Sunday, October 23, 2016
Today we worshiped at Zelienople Church of Christ, 112 Mennonite Lane, Harmony, PA 16066, 724.816.2035, www.zeliechurch.com, Pastor Reid Moon.
Scripture – Ephesians 3:16-21 ESV
…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
I have felt called to revisit this church for a while. Today, after an hour and a half of aimless driving, we ended up right where God was sending us just before the service started. I hope to look where He would like us to go a little sooner and save gas, but no matter what the plans, I am in awe of His orchestration to get us where we need to be.
We were welcomed by a number of people who remembered us. I admit some faces were familiar to me but for the most part I remembered the external setting.
The only cross I noticed was on a banner.
The pastor thanked the congregation for their support after a memorial service for his mother, a tough time to preach a sermon or anything else.
His message, “True to These Feelings…True to God” was a most interesting reflection. We readily claim our blessings from God and attribute many things to God. I don’t think we ever get to realizing our feelings were also created by God and part of Christ’s experience here on earth.
When we are abused, are we called to forgive the abuser? He talked about the long abuse of Joseph and his forgiving his brothers when he realized they were finally getting it. Maybe this was a wake-up call to the congregation that the abused, lonely, and shunned are not alone.
Communion was served without a corporate call for confession, but there was enough time for personal confession while the elements were silently served.
We enjoyed conversation with some members and with the pastor after the service.
I was glad for a chance to share something God had put on my heart. I try to always pray for the people on the prayer lists from the bulletins we are given when visiting. Recently I was talking with an elderly neighbor who lamented that she didn’t know why God was letting her live. During my prayer time the idea came to ask her to pray for those on the list, and over the following weeks more clarity was provided. I want to encourage churches to ask their shut in members to pray for those on their prayer list. It helps them focus on others, helps them feel connected, and blesses them with a sense of purpose. The phenomenal benefits cannot be denied. I think it is important that the shut in member’s name is also on the list for prayer, and it is good to let the congregation know that there are people unable to be present who are praying for those on the list.
Just the opposite of a week ago, today we had no idea where we should worship. But it was a gorgeous fall day, so we drove…and drove…and drove…and ended up here. We’ve decided we need to plan better, but for this day I’m convinced this was where we were to be.
This is a small, friendly, out-of-the-way church that I did not recognize until I walked in and saw a couple of people who had popped into my mind recently. We chatted and caught up on recent developments at the church, then sat down to worship.
The sanctuary was nearly full with people of all ages, including many children for whom children’s church is provided. There are no instruments of any kind, so the singing is led by the pastor with his clear, strong voice. Of the seven musical selections, I was familiar with only one but everyone else seemed familiar with them.
I appreciated being able to participate in Communion. I must have missed the time of confession of sins, so I did so silently.
The sermon, “True to These Feelings…True to God,” was hard-hitting and not for children. The pastor outlines last week’s message as having dealt with forgiveness and wisdom and whether God wants someone to stay in an abusive relationship (He does not). The feelings referred to in this week’s sermon title are the feelings accompanying abuse.
After defining abuse as the intentional harming of another person over a period of time, he outlined the Biblical story of Joseph. Although Joseph started out as his father’s favorite, he was sold into slavery by his brothers then unjustly accused by his master’s wife and thrown into jail.
After confirming that feelings are from God and are not necessarily good or bad but just are, he listed the feelings commonly resulting from abuse: guilt, worthlessness, self-blame, frustration, confusion, anger leading to bitterness, a desire for revenge, loneliness, fear of being shunned or having one’s feelings minimized. He said that many people “close the door” on their feelings in an effort to make them go away. The thing is, the feelings aren’t behind the door, they’re in the heart, and there they will stay until they are dealt with.
Joseph had a great deal of time to consider what he might say to his brothers and to get past his feelings. The pastor pointed out that our feelings can short-circuit God’s work and Joseph waited until he was certain his brothers had changed before he forgave. He advised not to close off feelings of abuse but be honest with God. There also can be great benefit in professional counseling, and we have true hope in God’s promises.
Several members and the pastor were kind enough to take considerable time for conversation following worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray for Your continued Presence with this congregation. Help them extend forgiveness to those who have wronged them and free their hearts from the pain. Amen.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Today we worshiped at Macedonia Church of Pittsburgh, 2225 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, 412.281.8437, www.macedoniapgh.org, Brian J. Edmonds, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NIV
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
I remember years ago saying this was a church all church members should go visit when they get tired or feel staid in their worship and it still holds true. I don’t know how long it has been since we last worshiped here but you can’t help but be rejuvenated.
We were greeted walking to and from church and by many more inside. People took the time to not only say hello but to share some of their personal faith story. A touching sight was a circle of members gathered for prayer before the service.
A woman talked with us and told of how her children would be singing here today, and her enthusiasm was contagious.
I was waiting to go up to the sanctuary while a woman brought a young girl down, I assume to the nursery. As the child reached the last step she gave me a beautiful smile and a little wave…I would have felt most welcome if that was the only greeting we received. I met one Marine and a number of people thanked me for my service.
I enjoyed the familiar songs from the youth choir even though the volume was more than my sensitive ears could take.
There was some signage, but it seemed like it was for members not visitors who didn’t know the building.
The ushers distributed fans and offered tissues. I was impressed by their attending to the congregation, and more so that there were people who needed tissues. I can’t remember when we experienced such hospitality.
I appreciated that prayer is such an important part of the service but I lamented being unable to find a cross.
With the title “We Don’t Need No Water,” the message about not quenching the Holy Spirit was a natural.
I liked the advice that it may be while we are busy being in charge we might miss the blessing God is ready to bestow. I was impressed when the pastor stated his willingness to step aside and let God take over. It’s vital to be willing to let go and let God be God.
With a good overall worship experience, sermon, music, prayer, and conversations with many people, I took something new away from this service. While looking for the pastor so we could tell him of our visit and ministry, I met Arnold, one of the pastor’s Armor Bearers. I am in awe of a church who looks out for the pastor’s welfare. I think this is a most overlooked ministry opportunity and one that all churches should mimic.
We visited this church probably about 15 years ago and it has remained strong in our memory as one full of the Spirit. Last week when this church came specifically to my mind and this morning all the pieces fell into place, I knew this was where we should worship.
Most available parking is on nearby streets and joyful greetings were exchanged throughout the walk to the church building. Once inside we wandered some, though many were exiting the 8:00 service and others, like us, were early for the 10:00.
Since we could hear the music as we walked around one floor below the sanctuary, Bob went back to the truck and retrieved his earplugs. We found seats very near the back of the sanctuary and watched as several people simply made their way around extending welcome greetings to others whether they knew them or not, it seemed. One friendly lady excitedly told us about her three teenagers who would sing with the praise team today. We were thrilled for her when it was announced during the service that this youth praise team would open for Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy at Carnegie Music Hall in December. After the service we sought out our new friend to share in her joy; I felt like I’ve known her all my life.
The sanctuary is a good size and it was packed full. Hospitality was shown to all by women who walked throughout the sanctuary passing out hand-held fans and offering Kleenex.
The music was enthusiastic with plenty of volume even from where we sat. The words were projected at the bottom of the screens along with video of the worship leaders as they sang. I was grateful for the monitors on the poles partway back so those in our section could see.
The message was part 4 of a series called “Fully Charged” about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. This part was called, “We Don’t Need No Water.”
The pastor began by referencing a couple of hip-hop/rap songs that were foreign to me (but not most of the congregation). The connection was fire and water and the verse from 1 Thessalonians that admonishes not to quench the Spirit. He outlined numerous Scripture references that referred to God and/or the Holy Spirit as fire: Exodus 3 and the burning bush, Elijah at Mt. Carmel, Moses stating that God is a consuming fire, Jeremiah’s reference to not preaching and calling God’s Word “a fire shut up in his bones,” in Acts 2 at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was seen as “tongues of fire,” John the Baptist’s statement that he “baptized with water but the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire,” and in Paul’s letter to Timothy telling the young pastor to “fan into flame the gift of God.”
His main points:
1 – Don’t miss the move of God on our hearts.
2 – Don’t miss the move of God in our church.
3 – Don’t miss the move of God in our world.
We don’t need water…we need the willingness to allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do in us, for us, and through us. We must seek His heart, not His hand, and release control to the One Who knows best.
For this, I pray.
As usual, we sought out the pastor to let him know we’d be writing about our visit. Before we were able to locate him, we located a gentleman dubbed the pastor’s Armor Bearer. I asked if he was assigned a particular piece of armor, and he said simply, “All of them.” He assists the pastor and makes the way smooth for him, something I’m sure many pastors could appreciate.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we had a joyous celebration of worship with Your church. We pray You will continue to bless and guide them as they follow You and that Your Spirit encourage all those in service to You. Amen.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Today we worshiped at Triumph Baptist Church, 1293 Mt. Nebo Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.63.8204, www.triumph1293.org, Rev. C.L. Giles, Pastor.
Scripture – John 4:46-54 NKJV
So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”
The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!”
Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!”
Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household.
This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.”
This church has been on my list to visit since before it was built…for a long time I drove past a sign marking this spot as their future home. I remember reading of the spiritual warfare they faced to get the building built. I’m glad we were able to worship with them today.
I only tried one door handle and almost walked away when a woman came and pulled the other door open (more spiritual warfare?). We were warmly welcomed from that point forward.
I was delighted to see a large cross on one wall and colorful banners all around. I also noticed the modern arched ceiling with sprinkler protection, a real plus for a church since church fires usually get a good head start in an empty building.
I enjoyed the passion and harmony of the praise team, the pastor’s refreshing comments that this was Christ’s church, and the prayer for Jesus to have His way in this service.
The sermon was part of a “Living the Dream” series and was based on John 4:46-54 about the royal official whose son was deathly ill. He was healed by Jesus from where He was, which reminded me of the centurion who asked for healing for his servant. He didn’t insist Christ come: as a man in authority he knew that Christ, in His authority, could command the healing of the servant.
I have been called on numerous times to come and lay hands on someone needing healing and today Christ, through the pastor, was my assurance that I can call for Jesus’ healing touch without being in physical contact, some of the application of the Scripture.
God is all in all and above the laws of nature which He created. We try to limit God when we ask for less. The idea was advanced: “It’s not about joining the church, it’s about joining with God.”
I met a Marine who was there for the second service and who, after praying for us, introduced me to a second brother coming in. Talk about an unbreakable bond, Marine brothers in Christ.
We drove past this church yesterday and decided to return today for the 8:30 worship service. We arrived early and as we reached the door we thought it was still locked. However a member arrived kindly opened the (unlocked) door for us.
We knew the building was brand new, and it’s quite lovely: spacious and charmingly decorated for the fall season. Signage was ample, though we did not get to tour the entire facility.
Nearly everyone we encountered stopped to introduce themselves and extend a warm welcome, some greeting us again after worship.
We understood fewer attended this earlier service, and we plan to attend the 10 a.m. service in the future.
Following the reading of Scripture the pastor thanked God “for having us eat of that” (Scripture). All I could think was that’s exactly what we should be doing, taking those words into our minds and our hearts and allowing them to literally become part of us.
The untitled message began with the observations that if we want to be blessed we must be a blessing and that faith is believing without seeing although most of us still say “show me.” He pointed out that God is seldom early but He’s never late and His delays test us in our progress toward becoming more like Christ.
He declared that God’s timing is often not ours, we must humbly believe and remember that God is not subject to the laws He created. He will move when the time is right in His eyes, and our job is to trust Him. He will use all sorts of trials and crises to bring us to Jesus, like the child’s sickness in the Scripture, but God’s power defies time and space.
We spoke with the pastor briefly but enjoyed much longer conversations with two Marines we met, one of whom generously took time to pray with and for us.
As anyone who knows us well might guess, this church is somewhat outside the box for us, but I am so glad we went. The people were warm and friendly and the preaching was right on target. After worship, when we spoke with the pastor and told him about the blog, he immediately burst out with, “Be honest.” And you know what? These days, with the unrest in this country, I was truly encouraged right to my soul that when believers join other believers to worship our Savior, differences disappear. In this church I saw people who love Jesus and worship Him, sing and praise His Name, and like me, struggle to hear what He is saying and see what He is doing in this world and in our individual lives. And like me, they want to do His will.
Today I am encouraged because I was blessed with a glimpse of what Heaven will be. Hallelujah!
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this congregation is gifted with the faith to believe without seeing. We ask that You supply them with Your vision as they go in Your Name. Amen.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Today we worshiped at Centerpoint Community Church, 118 Community College Drive, Monaca, PA 15061, 724.728.1125, www.centerpointcommunitychurch.org, Dr. Steve Vesolich, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
John 3:1-8 –
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their motherʼs womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 –
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Matthew 6:33 –
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
After reading some good press about this church’s expansion plans, we decided to come check it out.
We were welcomed warmly on our way in, before the service, and then greeted again by a number of people after the service.
The ceiling is low with a slight arch which, for me, accented the wooden cross.
It was a joy to watch a number of children come in and run to their grandparents.
I appreciated the lead female voice and the strong voice of the pastor, as well as the anthem by the male singers and watching a number of children dancing.
The message, “You Must Be Born Again,” was well supported by Scripture and I believe clarity was given to what it really means, something often misunderstood by believers. Some depth was provided into Nicodemus and his struggle with and acceptance of the necessity of his own rebirth.
He added a great analogy for this time of year: being a Christian is like being a pumpkin. Christ washes it off, opens the top, and scrapes out all the yucky stuff, carves a smile, and puts the light of Christ inside.
Communion was offered silently, but there was a good time allotted for confession beforehand. I was disappointed the pastor was not served.
In recognition of pastor appreciation month, both pastors and their wives were honored. I appreciated the opportunity to speak with the pastor after the service.
We worshiped at this church a little more than three years ago when it went by another name. Now it is expanding, being literally in the process of building a new sanctuary next door to the existing building. We were greeted by probably 1/3 of the congregation before worship even began, and most of the rest greeted us during or afterward.
The sanctuary was 90% filled with a broad mix of ages, including many children.
Bob will probably also mention the cross in the front, but what I noticed was the red marks noting the locations of Christ’s hands and feet, creating a stark reminder that the actual Cross would have been neither clean nor pretty.
The music was excellent, with pleasant voices providing strong leadership. In reading our blog post from the last visit, it’s peculiar that during both visits we sang “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” Not that I’m complaining…that song brings wonderful memories for me.
The current sermon series is called “Important Musts of the New Testament” and this week’s entry was “You Must Be Born Again.” The message centered on Nicodemus and his encounter with Christ in John 3 and I appreciated his point that Nicodemus understood the idea of a “new creation” since that was how Jews viewed Gentiles who converted to Judaism.
He stated that God is a God of transformation and regeneration, and asked how we can remain the same when God is in us. We too must be born again.
Of course we must be born again of the Spirit in order for godly sorrow to lead to sincere repentance. We can do nothing to bring this about ourselves, no matter how deeply we desire it. This change is only achieved by God through His Holy Spirit, and when He makes a change, it is obvious and permanent and the only appropriate response is an expression of sincere gratitude for the rest of our lives.
I was thankful for World Communion Sunday this morning, and that we were able to witness the outpouring of gratitude by the congregation for their pastor and his family.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we were excited to worship You at this church You are growing. We pray they continue to be born again in You. Amen.