Sunday, June 25, 2017
Today we worshiped at Riverside Community Church, 401 Allegheny Avenue, Oakmont, PA 15139, 412.828.2488, www.riversideconnect.org, Bill Ellis, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – Revelation 2:1-7 NLT
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”
We tried to visit this church a few years ago and, being a 70-mile round trip, we were not in a hurry to try again. Jan found their website and the correct location, and I’m glad we made the trip.
I was welcomed by a Marine at the door who said there were several other Marines there also, and we were greeted by a few people sitting near us during the official greeting time. I was sorry to see the children leave before the sermon.
There is an appealing cross and innovative use of an older church building; from the sanctuary down, it was more modern than expected.
The praise team sounded talented but I was surprised to feel the floor vibrate with the bass. I appreciated the solo from the female leads.
We watched a video of the Serve the Burgh project which was just completed.
One of the children’s directors delivered the message and asked the church to make a loud noise so the children would wonder what they were missing…the neighbors may have wondered too.
The message was part of a series called “Priority Mail” and how we get correction mail along with encouragement mail from God and we are to accept both joyfully. He talked about his acceptance letter from Grove City and his eventual realization that he needed to change his major. This was the story of our oldest daughter at Grove City also.
The Marine I met was one of at least a half dozen ushers who stood around the perimeter throughout the service, though I am not sure why.
There was good signage in the part of the building we saw as well as mention of handicapped accessibility.
Several people smiled and said good morning, and the usher who gave me a program, whom I had asked about the location of the ladies’ room, saw me come back up and checked that I’d found it, which I appreciated.
We also had us a chance to look around a little bit. The colorfully-decorated children’s church area looked like it was definitely geared for kids.
Upon entering the sanctuary, we noticed the contemporary instruments in the front so we chose our seats based on the location and direction of the overhead speakers. I was glad we did when the music started and I felt the bass vibrations in my feet. The worship leaders’ music was well done and the voices blended harmoniously but I’m fairly certain the volume would have been a problem had we sat almost anywhere else.
The platform was simple, with what looked like a solid periwinkle color on the rear wall and a plain white cross rising from the center. I thought it looked striking.
A video updated the congregation on an event called “Serve the Burgh” (www.servetheburgh.org) in which the church partnered with other churches and organizations in the area to perform service projects in the community.
The current sermon series is “Priority Mail: Letters to the Churches in Revelation” and this week’s entry was titled “Bold Faith Can Handle the Truth.” The message was presented by Josh Hall, who serves this church as one of its Kid Ministry Directors. He was enthusiastic, upbeat, and passionate with many personal stories and examples.
He began with stories about good mail versus bad mail he had received and the necessity of reading both, especially when they are from Jesus. He sees what we do right, He knows our struggles, always gives precisely the right direction, and knows the best reward for our efforts.
He closed the message with the admonition to always seek the Truth, even when it is not what we want to hear. When it comes from Christ, it’s what we need to hear.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this church gets to expand their Serve the Burgh program as it sounds like an inspired way to take their witness of Your message to their neighbors. Amen.
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.
Scripture – NLT
Genesis 12:1-3 –
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
Matthew 28:18-20 –
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Romans 5:5-6 –
And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 –
Never stop praying.
Philippians 1:6 –
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
We had the opportunity to witness some of our grandchildren show some of what they learned in Vacation Bible School this past week. It was a joy to see so many of the children loudly singing what they learned while using the appropriate hand and body signs. I know I will be hearing some of these songs when I visit.
It was a joy to worship with some familiar faces where we are always made to feel welcome. Their great coffee doesn’t hurt either.
The pastor started by asking the church to see how long they could hold their breath, holding their hand up until they had to breathe. I can’t really breathe well, and with what I’ve done to my rotator cuffs, I can’t hold my arms up well either. The exercise was a lead-in to today’s message about breathing in God’s blessings and remembering to breathe those blessings out on others. This I can readily relate to; God has blessed me overwhelmingly, and as great as that has been, it wouldn’t be worth near as much without praying that blessing on others.
I’m learning to seek out those who look to be in pain or distress…many times tears flow when I ask to pray over/for them. I feel guilty to feel so blessed for praying for others.
I look at four different newspapers along with other news sources, and none of them covered the citizen who caught the two escaped murderers. All said an armed citizen stopped them, but none related his story of not using his guns, but prayer. He said when they came, they laid down in his driveway and gave up, including when one who got up, got a drink of water, and went back to his position of surrender. Prayer works!
I loved the addition of the flute for the last song; it added a lot to an already terrific worship team.
It’s always a joy to visit this church, but today was special. Seven of our grandchildren attended Kids XP (Vacation Bible School) here last week and today they participated in the worship service via an extremely enthusiastic music presentation.
The service was well attended, even requiring the set-up of additional seating, and we would have stayed for the picnic lunch afterward but the heat was just too much for either of us.
The Father’s Day video was a powerful testimony to the importance of a male role model in a young man’s life.
The message series was called “5 Simple Ways to Bless” with today’s first part entitled “Breathe and Pray.” He stated that we are created to breathe in God’s blessings and then to bless others where we live, work, and play.
He spoke of praying toward pain instead of turning from it, of praying for others as I walk around during the day, and praying for God to create spiritual curiosity in those for whom I pray.
Just this morning I was asking God what I should pray for, so I’m grateful for this answer to my prayer.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we have seen how You have blessed this church. Direct them as they continue to breathe out those blessings. Amen.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Today we worshiped at Mt. Carmel Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 2720 Brodhead Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001 724.378.3821, www.mtcpc.org, Mike Anastas, Pastor.
Scripture – Romans 8:1-4 NIV
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
It is amazing to me that the parking lot was the only part that looked familiar to me. It seems like the hexagon shape of the impressive sanctuary, the great wooden cross, comfortable chairs, and vibrant stained glass, even the good signage would have been memorable. Our visit comes at the tail end of some remodeling so everything seemed fresh and new.
We were welcomed by the pastor.
The praise team had delightful harmony and the volume was excellent for me. I appreciated that the children were blessed before leaving the sanctuary.
The message was the first of a series on the Promises of Grace. I think the pastor is right, we sometimes try to sell people on Christ with big promises. We cannot make promises for others or ourselves.
The pastor talked of how he once had to jump backward off a cliff when learning to rappel…sort of a great leap of faith backwards and the reassurance metaphor of God in the safety line.
We all still suffer from “I’m no good” and find it hard to forgive ourselves. We are no good, but God took away that guilt and we have no right to deny His cleansing sacrifice on the Cross. God’s grace is larger than all our sins.
Was pleased that their Kingdom Week program of ministry to the community stresses prayer, the most important part.
Our last visit here was almost seven years ago, and it looks like since then this church has left the Presbyterian Church (USA) and joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The corner location is well-suited with plenty of parking. A gentleman welcomed us and handed us a bulletin immediately upon entering and several folks extended brief greetings.
We guessed the interior had recently been painted as the walls were bare, but clear directional signage was helpful. We arrived too late to check out the coffee, unfortunately.
The sanctuary is striking: large enough for a couple hundred or so people, attractively designed with a large, backlit wooden cross flanked by two stunning stained glass windows behind the roomy platform.
The music was led by a guitarist and keyboardist who harmonized beautifully, along with a second guitar and drums. We sang several of my favorite songs, including In Christ Alone, Great is Thy Faithfulness, and the offertory, Be Thou My Vision. The volume was perfect.
All the children were called forward and I anticipated a message designed for them. Instead, the pastor led the congregation in prayer over the children, which I thought was exceptional.
“Promises of Grace” is the title of the new series beginning today and the message was “Grace for Change.” The topic was the battle against our knowledge of and guilt over our own sins, what the pastor referred to as the “storm of self-blame” when we find ourselves thinking we are no good. The antidote for this attack is found in Romans 8:1 which states there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. He emphasized that we are not told to ignore our sins, but to leave them at the foot of the Cross.
The Minute for Mission focused on Kingdom Week, which is a week of mission performed for neighbors of the church instead of traveling farther away. Support for this mission seems strong and in the past has produced amazing results with the community.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we lift up to You this upcoming Kingdom Week, asking that Your power is felt by both the neighborhood and the church. We pray for Your gift of courage as the members of this church boldly take their witness to Your people outside the doors. Amen.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Today we worshiped at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15228, 412.343.8900, www.spchurch.org, Rev. Dr. Daniel B. Merry, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Acts 2:1-8 NIV
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”
We wanted to worship someplace where Pentecost would be celebrated and we knew that would be the case at Southminster.
The red drape on the cross was expected; the foam flames on the head of one of the pastors was a surprise.
The lead voice on the worship team was a joy to listen to, and their enthusiasm was evident.
Almost everyone we passed walking to the church said hello along with a number of people at the doors; we felt quite welcome. Maybe it was our red shirts for Pentecost.
I thought the best point of the message was the first one, a need of self-acceptance. We all are hopeless sinners but for the love of Christ…we need to witness despite who we are.
It was significant to partake in Communion after an opportunity to confess my sins.
Two people thanked me for my service. And probably the most personally meaningful part of worship was the few moments after the service with Dan. God has been using a lot of different people to move me to where He wants me next, and this was one more piece.
We had a delightful conversation with some folks showing ways to experience some of what handicapped people deal with.
With today being Pentecost, we intentionally chose a church we knew would observe this special day.
People exiting the earliest service greeted us as we entered and some entering the later service did the same as we left. Many others greeted us as well and the atmosphere was one of celebration.
We were blessed to visit the Special Needs Awareness Festival that was held today. There were opportunities to visit different stations of crafting and fun things to help youngsters and adults to better understand the special needs of others.
The vulnerable and heartfelt message was given by Karl Hudson, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. It was titled “Heavenly Gravity” and focused on unity in terms of self, community, and the world. He said that self-acceptance of both the good and the bad is key, that unity in the community (or fellowship) is achieved through service, being a “giver” instead of a “taker,” and part of finding unity in the world needs to be learning how to disagree while remembering that at some point all will be redeemed.
I appreciated the opportunity to witness the Ordination and Installation of Officers earlier in the service and then to participate in Communion after the message.
Following worship, we visited the Special Needs Awareness Festival and enjoyed enlightening and educational conversations with some people.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray the Spirit moves through Your church to every nook and cranny. Inspire the congregation to share their witness in Your Name. Amen.
Monday, May 29, 2017
Yesterday we worshiped at Dutilh Church, 1270 Dutilh Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.776.1094, www.dulilhumc.org, Tom Parkinson, Senior Pastor.
Acts 1:1-11 –
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Romans 10:17 –
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
We were greeted by one of the pastors who let us know it would be okay to bring our coffee in for worship; this is always a question for visitors.
The sanctuary has an interesting modern flat ceiling with a low center arch. The large cross in front is framed by a stained glass window. There are some great banners on the walls displaying minimal color.
The message, part 6, was “Can I Get a Witness?” Christ ministry was in a very small geographical area and most people didn’t know of Him, which required people to witness about Him. Faith in Christ was spread by these witnesses and the reality is, this is still how it grows. Christ was limited on Earth by the human constraints of time and space.
People seem hesitant to tell their story, much as the worship leader professed. My answer is always, “Christ claiming me was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, how can I be quiet about it?”
I’ve known many people who try to intellectualize their way to Christ, but it just won’t happen. However, your story may encourage them to faith.
He cautioned to remember, when witnessing, display the love of Christ. If you are not being Christ-like, it could invalidate your witness. Be bold, witness not in “Paul’s Jesus,” but in your Jesus.
Being a holiday weekend, we decided to worship someplace nearby. Our last visit here came only a couple of weeks after this pastor’s arrival.
We arrived plenty early, got a cup of coffee, and sat in the café area. Since this church has three Sunday services, I was not surprised when only the Associate Pastor greeted us.
Eventually the sanctuary was filled, but since this was a contemporary service, we found seats easily. I had forgotten how beautiful the unusual windows were, and the banners were also distinctive: mostly white with gold colored accents.
The people sitting near us welcomed us warmly during the greeting time.
The sermon was the sixth and final part of the series SHARE and was entitled Can I Get a Witness? It focused on the fact that all believers are called to be witnesses and he outlined the three steps it takes to be a witness:
1 – You must have a personal experience with the Gospel.
2 – You must declare what you know to be true. Declaring God’s truth means telling others how the story of Jesus has become MY story so that it will become THEIR story.
3 – You must display the love of Christ in your life. Our character can validate or invalidate our witness, and when we don’t extend the grace we have received, the window gets foggy and Jesus becomes unclear. (I thought this was very well put.)
He encouraged the congregation to use the half sheet of paper included in the bulletin to share their story and be witnesses, so we did also.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray for Your continued presence and guidance as this church moves to become an overwhelming witness to this community. Amen.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Today we worshiped at 3 Rivers Free Will Baptist Church, 20401 Route 19, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.776.7588, www.3riversfwb.org, Cody Freeman, Pastor.
Scripture – ESV
Ephesians 3:20-21 –
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Matthew 28:9-10, 16-20 –
And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Revelation 2:2-5a –
"'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”
This church has been on our list to visit for a while, and when we saw their sign about an African choir in worship, we were hooked.
We were welcomed and engaged in conversation by members and the pastor.
There were some examples of African art on tables in the rear and an adorable young girl spoke with my wife about the items…a worthy ambassador for the church.
The projection screen was down but I noticed a large wooden cross behind it. I’m sure the moderately high wooden arched ceiling perfectly framed the cross.
Although the African choir was somewhat Americanized, the unbridled worship still came through. Their dress and vibrant colors made them look like they were moving even when standing still. The Spirit of God was certainly here for worship today.
From the visiting pastor’s message, “All authority has been given” tied with a message yesterday from Robby Dawkins: our power to rule the world was ceded to the devil in the Garden of Eden and he has been running wild with it since. It is time to re-take that God-given power.
We arrived early and were greeted by the pastor before we entered the building. Inside there were tables with handmade African items for sale. Several other folks greeted us and we enjoyed extended conversations.
We chose to worship at this church because we learned an African children’s choir would participate this week. From their website:
Amani children’s Choir (amanichoir.org) is a ministry of Light Africa Ministries (lightafrica.org) and Kampala Community Church (kampalacommunitychurch.org) based in Uganda.
The children range in age from 9 to 16, and exhibited incredible energy and enthusiasm and nearly professional abilities. The congregation was reminded we were all present to worship God and this was not for entertainment.
After several songs, the visiting pastor, James, spoke. He had planned another topic but he said he felt prompted by the Spirit to speak about Jesus’ post-resurrection meeting with the disciples at Galilee. He said we should not fear people; instead we should go and encourage them. He said God has given His people authority to be used to invite people to know Jesus.
Following this word there was more music and dancing after which we had to leave. I was grateful for the worship through music, for the reminders of Africa, and for the opportunity to say farewell to James and thank him for his words.
We plan to return for a regular service and to hear the pastor preach.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray these missionaries from Africa re-kindle a fire in Your church and they go forth in the power of the Living God. Amen.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Today we worshiped at Monacrest Free Methodist Church, 995 Elmira Street, Monaca, PA 15061, 724.774.6606, www.monacrest.com, Rev. Douglas E. Rabe, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Joshua 7:1 NIV
But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel.
We were welcomed upon arriving, including by the pastor who called a Marine over to meet me. Always a pleasure.
The great wooden cross on the wall made me happy.
I thought it might have been the high arched ceiling, but I was unable to hear any of the announcements. Perhaps the mic wasn’t on, but I could hear everyone else.
The praise worship was amazing: three good, strong leading voices, with excellent harmony made for enjoyable worship.
I was pleased to see a friend and especially when her young son came back into the sanctuary at the end of the service calling what sounded like “Ba,” the name my grandchildren call me. I enjoyed watching some other little ones also.
The message was about The Joshua Generation. In a way, the tribes were living on faith since all but two people had not witnessed the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt. The miraculous provision of water and food was all they had ever known, it was normal, not a miracle at all. It’s hard for us to see now how the miracle of Jericho would not be an overwhelming wake-up call.
Maybe they were not too different from us in that the everyday miracle of our existence is all we have ever known and we forget to give God the glory He deserves. It is easy to judge Israel when we have no mirror.
The pastor handled loud talk in the narthex and a cell phone going off (his) splendidly and went on with the message. I was glad we were here for this message as the pastor will be leaving soon.
I wish I could have talked to the older Marine we met after the service but maybe God will lead us back here.
We were greeted by several people as we entered and then welcomed by the pastor who introduced Bob to another Marine.
I noticed large bulletin boards with maps indicating overseas missionaries supported by the church, so my impression is that mission is high on the list of priorities.
The sanctuary seemed spacious with its clean lines and uncluttered appearance. I was not expecting a contemporary service, and though the music was led by seven musicians/vocalists, the volume was agreeable.
One of the announcements was a reminder to the congregation that next week will be the pastor’s last week at this church. We learned in a later conversation that he was elected to the position of Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Conference.
In a pleasant moment, the oldest, youngest, and newest mothers in the congregation were recognized, then all the moms were invited forward and prayer offered. One of the Marines made sure I received a Mother’s Day plant on our way out, which was appreciated.
The message, entitled “Sin in the Camp – the 1st Crisis!” was part of the series The Joshua Generation. The pastor spoke about what it would have been like for the generation that lived under Joshua’s leadership and the lessons they learned from Achan’s sin of stealing from God. Israel’s relationship with God was only restored by their repentance and obedience.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your blessing on this church in this time of transition and as they move into the future You have planned for them. Amen.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Today we worshiped at Glenwillard United Methodist Church, 1328 Main Street, Crescent Township, PA 15046, 724.457.6325, www.glenwillardumc.org, Rev. Dennis L. Bouch, Pastor.
Scripture – John 10:1-10 NIV
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
We received the Marine welcome I expected right inside the door and a moment of prayer with the pastor when we shared good news about a family member.
We were warmly greeted by most of the congregation; there is a real feeling of being with family here.
There are enough crosses to satisfy even me, and it was great to see smiles from the four-member choir.
The smiles that made me melt were from the children sitting in the pew in front of us…they were joy to watch throughout the service. The mutual hug from the little one with her acolyte brother was especially sweet.
Another that warmed my heart was when a young lady waved to the pastor and he waved back, then I watched her exchange a reciprocal fist bump with an usher as she went forward for Communion. These small things speak volumes and make a huge difference.
The message was on Christ calling us by name, something I’ve never gotten over…the idea that of the billions of people on Earth, Christ called me, a worthless sinner, by name. The simple analogy of the shepherd and his sheep was not lost on those he was calling but was beneath the reasoning of the religious elite. Sadly, I think that still applies today: His call is unheard unless we are willing to listen. He calls us where we are, not where we might someday be. He offers Himself to the hopeless sinners we are, filthy foul-smelling sheep, to come and be cleansed.
We were pleased to partake of Communion and to be able to serve the elements to the pastor. We enjoyed an uplifting time of worship.
As we entered the building we immediately encountered the pastor, who has become a friend. He asked about a family situation and after we updated him he prayed with us.
The church held a flea market yesterday and things were still set up. Since we arrived plenty early, we wandered around some then went back upstairs. We were greeted by all the Marines in the congregation and by nearly everyone else.
I enjoyed watching the pastor greet each person who came in as well as the members as they greeted each other. Clearly my sense of the closeness within this congregation was on target.
The traditional music was led by a well-played organ and four strong voices.
The message, entitled “The Good Shepherd,” emphasized that Jesus knows the name of every one of His sheep and He calls each in a distinct and personal way. However, we must choose to listen.
One night, years ago, as I faced the possibility of a frightening medical diagnosis, I tried to sleep but my mind churned with the possibilities the future held. However, I only saw the negative options, so peace eluded me. Bob was asleep, and as I lay there, I heard a voice call my name as clear as day. I stopped thinking and waited, listening for more, but there was only quiet. As I pondered what might be going on, I realized I felt calm in my spirit. I was no longer afraid and I knew all would be well, which it was.
Indeed, God knows our names and He knows how to communicate with us, whether we are running from Him or thrashing about in fear. He knows and He cares.
We were blessed to partake in Communion and even more so in the opportunity to offer the elements to the pastor.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to bless Your little family church and may they continue to respond to the sound of Your voice. Amen.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Today we worshiped at Church of the Living Christ, 699 Riverside Drive, Bridgewater, PA 15009, 724.728.2057, www.myclc.net, Rev. David M. Howells, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NASB
Genesis 32:24-32 –
Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob's thigh in the sinew of the hip.
Genesis 25:21-23 –
Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is so, why then am I this way? " So she went to inquire of the LORD.
The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger."
I haven’t been to a Pentecostal Church in quite a while and looked forward to our visit.
We were warmly welcomed, enjoyed coffee before the service, and engaged in conversations. The social area walls were white with random gold sparkles of glitter; I also enjoyed the banners in the sanctuary that were edged in sparkles.
I was impressed that there was a room downstairs devoted to intercessory prayer…there seems to be a good prayer program in place. They also enjoy a healthy age mix within the congregation and a good location for ministry.
I missed seeing a cross until I noticed it was behind a large flower display. Thought the exposed tie bolts presented an interesting decorating potential.
I got a little lost as the message went on but I liked, “He leads you, He knows where you are going, God holds our destiny.”
Something I’ve never heard before: the pastor inquired if he might be too loud. I found it refreshing that he would think to ask that.
I loved his answer when he spoke of people who would ask him to go pray for someone: he would get them to go along, and if the opportunity was there, he suggested they pray for their loved one while he agreed.
I was reminded of a line from long ago: we chase after God till He catches us.
We arrived early and I was glad we did as we could sit and enjoy coffee and conversation with some lovely folks, including the pastor’s father who is pastor emeritus of this church.
We were greeted warmly and often by numerous people.
The sanctuary was decorated with stunning sequined banners bearing the words Bless, Honor, Praise, Shout, Dance.
Following the music there was much prayer, prophetic speaking, and speaking in tongues and interpretation.
The message was part two of “Stepping Into the Moment – When God Becomes More Than an Acquaintance.” The point of the message was, God alone holds our destiny in His hands and we had better be more than an acquaintance.
Much of the message had to do with Jacob’s contending with God, and what I heard shed some light on this passage. I thought the contending was physical, since it is referred to as “wrestling” with God in other translations. But hearing this made me wonder, what if the contending was not physical, but verbal? What if what Jacob was doing was talking with God and being entirely honest and transparent? He said contending allows you to be how God sees you.
The pastor defined contend as: to assert something, as a position in an argument, but stated that the position we should assume is that of dependency and a determination to stay in God’s Presence until God gives us something.
What God has for us is a name that comes directly out of our desire to know Him and not just be an acquaintance, and the key to our relationship with God is open honesty, just as Jacob learned.
I always appreciate messages that throw new light on Scripture.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to bless and grow Your church and that this congregation will contend for You. Amen.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Today we worshiped at Triumph Baptist Church, 11293 Mt. Nebo Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.630.8204, www.triumph1293.org, Rev. C.L. Giles, Pastor.
Scripture – NKJV
Isaiah 53:1-6 –
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 –
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
Romans 1:16 –
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
John 21:1-14 –
After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”
They answered Him, “No.”
And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some. ” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”
Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.
This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
1 John 1:9 –
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We received a warm welcome just as when we visited the early service, and I did recognize one Marine we met on our last visit. For me, the large wooden cross was welcoming.
We were blessed to be here for the boys’ choir; the smallest was my personal favorite as his smile won me over, though there were many incredibly cute children present. I thought the boys might not be happy to be singing from the platform, but they seemed to enjoy the opportunity to worship God in song.
There was some music that I really could have used my ear plugs for; for me, when it gets too loud, it’s only noise.
The message was called Unresolved Issues. We all struggle with guilt over past thoughts and actions even though Christ’s sacrifice cleansed us of our sin. The devil knows which buttons to push to plant the seeds of doubt and make us wonder, “How can God forgive my sin?” and we are mired in guilt. The sermon was well developed and delivered with solid Scriptural references.
A point that touched me: when Christ was crucified, the disciples were lost. They tried to go back to what they were, fishermen, forgetting that Christ had called them to be fishers of men. I was a sinful man before Christ claimed me and that forgiveness and redirection is part of my testimony.
Another favorite line: “How long will the boogie man be under your bed?” forced me to recall a friend who was well known for creating monsters and body parts for horror movies. Someone asked his 4-year-old daughter if she was afraid of the monsters. She said, “No, daddy keeps them under my bed.” May we all refuse to be afraid of what can’t hurt us.
On this, our second visit, we opted to attend the later service. It is the same contemporary format as the early one, and equally well-attended, if I recall.
We were greeted by many people, though I don’t know if they recognized us as guests or just as people they did not know. We were encouraged to help ourselves to coffee, and we felt warmly welcomed.
There was very little echo for such a high ceiling, but at times the volume was an issue for me. Still, I could understand most of what was said and it was well worth the effort.
The singing was led by males ranging in age from adult to about 5 years (at a guess, as we were all the way in the back). It seemed like a mentoring situation, which I think is fantastic. At one point, each took a turn singing the same lines, so it was obvious each of the youngsters was included as part of the group. A wonderful effort on every level.
The message, entitled Unresolved Issues, hit me right between the eyes. He said that, like Peter, the person we find it most difficult to forgive is ourselves.
The pastor made three major points:
1 – You can’t return to where you were to get where you should be. Jesus always knows where to find us when we’re lost.
2 – You don’t have to remain in your deficient state. Peter was lost in himself, and Jesus would not allow him to stay there. Jesus will come for us in our stagnant places too. It’s the devil who wants to keep us afraid and therefore neutralized and controllable.
3 – You don’t have to get upset when Jesus clarifies the relationship (as He did when He asked Peter if he loved Him) because it validates your value. God threw our sins into the sea of forgetfulness where He then placed a “No Fishing” sign. We must learn to accept that as truth, believe we are truly and completely forgiven, and move forward into the new life Jesus has planned for us.
As the pastor read the John 21 passage prior to preaching, the part that caught my attention was verse 11, about Peter’s dragging the overflowing net to the land. It was crystal clear to me how Peter was trying to prove himself to Jesus and the others. That detail escaped my attention every other time I’ve read that passage, so I found it strange that it was such a major piece of the message.
But what he said is true: so often we’re hiding in shame and pretending our sins didn’t really happen. Like Peter, we get lost in managing pieces of our lives for which Jesus already paid the penalty and that were thrown into the Sea of Forgetfulness. We need only accept that forgiveness by forgiving ourselves.
It truly IS finished.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to bless Your Church and make them a shining witness for You. Amen.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
Luke 24:1-12 –
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Proverbs 3:5-6 –
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Genesis 4:7 –
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
John 3:16 –
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Revelation 3:20 –
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
We had a special Easter treat: we got to worship with a daughter and her family that we haven’t spent enough time with in the last year. Church on Easter was way better with loved ones.
Friday, we went to a Stations of the Cross-type service at the Crossroads North Fayette campus. When we arrived, we were quickly handed a booklet and immediately ushered into a darkened room for a Genesis video. Arrows then led the way to walk through the rest. It was so dark I couldn’t read much till we were almost done so I lost a lot of what was presented. There were some things I wish I could have taken a picture of, they were that superb.
Today our family was glad to see us and the grandchildren sat with us for worship. I was admittedly distracted but discerned the Presence of the Risen Christ. The message was the first in a series titled Decisions and todays was called Direction.
When I noticed a door on the chancel, what came to mind was the movie Monsters, Inc., which was used in the message. After talking about the life choices door and the wrong choices door, he got to the reaction door, part of which was to forgive and “let it go.” I thought it was pretty impressive to utilize Pixar and Disney movies to make the point that we are on track when we choose the abundant life door.
The joy of this day was made full by the opportunity to worship with our family.
This congregation has consistently been warm and welcoming, the music presented imaginatively, and the sermons on target.
This message was the first of a new series called Decisions, with today’s part entitled Direction. The pastor pointed out that our decisions determine our destiny and that we all face doors in life that bring on trials of one sort or another.
He declared that the single most important choice we have in life is accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, as this one decision affects not only the rest of our life on earth but our everlasting life.
I loved the analogy of the doors and the connection to Monsters, Inc. It’s an inspired correlation to the opportunities with which we’re presented because walking through different doors indeed creates alternate endings to our stories.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You continue to overwhelm Your church with blessings and lead them to the abundant life door. Amen.