Sunday, November 29, 2015
Today we worshiped at North Park Church, 600 Ingomar Road, Wexford, PA 15090, 412.367.5000, www.northparkepc.org, Dan Hendley, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Philippians 4:4-9 NASB
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Sometimes a small detail makes a major impact on a visitor, such as the young male usher at the door who greeted me as he presented the bulletin to me. There were only a few others who spoke to us, including a co-worker of Jan’s. Churches may miss an opportunity to identify visitors by watching who parks in the visitor’s spots.
There is a superb wooden cross over the window. We sat at the rear wall so I couldn’t see all of the praise team but appreciated the animation of one of the female singers.
I was glad we could be there for worship on the first Sunday of Advent as everyone seemed so ready to praise God. I enjoyed watching a young family as they exchanged daughters they were holding, and when the older got to dad’s arms she snuggled in sweetly.
Doug Smith made a presentation about the Light of Life mission which brought back memories of when I was involved with a similar shelter on the North Side. While I was helping prepare the evening meal I met a client who was the son of a well-paid co-worker as well as someone with the same last name as me. I got the message clear: there but for the grace of God go I.
The message was presented by a pastor from Glade Run, Jim Smith. He told of a leadership group who was asked what they were thankful for but the leader excluded the easy choices or, as they were referred to, “the low-hanging fruit.”
We talk about giving thanks to God in all circumstances, and we learned how difficult that was after our son’s death but how vital God’s presence was through that trial.
I liked the phrases about “the certainty of God’s providential care” and that “no pain is wasted.” I am grateful we were here for this sermon.
I do wish the Scripture versions used during the reading matched the printed one in the handout.
It has been nearly four years since our last visit, and much seems the same. Visitor parking is provided near the front door, and indoor directional signage is abundant.
We sat in the row at the rear wall and a couple of people nearby said hello. Just as the service was beginning, a co-worker friend stopped to greet us, which was a wonderful surprise.
This sizeable sanctuary looked to be filled to capacity by the time worship was underway. The music had a terrific harmony and volume, and I appreciated the excellent timing on the slide changes.
I also thought the bulletin was well designed with the order of worship on the front and sermon notes and Scripture on the only colored sheet (today it was green but it probably changes).
We were privileged to hear some words from Doug Smith from Light of Life Ministries, which is supported in part by this church. Doug stated the sobering reminder that most people are “one or two decisions away” from being in need of the services offered at Light of Life.
The sermon, “Now Thank We All Our God,” was presented by Pastor Jim Smith of Glade Run Lutheran Services. He stated that crises are what cause us to tap into sincere gratitude because they drive out the dross from our lives and it is when broken-world realities intrude that we are forced to focus on what truly matters. He said that gratitude is the fruit of faith, and the enemy of faith is anxious worry; God wastes none of the pain in our lives.
The comment I immediately identified with was about crisis driving out the dross as I found this to be true when our son was killed. There were things that mattered to me before that I could not have cared less about after, such as television. Prior to that day I was hooked on CSI and similar series, but have not watched a single one since. His Homegoing was like a line in the sand in my life, there was “before” and “after” and some things were simply burned away in the event.
But since that event, God has become more real to me, and I believe this pastor was right on target when he said that the heart transformation results in gratitude. It is a difficult journey that I would never have chosen, but I am grateful to now know the One in Whom I believe.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we witnessed the enthusiasm of this congregation in worshiping You and we pray Your guidance that You will continue to be glorified. Amen.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Today we worshiped at CityReach Zelienople, 319 E. New Castle Street, Zelienople, PA 16063, 412.720.6450, www.zelienople.cityreachnetwork.org, Mark and Denise Grogan, Lead Pastors.
Scripture – NKJV
I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth;
Yes I will praise Him among the multitude.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
We heard about this new church start-up around mid-year and have looked forward to visiting. The CityReach churches are filling a void and are reaching people for Christ.
God has blessed this congregation with an actual church building, something a lot of churches don’t have. It has taken a lot of work, but their efforts show and it is a pleasant sanctuary and comfortable rooms downstairs.
The sanctuary has a low ceiling and curtains over the windows giving it an at-home feel. There was a large wooden cross, and the volume of the music was just right.
We were warmly welcomed by most of the congregation, and the husband and wife co-pastors.
During a prayer time, those needing prayer were asked to raise their hand and those nearby asked to reach out to them, which I found most encouraging.
The female pastor said she felt called to add “It Is Well With My Soul” to the music this morning, and I knew the call was true. This song brings bittersweet memories from the church service the day after our son was killed.
It was announced several time that there are people scheduled to Ring the Bell on the 28th, but I’m in the dark as to what that is about.
The message was about thanking God when our circumstances are less than ideal. The Pilgrims’ thanksgiving feast lasted three days even though the last year 50% of their people died.
It was hard to thank God when our son was killed, but it was God Who got us through those terrible days and God Who holds us up now.
We were blessed to meet with and pray with the pastors after the service. I truly felt Christ’s Presence here and was encouraged at how He is working through these pastors.
We have attended several other churches within the CityReach network, and most seem to be in a building other than a church, but this one was in an actual church building.
We were greeted warmly as we entered, and people kept approaching us and introducing themselves. Finally I realized as I watched that everyone there was greeting every other person.
There were other marks of hospitality, such as boxes of tissue placed strategically under chairs and small bottles of water available.
As we toured the downstairs we saw inviting-looking areas set up for groups of various sizes. The building had obviously been shown a great deal of love.
The pastors’ son was kind enough to show us how the Keurig worked, and Bob was happy to note that decaf was available.
The music included a few songs I knew and a few I did not, and ended with one that is near and dear to my heart, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
There were many announcements, many of which involved mission of some sort including the Breakfast with Santa for the community and Giving Hope outreach which involves large Ziploc bags full of items, and the packs will be handed out to the homeless next month.
The message centered on Thanksgiving and intentional gratitude. He pointed out that, of the 10 lepers, nine were healed and one was made whole, and he asked, how often are we the one out of 10 who expresses appreciation to the Giver of all good things?
We enjoyed a wonderful conversation and prayer with the pastors following worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to bless and guide this church. It is exciting to see Your handiwork. Amen.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Today we worshiped at Christ Alliance Church, 1881 Brodhead Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.375.7548, www.christalliance.org, Palmer L. Zerbe, Pastor.
Scripture – KJV
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
We were redirected and led to worship at this church which had been on my list to visit for a few years before they merged and moved to their current location.
I did see signage to the rest rooms but did not notice any others. The wooden cross is impressive though hidden by the projection screen for the first part of the service.
Prayers were offered for our country and leaders; I added mine for the Churches of our country as they seem intent on accommodating everyone but Christ.
The pastor’s extensive message was on how our thoughts influence who we are. How easy it is for even those strongly committed to Christ to have immoral thoughts creep in.
Prayers were offered for a most impressive quantity of shoebox gifts that were assembled and presented.
Many worshipers came and welcomed us in the pew before the service, a time when visitors are often overlooked.
We arrived very early, during the Sunday School hour, giving us plenty of time to look around. The signage for the restrooms was helpful.
The sanctuary is pleasant with block-style stained glass and brick lining the rear wall of the chancel along with a lovely dark wooden cross flanked by matching banners.
We found our seats in the back and probably half of those in attendance stopped to welcome us and introduce themselves on their way in.
The music was mostly quiet contemporary and slightly blended, and the voices harmonized well.
The message, called “Keep Your Heart (or mind) with Diligence!” was an honest reminder of the effects of our thinking on our heart, mind, and character. Much of the message had to do with purity of thought, which is certainly valid, but the statement that convicted me was, “Don’t be a negative child of God.”
This is an aspect of thinking I sometimes forget, that negative thinking leads to negative attitudes that spread unhelpful pessimism. This message was a strong reminder that God can create a new heart, a new outlook, and new ways of thinking…if I but give my consent.
I am grateful to have been directed here today.
The congregation participated in the shoebox effort for Samaritan’s Purse with a goal of 200 boxes, and today they dedicated and prayed over the final tally of 239 boxes.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to strengthen the bonds of these merged churches as they continue to become truly Your church. Amen.
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Today we worshiped at Lighthouse Lutheran Church, 501 3rd Avenue, Freedom, PA 15042, 724.544.7203, www.lightouselutheran.org, Dennis Whalen, Pastor.
Scripture – NLT
Philippians 3:17-21 –
“Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.”
Matthew 22:15-22 –
Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
His reply amazed them, and they went away.
We were warmly welcomed to this small A-frame style church beginning with our entrance on the first floor and all the way up into the sanctuary. I noticed no signage but we were offered directions to the sanctuary and to where we might hang our coats. The only crosses I saw were on the rear wall of the sanctuary and atop the flagstaffs.
Something I noticed that was different: during the responsive reading, the pastor read with the congregation. So often the people are weak in their response without a lead voice, but today they were strong.
In the sermon the pastor raised the question, “who do we want to fit in with?” He quoted some interesting statistics from Barna Research about the percentage of children who attend worship with both parents and then continue after maturity (76%) compared with those whose parents did not attend worship (6%). I’m glad we could invest that time in our children.
We have all been given worth by our creator, and it is not in the things that we have done. Be a living example of what you are in Christ.
A highlight for me was a family sitting in front of us. During the Lord’s Prayer, the older sister got down to the level of the younger girl to share the prayer in the bulletin with her. It was a powerful moment for me.
After the service we got to visit a bit with friends, the pastor, and his gracious wife. I learned that the pastor’s family had experiences similar to ours when visiting churches, and it was refreshing to visit with someone who understands some of what we have experienced in our visits.
I was thanked for my service by a few people; which is always humbling.
This church is only about a 10-minute drive, and we had the pleasure of worshiping with some friends.
We entered through the door nearest where we parked, not knowing where that would bring us in. Some kind folks led the way to the cozy sanctuary and several people extended warm welcomes as we found seats.
I did not know what to expect, as we have experienced highly liturgical Lutheran services as well as the more relaxed variety; this was somewhere in between, with all the liturgy clearly printed in the bulletin, making it very easy to follow, for which I was grateful. The friendly, warm, relaxed atmosphere continued into the service.
Often in churches where the music is led by an organ, there is the thinking that the louder the organ, the better, which is not true in my opinion. Today the organ was well-played at the perfect volume to be able to hear the congregation sing, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
Because the bulletin contained all the liturgy along with many announcements it was six sheets of 8½ x 11 paper, which could have been a nightmare had they not been stapled in the center. Judging from the end product, a great deal of work was lovingly put into this effort.
Today I was blessed to attend a worship service that included a written prayer of confession that was honest, true, touching, and eye-opening. I clipped it to keep with my devotionals because it was truly food for thought.
The untitled sermon spoke about the difficulty and importance of living like we are different from the world because of the Kingdom to which we belong, about the impact of those we hang out with, and the mindset we carry by understanding Who it is who gives worth to our life.
We joined the time of fellowship between worship and Sunday School and enjoyed the conversations immensely.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we are grateful for Your presence in an uplifting worship experience today. We pray for Your continued presence and blessing on this church. Amen.