Sunday, December 10, 2017

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church


Today we worshiped at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1001 Tenth Avenue, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.846.0544, Rev. Angela Smith, Pastor.





Scripture – NASB



Isaiah 40:1-11 –



"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.



"Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD'S hand Double for all her sins."



A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.



"Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."



A voice says, "Call out."



Then he answered, "What shall I call out?" All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.



Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"



Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, With His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him And His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”



Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 –



O LORD, You showed favor to Your land; You restored the captivity of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. Selah.



I will hear what God the LORD will say; For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; But let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, That glory may dwell in our land. Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth, And righteousness looks down from heaven. Indeed, the LORD will give what is good, And our land will yield its produce. Righteousness will go before Him And will make His footsteps into a way.



2 Peter 3:8-15a –



But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.



But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.



Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.



Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.



Mark 1:1-8 –



The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY; THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ' MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.'"



John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, and saying, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."





Bob’s thoughts:



We arrived right before church started and were warmly greeted as we entered and during the Passing of Christ’s Peace.



Most of the sanctuary’s paneled ceiling has large wooden beams and a massive concrete arch that frames the chancel. The wall has a large gold cross suspended in front of a long red curtain. The overall effect is impressive. I felt the stained-glass windows down the sides directing my eye to the chancel.



The message began with the 8th Commandment as an example of the dual-sided coin of Law and Grace. A strong point was made that God loves us all exactly the same, even those we do not love. The message was developed well with appropriate Scripture references.



We didn’t get to look around much but the signage to the rest rooms was good. We were thankful to talk to some members after the service, and I was grateful to meet the owner of the angelic singing voice. We hope to meet the pastor if God brings us back.





Jan’s thoughts:



We arrived with about two minutes to spare before the service began. As we entered the building, we were greeted immediately and given bulletins while several folks introduced themselves and welcomed us. One of the women greeted Bob with a “Semper Fi, Brother!” and said she was a Corpsman, so I knew we’d be chatting later.



The sanctuary is quite large and beautiful, with an elongated arch to the high ceiling. The rear of the chancel was backed with a bright red, floor-to-ceiling backdrop and a large cross in front of it, which looked stunning.



Even with the size of the sanctuary and the height of the ceiling, I had no trouble whatsoever with the acoustics. I could hear and understand what was spoken and sung.



The chancel was flanked by the huge Christmas tree on the right, and on the left a mostly empty creche. A paragraph in the bulletin told the rest of the story: “During the four weeks of Advent, the creche in the chancel moves from an empty manger to a fuller symbol of Christ’s presence among us as ‘the Word becomes flesh.’ For this second week in Advent, we add animals to our manger scene, symbolizing that all of God’s creation is involved in our fall into sin and in our waiting for the coming Lord.” How imaginative!



Having the entire service printed in the bulletin is extremely helpful for people like us who were not brought up in the Lutheran tradition.



The untitled sermon began with the plain fact that Christmas is 15 days away for us all whether we are prepared or not. That is good news for those who are ready, but worrisome for those who still have preparations to make.



She continued with examples of the conviction of the Law and protection of Grace: from the perspective of good news, God loves us all; from the perspective of the law, God loves all people even those in whom we see nothing lovable. Everyone is equally precious to God and they are worthy because God loves them just as He loves us.



Communion was celebrated today, which I found especially uplifting.



The pastor had to leave immediately afterward to preach at another church, but we enjoyed an extended conversation with the corpsman/woman we met before worship and her husband.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we lift up Your church to You and ask for Your guidance to discern Your direction for their future. Amen.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Crossroads Church - Cranberry


Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.





Scripture – NIV



Exodus 20:21 –

The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.



Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24 –

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them,



But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.



Exodus 32:1 –

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”



Exodus 33:7-11 –

Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.



Exodus 33:14-15 –

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”



Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”



Matthew 18:20 –

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.



Hebrews 10:25 –

Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.



Revelation 21:3 –

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.



Romans 12:2 –

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.





Bob’s thoughts:



When we pray for God to lead us to where we can meet with Him in worship and the opportunity arises to visit with our daughter and her family, it’s an easy choice.



With a lot of interaction with our grandchildren, my note-taking was poor. The message was “Gathering in His Presence” and I surely felt that today.



The message raised the question, do I really want to meet with God or am I worshiping something else? There was a time in my life where my tools were my god, and His great gift was to help me find my way home.



We were encouraged to come expecting to meet God, and I would extend that to everywhere at any time. I had a great ministry time today during the service with my grandchildren and then later in the narthex with a sister in Christ. God can and will talk to us and use us. Be prepared!





Jan’s thoughts:



We were invited by our grandchildren to attend worship, so of course we were there.



This church is typically welcoming and cordial, and as many times as we’ve been here, we meet new people each time. Some members introduce themselves and others recognize us as visitors when they see us with our grandchildren and stop to greet us.



The sanctuary has been rearranged since our last visit: the rows of chairs are still in place and new square tables enhance the back for an appealing and slightly different seating option. The sanctuary was newly decorated for the Christmas season including trees, poinsettias, and lighting in the appropriate Advent color of purple. Everything looked sparkly and full of joy, much like the people.



The music was led by the excellent praise team…I wish they had a name but if they do, I don’t know it.



The Advent sermon series is “Come Let Us Adore Him” and today’s part one was “Gathering in His Presence.” The pastor began by defining worship as connecting with God, and stated that we should always expect to meet God and experience His Presence.



He suggested if we are not meeting God in worship, asking 1 – Do I truly want to? and

2 – Am I worshiping something else? He stated that worship is a response to God’s Presence, and that God promises to be present when we gather together.



In order to experience God’s presence in worship, he advised, 1 – Arrive expecting to meet God; 2 – Be alert for God’s presence; 3 – Be open to different expressions of God’s presence; and 4 – Say “yes” to his lead.



Sensing God’s Presence in worship transforms the hour (+/-) into a holy time that rejuvenates and fills the soul with joy and purpose. It paves the way for God’s Holy Spirit to speak to the heart and can change everything. If these practices can help me experience God’s Presence more often, it’s worth any effort necessary.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we feel the excitement in Your church and ask that You sustain them as they grow closer to You. Amen.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church


Today we worshiped at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, 420 Beaver Street, PO Box 411, Mars, PA 16046, 724.625.1830, www.stjohnchurchmars.org, Rev. Robert Zimmerman, Pastor.





Scripture – NKJV



Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 –



‘For thus says the Lord GOD: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,” says the Lord GOD. “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.”



‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD to them: “Behold, I Myself will judge between the fat and the lean sheep. Because you have pushed with side and shoulder, butted all the weak ones with your horns, and scattered them abroad, therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them— My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.



Ephesians 1:15-23 –



Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.



And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.



Matthew 25:31-46 –



“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’



“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’



“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’



“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”





Bob’s thoughts:



We got to the church just as the music was starting, so I don’t know if we would have been greeted.



I was pleased to see a wooden cross that, from where we sat, looked like it was suspended, and a large round stained glass window depicting Christ with outstretched arms. I was also glad to see Pastor Susie again, and what a treat to hear the organist/pianist sing…there was a special tone to her worship.



The sermon was on God’s judgment and supported by Scripture from Christ to His disciples in Matthew 25:31-46. Many believe in error that their salvation is in jeopardy due to a lack of works. I think the real error is that we judge ourselves as being somehow good enough.



Again it was a joy to hear the sweet voice of praise in the offertory anthem.



Following worship, we were glad to have a few minutes with Pastor Susie and to pray with her.





Jan’s thoughts:



In seeking an early worship opportunity, we opted for the 8:00 service. We arrived with barely enough time to find a seat but were surprised as we entered the sanctuary and recognized the pastor. We met Pastor Susie five weeks ago, and she was filling in today. It was a joy to see her again!



The atmosphere in this large sanctuary was traditional, with a great deal of wood and intricate stained glass.



Sometimes Lutheran liturgy can be confusing for those who don’t follow it regularly, so I was grateful everything was printed in the order of worship except for the hymns.



We were welcomed during the greeting time as well as after worship.



There were a couple of solos performed by the keyboardist, who had an exceptional voice.



I was pleased to be able to partake of Communion, which was administered with a spoken reminder that this was Christ’s Body given for me.



The untitled sermon for this Christ the King Sunday focused on Christ’s promised return as the Judge of the world and a reminder to be kind to others because that is how Jesus treated us.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your children are always willing to feed, clothe, and care for You, however You appear. Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Woodland Valley Church


Today we worshiped at Woodland Valley Church, 225 Crowe Avenue, PO Box 815, Mars, PA 16046, 724.625.4500, www.woodlandvalley.org, Pastor Norb Levesque.





Scripture – KJV



Ephesians 5:20 –

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.



Ephesians 1:3 –

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.



Philippians 4:19 –

My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.



Romans 12:15 –

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.





Bob’s thoughts:



We had planned to visit here last week, but when Jan was ill we put it off. It was nice to know where we would be worshiping today. It has been a few years since we were here; I remembered the parking lot and entry and not much else.



I did see some signage and was able to find my way and I was happy to see the cross on the stage.



The worship area was set up with tables and chairs to facilitate a pot luck meal after the service. I thought it was odd that half of the congregation would have their backs to the stage and screens before I remembered there would have been a screen for the praise team on the back wall.



The praise team sounded pleasant together and it was enjoyable to hear songs I was familiar with.



I was welcomed and introduced to other members nearby.



The sermon title for me could have been “What Possesses Me?” For a long time my god was my tools and equipment, until God adjusted my perspective. I thought the message developed easily for the congregation with plenty of Scripture references. I noticed a lot of note-taking. Though the theme was give thanks for all that God has given you at all times, it was interesting to include give thanks for what He has not given you, especially what we deserve.



A quote I liked: “If there is anything you want, let me know and I will come and show you how to get along without it.” Another thought I liked was that we should give thanks for what God has given others.



I have been working on getting rid of things I no longer use, and each item that leaves, there is a great peace that comes to me. Recently as I was walking to the garage, I felt God guiding me to get rid of a lot more than I planned, and with obedience, that great peace washed over me anew.



It was a personal joy to watch a man signing to his wife during the service. It brought back such pleasant memories of one of our daughters signing in church. When our daughter signed the Lord’s Prayer, I had to step out to compose myself, it was so powerful.



We were glad to speak to the pastor and others after the service and to meet some of the pastor’s family.





Jan’s thoughts:



We visited this church only once before, about four years ago.



The first thing I noticed this time was the abundance of youth, especially middle school and high school ages. And they were involved handing out bulletins, singing in the praise team, and I’m sure various other ways. It’s sad to note this sort of involvement as out of the ordinary.



The building had been a school before, and the worship area had been a gymnasium. However I was unprepared for the way it was set up: three long rows of tables with chairs on either side. It made great sense, though, when we learned everyone would celebrate a congregational Thanksgiving meal immediately following worship. And it made for an intriguing set up for the service.



A number of folks greeted us, introducing themselves and taking the time for conversation. We were invited a handful of times to stay for the brunch, but we were forced to decline as we had other plans.



Given the acoustics, I wondered if the music would be unbearably loud, but the volume was perfect and the voices harmonious. One tidbit I thought was interesting was one of the songs had a phrase that was repeated, and the first time that phrase was sung the words were displayed in black, and in the repeat, they were in purple. An interesting touch, I thought.



The message, The Key to a Thankful Heart, spoke clearly about contentment, which he defined as “an inner sufficiency that keeps us at peace in spite of outward circumstances.” He said contentment does not come from our spouse, our possessions, our job, or anything else we have or don’t have…it comes from God alone.



He urged us to:

1 – count our blessings and be thankful for what God has given us;

2 – recognize there is a difference between needs and wants and be thankful for what God has NOT given us;

3 – be thankful for what God has given others, and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.



He said the most important key to happiness is not, “What do I possess?” The key question is, “What possesses me?” An excellent question to ask ourselves, especially at this time of the year.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your church here will praise You in all things, for what You bless them with and what You withhold. Amen.