Sunday, May 29, 2016
Today we worshiped at Victory Family Church, 21150 Route 19, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.453.6200, www.lifeatvictory.com, John & Michelle Nuzzo, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NASB
Job 1:11 –
“But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face."
Romans 8:32 –
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 –
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
We were able to escort our daughter on crutches to church and to reunite with a couple of our grands.
The music is always too loud for me, and the roving spotlight blinding, so I normally stay outside the worship area. The large cross within the waterfall is in the lobby, so it is my favorite place.
I couldn’t catch enough of the sermon to comment on it, but bought some coffees and sat in the lobby. I am amazed at the broad diversity of worshipers here. I’ve enjoyed noticing the posture and dress of the worshipers as they come in and I appreciate noticing the differences between dad and mom as caregivers. To me it just proves that God has a place and use for even a sinner like me, and that keeps me smiling.
With our daughter in a boot and on crutches, we wanted to help her get to church today and ended up sticking around for the service. We’ve been here many times, most recently in March of this year, but I wasn’t positive this was where God wanted us until partway through the message.
The message was presented by the Band Director, Sean Moore, whom I’ve not previously heard but who seemed quite comfortable in front of this large congregation. He bravely spoke about two miscarriages he and his wife experienced, and then asked the question that caught my ear: “How do you respond when you don’t know why?”
He described some of his journey in coming to terms with these losses. He spoke of discovering a blog written by a man with a similar experience, but only bitterness was expressed.
Sean spoke of the “storm within the storm” and how Satan’s goal is to get us to question God’s character and word and give up our faith.
Then he went to Job…the book we all read when we are trying to understand. When we read God’s questions to Job toward the end of the book, we cannot help but be reminded of how much God knows and how little we know. He made a point that surprised me: he said Job did not know the devil existed. Whether or not Job knew that, God did not explain why Job was suffering as he was, and God still does not explain why. I know, I’ve asked. Often. And like Job, I will wait until I reach Heaven to see.
He passionately reminded those present that God is always faithful, that circumstances don’t tell you God’s will…we know God’s will by His word. If we don’t know then we don’t know, and if you don’t know, leave it there and don’t touch it. It could be many things, but the secret things belong to God.
His advice was to keep it simple: remember God is good, the Bible is true, and Jesus loves us. Don’t try to fill in the blanks don’t compromise; don’t dwell on what you don’t know…instead, reaffirm what you do know.
God’s love and good intentions were settled when Christ came and died for us, and we must settle it in our hearts and not accuse God out of our ignorance.
He also announced that he and his wife were expecting again, with a due date of July 4…the date of their second miscarriage. God is faithful.
By the time the message was over I knew beyond any doubt God sent us here today to hear it. Many people know we have walked a road of loss and grief, and I’ve done my fair share of searching and asking “why?” But I’ve learned that is one question God does not answer. And when we turn to God in our search to fill that hole in our hearts, God fills it with Himself, if we let Him. I’m convinced there is no other remedy, and certainly none better. He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to shepherd this congregation so they all come to know Your voice. Amen.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Today we worshiped at Faith on 68, 935 Wallace Drive, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.775.3447, www.faithcomchurch.org, Bay Allen, Associate Pastor.
Scripture – Romans 5:6-11 NIV –
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
I believe we are always led to the churches we visit for worship, but at times I sense God has additional use for our visits such as when we encountered people who have suffered a loss akin to ours and we minister to each other. Today I had a strong feeling that God has a new direction for this church.
We were led to this church a few minutes before the service started, just in time to visit the restroom and buy a coffee. We were welcomed before we got to the entry door, by a few before the service, and by most of the congregation during the welcome time.
The large wooden cross on the wall was accented by the peaked paneled ceiling.
The words to the songs were projected on a screen but were difficult to make out with the lack of contrast and moving lights. The volume and bass made it tricky to detect the harmony of the praise team and made the rest of the service challenging for me to hear.
The message was the second part of a three-part series on grace, today entitled “What He’s Done.”
For me, it was a wonderful blessing when He got my attention and put me in my place. His grace is never earned, and in receiving His grace, we are called to extend it to others…we are saved from ourselves.
We got on the road before we knew where we were headed this morning, but it was a nice day for a drive. After about half an hour, we rounded a bend and knew this was where we were to worship this morning.
The signage was helpful, and several people introduced themselves while one woman made sure we were supplied with both general information and specifics about the service. After purchasing a cup of coffee, we found seats toward the back.
The sanctuary looked larger than it was because of the light colored wood and delicate shading of seat cushions. The stonework behind the platform was quite lovely, and the large blocks of colored panels in the windows were appealing.
The lyrics displayed on the screen were in white on a black and white background, making it difficult to see well from where we sat, but the Scripture that was displayed was larger and easier to read.
I had to step outside during the music.
The congregation seemed to circulate freely during the greeting time, and quite a few made their way back to us with friendly greetings, handshakes, and introductions.
The message was part two of a three-part series about grace. The first week was about prevenient grace, and today’s installment was about justifying grace. Grace was/is God’s doing and we should not let it go to our heads since no one deserves it.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this congregation will take the time to listen for Your call for Your church, that they may grow and move forward in Your service. Amen.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church North Fayette Campus, 1000 Crossroads Drive, Oakdale, PA 150714, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Steve Cordle, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – Psalm 73 NIV
Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”
This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.
If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.
When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
It always makes me feel welcome when I come into a church and find a substantial cross in the sanctuary.
Other than the obligatory greeting during the service, the only welcoming was at the door, likely due to multiple services.
There were about a dozen people on the stage for worship but the voice of the lead was the only one I heard; I could not detect harmony with any others.
I believe we all experience a stumbling block to our faith when we try to be “good” Christians and then something bad happens. This is compounded by watching the faithless seemingly prosper while we suffer. We live with an assumed reciprocity: we live being good and God will be good to us by our standards. Sometimes the lesson is extremely painful, as ours was. God is patient with us and helps us through the low point and, like Asaph, we awaken to the big picture.
Following the message we watched a short video witness from the mother of an autistic child. Her all-too-familiar experience supported the message.
It is humbling to realize the Creator of everything knows you and loves you, and I would wish for all believers that moment of understanding that “God knows even me.”
We enjoyed our previous visit here, so today we returned to hear the lead pastor preach.
A gentleman greeted us as he held the door for us to enter and another gentleman greeted us with a handshake inside. Signage was good so we found the restrooms easily. We bought a cup of coffee and found seats in the back of the worship area.
The lead singer has a beautiful, strong voice and led well. Possibly some tuning would have made her voice sound a bit softer to my ears, but it could have just been my ears. Scripture was displayed on the screens during the musical bridge of the first song, which is a lovely complement I don’t recall seeing before.
The message was kicked off with video of a conversation between Bono and Eugene Peterson in which they discussed the importance of the Psalms to them personally. Bono’s comment made me chuckle: he said his first impression was “Great words, it’s a shame about the tunes.” He then proceeded to sing part of the 23rd Psalm. It was quite touching.
The current sermon series is called Honest to God: Praying the Psalms in which they have been looking at how writers of the Psalms poured out their hearts honestly to God. Today’s part 4 was called Questioning When Life is Unfair and is based on Psalm 73. In that Psalm, the author, Asaph, talked with God when he noticed that the faithless prospered while the faithful didn’t.
The proposed answers began with: Rip up the “contract”…the conscious or unconscious agreement we have with God that says if we serve Him, He won’t let anything bad happen to us…because God never signs that contract to begin with.
The next answer is to see the big picture, where we can see that God is good because He gives us Himself, He is with us, He supports us, He guides us, and He gives us eternity with Him. If we take an eternal perspective, watching a faithless person prosper in this life is a small matter. This life is very short compared to eternity.
He pointed out that Psalm 37:4 tells us to “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” If He is the desire of our hearts, then He gives us Himself. What more could we ask for?
We appreciated the time taken for conversation and prayer after the service.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this congregation rips up their “contract” so they can come to know Your love more fully. Amen.
Sunday, May 8, 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 – Genesis 37:18-28 NIV
But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
We were looking for an early service so we could meet up with family for a Mother’s Day lunch, and when we found this would be the senior pastor’s last Sunday preaching before a well-earned sabbatical, our choice was made. I’m glad God lead us to visit and extend our well wishes. There was also a time of recognition of the director of the children’s ministry, who is moving from the area.
We were warmly greeted and I was pleased to see so many children…so much so that I turned my chair so I could watch them at the end of the service.
I was impressed with the lead singer’s voice; I could hear the worship in her voice, and she blended wonderfully with the rest of the worship team.
The message was based on the Scripture telling of Joseph’s being sold into slavery, his attitude as the favored son and his brothers’ jealousy. Thinking of Joseph’s rise to power, fall, and rise again…we are told of Joseph’s faith but God took the time for an attitude adjustment also.
I guess my younger brother was fortunate that we had closed our well and filled it in when he was born as I’m sure the thought crossed our minds. Maybe it is having only brothers, we all want to be the favored son, and at the same time, we don’t. It is an amazing God Who can use us as we are and change us to the person He wants us to be. The things He does to us for love.
It was a special day in the life of this, one of our favorite congregations, as they said good bye to one member of the staff and wished bon voyage to their senior pastor and his wife as they leave for a 3-month sabbatical.
Although we have worshiped at the Crossings service before, I noticed two things that have either changed or I missed before: instead of the children being in another room, they and their families sit and play in a space set up for them in the back of the worship area. I couldn’t help but feel the family-friendliness.
The other thing was having the congregation come forward to drop their offering in a basket but instead of marching forward to do so, we were instructed to also greet other worshipers. It gave a casual, friendly feeling to both usually stuffy and structured parts of the service.
The message was entitled “The Things We Do For Love…” but was far from sweet or sentimental. The love of money, greed, power, and influence caused Joseph’s brothers to do horrendous things to him, and those same loves can cause us to do equally atrocious things in the same context – family.
He ended with one question that we all need to ask ourselves in the midst of quarrels with family, or really, anyone…Is this what Christ calls us to do? I know the answer to that question before it is even asked.
We were delighted to be present for the loving farewell prayer and for the Litany of Sabbatical and our prayers go with both families.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, may this church continue to mirror to others the love You shower upon them. We pray Your blessings still on the epitome of the love You show – mothers. Amen.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Today we worshiped at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Constitution Avenue, P.O. Box 252, Connoquenessing, PA 16027, 412.635.9558, Mr. Norman Tutino, Pastor.
Scripture – John 14:23-29 NIV
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”
I had planned to visit here for a few years. Recently we tried and found we were too late; today we were more than a half hour early and waited. We were let in by the pastor and greeted by a number of people before the service, some of whom engaged us in conversation beyond just the normal welcome. This is a small country church.
The church had conventional pews, a flat ceiling, and some interesting tapestries on the walls.
It was nice not to have to hunt for a cross (on the Communion table) and to have an order of worship. I think knowing what to expect next goes a long way towards making a visitor feel part of worship.
The service was broken into sections…The Community: Gathers Before God, Hears and Proclaims God’s Word, Responds to the Word of God, and Departs for Ministry. I hope they worship by those guidelines.
The pastor’s message, “The Peace That Jesus Gives,” referred to our hospitality toward others. He referenced Christ’s questions to Peter, “Do you love Me? – Feed My sheep.” If we love Christ, we are called to act and do.
The Communion elements were offered verbally by the pastor but I missed an opportunity to serve because I forgot to ask if the pastor would be served.
It was encouraging to hear of an increased mission involvement for the church. I know God will bless their efforts.
We found this little church last week in our drive around the area but remembered the start time incorrectly so ended up arriving extra early. The pastor let us in and then escorted us downstairs when we asked about the restrooms.
I noticed no signage but none was really necessary…it looked like everything except the sanctuary and the pastor’s office was downstairs.
Back upstairs, we found seats in the sanctuary and a number of people stopped to welcome us. The family atmosphere was apparent, and even more obvious during the announcements.
The unique banners all looked like various-sized tapestries, and the lights hanging from the ceiling had an intriguing geometric design.
The sermon was called “The Peace That Jesus Gives” and was summed up when he stated that we respond to God’s love by responding to the needs of the world. Even when it seems like a small gesture; little things make an impact for the Kingdom when they are done in the love of Christ.
Most of the congregation came forward in a circle for Communion as the pastor walked to the seats to serve those who remained seated. The elements were presented verbally and everyone partook together.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we rejoice with You that this church is heeding Your call to go forth in mission; guide them as they feed Your sheep. Amen.