Sunday, September 27, 2015
Today we worshiped at North Hills Alliance Church, 2298 Rochester Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.364.5800, www.northhillsalliancechurch.org, Ernest S. Conley, Pastor.
Scripture – NKJV
Revelation 3:20 –
Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
2 Corinthians 4:6 –
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We have looked forward to visiting this church but then the opportunity arose to visit a combined outdoor service. We did get a peek at the beautiful sanctuary and hope to worship there. We were greeted by a number of people, engaged in conversations, and offered a tour. There is signage but none directing to the restrooms or nursery. A highlight for me was meeting two Marines after the service.
The congregation was asked to complete the sentence “Here is how Jesus has made me glad…” which yielded some great testimonies.
The message pointed out how the Old Testament directed to Christ and the New Testament reported His life. The Passover symbol of putting the blood of the lamb on either end of the doorposts to me correlated directly to Christ’s blood from His hands outstretched on the cross.
He spoke of how the cloud provided some relief to Israel from the desert sun and how the light from the pillar of fire would shine down on them at night.
The Bible does not state that God blessed the second temple, but the people took credit for it. During the Feast of the Tabernacles, 50-foot towers were constructed at the corners of the temple. They had lamps burning on top with wicks made from the priests’ robes. The towers were torn down the next day.
The area is dry most of the year and part of the ceremony at that time involved parading with a pitcher of water and praying for God’s blessing of rain for the following year. Then the water was poured out, symbolizing God’s blessings poured out upon His people. I felt this blessing was poured out when the wind brought the Spirit upon these worshipers outside today.
The theological and historical insights we glean from the Messianic teachings never cease to amaze me.
On a drive past this church a month or so ago we noticed a sign indicating it is now the worship location for a Messianic Jewish Congregation on Friday evenings, so we had in mind to worship with both congregations on different weeks. However, last week the Alliance church website noted today would be a joint outdoor service in celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, so we opted to take the opportunity to visit today. I am so very glad we did as we were greatly blessed.
We arrived early and were warmly greeted by a number of people, including some who kindly took the time for extended conversations.
Once outdoors we found a seat at a table – for the second week in a row, come to think of it, and were joined by one of the ladies who had introduced herself. It was breezy out, but a perfect day for an outdoor service.
Worship began with music led by the pastor of the Messianic Congregation, and after singing the last line of “I Will Enter His Gates,” i.e., “He has made me glad,” a mic was passed around for all who wished to testify how Jesus has made them glad.
The message, “Jesus in the Feast of Tabernacles,” revealed how the Old Testament speaks of Jesus and all the Biblical feasts point clearly to Him. The pastor referred to the report of the spies who first explored the Promised Land, and how most of them and those to whom they reported their flawed findings listened to how they felt, not what God said.
The Feast of Tabernacles was about God’s call for His people to live in a temporary home for seven days in order to remember His provision. This made even more sense to me when he made the statement, “Jesus tabernacled among men.” Jesus lived in the same sort of temporary home as we do, also temporarily, and we too must learn of His provision.
He spoke of Christ being not only our Savior, but also our Lord, including lord of our thoughts, and that we must submit our will to His. He has so much more for us if we will turn to Him and open our hearts to His Living Water.
We were unable to accept the gracious invitations to join the picnic following the service, but we did enjoy the heartfelt conversations.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to pour out Your blessings on these congregations. May they feel Your Spirit moving among them. Amen.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Today we worshiped at Rehoboth Evangelical Lutheran Church, 2800 Conway Wallrose Road, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.2806, www.rehobothlutheran.com, Rev. Susan Irons, Interim Pastor.
Scripture – Mark 9:30-37 (ESV)
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
I have looked forward to visiting here for some time as there is a striking arrangement of three crosses on the chancel wall. One of the lesser crosses touches the Christ cross which, to me, symbolizes the thief who repented at Calvary.
Worship today was held downstairs and followed their outdoor worship format. I didn’t get to see the outdoor worship shelter as it was still wooded the last time I stopped here. However there was a cross banner in the fellowship hall so I still had a focal point.
I worshiped here at an ecumenical Thanksgiving service once, but what I remember most about this church was picking up a neighbor girl from pre-school. Shortly after we moved to the area a neighbor mom was in need of someone to pick up her daughter from pre-school at this church as the timing was bad for her. Knowing little else about me but that I was a Christian, she entrusted me with this precious passenger, so today’s visit brought back pleasant memories.
The pastor who presented the message today is the Executive Minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. I got to read some literature she brought that included an article about a proposed upcoming interfaith cooperation class which I could pass along to a friend who is attempting a similar venture.
I sensed this is a strong family church and we were welcomed to the table we chose, fortunately one with children. This church is optimistic about the future and is on their way to becoming stronger.
The sermon started with a question posed: “If there was a fire, who would you rescue first, your child, your spouse, or your parents?” In the 1400s, Thomas Aquinas answered in the reverse of how we would answer now as children were considered less valuable. This adds tremendous weight to Christ’s taking up a child as an example of what we need to become.
The pastor did an excellent job of recovering a misplaced chalice during Communion and I was pleased to see the pastor served by the elder.
We last visited this church for a community service a good while ago, so it was almost completely new to us. We parked in one of the visitor’s spots, and as we approached the building two people were sitting outside the door to let worshipers know that, although this service had been slated to be held outdoors, it would be held downstairs instead.
The interim pastor and many women of the church were away at the women’s retreat, so the structure of the service was contemporary. Three gentlemen on acoustic guitars led the music and harmony was provided by members of the congregation.
We were greeted by a number of folks before and after the service.
We took a peek in the sanctuary, which looked lovely, especially the positioning of the three crosses in the front.
The room downstairs was set up with tables, which worked out well.
The guest preacher was Rev. Liddy Gerchman Barlow, who serves as Executive Minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. Her untitled message centered on the disciples’ argument about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ clear indication of the value of children and childlike faith. Her conclusion was that everyone can be great because everyone can serve and it is genuine unselfish love that makes the difference.
I appreciated the opportunity to participate in Communion as well as the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
Following worship we enjoyed a conversation with one of the women who welcomed us and who sat nearby.
Our prayer for this church:
God, we pray You continue to strengthen this congregation. Guide them that they might grow in Your service. Amen.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 707 Thompson Park Drive, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Pastor Mike Arnold.
Scripture – Luke 12:22-31 (NIV)
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
I was glad to visit this church again; it was good to hear God’s word spoken and appreciate my own guilty pleasure of great coffee. I am limited to decaf and it is seldom worth drinking.
I believe our first visit here was before we began the blog and the church was new to this space. They are at home here now with a number of satellite locations.
I noted a massive-looking wooden cross that I do not recall seeing before and a large projection screen above the worship team. We were welcomed by a number of people.
The sermon was delivered by the youth director who seemed very much at ease with his message. He developed it well with good Scripture references in a timely manner.
The theme of handling stress might be identified with “don’t worry, be happy.” God tells us not to worry or fear but we never seem to be comfortable doing so.
This being Grandparents’ Day, we opted to attend church with our grandchildren where they and their parents have been attending. It has been two years since we last visited this church and not a lot has changed that I could tell.
We were greeted at the door by two gentlemen and by a number of people once inside. Since Bob and I arrived before our family, we got a cup of coffee and sat down at one of the tables with a few members. We were warmly welcomed and invited into the conversation immediately.
The music was well done and enthusiastically presented at a volume that did not require earplugs.
This church has a relationship with a church in Mozambique and the picture board in the corner of the fellowship area brought back fond memories of Malawi.
The lead pastor was out of town so the message, “How Can I Handle Stress?” was presented by Tim Fray, the youth pastor. He spoke of the fact that everyone feels stress and that not all stress is bad; in fact, we function better with some stress. The problem arises with unrelieved stress, i.e., lack of rest. Rest is a good thing, and the Sabbath is important.
He pointed out that Jesus was never in a hurry and that the way to deal with stress is to act on what we can and trust God with what we can’t control.
He suggested we can act to create margin with our time, money, and rest and build trust in God by rehearsing God’s past goodness to us. In order to trust God more, know God deeper.
Resting, doing what I can and giving it to God and trusting Him to bring about what is best, appeals to me.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this church will be free from worry and stress to worship and enjoy You. Amen.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
Today we worshiped at Victory Family Church, 21150 Route 19, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.453.6200, www.lifeatvictory.com, John Nuzzo, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 MSG
The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.
On holidays we try to avoid visiting a church that is new to us and today we were blessed to worship at Victory.
There is no cross in the sanctuary but there is a large one in a waterfall just outside. For me it works out well as I have a cross to focus on and the music experience that overwhelms me is bearable out there.
Today I watched the children escorted into the sanctuary for a blessing and met another Marine while I was waiting.
I could have written some of the sermon as I too have had regrets over the time I could have spent with my children when they were young. I guess most parents lament having not spent more time with their children, but dads probably more so. My dad died young and I never knew my grandparents so I had few examples to pattern my nurturing after. I pray that is why God is letting me be a doting grandfather now, to help show the young dads how.
Other than worshiping with our daughter, the part I like most about visiting this church is the preaching. He speaks bluntly and with passion, as if he is exhorting a friend.
At the beginning of the service the children of the church paraded in and Pastor John said a prayer for them. I thought this was simply because the school year was beginning, and perhaps it was partly that, but it was also a segue into the topic of the message.
I’m not sure if this Sunday was a transition at the end of a series or if it was the final part of the series, but he spoke with obviously deep emotion about a parent’s longing to see their child walk with God and be blessed by God and to have a life shaped by Christ. He spoke of the value of making the spiritual life a priority and of choosing the “discomfort of obedience versus the pain of regret.”
The steps were simple: read your Bible every day, pray, and go to church. Live a life that proves God takes top priority and your children will learn to make Him the top priority in their lives. He said the world is not a playground…it’s a battleground, and we need to teach our children how to fight through life in our absence.
I hope every parent there was listening, but I know had I heard this message when my children were small I would have never been able to foresee the critical importance of following up daily. I also could not have guessed how our gracious God was at work in spite of my parental failings. The thing is, we did not know our son would be called Home so unexpectedly. I was far from a perfect mother, but by God’s grace, I know I will see him in heaven one day.
No parent wants to even consider the possibility of their child predeceasing them, but we live in a fallen world where this does happen. However anyone who is raising children – and no matter their age we are always raising our children – we have a choice. We can choose to live a life that exemplifies the importance of a relationship with God.
I pray these words are not reaching someone whose child has already gone ahead of them who is unsure of that child’s destination. If so, please know that my heart aches for you. Even more than that, know that our God is full of grace and mercy, and He is powerful enough to have brought your child to Him in their final moments. I pray you know Him and through Him you know the peace that passes understanding.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray the fathers and mothers in this congregation are guided to be not just parents but loving, available, Christian parents. Amen.