Sunday, December 10, 2017

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church


Today we worshiped at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1001 Tenth Avenue, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.846.0544, Rev. Angela Smith, Pastor.





Scripture – NASB



Isaiah 40:1-11 –



"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.



"Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD'S hand Double for all her sins."



A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.



"Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."



A voice says, "Call out."



Then he answered, "What shall I call out?" All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.



Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"



Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, With His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him And His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”



Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 –



O LORD, You showed favor to Your land; You restored the captivity of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. Selah.



I will hear what God the LORD will say; For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; But let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, That glory may dwell in our land. Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth, And righteousness looks down from heaven. Indeed, the LORD will give what is good, And our land will yield its produce. Righteousness will go before Him And will make His footsteps into a way.



2 Peter 3:8-15a –



But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.



But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.



Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.



Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.



Mark 1:1-8 –



The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY; THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ' MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.'"



John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, and saying, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."





Bob’s thoughts:



We arrived right before church started and were warmly greeted as we entered and during the Passing of Christ’s Peace.



Most of the sanctuary’s paneled ceiling has large wooden beams and a massive concrete arch that frames the chancel. The wall has a large gold cross suspended in front of a long red curtain. The overall effect is impressive. I felt the stained-glass windows down the sides directing my eye to the chancel.



The message began with the 8th Commandment as an example of the dual-sided coin of Law and Grace. A strong point was made that God loves us all exactly the same, even those we do not love. The message was developed well with appropriate Scripture references.



We didn’t get to look around much but the signage to the rest rooms was good. We were thankful to talk to some members after the service, and I was grateful to meet the owner of the angelic singing voice. We hope to meet the pastor if God brings us back.





Jan’s thoughts:



We arrived with about two minutes to spare before the service began. As we entered the building, we were greeted immediately and given bulletins while several folks introduced themselves and welcomed us. One of the women greeted Bob with a “Semper Fi, Brother!” and said she was a Corpsman, so I knew we’d be chatting later.



The sanctuary is quite large and beautiful, with an elongated arch to the high ceiling. The rear of the chancel was backed with a bright red, floor-to-ceiling backdrop and a large cross in front of it, which looked stunning.



Even with the size of the sanctuary and the height of the ceiling, I had no trouble whatsoever with the acoustics. I could hear and understand what was spoken and sung.



The chancel was flanked by the huge Christmas tree on the right, and on the left a mostly empty creche. A paragraph in the bulletin told the rest of the story: “During the four weeks of Advent, the creche in the chancel moves from an empty manger to a fuller symbol of Christ’s presence among us as ‘the Word becomes flesh.’ For this second week in Advent, we add animals to our manger scene, symbolizing that all of God’s creation is involved in our fall into sin and in our waiting for the coming Lord.” How imaginative!



Having the entire service printed in the bulletin is extremely helpful for people like us who were not brought up in the Lutheran tradition.



The untitled sermon began with the plain fact that Christmas is 15 days away for us all whether we are prepared or not. That is good news for those who are ready, but worrisome for those who still have preparations to make.



She continued with examples of the conviction of the Law and protection of Grace: from the perspective of good news, God loves us all; from the perspective of the law, God loves all people even those in whom we see nothing lovable. Everyone is equally precious to God and they are worthy because God loves them just as He loves us.



Communion was celebrated today, which I found especially uplifting.



The pastor had to leave immediately afterward to preach at another church, but we enjoyed an extended conversation with the corpsman/woman we met before worship and her husband.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we lift up Your church to You and ask for Your guidance to discern Your direction for their future. Amen.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Crossroads Church - Cranberry


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



Exodus 20:21 –

The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.



Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24 –

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them,



But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.



Exodus 32:1 –

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”



Exodus 33:7-11 –

Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.



Exodus 33:14-15 –

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”



Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”



Matthew 18:20 –

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.



Hebrews 10:25 –

Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.



Revelation 21:3 –

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.



Romans 12:2 –

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.





Bob’s thoughts:



When we pray for God to lead us to where we can meet with Him in worship and the opportunity arises to visit with our daughter and her family, it’s an easy choice.



With a lot of interaction with our grandchildren, my note-taking was poor. The message was “Gathering in His Presence” and I surely felt that today.



The message raised the question, do I really want to meet with God or am I worshiping something else? There was a time in my life where my tools were my god, and His great gift was to help me find my way home.



We were encouraged to come expecting to meet God, and I would extend that to everywhere at any time. I had a great ministry time today during the service with my grandchildren and then later in the narthex with a sister in Christ. God can and will talk to us and use us. Be prepared!





Jan’s thoughts:



We were invited by our grandchildren to attend worship, so of course we were there.



This church is typically welcoming and cordial, and as many times as we’ve been here, we meet new people each time. Some members introduce themselves and others recognize us as visitors when they see us with our grandchildren and stop to greet us.



The sanctuary has been rearranged since our last visit: the rows of chairs are still in place and new square tables enhance the back for an appealing and slightly different seating option. The sanctuary was newly decorated for the Christmas season including trees, poinsettias, and lighting in the appropriate Advent color of purple. Everything looked sparkly and full of joy, much like the people.



The music was led by the excellent praise team…I wish they had a name but if they do, I don’t know it.



The Advent sermon series is “Come Let Us Adore Him” and today’s part one was “Gathering in His Presence.” The pastor began by defining worship as connecting with God, and stated that we should always expect to meet God and experience His Presence.



He suggested if we are not meeting God in worship, asking 1 – Do I truly want to? and

2 – Am I worshiping something else? He stated that worship is a response to God’s Presence, and that God promises to be present when we gather together.



In order to experience God’s presence in worship, he advised, 1 – Arrive expecting to meet God; 2 – Be alert for God’s presence; 3 – Be open to different expressions of God’s presence; and 4 – Say “yes” to his lead.



Sensing God’s Presence in worship transforms the hour (+/-) into a holy time that rejuvenates and fills the soul with joy and purpose. It paves the way for God’s Holy Spirit to speak to the heart and can change everything. If these practices can help me experience God’s Presence more often, it’s worth any effort necessary.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we feel the excitement in Your church and ask that You sustain them as they grow closer to You. Amen.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church


Today we worshiped at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, 420 Beaver Street, PO Box 411, Mars, PA 16046, 724.625.1830, www.stjohnchurchmars.org, Rev. Robert Zimmerman, Pastor.





Scripture – NKJV



Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 –



‘For thus says the Lord GOD: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,” says the Lord GOD. “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.”



‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD to them: “Behold, I Myself will judge between the fat and the lean sheep. Because you have pushed with side and shoulder, butted all the weak ones with your horns, and scattered them abroad, therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them— My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.



Ephesians 1:15-23 –



Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.



And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.



Matthew 25:31-46 –



“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’



“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’



“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’



“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”





Bob’s thoughts:



We got to the church just as the music was starting, so I don’t know if we would have been greeted.



I was pleased to see a wooden cross that, from where we sat, looked like it was suspended, and a large round stained glass window depicting Christ with outstretched arms. I was also glad to see Pastor Susie again, and what a treat to hear the organist/pianist sing…there was a special tone to her worship.



The sermon was on God’s judgment and supported by Scripture from Christ to His disciples in Matthew 25:31-46. Many believe in error that their salvation is in jeopardy due to a lack of works. I think the real error is that we judge ourselves as being somehow good enough.



Again it was a joy to hear the sweet voice of praise in the offertory anthem.



Following worship, we were glad to have a few minutes with Pastor Susie and to pray with her.





Jan’s thoughts:



In seeking an early worship opportunity, we opted for the 8:00 service. We arrived with barely enough time to find a seat but were surprised as we entered the sanctuary and recognized the pastor. We met Pastor Susie five weeks ago, and she was filling in today. It was a joy to see her again!



The atmosphere in this large sanctuary was traditional, with a great deal of wood and intricate stained glass.



Sometimes Lutheran liturgy can be confusing for those who don’t follow it regularly, so I was grateful everything was printed in the order of worship except for the hymns.



We were welcomed during the greeting time as well as after worship.



There were a couple of solos performed by the keyboardist, who had an exceptional voice.



I was pleased to be able to partake of Communion, which was administered with a spoken reminder that this was Christ’s Body given for me.



The untitled sermon for this Christ the King Sunday focused on Christ’s promised return as the Judge of the world and a reminder to be kind to others because that is how Jesus treated us.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your children are always willing to feed, clothe, and care for You, however You appear. Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Woodland Valley Church


Today we worshiped at Woodland Valley Church, 225 Crowe Avenue, PO Box 815, Mars, PA 16046, 724.625.4500, www.woodlandvalley.org, Pastor Norb Levesque.





Scripture – KJV



Ephesians 5:20 –

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.



Ephesians 1:3 –

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.



Philippians 4:19 –

My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.



Romans 12:15 –

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.





Bob’s thoughts:



We had planned to visit here last week, but when Jan was ill we put it off. It was nice to know where we would be worshiping today. It has been a few years since we were here; I remembered the parking lot and entry and not much else.



I did see some signage and was able to find my way and I was happy to see the cross on the stage.



The worship area was set up with tables and chairs to facilitate a pot luck meal after the service. I thought it was odd that half of the congregation would have their backs to the stage and screens before I remembered there would have been a screen for the praise team on the back wall.



The praise team sounded pleasant together and it was enjoyable to hear songs I was familiar with.



I was welcomed and introduced to other members nearby.



The sermon title for me could have been “What Possesses Me?” For a long time my god was my tools and equipment, until God adjusted my perspective. I thought the message developed easily for the congregation with plenty of Scripture references. I noticed a lot of note-taking. Though the theme was give thanks for all that God has given you at all times, it was interesting to include give thanks for what He has not given you, especially what we deserve.



A quote I liked: “If there is anything you want, let me know and I will come and show you how to get along without it.” Another thought I liked was that we should give thanks for what God has given others.



I have been working on getting rid of things I no longer use, and each item that leaves, there is a great peace that comes to me. Recently as I was walking to the garage, I felt God guiding me to get rid of a lot more than I planned, and with obedience, that great peace washed over me anew.



It was a personal joy to watch a man signing to his wife during the service. It brought back such pleasant memories of one of our daughters signing in church. When our daughter signed the Lord’s Prayer, I had to step out to compose myself, it was so powerful.



We were glad to speak to the pastor and others after the service and to meet some of the pastor’s family.





Jan’s thoughts:



We visited this church only once before, about four years ago.



The first thing I noticed this time was the abundance of youth, especially middle school and high school ages. And they were involved handing out bulletins, singing in the praise team, and I’m sure various other ways. It’s sad to note this sort of involvement as out of the ordinary.



The building had been a school before, and the worship area had been a gymnasium. However I was unprepared for the way it was set up: three long rows of tables with chairs on either side. It made great sense, though, when we learned everyone would celebrate a congregational Thanksgiving meal immediately following worship. And it made for an intriguing set up for the service.



A number of folks greeted us, introducing themselves and taking the time for conversation. We were invited a handful of times to stay for the brunch, but we were forced to decline as we had other plans.



Given the acoustics, I wondered if the music would be unbearably loud, but the volume was perfect and the voices harmonious. One tidbit I thought was interesting was one of the songs had a phrase that was repeated, and the first time that phrase was sung the words were displayed in black, and in the repeat, they were in purple. An interesting touch, I thought.



The message, The Key to a Thankful Heart, spoke clearly about contentment, which he defined as “an inner sufficiency that keeps us at peace in spite of outward circumstances.” He said contentment does not come from our spouse, our possessions, our job, or anything else we have or don’t have…it comes from God alone.



He urged us to:

1 – count our blessings and be thankful for what God has given us;

2 – recognize there is a difference between needs and wants and be thankful for what God has NOT given us;

3 – be thankful for what God has given others, and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.



He said the most important key to happiness is not, “What do I possess?” The key question is, “What possesses me?” An excellent question to ask ourselves, especially at this time of the year.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your church here will praise You in all things, for what You bless them with and what You withhold. Amen.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Prayer Works


Jan was suffering from a head cold and barely functioning today, so we decided not to share.



It has been heartening the positive reaction I have had from many churches on the idea of asking shut-in members to pray for those on their prayer list. This is what God led me to share with the churches we visit:



This is something I feel called to share with you.



A neighbor of mine whom I’ll call Audrey, because that’s her name, was in the last stage of life. She had been lamenting for twenty years since becoming a widow that she didn’t know why God wasn’t letting her die.



During one of our conversations we agreed to pray for each other. Soon after that, God put it on my heart to ask Audrey to pray for those on the prayer list from a church we had visited. My wife enlarged the list and I passed it along to Audrey with the request that she pray for each person. Shortly thereafter, God nudged me to extend this request to the churches we visit.



I would ask that you extend that same request to your members who are shut in. Being asked to pray for others has several benefits: it helps them feel like part of the church, it gives them a sense of purpose, and helps them connect with God. You have one more powerful prayer warrior praying, and God alone knows the results that might come about from these prayers.



I pray this is something you will do, if you don’t already. I know God will bless it. Audrey knows too…He took her home mid-December.



Many have had a similar idea under consideration and a few had just started to engage their shut-in members as prayer warriors.



I believe part of why the prayers from those who are shut in are so effective is their empathy for the pain others suffer. When you are stuck at home or in the hospital, you gain a different perspective on the pain of others and the pain management therapy of praying for them.



Maybe we can all use prayer for others to overcome our problems and pains.



Our prayer:

Thank You, Lord, for encouraging us to pray for others with the same compassion You have shown to us. Amen.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

North Hills Church of Christ


Today we worshiped at North Hills Church of Christ, 797 Thompson Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.487.5969, www.nhillscoc.org, Pastor Terry Lafferty.

Scripture – ESV
Hebrews 5:11-6:3 –
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
2 Peter 1:5-11 –
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob’s thoughts:
I love the back-lit cross above the baptistry: it looks like window mullions but becomes a cross. The sanctuary is square but set up L-shaped, directed to one corner. The knotty pine ceiling is set off by large dark wood beams, which tie the sanctuary together well.
The signage was ample.
I appreciated the worship team’s prayer before the start of the service, hands on each other’s backs, huddle style.
No instruments are used but the congregation has a choir-like sound. I thought of how often an organ drowns out the voices and I have no idea where we are in the hymns.
The sermon was part of a series called Better from Hebrews. Today’s was on Christian growth, From Bottle Fed to Spirit Led: our need to be nurtured from mother’s milk messages to more mature, meatier sermons.
Something I’m being led through to break the dullness of hearing is to shed a lot of my stuff in order to heighten my focus on God. I once had a large mechanic’s box filled with tools and came to realize that was my god. When Christ claimed me, I got my soul back and my family back as well. Now, with each thing I get rid of, I find my focus on God grows.
We were pleased to spend some time with the pastor after the service and impressed that he remembered us. I was also impressed with the prayer ministry there.

Jan’s thoughts:
Since it has been five years since we visited this church, it seemed like a good time to return. As usual, Bob recognized the parking lot.
We entered during the Sunday school hour and were greeted and invited to find a seat in the sanctuary. First we took a brief, self-guided tour of the building, during which we encountered some friendly volunteers, and after a little wandering we returned to the sanctuary and found seats for the last 15-20 minutes of adult Sunday school.
Several other folks welcomed us warmly after the service ended.
The sanctuary is quite lovely, decorated mostly by the architecture of the room. When I noted there were no musical instruments or microphones, I realized this must be the church where the congregation sings a cappella, and I was correct. I knew about half of the songs, but the ones I didn’t know, I enjoyed just listening to the congregation and reading the words on the screen. The congregation’s singing was impressive: it included harmony and a terrific mix of voices.
Immediately before the service started, the men who were participating in the worship leadership circled together for prayer.
This congregation celebrates Communion weekly and I was glad we could be present to participate. Everyone served themselves silently except us, though we did whisper.
The message was entitled From Bottle Fed to Spirit Led and was part of a series called Better. The pastor pointed out that as much as we all love babies, we want them to grow just as God wants us to grow. There are many reasons some stay stagnant in their faith life, but the blessings of a deeper relationship with God far outweigh the challenges (which, I think, are among the blessings).
He said we should all be asking ourselves if we have grown spiritually, keeping in mind that each person grows at their own rate so we are not in a position to judge the spiritual growth of others. Also, we should keep in mind that our spiritual growth does not happen by accident, but requires constant practice and self-discipline.
He ended by asking, “Are you drinking from a bottle or are you ready for some meat?”

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You will continue to grow Your church beyond milk to a meat-filled meal. Help them to be a beacon for You. Amen.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Presbyterian Church of Sewickley


Today we worshiped at The Presbyterian Church of Sewickley, 414 Grant Street, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.4550, www.sewickleypresby.org, Rev. Kevin J. Long, Senior Pastor.





Scripture – Genesis 29:15-30 NASB



Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me." So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.



Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her." Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?" But Laban said, "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years." Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.





Bob’s thoughts:



We were looking for a church where we could be sure the 500th anniversary of the Reformation would be celebrated, and our welcome included bagpipes and plaid kilts.



The moment for stewardship was interesting: a young man talked of the church’s investment in him as a boy and his need to continue to return that investment to the youth of the church. We are easily caught up in stewardship of our dollars and forget the importance of investing our time.




The message was based on Genesis and Jacob’s plan to secure Rachel as his wife. Even Laban’s deceit could not derail God’s plan. The story from Jacob’s receiving his father’s blessing, or maybe back to his birth, offers a myriad of possibilities, from the interwoven deceits to Jacob’s marriage to Rachel, God was in control. I believe God puts a plan in motion but watches to see how we do on our own. When I reflect on the people used in Christ’s earthly lineage, He may just be able to use us broken sinners.
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Maybe as we learn to love the Leah in ourselves we can love the Leah in others, and come to accept that Christ can love the Leah in us too.



I could write a lot more about this sermon but this was what God put on my heart. Sometimes He gets old people like me to think about the deeper message.



I also enjoyed the Associate Pastor, Sarah. She was as easy to hear and understand as the lead pastor, though we were sitting closer to the front, a rarity especially in a Presbyterian church. She spoke well and I appreciated her eloquent prayer.



Another joy was the music, especially Siyahamba, and the horn was a special addition. As always, I loved watching the children.



This was a blessed worship service; thank You Jesus for allowing us Rachels and Leahs to come before You.





Jan’s thoughts:



We wanted to attend a Presbyterian church for this special Reformation Sunday and this felt like the right one. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect, but we knew it would not be ignored.



We unexpectedly entered at the rear of the sanctuary which provided an up-close view of the incredibly intricate stained-glass windows. We found seats right away, so did not get to wander around the building at all.



Several people stopped to introduce themselves, and in a church with three services, that is impressive.



I’ve always loved bagpipes, so I was thrilled they were part of this worship celebration. Musical accompaniment included a saxophone, an acoustic guitar, and six vocalists. The organ and the bagpipe sounded superb together.



A member presented Sixty Seconds for Stewardship, and I expected a talk about monetary giving, this being the season. Instead he spoke of the promises made by this congregation at his baptism, that the members promised to teach him about God, and how they had done just that. They invested their time and energy in him, helping him learn that he was loved by God, and teaching him about faith in Christ. He assured them their investment in him was paying dividends as he was teaching the current communicant class, of which his daughter is a member. His talk was both enthusiastic and emotional, and this visitor appreciated his reminder.



The sermon was entitled “Family Matters: Sister Wives” and was based on the story of sisters Leah and Rachel, both of whom were married to Jacob. But the message went deeper, touching on how in every marriage, “we marry the person we love and are joined by an unwanted stranger…there is a beloved Rachel and a surprising Leah in every person, and there is no Rachel without Leah.” Only when we discover the love of Christ can we accept others as they are and see their beauty.



One fascinating point was that the term for Leah’s eyes could have been translated either “weak” or “lovely,” and the Leah in each of us can be viewed either way as well. He said everyone has both a Rachel and a Leah inside us, Jesus died for both, and His love redeemed both. He pointed out that Leah, though she was not loved well by Jacob, gave birth to six of Jacob’s sons…half of the 12 Tribes of Israel, including Judah, placing her in the lineage of Christ.



This message contained deep truth, and I’m so glad I was here today to hear it.



The recitation of the Apostles’ Creed was not in the order of worship, but it felt wonderfully appropriate.



We appreciated the pastor’s time in conversation.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we are grateful to visit You in Your church and pray You continue to bless and grow this growth in You. Amen.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Southminster Presbyterian Church


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 – Genesis 27:1-29 NASB
Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, "My son." And he said to him, "Here I am." Isaac said, "Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die."
Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, "Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, 'Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death.' Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death." Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, "Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing." But his mother said to him, "Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me." So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.
Then he came to his father and said, "My father." And he said, "Here I am. Who are you, my son?" Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me." Isaac said to his son, "How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?" And he said, "Because the LORD your God caused it to happen to me." Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not." So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him. And he said, "Are you really my son Esau?" And he said, "I am." So he said, "Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son's game, that I may bless you." And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, "Please come close and kiss me, my son."
So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, "See, the smell of my son Is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed; Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, And an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, And may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, And blessed be those who bless you."

Bob’s thoughts:
We thought it was worth the travel to Southminster to worship with Silas Ncozana, and we were welcomed even more cordially than usual. This was the 9 a.m. Crossings service which is usually a bit relaxed, but today there was an extra enthusiasm.
I was afraid the female lead of the praise team had changed until she sang a solo at the offering, a great rendition of “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful.”
Pastor Merry and Abusa Silas presented a dialog sermon of Jacob and Esau arguing in the modern style over the stolen (divinely redirected) birthright blessing of Genesis 27 They were able to ham it up and get the message across.
Silas told how, during this visit to the States he was able to see his son whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years and welcome his 7-month-old grandson.
It was a joy to feel part of worship today at Southminster and reunite with friends.

Jan’s thoughts:
It’s only been four months since our last visit here, but today was special and we could not resist the opportunity to worship with Rev. Silas Ncozana. Silas is one of the founding members of the Partnership between Pittsburgh Presbytery and the Synod of Blantyre in Malawi. Following a period as Malawi’s Ambassador to Western Europe and the Vatican, he has returned to serving God within the church.
We were welcomed before we even made it into the building, again as we walked through the doors and yet again as we entered the worship area. The Passing of the Peace was a time of extended friendliness.
I enjoy the music at this contemporary service called “Crossings”…the leadership is excellent and the volume is perfect.
The message was in the form of a dialog between Silas and Dan, with Silas playing the part of Esau and Dan imagining the words of Jacob. The lesson was that God has abundant blessings for everyone, including those who are part of broken families, those with whom we disagree, and even each of us in spite of ourselves.
As always, I was blessed to worship here, even beyond our brief visit with Silas, as the Holy Spirit is abundantly present.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You use Silas’ message to reunite Your Church and guide us to what You want us to be. Amen.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church


Today we worshiped at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, 557 Perry Highway, Harmony, PA 16037, 724.452.8886, www.zioninharmony.com.





Scripture – NASB



Isaiah 25:1-9 –



O LORD, You are my God;

I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name;

For You have worked wonders,

Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.

For You have made a city into a heap,

A fortified city into a ruin;

A palace of strangers is a city no more,

It will never be rebuilt.

Therefore a strong people will glorify You;

Cities of ruthless nations will revere You.

For You have been a defense for the helpless,

A defense for the needy in his distress,

A refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat;

For the breath of the ruthless

Is like a rain storm against a wall.

Like heat in drought, You subdue the uproar of aliens;

Like heat by the shadow of a cloud, the song of the ruthless is silenced.

The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;

A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,

And refined, aged wine.

And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,

Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.

He will swallow up death for all time,

And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,

And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;

For the LORD has spoken.

And it will be said in that day,

"Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.

This is the LORD for whom we have waited;

Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation."



Psalm 23 –



The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.



Philippians 4:1-9 –



Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.



I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.



Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.



Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.



Matthew 22:1-14 –



Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.



"But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."





Bob’s thoughts:



We were welcomed by a number of people and it made me wonder what prompts folks to say hello. In a church of 50 or so worshipers, visitors often stand out. I frequently seek someone who looks busy to ask how to get my shut-in prayer information letter to the right person. Today a woman took the time to engage us in conversation, and in the course of it I learned she has a ministry to their shut-in members. If God orchestrates something as simple as that for us, I wonder what else He is doing in our lives every day.



She also stopped by during the Passing of Christ’s Peace to let us know we would be welcome to partake of Communion.



I noted a cross on the chancel and an interesting pattern of the painted wood paneled ceiling.



There was a prayer of dedication for the new cross on the steeple.



The congregation is searching for a new pastor and Pastor Susie was filling in. Her message today was from the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22. The sermon developed easily and included application. To God’s glory, believers’ names are now on the guest list.



She interjected a story of a woman’s troubles with her VW Beetle and I was reminded of a prank when I was young. VWs were still new to Pittsburgh when two women in my church both bought one. There were few options then so they were the same color but parked on opposite sides of the street. The challenge was too much for some teenaged boys: we switched them and waited for the service to end. The concept that a couple of teens could move their car was beyond comprehension. Wish I could remember how it ended.



The pastor told the congregation how she prays her way through the church directory. What a powerful thing, to have the pastor praying for the individuals of the church.



We were addressed by name when we went up for Communion, a most friendly gesture.



We had a great few minutes with the pastor and others after the service. I wish we could have stayed for the social time after.





Jan’s thoughts:



This is one of the Lutheran churches that has been on our list for some time. It’s a lovely building, but the treasure is its people.



We were warmly greeted from the moment we entered the building, and a couple of gentlemen struck up a conversation with Bob about military service. By the time we entered the sanctuary, eight or 10 people had introduced themselves and welcomed us. During the Passing of the Peace more folks greeted us, and this continued even after worship ended.



Occasionally when we visit a church we encounter someone who is especially welcoming, someone with whom we just seem to click. Today we met a friend we had not met before who was warm and gracious. She stopped prior to worship to introduce herself and chat, and then again before Communion to let us know that theirs is an open table and we were welcome to partake. This sort of hospitality can make all the difference for first-time visitors, and we deeply appreciated her kindness.



The church is between pastors at the moment, but as this is a Communion Sunday here, Pastor Susie, who lives nearby and serves part-time, preached and administered Communion. Physically Pastor Susie has several challenges, but her voice and faith are strong, along with her sense of gratitude.



Pastor Susie’s untitled message was a strong warning not to make excuses or put off accepting the invitation of the King of Kings. I appreciated her reminder that “because Jesus was snubbed, our names are on the guest list.”



We were delighted to take part in Communion and I was touched when Pastor Susie handed me the Bread, spoke to me and called me by name.



We appreciated the time taken by these new friends to chat after worship and we were overjoyed for the opportunity to lay hands on and pray for Pastor Susie.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray for this church as well as the spiritual leader You are preparing for them. We trust Your care in this time of preparation and Your timing in bringing them together. Amen.