important.
He pointed out that Jesus was never in a hurry and that the way to deal with stress is to act on what we can and trust God with what we can’t control.
He suggested we can act to create margin with our time, money, and rest and build trust in God by rehearsing God’s past goodness to us. In order to trust God more, know God deeper.
Resting, doing what I can and giving it to God and trusting Him to bring about what is best, appeals to me.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this church will be free from worry and stress to worship and enjoy You. Amen.