Sunday, April 12, 2015

Laketon Heights United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Laketon Heights United Methodist Church, 9601 Frankstown Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15235, 412.241.9170, Rev. Judy Winston-Thomas, Pastor.


Scripture – ESV

Job 1:1-12 –

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Job 2:9 –

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”


Bob’s thoughts:

We planned to attend a 9 a.m. worship service only an hour away, the same place we considered a few weeks ago but then we had opted to worship elsewhere. Last night and this morning I felt some apprehension about worshiping there and thought it might be the devil trying to dissuade us, but we set out anyway to see where God would lead us. I knew if that was not where God was to meet with us, we would be led elsewhere.

The first mix-up was when we got off the Turnpike 10 miles early due to misleading directions and questioning the GPS. Still curious, we got turned in the right direction and found the nice modern church building…with nobody home.

After checking our phones for nearby churches we opted for one we had heard of and which had been on our list for a long time. Jan’s aunt and grandmother had worshiped here years ago. It was surprising to me the church secretary still remembered both of them, and got to share some with Jan.

We were warmly welcomed by a minister and some lay people. The building is older and still looks like a church with a cross on the Communion table and some distinctive-looking banners.

I enjoyed the passion of the choir; they understood that their singing was worship.

The sermon, “Double For Your Trouble,” preached from the beginning of Job, was delivered well to the congregation. While I differed somewhat from the presentation, it was what the congregation could wrap their hearts around. We were admonished to wait upon the Lord…excellent and necessary advice. The comment that God would raise the obedient to the next level of awareness was meaningful to me. The congregation being told to stay focused on Jesus brought back a memory of when I was referred to as a “Jesus Jerk”…some of the highest praise I have ever received.

A major highlight was during the joys and concerns (of which there were only joys), a man who lives across the street told how he went out to get a drink and afterward the Lord led him here. He was led by the Spirit, and will be back.


Jan’s thoughts:

Between the history behind our visit and the adventure getting there, this has been an amazing, divinely-guided day.

We started out headed for another church, but when we arrived, no one was home and the doors were closed and locked. So we stopped at a Sheetz and got some coffee while we used our phones to search for another church in the area. When we discovered we were only about 15 minutes away from Laketon Heights, we decided to head there.

Now for the history: my Aunt Peg lived with us while I was growing up. She was a wonderful lady, in many ways a mentor and a mother to me in the faith. Prior to moving in with us, Peg and her mother, my maternal grandmother, attended Laketon Heights and I knew it always held a special place in Peg’s heart.

We arrived plenty early and took some time to look around the building. As we entered we were greeted by the only two people present and enjoyed a conversation with a knowledgeable elder who took some time to tell us much about the church’s history. As people gradually trickled in many greeted us with a smile, some introduced themselves, and one, though a complete stranger, gave me a warm hug.

Last week being Resurrection Sunday, still present on the chancel was an enchanting wooden cross decorated with flowers and butterflies, my favorites.

The music was presented by a small but enthusiastic choir.

I had an uplifting conversation with the church secretary who relayed the story of meeting my Aunt Peg on her family’s initial visit there. When they arrived Peg was the first person to greet them and then took their 2- and 4-year-old daughters to Sunday school. Of course the daughters are long since grown, but she remembered my aunt well, along with my grandmother, of whom I have very few memories.

Since the pastor was away on vacation, the sermon, “Double For Your Trouble,” was presented by Rev. Patricia Lee, a daughter of this church. This message spoke loud and clear to me with the reminder that God is in the details of His children’s lives and that we are called to servanthood even when we cannot see the purpose behind it. We need to praise God while we wait for Him to make His purposes clear…persevere and wait.

She did NOT say it would be easy, only that it would be worth it.


Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray You continue to bless this church with visitors that they both might experience Your love. Amen.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Victory Family Church

Today we worshiped at Victory Family Church, 21150 Route 19, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.453.6200, www.lifeatvictory.com, John Nuzzo, Senior Pastor.


Scripture – Luke 7:36-48 (NIV)

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”


Jan’s thoughts:

We attended worship with our daughter and two grandchildren, and the house was packed, as expected. Hospitality was extended in the form of free coffee and tea and welcoming smiles and handshakes.

Hanging from the ceiling in the common area were a number of large cardboard frames with the word “forgiven” across the bottom of the frame. They were created for photo opportunities, and numerous people took advantage, including all of us. They also tied in perfectly with the sermon of the same title.

I loved the video shown during one of the songs; it depicted various sins being nailed to the cross.

The message was aimed at anyone whose past was getting in the way of their future…who had trouble believing God had forgiven them and therefore had trouble forgiving themselves.  In other words, pretty much everyone.

He made several points that resonated with me:
1 – The struggle is not in God’s willingness to forgive but in our ability to receive God’s forgiveness.
2 – A resurrected Christ you don’t believe is dead to you.
3 – People who don’t forgive themselves live in a self-imposed prison.
4 – You will never live beyond your past until you forgive yourself.
5 – When you forgive others, two prisoners are set free.

I enjoy sermons here and especially appreciated this one.

Praying everyone’s Easter was a meaningful reminder of God’s mercy, grace, and love. Hallelujah! He is risen!


Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray Your blessing on Your churches with all their varieties of worship. Amen.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Grace Community Church

Today we worshiped at Grace Community Church, 56 Prestley Road, Bridgeville, PA 15017, 412.221.9000, www.gracechurchpgh.org, Bryan Thiessen, Lead Pastor.


Scripture – Acts 4:1-14 (ESV)

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.


Bob’s thoughts:

We had some early afternoon obligations so we opted for a 9:30 a.m. service. I was pleased when we got there early, but not so happy that they changed to an 8:30 start. With a little surfing on our phones we found a church nearby with a 9:30 service, but we had read it wrong and that was Sunday school time. We opted to wait for the service and I came to realize this church was one I had planned to visit.

We were engaged by almost everyone who walked by including a man who turned out to be the pastor.

I was pleased to find a large natural log cross on the chancel and others on the side walls of the sanctuary. The praise team sounded pleasing and the volume was right, although I did have trouble understanding the music leader when he spoke. There is a large projection screen above the chancel and impressive wood beams to the ceiling.

The pastor offered for those needing prayer to come forward, and again toward the end of the service for any who were accepting Christ to come forward.

I found no compromise in the sermon: there is one way to Heaven – Christ Jesus. I hate seeing this message distorted to avoid offense.

The pastor made an interesting point that those accepting Christ in Acts 4 were some of the same crowd that called to “crucify Him” and who a week earlier had called out “Hosanna!”

The congregation was encouraged to boldly speak Jesus Christ to all they meet.

I thought the sermon was longer than necessary, but maybe it was that he was preaching to the choir.


Jan’s thoughts:

This morning turned out very differently than I planned. The church we wanted to attend had moved their service one hour earlier than advertised on their website. This was treated with nonchalance by the members who told me, but after intending this visit for two weeks, I felt frustrated.

We were led not far away to Grace Community, which has been on our list to visit because of a newspaper article about the Bridgeville Community Outreach Center. I hope you will take a moment to check out this worthy effort at www.bridgevilleoutreach.org.

We were warmly greeted at the door and by numerous others before, during, and after worship. We were invited to help ourselves to coffee and join any of the Sunday school classes in session and to join the fellowship meal afterward. Unfortunately, my frustration kept me from being as appreciative as I should have been at these generous invitations. I apologized later and was shown grace immediately.

This morning was a lesson for me. Bob and I often mention how we were or were not greeted, and to us this is usually an indication of the friendliness (or lack thereof) of a congregation. Today, although the welcome was warm and genuine, it took some time for me to be receptive, and I suspect my lack of receptivity was apparent.

Today I learned that a welcoming attitude is a two-way street.

The message was entitled “The Exclusive Truth” and the pastor began by asking if there is more than one way to God and how we would know either way. He stated that Jesus and His resurrection were as radical, dangerous, and threatening then as it is now. The message of Jesus is offensive to many, but the truth is that God provided only one way for salvation, one way to be saved from everlasting separation from God, and Jesus is that one way. There are no exceptions and no alternatives.

Just for the record, some of the Scriptures used to back up this claim include John 14:6, Romans 3:21-25, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-9.


Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray this church is filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly preaches Jesus everywhere You send them. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Restoration Church of Christ

Today we worshiped at Restoration Church of Christ, 1040 East Windhaven Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412.921.3231, www.restorationchurchofchrist.org, Faron Franklin, Evangelist.


Scripture – Luke 6:27-36 (NAS)

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”


Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly welcomed at the door and the woman there made a point of asking if we were visitors and introducing us to the pastor. Only a few others said hello.

I loved seeing a larger wooden cross with purple drape. The sanctuary is pleasant and the large wood beams help to tie it all together.

One of the opening songs was “It is Well,” an old favorite that was sung as we walked into church the day after our son was killed. The sandwich shop where we turned off the main road to the church was where was had our last meal with our son, so the song was particularly disabling.

Communion was reserved for those who had been baptized by immersion, but there were no words of institution or time for confession of sins, and the elements were passed silently. I didn’t miss it much.

We were asked to pray for our enemies and I couldn’t think of one.

The sermon dealt with forgiving and loving your enemies. It brought to mind a personal experience from before I came to Christ. I bought a used vehicle that was far from the condition it was represented to be in. The dealer refused to do anything about it and I took the car to the State Police to be inspected. It failed on many counts and the business failed over the ensuing investigation. Another time the result was even more drastic and I got so when someone wronged me I began to pray for them. God has dealt with these people way more harshly than I would have. These experiences were part of God’s opening my eyes to letting go of my anger and thoughts of retribution.

The congregation was reminded of upcoming Invite Friends and Family Days, and I feel compelled to suggest incorporating today’s sermon and also invite your enemies.

I forgot to ask about the church’s missions. We got to talk to the pastor after the service and learned a little of the history of the church and peaceful merger.


Jan’s thoughts:

The building is new, the location is new, and the name is new, and after the service we learned some interesting history about this church, which I’ll get to. A practical outdoor feature of the building is a breezeway which provides a protected spot to pick up and drop off passengers.

We were greeted at the door and provided bulletins along with an introduction to the pastor. Numerous other people also greeted us and introduced themselves.

The social room near the sanctuary looked useful for all sorts of fellowship events but today was used for coffee and sweets.

The worship area was functional with graceful wood decorating the ceiling and comfortable pews with plenty of legroom.

Communion was offered but we did not partake as the bulletin indicated that “Jesus invites all immersed believers to participate.”

The sermon was entitled “Living With the Enemy” and centered on Christ’s command to love our enemies. The preacher enumerated the Scriptural promises if we follow this command: our reward will be great (vs 35), we will be sons of the Most High (vs 35), and we will be like the Father (vs 36).

He also reminded that it is impossible to hate someone for whom you are praying. That is literally the only way I have ever succeeded in turning an enemy into a friend.

In talking with the pastor after the service we learned this church was born from the merger of two congregations that moved into new quarters together, both changed their names, and started over electing new leadership. In spite of the inevitable challenges, the marriage seems to be working.


Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray these merged churches solidify into one that continues to go forth in Your direction. Amen.