Monday, December 26, 2016
Yesterday we worshiped at Pathway Church, 239 Braun Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.6381, lifeatpathway.com, Jeff McNicol, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
Romans 5:8 –
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Luke 21:28 –
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
Last week we were in North Carolina and looking forward to worshiping there, but our daughter was called to the hospital for heart-related emergencies so often that we missed the opportunity.
For Saturday’s Christmas Eve service, we worshiped at Grace Church. A friend of our daughters’ from Geneva College recognized me before the service and we got to chat a bit before she returned to sit with her family.
We enjoyed our coffee and worshiped in the calmer, quieter overflow room, by ourselves as it turned out. I enjoyed the lead female singer and the talented music team.
This morning we were blessed to worship at Pathway where several people welcomed us. With the inspired Christmas decoration I almost missed seeing the impressive cross. The sax and strings were a welcome addition to the other musicians and the voice of the female lead.
The sermon was presented by three of the pastors who commented on their favorite Christmas hymns.
It was mentioned that the beauty of God’s invitation is God’s perfect timing: I can certainly vouch for that based on when He called me.
One of the pastors spoke of his tragic loss of a child and that unlike the loss of a spouse, where one becomes a widow(er), or the loss of a parent where one becomes an orphan, there is no equivalent word when one loses a child. I had never considered the unnamed aspect of this loss, but he added that God had experienced this loss Himself and thus He understands. I was thankful we got to minister to each other some after the service and grateful God led us to worship here.
Noticing all the businesses closed reminded me of when I was much younger, there were two drug stores in our small town. One owner was Catholic and the other Jewish, so when one was closed for a special day like Christmas, the other would be open to handle the needs of the community. They had a lot more freedom then to help the competitor’s customers.
I don’t remember so many churches closed on a Sunday Christmas but I am thankful for God’s Presence here today.
After missing church while traveling last weekend, I was pleased we were led to invigorating services both last night and this morning.
We have worshiped here a number of times, but the facility looked quite different than I recalled as the church is in the midst of a building project. The atmosphere was festive and friendly: several folks introduced themselves and welcomed us, which made it even more of a joy to be there.
The message was centered on hymns that bore particular significance to the speakers. Each included some background on the hymn and explained what it meant to them. The stories were full of passion and significance, appropriate for the day.
I truly appreciated the music: it was outstanding, and the violin and saxophone added an exceptional texture.
I was grateful for the time of the one pastor and his wife and the opportunity for mutual ministry in loss.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we feel the excitement of Your church and pray for Your continued overwhelming blessings. Amen.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Today we worshiped at New Hope Community Church, 592 Beaver Road, Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.266.0890, www.4newhope.org, Rick Thornhill, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – NKJV
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
We were warmly welcomed at the door, including a hug.
I was disappointed not to find a cross until we stood up to sing and found the cross off to one side. There is still a lot of work going on as they continue to make this their church home. This is a somewhat complicated facility but I didn’t notice any signage.
I was impressed by a family sitting near us when I saw them hold hands during the corporate prayer. I also loved watching a father hold his young son as they exchanged hugs and kisses.
The volume was a little high for me but I think it has more to do with the acoustics of the space. The message and prayers were hard for me to hear also, I’m guessing due to the echo effect.
With my hearing problems, I’m not sure how accurate my grasp of the message might be. Something that stuck however was that Christ and Christianity draws us out of our comfort zone. I recalled how many times I have voiced my discomfort about performing a particular ministry and I swear I can hear God chuckle when that is the very situation I’m confronted with next.
The pastor told of a woman presenting herself for prayer who, it became obvious, was demon possessed. How ill-equipped we are to believe it or react…how do we explain the evil? The Devil is real.
A concept I hadn’t thought of was the pastor’s description of Paul in prison, chained to a Roman guard dressed in his armor while Paul writes what we read in Ephesians about putting on the full armor of God. May we remember to use the same protection when we face spiritual warfare.
With the first snow of the season still falling, we decided to stay close to home today.
The last time we visited this church, they were meeting in the downstairs fellowship area and on the verge of moving to the sanctuary of this former Catholic church.
The pastor mentioned that recently a veteran’s memorial was dedicated which included a wall with a memorial object for a number of veterans. I would have liked to look at the wall more closely, but I think I’ll save that for a warmer day. The larger stone was engraved with the symbol of the Fallen Soldier, and looked striking even from across the street.
A gentleman greeted us and held the door for us as we entered and we were warmly welcomed by a number of people. There were many children among this congregation as well.
We sat more than halfway back but the architecture is such that an echo is unavoidable. The leadership is implementing a great deal of rehabilitation so this will likely be addressed.
The greeting time was much longer than anticipated, which was a fine thing as it gave everyone plenty of time to greet friends and visitors.
The pastor has spent the last four months preaching through the book of Ephesians in a series entitled Onward Christian Soldiers and today’s entry, We Will Not Lose, was the final part.
He began by reviewing some of last week’s message, and the topic of this message was the reality, as taught in the Word of God, of the Devil and demons and the existence of evil. In this section of Scripture, Paul gives us the defensive weapons we need: the Full Armor of God. The Shield of Faith extinguishes the fiery darts of the Evil One; the Helmet protects the vulnerable battlefield of the mind no matter what lies Satan throws at us; and the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. He taught that it is only when we speak our testimony that the sword becomes the double-edged sword God intended it to be.
The joy of this congregation was contrasted by the serious tone of the message, but I truly appreciated being here to be reminded of God’s ultimate power and authority.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, it has been exciting to see how You have grown Your church. We pray Your continued blessings upon Your people here. Amen.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
Today we worshiped at Chippewa Alliance Church, 3629 37th Street Ext., Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.846.2070, www.chippewaalliance.org, Rev. Dan Muir, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – Matthew 20:1-16 NIV
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didnʼt you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Donʼt I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
God redirected us easily this morning as the church where we planned to worship had closed recently.
Of course, I was happy to come into a church decorated for Christmas with an impressive wooden cross. We were welcomed and engaged by one member in particular.
I enjoyed the harmony of the two female leads and the blend of the three guitars.
I thought the pastor did well with a concept many struggle with, that the first shall be last, and the Scripture from Matthew about workers hired at various times throughout the work day. A great line from the message: “It’s not fair, it’s grace.”
When I think about the announcement of our Savior’s birth being given to shepherds, I realize He can use even someone like me, thanks be to God.
We enjoyed our conversation with the two pastors after the service and I met two Marines, assuring me this congregation is in good hands.
We arrived quite early and wandered around some. We encountered only a handful of folks and everyone had a friendly greeting.
The worship space is a comfortable, gymnasium-type area, nicely decorated for the holidays.
We discovered a young man who lived near us prior to his marriage last year is playing bass with the praise band at this church and were pleased to have a chance to catch up some. The volume of the music was agreeable and the voices blended beautifully.
The greeting time, as it is usually referred to, was instead called Fellowship Time. This more adequately described this slightly longer-term greeting opportunity. Several people did greet us during this time as well as before and after the service.
The untitled message was presented by Associate Pastor Rev. David Hardie and emphasized how God often does the unexpected in our lives. He pointed out a few of the ways God proved His love for surprising His children, ways He guided over insurmountable odds and proved He was still in control. It was a great reminder that “things almost never go the way we expect.” He suggested that maybe our willingness has something to do with that. Perhaps we must be willing to obey and open to being surprised. He pointed out that we are all broken, and broken people can find it hard to wrap our minds around grace. But God still loves to surprise us.
I am grateful God led us here as this was exactly the message I needed to hear today.
We appreciated the time taken by both pastors for conversation after worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we thank You for directing us here to meet with You in worship and pray Your continued blessings on this, Your church. Amen.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Yesterday we worshiped at New Church, meeting location – Robinhood Road Family YMCA, 3474 Robinhood Road, Winston-Salem, NC 27106, 336.293.4495, www.newchurchnc.org, Pastor T.J. Ward.
Scripture – NLT
Matthew 14:22-28 –
Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”
But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here! ”
Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
John 3:17 –
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
Matthew 26:36-44 –
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”
Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.
So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.
I searched Google for a church near where our daughter is living and the name New Church caught my interest. It was only a few miles away and on our route out of town going home. I admit the name made me wonder if there is an “Old Church,” but that’s the way my head is wired.
We were welcomed and shown the way to the worship area. The church is meeting in a YMCA and perhaps is not allowed a cross.
I was glad I brought earplugs and after a few songs I probably could have done without them.
The church recently purchased property and are working to pay it off while looking toward building a permanent structure.
The pastor’s brother-in-law delivered the message, the finale of a “No Fear November” series. The sermon centered on our fear of commitment and was well supported by Scripture. When he talked of Peter walking on water with Christ, it brought back a memory from my time in the Marines.
I was on the LPH Iwo Jima and we were in a typhoon, a storm so severe we needed to secure our helicopters with huge chains. Doing this with the ship bobbing severely in the rough seas with pouring rain came the reality that our aircraft would be safe but we would never be found if we were washed overboard. I have successfully taught many people to swim but still struggle with it myself. I learned to be drown-proof but in seas that rough it really wouldn’t matter. I don’t think we did our job with faith like Peter, just fear of those ordering us to the task.
We were privileged to spend a little time with the pastor after the service and hear a bit of how God is using this church.
We decided to attend worship before leaving the area following our Thanksgiving visit with our daughter and granddaughters. I believe this was our first church visit at a YMCA location, and it was obvious a great deal of effort was put into setting up everything.
We were welcomed from the moment we entered: a young man offered to show us around, pointed out the restrooms, and the direction of the worship area. While Bob used the facilities, I went to find a place to sit. The music was playing as I entered and as I looked for a seat as far back as possible a gentleman attempted to guide me. I explained we would need to sit wherever it would be least loud, and he knew just where to place us. He was gracious and kind and I appreciated his expertise.
The music was well done, but as with last week, I did not know the songs. I declined the earplugs offered by our new friend, though I literally felt the bass in my chest.
The chairs were all arranged toward the front, providing plenty of room for expansion.
We learned in conversation with the pastor afterward that this non-denominational church really is new…they began in 2011 with 12 people and have since grown to approximately 400. They support a number of local missions as well as equipping and sending people to plant churches around the world.
The church recently purchased land for a building of their own and they are close to accomplishing their goal of paying off that purchase prior to moving forward.
The pastor introduced the guest preacher, Josh Sheetz, who also happened to be his brother-in-law. Josh hails from Jacksonville, Florida, and exuded genuine praise for his brother-in-law’s leadership skills.
This message was the final part of a series entitled No Fear November and this week’s topic was the Fear of Commitment. He defined commitment as dedication to a cause or activity that requires risk and investment and provides the benefits of trust and joy.
He stated: 1 – commitment is counter-cultural…our culture applauds lack of commitment; 2 – commitment creates Christ-likeness…Jesus’ commitment was strengthened as He was tempted in the desert and we are called from what we know; 3 – commitment requires risk but culminates with incredible outcomes…at some point, we realize we need God’s help, and Jesus is glorified when we risk.
He concluded by suggesting everyone ask God where He wants us to commit courageously.
The pastor graciously took time between services to tell us some of the history of New Church.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we praise You for the powerful witness this church has been and pray You continue to strengthen and guide them into the future You have planned for them. Amen.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Today we worshiped at Aliquippa Christian Assembly, 166 West Shaffer Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001 724.775.9101, www.aliquippachristianassembly.org, Pastor John Bannon.
Scripture – NKJV
Ephesians 2:8-10 –
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Romans 5:15-18 –
But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.
Romans 8:1 –
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Romans 6:14 –
For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Hebrews 7:26-28 –
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.
Romans 8:15-16 –
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
Galatians 3:13-14 –
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
2 Corinthians 5:21 –
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Ephesians 2:4-9 –
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Galatians 3:13-14 – MSG –
Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”? That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross: He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse. And now, because of that, the air is cleared and we can see that Abraham’s blessing is present and available for non-Jews, too. We are all able to receive God’s life, his Spirit, in and with us by believing—just the way Abraham received it.
Deuteronomy 28:3-13 –
“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
“Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
“Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
“Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
“The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
“The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
“The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you. And the LORD will grant you plenty of goods, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your ground, in the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. The LORD will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them.”
Psalm 84:10-12 –
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, Blessed is the man who trusts in You!
As we tried to decide where to worship today, I remembered this church as being hard to find. Sure enough, the GPS dead-ended us in a residential area, but my navigator got us back on track in time.
We were welcomed often from the door to the sanctuary. We both peaked early on standing to sing, and I had a first: a woman came in to sit in front of us and inquired if I would be able to see okay with her there.
From the rear of the sanctuary the blocks that form the impressive cross look like wood, so I had to stop after the service to confirm the construction. The chancel/stage has the welcoming look of a living room.
The choir seemed to struggle a bit like a traditional choir with praise songs, but warmed up with a rousing song at the offering.
Seeing some of the words on the screen was challenging because they consisted of white letters over white water scenes.
A lot of Scripture was quoted in the message but I had trouble finding it in time; I usually need to know the book before the chapter and verse.
The message was well supported by Scripture; one important thought was our ability to resist temptation to sin with help from the Holy Spirit.
Following the sermon there was an altar call that didn’t seem hurried at all.
We had a great visit with the pastor after the service. I also got to meet a Marine and a daughter of a Marine, which is always a highlight for me.
I was delighted to hear there is a prayer ministry in place to have those who are shut in praying for those with needs. This is something I feel God encouraging me to suggest to the churches we visit.
I would encourage signage further out at the main road. There are people out there that need this church and don’t know it’s here.
It has been seven years since our last visit here. We were greeted as we entered the door and by numerous others before, during, and after worship.
The spacious lobby seemed empty, probably due to preparation for Christmas decorating after the service. The worship area is large with well-spaced, comfortable chairs. The chancel had a living room-type feel to it because of two chairs, and it’s all nicely coordinated.
The voices of the praise band blended beautifully. I knew none of the five songs at the beginning, but I thought the one sang as the offering was taken, The River, was inspiring.
The pastor used numerous Scripture references to illustrate his point that grace is God’s free gift, the source of salvation which is already accomplished at the cross. Because God the Father took out His wrath on His Son on the cross, He is no longer angry with those who believe and we can therefore expect good from God, not wrath.
But it’s not about us…it’s all about Jesus. He willingly gave His life to ransom all who would accept His gift of forgiveness. He was the only one who could possibly accomplish this mission. He is the key, and by believing in Him, we are set free. Hallelujah!
We appreciated the extended conversation with the pastor following worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray for Your continued Presence as this congregation works to impact their neighborhood with the Good News. Amen.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Today we worshiped at Mosaic Community Church, 2801 N. Charles Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15214, 412.321.3911, mosaicpittsburgh.org, Rev. Saleem Ghubril, Volunteer Presbyterian Pastor.
Scripture – Luke 11:1-13 NIV
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say: “ ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. ’ ”
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Donʼt bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I canʼt get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
We went to hear a friend preach today but the election affected a change in the preaching schedule so we were there for a message from another dear friend instead.
It is always a joy to worship here, this congregation has such contagious enthusiasm and a hunger for the Word and message.
There are always more than a few young children to make me smile and it was a delight to see old friends and meet new ones.
The message took Scripture and gave it current application, particularly to the recent election. I pray we all remember nothing happens that surprises God and there is nobody God can’t use for His purposes. Thankfully, in that we have no vote.
I was encouraged to hear about the funding that has come to the Pittsburgh Promise and the good that has come from the program Saleem has steered.
As always it is a joy to see how Christ is at work in and through our Christian brothers and sisters. I found a personal assurance and reminder from the large wooden cross decorated with colorful mosaic pieces: God has places He can use each of us.
It was three weeks ago that we were invited to worship here today, and the world seems very different than when the invitation was received. Nonetheless, it was good to be here as this church has always been warm and welcoming and we were able to worship with friends old and new.
Hospitality was evident with friendly chatter around the generous breakfast spread, and every time we visit here there are more little ones running around.
The music was led by the talented praise band and many present took advantage of the opportunity to request prayer.
Saleem began his untitled message with stories detailing why this past week was at once and for different reasons a hard, glorious, and humbling one for him. He spoke of justice and the Biblical definition of a just society as one where the widow, orphan, and alien fare well. He reminded that God’s people are called to care for those who have no one else to care for them, and that being alive means being called.
He said he would pick up where he left off last week in teaching about The Lord’s Prayer. I appreciated his statement that when we pray we should let our prayer shape us. And the teaching about Luke 11:13, (If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!)…Jesus taught that His Father gives not “good gifts” but the best gift, the Holy Spirit.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we are grateful for Your steady hand that still guides Your Church. We pray for continued understanding and love in and through this congregation. Amen.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Today we worshiped at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228, 412.343.8900, www.spchurch.org, Rev. Dr. Daniel B. Merry, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Numbers 10:33-36 NIV
So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.
Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.”
Whenever it came to rest, he said, “Return, Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel.”
We needed to be in the South Hills this morning and had narrowed our choices to three churches, but when we were ready to leave early we opted for this 8 a.m. service we’ve been wanting to visit. This early service is in the chapel and we were blessed to be there. Something as simple as the passing of Christ’s Peace was so different here, and most of the worshipers greeted us during this time.
As we entered and were admonished by the usher to smile, t made me think how often our faith is evaluated by our demeanor. I remembered being chastised while in a mall wearing a Christian shirt. I was having a bad day and it showed. In honest self-appraisal afterward the concept of being glad in Christ in all circumstances was clear to me, and I have tried to live my life that way.
We were blessed to be here for an adult baptism which seemed much more powerful in this smaller venue.
The message wove around Moses trying to lead his people through the desert, and maybe more so, God trying to lead His people.
We are good at wandering but not so inclined to listening. Moses was shepherding about 1.5 million people for two years to get them to the Promised Land. When their needs surfaced, God provided every time, but they were still unwilling to trust God.
We judge them in retrospect on their lack of faith. Saturday, when I discovered my newer roof was leaking, I complained without thanking God that I owned a house that could have a leaky roof. Since coming to Christ there has never been a time that we weren’t taken care of and He will show us how to overcome this too.
I enjoyed the duet of “Lamb of God” during the offering. The Communion elements were offered verbally, which was an uplifting change.
I would be hard-pressed to decide which I found more delightful, the baby boy peeking over mom’s shoulder or big sister dancing in the aisle during the last song.
I was overjoyed to welcome the newest baptized member of the Church.
As many times as we have worshiped here, we were strangers to the 8 a.m. service. Today seemed a good day to remedy that oversight.
The friendliness of this congregation always amazes me. In the past we have observed that members of a congregation with multiple services often do not recognize visitors, but with three services each Sunday, people at this church are consistently welcoming.
This early service is held in the Chapel and had a cozy feel to it. We were privileged to be present for both Sacraments, Baptism and Communion, as well we the Time of Remembering of all the saints from this congregation who joined the Church Triumphant over this past year, an obviously a meaningful time for those present.
All education efforts seem to focus on The Story, as adult and children’s Sunday school classes, Bible study, and worship messages are immersed in this book. Today’s message, “Wandering and Listening,” was presented by Rev. Sharon Stewart. She spoke of the desert wanderings of the Israelites and how God provided for their every need in spite of the people whining, complaining, listening to their fear, and wayward disobedience. God brought life to His people in this landless, desert time. He is a transformer of situations Who feeds, nourishes and provides in desert circumstances. Just as the Israelites had to learn to trust God in their journey, so do we. God’s Holy Spirit lives in us…we need not fear.
This message was a timely reminder, two days before a contentious election. I was grateful we were present to hear this.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we felt Your blessing on this small group and thank You for Your Presence there. We pray for Your continued rich blessings on this congregation as they continue to serve You. Amen.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Yesterday we worshiped at The Chapel on Merchant, 452 Merchant Street, Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.650.1885, Pastor Josh Fillip.
Scripture – Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
While waiting for repairs on my truck I got to walk through this neighborhood and thought I had discovered The Chapel myself. I didn’t see God’s orchestration till I learned we had a commitment on Sunday and this Saturday night service was where we needed to be.
We were welcomed to worship at this storefront ministry.
I enjoyed the female lead and others who played and sang.
The pastor’s style seems to fit his congregation and his message was well received. The sermon, “God is Greater,” was a simple message that we all need to hear every day. There is nothing you are experiencing that God isn’t greater than. The pastor said he prays during the week about what to preach on, and he obeyed well.
Some points: God will meet you where you are, and when sin is on the rise in your life, God’s power is still greater. We all need reminded that He is with us no matter what we are experiencing now. Even in situations beyond our imagination, God is still greater
My favorite line: “God is in the restoration business.” Christ redeemed me…proof He can save you.
There were good Scriptural references to support the message. The crosses I found were on banners on the walls.
I appreciated the opportunity to speak with the pastor after the service.
This week, as we sought a Saturday evening service, Bob discovered this church while on walkabout. Half of the inside is a thrift shop while the other half is set up as a worship space with chairs, an overhead projector, banners, and pictures.
We arrived early and, not realizing the thrift shop area was not open for business, wandered around looking at things. When I asked about an item, I was instructed to include whatever I wanted to pay in the offering.
We sat near the back and a nearby table welcomed everyone with coffee and cookies. On one of his trips past us, the pastor offered us water, which I gratefully accepted.
Several folks greeted us before and after worship.
Music was well led by a unique duo comprised of a keyboardist and a vocalist with a ukulele as well as another gentleman who played an acoustic guitar. They led contemporary tunes and traditional hymns for this Reformation weekend worship.
The pastor’s message was entitled “God is Greater” and emphasized His sovereignty over every struggle, valley, sin, and addiction in our lives. The pastor reminded that God has all the answers we seek and He meets us where we are.
The pastor offered individual prayer to anyone who wished to come forward after the benediction.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray for Your blessing on this church and their ministry to the neighborhood as they work to help restore this area. Amen.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Today we worshiped at Zelienople Church of Christ, 112 Mennonite Lane, Harmony, PA 16066, 724.816.2035, www.zeliechurch.com, Pastor Reid Moon.
Scripture – Ephesians 3:16-21 ESV
…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
I have felt called to revisit this church for a while. Today, after an hour and a half of aimless driving, we ended up right where God was sending us just before the service started. I hope to look where He would like us to go a little sooner and save gas, but no matter what the plans, I am in awe of His orchestration to get us where we need to be.
We were welcomed by a number of people who remembered us. I admit some faces were familiar to me but for the most part I remembered the external setting.
The only cross I noticed was on a banner.
The pastor thanked the congregation for their support after a memorial service for his mother, a tough time to preach a sermon or anything else.
His message, “True to These Feelings…True to God” was a most interesting reflection. We readily claim our blessings from God and attribute many things to God. I don’t think we ever get to realizing our feelings were also created by God and part of Christ’s experience here on earth.
When we are abused, are we called to forgive the abuser? He talked about the long abuse of Joseph and his forgiving his brothers when he realized they were finally getting it. Maybe this was a wake-up call to the congregation that the abused, lonely, and shunned are not alone.
Communion was served without a corporate call for confession, but there was enough time for personal confession while the elements were silently served.
We enjoyed conversation with some members and with the pastor after the service.
I was glad for a chance to share something God had put on my heart. I try to always pray for the people on the prayer lists from the bulletins we are given when visiting. Recently I was talking with an elderly neighbor who lamented that she didn’t know why God was letting her live. During my prayer time the idea came to ask her to pray for those on the list, and over the following weeks more clarity was provided. I want to encourage churches to ask their shut in members to pray for those on their prayer list. It helps them focus on others, helps them feel connected, and blesses them with a sense of purpose. The phenomenal benefits cannot be denied. I think it is important that the shut in member’s name is also on the list for prayer, and it is good to let the congregation know that there are people unable to be present who are praying for those on the list.
Just the opposite of a week ago, today we had no idea where we should worship. But it was a gorgeous fall day, so we drove…and drove…and drove…and ended up here. We’ve decided we need to plan better, but for this day I’m convinced this was where we were to be.
This is a small, friendly, out-of-the-way church that I did not recognize until I walked in and saw a couple of people who had popped into my mind recently. We chatted and caught up on recent developments at the church, then sat down to worship.
The sanctuary was nearly full with people of all ages, including many children for whom children’s church is provided. There are no instruments of any kind, so the singing is led by the pastor with his clear, strong voice. Of the seven musical selections, I was familiar with only one but everyone else seemed familiar with them.
I appreciated being able to participate in Communion. I must have missed the time of confession of sins, so I did so silently.
The sermon, “True to These Feelings…True to God,” was hard-hitting and not for children. The pastor outlines last week’s message as having dealt with forgiveness and wisdom and whether God wants someone to stay in an abusive relationship (He does not). The feelings referred to in this week’s sermon title are the feelings accompanying abuse.
After defining abuse as the intentional harming of another person over a period of time, he outlined the Biblical story of Joseph. Although Joseph started out as his father’s favorite, he was sold into slavery by his brothers then unjustly accused by his master’s wife and thrown into jail.
After confirming that feelings are from God and are not necessarily good or bad but just are, he listed the feelings commonly resulting from abuse: guilt, worthlessness, self-blame, frustration, confusion, anger leading to bitterness, a desire for revenge, loneliness, fear of being shunned or having one’s feelings minimized. He said that many people “close the door” on their feelings in an effort to make them go away. The thing is, the feelings aren’t behind the door, they’re in the heart, and there they will stay until they are dealt with.
Joseph had a great deal of time to consider what he might say to his brothers and to get past his feelings. The pastor pointed out that our feelings can short-circuit God’s work and Joseph waited until he was certain his brothers had changed before he forgave. He advised not to close off feelings of abuse but be honest with God. There also can be great benefit in professional counseling, and we have true hope in God’s promises.
Several members and the pastor were kind enough to take considerable time for conversation following worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray for Your continued Presence with this congregation. Help them extend forgiveness to those who have wronged them and free their hearts from the pain. Amen.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Today we worshiped at Macedonia Church of Pittsburgh, 2225 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, 412.281.8437, www.macedoniapgh.org, Brian J. Edmonds, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NIV
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
I remember years ago saying this was a church all church members should go visit when they get tired or feel staid in their worship and it still holds true. I don’t know how long it has been since we last worshiped here but you can’t help but be rejuvenated.
We were greeted walking to and from church and by many more inside. People took the time to not only say hello but to share some of their personal faith story. A touching sight was a circle of members gathered for prayer before the service.
A woman talked with us and told of how her children would be singing here today, and her enthusiasm was contagious.
I was waiting to go up to the sanctuary while a woman brought a young girl down, I assume to the nursery. As the child reached the last step she gave me a beautiful smile and a little wave…I would have felt most welcome if that was the only greeting we received. I met one Marine and a number of people thanked me for my service.
I enjoyed the familiar songs from the youth choir even though the volume was more than my sensitive ears could take.
There was some signage, but it seemed like it was for members not visitors who didn’t know the building.
The ushers distributed fans and offered tissues. I was impressed by their attending to the congregation, and more so that there were people who needed tissues. I can’t remember when we experienced such hospitality.
I appreciated that prayer is such an important part of the service but I lamented being unable to find a cross.
With the title “We Don’t Need No Water,” the message about not quenching the Holy Spirit was a natural.
I liked the advice that it may be while we are busy being in charge we might miss the blessing God is ready to bestow. I was impressed when the pastor stated his willingness to step aside and let God take over. It’s vital to be willing to let go and let God be God.
With a good overall worship experience, sermon, music, prayer, and conversations with many people, I took something new away from this service. While looking for the pastor so we could tell him of our visit and ministry, I met Arnold, one of the pastor’s Armor Bearers. I am in awe of a church who looks out for the pastor’s welfare. I think this is a most overlooked ministry opportunity and one that all churches should mimic.
We visited this church probably about 15 years ago and it has remained strong in our memory as one full of the Spirit. Last week when this church came specifically to my mind and this morning all the pieces fell into place, I knew this was where we should worship.
Most available parking is on nearby streets and joyful greetings were exchanged throughout the walk to the church building. Once inside we wandered some, though many were exiting the 8:00 service and others, like us, were early for the 10:00.
Since we could hear the music as we walked around one floor below the sanctuary, Bob went back to the truck and retrieved his earplugs. We found seats very near the back of the sanctuary and watched as several people simply made their way around extending welcome greetings to others whether they knew them or not, it seemed. One friendly lady excitedly told us about her three teenagers who would sing with the praise team today. We were thrilled for her when it was announced during the service that this youth praise team would open for Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy at Carnegie Music Hall in December. After the service we sought out our new friend to share in her joy; I felt like I’ve known her all my life.
The sanctuary is a good size and it was packed full. Hospitality was shown to all by women who walked throughout the sanctuary passing out hand-held fans and offering Kleenex.
The music was enthusiastic with plenty of volume even from where we sat. The words were projected at the bottom of the screens along with video of the worship leaders as they sang. I was grateful for the monitors on the poles partway back so those in our section could see.
The message was part 4 of a series called “Fully Charged” about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. This part was called, “We Don’t Need No Water.”
The pastor began by referencing a couple of hip-hop/rap songs that were foreign to me (but not most of the congregation). The connection was fire and water and the verse from 1 Thessalonians that admonishes not to quench the Spirit. He outlined numerous Scripture references that referred to God and/or the Holy Spirit as fire: Exodus 3 and the burning bush, Elijah at Mt. Carmel, Moses stating that God is a consuming fire, Jeremiah’s reference to not preaching and calling God’s Word “a fire shut up in his bones,” in Acts 2 at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was seen as “tongues of fire,” John the Baptist’s statement that he “baptized with water but the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire,” and in Paul’s letter to Timothy telling the young pastor to “fan into flame the gift of God.”
His main points:
1 – Don’t miss the move of God on our hearts.
2 – Don’t miss the move of God in our church.
3 – Don’t miss the move of God in our world.
We don’t need water…we need the willingness to allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do in us, for us, and through us. We must seek His heart, not His hand, and release control to the One Who knows best.
For this, I pray.
As usual, we sought out the pastor to let him know we’d be writing about our visit. Before we were able to locate him, we located a gentleman dubbed the pastor’s Armor Bearer. I asked if he was assigned a particular piece of armor, and he said simply, “All of them.” He assists the pastor and makes the way smooth for him, something I’m sure many pastors could appreciate.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we had a joyous celebration of worship with Your church. We pray You will continue to bless and guide them as they follow You and that Your Spirit encourage all those in service to You. Amen.