Sunday, December 27, 2015
Today we worshiped at Victory Family Church, 21150 Route 19, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.453.6200, www.lifeatvictory.org, John Nuzzo, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – ESV
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Knowing that two of our 4-year-old grandchildren would be entertaining me outside of the sanctuary, I did not expect to have much to add to our blog, but there are some things I want to share.
I was exclaiming to my grandson how the huge Christmas tree in the lobby reached clear up to the ceiling. His response: it reaches clear up to Jesus and (my son) Uncle Dan. Dan was killed before Parker was born but he has a special relationship with and resemblance to Dan.
I enjoyed a conversation and witness with a young mom and was glad to lift this young family in prayer. I love how God orchestrates interactions in our lives.
Also I marvel at how often we have a discussion during the week that is addressed in the sermon on Sunday. We had discussed comments from others that their life as it is is better than being dead. The message taught what we should believe as Christians in this regard, that we should have no fear of death.
On Christmas Eve we worshiped with another daughter and her family at Crossroads Church and had an uplifting worship experience celebrating the Birth of Christ.
A great point raised in that message was, “Christmas means a way out of the dark places.” It was a special treat to see some of our grandchildren perform in song and the addition of a saxophone to the talented praise band was phenomenal.
After a conversation with the pastor of the church we visited last Sunday we recognized that our words had the potential to do more harm than good. Therefore we removed that blog post and you are invited to join us in praying for that young church.
Greetings here usually consist of a smile and a nod, and today’s involved conversation in addition.
Nearly every time we’ve been here there has been an eye-catching display of some sort in the atrium, and today we were treated to a huge Christmas tree surrounded by boxes hand inscribed with the things for which people were most thankful. This church has enough members to make this a large display.
We were grateful for the free coffee this rainy morning.
The message was given by youth and young adult pastor Zack Blair and based to a large extent on his own experiences, it seems. Entitled “Sons and Daughters,” he spoke about the path to overcoming what he termed “spiritual orphanhood.”
This path involves, first, facing the past and the labels we have put on ourselves, whether on our own or via others; second, recognizing that trust is an essential part of fulfilling our need for connection with others; and third, embracing the knowledge that our Heavenly Father loves us, that He has searched us out and adopted us as His own. We are His sons and daughters and because He loves us perfectly, we need not fear life or death or anything else. His perfect love casts out fear, so there is always always hope.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, Your hand is evident in this church and pray for Your continued guidance and blessing on the leaders and members alike. Amen.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Yesterday we worshiped at Grace Community Church, 9160 Marshall Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.779.7997, www.mygcc.org, Matt Kaltenberger, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
With some obligations on Sunday, we looked to worship on Friday night or Saturday and remembered this church. We were invited to visit last year by a recovery room nurse whom we saw too often as patients.
We were greeted at the entry door, by the doorkeeper who let us into the sanctuary, and during the service by a woman we knew from another church. We had a delightful conversation with a pastor after the service.
I found a cross on the logo projected on the screen, but that was the only one I could find.
There was an occasional spotlight that panned over the crowd that was so blinding I had to sit down, but seeing the two female leads in the praise band projected onto the screen made me feel much more connected.
The message on loneliness was well delivered and meticulously supported by Scripture. Loneliness was the first thing in God’s creation that wasn’t good. We get so busy with our lives then find ourselves in a crowd of “strangers we happen to be related to.”
The take-away from the sermon: “Jesus left His home in heaven so we don’t have to be alone.”
The pastor seemed to relate well with the congregation by putting a lot of himself into the message.
I appreciated the rack of picture cards of the staff in the lobby. So often we are stuck trying to put a name with a face we remember.
It would be helpful if there was signage to the church that shows up in the dark from Route 19.
With a commitment to spend Sunday afternoon at a funeral home, we chose to worship Saturday night.
The interior of this building is appealing, with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the entryway and a contained waterfall against the wall straight ahead. We got a cup of coffee (appreciating the decaf being available) and found seats, at which point I noticed something I think was new…cup holders! And from the number of folks with cups, I think it was a great idea.
Announcements were pre-recorded and delivered on the screens for the most part, but the campus pastor, Bob Zonts, made some comments also. They have a class of 60 people joining soon.
Apparently the lead pastor, who preached, was just returning after four weeks away, which had given him time to ponder many things. Thus he urged everyone to make it a point to return in January for the series he will present called “Roadwork” based on the premise that the Christian life is a journey. I suspect it will be pretty good, and I plan to download Grace’s app so I can listen to some messages on my commute. I guess I’ll also do some “roadwork…”
His message surprised me with its gravity, as he spoke of loneliness. He stated that loneliness is the first thing God saw in creation that He said was not good, and pointed out that Jesus left His home in heaven so we would not have to be alone.
He outlined the steps to overcoming loneliness:
1 – Invite Jesus into our lives and then actually let the walls down and let Him in;
2 – Live in relationship with Jesus;
3 – Learn to live in community with others.
He told the story of something I’ve done also, trying to navigate an unfamiliar room in the dark, and compared it to our attempts to navigate the darkness of life without the Light of the World, a superb analogy I thought. And he asked where we turn when the world caves in on us, as it surely does for most at some point. The only answers, of course: God, Jesus, and each other.
I loved the passion in his presentation; he was real and honest and open, which made me believe he knows whereof he spoke.
I appreciated the time the campus pastor took to talk with us after worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to send people here who need to connect in worship until we are all connected with You. Amen.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
Today we worshiped at Glenwillard United Methodist Church, 1328 Main Street, Crescent Township, PA 15046, 724.457.62325, www.glenwillardumc.org, Dennis L. Bouch, Pastor.
Scripture – Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’’
Today God led us to worship at a sister church of one we had visited recently.
The rear chancel wall has two larger crosses on the wing walls made with holes drilled in the knotty pine panels. When I first looked, they blended with the paneling. After the service we went forward to look more closely at an excellent nativity scene and got a close up glimpse at the crosses. I thought maybe there was a light behind the holes, but a member told us her relative had drilled the holes for ventilation when the wall was paneled.
I had been looking forward to visiting this church because we were told a number of Marines worshiped there, and they were quick to welcome me/us. The pastor is also a Marine and I love his welcome to the worshipers: “Good morning, sinners.”
He told us of his week deer hunting, how when it rained on Wednesday it was very clear but each time the rain quit, everything was obscured by fog. We think of the sun coming out and burning off the fog, but for him the clarity came with the rain.
Hunting is a lot of sitting still and he put that time to good use praying for his congregations.
They got a lot of anthem out of a small choir. I like when the pastor offered prayer over the ushers when they brought the offering forward.
A highlight for me was a young blond boy who crawled under the pews and made multiple trips to the chancel, especially chasing up the aisle after a cute young girl who was also traveling. This brought such pleasant memories of our late son in church, and pointedly the following after a cute girl.
In the message the pastor explained that John the Baptist’s call in Luke 3:1-6 would have been a common call of preparation for kings, with John’s clarification to Christ added.
We tend to think of Caesar as being a named person, not a title, like Christ. Like Easter, we should be preparing for Christmas by repenting.
What spoke to me the clearest was, “don’t look at what you don’t have but thank God for answered prayers.”
This week we were blessed to be able to visit Treasure House Fashions, a women’s clothing ministry on McKnight Road. Much like the Center for Hope in Ambridge, I look forward to visiting to see how God has blessed them. They tell me of needs and plans, hopes and expectations, and I get to rejoice how God continues to bless them beyond any needs or requests.
Communion was offered verbally by the pastor and we had the joy of presenting the elements to him. This was something God knows was special to me and I really miss, and I thank God for that opportunity today.
This is a family of worshipers, much like the Marines, a strong brotherhood in Christ.
This church is yoked with Shannopin Methodist Church nearby, and when we visited Shannopin, we were invited to visit Glenwillard.
We entered on the lower level and did not even need to look for signage to locate the rest room as we walked right past it on our way toward the steps. The usher greeted us warmly as we reached the sanctuary at the top of the steps. We had been sitting for less than a minute when the several Marine members came by to greet Bob with a hearty “Semper Fi, Brother!”
The pastor entered from the rear of the sanctuary and as he made his way to the front he greeted and shook the hand of everyone present. Then as the service got underway, he opened with, “Good morning, sinners.” I found that so touching.
The atmosphere in this church is relaxed, sincere, and very much like a family that enjoys being together and truly knows and cares for each other.
The joys and concerns took some time, but everyone who had something to say was given time to speak and individual affirmation was generously given to many by pastor and members alike.
The message, entitled “Thanks be to God,” was summed up by the one question: when will we quit whining and start saying thank You? We are so richly blessed and we take much for granted. We should be expressing overflowing gratitude to God instead of complaining.
I have been working on remembering to thank God for the challenges in life and not just the blessings. It’s not always easy to remember, but it surely gives me a different perspective when I do.
Communion was served by intinction, and I was delighted to participate. When Bob asked the usher nearby if someone serves the pastor and was told no, we arranged to be last in the line and after the pastor served us, we were humbled to serve him. Years ago I served Communion almost weekly but I cannot recall the last time I did, so this was incredibly meaningful for me.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray for Your continued strength and guidance for this congregation as they prepare to welcome the King. Amen.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Today we worshiped at North Park Church, 600 Ingomar Road, Wexford, PA 15090, 412.367.5000, www.northparkepc.org, Dan Hendley, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Philippians 4:4-9 NASB
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Sometimes a small detail makes a major impact on a visitor, such as the young male usher at the door who greeted me as he presented the bulletin to me. There were only a few others who spoke to us, including a co-worker of Jan’s. Churches may miss an opportunity to identify visitors by watching who parks in the visitor’s spots.
There is a superb wooden cross over the window. We sat at the rear wall so I couldn’t see all of the praise team but appreciated the animation of one of the female singers.
I was glad we could be there for worship on the first Sunday of Advent as everyone seemed so ready to praise God. I enjoyed watching a young family as they exchanged daughters they were holding, and when the older got to dad’s arms she snuggled in sweetly.
Doug Smith made a presentation about the Light of Life mission which brought back memories of when I was involved with a similar shelter on the North Side. While I was helping prepare the evening meal I met a client who was the son of a well-paid co-worker as well as someone with the same last name as me. I got the message clear: there but for the grace of God go I.
The message was presented by a pastor from Glade Run, Jim Smith. He told of a leadership group who was asked what they were thankful for but the leader excluded the easy choices or, as they were referred to, “the low-hanging fruit.”
We talk about giving thanks to God in all circumstances, and we learned how difficult that was after our son’s death but how vital God’s presence was through that trial.
I liked the phrases about “the certainty of God’s providential care” and that “no pain is wasted.” I am grateful we were here for this sermon.
I do wish the Scripture versions used during the reading matched the printed one in the handout.
It has been nearly four years since our last visit, and much seems the same. Visitor parking is provided near the front door, and indoor directional signage is abundant.
We sat in the row at the rear wall and a couple of people nearby said hello. Just as the service was beginning, a co-worker friend stopped to greet us, which was a wonderful surprise.
This sizeable sanctuary looked to be filled to capacity by the time worship was underway. The music had a terrific harmony and volume, and I appreciated the excellent timing on the slide changes.
I also thought the bulletin was well designed with the order of worship on the front and sermon notes and Scripture on the only colored sheet (today it was green but it probably changes).
We were privileged to hear some words from Doug Smith from Light of Life Ministries, which is supported in part by this church. Doug stated the sobering reminder that most people are “one or two decisions away” from being in need of the services offered at Light of Life.
The sermon, “Now Thank We All Our God,” was presented by Pastor Jim Smith of Glade Run Lutheran Services. He stated that crises are what cause us to tap into sincere gratitude because they drive out the dross from our lives and it is when broken-world realities intrude that we are forced to focus on what truly matters. He said that gratitude is the fruit of faith, and the enemy of faith is anxious worry; God wastes none of the pain in our lives.
The comment I immediately identified with was about crisis driving out the dross as I found this to be true when our son was killed. There were things that mattered to me before that I could not have cared less about after, such as television. Prior to that day I was hooked on CSI and similar series, but have not watched a single one since. His Homegoing was like a line in the sand in my life, there was “before” and “after” and some things were simply burned away in the event.
But since that event, God has become more real to me, and I believe this pastor was right on target when he said that the heart transformation results in gratitude. It is a difficult journey that I would never have chosen, but I am grateful to now know the One in Whom I believe.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we witnessed the enthusiasm of this congregation in worshiping You and we pray Your guidance that You will continue to be glorified. Amen.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Today we worshiped at CityReach Zelienople, 319 E. New Castle Street, Zelienople, PA 16063, 412.720.6450, www.zelienople.cityreachnetwork.org, Mark and Denise Grogan, Lead Pastors.
Scripture – NKJV
I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth;
Yes I will praise Him among the multitude.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
We heard about this new church start-up around mid-year and have looked forward to visiting. The CityReach churches are filling a void and are reaching people for Christ.
God has blessed this congregation with an actual church building, something a lot of churches don’t have. It has taken a lot of work, but their efforts show and it is a pleasant sanctuary and comfortable rooms downstairs.
The sanctuary has a low ceiling and curtains over the windows giving it an at-home feel. There was a large wooden cross, and the volume of the music was just right.
We were warmly welcomed by most of the congregation, and the husband and wife co-pastors.
During a prayer time, those needing prayer were asked to raise their hand and those nearby asked to reach out to them, which I found most encouraging.
The female pastor said she felt called to add “It Is Well With My Soul” to the music this morning, and I knew the call was true. This song brings bittersweet memories from the church service the day after our son was killed.
It was announced several time that there are people scheduled to Ring the Bell on the 28th, but I’m in the dark as to what that is about.
The message was about thanking God when our circumstances are less than ideal. The Pilgrims’ thanksgiving feast lasted three days even though the last year 50% of their people died.
It was hard to thank God when our son was killed, but it was God Who got us through those terrible days and God Who holds us up now.
We were blessed to meet with and pray with the pastors after the service. I truly felt Christ’s Presence here and was encouraged at how He is working through these pastors.
We have attended several other churches within the CityReach network, and most seem to be in a building other than a church, but this one was in an actual church building.
We were greeted warmly as we entered, and people kept approaching us and introducing themselves. Finally I realized as I watched that everyone there was greeting every other person.
There were other marks of hospitality, such as boxes of tissue placed strategically under chairs and small bottles of water available.
As we toured the downstairs we saw inviting-looking areas set up for groups of various sizes. The building had obviously been shown a great deal of love.
The pastors’ son was kind enough to show us how the Keurig worked, and Bob was happy to note that decaf was available.
The music included a few songs I knew and a few I did not, and ended with one that is near and dear to my heart, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
There were many announcements, many of which involved mission of some sort including the Breakfast with Santa for the community and Giving Hope outreach which involves large Ziploc bags full of items, and the packs will be handed out to the homeless next month.
The message centered on Thanksgiving and intentional gratitude. He pointed out that, of the 10 lepers, nine were healed and one was made whole, and he asked, how often are we the one out of 10 who expresses appreciation to the Giver of all good things?
We enjoyed a wonderful conversation and prayer with the pastors following worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to bless and guide this church. It is exciting to see Your handiwork. Amen.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Today we worshiped at Christ Alliance Church, 1881 Brodhead Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.375.7548, www.christalliance.org, Palmer L. Zerbe, Pastor.
Scripture – KJV
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
We were redirected and led to worship at this church which had been on my list to visit for a few years before they merged and moved to their current location.
I did see signage to the rest rooms but did not notice any others. The wooden cross is impressive though hidden by the projection screen for the first part of the service.
Prayers were offered for our country and leaders; I added mine for the Churches of our country as they seem intent on accommodating everyone but Christ.
The pastor’s extensive message was on how our thoughts influence who we are. How easy it is for even those strongly committed to Christ to have immoral thoughts creep in.
Prayers were offered for a most impressive quantity of shoebox gifts that were assembled and presented.
Many worshipers came and welcomed us in the pew before the service, a time when visitors are often overlooked.
We arrived very early, during the Sunday School hour, giving us plenty of time to look around. The signage for the restrooms was helpful.
The sanctuary is pleasant with block-style stained glass and brick lining the rear wall of the chancel along with a lovely dark wooden cross flanked by matching banners.
We found our seats in the back and probably half of those in attendance stopped to welcome us and introduce themselves on their way in.
The music was mostly quiet contemporary and slightly blended, and the voices harmonized well.
The message, called “Keep Your Heart (or mind) with Diligence!” was an honest reminder of the effects of our thinking on our heart, mind, and character. Much of the message had to do with purity of thought, which is certainly valid, but the statement that convicted me was, “Don’t be a negative child of God.”
This is an aspect of thinking I sometimes forget, that negative thinking leads to negative attitudes that spread unhelpful pessimism. This message was a strong reminder that God can create a new heart, a new outlook, and new ways of thinking…if I but give my consent.
I am grateful to have been directed here today.
The congregation participated in the shoebox effort for Samaritan’s Purse with a goal of 200 boxes, and today they dedicated and prayed over the final tally of 239 boxes.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to strengthen the bonds of these merged churches as they continue to become truly Your church. Amen.
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Today we worshiped at Lighthouse Lutheran Church, 501 3rd Avenue, Freedom, PA 15042, 724.544.7203, www.lightouselutheran.org, Dennis Whalen, Pastor.
Scripture – NLT
Philippians 3:17-21 –
“Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.”
Matthew 22:15-22 –
Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
His reply amazed them, and they went away.
We were warmly welcomed to this small A-frame style church beginning with our entrance on the first floor and all the way up into the sanctuary. I noticed no signage but we were offered directions to the sanctuary and to where we might hang our coats. The only crosses I saw were on the rear wall of the sanctuary and atop the flagstaffs.
Something I noticed that was different: during the responsive reading, the pastor read with the congregation. So often the people are weak in their response without a lead voice, but today they were strong.
In the sermon the pastor raised the question, “who do we want to fit in with?” He quoted some interesting statistics from Barna Research about the percentage of children who attend worship with both parents and then continue after maturity (76%) compared with those whose parents did not attend worship (6%). I’m glad we could invest that time in our children.
We have all been given worth by our creator, and it is not in the things that we have done. Be a living example of what you are in Christ.
A highlight for me was a family sitting in front of us. During the Lord’s Prayer, the older sister got down to the level of the younger girl to share the prayer in the bulletin with her. It was a powerful moment for me.
After the service we got to visit a bit with friends, the pastor, and his gracious wife. I learned that the pastor’s family had experiences similar to ours when visiting churches, and it was refreshing to visit with someone who understands some of what we have experienced in our visits.
I was thanked for my service by a few people; which is always humbling.
This church is only about a 10-minute drive, and we had the pleasure of worshiping with some friends.
We entered through the door nearest where we parked, not knowing where that would bring us in. Some kind folks led the way to the cozy sanctuary and several people extended warm welcomes as we found seats.
I did not know what to expect, as we have experienced highly liturgical Lutheran services as well as the more relaxed variety; this was somewhere in between, with all the liturgy clearly printed in the bulletin, making it very easy to follow, for which I was grateful. The friendly, warm, relaxed atmosphere continued into the service.
Often in churches where the music is led by an organ, there is the thinking that the louder the organ, the better, which is not true in my opinion. Today the organ was well-played at the perfect volume to be able to hear the congregation sing, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
Because the bulletin contained all the liturgy along with many announcements it was six sheets of 8½ x 11 paper, which could have been a nightmare had they not been stapled in the center. Judging from the end product, a great deal of work was lovingly put into this effort.
Today I was blessed to attend a worship service that included a written prayer of confession that was honest, true, touching, and eye-opening. I clipped it to keep with my devotionals because it was truly food for thought.
The untitled sermon spoke about the difficulty and importance of living like we are different from the world because of the Kingdom to which we belong, about the impact of those we hang out with, and the mindset we carry by understanding Who it is who gives worth to our life.
We joined the time of fellowship between worship and Sunday School and enjoyed the conversations immensely.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we are grateful for Your presence in an uplifting worship experience today. We pray for Your continued presence and blessing on this church. Amen.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Today we worshiped at The First United Methodist Church of Aliquippa, 2816 Brodhead Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.375.5287, www.umcaliquippa.com, Thomas Bonomo, Pastor.
Scripture – ESV
Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
We were welcomed warmly and engaged in conversation.
The sanctuary is a high A-frame with a large cross on the chancel wall. The stained glass is modern, muted, and cast a nice light in the sanctuary. We didn’t get to tour the building but I didn’t notice any signage in the part we saw.
The pastor led the singing with a good strong voice on the first hymn but I couldn’t hear him after that.
The sermon was the first of a series on treasure and was an introduction to what it might be. I am sorry we most likely won’t be there to see where he is going with this. The most encouraging word was, may I live in such a way that people will want to know God.
The service ended with Communion at the rail…I was grateful tobe able to get back up.
The huge A-line of the exterior of this building is carried into the sanctuary with a high ceiling and the natural echo that results. It’s well kept and lovely and the large stained glass windows exhibited blocks of color.
One thing many in this church seem to do effortlessly is extend warmhearted greetings. A gentleman held the door and welcomed us cordially on our way in as did numerous others throughout our visit.
The music was provided by the organist and soloist, whose voice was lovely.
The message was the first in a new series entitled “The Treasure Principle” and focused on questions such as, what makes a person rich? Do we spend our lives investing in things that last forever? And do we treasure God above all else? Excellent questions.
I appreciated once again the opportunity to participate in the Sacrament of Communion.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You will focus the efforts of this church in the direction You have called them. Amen.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Today we worshiped at Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church, 1828 Roosevelt Road, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.6880, www.mtnebopc.org, Rev. Douglas Dorsey, Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
Psalm 34:1-8 –
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Mark 10:46-52 –
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”
Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
I am amazed when we are redirected on our way to church so God can deliver a personal message and always wonder if there was someone going to our original destination to receive a personal message too. I hope when Christ speaks through a pastor’s message, that pastor is warmed by the Spirit moving through them.
I find it comforting when worshiping in a mainline church, I know I will find a cross.
There was some encouraging discussion on benevolent mission from the congregation.
The message moving “Forward in Faith” was an encouragement for me that when we feel as if we are headed to an inevitable train wreck, there is always hope.
Christ brought hope to Bartimaeus as he was presented with opportunity. I felt God was speaking through the pastor regarding an opportunity He had presented to me.
The horn playing during the offering was a truly enjoyable presentation.
We got to watch two fun children a few rows in front of us and as entertaining as they were, and the smiles I enticed from them, the most impressive thing to me was that mom smiled back at them, a lot. Where a mom could have corrected or tried to quiet her child, she smiled. I could not have been more delighted to witness this love.
Now we know with certainty that one missed turn is all it takes to redirect us. Still, it had been 5½ years since we last visited Mt. Nebo, so it seemed good to us.
We arrived with a little time to spare but went directly to the sanctuary where we were greeted by the greeter and the usher as we entered. As we sat awaiting the start of the service, I was interested to watch all the members sitting in small groups chatting together.
The Director of Music was sick today, so we were treated to a member who is part of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra substituting with his saxophone. Needless to say, it was a joy.
The Greeting time was our opportunity to shake hands with many of the members as it looked like everyone made their way completely around the sanctuary greeting each other.
The message, “Forward in Faith,” compared the responses to Jesus of blind Bartimaeus and the rich young ruler. Bartimaeus capitalized on the opportunity presented by his proximity to Jesus to ask – and keep asking – for Jesus’ favor where the rich young ruler refused Jesus’ offer/instructions on how to gain eternal life.
I loved the statement that “opportunity only becomes an opportunity when it is seized and accepted.”
The heart of taking advantage of an opportunity God presents is ignoring negative peer pressure, not trying to please the critics, and moving forward in faith.
I was thrilled that we sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” I love the words to this powerful Reformation hymn.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You ignite the passion in this church to serve You. Give them the “clear vision” to go in Your name. Amen.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Today we worshiped at Champion Life Church, mailing address is P.O. Box 1713 but meets at Blackhawk High School, 500 Blackhawk Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.473.2213, www.mychampionlife.com, Larry & Kim Bettencourt, Lead Pastors.
Scripture – NIV
1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
1 John 4:10
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
We were warmly welcomed coming in the door and it continued until we found our seats. The only way I could have felt more welcome would have been to find a cross on display.
The church meets in a school auditorium and I was really impressed with how many directional flags we saw at the street corners leading us in. A lot of work and time goes into preparing this space for worship.
I was proud of myself for remembering my ear plugs and pleasantly surprised not to need them. I wish I could have heard more of the vocals from the praise team, especially the females; I was pleased to see them smile.
One of the female singers spoke and I could understand every word but I experienced some difficulty understanding everyone else.
The message was part of a series on hashtags, admittedly something I know little about, but he was talking about the labels we wear, willingly or not. One of the best lines from the message: “Your value doesn’t go down based on someone’s inability to see your worth.” We have high value in Christ and the devil tries to make us believe that we are worth much less. We were instructed to find freedom and purpose and reminded that God believes in us, a personal message from God for me. The message was developed well and the congregation seemed receptive.
We enjoyed friendly conversations with the pastor, his wife, church administrator, and others after the service.
A number of people thanked me for my service, which I always appreciate, especially from young people.
I was unsure for a while about visiting this church, but I’m glad we did. There was no one in the parking lot when we arrived, but it turned out we were just that early. The leaders were finishing their considerable work setting everything up.
A joyful gentleman opened the door for us as we approached the building and greeted us warmly, as did several others. We were invited to join the pre-service prayer with the staff and volunteers after which I enjoyed a cup of coffee while we wandered around.
The signage was excellent, and all the room signs hanging from the hallway ceilings, all the classrooms converted into Sunday School rooms, and many other accessories and trimmings were all the work of the volunteers.
As we entered the auditorium we were given small cups resembling the single serving creamers found in restaurants but which instead contained a small amount of juice covered with a peel-away lid and on top of that was a small wafer covered with another lid. These were individual servings for Communion.
We found seats toward the back in anticipation of a volume issue, but there was no issue…the volume was perfect.
The message series was entitled “Hashtags: they can’t define us…” and he began with a video clip of Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon using hashtags, including the gesture, in a conversation. He pointed out that hashtags are labels, and in that sense we use hashtags to define ourselves when we tell ourselves we are not liked, not needed, and the like. He said several things I thought noteworthy:
- Life gives us labels but God gives us identity.
- Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.
- God chose our times and He picks us for a purpose and assignment.
- Getting a new picture of who we are in Christ will change the way we see the world.
- We must encourage ourselves in the Lord and speak what God says about us (positive self-talk).
- We must try something new or take a next step…it’s important to move forward.
- Especially we must remember that God believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves.
We all need encouragement…we all get off the track and beaten up by the world…life has never been easy nor will it ever be. I am grateful for today’s reminder of God’s love and for the opportunity to participate in Communion.
We appreciated an extended conversation with staff members following worship.
Our prayer for this church:
God, we pray this congregation believes the most important hashtag on them: Redeemed in Christ. Amen.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Today we worshiped at The United Presbyterian Church of Ambridge, 823 Maplewood Avenue, Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.266.1900.
Scripture – Mark 12:41-44 NIV
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
This church had been on my list to visit since shortly after we moved to Economy. I was looking for the “Center for Hope” to see if I could donate produce and I stopped to ask a man cleaning his car. He gave me directions “to where the milk plant used to be,” which I had no clue about. I took advantage of his knowledge of local places and asked if he could tell me where The Ladle was. He had an odd look on his face when he told me to turn around, as it was behind me.
The Ladle has a weekly meal for those in need and I thought it might be an outlet for the produce I was growing.
The sanctuary features a large domed ceiling, rich stained glass, and a large cross mounted over the organ pipes.
We were greeted warmly by a number of people and engaged in conversation before and after the service. This seems to be a larger facility but didn’t see any signage.
The long-time minister had recently retired and the visiting minister was the Ministry Director for The Uncommon Grounds, a local mission. One of our daughters volunteered there some years ago and I still remember how good the coffee was.
The pastor mentioned one of his daughters had visited Zambia and it brought to mind Jan’s mission trips to Malawi and stories I had heard about eating the chicken served by the host family while hungry family members looked in the window.
Pittsburgh Presbytery developed a partnership with Malawi and participated in the reciprocal visits. As Americans we gave money freely from our abundance, but the partnership was unbalanced in that the Malawians gave what was most valuable, they shared Jesus Christ. Those who were some of the poorest people of Africa were the real missionaries in bringing Christ here.
The pastor developed the message well with good Scriptural references and it was a joy to talk with him and some of his family after the service.
The Ladle is an area soup kitchen we have heard about for some time but all we really knew was that it was held at this church. We have learned it is actually a non-profit corporation that is a vital source of assistance for many in Ambridge. I hope you will click HERE to learn more about The Ladle and the valuable work they do.
Someone came out to greet us even though we arrived in the midst of adult Sunday School in the sanctuary, and we were warmly welcomed by many before and after worship.
The sanctuary architecture included a central dome surrounded by arches and pews arranged in a semi-circle.
The long-time pastor retired last month so the church is in the process of identifying an interim. One thing we have noticed about many churches in Beaver Butler Presbytery are the long pastorates, though I can’t say we have any theories about why that is the case.
The church welcomed Pastor Herb Bailey to the pulpit this morning. Pastor Bailey is the Ministry Director at the Uncommon Grounds Café in Aliquippa, a “café, venue, and ministry” that is well known and respected in this area. (Please click HERE to visit the Uncommon Grounds’ website and learn about their unique ministry.)
Pastor Bailey’s message entitled “It’s the Little Things” spoke of giving our best, that we should give even when we don’t have it and avoid clinging to things with no lasting significance. He pointed out that we should also be sharing our testimony of what God has done in our lives, and reminded that we are all only stewards of what actually belongs to God.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we lift up this congregation to You as they do the work of finding the pastor you are calling for them. We pray for their time in prayer, that they will discover Your call for this church. Amen.