Sunday, December 28, 2014
Today we worshiped at The First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, 50 Stratmore Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412.921.6153, www.chup.org, Pastor David B. Carver.
Scripture – NIV
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
We were redirected a few times today before we returned to CHUP. The odd thing is, it was our first choice but we were looking for an earlier start time.
We were welcomed and engaged in conversation and met folks we didn’t know.
The only cross I noticed was the standard Communion table cross, and I realized that though I appreciate the large crosses, the small one was enough for me.
For me the sermon raised the question, “Do we put Christ away when we store the trappings of Christmas?”
Christ is the gift that keeps on giving. Don’t wait till you think you need Him again. You need Him now.
After discovering unannounced schedule changes at two other churches, we found ourselves in the vicinity of a church we knew, and it was a blessing to greet and be greeted by a number of old friends as well as meeting new friends.
Parish Associate George Leitze gave the sermon which was entitled “The Gift Goes On!” He asked what it is we do with Jesus after Christmas…do we pack Him away with the decorations or bring Him with us into the New Year?
Time will answer this question for each of us.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray for Your continued blessings on CHUP. May they continue to reflect Your glory. Amen.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Today we worshiped at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228, 412.343.8900, www.spchurch.org, Rev. Dr. Daniel B. Merry, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her
At times we really need to recharge our batteries, and Christmas worship with handbells at Southminster was just what we needed. It is amazing how the handbell performance takes you into worship.
There is an additional Advent wreath with candles suspended horizontally above the chancel. It was unusual to worship here without the organ, but I especially appreciated the choir’s voices falling on the congregation from the rear balcony.
The sermon, “A time for miracles…”, developed early from a story of disbelief to Mary accepting God’s call for her to the reason for the season: love.
We have seldom been greeted here by people we do not know, but the woman next to Jan said hello.
We have visited here numerous times and when we feel the need to return we are always welcomed with open arms by our friends. Several others greeted us as well.
The sanctuary was beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it was an absolute treat to hear – and watch – the Southminster Handbell Ensemble.
Watching one of the church families light the Advent Candle brought back memories of years past when our family served in this capacity at another Presbyterian church.
The message was entitled “A time for miracles…” in which we were reminded of how people in general become kinder and more loving, giving sacrificially where there is need. Somehow each year, as we remember God’s gift of His Son, we are prompted to give ourselves. If we could maintain the Christmas perspective on giving year-round, every day would be like Christmas…like God intended.
Wishing everyone a blessed CHRISTmas!
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we feel the Holy Spirit at work in this church and pray their hearts are always open to Your leading. Amen.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Today we worshiped at North Branch Church, 139 North Branch Road, Monaca, PA 15061, 724.774.0711, www.Got-Hope.com, Pastor Andrew Beery.
I was looking forward to visiting North Branch as I still have fond memories of our first visit there when we heard the Rev. Dr. Richard Morledge. The message was so good that I went away feeling like the whole church was really Christ-centered. I also remembered the large wooden cross and a sense of the tremendous potential at this church.
It was disappointing to only be greeted as we received a bulletin and by two women after the service, but otherwise ignored. The only friendliness was from a few young children who smiled.
We were sorry to learn of the passing of the pastor’s father.
No Scripture was read and the speaker recited a nativity story.
It’s been almost two years since our previous visit here, and this time we vaguely recalled a parking area across from the church, so we did not have to walk up the hill from the lower parking area.
We were greeted by several gentlemen when we entered and by several others following the service. Much friendly conversation went on around us.
Sadly, the pastor’s father passed away so the pastor was unexpectedly out of town. Consequently, an elder led the service and someone else (presumably another elder) gave the message: a reading of “A Walk One Winter Night” by Al Andrews.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this church opens its hearts to Your message for them. May they grow in Your purpose. Amen.
Sunday, December 7, 2014
Today we worshiped at Wildwood Chapel, 2850 Jack Street, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378.7150, www.wherejesuschangeslives.com, Pastor Rich Liptak.
Scripture – NKJV
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
It still amazes me how much more connected we feel when we are warmly welcomed. We were greeted by a number of people, including two Marines.
The sanctuary is a wide arc with a great wood beam ceiling. The floor is sloped theater-style so it was easy to see the screen. The only cross I could find in the sanctuary was on the ceiling light fixtures.
When we first arrived and heard the volume of the praise group practicing, I went looking for ear plugs, but with the exception of the last song, I didn’t need them. It was good to sing some familiar praise songs, though I wish we could have heard the female leads. I also enjoyed the offering solo.
A woman shared a great personal story on Christ’s healing and her recovery.
The pastor talked about the songs we sing in our worship being for God…it was encouraging to hear that again. I really appreciated the pastor’s prayer for illumination, something that is often missing.
I thought the sermon was well developed and biblically supported with plenty of Scripture. Every time I thought the message was running a little long, the pastor brought up another good point. The congregation was attentive and the sermon seemed well received.
I smiled when he talked about God redirecting our paths, and how often He has done that to Jan and me.
The pastor moved around a lot during the sermon but there was never any echo or feedback.
This church has been on our list for some time, and today turned out to be the day. The building is spacious with plenty of pews set in a circle facing the front of the large sanctuary.
As we entered and received a bulletin we were told this was nametag Sunday, which we learned is undertaken every few weeks. Numerous folks stopped to introduce themselves and welcome us, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the nametags had something to do with their comfort in greeting visitors. Of course Bob’s t-shirt attracted some other Marines in the congregation.
Plenty of time was given to greet others and many welcomed us and invited us to stay for donuts and coffee following worship. There were a few prayer requests and a testimony by a woman with a remarkable story of God’s healing.
I appreciated the pastor’s comment that the words to songs can give our spirits the words to worship God. I often feel this way.
The message, entitled “Two Natures in Conflict,” dealt with the sinful, fleshly nature with which we are born and the ‘new creation’ God calls us when we accept Christ as our Savior. He pointed out that whether the conversion is radical or gradual, the mind is transformed and how we ‘do life’ changes. However this transformation is hugely dependent on us and our willingness to put forth conscious effort to fight the cravings of the sin nature. We must run to God with the hidden things in the life of our mind and heart, things He knows already, but when we confess them barriers fall and we again experience a spiritual connection with God. We must choose to yield to our new nature instead of our sin nature. We must make a “continuous declaration of dependency.”
Something else that resonated with me was his definition of ‘living in the Spirit’: being constantly conscious of God’s Presence.
Of course, as long as we are on this side of heaven, our old nature will plague us. He proceeded to list five actions we can take to fight this spiritual battle:
1 – Humbly acknowledge the carnality in our minds and lives;
2 – Renounce the hidden things of darkness and confess them;
3 – Apply God’s Word to the situation; renovate the mind;
4 – Be constant; keep trying and don’t give up;
5 – Put guilt and shame in their place; “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
I appreciated the concrete guidance in this message. Anyone who attempts to live in the Spirit has experienced the spiritual warfare he spoke of. And I agree that the battle is fought first in the mind, territory the Enemy is constantly working to possess. We must take this battle for our minds seriously and fight like our lives depend on it, because they do.
I was grateful for the time after the service to chat with the pastor.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this congregation is in tune to Your redirecting their journey; it is an exciting place to be. Amen.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Today we worshiped at Grace Church of Harmony, 538 Main Street, Harmony, PA 16037, 724.452.7270, www.gcoh.org, Peter Everett, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
Jesus also told them other parables. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!
“So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.
“The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town. And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are called, but few are chosen.”
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all."
We were turned around in our efforts to get to where we thought God was directing us to worship, and when we gave in to God’s leading we ended up at Grace.
An usher asked if we were there for a family’s child dedication and we responded that we were just visiting; our only other conversation was with a woman who introduced herself after the service although I couldn’t help but smile at the friendly gestures from some babies I interacted with. My memory from our last visit was of a much friendlier, albeit early, service.
The youth pastor gave the announcements and asked visitors to fill in the pew card so they could pray for them during the week.
The music today was great, especially the violin.
The sermon started with a story of missionary efforts being redirected by God, which made me think of how many times – like today – when we have been redirected. We need to follow GPS: God’s Promises in Scripture.
We visited the early service at this church just over a year ago and today we participated in the later service. Apparently today we were far from the only visitors due to a child dedication during the service. Once inside we were looking around and one gentleman paused on his way through the lobby area to offer directions to the facilities.
As we found seats I wondered how long it had been since I sat in a regular pew. Somehow it felt right to be in such traditional surroundings on this First Sunday of Advent.
The uplifting music was superb, helped along by the violin, two guitars, and another instrument just out of my line of sight. The special music for the offering was one that was new to me called “How Many Kings,” a moving song that I highly recommend.
I appreciated the sermon outline provided in the Order of Worship since this message, “Future Restoration,” was part of a series based on the deeply theological book of Romans. The future restoration referred to is of Israel, as he reminded that “God has everything in human history and in your life planned out to the last detail,” that “His promise to Abraham is irrevocable…when God says He will do something, it will happen for certain.” Final points included the strong reminder that “No unbeliever is beyond the reach of God’s mercy.”
At times we wonder what is taking God so long, what is the purpose behind the “delay” in whatever it is we anticipate, be it the resolution of some issue in our life or the return of Jesus Christ. If we keep in mind that, as the pastor pointed out, our salvation is by God’s mercy alone, perhaps we can learn to wait patiently in faith and gratitude, knowing that He is allowing what is best for us as well as for the rest of the world. Although we do not understand it, happily, this is easy for the God Who created the universe. “You will never regret living like you believed God.”
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray Your church recognizes Your redirection and that they continue to follow You. Amen.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Today we worshiped at Bridgeway / Allison Park Church, 424 Duss Avenue, Ambridge, PA 15003.
Scripture – Acts 11:25-26
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
It was interesting to get back to Bridgeway/Allison Park Church; the affiliation is very recent.
Through most of the service I lamented the lack of a cross. After the service, as we talked with the pastor, he pointed out the large wooden cross that had been hidden from our view.
We were warmly greeted when we came in, and we found the welcome desk had ear plugs. I saw the lead singer put hers in and did likewise, but it turned out I didn’t need them.
I made several vain attempts to get a question in at the welcome desk.
I wish the video screens were higher since both were obscured for me by taller people.
A few women greeted us after the service and wished us well.
The sermon was projected from Allison Park Church and presented by Jeff Leake. I thought he delivered a passionate message that was well supported scripturally.
I felt blessed to be able to pray for this congregation as they go through this transition.
We opted for a nearby church as we get back into visitation mode.
The people were just as friendly as the last visit, several greeting us almost right away when we entered.
One of the personable greeters turned out to be the pastor’s wife; she informed us that the church was transitioning to become a satellite of Allison Park Church. Indeed, the printed material we saw and received all indicated this to be the case, and the website is on its way to reflecting this reality.
Prior to the message we watched a video showing 5-10 second clips of missionaries around the world thanking APC for their generous support in places like Kenya, China, Nicaragua, India, Indonesia, Utah, Tanzania, Thailand, and Pittsburgh. This was well done and would be a terrific type of reminder in any church of the good accomplished by their mission support.
“Faith Promises” (aka financial pledges made based on faith in God’s ability to provide) were presented to the church today following a message from Pastor Jeff Leake from APC. The message taught that God blesses His children not just so they can life a better life but so they can bless others, bring Him glory, and so He can use them to bless His hurting, needy world.
I‘m afraid it is far too easy to forget sometimes that we are blessed to be a blessing. This Thursday, as we thank God for all the ways in which He has blessed us, hopefully we will remember to thank Him for all the ways He provides for us to bless others.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray for Your continued Presence with this congregation as they complete this transition. Encourage them and bind them together as they grow in Christ. Amen.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Today we worshiped at home.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all who prayed for me over my shoulder surgery. Everything went very well and I will see my very competent surgeon next week. My arm will remain in a sling for the rest of November followed by many weeks of physical therapy.
I thank God for letting me have this experience. I thank my wonderful bride for putting up with me and taking such great care of me. I’m sure she is looking forward to going back to work and getting a rest. We both look forward to resuming our church visits.
I too believe Bob is doing exceptionally well and am grateful for our surgeon. If I took good care of him, it is just me returning the favor. I do have a newfound respect for professional caregivers, though.
We give You thanks Lord, for the trials You let us experience and the lessons we learn through them. Amen.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Today we worshiped at Faith Community Christian Church, Blueberry Hill Park, 1604 Blaines Way, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.459.0033, www.faithc3.org, Tom Bracken, Jr., Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV)
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
Again we worshiped at a church that meets in a park, but this time our directions were clear and we correctly assumed there would be no directional signage.
We were warmly welcomed by most of the congregation and invited to coffee and snacks. I enjoyed the cross on the Communion table and projected on the screen. The volume was terrific and I did not need ear plugs.
The time for prayers was impressive. Prayers were offered by people scattered around the room holding signs designating particular issues. I was fascinated with how many were willing to offer prayer, but also that most of the congregation got up to seek someone to pray for them.
The sermon was well-developed and reinforced by Scripture throughout. We were encouraged to break ourselves from our discontent.
I genuinely enjoyed worshiping and was grateful for the pastor’s prayers.
For the second straight week we worshiped at a church that met in the community center of a park.
It was a joy to arrive early enough to have time to talk with some people. One gentleman greeted us in the parking lot, and once inside most of the rest of the congregation stopped by with a quick “Hi!” or “Welcome!” Most introduced themselves, many joked with us in this very warm, casual, welcoming atmosphere.
I was struck again by the amount of effort it takes, week after week, to set up, tear down, and clean the space in which worship is held, which is why I was not surprised to find this church, too, had bought a building of their own and will be moving there in two weeks.
During the announcements the pastor spoke of a course called “Grief Beyond Ministry” which he will conduct starting next month.
This church has a fascinating prayer ministry that takes place during worship. About 10 trained elders called Prayer Partners each hold a sign with a one-word need, such as Healing, Salvation, Peace of Mind, and others. They station themselves around the room and anyone present with such needs is welcome to approach the elder for prayer. During this time the Praise Team sang just loudly enough to prevent overhearing the conversations, keeping them private. The conversations and prayers continued for about 15 minutes, then everyone retook their seats. It was quite powerful.
The message was part of a series called “Defeating Your Giants” and this week’s “giant” was discontentment. The pastor told the story of a man on a plane who tried to engage his seatmate in conversation only to be ignored. Finally the man complained to the flight attendant that he was just not happy with his seat and requested his seat be moved. The flight attendant informed the man that the plane was full and that was his assigned seat, so he would have to sit there for the duration of the flight. Of course, many of us have asked God for the same thing: to have our seats changed, but God often gives the same answer: that is your assigned seat so sit there.
He referred to a complaint from which many of us suffer: Contentment Deficit Disorder. This disease has been known to cause all sorts of issues in lives because it changes how we see life. It causes us to be convinced that “If I can just have (whatever), I will be happy.” He pointed out that Paul did not say he “fell into” happiness, but that he “learned” to be happy.
Then the pastor outlined the path to happiness.
1 – Accept the seat assigned to you by God…where you are is not a mistake.
2 – Learn to get along with the troublemaker(s) in your life. Follow Jesus’ example and run toward those who make us want to run the other way…loving them is a much better choice. Besides, if we run away, we’ll always be running away. Love them instead.
3 – Changing seats does not solve the problem. Happiness is never external, it’s always inside.
4 – Play the cards you’re dealt. Life is not fair, but every Christian gets a winning hand in the end. Just keep playing and quit whining.
5 – Choose to be happy. Make the decision to be happy where you are.
This morning I walked through the doors of this place with a sense of restlessness, full of questions about my life and whether I’m doing what God would have me do. Consciously “just not happy,” but realized I was regretting the past and fretting about the future. God put me in that chair this morning because I needed to hear that message, and I am so very grateful He did.
We shared encouraging conversations with more than a few who took time to talk following worship and sincerely appreciated the pastor’s laying on hands and praying for Bob’s shoulder surgery this Tuesday.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your blessing upon this church as they move to their own building. We ask You to help them remember that they are Your church and their new building is just that. Amen.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Today we worshiped at Hampton Bible Chapel / Crosspointe Church, P.O. Box 1405, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 412.517.8618, www.hamptonbiblechapel.com, Mike Brownfield, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Philippians 2:12-18 (ESV)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
If you know God, how can you not enjoy Him and everything about Him?
We used printed Google search directions to the church as well as my GPS which led us to a wooded area, so we reverted back to the printed directions and found they were trying to take us to the same woodlands. Jan searched on her phone and found the church was in the middle of Hampton Park.
We were lamenting the lack of any signage when we saw one building with a number of cars around it, so we parked and went in. We walked through the building and found rest rooms and nearby a banner indicating the worship area…the first indication that we might be in the right place.
We were disgruntled and dismayed at the lack of directional signage and I was at the point of thinking this was the most inwardly-focused church we had ever visited, that they were so unfriendly they didn’t want to be found. But I heard a woman greet Jan as I was going into the rest room. When I came out and was waiting for Jan the woman called me by name, introduced herself and led me to where Jan was seated.
The devil had us so turned around that we almost sought somewhere else to worship. The church was not allowed to use signs and has to pack up and completely clear the space following worship each week.
We spent so much time finding the church that there was next to no time for greetings.
We both enjoyed the obvious first grandchild in the row in front of us. When I mentioned that I had hoped to talk to them after the service, Grandma commented that Grandpa had control (as it should be…) and I thought just the opposite, it seemed like Grandpa was constantly being corrected or the baby adjusted. Grandpas never have enough baby time.
I wish worship leaders would not feel obligated to play music when someone is speaking or praying; it makes it very hard for some like me, to hear what is said.
The sermon was part of a series and dealt with working out our salvation. I thought it was a catchy title and heard Bible-based preaching: your salvation is in you, you have to work to bring it out…we all need to stop complaining and just do it.
The pastor spoke of needing to conduct a funeral service for a family he didn’t know and understood that they didn’t know Christ. We were blessed with the privilege to pray for him while he did the service, as we are well aware that only Christ’s words can help; there is nothing a mortal can say.
There was a luncheon after the service and a man from across the room came and invited us to share their table; we again felt it was God’s orchestration we shared some common ministry. There were also some who thanked me for my service.
I look forward to the progress at this church.
Today’s visit was an adventure. We started out just a bit early with our printed directions to the meeting place indicated on the website. The GPS took us on a slightly different route, which was okay, but when the GPS announced that we had arrived at our destination, all we saw were trees.
Suffice to say it took an extra 15 minutes and Google maps on my phone to point out that the church was located in the middle of a community park. Although it seemed odd we had nothing to lose, so we headed in that direction and discovered the church met in the community park building.
As we walked across the parking lot, I confessed to Bob my irritation at the fact that there were no signs anywhere, even right outside the building, much less back on the roads where they could have done us some good.
Following the service, in conversation with the very friendly people of this church, we learned that signage is not permitted because worship takes place on community property. However we also learned this church is on the verge of purchasing space elsewhere and hopes to move within 6 months. They have also changed their name, which cleared up my confusion when I received a bulletin bearing the name Crosspointe Church but still indicating the web address for Hampton Bible Chapel. In the end it all made sense.
The bulletin contained a list of items to be considered in preparation for ministry in their new location; several of these items spoke to reaching out into the community as well as greeting and including visitors. This sort of purposeful planning makes it clear this church is willing to hear and do what is necessary to invite those outside their doors to join them in the Name of Christ.
As I said, this turned out to be quite a friendly church: we were greeted intentionally by a number of folks, invited to stay for a luncheon following worship and then to sit with a couple with whom we had much in common, it turned out.
Being a community center, it takes a huge amount of work to set up the space for worship, but it was comfortable and we were able to find our way around with no problem. The worship area was large enough to accommodate a good number of worshipers of all ages and physical limitations.
The message was part of a series called “Learning to be Content” and today’s entry was entitled “Working Out Our Salvation.” The pastor taught directly from the text, explaining the meanings of words and phrases and emphasizing that God’s instructions to His people include doing whatever God asks of us without complaining, mumbling, or questioning. He testified that if we are willing to work at being the people God calls us to be, God will do it for us in addition to giving us the gift of wanting to do what He asks.
In other words, if we will turn to God in trust, God will give us the desire, the tools, and the victory all of which benefits us, the culture, and other Christians around us.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You will bless this church; help them to work out their salvation so they are a beacon to all. Amen.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Today we worshiped at Mosaic Community Church, 2801 North Charles Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, www.mosaicpittsburgh.com, Rev. Saleem Ghubril, Pastor.
Scripture – Acts 2:42-47
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved."
We made arrangements to worship at Mosaic so we could meet up with a friend we hadn’t seen for quite a while. We were greeted warmly by a man at the door and a few others.
We were pleased that Saleem was preaching but with my head cold I could understand very little. The worship leader gave announcements and an impassioned prayer but I couldn’t understand a word of it. I was blaming my ears and the acoustics of this old Catholic church building until a few folks read Scripture from the pews and every word was clear. Maybe they just had the wrong mike on the chancel.
The architecture of the building seemed like it would benefit from a large cross somewhere, but that is something to which I’m partial.
I did gain some insight on the sermon at lunch and came away with a strong point of “we worship what we value most.”
I did not realize it had been 3 years since our last visit here, but we had the joy of worshiping with a dear friend and of hearing Saleem Ghubril preach.
As we walked into the spacious sanctuary we were greeted by a kind gentleman and directed to the tables bearing coffee, fruit, cereal, and other goodies.
There was plenty of time to talk before worship started, and we spent it enjoying our coffee and catching up with our friend and meeting some new friends.
For the message, the same Scripture was used and read aloud by the congregation over the course of this series as Saleem delved deeply into the meaning of various parts of this passage. He spoke of worship in heaven being totally different, indeed being more than any worship experience we have ever had here on earth. He mentioned how everyone worships something: whatever is of greatest value to them.
He explained that just as we are instructed to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, worship requires 3 parts: emotion, intellect, and will.
He taught that if you have heard God’s voice calling you, do not turn away; the consequence of rejection and rebellion is restlessness.
I appreciated the format of this message, preaching interspersed with songs followed by readings from Psalm 95 by members of the congregation. It was a breath of fresh air.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to bless and use this congregation/church. Guide them as they bring seekers to You. Amen.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
Today we worshiped at New Life Christian Ministries, God’s Mission Outpost, 139 Knoch Road, Saxonburg, PA 16056, 724.524.1547, www.NewLifeXn.org, Dr. Chris Marshall, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – James 2:14-17 NLT
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
We were just late enough to miss the greeting time so I can’t speak to any welcome, but the only one to speak to us was a pastor after the service while we were sitting in the narthex.
I am always happy to worship at a church that isn’t embarrassed to have a cross prominently displayed and the spotlight that framed the cross in light was especially powerful.
I did need my earplugs but was amazed that some of the female lead singer’s voice came through.
Communion was served, albeit silently, with the Words of Institution and prayer spoken easily. It is always great to celebrate together on World Communion Sunday. There was an explanation of what I call “Christ by osmosis”…when you bring seekers into the company of Christians there are some who will come to believe by our witness of how we act.
It was easy to hear Christ speaking through the pastor. If you want people to hear the Good News, caring for them opens the ears and hearts to Christ. We can witness how Jesus has changed our lives, but we win more by our behavior. Our redemption by Christ is the greatest thing ever in our lives. How can we not want to share it?
I made one wrong turn and that was all it took for us to find ourselves 10 minutes late. However one advantage of a contemporary service is that being a little late is not usually an issue.
Our first visit to this church just over a year ago turned out to be this congregation’s first Sunday in their brand new space, so it was nice to see it again since they’ve settled in. It is colorful and nicely laid out and decorated.
The large worship space, although a bit chilly, was filled with plenty of comfortable seating and almost filled to capacity. We were told that, unlike countless churches, this church has many more worshipers than members.
Bob will probably comment, but I want to add my two cents about how much I appreciated the large cross on the wall. The room was darkened when we sang and the simple design of this cross was transformed as a rectangular light created a frame around the cross…the unpretentious use of light used to stunning effect.
I was grateful World Communion Sunday was being observed and that it held a place of such significance that the pastor taught some of its history, including that its institution dates only to around the time of World War II…this was news to me. I thought the servers were efficient, and as the cup was shared the pastor asked participants to copy something he learned in Cuba: prior to drinking, he asked everyone to trade cups with a neighbor. The background music during the sacrament was lovely.
The message was the last in a series about belonging and was subtitled, “Caring as an Invitation to Know Jesus.” The Take Home Point was, “If we want people to hear the Good News, we must care for their daily needs!” The emphasis was on caring in practical ways, actually taking action to help others in the name of Jesus so that those who are helped can and are willing to hear about why we care. I liked the quote: “Hungry stomachs have no ears.” It’s about getting involved and doing something.
Some folks smiled at us but no one spoke until, following the service, as we sat in the fellowship area, an Associate Pastor introduced herself. In the course of a friendly conversation we learned we had much in common and we deeply appreciated her gracious prayer and her kindness.
Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, open our hearts to sharing our faith by our service to those in need. Amen.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Today we worshiped at Bellevue Christian Church, 680 Lincoln Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15202, 412.761.2754, www.bellevue-christian.com, Chuck Gohn, Lead Minister.
Scripture – John 14:12 NIV
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
It is hard to complain when I come across a large broken-mirror cross, but I did wish it was in the front of the sanctuary. A few people said hello during the service but other than the obligatory greeting time, only one person welcomed us.
I enjoyed the stained glass, the wooden ceiling, and especially the choir…it’s always great to see choirs that smile.
I wish we had an opportunity to hear more of the violin.
The congregation seems diverse and friendly with each other.
We understand the pastor was recovering from surgery. I don’t know if his stand-in had preached before. I had a lot of difficulty understanding what was said as it seemed very fast.
During Communion there was a cross projected on the screen.
We did have a moving experience afterward at the traveling Vietnam War Memorial in Beaver.
As we walked into this well-kept building, I was struck by the stunning expanse of stained glass over the main entry doors. Little did I know there would be more inside, along with a large cross made from broken glass.
A greeter handed us bulletins and upon request pointed us toward the restrooms. It turned out there was signage, I just could not read it from that distance. As we came back upstairs to the sanctuary, a gentleman greeted us. It is common for multi-service churches not to recognize new faces as visitors.
The music was contemporary and included a violin, which added surprisingly to the sound. The worship leader played the piano and the choir backed her up, blending well. We were pleased to be sitting directly behind a baby who sang along with the voice of an angel.
The message entitled “Living With the Resurrection in Mind” was presented by a guest, Jamie Weiss, an Associate from His Place Contact Center (www.hisplacecc.org). In a comment he connected with sci-fi movies, he urged listeners to see life “4th dimensionally – see it as it will be,” as well as to remember to take an active role in God’s work and worry less about ourselves. We will find we have left a mark on earth because our minds were on heaven.
I appreciated participating in Communion and especially that instructions were projected on the screen.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray You open the congregation’s hearts to the direction You are leading this church. Amen.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Today we worshiped at Alive! Community Church, worship held at South Pike Cinemas, 130 Cinema Way, Route 356, Sarver, PA 16055, 724.816.2713, www.alivecc.com, Dave Roddy, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me."
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
We were invited by a worshiper to come visit this church, and from the invitation we expected only a few, so were pleasantly surprised by 50+ in worship.
The church meets in a movie theater, which from what we learned is a win-win for all. The theater’s sound system was too much for my ears but what a blessing for the church.
God has blessed them to be a church without the burden of a building. My only disappointment was the lack of a cross; I thought there might be one displayed on the large screen, but did not get to ask why not.
A visiting couple, the Youngs, spoke about their ministry against human trafficking in Europe and we were blessed to be there to hear a little about it and meet with them afterward. I was pleased that the pastor would call the family forward and pray a blessing over them. In all, the pastor’s prayers were a highlight for me as he sounded very comfortable and willing to lift up prayers.
This was week two of a sermon series on the 10 Commandments and God used this pastor to clarify a seed He had planted in me. I thought I was called to grow a half-acre garden on our hillside and donate the proceeds to feed the hungry. Last year, while lamenting that it was killing me, it came to me that this was Bob’s idea, not God’s. I kept putting off getting my little wood shop operational because I was too busy with the garden and woodworking was just for fun. I came to realize that was God’s whisper to get my shop in order. I still got carried away this year…the garden is smaller but still way too much. Now I have rotator cuff tears in both shoulders, and He has my attention.
Some of that enjoyment in obeying God finally will be praising Him for His leading to however He will use me.
After receiving an email invitation to visit this church I found myself wondering what worship in a movie theater would look like, as this concept was new to me. I learned that this is far from a new idea: I was told that at least two national theater chains have divisions devoted to arrangements between the cinemas and churches.
As we approached the building, the doors were held open for us and we were greeted with smiles and bulletins. We found information about the church on a folding table in the lobby, and several friendly people greeted us, including the pastor.
The restrooms were well marked of course and we easily found our way to the appropriate theater where the band was set up and seating was excellent. The words to the songs were projected toward the top of the screen, leaving plenty of room for worship leaders to stand in front. The concession stand was open, making it possible to bring drinks in and use the convenient drink holders built into the arms of the seats.
Some of the music was unfamiliar to me, but the group had a great sound. After the opening songs the pastor spoke about the importance of the theology expressed in the music, and I completely agree that accurate theology is vital.
An unexpected visit from a missionary family was a special treat for us as well as for this congregation. This husband and wife team, along with their 3-year-old twins, are obeying God’s call to help stop human trafficking. The challenges presented in this scenario would seem insurmountable without faith that God empowers those He calls.
The message, “You’re Not God,” is the second in a series about the Ten Commandments. One of his most powerful points was a tweet quoted from David Platt: “The great mistake made by most Christians is hoping to discover in themselves that which is found in Christ alone.” I think there is much truth to this statement today, even though this observation originated with and was credited to A.W. Pink, an evangelist who lived from 1886-1952. Neither times nor people have changed much since, which you can easily tell from a quick glance at Facebook.
The pastor taught that “our ability to follow the other nine Commandments is based on our ability to follow this one;” that God can be replaced in our hearts and minds by His good gifts to us, i.e., our kids, our spouse, our job, our hobbies. These “good things can become god things”…we can find ourselves worshiping these good gifts from our loving God instead of worshiping God. But “God will not share His Bride, the Church, and He prevents heartache by being the center of our lives.”
I could only add that He not only created us but paid the ultimate price to redeem us; He deserves to be the center of our lives.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we give You thanks for blessing this congregation that they are free to be a church and not caretakers of a building. Amen.