Sunday, February 28, 2016

Crossroads Church

Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 1000 Crossroads Drive, Oakdale, PA 15071, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Steve Cordl, Lead Pastor.


Scripture – NLT

Genesis 1:26 –
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

Proverbs 14:12 –
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

Romans 8:6-8 –
So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

Psalm 55:2 –
Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.

Philippians 2:5 –
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Galatians 2:20 –
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 5:22-23 –
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Zechariah 4:6 –
Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”


Bob’s thoughts:

Most of those we passed on the way in said hello and someone directed us to the restrooms and the Chapel. A few people near us also said hello during the Passing of Christ’s Peace.

The Chapel was pleasant with wood paneled ceiling and a large wooden cross with a purple drape. I noticed some large banners on the wall and smaller wooden crosses across the face of the stage.

The praise team was enjoyable with bearable volume; I appreciated the enthusiasm and smiles.

The congregation was requested to fill out the connection card inside the bulletin or alternatively to use the Crossroads app on their cell phone. This was one of the few times when the time allowance for personal confession was adequate for what I remembered the need to confess.

Later, during Communion, the elements were offered verbally and served after a time of confession.

The sermon, “How to Deal with how we Feel,” developed well and was supported scripturally. The pastor shared some personal experiences on how easily we can be led to trust our feelings before consulting God.

For the first time I realized the value of an outline of the message to work through. Most times, if I tried to take enough notes on the sermon, I missed too much of what was said and would end up with a lot of notes but little that I could put back together. Today I was free to follow God’s leading a little closer.

We have had very rewarding experiences when the opportunity came to minister to someone who was grieving; the message today was divinely inspired to encourage us to be more receptive to those God puts in our path who are grieving.

The hymn “It is Well” was also God-inspired today. Our son was killed on a Saturday, and when Sunday morning came, we didn’t know what else to do so we went to church. “It is Well” was what was sung as we were relying on good friends and Jesus to be able to stand. It will forever evoke strong memories.


Jan’s thoughts:

I have enjoyed listening to Pastor Steve via podcast, but today we got to hear a different pastor at this Crossroads location.

This large campus is meticulously designed with mostly muted colors and plenty of signage. A greeter held the door open for us, and others were posted in various locations in the entranceway. Upon asking the direction for this service, we were pointed in the direction beyond the refreshment table, and while there two Marines noticed Bob’s shirt and extended a warm greeting.

After preparing a cup of coffee (with a lid), we entered the Chapel for the early contemporary service and the first thing I saw was a huge wooden cross beautifully draped correctly in purple.

I am always amazed when a contemporary service starts and I look around to see maybe 10 people, and most of the chairs are filled by the time the first song has ended…and that was the experience today also.

The praise band was energetic, I enjoyed the lead singer’s voice, and the back-up vocalists provided excellent, harmonious support.

The message was presented by Executive Pastor James Roberts and was part of a series (which I have been following) entitled “Transformed: How God Changes Us.” The series is based on Rick Warren’s series of the same name, and this third week the focus was on “How to Deal with how we Feel.”

After establishing that our emotions are a gift from God (Genesis 1:26), and that it is best to avoid the extremes of emotionalism (“all that matters is how I feel”) and stoicism (“feelings aren’t important at all”), he stated that we must learn to manage our emotions because feelings are often unreliable, not always true, and can cause us to feel wrongly. God can’t be God of our life if we put our emotions on the throne.

When it comes to unwanted feelings, he said there are two steps: name the feelings that are causing us an issue, and tame it…allow God to shape and change our feelings. Sometimes we need to channel unwanted feelings, find a way to use them to help others. Our greatest ministry is often born from our greatest pain.

His final - and best – suggestion for managing our feelings was, every day before getting out of bed, ask God to fill us with His Spirit and guide us through our day.

Communion is celebrated weekly at this service, and I was grateful for the time of confession beforehand as well as the verbal offering of the elements.


Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray this congregation always remembers Christ when they deal with how they feel. Amen.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Blue Ridge Church

Yesterday we worshiped at Blue Ridge Church, 1655 Roanoke Street, Christiansburg, VA 24073, www.blueridgechurch.com, Scott, Lead Pastor.


Scripture – NLT

Proverbs 15:2 –
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.

Ecclesiastes 3:7 –
A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.

Proverbs 21:23 (NIV) –
Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.

1 Corinthians 14:40 –
But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.

Proverbs 16:7 –
When people’s lives please the Lord, even their enemies are at peace with them.

Ephesians 4:29 –
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Proverbs 13:3 –
Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.

Proverbs 18:13 –
Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.

Proverbs 16:21 –
The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive.

Matthew 15:11 –
It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.

Philippians 4:2 –
Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.

1 John 4:11 –
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.

Proverbs 12:25 –
Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.


Bob’s thoughts:

We had great incentive to visit this church as one of our daughters attends here with her daughters.

We only had a few minutes to grab a coffee and find seats before the service started. The people I interacted with were friendly and welcoming. It’s always hard to assess the welcome at a church with multiple services but I found out later one of those who said hello was the pastor who delivered the message.

The music was louder than I can handle so I retreated to the lobby where I could watch the service on a monitor until I could come back in.

The signage for the restrooms and such were large banner-style letters.

The seats were comfortable; I could not find a cross anywhere.

The message was on communication in marriage and other venues. Some pointers included knowing what you want to say, picking the right time, and focusing on the person receiving your thoughts. The message developed smoothly with good Scriptural references.

He stated that research shows listeners only hear about 20% of what is said to them; I thought that was only husbands.

We are pleased that our daughter and family found a church where they can worship Christ.


Jan’s thoughts:

Yesterday we worshiped with our daughter and granddaughters at their church, which is located in a dedicated mall space, comfortably arranged, and attractively decorated. Greeters held the doors for people as they entered and left, and the signage was clear and high enough on the wall to be visible from almost anywhere inside. We each prepared a cup of coffee with a lid and found seats.

The music was well done, and announcements were briefly presented via video.

A disclaimer at this point, in the interest of full disclosure: for the last couple of months I have listened to podcasts of this pastor’s messages and have appreciated what I’ve heard, so it was a joy to hear him preach in person.

That said, this is part three of the series Matrimoney, which introduced the Financial Peace course offered to the congregation and now focuses on struggling relationships. This installment presented biblical advice for communication within any relationship: marriage, dating, working together, or friendship. Each point was backed up with numerous Scripture references and many examples.

Step #1: Know what you want to say, pick the right time, and focus on your partner. He pointed out there are times to NOT speak, when the issue is more us than them. However if we have thought it through – and prayed it through – and decided something needs to be said, we need to choose the right time, when the other person is not tired, frustrated, or angry, and we should take care never to attack them on a personal level.

Step #2: Listen, then listen again, and adjust. The hardest part is to listen; far too often we are busy thinking instead about what we want to say, and we make assumptions. Studies indicate we only hear 20% of what is said to us, and we need to listen with more than our ears; we must make eye contact, watch body language and facial expression, and hear tone of voice and volume of speech.

Step #3: Don’t be negative and always summarize the results of the conversation. Negativity wears us down, so we should stay realistic and positive, speak hope, and keep in mind that we can be wrong.

Step #4: End in love. Restate our commitment to the relationship and focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Remember to summarize the conversation, and if anything was too vague, make sure to clarify. End on a high note with reassurance.


Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray You continue to guide and bless this church and keep their eyes and hearts open to those You send to them. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

North Hills Alliance Church

Today we worshiped at North Hills Alliance Church, 2298 Rochester Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.364.5800, www.northhillsalliancechurch.org, Rev. Ernest Conley, Pastor.


Scripture – NIV

Job 1:6-11 –
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job 1:20-22 –
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Job 2:1-5 –
On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job 2:9-10 –
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.


Bob’s thoughts:

The building is modern-looking with a high arched ceiling and spacious sanctuary. The pews are angled with a wide center aisle, and there is a large cross on the wall.

We were unable to find signage indicating the direction of restrooms but someone noticed our confusion and pointed the way.

The sermon asked why we worship God, which I suppose falls into the category of things we do without much thought as to the reason why. Do we come to worship for what we get? Or what we get out of worship? Is God a puppet we use?

A quote from a hymn/poem, “Once I tried to use Him, now He uses me.”

Churches often feed this, wanting people to feel good, and teaching if you do this then God will bless you. But worship needs to be pure love. The “Wow!” of worship makes it all about us. I think we can put the wow back in worship if it is all about just loving God.

There were some people who greeted us after worship who remembered us from an outdoor service we attended a few months ago.


Jan’s thoughts:

Today again we were redirected: when we arrived at the church we planned to attend, there were no vehicles in the parking lot and no one around, so we headed for a later service here.

We arrived during the singing at the beginning of this contemporary service, with music provided by a pleasant-sounding group of six.

The sanctuary was spacious with color-blocked type stained glass windows and a beautifully crafted wooden cross in front.

Announcements were listed in the bulletin as “Family Time,” which I thought was original and accurate for most churches since things spoken about at this point are seldom explained for the benefit of visitors.

The answer to the question asked by the message title, “Why Do We Worship God?” was expressed by the differences between God’s and Satan’s evaluations of Job. Whereas Satan declared that Job worshiped God because God blessed him, God, of course, knew Job’s heart and knew that Job’s worship of God was motivated by pure love.

The pastor asked why this – or any other – church worships God. Do we “like” a church because we appreciate the style of music or teaching? Do we “dislike” a church because those styles do not appeal to us? And a great question: do we miss truly worshiping God when we do not worship Him in spite of what we like or dislike but simply because He is present and deserves our worship?

The pastor’s point was, our worship of God is not about us, about our comfort, our likes or our dislikes; our worship should be motivated not by God’s blessings but simply because we love God and want to lift up His name.


Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray You open the eyes of this church to Your purposes for them. Amen.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Discovery Christian Church

Today we worshiped at Discovery Christian Church, meets at The Regional Learning Alliance, 850 Cranberry Woods Drive, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.779.1010, www.discovertogether.com, Toney Salva, Founding and Lead Pastor.


Scripture – NIV

James 1:1-2 –
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,

James 1:19-23-
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror.

James 1:27 –
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.


Bob’s thoughts:

We often see the signs to this church in an area where we frequently shop and dine, but I was surprised how well the signage was carried all the way through the development to the building. It was so complete, with even some humor added, that I couldn’t believe there was nothing at the building. We drove around a little bit and settled on the door nearest the most cars. A simple sandwich board sign would have sufficed. Later when the lot was fuller there would not have been much question.

I always thought when we followed the arrows to Kennywood something to help you find your way home would be helpful…such as signs on the back of those leading to the church to get back to 19 or 228.

Coffee was available for a token fee with free refills. The attendant introduced herself and pointed the way to the worship center, as did another couple we spoke with. This church has been here for a while but no cross is displayed yet.

I was lamenting not being able to hear the female lead singer over the instruments and almost immediately she sang without accompaniment. I enjoyed her voice and the praise team overall, and the volume was bearable for me.

I found it odd that we were welcome to take Communion but requested not to present our tithe. As it was I heard nothing about confession of sins prior to Communion so we declined to participate.

I am still not sure why we would not be welcome to give an offering.

The sermon was the first of a series on the book of James. With some logical suppositions, we can assume that James was there for Christ’s first miracle of turning water into wine and perhaps that was when he became a follower. I always thought it would be fascinating to know more of Christ’s growing up and interactions with His younger siblings.

One of the greatest lessons from James is to find joy in our trials. I must admit, I’m often thinking ahead to the joy and rewards after the trials. Another important call from James is to not just read or listen to the Scriptures but to take them to heart and act upon them. The message developed well and brought to light some good points.


Jan’s thoughts:

We have seen signs for this church for some time along Route 228 in Cranberry, though this was my first time inside the Regional Learning Alliance building. As we turned off the main road and into the complex, the signs continued popping up and even displayed a sense of humor with “Don’t give up!” and “You’re almost there!”

Indoor signage was ample, and several folks were generous with conversation as well as directions to the worship area.

The music was presented by a talented group, though many songs were unfamiliar to me. The volume was not overwhelming.

The message was the first in a series entitled “religious” and each of the five weeks of the series will involve walking through successive chapters of the book of James. This first week was an introduction to James’ identity as Jesus’ brother and that James is believed to be the oldest of the New Testament books.

The pastor noted that Job is considered to be the oldest book of the Old Testament and both Job and James state clearly that people of faith should expect to encounter trials in this life. However Proverbs 29:11 states just as clearly that it is foolish to give full vent to our anger and we should be slow to speak (or these days, to post on social media) in the midst of our trials.

He declared that if we are to be ambassadors for Christ in our world, we must return to the mirror of God’s Word daily in order to fix what is out of place in our hearts before we go out into the world.

He then likened believers to mops, saying that we are not clean, but we can be used as long as the Water is changed daily, concluding with the admonishment that we are the mop, not the cleaning solution for the world.


Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray we all do more than just listen to Your Word but that we are inspired to act in Your Name. Amen.