Monday, August 29, 2016
Yesterday we worshiped at Sherwood Baptist Church, 2201 Whispering Pines Road, Albany, GA 317007, 229.883.1910, www.sherwoodbaptist.net, Michael Catt, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
2 Chronicles 14-16 –
And Abijah rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. Asa his son succeeded him as king, and in his days the country was at peace for ten years.
Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands. He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the Lord gave him rest.
“Let us build up these towns,” he said to Judah, “and put walls around them, with towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God; we sought him and he has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.
Asa had an army of three hundred thousand men from Judah, equipped with large shields and with spears, and two hundred and eighty thousand from Benjamin, armed with small shields and with bows. All these were brave fighting men.
Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with an army of thousands upon thousands and three hundred chariots, and came as far as Mareshah. Asa went out to meet him, and they took up battle positions in the Valley of Zephathah near Mareshah.
Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.”
The Lord struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah. The Cushites fled, and Asa and his army pursued them as far as Gerar. Such a great number of Cushites fell that they could not recover; they were crushed before the Lord and his forces. The men of Judah carried off a large amount of plunder. They destroyed all the villages around Gerar, for the terror of the Lord had fallen on them. They looted all these villages, since there was much plunder there. They also attacked the camps of the herders and carried off droves of sheep and goats and camels. Then they returned to Jerusalem.
The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them. In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple.
Then he assembled all Judah and Benjamin and the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.
They assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign. At that time they sacrificed to the Lord seven hundred head of cattle and seven thousand sheep and goats from the plunder they had brought back. They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman. They took an oath to the Lord with loud acclamation, with shouting and with trumpets and horns. All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.
King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley. Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. He brought into the temple of God the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated.
There was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign.
In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and fortified Ramah to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the territory of Asa king of Judah.
Asa then took the silver and gold out of the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of his own palace and sent it to Ben-Hadad king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus. “Let there be a treaty between me and you,” he said, “as there was between my father and your father. See, I am sending you silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so he will withdraw from me.”
Ben-Hadad agreed with King Asa and sent the commanders of his forces against the towns of Israel. They conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel Maim and all the store cities of Naphtali. When Baasha heard this, he stopped building Ramah and abandoned his work. Then King Asa brought all the men of Judah, and they carried away from Ramah the stones and timber Baasha had been using. With them he built up Geba and Mizpah.
At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
Asa was angry with the seer because of this; he was so enraged that he put him in prison. At the same time Asa brutally oppressed some of the people.
The events of Asa’s reign, from beginning to end, are written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians. Then in the forty-first year of his reign Asa died and rested with his ancestors. They buried him in the tomb that he had cut out for himself in the City of David. They laid him on a bier covered with spices and various blended perfumes, and they made a huge fire in his honor.
1 Timothy 2:1-3 –
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior,
This is a church that has been on our wish list for a long while. We have enjoyed the movies they have made and we’ve shared them as part of our ministry, but had doubts of ever traveling so far as to be able to worship with them. My combat helicopter squadron was celebrating a 50 year reunion in Jacksonville, Florida, and my wife skillfully arranged for us to make an appearance there, drive to Albany, Georgia, and fly home from there after worship.
I thought we might be something of an oddity, coming there to worship because of seeing the movies they made, but it seems many folks were drawn to visit because of the videos.
What was a surprise to me: I am often greeted by a Marine or thanked for my service, but this day I lost count of how many members were Brother Marines and Brothers in Christ, including at least two pastors. I did not know Marines have had a base there in Albany since the 1950s and enjoyed the commemorative display at the airport as we prepared to leave.
We were welcomed by many and engaged in conversation; amazingly most everyone I saw said good morning with a smile. This is unusual for a church with two services.
There is a mosaic stained glass cross panel at the top of the arch in front which was opened to reveal the immersion baptismal for two baptisms.
The signage was good; I’m sure we only saw a small part of the complex, and believe they have an exceptional business manager.
The message dove into “God and Kings” with appropriate Scriptural support. It developed smoothly and most importantly referenced current application. Sermon points were listed for disciples.
I was overwhelmed by the music and choir. I believe there were fifteen instruments and they sounded stupendous together. The praise team and the ample choir sang together seamlessly. What wowed me was what was behind the singing, the joy that was evident by the smiles and the faith was apparent behind the worship in song.
Pastor Mike talked about being open to God’s leading for the church without his undue influence, a most refreshing outlook. My life didn’t make much sense when I struggled doing what I was sure God wanted without asking.
I felt somewhat isolated at my Marine reunion as I haven’t kept up with a lot of those I served with. One highlight was dinner with my wife, and another was a chance to get to know a friend from Vietnam and his wife. The orchestration of God to move us to minister to each other was a mountaintop of that evening. It developed into an incredibly low valley with calls and texts from family of overwhelming depression and breakdown. We were unable to intercede while onboard flights headed home and the frustration led to wondering where Christ was when we realized we were helpless to do anything but pray. Only when we let God take over did we see the mountaintop again.
The spiritual warfare around this visit has been incredible; I pray God uses this somehow for His glory.
This church has been on our list to visit for quite some time. Since this weekend we were in Jacksonville, Florida, for a Marine reunion, we drove over here for worship.
The church is located on Whispering Pines Road, which is as lovely as it sounds. I’m sure we only toured a small portion of this sprawling campus. The signage was well placed, but with a facility this size they wisely provide floor plan maps.
We arrived early to allow time to wander, and many more people than expected greeted us with a smile. Once we spoke and our northern accent gave us away, they asked where we were from. But this was definitely one of the friendliest congregations with whom we have worshiped.
In no time at all other Marines noticed Bob’s t-shirt and stopped to introduce themselves and speak with him, though they made a point to include me in their welcome and the conversation. Several staff members took time to talk to us at some length about the church, Sunday school classes, the sizable number of Marines in the congregation, the facilities, and of course, the movies. The movies have proven to be an exceptional outreach tool that regularly bring numerous visitors to the church.
The bulletin is simple, colorful, and printed on quality paper. It included a pre-punched note sheet which looks like it’s intended to be kept in a 3-ring binder.
The worship area is huge of course, but the moment we sat down a gentleman next to us and a woman in the row in front welcomed us warmly.
I loved the look of the stage area, the simple decorations and constantly changing colors of the lighting.
The choir loft was at balcony level with a stunning cross above it. I looked away for a moment and when I looked back the cross was gone. In its place was a baptistery and we witnessed three baptisms. As the person was being immersed the pastor said, “Buried with Christ in baptism,” and as the person was stood back up he said, “Raised to walk in a new way of life.”
Several individual accomplishments were acknowledged, including a double amputee who finished the Ironman triathlon.
The media pastor spoke about the brand new Sherwood Church app that had been introduced the week before. He gave a brief tour, indicating some of its abilities.
Senior Pastor Michael Catt presented the message, the first in a series called “God and Kings,” in which he spoke of “The Revival Under King Asa.” He spoke about Asa’s commanding the nation to seek God and tear down the high places. Scripture notes that when the people did so, God gave them peace.
He admonished his listeners to seek God, not God’s blessings and to cease any ugly social media posts. He challenged everyone to pray mightily starting now for those in leadership at any level in our country. Ask God to get ahold of their hearts and minds, and if they are resistant, ask Him to raise up others who will seek Him.
To which I can add only “Amen.”
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we know You have led this church to great things in Your Name, and when we hear that You have more plans, it’s hard for us to imagine what You have in mind. We just look forward to hearing about where You lead them next and pray for them to hear Your direction clearly. Amen.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Today we worshiped at Little Hill United Methodist Church, 2350 Magee Road, Ext., Sewickley, PA 15143, Pastor Tom Fodor.
Scripture – NIV
Psalm 37:1-40 –
Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.
The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.
The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.
Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.
The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.
But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.
The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed.
The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.
Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.
Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.
The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip.
The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, intent on putting them to death; but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked or let them be condemned when brought to trial.
Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.
I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found.
Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked.
The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.
Colossians 1:1-14 –
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
I have felt led to revisit this church for a while, but we were headed elsewhere when a forgotten obligation delayed us so we opted to visit here.
We were early, the door was open, but we found no one in the sanctuary. The heat and humidity was somewhat oppressive and we decided to visit when it was cooler.
While driving aimlessly looking for a church, we came across what turned out to be a sister church and the pastor met us in the street. He explained this service was early but he was headed to Little Hill and we followed him back here.
We were greeted when we came in, there was a delightful breeze, the windows were open, and the ceiling fans running.
There is a large wooden cross on the wall; I didn’t notice any signage but everything else is downstairs or in the adjoining building.
The sermon, “A Life Well-Lived,” was supported by Scripture and I believe was God’s answer for me through the pastor who told of his aunt, at end of her life, saying “When I die, it will be like I never lived.”
The last of my mother’s sisters died last year, and I couldn’t remember a time when she seemed happy. She professed a faith in the Catholic Church, but none of us truly knows who believes in Christ.
I almost never smiled before Christ claimed me, though I don’t believe I realized it. During a particularly low point in my life, I was wearing a Christian shirt in public and a man chastised me, asking where was my smile to go with the shirt. I admit my reaction was not cordial, but the question later gave me pause to think, if we are only joyous when things are good, what kind of faith is that? Though it still takes a lot of effort, it is a necessary part of my message, part of a legacy of love.
The pastor quoted a comment on the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23, “You can’t have a shadow unless there is light.”
I enjoyed the pastor telling of being called to help someone with a flat tire late in the evening and how God used him in that situation. I always regret those times when I thought only of grumpy old me, then later realized I missed an opportunity for God to use me. It was all about and for God.
One man was so moved to meet a Marine that he had to have a hug, and others thanked me for my service. We also got to talk to a member who was facing rotator cuff surgery and, I hope, eased her fears somewhat.
This morning we had a church in mind, and we arrived very early. We found no one in the sanctuary, but we noticed there was no air conditioning, all the windows were closed, and it was humid and stuffy which we both have trouble tolerating. So we decided to find another church.
As we left the parking lot, asking God to guide us to where He wanted us, we drove around some and found a little church we had not seen before. It looked like there were people inside, so we parked and as we approached we saw people leaving. So we got back into the truck and were prepared to continue our search when the pastor flagged us down. After identifying himself, he explained he was late getting to the other church he pastors, but that service would start soon and we were welcome to come there instead. Since he literally was just leaving, we followed him and his wife to their other church – the one we originally stopped at. By now the windows were open and there was a delightful breeze, and since this was apparently where God wanted us today, we stayed.
We were welcomed warmly, given directions to the restrooms, then quickly found seats as the service had just gotten underway.
The Joys and Concerns sounded very much like a family discussion of prayer needs, and I so appreciated singing one of my favorite old hymns, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The words hit home for me every time.
The message, entitled “A Life Well-Lived,” began with a story about the pastor’s aunt who, as she waited to die, commented, “When I die, it’ll be like I never lived.” The deeply haunting nature of this comment weighed heavily on his heart and he pondered it greatly, deciding that it came down to faith: the body dies, but love continues.
He told about a call he received the night before for assistance. He and a young policeman ended up waiting together for AAA to arrive, and as they waited, they talked. It was a talk between a young man who did not know how his life would work out and a man who had been there and could offer words of encouragement and hope, assuring the young man that people would come into his life and help him when he needed it. I couldn’t help but think that clearly God had placed this pastor exactly where he was needed most.
He concluded with a reminder to seize the opportunities we are given and asked, “Are we listening?”
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your people in this church experience a life well lived and know joy in serving You. Amen.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Today we worshiped at CrossWay Church, 109 Davis Road, Valencia, PA 16059, 724.898.4600, www.crosswaychurch.org, Chris Gibbs, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – ESV
1 Chronicles 16:34-36 –
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
"Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!"
Then all the people said, "Amen!" and praised the Lord.
2 Corinthians 6:16-18 –
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."
Philippians 4:7-8 –
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
On a redirect, we got to hear God’s message this morning. We most likely would have been late to the service we were headed to but pulled in here with enough time to look for the restrooms which we had walked right past on our way in.
We were greeted by the pastor outside and others, including the pastor’s wife, when we came in the door.
There is a larger wooden cross toward the left and another above the chancel that gave the impression of being a cross-shaped window.
A large projection screen is centered high above the stage with two smaller screens mounted on either side, providing good visibility. I was all but brought to my knees by a loud screech during the early praise songs. There were a lot of odd vocals that made it hard to hear the words. The hymn at the end of the service was clear and powerful and I could hear the harmony of the praise team.
The sermon was “Amen – Rediscovering the Presence of God.” The message developed well with suitable Scriptural references and beneficial guidance for us all.
We frequently come to prayer as a last resort, but not so much so if we are already on speaking terms with God. If we regularly converse with God and an urgent need arises, we are already in comfortable communication with the Lord.
A powerful thought was offered that when you say “amen” you are offering yourself up as a sacrifice, and then the further question, what is God calling me to “amen” to?
I was privileged to watch great family dynamics as nearby a big brother didn’t want to seem too chummy with cute little sister. I got to watch the pastor climb over seats to pray with parishioners. There was a young man who spoke near the end of the service with a passionate message, who could be heard easily over the instruments, an unusual blessing, with a good message.
We enjoyed talking with the pastor after the service and I was impressed that his recollection of our previous visits was better than mine.
This church was not even on our radar today. We were headed somewhere else and realized we would be late, and when we saw this church on the hill and noticed the timing was perfect, and just that quickly our plans were changed. It’s funny how God works sometimes.
The pastor was outdoors greeting people and he welcomed us warmly before we even entered the building where, once inside, we were handed bulletins. I should have remembered the restrooms were immediately inside the doors, but we had to ask about them because we had seen no signs…though I’m not exactly sure of the best way to tell people they’ve just walked past the rooms they’re looking for.
The ladies room is charmingly decorated, and though greetings are not usually extended there, today they were and they were gracious. Others smiled their welcome.
The message, “Say Amen – Rediscovering the Presence of God,” was the first in a series and he made some points worth remembering.
1 – Don’t let your fall erase your future. There are many ways to fall: we can fall from grace, we can fall from faith, we can have a falling out with people, but God was the same good God before a fall as He is after.
2 – Always see God as your deliverance. Seek God’s Presence, not his product, and thankfulness is the key to changing our attitude. When we’re upset because we think God has not answered a prayer as we wished, we need to look more closely and be thankful for what God has given. God is good when things are good and when they’re not, and no one wants to come to your pity party. We are inadequate to get ourselves out of a situation, we must depend on God; we can do the right thing, but without His Presence, we’re lost.
3 – Let your praise be defined by Who, not what. In other words, praise God for Who He is not what He gives. Pursue the Presence of God; we can do the right thing, but without His Presence, we’re lost. If complacency has set in, ask God to help; He’s in the resurrection business.
I missed how he got to this, but he said amen means “I offer myself up as a sacrifice” which in this context I took to mean obedience to God’s direction. He said we need to come to God in humility, offer our “amen” and then be ready to live out that amen.
The final question was, what is God calling (me) to say amen about? And a good question it is…I will need to consider that.
Worshipers were invited forward for prayer during the final song, and I noticed small groups praying all around as the music continued. It may not be for everyone, but I thought it was pretty terrific.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this congregation offers a resounding “amen” to whatever it is You are calling them to. Amen!
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Today we worshiped at Providence Presbyterian Church, 77 Phillips Lane, Robinson Township, PA 15136, 412.788.6100, www.providence-pca.net, Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr., Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NKJV
1 Peter 1:10-2:3 –
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever.”
Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.
Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
John 1:19-37 –
Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
And he answered, “No.”
Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
He said: “I am
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”
These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
At times I am so sure I have been at a church before: today from the time I heard the location and as we pulled into the parking lot, it was all too familiar...until we walked into the building and nothing looked familiar. There were new-construction odors of paint and adhesives and later learned the sanctuary is new. It is pleasant and tasteful with a large back-lit cross and comfortable seating. I was particularly pleased to watch the young children nearby.
Although not many acknowledged us, an Elder made a point of extending a greeting, unfortunately a rarity in Presbyterian churches of late.
I assume a lack of signage was due to fresh paint; a one point a man noticed our confusion and pointed the way to the social area.
The bulletin was an impressive 24 pages, although on some of the print I noticed my glasses must be getting weaker.
I was spellbound with the men’s choir, not only how great they sounded but how they led the entire congregation. It was refreshing to hear the church worshiping aloud in song.
The sermon, “Behold the Lamb of God,” made the connection between the Passover lamb in Exodus and Christ as the Passover Lamb in Communion. I enjoyed the pastor’s depth of understanding and style of teaching.
I was looking forward to partaking of Communion until we were admonished with the two part invite: “All who believe in Jesus Christ” followed by “and are members in good standing in any evangelical church.” This seemed to contradict the sermon message and meant I could not partake. I am afraid novice Christians could be driven away from the Table.
I am thankful we were able to exchange our views with the pastor after the service and I was also grateful that a member came out to check on us when we walked out during Communion.
Since we arrived early, we had ample opportunity to wander around this sprawling building. It looked quite new and I would think the signage is still in process, but the restrooms were well marked.
We were greeted by one of the Elders and along the way several different Elders briefly directed us toward various points of interest include the donuts and coffee.
We located a seat and watched as a family sat across from us with a little one in a car seat. While mom and dad were nearby the little guy in the car seat watched the people and a number stopped to talk to him. It was sweet to watch.
The bulletin is a comprehensive work of art, easy to follow, containing all the Scripture, music, and prayers for the service as well as numerous announcements.
The large sanctuary is beautifully uncomplicated and adorned only by a striking wooden cross below a circular window. Currently there are no projection screens, though I have no way of knowing if there are plans for decorations or enhancements.
The choir consisted of the Men’s Voices of Providence along with a piano and, I believe, a flute; they sounded superb.
As the pastor is on vacation, the sermon was given by Dr. George Scipione, the director of the Biblical Counseling Institute at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a professor at RPTS.
Being Communion Sunday, the professor spotlighted the theological connections between the Exodus account of the first Passover and John’s telling of Christ’s final Passover meal with the disciples in the Upper Room.
He stated that when Jesus cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers, He was cleaning His house of leaven before the Passover, that the eating of Christ’s Body and drinking of His Blood hearkened to the first Passover when the eating of the body of that lamb gave the people the strength to flee Egypt and the blood of that lamb protected from death. Symbolically the same occurred when the Firstborn of God died in place of His people. The Lamb and the lamb made all the difference in the freedom of the people.
Communion was served, but I was disappointed not to be able to partake since it was clearly stated in the bulletin and again from the pulpit that “all who believe in Jesus Christ and are members in good standing in any evangelical church” were invited to the Table.
I admit I was emotional, and after hearing the pastor remind the congregation of the great privilege and meaning of Communion, the exclusion was a painful surprise. We exited the sanctuary, opting to wait there to speak with the preacher before we left, as we always do. One of the men from the congregation (who was not an Elder) witnessed us leaving and came out to speak with us. He was compassionate but firm, explaining these were the rules based on their beliefs.
Dr. Scipione took the time to speak with us. We understood the church’s position and were not angry, but in light of all the positives at this church, we would not want someone else who may be seeking a church home to find themselves being excluded from the Lord’s Table while in the midst of their search. Dr. Scipione was kind, stating he would consider our conversation.
Before we left we also spoke briefly with the Elder who had greeted us warmly and the gentleman who had followed us out of the sanctuary and we parted cordially.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your Church always puts You first in all they do. Open their eyes to Your call and may they be mighty in Your Name. Amen.