Sunday, August 31, 2014
Today we worshiped at Lillyville Church of God, 408 Hickernell Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.758.8258, www.lillyville.cggc.org, Pastor Dennis Arndt.
Scripture – NIV
This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians:
“Announce and proclaim among the nations, lift up a banner and proclaim it; keep nothing back, but say, ‘Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror. Her images will be put to shame and her idols filled with terror.’ A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land. No one will live in it; both people and animals will flee away.
“In those days, at that time,” declares the Lord, “the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the Lord their God.
They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten.
“My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty, for they sinned against the Lord, their verdant pasture, the Lord, the hope of their ancestors.’
“Flee out of Babylon; leave the land of the Babylonians, and be like the goats that lead the flock. For I will stir up and bring against Babylon an alliance of great nations from the land of the north. They will take up their positions against her, and from the north she will be captured. Their arrows will be like skilled warriors who do not return empty-handed. So Babylonia will be plundered; all who plunder her will have their fill,” declares the Lord.
“Because you rejoice and are glad, you who pillage my inheritance, because you frolic like a heifer threshing grain and neigh like stallions, your mother will be greatly ashamed; she who gave you birth will be disgraced. She will be the least of the nations— a wilderness, a dry land, a desert.
This church is located in a scenic locale with a larger campus than I expected, but the sanctuary was more quaint and country-sized. I appreciated the suspended wooden cross and round stained glass window in the chancel alcove and the interesting banner shouting “Come Holy Spirit.”
We were warmly welcomed by quite a few people.
The message, “The Lord Destroys Wicked Nations,” is a good one to take to heart as we seem determined as a nation to go downhill.
Babylon was surprised that they were not invincible: they were attacked and overwhelmed almost overnight, the attack undetected until too late. From a military standpoint I have often admired Biblical battle plans and how human smugness in not needing God always leads to downfall. I pray our nation soon reaches the point of asking “What were we thinking?”
I was very grateful to have the pastor anoint me and, along with others, lay hands and pray for me.
We appreciated the large signs at the main road…they were hugely helpful.
The warm greetings began in the parking lot and after we were inside they just kept coming. Numerous people welcomed us genuinely and openly.
The building is larger than expected, well cared-for, and aesthetically pleasing with a chancel that would have been surprisingly deep at half what it was; but the paint and the large ornate banner were perfect complements. I also appreciated the unique multi-colored paraments.
The message, “The Lord Destroys Wicked Nations,” was based on Jeremiah 50:1-12. He interspersed much of Daniel 4 and 5 in explaining the overnight fall of Babylon, and reminding that God was at work in the midst of the chaos.
To a large degree our country, indeed our world, seems to be immersed in chaos that is much the same. And I am convinced that God’s purpose is the same now as it was then: to bring people to faith in Christ.
For more than 50 years our country has been testing the waters of self-sufficiency in the hope that the god of science or self or some other entity could somehow figure out how to make things right. I pray the Voice of Truth will soon make itself heard above the din of idolatry before God’s patience is exhausted and we fall as Babylon did. And the fault will lie with us alone.
It has been a while since I was present for anointing with oil and laying on of hands and prayers for healing, and I was deeply touched that a congregation to whom we were strangers only a few hours earlier would do this for Bob.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this congregation will continue to make You known, and that they all will enjoy You together. Amen.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Today we worshiped at Northbridge Community Church, 216 Mystic Pine Trail, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.371.1180, www.northbridge.org, Jame Price, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.
There seemed to be far fewer people in worship here than I remembered; for many maybe a last vacation before back-to-school.
The music overpowered my earplugs so I stepped out of the sanctuary; I thought if I acted like a visitor someone might say hello. I was greeted by the parking attendant and the woman who held the door.
Andy Stanley’s message was a post script to some recent messages we have heard. We have been reminded that all sorts of people will be in heaven, and Andy’s message today talked about a church of reconciliation.
Every church has a church culture designed for church people, but the real truth is the common denominator: “for all have sinned”… none of us are better than others or closer to God than others, only that we are all justified by Christ.
It came to me with this that a lot of churches might want to rethink their membership classes; many are pre-occupied with “we’ve always done it this way.”
I liked the restroom signs that were timelines of coming events, not just church events but secular also.
There is much that is welcoming about Northpoint such as friendly people who direct the parking efforts outside, friendly folks who hold the door open when you approach, and more friendly individuals who extend greetings between the entry door and the door to the sanctuary, and even inside the sanctuary. I was glad some members of our family were there to talk to though, because as much friendliness as we encountered, there was still no one to talk to.
The music was high-volume and well done, as always, and a spotlight of encouragement was pointed on volunteers.
I very much enjoy Andy Stanley’s messages. He is comfortable, animated, talks fast and sometimes stutters, but he comes across as genuine, humble, and honest.
Today’s message is hard to put into just a few words because it was about a lot of things: the culture in churches, the fact that every person who ever walked the earth – with the exception of Jesus Christ – has been unable to live up to God’s standard, and that God did something about it by sending His Son to die in our place. Andy called this “God’s buy-back program” and pointed out that it leveled the playing field.
He noted that “if the message of the church is for everybody, the culture of the church shouldn’t exclude anybody.”
He followed with a personal story about an exceptional friend whom he attempted to guide to faith in Christ and how in the process he himself became aware of the culture of the church in which he grew up.
I believe he is right on the money about church cultures being designed for church people, and I think most church people are oblivious to it. I know I was. I belonged to the same church for 30+ years, and I thought it was a friendly church that anyone could walk into and feel right at home. And I thought the same about the second church I belonged to. But after visiting churches for nearly 6 years now, I would say that every church has a culture whether they know it or not, and no church culture will “fit” everyone no matter how hard they try. Not in this world at least.
Is it good for a church culture to be so flexible that change is constant? I don’t know the answer to that, but it looks like this church may be aiming to find out.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray we remember that our common denominator with all mankind is our sinfulness. Thanks be to God for our justification through faith in Christ. Amen.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Today we worshiped at Family Bible Church, 325 Freedom Crider Road, Freedom, PA 15042, 724.774.2276, www.thefamilybiblechurch.org, Pastor Ed Bailey.
Scripture – King James Version
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
We thought we were choosing a new place to worship when we tried to visit this church a few weeks back. A waitress at a pizza shop had recounted how much she enjoyed worship here, so I was curious what we would feel.
I had driven through on two occasions to find no one home, and was thinking this a last attempt. The real surprise was when we went downstairs while Sunday School was going on in the sanctuary and we both recognized the kitchen. Until then neither of us remembered visiting about a year and a half ago.
We were welcomed by, I believe, the entire congregation.
The sermon developed from part of an in depth study of Rev. Bailey’s which brought up the point that our deeds will follow us and our works will be judged in heaven.
Neither Bob nor I had any memory of having visited this church before so I did not checked the blog to see if we had. We believed we were first-time visitors here until we went downstairs and saw the kitchen area and our memories were both jogged at the same time. It turns out we visited here 1 ½ years ago.
There may have been a few people there who did not greet us, but anyone anywhere near us came and introduced themselves.
This is a quaint, well-kept church that is off the beaten path, but one that seems to take their mission seriously. In the course of the service there were many references to answered prayers and some stories of presenting the Gospel to family members. It was good stuff.
Big Knob Fair is a good-sized annual event nearby where this church gives out candy to the kids along with tracts to both kids and adults; many present seemed to participate in some way or another.
Upon entering we were handed glossy, colorful 11” x 17” graphic representations depicting an interpretation of the events of Revelation, the topic of the pastor’s current sermon series.
A couple of points that caught my attention were what we do for the cause of Christ lasts forever and that in the end, even good works done with bad motives are bad works.
Last week, at another church, we heard a reminder that people from every nation will be saved, and we heard this again here this week. In the midst of all the upheaval around the world, this is something we all need to remember. Every human being, no matter their stance on any given issue, is created in God’s image, and this should make us think long and hard about every issue that comes to our awareness.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray You continue to bless this church and continue to lead them to where they need to be. Amen.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Today we worshiped at Bethany Presbyterian Church, 740 Washington Road, Bridgeville, PA 15017, 412.221.5132, www.bethanypresby.org, Rev. Dr. John G. Hamilton, Senior Pastor.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us— so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.
The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
I appreciated this opportunity to visit Bethany with its well thought out, welcoming sanctuary and impressive cross. Maybe people thought we were only there for the baptism, which was enjoyable, however the only welcome we received was at the restrooms. I remember it being friendlier at past visits.
I understand little about music but I think the organ sounds different in a Presbyterian church.
The sermon was entitled “All People, Really?” The Bible teaches that all people who accept Christ as Savior and Lord will be welcomed to heaven. What about our church? They are different, will we welcome them? What would that be like? Heaven, perhaps?
It has been about three years since we last visited this church, which this year is celebrating their 200th anniversary. The building is as beautiful as I remembered but we saw none of the friends we have encountered here in past visits. I enjoyed a conversation with a woman I met in the ladies room, but no one else spoke to us.
A gifted tenor presented three solos and it was a joy to listen to his strong voice and perfect enunciation.
As visitors it is always a privilege to witness a baptism; seldom do we end up seeing the family and their guests at the restaurant where we randomly choose to have lunch afterward, as happened today.
Associate Pastor Rev. Robbie Ytterberg’s sermon, “All Peoples, Really?”, almost felt more like a passionate conversation. He spoke of people-watching and noted how different people can be. In listing a broad array of diversities, some cultural and others simple personal preferences, he reminded us of the biblical promise that ALL will be at God’s throne…those we love and those of whom we are not so fond, those who are like us and those with whom we are uncomfortable. Christ purchased every single one and all will be represented in the Kingdom.
His question “Do we pray for blessings for ourselves or so that we can bless others?” is a good question to ask when we pray. I believe it is acceptable to pray for ourselves, but I also believe God blesses us so we can be a blessing to others. That is one of the ways His living water flows through us. If we are not using our blessings to bless others, if we are hoarding our blessings, we are imitating the Dead Sea. This message has me thinking about how I have or have not used my blessings.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray we can all open our hearts and doors to Your children who are different from us. May we embrace them in Your name. Amen.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
Today we worshiped at New Brighton Christian Assembly, 1810 Valley Avenue, New Brighton, PA, www.nbcafamily.com, Sam DeMarco, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Acts 10
In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.
Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel.
And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.”
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.
The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”
“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”
But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.
Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. Standing outside the gate, they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there.
Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.”
So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?”
They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.
They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.
Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”
Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”
Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”
Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.
Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.
We revisited New Brighton Christian Assembly to experience worship at the Life Center. It was pouring rain when we got to the parking lot and there was a man with two large umbrellas escorting people in.
We were warmly welcomed at the door and engaged in conversation by a few people.
I did not see a cross but noted one projected on the screen, and when the words to the songs were projected there was a small cross in the corner of the screens.
This was the last Sunday the church was meeting at the Life Center while their Sanctuary was being remodeled. I don’t know what all is done at the Life Center besides youth ministry.
The sermon was on transition, most importantly Christ from heaven to earth to hell and back again. We all are guilty of resisting God, and we should not be giving God our left-overs in time or money.
The volume for the singing nearly overpowered my earplugs; at times we could have used some of that volume for the sermon. The pastor had an insightful message with passionate delivery; most importantly he was in sync with the congregation.
We learned through a newspaper ad that this church was meeting in a different location so we attended for our second visit.
To experience this degree of friendliness at a two-service church was impressive. Many folks simply smiled and said good morning while others took the time for some conversation.
I am unclear on exactly what this building is/was, but it seemed to work well as a temporary home for this congregation while their church building was being renovated. There was a definite air of excitement in anticipation of returning to their home location next Sunday.
The voice of the lead singer was quite powerful and I’m sure she would have done just fine even without a microphone.
My only real issues had to do with things that will change next week: trying to see the words on the screens and the too-cold AC which was loud enough that hearing the message was at times a problem for me.
The message had to do with “Transitions” which ironically could be the theme of my life right now. The Scripture outlined Peter’s belief transition which, though he resisted, God persisted in getting Peter to understand the broad scope of the change Christ had accomplished through His death: He had not only removed dietary restrictions but also the boundaries regarding with whom the Jews could associate.
Another interesting point had to do with God’s sending Peter to Cornelius because He saw the latter’s generosity. Cornelius gave unstintingly and God blessed him for it, so how we give reflects our heart which cannot be hidden from God.
The pastor stressed that we should not give God leftovers, i.e., money left over after we have taken care of everything else, time left over purely because we had nothing better going on right then. God deserves the first fruits; the best we have to offer should always go to Him.
I am anxious to visit this church again in their new location. Part of their goal is to create an inviting experience for visitors…I think they already have the atmosphere and attitude, all they need now is the facility. I’m betting it will have been worth the wait.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this church will always be in transition to what You want them to be. Amen.