Sunday, August 31, 2014
Today we worshiped at Lillyville Church of God, 408 Hickernell Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.758.8258, www.lillyville.cggc.org, Pastor Dennis Arndt.
Scripture – NIV
This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians:
“Announce and proclaim among the nations, lift up a banner and proclaim it; keep nothing back, but say, ‘Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror. Her images will be put to shame and her idols filled with terror.’ A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land. No one will live in it; both people and animals will flee away.
“In those days, at that time,” declares the Lord, “the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the Lord their God.
They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten.
“My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty, for they sinned against the Lord, their verdant pasture, the Lord, the hope of their ancestors.’
“Flee out of Babylon; leave the land of the Babylonians, and be like the goats that lead the flock. For I will stir up and bring against Babylon an alliance of great nations from the land of the north. They will take up their positions against her, and from the north she will be captured. Their arrows will be like skilled warriors who do not return empty-handed. So Babylonia will be plundered; all who plunder her will have their fill,” declares the Lord.
“Because you rejoice and are glad, you who pillage my inheritance, because you frolic like a heifer threshing grain and neigh like stallions, your mother will be greatly ashamed; she who gave you birth will be disgraced. She will be the least of the nations— a wilderness, a dry land, a desert.
This church is located in a scenic locale with a larger campus than I expected, but the sanctuary was more quaint and country-sized. I appreciated the suspended wooden cross and round stained glass window in the chancel alcove and the interesting banner shouting “Come Holy Spirit.”
We were warmly welcomed by quite a few people.
The message, “The Lord Destroys Wicked Nations,” is a good one to take to heart as we seem determined as a nation to go downhill.
Babylon was surprised that they were not invincible: they were attacked and overwhelmed almost overnight, the attack undetected until too late. From a military standpoint I have often admired Biblical battle plans and how human smugness in not needing God always leads to downfall. I pray our nation soon reaches the point of asking “What were we thinking?”
I was very grateful to have the pastor anoint me and, along with others, lay hands and pray for me.
We appreciated the large signs at the main road…they were hugely helpful.
The warm greetings began in the parking lot and after we were inside they just kept coming. Numerous people welcomed us genuinely and openly.
The building is larger than expected, well cared-for, and aesthetically pleasing with a chancel that would have been surprisingly deep at half what it was; but the paint and the large ornate banner were perfect complements. I also appreciated the unique multi-colored paraments.
The message, “The Lord Destroys Wicked Nations,” was based on Jeremiah 50:1-12. He interspersed much of Daniel 4 and 5 in explaining the overnight fall of Babylon, and reminding that God was at work in the midst of the chaos.
To a large degree our country, indeed our world, seems to be immersed in chaos that is much the same. And I am convinced that God’s purpose is the same now as it was then: to bring people to faith in Christ.
For more than 50 years our country has been testing the waters of self-sufficiency in the hope that the god of science or self or some other entity could somehow figure out how to make things right. I pray the Voice of Truth will soon make itself heard above the din of idolatry before God’s patience is exhausted and we fall as Babylon did. And the fault will lie with us alone.
It has been a while since I was present for anointing with oil and laying on of hands and prayers for healing, and I was deeply touched that a congregation to whom we were strangers only a few hours earlier would do this for Bob.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this congregation will continue to make You known, and that they all will enjoy You together. Amen.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Today we worshiped at Northbridge Community Church, 216 Mystic Pine Trail, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.371.1180, www.northbridge.org, Jame Price, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.
There seemed to be far fewer people in worship here than I remembered; for many maybe a last vacation before back-to-school.
The music overpowered my earplugs so I stepped out of the sanctuary; I thought if I acted like a visitor someone might say hello. I was greeted by the parking attendant and the woman who held the door.
Andy Stanley’s message was a post script to some recent messages we have heard. We have been reminded that all sorts of people will be in heaven, and Andy’s message today talked about a church of reconciliation.
Every church has a church culture designed for church people, but the real truth is the common denominator: “for all have sinned”… none of us are better than others or closer to God than others, only that we are all justified by Christ.
It came to me with this that a lot of churches might want to rethink their membership classes; many are pre-occupied with “we’ve always done it this way.”
I liked the restroom signs that were timelines of coming events, not just church events but secular also.
There is much that is welcoming about Northpoint such as friendly people who direct the parking efforts outside, friendly folks who hold the door open when you approach, and more friendly individuals who extend greetings between the entry door and the door to the sanctuary, and even inside the sanctuary. I was glad some members of our family were there to talk to though, because as much friendliness as we encountered, there was still no one to talk to.
The music was high-volume and well done, as always, and a spotlight of encouragement was pointed on volunteers.
I very much enjoy Andy Stanley’s messages. He is comfortable, animated, talks fast and sometimes stutters, but he comes across as genuine, humble, and honest.
Today’s message is hard to put into just a few words because it was about a lot of things: the culture in churches, the fact that every person who ever walked the earth – with the exception of Jesus Christ – has been unable to live up to God’s standard, and that God did something about it by sending His Son to die in our place. Andy called this “God’s buy-back program” and pointed out that it leveled the playing field.
He noted that “if the message of the church is for everybody, the culture of the church shouldn’t exclude anybody.”
He followed with a personal story about an exceptional friend whom he attempted to guide to faith in Christ and how in the process he himself became aware of the culture of the church in which he grew up.
I believe he is right on the money about church cultures being designed for church people, and I think most church people are oblivious to it. I know I was. I belonged to the same church for 30+ years, and I thought it was a friendly church that anyone could walk into and feel right at home. And I thought the same about the second church I belonged to. But after visiting churches for nearly 6 years now, I would say that every church has a culture whether they know it or not, and no church culture will “fit” everyone no matter how hard they try. Not in this world at least.
Is it good for a church culture to be so flexible that change is constant? I don’t know the answer to that, but it looks like this church may be aiming to find out.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray we remember that our common denominator with all mankind is our sinfulness. Thanks be to God for our justification through faith in Christ. Amen.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Today we worshiped at Family Bible Church, 325 Freedom Crider Road, Freedom, PA 15042, 724.774.2276, www.thefamilybiblechurch.org, Pastor Ed Bailey.
Scripture – King James Version
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
We thought we were choosing a new place to worship when we tried to visit this church a few weeks back. A waitress at a pizza shop had recounted how much she enjoyed worship here, so I was curious what we would feel.
I had driven through on two occasions to find no one home, and was thinking this a last attempt. The real surprise was when we went downstairs while Sunday School was going on in the sanctuary and we both recognized the kitchen. Until then neither of us remembered visiting about a year and a half ago.
We were welcomed by, I believe, the entire congregation.
The sermon developed from part of an in depth study of Rev. Bailey’s which brought up the point that our deeds will follow us and our works will be judged in heaven.
Neither Bob nor I had any memory of having visited this church before so I did not checked the blog to see if we had. We believed we were first-time visitors here until we went downstairs and saw the kitchen area and our memories were both jogged at the same time. It turns out we visited here 1 ½ years ago.
There may have been a few people there who did not greet us, but anyone anywhere near us came and introduced themselves.
This is a quaint, well-kept church that is off the beaten path, but one that seems to take their mission seriously. In the course of the service there were many references to answered prayers and some stories of presenting the Gospel to family members. It was good stuff.
Big Knob Fair is a good-sized annual event nearby where this church gives out candy to the kids along with tracts to both kids and adults; many present seemed to participate in some way or another.
Upon entering we were handed glossy, colorful 11” x 17” graphic representations depicting an interpretation of the events of Revelation, the topic of the pastor’s current sermon series.
A couple of points that caught my attention were what we do for the cause of Christ lasts forever and that in the end, even good works done with bad motives are bad works.
Last week, at another church, we heard a reminder that people from every nation will be saved, and we heard this again here this week. In the midst of all the upheaval around the world, this is something we all need to remember. Every human being, no matter their stance on any given issue, is created in God’s image, and this should make us think long and hard about every issue that comes to our awareness.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray You continue to bless this church and continue to lead them to where they need to be. Amen.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Today we worshiped at Bethany Presbyterian Church, 740 Washington Road, Bridgeville, PA 15017, 412.221.5132, www.bethanypresby.org, Rev. Dr. John G. Hamilton, Senior Pastor.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us— so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.
The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
I appreciated this opportunity to visit Bethany with its well thought out, welcoming sanctuary and impressive cross. Maybe people thought we were only there for the baptism, which was enjoyable, however the only welcome we received was at the restrooms. I remember it being friendlier at past visits.
I understand little about music but I think the organ sounds different in a Presbyterian church.
The sermon was entitled “All People, Really?” The Bible teaches that all people who accept Christ as Savior and Lord will be welcomed to heaven. What about our church? They are different, will we welcome them? What would that be like? Heaven, perhaps?
It has been about three years since we last visited this church, which this year is celebrating their 200th anniversary. The building is as beautiful as I remembered but we saw none of the friends we have encountered here in past visits. I enjoyed a conversation with a woman I met in the ladies room, but no one else spoke to us.
A gifted tenor presented three solos and it was a joy to listen to his strong voice and perfect enunciation.
As visitors it is always a privilege to witness a baptism; seldom do we end up seeing the family and their guests at the restaurant where we randomly choose to have lunch afterward, as happened today.
Associate Pastor Rev. Robbie Ytterberg’s sermon, “All Peoples, Really?”, almost felt more like a passionate conversation. He spoke of people-watching and noted how different people can be. In listing a broad array of diversities, some cultural and others simple personal preferences, he reminded us of the biblical promise that ALL will be at God’s throne…those we love and those of whom we are not so fond, those who are like us and those with whom we are uncomfortable. Christ purchased every single one and all will be represented in the Kingdom.
His question “Do we pray for blessings for ourselves or so that we can bless others?” is a good question to ask when we pray. I believe it is acceptable to pray for ourselves, but I also believe God blesses us so we can be a blessing to others. That is one of the ways His living water flows through us. If we are not using our blessings to bless others, if we are hoarding our blessings, we are imitating the Dead Sea. This message has me thinking about how I have or have not used my blessings.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray we can all open our hearts and doors to Your children who are different from us. May we embrace them in Your name. Amen.