Sunday, April 23, 2017
Today we worshiped at Triumph Baptist Church, 11293 Mt. Nebo Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.630.8204, www.triumph1293.org, Rev. C.L. Giles, Pastor.
Scripture – NKJV
Isaiah 53:1-6 –
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 –
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
Romans 1:16 –
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
John 21:1-14 –
After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”
They answered Him, “No.”
And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some. ” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”
Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.
This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
1 John 1:9 –
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We received a warm welcome just as when we visited the early service, and I did recognize one Marine we met on our last visit. For me, the large wooden cross was welcoming.
We were blessed to be here for the boys’ choir; the smallest was my personal favorite as his smile won me over, though there were many incredibly cute children present. I thought the boys might not be happy to be singing from the platform, but they seemed to enjoy the opportunity to worship God in song.
There was some music that I really could have used my ear plugs for; for me, when it gets too loud, it’s only noise.
The message was called Unresolved Issues. We all struggle with guilt over past thoughts and actions even though Christ’s sacrifice cleansed us of our sin. The devil knows which buttons to push to plant the seeds of doubt and make us wonder, “How can God forgive my sin?” and we are mired in guilt. The sermon was well developed and delivered with solid Scriptural references.
A point that touched me: when Christ was crucified, the disciples were lost. They tried to go back to what they were, fishermen, forgetting that Christ had called them to be fishers of men. I was a sinful man before Christ claimed me and that forgiveness and redirection is part of my testimony.
Another favorite line: “How long will the boogie man be under your bed?” forced me to recall a friend who was well known for creating monsters and body parts for horror movies. Someone asked his 4-year-old daughter if she was afraid of the monsters. She said, “No, daddy keeps them under my bed.” May we all refuse to be afraid of what can’t hurt us.
On this, our second visit, we opted to attend the later service. It is the same contemporary format as the early one, and equally well-attended, if I recall.
We were greeted by many people, though I don’t know if they recognized us as guests or just as people they did not know. We were encouraged to help ourselves to coffee, and we felt warmly welcomed.
There was very little echo for such a high ceiling, but at times the volume was an issue for me. Still, I could understand most of what was said and it was well worth the effort.
The singing was led by males ranging in age from adult to about 5 years (at a guess, as we were all the way in the back). It seemed like a mentoring situation, which I think is fantastic. At one point, each took a turn singing the same lines, so it was obvious each of the youngsters was included as part of the group. A wonderful effort on every level.
The message, entitled Unresolved Issues, hit me right between the eyes. He said that, like Peter, the person we find it most difficult to forgive is ourselves.
The pastor made three major points:
1 – You can’t return to where you were to get where you should be. Jesus always knows where to find us when we’re lost.
2 – You don’t have to remain in your deficient state. Peter was lost in himself, and Jesus would not allow him to stay there. Jesus will come for us in our stagnant places too. It’s the devil who wants to keep us afraid and therefore neutralized and controllable.
3 – You don’t have to get upset when Jesus clarifies the relationship (as He did when He asked Peter if he loved Him) because it validates your value. God threw our sins into the sea of forgetfulness where He then placed a “No Fishing” sign. We must learn to accept that as truth, believe we are truly and completely forgiven, and move forward into the new life Jesus has planned for us.
As the pastor read the John 21 passage prior to preaching, the part that caught my attention was verse 11, about Peter’s dragging the overflowing net to the land. It was crystal clear to me how Peter was trying to prove himself to Jesus and the others. That detail escaped my attention every other time I’ve read that passage, so I found it strange that it was such a major piece of the message.
But what he said is true: so often we’re hiding in shame and pretending our sins didn’t really happen. Like Peter, we get lost in managing pieces of our lives for which Jesus already paid the penalty and that were thrown into the Sea of Forgetfulness. We need only accept that forgiveness by forgiving ourselves.
It truly IS finished.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to bless Your Church and make them a shining witness for You. Amen.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
Luke 24:1-12 –
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Proverbs 3:5-6 –
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Genesis 4:7 –
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
John 3:16 –
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Revelation 3:20 –
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
We had a special Easter treat: we got to worship with a daughter and her family that we haven’t spent enough time with in the last year. Church on Easter was way better with loved ones.
Friday, we went to a Stations of the Cross-type service at the Crossroads North Fayette campus. When we arrived, we were quickly handed a booklet and immediately ushered into a darkened room for a Genesis video. Arrows then led the way to walk through the rest. It was so dark I couldn’t read much till we were almost done so I lost a lot of what was presented. There were some things I wish I could have taken a picture of, they were that superb.
Today our family was glad to see us and the grandchildren sat with us for worship. I was admittedly distracted but discerned the Presence of the Risen Christ. The message was the first in a series titled Decisions and todays was called Direction.
When I noticed a door on the chancel, what came to mind was the movie Monsters, Inc., which was used in the message. After talking about the life choices door and the wrong choices door, he got to the reaction door, part of which was to forgive and “let it go.” I thought it was pretty impressive to utilize Pixar and Disney movies to make the point that we are on track when we choose the abundant life door.
The joy of this day was made full by the opportunity to worship with our family.
This congregation has consistently been warm and welcoming, the music presented imaginatively, and the sermons on target.
This message was the first of a new series called Decisions, with today’s part entitled Direction. The pastor pointed out that our decisions determine our destiny and that we all face doors in life that bring on trials of one sort or another.
He declared that the single most important choice we have in life is accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, as this one decision affects not only the rest of our life on earth but our everlasting life.
I loved the analogy of the doors and the connection to Monsters, Inc. It’s an inspired correlation to the opportunities with which we’re presented because walking through different doors indeed creates alternate endings to our stories.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to overwhelm Your church with blessings and lead them to the abundant life door. Amen.
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Yesterday we worshiped at Grace Community Church, 9160 Marshall Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.779.7997 www.mygcc.org, Matt Kaltenberger, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – John 1:43-51 (NIV)
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.””
When we worship at an evening service, it’s about as close as we come to being on a date, and it is special to worship God with my best friend. We had some much-appreciated conversation with the campus pastor before the service and again briefly after; we were blessed to catch up a bit about what God is doing in our lives and I was able to share a prayer ministry of which God has let me be a part. Here is what I shared:
A neighbor of mine, whom I’ll call Audrey, because that’s her name, was in the last stage of life. She had been lamenting for twenty years since becoming a widow that she didn’t know why God wasn’t letting her die.
During one of our conversations we agreed to pray for each other. Soon after that, God put it on my heart to ask Audrey to pray for those on the prayer list from a church we had visited. My wife enlarged the list and I passed it along to Audrey with the request that she pray for each person. Shortly thereafter, God nudged me to extend this request to the churches we visit.
I would ask that you extend that same request to your members who are shut in. Being asked to pray for others has several benefits: it helps them feel like part of the church, it gives them a sense of purpose, and helps them connect with God. You have one more powerful prayer warrior praying, and God alone knows the results that might come about from these prayers.
I pray this is something you will do, if you don’t already. I know God will bless it. Audrey knows too…He took her Home mid-December.
The church provided earplugs and for a change I didn’t need them. I am not a huge fan of smoke and traveling spotlights in worship, but my eyes were recently opened to the realization that if that is part of what brings a crowd like this to worship, it is right for this church. My only disappointment was expecting to see a cross going into Holy Week.
We learned of some of the mission efforts of the church. One in particular I’m really impressed with is an American Ninja Warrior-type competition for handicapped children. I look forward to hearing more about this.
The sermon was part of series called “Who Is He?” and chronicled this obscure Man’s three public years to become the most-known person ever.
Some supportive narrative, from Christ’s coming into the world during the Greco-Roman era with radical teachings that conflicted with the current culture, to 92% of universities being founded by Christians, to today with 900 million Google search results for Jesus. He did well tying the story of Nathanael recognizing Christ to Jacob’s dream. I believe the pastor’s passion won over any doubters and awoke a lot of Christians to their calling…an excellent message.
We opted to worship Saturday night due to a family commitment Sunday afternoon.
We picked up a decaf coffee and headed in to find seats, which, conveniently, had cup holders.
Following an uplifting conversation with one of the pastors we’ve gotten to know, worship began. One of the announcements had to do with a ticket to attend Easter worship. At first it sounded strange, but when I looked around and saw the worship space nearly full, I thought it was probably a good idea to have some sort of “reservation” system for high-attendance services. At least everyone knows they’ll have a seat when they arrive.
The pastor’s prayer as he began the message included the request that God “bind the evil one, as he has no business here” and that we be able to “hide behind the Cross.” Both powerful requests, I thought.
The current series is called “Who Is He?” in which the congregation has been exploring attributes of Jesus. This message pointed out that on the surface Jesus led a small life, but His life has impacted the world, its values, and its treatment of others in radical ways since He walked the earth. His impact cannot be overestimated…He is without question the most famous person in the history of the world. The question is, how can this be?
The pastor declared that if we stated what we believe about Jesus, i.e., that He is the Son of God, that He is God, that He is eternal, that He suffered, died, and rose again, and that He is the only way to God, but we substituted another name for His, people would truly think we’d lost our mind. Some contend He was a “great person” or a “wonderful teacher” or an “amazing moral example.” However, Jesus left us none of those options as a valid opinion of Him. The options He did leave us as far as what we believe about Him are that He is either a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord. Those are our only choices.
And we must choose daily.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we were blessed to worship here and we pray Your continued blessings on this church and its leadership. Amen.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
Today we worshiped at St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church, 2365 McAleer Road, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.364.5974, www.stbrendans.org, Fr. Ted Babcock, Interim Rector.
Scripture – ESV
Ezekiel 37:1-14 –
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord God, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord."
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord."
Psalm 130 –
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Romans 8:6-11 –
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
John 11:1-45 –
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world."
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?"
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him…
This was an 8 a.m. service held in the chapel, and I can say we were warmly greeted by everyone in the church this morning.
I was admiring the sanctuary before the service: a most pleasing color scheme, and a wooden cross framed in the large porthole window. I was delighted to find a smaller version in the chapel.
A woman nearby helped us find our place during the service in the Book of Common Prayer and I noticed others were quick to offer water and cough drops when one of the women who was reading developed a cough. I was also impressed when one of the pastors was reading from John 11 about Lazarus’ death and resurrection and offered that it was a longer Scripture passage and if anyone needed to sit, they should go ahead and do so. A healthy care and concern for a church.
I wasn’t aware that the same word used for Christ’s Resurrection was also used to describe the raising of Lazarus. Another meaningful point was that Christ’s tears at His friend’s death were also for the sins of the world.
An interesting upcoming event is “Calling All Talkers.” It is a program for ESL learners to hone their skills in conversational English in a relaxed, friendly setting. I was reminded of when God moved us to the South Hills of Pittsburgh and I met a woman from our former church in a Giant Eagle there. She introduced me to her companion, a woman who had recently come from the Ukraine, and explained how she was helping this woman learn English. I offered her the use of my family’s Ukraine/English dictionary and she declined, then I heard her throughout the store worthlessly talking slower and progressively louder with instruction. I felt badly that I could not remember enough from my childhood to help ease the pain.
I was grateful we could partake of Communion after a time of confession and that the servers were served.
I appreciated the pastor’s time after the service.
We arrived early and immediately upon entering the church received a warm welcome from the Interim and Associate Rectors. Together they escorted us through the sanctuary, where the traditional service is held at 10, to the chapel for this earlier service. The chapel was cozy and each of the members there greeted us. By the time the service was over and we left, I believe we had met everyone there.
This being the contemporary service, it was somewhat more casual. There was lots of reading but no singing. No doubt this would be an issue for some people, but I did not mind since I cannot sing without discomfort.
I sat next to a kindly woman who is a regular visitor from South Africa, and she thoughtfully helped by pointing out the right spot whenever I got lost.
This church is considering a new ministry opportunity to help adults learning English to build confidence in their conversational skills. Members have been invited to simply sit, sip coffee or tea, and chat, in the process helping the learner nuance better, use words more appropriately, and practice confusing pronunciations. I think this sounds like a marvelous ministry!
I was pleased we were present for Communion; this is the fourth consecutive week we have participated in the sacrament.
The untitled sermon was based on the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He stressed the importance of forgiveness and “the power of faith to overcome the realities of the world.”
We appreciated the time for conversation given by the Interim Rector following the service.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray for Your continued blessings on Your Church. May they ever feel Your Presence. Amen.