Sunday, August 30, 2015
Today we worshiped at North Main Street Church of God, 1201 North Main Street, Extension, Butler, PA 16001, 724.285.4214, www.northmaincog.org, Brandon Lenhart, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – Luke 2:41:52 NLT
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.
When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and as
His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”
“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they didn’t understand what he meant.
Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.
Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.
I passed this church on a recent trip and got the impression that it was an active worship center to add to our list.
We didn’t have much time to look around.
If the restroom signage is typical of the rest of the signage, the need is well addressed with doors labeled and signs projected into the hallway for visibility.
I found a print of the facility layout amongst some papers I picked up on the way out.
For me the visit was encouraging just for the crosses: two large wooden crosses backlit on the chancel wall and centered between them a large lit stained glass mosaic cross.
There are two large screens that I am confident everyone could see, and comfortable upholstered pews.
The female vocalists sounded pleasant together and there was a power in the presentation that didn’t require high volume. A special treat was the addition of a cello and saxophone…they added a lot and I enjoyed the duet during Communion.
We were blessed to be there for the quarterly youth in worship and were treated to an interpretive dance.
The sermon was based on what the children had been studying, wisdom. He referenced a lot of Scripture and broke it down to basics, to ask for wisdom like Solomon, to choose carefully whom you ask for advice, to think before you speak…he went on with Christ’s teaching and directed us to speak honestly and openly, adding that you cannot be wise without love. He interjected enough of his family life and personal struggles to really connect with the congregation.
There didn’t seem to be near the enthusiasm from the congregation as there was from the praise team; maybe like me they were quiet to enjoy the presentation.
I saw a mission information board highlighting work in Uganda but don’t know if there are other missions.
Bob drove past this church several weeks ago, so today we decided to attend worship. I somehow expected a small country church, but the building is large enough that the facility map that’s provided is exceedingly helpful. I could not have asked for better signage.
We entered via the door in the children’s area and were greeted as we walked down the colorfully decorated hallway. Several other folks greeted us as well.
As we entered the sanctuary and noticed the instruments on the stage, it was obvious the music would be contemporary. Anticipating volume, we sat all the way in the back; however the volume was perfect in spite of our accidentally sitting in the path of a small speaker. In addition to the usual guitars and drums, I enjoyed the saxophone and the cello, both of which came through clearly at just the right time. I would not have expected such a difference with those additions, but they were fantastic.
Dance and sign language were combined in an imaginative and smooth interpretation of one of the songs.
In months with a 5th Sunday, on that day the church has “Family Worship” where the children stay in the sanctuary with their parents during worship and experience “big church.” A few youth even assisted with the service.
The very first item on the order of worship was the offering.
Due to Family Worship, the pastor interrupted another sermon series to present the message “Wisdom, What is it and Why is it Important?” in order to speak to the topic the youth were learning this month.
The pastor recommended that anyone who wanted to be wise should find out what Jesus said since Jesus is the personification of wisdom. He referenced numerous Scriptures, mostly from Matthew’s gospel, which clearly illustrated Christ’s wisdom about all things.
The message seemed like an excellent way to wrap up such an essential topic for the youth as well as for adults.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You bless us all with wisdom in the love of Christ. Amen.
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Today we worshiped at Ingomar United Methodist Church, 1501 West Ingomar Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.364.313, www.ingomarchurch.org, E. David Streets, Pastor.
Scripture – Acts 16:16-34
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
We made it back for an early (8 a.m.) service with about 50 worshipers in the Outdoor Chapel. This is a small amphitheater centered on a stone table featuring a stone cross.
During the announcements parishioners were encouraged to sign up to tell their stories, which I think is one of the best ways to reach people for Christ.
The pastor talked about being raised in the church and his time in Sunday School which brought back memories of my Sunday School attendance pin and year bars. Like the pastor, I knew the Bible stories, attended church regularly, and thought I was saved. It took, for me, 50 years to truly come to Christ, and at the time I thought it was my doing. It was encouraging to hear that others didn’t automatically come to know Christ, though I believe I was a particularly hard case. But when it does “click,” you can’t imagine a time when you don’t need Christ.
I thought the pastor developed his message well from the Scriptures and personal story.
It has been almost four years since our last visit to this church, and since worship at the Outdoor Chapel ends for the season next week, this seemed like a good time to go.
This casual venue has an intimate feel as worshipers sit on wooden benches set auditorium style with a table-like lectern at the front. The area is surrounded by tall trees making for a beautifully natural setting.
We were greeted by several folks as we approached the trail leading to the chapel and by others before and after worship.
During the announcements the pastor invited anyone who may be interested in relaying their story to the congregation to sign up to give “My Story.” What a wonderful way to allow members to get to know one another and to learn about others’ stories and give voice to their own.
The music was led by one woman with an acoustic guitar and another vocalist and was suitably simple and quite lovely.
The message was entitled “Click!” which made me wonder if it would be centered on our technological inclinations, but it was not. The pastor started by presenting his own story of growing up in the church, attending every week, of his parents’ service to the church, and knowing that God knew his name. He learned a lot about God, but it was not until he attended Jumonville Camp that he really understood his faith and took it to heart. He likened this to John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience on May 24, 1738, when Wesley “felt [his] heart strangely warmed” and understood and believed to the depths of his soul what Christ did for him.
I think everyone needs such an experience. It is the equivalent of Jacob’s wrestling with God that compels us to seek His face and opens our hearts to accept our faith as real. And it changes us forever because we then know beyond any doubt how much we need Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray true knowledge of You will “click” for anyone for whom that has yet to happen. May we all come to know and enjoy You together. Amen.
Sunday, August 16, 2015
Yesterday we worshiped at Rushing Wind Biker Church, 5715 East Pike, Zanesville, OH 43701, 740.923.5002, www.rushingwindzanesville.com, Pastor Michael McGuire.
Scripture – ESV
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
It was unfortunate that we worshiped at a different kind of church. The service is on Saturday night, but that’s not what made it different. It is a church oriented to bikers, but that wasn’t so different either. What was unfortunate was that this was one of the few we have visited that worshiped our Savior Jesus Christ unabashedly. The enthusiasm was contagious as the pastor and congregation worshiped with abandon. The female leaders seemed unaffected, I thought maybe they were concentrating on the music.
We were greeted and warmly welcomed. We sat near a large wooden cross with a crown of thorns and I noticed a smaller wooden cross at the other end of the chancel.
The praise band was uplifting, and they were loud and I didn’t mind the noise level. The room was packed and the screen was blocked from our vision by a speaker, but we may have been the only ones not singing. It was so good to hear the singing response of this very healthy age mix in the congregation, especially so many male voices.
The pastor used a lot of familiar Scripture to develop his message on the ride of Jesus. As Christ came into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, about as humble as could be, He came as the Lamb to the slaughter, willingly sacrificing His life for our sins. It was a short, humble ride (biker church). Heralded as King and condemned to die by the same people by the end of the week, the debt had to be satisfied and He willingly paid it. Christ’s return will be a wild ride when He comes in all His Glory. We hope to ride with Him.
There was a young man of the congregation who was called to ministry and is leaving for Alabama. He was commissioned and prayed over by his family and church family, and we were blessed to be there to pray for him.
We were admonished to leave our addictions to Christ, to which I add my witness. I smoked, on a good day, 6 packs of cigarettes, and drank accordingly, just about anything with alcohol. I had tried to quit many times without success, but when I gave it to Christ, I was done with both and never a desire for either since. I understand being addicted, but now I also understand the cure. He can heal you of whatever has a hold on you. If you believe, the power of Christ is in you to overcome.
Someone once told me that the best church they could imagine would be empty on Sunday because its members were out witnessing for Christ. The pastor told me they meet on Saturday evening so they are free on Sunday to visit other churches and to go witness to the lost where they are. If the one who needs Christ is at home in a bar, you need to meet them there.
We clipped a newspaper article about this church approximately two years ago and it has been on our list since, as we wanted to experience this unique ministry.
We arrived just as the worship service began at 6 p.m. The moment we walked in I realized I was out of my comfort zone, but we were warmly greeted and made to feel very much at home. We were given directions to the restrooms and the worship area and as we made our way further inside we were welcomed again. The worship area was nearly full with people of all ages and backgrounds, many who were obviously bikers and others who, like us, were just as obviously not bikers.
As worship began we realized there were bulletins and we did not have one, so I asked one of the women we had spoken with where I could find one. When she discovered they were gone, she promised to give me hers after she gave the announcements. As it happened someone else gave us one before she finished, but the experience spoke volumes about the culture of the church leadership.
First-time visitors were asked to raise their hands so we could be given cards to fill out our names, addresses, and other information. I was surprised as it looked like there were about 12-15 first-time visitors.
We were not surprised at the volume of The Rushing Wind Band, but they were exceptionally talented. The pastor played the lead guitar, and the voices of the three female vocalists blended superbly.
It was fascinating to watch impromptu prayer as people joined others off to the side and in corners for private prayer.
We were privileged to be present for the commissioning of a young member who was preparing to leave for further schooling in the ministry. His parents and grandparents were all present to participate in this important occasion and toward the end of the service he gave some impressive testimony. The commissioning involved the use of anointing oil and he was reminded that leading a church means serving others, not ruling over them.
The message was called “We Will Ride” and focused on the differences between Jesus’ first ride – on a donkey on Palm Sunday – and His next and future ride – on a white horse, carrying a sword, and wearing many crowns when He returns. On His first ride, He came as the Suffering Savior, but at His next, He will come as the Conquering King with all power and authority. Until then we should adopt the name “whosoever” as in John 3:16: “
After worship several members generously took the time to talk with us, answer our questions, tell us the stories behind some of the articles of interest, and introduce us to some other folks. We were each gifted with a special, handmade cross necklace as a reminder of our visit..
This was one of those visits that help me remember what I love about what we do: visiting various members of the Body of Christ whom we have not met before and talking about how God has worked in our lives. I am grateful for this visit and the chance to meet these people.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray earnestly that You would continue to bless this ministry. Prepare this congregation, that when You come they will be ready to ride with You. Amen.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Today we worshiped at Princeton Church of God, 250 Oakvale Road, Princeton, WV 24740, 304.425.6505, www.pcogwv.com, Dr. Ray E. Hurt, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – James 5:13-18
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
While traveling home we stopped for breakfast and I asked the waitress if she knew of any churches nearby. She gave us directions and said her daughter worshiped here.
The sanctuary is large, but I couldn’t see a cross anywhere.
I got the impression they have about 1,000 members so I didn’t expect the greetings I received. I thought sitting in the back would be more bearable for us, and for me with my knees giving out and requiring me to sit was a blessing. Those standing helped to block the speakers a bit. I appreciated the deep voice of the male lead singer and thought he led well. Most of the music, although familiar songs, were so loud to me that I didn’t realize there were instruments till I heard a flute during the offering.
My ears are just not good enough to follow the prayer with others praying at the same time and with music and song on top of that, it was impossible.
I am not sure what interpretation of the Bible was used, but I questioned the theology. It seemed to be more important to whip the congregation into a frenzy with loud exclamations than to accurately present Scripture.
Sunday we were in transit, but this time located a place that looked like a church from the outside. Since it was a contemporary service, we were fine arriving 5-10 minutes late.
The building is huge and looked quite new, and the worship space was filled to perhaps ¾ capacity with two large screens in front and three monitors halfway back. There may have been an issue with the sound system as the lead female voice sounded annoyingly tinny. Once the music ended, the Lead Pastor took the stage.
After more than 6 ½ years of writing this blog, this is the first time I have ever said this: I am hesitant to say much more about this service. Our goal in writing this blog has always been to build up churches, not to complain or allow personal preferences to interfere with objectivity.
He said much about prayers said in the past, and the emphasis was strongly on miracles. Prior to the prayer for the offering he stated it was fine if someone did not want to give, and this was followed by a prayer that included his request that God “bless each one who gives.”
The topic of the message was prayer, and on the surface what he said sounded like it should have been accurate, but I disagree with much of what he taught, though not all. One I think I can agree with is his claim that “prayer changes who you are.” (Prayer is supposed to change you, and hopefully it does.)
However, that we must “make ourselves someone God wants to talk to”…that “people do not want to talk to someone who is arrogant and demanding, and what makes us think God is any different?” I believe our God is different than any person who has ever lived because He is holy. I can’t speak to how He feels about talking to an arrogant person, but I am not sure anyone should presume to say that God’s hearing our prayer is determined by our attitude and whether we have “made ourselves someone God wants to talk to.”
This all brings to mind a favorite saying of my mother’s: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” It is possible there is some misunderstanding on my part about what he said, but much of what I heard hit my ear and made me wonder.
We were disheartened and left before the service ended.
Our prayer for this church:
Dear God, we pray this was an unusual presentation of Your Word and that this church is being fed the truth. Amen.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Today we worshiped at Sharon Community Presbyterian Church, 522 Carnot Road, Moon Township, PA 15108, 412.264.7400, www.sharonpc.com, Rev. Dr. Doug Marshall, Interim Pastor.
Scripture – NASB
Luke 14:15-21 –
When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!"
But He said to him, "A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.' Another one said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.' Another one said, 'I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.' And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.'
2 Samuel 9:1-13 –
Then David said, "Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David; and the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" And he said, "I am your servant." The king said, "Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?" And Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet." So the king said to him, "Where is he?" And Ziba said to the king, "Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar." Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar. Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and prostrated himself. And David said, "Mephibosheth." And he said, "Here is your servant!" David said to him, "Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly." Again he prostrated himself and said, "What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?"
Then the king called Saul's servant Ziba and said to him, "All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. You and your sons and your servants shall cultivate the land for him, and you shall bring in the produce so that your master's grandson may have food; nevertheless Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall eat at my table regularly." Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my lord the king commands his servant so your servant will do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table as one of the king's sons. Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who lived in the house of Ziba were servants to Mephibosheth. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate at the king's table regularly. Now he was lame in both feet.
I enjoyed being able to worship in church again and it was nice to return to Sharon. We were greeted at the door by the pastor and by a number of people, including a brother Marine.
It was enjoyable to not have to wonder if there will be a cross on the wall.
The time for silent confession was way too short for me.
A number of people greeted us during the passing of Christ’s peace.
I found the flute during the offertory delightfully refreshing.
I thought video of the children was being projected on the screen during the children’s time but then realized it was just a photo. I couldn’t see it well from where we sat and couldn’t believe how they were sitting still.
The sermon, “Mephibosheth WHO?” drew a great correlation of God’s grace for us hopeless sinners. The fear Mephibosheth must have felt to be called up to David’s presence, as we come, unworthy, to God. One statement I liked: “We all have fears that cripple us.” There was a thought for meditation that I’m sure Jan will include.
We drove past this church the other day and wondered what might have changed since our last visit, which seemed much longer ago than a year and a half.
The signage was helpful and prominent. Several folks greeted us as we entered, before the service began, and afterward. A number of people invited us to attend the annual picnic scheduled for right outside immediately following the service; unfortunately we had other plans and could not attend but we truly appreciated the hospitality.
The membership is gearing up for their bicentennial celebration in 2017; there seem to be many other events in motion as well.
The sanctuary was just as lovely as I recalled. We sat in the last pew, as usual, in order to avoid any potential issues with volume. However this time it backfired, as the organ was immediately behind us in the balcony, and it was quite loud.
I loved the “Thought for Meditation” in the bulletin, adapted from Craig Barnes: “The gospel’s open secret is that strength is found in weakness. Crippled people know that they need a Savior. The goal isn’t to avoid disability. The goal is to find the Savior. And our dis-ability is always the means for discovering the Savior’s ability.” It fit perfectly with the sermon and contains much truth. What it doesn’t say is that we are all crippled somehow…not all disabilities are visible.
The sermon was entitled “Mephibosheth WHO?” It has been a while since I read the story, but this message connected some dots for me.
The pastor pointed out that Mephibosheth was about 5 years old when his father was killed, which would have been traumatic and would have caused Mephibosheth to spend the first part of his life living in fear. He reminded that fear cripples us all.
Mephibosheth would also have expected David to try to kill him, as that was the usual order of events, so when David sought him out asking, “Where is he?”, the pastor reminded that this is the same question God asks when He seeks us out, because we hide too.
Mephibosheth begged for his life, and David simply said his name, just as God calls us by name, because we are not just impersonal identifiers, we are people with names. Mephibosheth was a disabled man living in fear who was invited to enjoy provision, honor, and relationship with the king, just as we are invited to eat at God’s Table and to enjoy His provision, honor, and a relationship with Him.
David’s giving all this to someone with nothing to give in return reflected God’s same gifts to us because it is Who God is and what He does.
I deeply appreciated hearing this message today as it cleared up a mystery for me. It was also a touching reminder of a time when God spoke my name to me at a period of extreme worry in my life. I have always marveled at all He communicated in that single syllable, not the least of which was that He had not forgotten me. In that moment I learned I not only had a name, but that God knew and remembered it. A precious memory indeed.
I savored the opportunity to participate in Communion, as it had been a while, and the piano accompaniment during the sacrament was a perfect complement.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this church will find Christ’s strength in their weakness. Amen.