Sunday, January 31, 2016
Today we worshiped at Prince of Peace Anglican Church, 1314 Gringo Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.375.5351, www.pop-church.com, Rev. John M. Heidengren, Rector.
Scripture - NIV
Jeremiah 1:4-10 –
The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Psalm 71:1-17 –
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.
For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.
Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone. For my enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together. They say, “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.” Do not be far from me, my God; come quickly, God, to help me. May my accusers perish in shame; may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
1 Corinthians 14:12b-20 –
Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.
For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.
I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”
Luke 4:21-32 –
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.
A neighbor worshiped in this building some years ago until she could no longer climb the stairs; her church merged with another and moved to a new location. I had been hoping we would get to visit, but God was way ahead of me.
There is a large backlit wooden cross, uplifting banners on all the walls, and dual projection screens. I enjoyed the worship team music and the harmonization of the two female leads. Seeing the enthusiasm and smiles made me happy.
An assistant priest provided the message regarding Jesus’ authority; it was well delivered and supported by Scripture. I was amused that it was the theme God gave me in praying for healing, to pray with Christ’s authority. I believe when I was ordained as a Deacon and Elder that I was touched by hands that were touched by Christ and that the power of Christ is in me, to His glory alone.
I never grow tired of the way God uses us, though I’m often surprised but not overwhelmed that He does so. Recently during my morning devotions I had a vision of praying for a woman’s health. He presented that opportunity this morning, though I was having such a good time exchanging smiles with her granddaughter I almost missed recognizing her. The setting and some of the dialog was right out of my vision and we were able to reassure her of the healing God, to His glory, has already done.
The Scripture quoted in support of Christ’s authority from His reading from Isaiah was part of my morning devotionals. (He really does work that hard for me to hear His message.)
We lose sight of the fact that Christ has that same authority now.
We were able to partake of Communion and the elements were offered aloud.
We were blessed with a good worship experience and the opportunity to pray over someone, so I will be energized all week.
After having driven past this church countless times, today was the day to visit.
The signage was excellent, including outdoor signs distinguishing the main entrance from the office entrance, and indoors, both directional and identification signs.
The sanctuary was tastefully decorated with colorful, coordinated banners on most walls.
We were greeted warmly upon entering the sanctuary, and although we ended up sitting in a sort of out-of-the-way corner, more than a few people took the time to stop over and welcome us, including the Rector.
The blended music was presented by a talented contemporary praise band.
The sermon, “Jesus’ Authority,” was presented by the Assistant Priest, Rev. Philip Bottomley, who emphasized the power, weight, and influence of Christ’s words, words that “changed His hearers.” Words that, in the beginning, spoke the very light into existence. The wind ceased at His command, and Lazarus returned to life at His word. The pastor pointed out that He speaks now with the same authority and every knee will bow, willingly or unwillingly.
I was pleased to participate in Communion this day, and we enjoyed the fellowship following worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this congregation will be empowered to act on Christ’s authority as they move forward with Your plan for this, Your church. Amen.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 707 Thomson Park Drive, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, http://crossroadsumc.org/locations/cranberry/, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.
Scripture - NLT
James 5:16 – l
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.
Joshua 6:1-5 –
Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in. But the LORD said to Joshua, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors. You and your fighting men should march around the town once a day for six days. Seven priests will walk ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. On the seventh day you are to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns. When you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams’ horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of the town will collapse, and the people can charge straight into the town.”
2 Corinthians 10:4 –
We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.
It was a special worship experience for me to be able to witness our daughter and her husband join church today. When I came to Christ, our daughter was just finishing the communicant’s class and we joined church together, a special, warm memory for me.
We were cordially greeted by two of the pastors when we came in and engaged by the woman preparing coffee. A number of others came by and joined us in conversation and when we said we were there to watch family join their church, there was even more connection: we are in the same small group, husbands meet on Fridays, and of course the antics of our youngest granddaughter.
Was interesting that the sermon was also on connection, our connecting in prayer. A step we have all been guilty of with an overwhelming problem, we try to fix it instead of stepping back and letting God work.
God will help us break the strongholds in our lives, be they bad habits or transgressions that we can’t get past. We need to step back out of God’s way and let Him work miracles.
Sometimes when we are called to read our Bible or pray for a time period, I realize that I just can’t imagine trying to get through a day without God’s Word and prayer time.
It’s great to worship here and feel God’s Presence, I am happy our children have found a good home.
Today we were privileged to worship and celebrate with our daughter and son-in-law as they joined this church.
Although we arrived quite early, several people greeted us warmly as they prepared coffee, snacks, and made general arrangements for those who would soon arrive.
I truly enjoy the music here. The songs themselves lean toward the contemporary, but even the traditional (such as today’s “Holy, Holy, Holy”…one of the most traditional I know) feature original arrangements – and a saxophone – that catch my ear and make singing a joy.
The message was entitled “Targeting Strongholds” and was the first in the series called Breakthrough Prayer. The church is being led through 21 Days of Prayer beginning today through February 13 designed to encourage daily prayer in battling one specific personal stronghold and one specific Kingdom stronghold.
The pastor urged everyone to text PRAYER21 to 313131 in order to receive a daily text reminder to pray for the next three weeks. This is surely one way to use our ever-present cell phones for an uplifting – and perhaps even life-changing – purpose. I’ll be anxious to see what comes from it.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray the congregation accepts the challenge to lift their strongholds to You, awaiting the miraculous solutions You will send. Amen.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Our great intentions for worship this morning got waylaid by a late night for us on Saturday. After such an encouraging conversation with the student pastor last week, I was looking forward to our next church visit and the chance to interact with the members.
I have thought for some time how important visitor greeting is for the greeter…the opportunity to potentially influence a visitor to return…the unknown potential a visitor could add to a congregation…even a new believer brings a special enthusiasm.
I have reflected about how much that greeting can mean to the visitor. Sometimes just a simple hello can make the visitor feel so connected and welcome. Engaging conversation and sharing your faith walk can make a tremendous difference.
Lord, open us all to sharing our personal story so we can be used by You. Amen.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Today we worshiped at Riverview United Presbyterian Church, 3505 Perrysville Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15214, 412.321.7300, www.riverviewupchurch.com, Rev. Steven Werth, Pastor.
Luke 3:15-17 –
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.””
Acts 8:14-17 –
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.
When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 43:1-7 –
But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
One of the things I appreciate most about visiting mainline churches is the likelihood of finding a cross displayed. I was not disappointed today as I appreciated the large cross draped with white suspended on the rear chancel wall.
The theme of the message was baptism and I really enjoyed the appropriate sanctuary decorations. There were long white and blue drapes hung from either side of the chancel and with a small fan under gave a reminder of running water. There was another long drape from the chancel down the steps to simulate the Jordan River. The children’s message and music were also tied to the baptism theme.
The choir exhibited a lot of power and pleasantly melded voices. It is easy to see the passion when all sing with their mouths open.
A good percentage of the church came by to pass the Peace of Christ, including choir members and pastors.
When the pastor started his message he came down off the chancel giving the effect of meeting with the congregation. The message developed well with good Scriptural references.
It all reminded me of something from one of my devotional readings this week: Christ didn’t come to the Jordan to have His sins washed away in the power of baptism… Christ came to empower the waters. Whatever your method of baptism, you are redeemed in Christ.
The Bread of Christ was offered verbally which always moves me because that makes it personal.
We enjoyed a delightful visit with the student pastor after the service. As He has done before, when we think God must be done with us in this ministry, He introduces someone into our path. It is such a joy to meet someone on fire for Christ whom He uses to reignite us.
We followed some other folks entering the building and found ourselves at the front of the sanctuary, so after locating rest rooms and bulletins, found seats toward the back. By the time we sat down several people had greeted us.
The sanctuary features dark wood everywhere and today there were special decorations in recognition of Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Hanging from the ceiling on either side of the chancel were shimmering white and light blue banners with fans below to make them flutter. From a font flowed an aqua-colored chiffon-type material across the floor of the chancel, down the steps, back toward the center, under the Communion table, and partway down the center aisle. This represented the Jordan River and was littered with smooth stones and one large one for realism. The effect was quite lovely and I enjoyed just looking at it.
The bulletin was a work of art on 11 x 17 paper, including color and music, and print that was large enough to read with no issue whatsoever.
The choir increased in number as the worship hour approached and I appreciated both their beautiful harmony and volume in the music.
The student pastor spoke with the children and brought up a point I never previously considered: when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, there would have been “critters” and bugs and all sorts of living things in the water. For someone like me who does not care for water or bugs/critters, this would not have been an attractive option and it puts a new spin on the whole baptism-in-the-river thing.
In the sermon, “Through the Waters, Through the Rivers, Through the Fire,” the pastor asserted that Christ’s ministry of reconciliation began the moment He was baptized as He came up out of the Jordan and baptism into Christ “grafts us onto the vine of salvation.”
He said the location of the words of Isaiah 43 matters. In chapter 42, Israel has been disobedient, rebellious, and unjust, and human expectation would be for God to wash His hands of Israel. Instead, that’s when God turns toward them in chapter 43, declaring He will be with them through the water and the rivers and the fire. Just when it looks like all is lost, God’s love is greater…we fall short and God’s love comes to us. This, thank God, is still true today.
We appreciated the student pastor’s time following worship for some marvelous conversation as well as the many invitations to the coffee hour following worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your Spirit will fall anew on this congregation that they will remain on fire for You. Amen.
Sunday, January 3, 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, Pastor.
Scripture – John 20:1-9 NIV
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
We thought a first visit might be skewed by light attendance and we are always happy to worship at Southminster.
An unexpected revelation about the worship music: we sang the same contemporary worship songs we have sung at any number of other services, but it felt more like worship.
The two lead female singers blended and complemented each other, harmonizing beautifully. The difference I think was the music didn’t come so much from the diaphragm, like singers are taught, but instead came from the heart.
I enjoyed a delightful children’s sermon…always joyful when it involves the children.
One of the songs contained the phrase “inside out” and I admit my mind went to the children’s movie of the same name we watched recently. So often movies have entertained children and also carried a good adult message, like a well done children’s message often does.
The message was delivered by the Youth Director. The sermon was about our resolutions, and asked how steadfast we are in serving Christ. We can’t live for others expectations, but we can live for Christ.
I might add to the admonishment to invite a friend to church, to consider asking an enemy to church.
Today we chose to return to Southminster to worship with some friends at the Crossings service which is held in the cozy and informal atmosphere of Fellowship Hall. If memory serves this space has been updated, but its comfortable ambiance has remained.
The music was provided by the excellent praise band which included more members than I recalled from our last visit, and the two female lead vocalists’ voices blended exceptionally well.
The message, “Resolution Runner,” was presented by Karl Hudson, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. He referred to the 80%-within-two-weeks failure rate of New Year’s resolutions and advised that God wants us all to run daily – to Him. He referred to the mentions of running in the Scripture passage from John where Mary ran from the tomb to tell the disciples then Peter and John ran to the tomb.
He suggested the following steps to run after God:
1 – Run to know God for yourself…stop watching others live for God and do it yourself;
2 – Dig into God’s Word…read the Bible daily. He suggested using an app called Devotion to help remember to stick with the practice;
3 – Share your faith…invite one person to church…talk to people about what God has done in your life.
Running after God over the long haul takes perseverance, but the benefits last through this life and forever.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, You have blessed this church in many ways, and we pray they continue to run after You. Amen.