Sunday, March 11, 2018
Today we worshiped at Harmony Baptist Church, 4103 Ellwood Road, New Castle, PA 16101, 724.924.9300, www.myharmonybaptistchurch.org, Pastor Jeff MacKay.
Scripture – NKJV
Romans 8:28-29 –
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Mark 6:7-13 –
Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
We were warmly welcomed by the usher at the door, the pastor, and many others. The pastor pointed out the sanctuary and rest room locations, though I didn’t see signage for either. Many people stopped by our pew to welcome us while I got to admire the great wooden cross with a wide drape. The ceiling is a moderate arch with engineered beams over knotty pine; the acoustics were good.
The pastor had just returned from a family trip south and spoke about the churches where they worshiped while there; somewhat of a taste of what we do. He referred to a question raised there, “Do you know more about Christ than you did last year?” A good question about our growth.
I realized today that the paper outline of the message probably helps with the congregation’s retention of the sermon.
The highlight of the message for me was the pastor relating his encounter and witness to their gas repair man. We often get that whisper from God to witness, to tell our story. You are never wrong to speak up.
A major change came for me when one of our sons was killed. My therapy was to talk about it and tell people about him. My ministry improved so much because of my passion. My healing came from this witness. I joke that at times it was by force and there may be some truth to that, but I talked to Christians and those of other faiths, and some who held no beliefs.
Years ago, I was lamenting how little reaction I noticed when I would wear one of my Christian T-shirts into a secular setting like Kennywood Park. Then I realized I may never know how God used that witness; it may not have been the person who saw my Christian message but one they told or who they asked about it. Never hesitate to tell your story…Christ may have you there for just that opportunity.
The gas repair man may not have gotten the message, maybe he didn’t need it, and maybe somebody will be saved when the story is relayed down the road. Let Christ use you, it feels great.
I missed a time of confession before Communion and the elements were shared silently; from where we sat it didn’t look like the pastor was served.
We visit many rural churches and each is as individual as the people who comprise it. This one was lovely with obvious attention paid to details. One such detail was the cross in the front draped in purple and featuring a crown of thorns. As if that were not enough, a small matching cross, including drape and crown, sat on each small window sill.
At first, I thought the Scripture verses on the walls were done with paint, but up close I could see they were cut out of black paper, obviously a labor of love.
When we arrived, as we stood inside I noticed the signage and the people not just milling about, but talking excitedly, greeting each other, and hugging. More of the same went on inside the sanctuary before worship, during the greeting time, and afterward. Many people stopped to introduce themselves and welcome us, and the pastor took time to greet and talk with us and provide directions on his way into the sanctuary.
The fair-sized sanctuary was nearly full, including the overflow space in a sort of balcony with its own entrance.
The bulletin included a flyer for a movie slated to open this coming Friday, March 16, called I Can Only Imagine…it is the story behind the MercyMe song of that title. I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch it, as this is one of the songs sung at our son’s memorial service. I’m sure it will be excellent and well worth watching.
The message was entitled Ministry Principles for “Sent Ones” and focused on “The Teaching Model of Jesus/The Pattern for Jesus’ Followers” – Follow Me, Be with Me, and Go as Me.” As the pastor put it: the call from Christ is a call to conversion (seeing Him for who He is), intimacy (spending time with Him), and mission (going out with Him).
He closed with the reminder that there is a reason we are where we are. I have been reminded of this regularly of late, so I felt like he was speaking to me. I guess I needed yet one more reminder, so I am passing it along.
I greatly appreciated that the service concluded with the Sacrament of Communion.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You will encourage Your church to tell their story. May they boldly witness for You. Amen.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
Today we worshiped at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15228, 412.343.8900, www.spchurch.org, Rev. Dr. Daniel B. Merry, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
Psalm 19:7-14 –
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
1 Corinthians 1:22-25 –
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
We were happy to be here for worship, to wish the pastor happy birthday, and to see the newly installed tile floor. I thought the acoustics would be harmed but the sound was pleasing.
A draped cross is displayed on the rear wall of the stage and on the Communion table.
I was pleasantly surprised with how many greeted us and one nearby who thanked me for my service. She told us her father is a Marine veteran of Iwo Jima.
In his message, Pastor Dan told about going to minister at a prison and being harassed by the guards until he heard the laughter from the guards who worshiped at his church who had set him up.
We had worshiped at a church where they spoke of prison ministry, and I shared how I didn’t think I could do that. That Monday morning, I got a call from a waitress to whom I had been ministering that she was in jail. That was when I heard God laugh.
I was interviewing for a job as the head of maintenance at a penitentiary. The warden wanted to know if I could interact with inmates without trying to witness to them. I guess the cross and other items on my lapel made him wary. I was a new believer and on fire for Christ. I didn’t get the job, but I did witness to the warden. I was so sure when I prayed that this was the job God had for me, so I was disappointed. Not long afterwards, the head of maintenance was blamed for inmates having power tools they used to break out.
Today’s message for me, “You are not called to be successful, just faithful.” I have been well paid and I have been without work…I don’t know which is better, but I can testify that we were always taken care of.
I enjoyed the praise band, especially the female lead with her solo.
I was glad the elements were offered verbally and juice was used. Many recent suppers used wine and I abstain. I didn’t realize how much I missed being able to partake of both elements.
It is always a joy to visit this church, to see old friends and make new ones. Today we got to do both, in addition to seeing the new floor in fellowship hall and wishing the pastor happy birthday.
The music was excellent, as always, and we were greeted warmly. We felt blessed to partake in Communion.
The message, entitled Divine Tension, was, for me, a timely reminder that we all have strain in our lives, and that what God wants from me is not so much of a mystery as it sometimes seems.
After mentioning a couple of anxiety-inducing real-life situations, Dan referred to the Jews and Greeks and what each required in order to believe in God. And God’s response to both was Christ crucified. Dan stated that worldly eyes saw only failure and humiliation, but Christ was the power and wisdom of God.
He stated that we are not called to be successful, only faithful. And that is the tension: to be faithful in God’s eyes or successful in the eyes of the world.
I believe it’s a choice we are all called to make daily.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray for Your Presence with this congregation as they begin the search for a new pastor next year. Guide them to the person whom You have chosen. Amen.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Today we worshiped at Zelienople Church of the Nazarene, 115 Nazarene Court, Fombell, PA 16123, 724.452.9190, www.zelienaz.com, Scott McMahon, Pastor.
Scripture – Luke 13:31-35 NASB –
Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, "Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You." And He said to them, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.' Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ' BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!' "
This church was suggested to us several weeks ago and today God lead us here. We were welcomed by members, including the pastor who directed us to where to get a bulletin, the restrooms, and where to hang our coats. I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with an usher there.
I noticed no directional signage in the areas we saw. I was pleased to find a nice-sized cross in the sanctuary and noticed some upholstered chairs that matched the pews.
The sermon was developed around Luke 13, Christ’s completing His calling to go to Jerusalem. Maybe it was the early version of “fake news” when the Pharisees were warning Jesus not to come there.
The church seems to have a great location. I wondered what community outreach they might have besides VBS. There were a fair number of young people and one delightful baby to entertain me.
We arrived with some time to wander around, but Sunday school classes were in session so our wandering was limited.
The people we encountered, including the pastor, were friendly and helpful, pointing out the location of coffee and donuts, the restrooms, and where to hang our wraps. Members continued to introduce themselves and extend warm welcomes even after worship.
The sanctuary is appealing, and I appreciated the plain, stained glass cross adorning each window.
The sermon from this Lenten series was called “Steadfast.” The big question it asked was, “What is the driving force of your life?” Is it Jesus’ agenda or some facet of the world?
A thoughtful question to ponder this week.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray Your church continues to listen for Your call and that You bless the new pastor to Your purpose. Amen.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Today we worshiped at Lillyville Church of God, 408 Hickernell Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.758.8258, www.lillyvillechurch.com, Pastor Dennis Arndt.
Scripture – 1 John 2:18-23 NLT
Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.
But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ.
Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
Although we were early, we didn’t tour much. I did find good signage and we were welcomed by the pastor and many of the members. Also, I didn’t have to hunt for a cross.
The chancel is a deep alcove with a round stained glass window positioned high on the rear wall. The low arched tile ceiling provided fine acoustics and the volume was good. I was pleased to spot the all-male praise team in prayer before the service.
We watched the pastor greeting folks and attending to many small issues, hope he normally has help with some of this.
It was interesting to witness the pastor present a children’s sermon to one cute little girl.
A clipboard was passed around to write a note of encouragement for a prison chaplain. At one church we visited, I lamented that jail ministry would be hard to do, and the next day I got a call from a woman I had been trying to minister to saying she was in jail. I think I heard God laugh in the background. I’m glad we could be a part of His recognition.
I believe the pastor is right that most of the problems in America today can be traced back to 1962 when the Bible was removed from schools. We need to continue to pray for a turnaround. The antichrist has been busy; it’s time for America to return to being a Christian nation.
Members were invited to come to the rail for prayer at the end of the service.
A friend and coworker invited us to attend her church and today we were finally able to connect.
Arriving early provided an opportunity to wander around the premises. The first thing that caught my eye as we entered was a collection of items for members in the military. I was surprised to note there are 12 active members of the military listed by name on the prayer list…a surprising number for what I supposed was a fairly small congregation.
The pastor welcomed us and continued to greet each new arrival by name. Most of those we saw smiled a welcome, which is normal for a church with multiple services.
The lovely sanctuary has just one odd feature – a very deep chancel. My friend informed me the reason it is designed that way is to accommodate a baptistry in the far corner.
The sermon, “Fellowship with God,” was obviously a continuation of a series based on 1 John. Today’s message had to do with identifying false teaching in the Church and the characteristics of an antichrist.
Everyone was invited to attend a soup luncheon after the later service and my friend showed us where it would be. From what I could see from an upper floor, it looked like a terrific space for such events.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we thank You that You guide Your people back to You. I pray Your children are effective servants. Amen.